The Mighty Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Lens. The best of the best? By Steve Huff

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The Mighty Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Lens. The best of the best?

By Steve Huff

“DISCLAIMER: Some shots here are of when I covered a protest in downtown Phoenix from the recent tragedies, as I am a photographer. My belief is ALL LIVES MATTER no matter who you are, what color you are, what race you are, what gender you are, what political affiliation you are,  or no matter what your sexual preference is. I believe EVERY life matters in this entire world, all of us, including police officers and civilians on the street. To kill or murder ANYONE for race, religion, gender, revenge or ANY reason is simply evil and wrong. We need to love, respect and help each other in this world, as it appears we need it these days. So when looking at some of these photos keep in mind it is what I do, I am a photographer, so please do not bring Politics in to it. If you do, or leave nasty racist comments they will not be posted. Let’s keep the discussion to the lens. Thank you, Steve”


and now…the review…

Hey to all! It’s another day and WELL WELL…look at this, another 50mm (ish) lens to review! Hot on the heels of the Sony 50 1.4 from yesterday, today I have the Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 which is not quite a 50mm, but close enough to meld it into the 50mm camp. As many of you know, I have used a TON of 50’s and there are endless 50mm reviews on this website from over the years. I mean ENDLESS.

But…this…one…is…different. According to most, this is the KING BABY!!…the Zeiss OTUS! Or is it? This is what most online reviewers have stated so I wanted to know myself as I have been on a big 50mm kick lately…again, and I have some personal projects coming up that require a 50mm that I can truly adore and get into so I am trying out various 50’s to see which will fit the bill for these projects or travel, portraiture and scenic beauty.

A couple of weeks ago I tested the new Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 and that started the old itch back up for my love of 50’s. When I saw just how gorgeous that Sony was (My review was just posted YESTERDAY and you can see it HERE) , the wheels started spinning in my head about this Zeiss OTUS. Many proclaim it as the best 50 ever made and if it was better than the truly great Sony or Leica 50 APO then I KNEW I had to try it, and coming it at more than double the cost than the Sony, I figured it HAD TO be better. This lens has been out for a while now but I never reviewed back when it was new as I knew it was HUGE, HEABY and for Nikon and Canon DSLR’s. So I skipped it. I should not have done that!

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So since I had a Nikon to Sony E adapter on hand, I rented the Nikon version of the 55 Otus from lensrentals.com  which is a rental shop I HIGHLY recommend. Not only have they been a site sponsor for YEARS, they have just about anything one could want to rent for their photo needs. Give them a visit and see for yourself.

The lens arrived and as I took it out of the box I was WOWED by its build, design and yes…SIZE. I remember using the 85 which was like a Cannon. I loved that 85 and realized it was the best I had ever used, but there was no way I would buy one for MY USE as I am not a HUGE 85 guy and it was so so large. If I were wedding or portrait pro I would have bought one in a nano second, but since I adopt more of a casual, street, journalistic style of shooting, I knew that 85 would be way to huge for me and it would be left at home most of the time.

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The good news is that this 55 1.4 is just as delicious as the 85 when it comes  to quality of build and IQ but sadly its about the same size as the 85, just slimmer and a hair longer. Since it has a slimmer profile than the 85, it may just to the point where it is acceptable to me to possibly purchase and use often. It is heavy at 2.3lbs, and with the Nikon to Sony E Adapter it does add a good 1″ + to the length when on the camera. So much for the “small” mirrorless solution huh? hehehe. Then again, this lens is meant for DSLR’s, so it is not a mirrorless lens that is supposed to be small. 

Then again, shooting this lens on a Sony A7RII over a DSLR allows for MUCH easier focusing. It’s not even a contest as its a joy to use, shoot and focus on a good EVF camera. I mean..I can not stress this enough. I remember trying the 85 Otus on a Nikon DF and it was challenging and frustrating  to get an image in focus as using an optical viewfinder, even with Nikons confirmation just did not work. With the Sony, I missed focus twice of all shots I have snapped with this lens.

SHOOTING A PROTEST

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As I sit there on my couch admiring this lens with how it is made and designed, I saw on the news that there was to be a “peaceful protest” in Downtown Phoenix AZ, about 30 minutes from me. I looked at Debby who was already in her comfy pajamas (was to be a lazy day for us) and said “Let’s Go, I can test the lens and we can also see what is going on down there”. Now this is not the normal Zeiss Otus territory as many use it in studio, for weddings or for portraits. Me, I was going to use it in the streets, in the dark and I thought it was really going to test and push my manual focus skills to the limit. I remember reading a review of  this lens on B&H or Amazon and the photographer reviewing it said “This is not a lens for street shooting”. After my use with it, I will have to disagree wholeheartedly with that as I found it to be a phenomenal street lens. Just on the larger size.

In any case, soon after I saw the news about the protest we were on our way there. When we arrived there were maybe 30 people waiting around. I took out the lens and started shooting here and there for a few minutes. Everyone was in good spirits. There were LOADS of photographers there as well, which was cool to see and expected.

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After a few shots, and only what seemed to be five minutes, I looked behind me and started seeing mass amounts of people filling the streets. More and more were coming in, and it was still peaceful and a photographers dream due to the emotion and passion in these individuals who were there to protest their beliefs on this hot topic subject. Their passion, to my eyes, was strong and filled with so much emotion that when I looked through my viewfinder in my Sony A7RII, I could see the shots happen right before my eyes. I did not chimp AT ALL, so I had no idea if my shots were in focus, out of focus or even any good at all at the time. Usually not smart with an ALL manual lens in hand! I was hoping that I was not missing shots as I was indeed shooting wide open at f/1.4, as the sun was going down fast.

Many say shooting wide open at an aperture of f/1.4 using manual focus in the dark is a nightmare. Well maybe with a Nikon, yea, I can see that as the MF system on the Nikon DSLR’s leave a ton to be desired. With the Sony EVF it was a dream. No issues at all.

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Just a note: for these black and white shots, they are all shot in JPEG mode with “high contrast B&W” as I like the look of this mode in the camera. It fits documentary photography VERY well IMO and that was my goal on this night, DOCUMENTARY photography. In this regard, using the Zeiss was a PLEASURE. Manually focusing seemed so easy, so natural…and the way the lens is built and designed made it easy to do just that. Smooth focus ring (smoothest I have used in a LONG LONG time) and great solid clicking aperture dial which ensures you stay in whatever aperture you are clicked into tells me this lens means business, and it truly did. This is a serious pro lens, and there really is nothing quite like it in build, feel, and even its unique rendering. For street shooting, this lens is amazing and I feel I may have missed so many shots using slow AF. With MF, in the low light it was so easy to nail those shots. Like it was made for the Sony. (Zeiss needs OTUS versions for FE mount!)

My energy was high, my camera was clicking and I was in the moment doing what I used to do so much more often…in the streets documenting life. I missed this type of photography, and it made me realize I need to get out in the streets much more in the future. Using the OTUS was like I had a direct connection to the camera, reminded me quite a bit of shooting a Leica as the lens was up to or above Leica quality, and using manual focus added to the charm…made me feel like I was truly working for my shots and this is a good thing. I was starting to think…Hmmm, maybe I need to buy THIS lens as it will reward me in a few ways. One with IQ, one with low light shooting (no slow low light AF to worry about) and it will also reward me in a way that makes me feel like I actually worked it, instead of just aiming and shooting. No matter what someone may say, using a manual lens will make you take more time with the shots, and IMO, get you better shots. It may be a mental thing but it’s true for me.

Now of course one could set ANY AF lens to manual focus, so using this lens or the Sony 50 1.4 in manual should be about the same experience. So will the OTUS deliver IQ that I prefer over the Sony I just reviewed? When I was shooting I did not know the answers to that question, but when I arrived home to review the images I really liked what I saw especially since the conditions were low light and higher ISO and street style shooting.

CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER!

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It’s as if the lens was drawing the frames with a brush, delivering beautiful Bokeh and amazing subject isolation. Almost as if the lens was faithfully recording the passion and emotion of the night in a way most 50’s can not. The way this lens renders your image in some situations is just gorgeous and organic.

As I continued to shoot, at one point it looked as if things were going to get a bit rowdy and it was at this time I thought “what the hell am I doing here”?!?! I do not need to be pepper sprayed or trampled for getting these shots but I also knew good shots do not come from running away… and I was in the moment, in the rush, in the heat and with the A7RII and Otus lens I was firing away at full manual focus speed. Yep, $7500 worth of gear around my neck in the middle of a crowd of protesters…but I have to say, it was quite amazing to see, and to shoot.

I saw one man spit in another mans face who was using a speaker to yell at the protesters, calling them names (the man below who was the one spat on as he was yelling out not so nice words…yea, he was the one causing trouble..even so, he should not have been spat on regardless), which was not cool imo. As I said, I feel ANY AND ALL violence, hate or disrespect is a waste and 100% unnecessary. I am against HATE in all forms, so seeing this man who was also exercising his free speech right get spit on, it did not make me feel too good, even if he was egging the protesters on. Protesting is fine on either side of the fence but when it turns to violence it is just wrong. I believe violence NEVER EVER solves anything, period. No matter what political side you are on.

I think as humans, we are all equal, and we should try to help each other instead of tear each other down. I am losing hope for that in this country though day by day, as it seems hate is the new flavor of the day in the USA. I see it everywhere, on all sides and in many aspects of life, even here on this website from time to time, and for me, it sickens my soul.

It was at this time we left the protest but it was a great experience shooting in this scenario, especially with a manual lens.

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THE OTUS EXCELLED in night shooting, BIG TIME.

This lens is very very special, just as the 85 OTUS is. Zeiss, just as Leica are top in their game for lens design, and this lens is one of the best 50mm (ish) lenses I have ever used. It has a rendering that is 70% the new Zeiss/Sony 50 1.4 and 30% Leica 50 APO. In use, this lens was a dream, it really was. Manual Focus was a PLUS for me here and the smooth focus ring with a long throw aided in my focusing attempts. After I arrived home, I had 2 out of focus images and they were just SLIGHTLY off. This tells me that this lens is an easy focus on a Sony A7RII, or a good EVF camera.

The build is tough as nails as well. It feels like if I needed to, I could have used it as a weapon, or even a hammer. Yea, it is that tough. I would have no fear of using this in a hectic professional situation. So using it as a street shooter at night worked for me, so much so I started thinking to myself “DAMN! Which one do I buy…the Sony or the Otus”? I am still trying to figure this one out.

But let’s switch it up….with some color and some other style of shots…

Christmas in July! Click images for larger view!

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THE ULTIMATE CREAM MACHINE – BOKEH MAGIC

Let’s move on from the protest and low light B&W. This lens simply ROCKS no matter the situation, and when I compare it to the shots I took with the Sony, there is a difference though admittedly, it’s not a huge one. The Sony is smaller, has AF, and is $1500. The Zeiss Otus is $3300-$4000 depending on where you buy, and is manual focus and larger. So in that regard the Sony appears to be the no brainer as it is also an IQ king, in its own way.

*Don’t pay $4k for this lens, you can get it via Amazon PRIME for $3200 HERE*

But this Zeiss has something mystical about it that I am having a tough time putting my finger on. The way it  render is painterly, the colors are accurate and gorgeous, the smooth bokeh makes the images appear like they were shot with medium format. This is as close to medium format as one will get in 35mm full frame. Using this lens delivers the goods. It delivers IQ in a cinematic way…just full of beauty and smoothness while giving gobs of detail at the same time.

Again, click on these for the best look at the images and quality!

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IT’S NOT PERFECT!

The OTUS 55 1.4 is not perfect, in fact there is some slight vignetting (which most Leica lenses have wide open as well) and some slight barrel distortion. Other than that, it is about perfect.

Wide Open at f/1.4, you can see the dust floating around my dog Olive :) 

OLIVE

PROS and CONS

Pros

  1. The IQ is stunning in contrast, bokeh, color, and detail.
  2. The lens is built to a  very high standard and feels amazing in the hand.
  3. The price is not cheap, but when compared to similar lenses, it sort of is.
  4. Comes with a hefty all metal hood
  5. Solid clicks on the Aperture dial
  6. Smooth silky focus ring
  7. Medium Format look to images
  8. Stunning in low light
  9. Even great for street style shooting
  10. One of the best 50mm lenses ever made

Cons

  1. Price ranges from $3300-$4000 depending on where you buy it, so it is not cheap!
  2. Only for Canon or Nikon at this time (My crystal ball sees OTUS for E mount later)
  3. ONLY Manual Focus, so for some this is a turn off
  4. It’s larger than most 50mm lenses
  5. It’s 55mm, so a tad longer than 50. This may throw die hard 50mm users off

 

CLOSE TO A 100% CROP, LATE NIGHT, OOC JPEG

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What would a review of mine be without my dog Baby being in it? Lol…f/1.4

BABY

MY FINAL WORD ON THE ZEISS OTUS 55 f/1.4

What can I say? I have been on a 50mm roll most of my photographic life but VERY few have inspired me to get up off of my ass at night, after I was in my pajamas, to get out and shoot while having to drive 30 minutes away. This lens did. There is just something special about this OTUS that is hard to describe but it’s magical, sweet, and has all of the ingredients that a pro or even photo enthusiast or geek would love. Most of us could not warrant the purchase of this lens, as most of you reading this shoot out of passion, not professionally. At the same time, this lens is one that most enthusiasts and geeks WOULD WANT as it is just so gorgeous and special. It’s rare to find a lens like  this that ticks all boxes, but this one does and while it is not perfect, I can get one new for $4k less than a Leica 50 APO, and get the same IQ.

Compared to the Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 I just reviewed, this one is different, and does have qualities I do like better like the Bokeh, the Color and the way it seems to paint the images. I will be doing a side by side soon with real photographs (not just static test shots). This is a lens that even excels over the Leica Noctilux for me, and while not f/0.95 it delivers a similar look and feel (sort of), for much much less. This will turn your Sony into a IQ monster.

The Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 is STUNNING. This OTUS is STUNNING +1. Is that worth the extra $1700 or so it will cost you to go with this over the Sony? For most, NO. For some, it will be a yes. Maybe it is the design and look with the black and yellow. Maybe it is the pure Zeiss name. Maybe it is the heart that is saying so but I think I fell in love with this one, and I will be thinking long and hard which one I will be buying over the next few days, as I need a 50 like this or the Sony for a huge personal project that requires quality such as this.

If you can justify an all manual focus fast 50, and want the best there is, and have $3300 to spare, and want buttery smooth magical quality, then the Zeiss Otus is the KING and you can take that to the bank.

Buy at Amazon or PopFlash

MC



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92 thoughts on “The Mighty Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Lens. The best of the best? By Steve Huff”

  1. Thanks for this great review Steve. Great shots too. Trying to find out what adapter you were using. I see it in one image but not the label.

  2. Thinking of buying an Otus 55 but – as I shoot on location in all weather – am a little concerned about its lack of weather sealing. If any owners have some experience of any issues please let me know.
    Thanks

    1. Scroll down and read Huss review dated July 12 on lens is fragile. Get a Sigma art lens instead. Also reviewed below.

      Just an FYI reply.

      1. Or get an Olympic EM2 AND A VOIGHTLANDER f 0.95 or any of a dozen great primes.
        Good luck.

        Let us know what you got.

  3. Good review & some really nice pics Steve!

    While I agree this lens has phenomenal sharpness and gorgeous creamy contrast, I prefer the new zeiss 50/1.4, and not by a small margin.
    I prefer it’s colors, it’s bokeh, rendering and especially its micro-contrast & Zeiss 3D pop.
    The Otus is clinical, the 50/1.4 has soul.
    Add in the size, weight & price difference and it’s a no-brainer- not to mention AF.

    Keep up the good work buddy!

    1. What monitor and enlargement do you use to critique a lens e.g. micro-contrast. I’m guessing you don’t compare prints but if you do, what specs on the prints.

      I wish I could compare a picture taken with $10,000 outfit to EM1 and Pan/Leica 25mm f1.4 (50mm equivalent) which produces (your review almost Leica-like photos) outfit now one can get for about $1,200 total.

      I know the 75mm f 1.2 Oly is fantastic but I couldn’t keep backing up so I sold it for the 12-40 pro zoom.

      DO NOT SPEED IN GERMANY! VERY EXPENSIVE TICKETS IN THE MAIL.

  4. Thanks for the review and stunning images. Your experience (epiphany?) with the Otus 1.4/55 very much reflects mine. Except I came by mine almost by accident.

    I’m a Canon shooter (or I was) and decided to treat myself to the 85mm Otus. Before committing that much cash, I thought it best to practice manual focus with my 5DII and I’m glad I did. The results were pretty poor (very low keeper rate) and I reluctantly scrapped the idea of owning an Otus. Sigh. In looking for alternatives, I discovered I could buy a Sony A7RII and a Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 (baby otus?) for not much more than the Otus 85 alone. A Metabones IV would allow me to use my Canon L glass on the Sony too, so it was an easy decision – I bought ’em.

    Oh my goodness. Long story short, I also got a Batis 2/25 and haven’t touched my Canons since (2 months now). I soon wanted to fill the gap between the 25 and 85, and having seen how good the EVF and focus peaking are on the Sony, I decided an Otus 1.4/55 should more viable (than a manual focus lens on a Canon). I got the Canon fit Otus as I had the Metabones IV already.

    Astonished doesn’t begin to cover it. The “look” from this lens, and the ability to nail focus nearly every time, manually, at f/1,4 is beyond my wildest expectations. I’ve already used it in portrait, landscape and street situations and just love the results over every other lens I own. I am one very happy camper. Yes, the price is high, but for the results it delivers, it’s not expensive at all!

  5. Very disappointed. I have been reading your page for a couple years. I like your images and your perspectives on equipment. But there are lots of pages that have those qualities. In the current context, “All Lives Matter” is a declaration of white supremacist sympathies, plain and simple.I’ll look for pages that offer what I want in photographic terms, without the racist messages.

  6. Hi Steve !
    And what about the zeiss milvus 50mm 1.4?? Much cheaper than the otus but almost the same construction. I’m considering buying the milvus since i can’t afford the other one ;)

  7. What output do you use to compare lens? Apple 36in 4K monitor or what. I mean looking at very very expensive lens and finding one better than the other…I don’t see how you see a difference.
    Of course pro wall size gallery prints of 24 x 32 in professionally done I can see myself.

  8. A lens is a lens.
    I like your reviews.
    Yet the sheer monster size makes one cringe.
    Even if it’s somewhat sharper than a Summicron, Nikkor or Canon,
    the fact is digital is limited by certain criteria.
    As a former pro, no way would I carry that piece of hardware into a stress area.
    The joy of small cameras is their portability.
    Bigger is not better.

  9. Looking for response to July 13 rey: Here’s my real question. On type of format do you use to see the differences of which you speak…an Apple 4K 36in monitor or what… you see I’ve never understood the $10,000 system except for gallery wall prints. That’s 1% of 1% of 1% of photos taken…if not even smaller
    Hence I own Oly EM1 and small prime and pro zooms. Like a growing # of wedding photographers.

  10. I really don’t see the point of the Otis for an A7 series body. Like most new lenses for the system, they seem to have thrown the small camera system out the window. I’m sure it will make more sense when Sony releases their larger/pro body. The images it produces are quite lovely though.

    David

  11. Steve, really gorgeous! I do like your style, like your views. There is one more lens I can wholeheartedly recommend for your project and your 7R2, sold my 55/1.8 for it, use it as my new workhorse lens for my 7R2: the Sigma 50/1.4 ART via the Sigma MC-11 Adapter with AF — even Eye-AF works. Renders beautyfully, dreamy and tack-sharp where in focus, IQ and drawing quite consistent with my Leica-R primes. Lens correction profiles in LR, all EXIF data there, quite a bit smaller investment needed. Best regards from Munich, currently on a train to Vienna, Jens

  12. So African Americans in the Black Lives Matter protests are criminals? And are compared to animals? Really, Steve?

    1. Is that what YOU Are saying? That is the opposite of what I have said. Again, do not politicize this. I was already called a “bastard” for covering “blacks” in one comment that did not make it up, and now I have someone calling ME a racist? Get over yourself, I LOVE ALL HUMANS, and ALL LIVES and ALL LIVING THINGS, period. It’s people like you who twist things to start trouble, and it will not be tolerated here. Racism needs to be shunned and wiped out from the earth, that is my view, so please stop your nonsense. Thank You.

  13. When I bought my Otus 1.4/55, there were no Loxia’s yet, and I didn’t know yet that those were going to be that good. Yes, the Otus is on another level, but for my kink of work (mainly large dof and documentary street shots), this is hardly noticable and therefore pretty irrelevant. Since Loxia, the use of my Otus dropped with 99%. So it has been staying in my closet to the point that I thought it would make sence to sell it. Yesterday I emailed Steve, just telling him that maybe he could buy an Otus in perfect condition, as good as new, for a “used” price. But since then, I’ve put it back on my A7RII, just to check it a last time with some quick shot around my house, before I put it on the market, and, well… I experienced it again: everything Steve writes in this article is absolutely truth! This lens has some magic around it. So I changed my mind. Although it would be the sensible thing to do, selling it, I know I would forget immediately about the extra cash on my account, and I would always remember having once owned this marvel and for ever regret having sold it. I know I will use it every now and then, and each time I will love it for what it does and for how it feels. So I’m going to follow my heart instead of my brain. I’M NEVER GONNA SELL MY OTUS.

  14. Steve these are fantastic shots. I mean really really great. I thoroughly enjoyed them.
    The lens is gorgeous, crazy money to spend but also totally worth spending if that makes sense. For what it does, the Otus is unbelievable!
    I’d love to see you do some articles on street shooting, the mindset, your approach – hopefully the positive feedback that you get from this article will fuel the fire in you for more street photography.
    Probably somewhat of a personal question for you, but the quality of these shots warrants printing, I’d like to hear (from a pure composition perspective) which shots resonated most with you and which you would like to print – could also make for an interesting article.
    Anyway thanks for your time and these beautiful images.

    1. Bob, I stand with you and second the motion.

      It’s not so hard to say: black lives matter.

      It’s possible to live in a free country and yet be chained to meanness and loathing. Rattling those chains does not impress me.

      Apologies to Steve for commenting outside the remit of this lens review, but participating in the political arena is a privilege, and a duty that sometimes chooses us, I think. And I regard your spur-of-the-moment decision as a fortunate one.

  15. I’d like to know what output you’d need to justify this.lens? Printing a large large picture yes. Otherwise EM1 with 50mm effective f1.4 does 90 % of this $4,000 lens. Oh and the weight tips the scale from Big Zeiss to mirror less you voted camera ofor the year when it came out. Which would you take street shooting Steve?

    1. This lens offers much more than just large prints. That is not what any lens is about these days. ANY lens can print large. This lens will render completely differently, and I MEAN COMPLETELY differently than an EM1 with the 25 1.4. Not even in the same ballpark. At all. Lenses like this are about color performance, bokeh performance, micro contrast, depth, 3 dimensionality, picture window rendering, etc…the list can go on. The E-M1 with 25 1.4 is fantastic but it can not ever reach this type of look or depth, ever. It may be sharp, but sharpness is the LEAST of my requirements in a 50 prime. For me it is about build, feel, use, character, 3D pop, Color performance, and how I connect with it when using it. My last camera of the year was the Leica SL, not the E-M1. I also do not judge those “camera of the year” posts on size. It’s a combination of 20+ things, not things like “sharpness” and “size”. Id street shoot with the SL, with the Oly, with the Sony, with the M or whatever I have on hand. My pref for street shooting would always be an M though but that does not mean other cameras and lenses could not be used for street. Not at all. IN fact, I may do a street article using the Otus or something similar, maybe the new Sony 50 1.4.

      1. Here is my real question on what format of output can you see the differences you mention? 36 inch 4K Apple monitor or what. Surely not a typical laptop monitor or LCD on back of camera or cell phone or iPad which exhausts 90%+ Of all viewing in the world. I can tell 35mm from 4 x 5 or medium format of gallery prints just at a glance. So I see why MI g Thein went to Hassy med format over Leica and Nixon 810. He prints displays in galleries and sells stuff. Also on assignments for corporate stuff.
        The rest is snobishisness my Leica is better than your Nikon. Again based on what output?
        I enjoy your site and have purchased many Olympic mirror less lens and 2 bodies via your reviews. It’s just $10,000 in body and manual focus demand a reason other than I want them. Which is OK too!
        Bob 78 shooting since I was 15.

  16. Steve,

    Thanks for the great lens review. It’s certainly a tempting purchase. I’ve still got my 50mm Summilux which I slap on my A7RII every now and then. Every time I do so, I feel like an idiot for not doing so earlier. It has a mystical, magical rendering that I see in even more of in these photographs. I’ll echo the sentiment of others here: these images are some of the best I’ve seen from you. Great work!

    If this sets off a fire in you to shoot more street photography, then I’m stoked to see what you’ll dive into next.

    Cheers,

    Jonathan

  17. Now that’s what I call ‘a real world review’! A timely reminder that camera gear is there to be used rather than tested in a lab and I can’t think of a better use than documenting the big issues of our time. We have our own issues over here in the UK at the moment in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union. At times like this, we need documentary photography more than ever. And the lens looks pretty good too…!

    Speaking of crazy comparisons, and at TOTALLY the other end of the price scale, I picked up an FT1 adapter for my Nikon V1 yesterday and have been enjoying playing around with it using the 50mm 1.8D lens. The first time I have manually focused for years. And you know what – I’m enjoying it. Keep up the good work.

  18. Hi Steve,
    Excellent review, as usual, with great shots.
    You must have been working quite fast during the protest and your images are all very sharp, even at f 1.4.
    Did you use focus peaking with the A7 or is the EVF sufficient to achieve such sharp focus in these situations.
    I use the Sony A6000 and doubt I could achieve the same excellent results at f 1.4.
    Do you think the EVF on the A7 is that much superior to the A6000, or do you think the biggest difference would be the lens.
    Keep up the good work.
    Regards, John Taylor.

    1. Well, the A7RII EVF is better than the 6000 but either should work out just fine with a manual lens. You could try shooting a lens you have now in manual focus, and see how it goes. Thanks!

  19. Dear Steve, I trully believe you should buy the Otus over the Sony/Zeiss 1.4/50. Having been a Leica shooter for so long, your roots are in manual focusing. You experience yourself that the Otus focuses like a breeze on the A7RII. (I only think when pixel peeping, one could notice the delicacy of the focus – but IMO that would also and even more count for AF shots, since at that level AF wouldn’t do the best job. But you are not a pixel peeper and in these kind of shots pixel peeping is totally irrelevant). Personally, in 85mm I tend to go back to my old Canon FD1.2/85, although I own the Batis 1.8/85, that is sharper. But I get as much in focus shots with my MF FD and I don’t really shoot any slower with it. When MF-ing I feel that I can more decide where exactly to focus. And, as you said, the emotional reward is a lot bigger. I feel like “I” am taking the shot, not the machine. I think it keeps you more at par as a photographer.
    Concerning using the Sony/Zeiss in MF mode (or the Batis for that matter, or any AF lens), focusing by wire canNOT be compared with real manual focusing. It doesn’t give the same respons. And with the Otus you simply have the best focus ring imaginable in your hands.
    Another reason: you are a typical “wide open shooter”. The Otus simply beats the competition in this department. You know it. This aspect is a a lot less valuable for me, since I’m more thinking in large dof. Still, also for zone focusing, the Otus is top notch, although the Loxia is so close that the difference becomes irrelevant IMO (for large dof, that is, not for shallow dof). So for me personally, I’m absolutely a Loxia man, since for my work, the quality can’t be improved, the build and ergonomics are top notch, the weight and size are right and the price is exceptionally low for the quality. That’s why I use my Otus very rarely these days. When I would be you, almost always shooting wide open, it would be different. For sure, I would be in the streets with the Otus very often.
    BTW, “documenting life”… how pleased I was when you mentioned this. Indeed, THAT is the style that you absolutely excell in. These pictures are the proof. It’s the kind of shooting that appeals the most to me as well. But your style is so different. I’m thinking in large dof, while you are thinking in shallow dof. To me that feels a bit “unnatural” (to perform, that is), but to you it’s absolutely your habitat. I hope to see more pics from you in this style. I’m sure it would further lift up this one of a kind website!
    P.S. you mentioned thinking of buying a used Otus. I’m going to write you a personal email about that.

  20. Steve, some of these photos are definitely big-time news magazine-worthy. Well done. You did what photojournalists are supposed to do: get in there among it all. You could just stand on the kerb and take snapshots, and not take any risks, but nobody would care.

    I also love high contrast b&w. I have no love at all for grey mush. There’s a thing called contrast, people. Use it. :-)

    Shame that we can’t even say that we value all life without being attacked for it. Screw it. I’m glad that you have not made any apology for your honest and decent views. Truly decent people are never PC, they are honest and they practice what they preach.

  21. You have written a very informative review of this lens and also a fine review of the Sony/Zeiss 50mm f1.4 that you published yesterday. Your examples truly show the strength of both of these lenses. However, it is your striking images that compel me to look through the page over and over again. You have captured the essence of this event and revealed its monumentality to all of us. I would suggest that the lens selection has far less to do with the IQ than the photographer behind the camera. The subtleties that you discuss in the review are interesting, but they pale in significance to the power of your vision as an artist. Congratulations.

  22. The lens renders perfectly to be sure. But it lacks emmotion. The photos almost look staged. Street photography happens fast like life. The images, a tableu vivant, need to capture the scene as a blink across the iris when it burns-in those unforgetable and outstanding moments in life. The imprint needs to express the tension, the emotion and render the milieu well and truely. A compelling capture should instigate a synysthasia. The viewing should be much more than visual in the mind.

    Lenses like this are great for faces in pools, eyeballs, Christmas lights and pussycat faces. But when life happens and the attention of the moment blurs everything else away, the background is not perfectly soft and creamy in the minds eye. I see nothing paralyzing from these photos.

    There is a place for this kind of lens. It is not the street. This lens does not acknowledge the veracity of truth the way a leica and a summicron does. It is obstreperous, invasive and cumbersome.

    There is purity in f2 through F8. There is architypical resonance in black and white. There is timelessness in imperfection. Respect for the moment transends artistic input. The real art is capturing the moment for everyone to witness.

  23. Excellent review Steve – as always! And great shots – I especially like the one of your dog.
    After reading your two recent reviews (Sony Zeiss 50mm f1.4 and Zeiss Otus 55mm), you seemed to give the 50mm more praise. I know they have some significant differences (AF vs. MF, for example), but which one do you prefer?

    1. Well, the Sony is smaller. It has Auto Focus, and it performs to as high of a level when it comes to detail. It does render differently. The Sony renders more like a Leica 50 Lux, the Otus renders like the best APO lenses made. So color will be better on the Otus as will micro contrast. But the Sony is close, and its less than half the cost as well. The Sony is the best bang for the buck for most users I think.

  24. Some awesome captures Steve and a great review .i would say it looks like one of the
    Best 50 ish 50s I have ever seen I currently have allot of 50s including the Nikkor noct 58 1.4
    Which imo is one of the most stellar 50 ish lenses ever built have you ever tried the Nikkor noct if not I suggest you give it a whirl on your a7r2

  25. Hi Steve, Thanks a lot for this great review.
    How do you see the color rendering of this combo( A7RII+Otus 55) compare to Leica M 240 + 50APO? Thanks in advance for your answer and many thanks again for your great site. It is a lot of fun to visit it daily.

    1. Thanks Neko! I find the color between this and the 50 APO very similar actually. This lens delivers some similarities in rendering with the 50 APO, which is probably why I like it so much. Only difference is this OTUS is much much larger of course!

  26. The lens is outstanding and your photography is either outstanding. I for my side have discovered the quality of a SMC Pentax A 1,4 50 mm manual focus lens on my Pentax K 7 D. The camera itself is not the most actual in regard of MP resolution, but the Pentax A lens is for me the “psychoanalist” among my 50 mm lenses. Extremely sharp and ir shows every character trait of those peoples, I photographed. Unfortunately the Zeiss lenses are not for Pentax K, despite of the recent arrival of the full format Pentax K 1.

  27. This screams for a crazy comparison with the new FE 50/1.4 and the FE 55/1.8 – or baby otus as some call it.

  28. I notice that the Otus bokeh is just as good in front of the plane of focus as behind. That is unusual, and somewhat a shortcoming of the Loxia 50/2 and Batis 85/1.8.

  29. Steve, I’m looking forward to your comparison between an a7rii with otus 55/1.4 vs a Leica SL with the upcoming summilux-sl 50/1.4 apo! :)

    My bet is on the latter, especially with the AF advantage.

  30. thanks that was certainly a nice read. i own the Zeiss 135 APO and it is hands down my favorite lens. i was able to shoot the Otus on a wedding and it is an amazing glas, i think it does render much different to the 50 Lux ASPH. i love both. Since i shoot a lot of motorcycles i am considering getting the Otus, since it almost has no CA.

  31. I like GOOD photography wherever and whenever I can get it… and if it happens to be in the middle of a 50mm lens review then so much the better…

    These pictures speak volumes in a way that hasn’t been accomplished for me since the 60’s…

    Thank You Steve…

  32. Hi Steve

    Great review. I am curious. Can you mount the Otus on a leica SL? Have you compared it to the Leica SL 50 1.4 on a SL body?
    Does Sony’s image stabiliser allow you to get the best out of the lens? I know the Olympus version of the image stabiliser allows me to get images sharp at slow shutter speeds using heavy lenses.

    Would be interested to see a crazy expensive comparison on these two lenses

    1. Thank you. Yes, it appears you can buy a Nikon to SL converter, so this lens would be a dream to use on the SL. I have not tried it but now want to. Thanks for mentioning this. The Sony IS is not as good as the Olympus IS, at least in my tests but it does indeed help of course. I have not yet been able to test the Leica SL 50 1.4 but will as soon as I can get a review copy from Leica. I may go on 50mm overload, wanting them all! Lol.

  33. Great review, Steve. I, too, am a ~50mm junkie (55mm is close enough), and I’ve owned the 55mm Otus (F mount) for about a year and a half now. As an owner or former owner of the Noctilux (0.95), 50mm APO and 50mm ‘lux, among others, I agree that this lens is easily one of the best I’ve used. I purchased it originally for the Nikon D810, but as MF can be tricky with OVFs, I bought the Sony A7Rii primarily to use this lens (I’ve now stocked up on Loxias as well)…you certainly nailed the (only!) downsides with price and size/weight, but the positives so, so, so outweigh these negatives. Just a glorious rendering from this glass, and I suspect it will last for decades given its tank-like build quality and lack of AF motors, gears, etc. I hope you buy one to keep, as it also has the added benefit of building your biceps :-)

      1. Does your crystal ball give you any indication how long it will be before the OTUS will be available in E mount?

  34. Steve,

    How does this lens compare with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm? Thanks for this great review. Very compelling photos.

    Doug

    1. Well, its 2-3X bigger and heavier ;) IQ wise, this beats the Loxia IMO. In build it beats the Loxia. I love the Loxia, and the size is right. This one, while huge, is one lens I could see myself buying just for the quality it produces. BTW, I will be reviewing the 28 1.4 Otus next.

  35. I also love the 50 mm lens and manual focus.I think the narrow depth of field works here on these photos but would not be my normal taste.
    Lenses like the Otus and the Leica Apo + Sony and Sigma’s offerings have raised the bar so high that you can feel impoverished just having an ordinary 50!
    Just wondering do you need a high spec sensor camera to fully benefit from these lenses ?

    PS Amen to your sentiments!

    1. Thank you! Yes, so many great 50’s out there now. The bar is indeed very high, which makes it hard to choose. I’d like to try the Otus on an a7s, 12MP. Maybe I will give it a go!

  36. Some beautiful shots, Steve! Love the opening b&w floating-sweetie shot.

    What a chunk of change; but so are its Leica competition.

  37. I just gave up Sony due to the sizes of lenses although there are some amazing glasses. Wouldn’t it be the same experience with a Leica and a Lux 1.4 or a APO if you shoot manually? IQ is different and it’s personal preference, but looking at the photos here I can very appreciate Sony and Zeiss, plus you really captured the emotions, that makes a difference. It seems Sony Zeiss are really made for each other, but then I decided to stay with Leica to keep the size and weight down.

    Enjoy life and treasure each others, make our world a better place!

    1. Well, this lens is made for a Nikon DSLR, and is adapted to the Sony but its HUGE. Truly. We will NEVER EVER see small tiny AF lenses of this quality for the Sony FE system as it is impossible due to the full frame sensor. Sony does offer small (50 1.8) but it will not be this kind or the new Sony 50 1.4 quality. They offer the 55 1.8 which is pretty small, but will not reach this or the new Sony quality. But we have choices. To those who want top quality on full frame Sony or Nikon or Canon, the lenses will be huge. Mostly due to the AF motors for Sony. If Sony made a premium manual lens for the FE system it could be much smaller but not many want MF lenses. Sure, we can buy a Leica 50 APO but those are $6-7k, and will perform its absolute best on a Leica M. It will work good on the Sony but paying $7k for a manual lens is outrageous. One could buy a 50 Lux and use on the Sony at $4k new but will not reach this level of quality or rendering on a Sony or M. So if we want a specific type of look from our lenses, like this one, sadly it can only be delivered with specific lenses. There is no other sensor format that can deliver this type of look. Not APS-C, or Micro 4/3. So while they are small, we will never get this level of quality from them and their smaller lenses and cropped sensors. I’d love to see this quality in a small lens, and I have (Leica 50 APO) but would I pay $7k over $3300 for size? Not so sure. Thanks for reading.

  38. A serious problem with this lens is that it is extremely fragile. There have been several reports from pro users saying that a moderate bump e.g. dropping a camera bag with the lens inside the bag surrounded by the padding) with knock the elements out of alignment. The repair is very expensive.

    The damage is not visible on the exterior of the lens, but a tell tale sign is if the focus effort becomes sticky. So buyer beware if you are buying one of these used, and also buyer beware if you are buying a new one that may have seen some rough handling in shipping.

  39. great review ! i tried the OTUS and own the sigma art 50mm and although the Zeiss is a little tiny bit better, the difference in price is ridiculous. Have you tried the sigma Steve ? it’s a hell of a lens !

    1. Ive shot a few frames with the Sigma. I agree, it is fantastic and such a step up from the old Sigma from 10 years ago. Just like the new Sony 50 1.4, amazing and gorgeous glass. The Otus has a different way of rendering OOF areas, as well as a different way of dealing with microcontrast. Each of these three lenses render an image differently when shot at f/1.4-f/2. So while all are sharp, all have pop, all reproduce great color, I think they are all different in the way they draw the image. Guess I will have to review the Sigma ;) Thanks!

  40. Great review wth some of the best/most interesting pictures I’ve seen you publish here. Luckily the lens doesn’t come in a mount I can use, since it is out of my pace range. Great read, thank you.

    1. Thats not politics, it is a lifelong belief of being human. In my eyes, EVERY LIFE MATTERS, and they ALWAYS should, and always have, even when I was a kid..nothing has changed in my eyes in that regard. Anyone who says one person does not matter but another does, is not a very nice human being. Has nothing to do with politics, AT ALL, by saying all humans on earth should be treated as humans and we should all be kind to each other. Thats not politics, that is simply being a decent human being.

      1. I sincerely cannot think of three more controversial and politically-loaded words I could type right now on the internet right now than “all lives matter,” because of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter#.22All_Lives_Matter.22

        It is a very specific phrase, with a very specific definition, which was created in opposition of a very specific movement, which also happens to be a subject of this photography. While you may actually mean it as a general statement, I think the odds of it being interpreted as one are deservedly, exceedingly low.

        1. I’ll take Steve at his word. Great review Steve, I will be scouring the internet for a great deal “used” for this lens.

        2. On every forum, in almost every thread, there is … lets call it a troll, to avoid abusive language.
          They act the way many politicians and many lawyers do: reverse peoples words, twist the meaning of their words, put good intentions in a bad light and try to turn people against each other.
          These the kind of people that try to make the world a worse place to live. Sadly, there arre too many of them.

          1. Amen.

            All life is precious, and the most vulnerable need more attention, the world needs more awareness.

            That is what these protests are about.

            If we can’t protect the most vulnerable, we regress as a society.

    2. “All lives matter” = “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” Thomas Jefferson; American Declaration of Independence

      1. Guys, the point is not about the importance of any person’s life – the point is that the words “all lives matter” doesn’t mean what you want it to mean and you don’t get to change that – why risk looking like a racist pundit because you think you can change the meaning of a widely adopted phrase that connotes precisely what you are not trying to say?

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