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Old March 4th, 2011, 02:15 AM   #1
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Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

So I've been doing a lot of looking at different lenses out there and I here things from both sides on what I should ultimately buy.

I'm looking for a solid performance 85mm lens for my 5D Mark II and for my budget under $2000 my candidates are:

Zeiss ZF 85mm 1.4 (or ZE.... any difference between the 2?)
Canon EF 85mm 1.4L

and MAYBE Canon EF 85mm 1.2L

I primarily use my camera for video. Independent production, Weddings and Events stuff. I know Zeiss has killer optics, but then people seem to be LOVING the Canon primes. Since I'm doing video the whole fast focus thing is not anything for my to consider in my purchase decision. I just don't wanna get by on something that's cheap, but doesn't look great. I'd rather have something wonderful to begin with and make my camera work shine.

My business partner thinks I should go for the 1.2L Canon because of the extra low light capabilities, but is it worth the extra cost over one of the Zeiss lenses?

There's a few different lines in the Zeiss primes and I don't know how well vintage ones perform over the more recent ZF line (and CP forget it, I just don't have that kind of coin).

I'd be willing to go vintage and save money if it's not sacrificing optics and overall image quality, so any input on this from you would be great. I've seen so many samples and now I'm at a crossroads of deciding on springing for a Zeiss at 1.4 or do I just go for a 1.2 for the better low light? I really don't know if .2 is going to really make that purchase jump more worthy over the 1.4. The Canon EF leses certainly have great sharp picture, but the feel and look of the picture in the Zeiss' has something I can't quite put my finger on, but a certain pleasant and poppy sharp look that is very very nice.

So what would you do if you had that budget to work with? Low light is an important factor for me, but isn't the ONLY thing.

Thanks so much for any input. I really appreciate the time.

P.S. if it also helps, I like sharp focus and I love really beautiful bokeh. Dreamy? eh.... depends, but I like a real nice sharp and sure focus.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 10:52 AM   #2
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Canon EF 85mm 1.4L? (FD maybe?) Lensrentals has good descriptions on both. My guess is that the 1.2 is designed for portraits and the zeiss a little more for landscapes? From what I've read the older Zeiss N85/1.4 is sharper wide open. ZE is native canon mount, ZF is nikon. Best value for performance 85 is the Rokinon. Best portrait lens is the Leica Apo-Summicron-R 90/2 ASPH, which is intentionally soft and renders skin tones the best. With the resolution of video though, its going to be hard to differentiate the difference in all these lenses. You'll be looking at brokeh and CA more than sharpness, IMO. Its hard enough on high resolution still to notice the subtleties, on video, you'll have to stick with a computer monitor rather than a plasma screen to notice sharpness. When doing test of both lenses, you might find that its build quality and the focus throw of the lens that matters more.

How about renting it and testing it out? I'd personally go with the Canon. The best Zeiss in ZE mount is the 100 and 21. I've used a Canon 50 1.2 with a 1.4 lens. The difference is not noticeable, so I wouldn't really factor that into the decision. Other alt lenses in the focal length:
85's
Rokkor 85mm 1.7 <- Not easily adapted?
Rokinon 85 1.4
Mamiya 80/2.8 N <-medium format adapted lens which can also be converted to a t/s lens.
Zeiss N85/1.4
Leica Apo-Summicron-R 90/2 ASPH
Olympus OM 85/2
Pentax A* 85mm f/1.4.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 11:36 AM   #3
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

This is a little confusing because Canon doesn't have an 85mm 1.4, so I'm going to assume you mean the Canon 85mm 1.8.

Obviously from a cost standpoint you're looking at the difference between $2000, $1000, and $400 if you go from the Canon 1.2 to the Zeiss 1.4 to the Canon 1.8 respectively.

You'll get a lot of good and honest feedback on all of them.

Here's what I can say.

Never shot the Zeiss ZF but have shot Zeiss Ultra Primes a lot and of course they're amazing.

Have the Canon 1.2 and the 1.8.
The big plus for the 1.2 is the build quality, solid manual focus and softer bokeh wide open...hard to beat with any lens.

The downside by comparison is the size and weight, and of course 5x the cost.

My opinion - the 1.8 is possibly a bit sharper than the 1.2 (others have echoed that). The bokeh on the 1.8 is beautiful but of course can't soften as well wide open, but there's a very close look in contrast and color.
I have the 1.8 on the camera more often because it so much smaller and lighter and as good a lens 95% of the time, again IMO.

It really comes down to shooting style. We're in the field a lot so the 1.8 is great for that (and it's still a big chunk of glass for it's size/weight) In the studio with more control then the 1.2 is on the camera.

The Zeiss is going to give a comparable image (all very nice) with great manual focus.

If I had a $2k budget and was starting from scratch, I'd get the Canon 85mm 1.8 and the 35mm 1.4 and you'd have great glass and great coverage. You can always get your money back on the 1.8 and trade up to the 1.2 if you want to.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 01:33 PM   #4
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

I've got the EF 85/1.8 and the ZE 85/1.4. I've handled the EF 85/1.2L, but don't own it.

For video, the ZE wins hands down, IMHO. It has a long throw focus ring with hard stops. The half stop difference (f/1.4 vs f/1.2) doesn't mean much when you'll generally want to shoot at f/2.8 and above to ensure focus on every take. I have yet to feel that f/1.4 was too slow.

For photos, I prefer my f/1.8 simply due to AF.

The only advantage of the ZF over the ZE is for timelapses. You can set the aperture on the ZF externally and it will just sit there. With a Canon-compatible lens, the aperture opens between photos allowing visible framing and focus. This can cause flickering, so I set the aperture and untwist the lens. Frankly, you're not likely to do a timelapse with such a long lens, unless it's of a flower, so this isn't an every day thing.

Advantages of ZE over ZF are that you don't need an adapter, it maximizes mechanical accuracy, and the focus ring turns the "right" way.

I'd choose the ZE hands down.

I also have the ZE 35/2 and this view is a great partner to the 85/1.4. After I bought the 35/2, Zeiss released the 35/1.4. That's what I would buy today. It has twice the focus throw of the 35/2 and doesn't give up an inch of minimum focus distance. It's more money, but the additional focus throw and matched speed with the 85/1.4 would be worth it.

One could easily shoot a narrative film with these two lenses and cover all but a few special case shots.

The other approach would be to go for the 100/2 and 50/2 Mackro lenses (to which I'd add the 28/2 "Hollywood" lens.) At f/2 they aren't as fast, but the Mackros are super straight and flat. They have matched speed and you'll never run into minimum focus distance issues. If you tend to shoot with a light kit, go for a more conservative "always nail focus" approach, and want your lenses to simply disappear, these are the lenses I would get. If you tend to shoot under natural light in the city at night, or want razor thin DOF, the 85/1.4 and 35/1.4 combo is the better choice.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 01:59 PM   #5
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

As far as sharpness and quality are concerned, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2, 1.8, Contax/Zeiss 85mm f/1.4, Pentax A*/FA* 85mm f/1.4, and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 or f/2 lenses, are all so close to each other as to make little or no difference to the actual footage quality captured via each optic.

How each handles is a far bigger difference, expecially in terms of manual focus and aperture ring control movements, and overall 'feel' during working conditons.

They are all superb, with my own preference for the Nikkor f/1.4 MF version or the early Pentax A* f/1.4 versions - with beautiful SMC coatings and smooth-as-butter silky manual focus ring.
The Zeiss also has a lovely wide MF ring.

The Canon L lenses are fantastic optics, and I love the Ultrasonic fast focus, plus the added advantage of being able to use the AF-on button occasionally in video mode...but they rarely match the 'feedback' to your fingers of the non-af Pentax/Nikkor/Contax lenses when adjusting manual focus.

The 75mm lens Medium format Pentax/Hasselblad/Mamiya/Contax 645 and 67 lenses are also a worthwhile option as they are all extremely well built, very sharp and have lovely MF rings.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 04:14 PM   #6
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Another factor is breathing. When you do a rack focus, does the image unintentionally zoom?

I haven't evaluated the ZE lenses for breathing, but I've never noticed it in our productions, so it's probably not too bad on those lenses.

Regarding Canon lenses, the EF 85/1.8 is one of my worst breathing lenses. Only my EF 100/2.8 Macro breathes more and that's mostly because it can rack from near zero to infinity. The minimum focus distance of the 85/1.8 is a modest 0.85m, so the breathing is pretty significant. FWIW, my EF 28/1.8 rated the best with the EF 200/2.8L II a close second. The EF 50/1.4 falls in the middle.

Breathing is a subtle effect and if you tend to follow one character, you'll never notice it. On the other hand, if you rack from a character in the foreground to one in the background, excessive breathing makes a lens less than transparent in the final product.

If I get a chance, I'll give the 85/1.4 a quick breathing test. Given that these are the same optics used in Zeiss' CP.2 cine lenses, I expect it to do reasonably well.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 05:20 PM   #7
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Davies-Patrick View Post
As far as sharpness and quality are concerned, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2, 1.8, Contax/Zeiss 85mm f/1.4, Pentax A*/FA* 85mm f/1.4, and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 or f/2 lenses, are all so close to each other as to make little or no difference to the actual footage quality captured via each optic.

How each handles is a far bigger difference, expecially in terms of manual focus and aperture ring control movements, and overall 'feel' during working conditons.

.
Having shot with almost all of the above and also owning the Nikkor 85mm 1.4 AIS, which is as big a honkin piece of glass as the Canon, I think this is as honest assessment as you could make, especially for filming.

On another thread I was just commenting to Tony regarding using the 5D in real time for both photos and filming and that's where the Canon 85mm 1.8 appeals to me - it so much smaller and lighter and focuses considerably faster than the 1.2, and of all the EF non Ls it's probably got the best manual focus touch and a big ring.

But the overall sentiment of the similarity in IQ but considerable difference in feel and build pretty much sums it up.

From there it really is like choosing oils and brushes for a painter, some things have a subtly different appeal artist to artist.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 05:31 PM   #8
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Quote:
it really is like choosing oils and brushes for a painter, some things have a subtly different appeal artist to artist.
So true!

I mentioned the ZE 28/2, 50/2, and 100/2 as being options for making the optics as transparent as possible. The flip side would be to get some ancient vintage stuff and let the glass do the talking. For instance, before I had a macro, I bought some cheap macro adapters. These hazy, mushy pieces of glass would fail any objective optics tests, but in the right context they add a ton of character. :)
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Old March 5th, 2011, 07:03 PM   #9
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Sorry I screwed up when I said the 85 1.4L. Apologies for any confusion. I'll read over the replies and reply again. Thanks!
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Old March 7th, 2011, 02:29 AM   #10
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Everyone, thank you so much for all your valuable input. I really really appreciate it and this has really helped me move forward to deciding what to go with.

Since I'm not a still photographer i've always kept a very open mind of all types of lenses (vintage or current). It's hard getting opinions from the still photographers because they tend to always shift toward the snappy fast auto-focus enabled lenses with the latest and greatest. When you start comparing old Zeiss to a new Canon EF lens people seem to just go nuts over these canons (and rightfully so they are no slouch lenses).

I'm really looking for something with some character that will greatly enhance the quality of what I shoot. Previously I have bought some really really cheap glass and am starting to truly see those benefits of better and more pricey lenses out there. I'm a guy coming from a video production background of over 15 years working with professional camcorders, so this film transition in using DSLR is a new thing, but I'm loving every second of the challenges.

My original mentality was I could buy a great camera body and just use some cheap vintage lenses. In a couple cases this has worked, but the video didn't completely have that extra "oompf" or pizazz. Over the last year my mentality of lenses has shifted and I'm trying to do better homework on all this stuff and really seeing some worthwhile things out of the higher investment lenses.

I really think the Zeiss canon ZE series will be my choice ultimately. I know I'll need my zoom lenses for Weddings like the Canon 24-105 f4 (thinking of trading toward a 24-70 2.8) and the 70-200 2.8, but I think a couple primes will be important to have as well. I do have a Super-Multicoated Takumar 50mm 1.4 and LOVE this lens. I'm looking forward to the near future getting a killer prime to really up the ante in my video imagery.

Thanks for all the great input again, everyone!
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Old March 7th, 2011, 11:00 AM   #11
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

I recently went through this as well, my background is video while being a still-photo hobbyist. I have the 24-105 IS (great run and gun lens), 70-200 2.8 IS and had the 17-40 (only used it below 24mm, so I sold it for an ultra-wide 14mm Samyang) for the 5d2. Started looking at faster primes for low light and focused (bad pun) on the ZF's. But for the price of just one I could easily get 2 C/Y lenses and adapters, and if you look at this thread, these lenses can produce some stunning images.

C/Y Zeiss Image Post - FM Forums

The 85 1.4 was the priciest at just under $600 w/adapter, but the image is stunning and if the posts on Fred Miranda are to be believed - there is no difference in image/optical quality. So I picked up a 50mm 1.4, 28mm 2.8 and 35mm 2.8 for just over $1500 total for the 4 lenses with adapters. I slapped on some cheap step up rings and I use my vari-ND on all my lenses when shooting in the sun.

I like the Zeiss look and build so much - focusing is so silky smooth and precise, no breathing, very easy to rack focus - I'm going to move up to the 21mm 2.8, 35mm 1.4 and either the 100 macro or the C/Y 35-70 3.4 which goes macro over the next year - and sell my current 28 and 35. The last three will probably be a mix of C/Y and ZF as these three are pretty close in price. If I can't score a good deal on the C/Y version or a used ZF, I'll just order a new one.
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Old March 7th, 2011, 12:34 PM   #12
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

I've got access to the 21/2.8 on the 5D2. It's a fantastic photo lens for landscapes and artistic architecture shots. It's an odd view for video though.

While a 28mm generally looks wide but not terribly distorted, it's great for capturing action, establishing shots and so on. A 14 or 16mm or fisheye is wide enough that the audience "gets" that you're showing an effects shot. The 21mm view is too wide to look normal, but not wide enough to look extreme. Use with caution.

For instance, if you shoot straight ahead on level ground, you'll capture the ground not far from your feet. Unless you stop way down, that ground will be out of focus while your subject is well focused and the background is only slightly out of focus. The out of focus ground can make it look like the lens corners and edge have poor quality. It's not really artistic in the way that a long lens with shallow DOF is.

In this same shot, if the talent walks in from the side, their legs might be heavily stretched if they are in the corner of the shot. This can show more distortion than expected from the rest of the view and can be jarring to the audience. Pan on a tripod and that corner stretching can be a bit sickening.

On the other hand, if you are in a tight space, like a car or elevator, 21mm might be perfect. You're up close to the subject, so we "get" that there is some spatial distortion. Aim the lens at an odd angle to your scene with some item up close to the lens, and it can look great. Move the camera on a dolly or jib with an angled view, and the perspective changes are wonderful.

In other words, avoid a "stagey" or flat shot with this lens. Stop it down for "get it all in" establishing shots. If you can, shoot from some height to keep the blurry ground out of the frame. This lens is at its very best when up close to something, at an angle, and in motion.

Of course, the original post is about the 85mm. No such problems with that view. :)

When shooting video with the 85/1.4, 35/2 and 21/2.8, I probably use the 35mm 70% of the time, the 85mm 25% of the time, and the 21mm 5% of the time. But when traveling and taking stills, I can be happy with the 21mm on the camera all day long. :)
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Old March 7th, 2011, 08:40 PM   #13
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fairhurst View Post
When shooting video with the 85/1.4, 35/2 and 21/2.8, I probably use the 35mm 70% of the time, the 85mm 25% of the time, and the 21mm 5% of the time. But when traveling and taking stills, I can be happy with the 21mm on the camera all day long. :)
Right now the 35 and the 28 are my favorite lenses and see the most time on my camera. I like the 85 when shooting interviews. I rarely use the 50 and could easily live without it, but it seems like everyone says you have to have a fast 50 so I bought into that (literally). Going forward I don't think the 50 will be in my kit for very long. I do occasionally need something wider for tight spaces or wide shots and as you said, for photos the results are simply stunning - that's why for me the 21 is going to happen. The speed of the 35 1.4 will come in handy. I may just shoot everything with that once its on my camera.
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Old March 8th, 2011, 04:34 AM   #14
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

Chris-

Those C/Y lenses look amazing! I DEFINITELY have zero problems using adapters at all. Seeing the results out of those lenses really opens the field up for me! Instead of getting a 24-70 2.8 Canon I just might have to look into one of those beautiful 35-70 Contax lenses. Only thing that is a bit of a bummer is the Fstop as I do want to make sure I have at least 1.4-2.8 starting for lower light situations.

On the fredmiranda site do you just keep an eye out for deals or is there some other page where there's other listings? Don't see some of the lenses for sale there, so I imagine it's just you answer the For Sale posts. The prices there seem real good compared to Evil-Bay.

Thanks so much for the links to these amazing vintage lenses for Zeiss C/Y options!
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Old March 8th, 2011, 09:24 AM   #15
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Re: Your input on Lens purchase (Zeiss or Canon)?

I agree that the potential with the 35-70 is nice, but its a fully manual zoom so you'll be dialing in focal length, pulling focus and adjusting the aperture at the same time - not very practical for on the fly event type stuff. Its also a little slower than most primes and has a limited focal range.

I'm looking at that one because it has macro capabilities and I just can't justify the expense of a dedicated macro lens since I'm also in the market for a tilt-shift right now and I don't want to invest $2k+ in specialty lenses. There is a thread that's all images from the 35-70 as well. There are also some really skilled shooters on posting images in the FM threads, I'm not at the level of some that post. But looking at what some produce, I know the Zeiss can help get the most out of the 5d - if you like the Zeiss look, which I do.

As far as where to buy, the FM board is a good start, if you're patient ebay is great, there seems to be a lot of mint C/Y lenses coming out of Japan and Hong Kong - those sellers are usually flexible on price. It took me a couple months to get the 4 that I have right now. KEH.com is another place with lots of used lenses - you pay a premium, but you're buying from a reputable dealer. I see them pop up on Craigslist occasionally too.

A word of advice - the prices on some C/Y's has risen dramatically since legions of video shooters are snapping up full manual lenses - some of them are really close to used ZF's so cross shop.
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