Zeiss unveils second uber-premium SLR lens: Otus 1.4/85mm
Sure, almost nobody can afford a $4,490 lens. But the German lensmaker's newest top-drawer Otus line keeps the pressure on competitors by showing what's possible.
Stephen Shanklandprincipal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertiseprocessors, semiconductors, web browsers, quantum computing, supercomputers, AI, 3D printing, drones, computer science, physics, programming, materials science, USB, UWB, Android, digital photography, scienceCredentials
I've been covering the technology industry for 24 years and was a science writer for five years before that. I've got deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and other dee
German lensmaker Carl Zeiss announced the second in its Otus line of premium lenses on Monday, an 85mm f1.4 model aimed at people with $4,490 to spend on prestige and image quality.
The Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 takes the same approach as last year's 55mm model: an attempt to produce a lens with the best image quality without worrying about how much it costs. If the quality is high enough a certain class of professional photographer, accustomed to medium-format digital cameras that cost tens of thousands of dollars, could conceivably find the Otus line financially justifiable since it would let them use cheaper full-frame SLR cameras from Canon or Nikon.
The 55mm Zeiss Otus showed unparalleled sharpness, and Zeiss promises a sequel with the 85mm model it's unveiling next week at the Photokina show in Germany. As with the 55mm, the image quality is high even when using the lens wide open at f1.4, the company said:
Optically, the Zeiss Otus series stands out for its high image quality, even with an open aperture. Specifically, that means a neutral bokeh in the background, highly detailed images without any optical artifacts, consistently high resolution power across the entire image field, no color fringing or distortion, and an extremely high image contrast all the way into the edges. The imaging performance remains almost entirely consistent for all shooting distances. High apertures can be used even for close-ups.
The 85mm focal length is popular among portrait photographers who are often untroubled when sharpness tails off toward the corners of the frame; they're often shooting faces and want smooth and undistracting backgrounds. Zeiss, though, is pitching its lens also to product and nature photographers, though, because the Otus 85mm is sharp all the way to the corners, the company said.
The lens will be available in Nikon and Canon mounts starting in mid-September. It has 11 elements in nine groups, one aspheric and six using special glass. Its close-focus distance is 0.8m (31.5 inches). The Canon version weighs 1200g (2.65 lbs) and is 124mm (4.88 inches) long; the Nikon version is a smidgen smaller and lighter. Neither features image stabilization.
Many of Zeiss' lenses offer only manual focusing, which can be a problem in the modern era when photographers have grown accustomed to precise autofocus. Zeiss, though, chooses to see this as an advantage, saying that "freedom to focus -- one of the most important creative elements in photography -- has literally been put in the hands of the photographer as an artistic tool."
At $4,490 or €3,361 in Europe (that translates to about £2,700 in the UK and AUS$4,660), the Otus 85mm won't find its way into many hands, artistic or otherwise. But with so much attention aimed at smaller "mirrorless" cameras and smartphone photography, it's good to see the industry advancing the state of the art in the established part of the market, too.