Imran's Blog

First impressions: Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZE

I love the 35mm focal length on full-frame SLRs such as the Canon 5d. It provides a field of view that’s great for visualizing subjects in their surrounding environment.  I currently own a Zeiss 35mm 2.0 ZE, but after the faster 1.4 version was announced, I was anxious to give it a try.   The faster lens would enable me to further blur out distracting backgrounds for portraiture and photo journalistic style shooting.

One characteristic of a lens, I’ve come to appreciate over time is how a lens renders the area surrounding a subject.  The difference between a good photograph versus a great one, can be the out-of-focus rendition (bokeh).  Fast prime lenses with a minimum aperture of f1.4 enable a photographer to have more creative control and also shoot with higher shutter speeds in lower light conditions.

Here are a couple of shots wide open with the Zeiss 1.4 ZE on a Canon 5d II:


100% crop of the right eye with moderate sharpening in Photoshop:



I’m impressed with the quality of rendition from the Zeiss.  Even wide open the lens is sharp, with probably the most sublime bokeh rendition I’ve seen from a 35mm lens.

Here are a couple of shots at f1.8 and f2.0 respectively.   Goes to shows how you can melt away distracting backgrounds with this lens even stopped down a bit.


The following series shows the bokeh quality at f1.4, f2.0 and f2.8 respectively:

Zeiss351_4 Zeiss352_0 Zeiss352_8

When I get more time, I’d post a head-to-head comparison with the Canon 35mm 1.4L and Zeiss 35mm 2.0 lenses.

Well done Zeiss design team! You’ve delivered a truly unique lens, which I’m sure will develop a loyal following among photographers and artists alike. This is clearly an excellent lens, if you can deal with the  large size, bulk and lack of autofocus.

Updated 12/23/2011

I had a chance to do a quick comparison between the Zeiss 35mm ZE and the Canon 35mm L on my Canon 5d Mark II. The Canon 35L is highly regarded and I wanted to see how the two lenses stack up. With respect to sharpness they seem to be equals, although the Zeiss has an edge in terms of corner sharpness wide open.  I didn’t nit pick in this department and focused my test primarily on bokeh quality.

Background crops to illustrate bokeh:


The Zeiss’s rendition is buttery smooth at f1.4, where as the Canon 35L drawing looks more disturbed.


At f2.0 the Zeiss continues to render pleasing bokeh and to my eye is of better quality than the Canon 35L @ 1.4.

The Canon 35L of course has autofocus, is smaller and lighter than the Zeiss. Although, if pure image quality and bokeh rendition are the criterion then the Zeiss 35mm ZE is the king of the hill.


  1. I have the f/2 ZE and I am quite happy with it. These lenses really are built like tanks. If you don’t require autofocus you really can’t ask for much more- except for weather sealing. Personally I’d appreciate that addition.

  2. allbrandlover

    Well, before the ZE 35/1.4, when there’s only Contax 35/1.4 C/Y exists, the Zeiss fan always said : “the Canon 35L buttery bokeh is boring, the Zeiss Contax harsh bokeh is more artistics” …. Zeiss fans always right🙂

  3. This is the perfect blog for everyone who really wants to understand
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