German Glass Trumpets

on December 19, 2016

It is hard to pass a lens cabinet in a camera shop without taking a look inside.

Our readers and customers may have all the lenses they will ever need...and all the lenses they can afford...and all the lenses that will fit into the linen press at home...but they still look into that cabinet...

This cabinet is at our new Murray Street store. Clean blue and white minimalist style, and the Zeiss lenses you see here are perfectly in tune with that concept.

I judge them from the rear covers to be Canon-mount. They are, of course, available in Nikon-mount as well. Sticklers for complete detail will also point out there are other Zeiss lenses for Leica M, Sony A, Sony E, and Fujifilm X with different designs, but let's concentrate on the ones we see in the cabinet.

These are DSLR lenses that Zeiss list in their advertising as the world's best. Their competitors may point to other products and claim the same. Fans of various brands can get into optical pub brawls on this basis - it livens up many a camera club meeting. The one undeniable is the fact that the lenses will be better at what they do than the people using them...there is not likely to be any restriction upon art or achievement made by this equipment.

Manual focus? Yes. If you have never done it, these are a good lens to practice on. Your camera system probably has some form of optical assistant feature inside it to help you get the best out of the focus. The old days of the microprism or the split-image rangefinder are largely gone, but some cameras feature electronic versions of this that can help. I have always favoured a finely-divided plain screen myself, but then I distract easily looking into a viewfinder.

The inclusion of a real focus scale and a real depth of field scale on the barrel of the lens is a blessing. These are crude, accurate, and available for presetting a lens just before the big shot. I wish all lenses had them, but they have been left off any new AF jobs.

Weight? Yes. That's metal in those mounts and glass in those barrels. A lotta glass. 12 elements in the 55mm f:1.4 and 16 in the 28mm f:1.4. You are not going to be carrying these lenses as a casual afterthought wrapped up in an old footy sock just in case. They are far too big and far too good to be incidentals. When you attach them to your camera and do a shoot you are deliberately selecting one of the most precise optical instruments available to the general public.

Note that the trumpet shape of the lens barrels seen here is continued further with the flowing shapes of the lens hoods. They are quite elegant...and designed to be so.

Have I ever shot images with any of these lenses? No. My camera systems use the native lenses of the maker and I am happy with them. But had I a different body...a DSLR... I would seriously consider at least one of these optics. I remember the glorious results with the Zeiss glass in my old medium-format film days - it can only be better now.