Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro vs. Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm

For landscape photography at 50mm focal length I use the manual focus Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm ZF.2. Recently I started with underwater photography and at the moment I’m putting together an underwater system based on my Nikon D800E in a Seacam housing.  As much as I love manual focus for landscape photography it is clearly not the best idea for shooting small and fast riff fishes underwater.

Therefore I needed a macro lens with fast and reliable AF. I did a quick test with the Sigma 105mm Macro but was not really happy with the result and decided to get the Nikon AF-S 2.8/60mm G ED Micro lens which is quite popular with underwater photographers. It is a small well build lens with very fast AF.
I did some AF tests with some screws and found the AF very precise and reliable, even without any micro-adjustment of the camera. On the first tests I just used the center AF field:

AF Test CenterSince some D800 cameras had problems with the AF function using the left AF field I did some additional focus tests using this field. Luckily the result was the same:

AF Test Left

Since the 60mm focal length of the Nikon Micro lens is very close to the 50mm of the Zeiss Planar and the Planar is pretty much unusable below f/2.8 due to severe spherical aberrations I was thinking about whether the Nikon 60mm could even be a substitute of the Zeiss lens for landscape photography. I did some tests at or near infinity. All tests were done from a very stable Gitzo tripod using mirror lockup and manual focus with liveview at max zoom. Because the Planar has some focus shift manual focus was done at f/2.8 (as with the Nikon 60mm). All images were processed with identical settings and my default sharpening (50/0.7/100/0) in LR.

Since I had some moving clouds in the sky during testing the light was not perfectly constant. Sufficient for evaluating sharpness but not ideal to identify small differences in colors or contrast between the two lenses.

Here are the infinity test images, followed by some 100% crops.

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8 (link to full size image):

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8 (link to full size image):

50mm, f/8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/2.8, 100% crop near center:

60mm, f/2.8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/2.8, 100% crop near center:

50mm, f/2.8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/2.8, 100% crop near center:

60mm, f/2.8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/2.8, 100% crop near center:

50mm, f/2.8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/2.8, 100% crop edge:

60mm, f/2.8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/2.8, 100% crop edge:

50mm, f/2.8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/2.8, 100% crop near corner:

60mm, f/2.8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/2.8, 100% crop near corner:

50mm, f/2.8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8, 100% crop near center:

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8, 100% crop near center:

50mm, f/8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8, 100% crop near center:

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8, 100% crop near center:

50mm, f/8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8, 100% crop edge:

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8, 100% crop edge:

50mm, f/8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8, 100% crop near corner:

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8, 100% crop near corner:

50mm, f/8

As you can see in the center the Zeiss Planar is slightly better both at f/2.8 and f/8, but the Nikon is still very good even wide open (although with some really strong CA).

At f/2.8 the Nikon has a much better corner and edge sharpness compared to the Zeiss Planar, but stopped down to f/8 corner/edge sharpness of both lenses is at the same level.

For best landscape performance stopped down the Zeiss Planar has still a slight edge over the Nikon 60mm Micro. Therefore I will use the 60mm Micro only for underwater and macro images and keep the Zeiss for landscape shots.

It is pretty clear, that the Nikon lens will be better at close distances, nevertheless I did some tests to see how good the 60mm Micro really is.

First I tested the lenses at some flat object, a wooden door with white paint, at the MFD of the Zeiss Planar to evaluate the corner performance.

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/2.8, 100% crop center:

60mm, f/2.8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/2.8, 100% crop center:

50mm, f/2.8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/2.8, 100% crop corner:

60mm, f/2.8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/2.8, 100% crop corner:

50mm, f/2.8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8, 100% crop center:

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8, 100% crop center:

50mm, f/8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8, 100% crop corner:

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8, 100% crop corner:

50mm, f/8

The center sharpness of the Zeiss Planar at MFD is surprisingly good, but the corners get never sharp even stopped down. The Nikon 60mm Micro is as expected at close distances clearly the sharper lens.

Next I did some tests with a 3D object at close distances to evaluate rendering, bokeh and colors of both lenses.

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8 (link to slightly cropped full size image):

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8 (link to slightly cropped full size image):

50mm, f/8

Nikon 2.8/60mm Micro @f/8, 100% crop:

60mm, f/8

Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm @f/8, 100% crop:

50mm, f/8

The Zeiss Planar has at the same aperture more DOF and probably due to this a more 3D like rendering. Colors are slightly different, but I’m not able to say which lens has better colors. Detail sharpness of the in-focus areas is much better with the Nikon lens.

Since I’ve provided links to the full size images I suggest that you draw your own conclusions based on your preferences. I will keep both lenses at least until the new Zeiss 1.4/55mm is available.

Some people will probably suggest that a comparison of the Nikon 60mm Micro against the Zeiss 50mm Makro-Planar would make more sense. I agree, but I don’t own the Makro-Planar anymore. When I changed from Canon to Nikon I sold my Makro-Planar and then bought the 50mm Planar instead. Mainly because I wanted to try something new, but also because the Planar got some very good reviews on Fred Miranda.  Stopped down at infinity it is indeed very good, at least as good as the Makro-Planar.

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