Wild Places

The Art of Landscape and Travel Photography

Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 vs. Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm

90% of my landscape images are shot with just two focal length: 21mm and 50mm. Therefore a high performance 50mm lens is extremely important to me. In the past I used mainly the Zeiss Makro-Planar 2.0/50mm. It is a great lens with very good sharpness and colors.

It has just two weak points. To get really sharp corners you have to stop down to at least f/8 or better f/11, but I’m talking about the last few pixels in the extreme corners. For most situations f/5.6 is perfectly usable. And the Makro-Planar shows in certain situations a slightly nervous bokeh. Not always and in some cases this nervous bokeh can even be attractive.

When I changed from Canon to Nikon (with a Leica M system in between) I sold all my Zeiss ZE lenses and acquired new Zeiss ZF lenses. My first idea was to get another Makro-Planar but I read many good things about the Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm and in addition I was curious to try out something new. Therefore I bought the 50mm Planar instead of the Makro-Planar. The Planar is a really interesting lens, small, lightweight with a beautiful rendering and lovely colors. Stopped down to f/5.6 the Planar is extremely sharp, at least as sharp as the Makro-Planar at infinity.

The Planar has the two significant problems: focus shift and severe spherical aberrations wide open. It is pretty much unusable at f/1.4. But if you know the weak points of this lens you can work around them. Stopped down it’s a fantastic landscape lens.

End of last year Zeiss introduced another 50mm lens, the Otus 1.4/55mm. Zeiss designed this lens as an extreme high performance no compromise standard lens. It is heavy (970gr) and very expensive (3500€).

The Planar looks next to the Otus like a small rangefinder lens.

Otus vs. Planar

Nevertheless I bought the Otus to compare it with the Planar hoping that the performance gain is significant enough to justify the price and weight difference.

I did two different tests, one at infinity and one at a medium distance of 5-10m. Both tests were done with my Nikon D800E on a stable Gitzo tripod using mirror lockup, self-timer and manual focus with liveview at max zoom. All images were processed with identical WB and contrast settings and my default sharpening (50/0.7/100/0) plus standard export sharpening in LR.

For the infinity test I used an overview of Eichstätt, shot from one of the hills surrounding the city.

Infinity Test Image

Here are some 100% crops of center, corner and edge from both lenses at different apertures.

Planar, center, f/1.4:

Planar center f/1.4

Otus, center, f/1.4:

Otus center f/1.4

Planar, center, f/2.0:

Planar center f/2

Otus, center, f/2.0:

Otus center f/2

Planar, center, f/5.6:

Planar center f/5.6

Otus, center, f/5.6:

Otus center f5.6

Planar, center, f/8:

Planar center f/8

Otus, center, f/8:

Otus center f/8

Planar, upper right corner, f/1.4:

Planar corner f/1.4

Otus, upper right corner, f/1.4:

Otus corner f/1.4

Planar, upper right corner, f/2.0:

Planar corner f/2

Otus, upper right corner, f/2.0:

Otus corner f/2

Planar, upper right corner, f/5.6:

Planar corner f/5.6

Otus, upper right corner, f/5.6:

Otus corner f/5.6

Planar, upper right corner, f/8:

Planar corner f/8

Otus, upper right corner, f/8:

Otus corner f/8

Planar, left side, f/1.4:

Planar side f/1.4

Otus, left side, f/1.4:

Otus side f/1.4

Planar, left side, f/2.0:

Planar side f/2

Otus, left side, f/2.0:

Otus side f/2

Planar, left side, f/5.6:

Planar side f/5.6

Otus, left side, f/5.6:

Otus side f/5.6

Planar, left side, f/8:

Planar side f/8

Otus, left side, f/8:

Otus side f/8

For the medium distance test I used a flat wall to evaluate the corner sharpness.

Medium distance test image

Here are again some 100% center and corner crops from both lenses at different apertures.

Planar, center, f/1.4:

Planar center f/1.4

Otus, center, f/1.4:

Otus center f/1.4

Planar, center, f/2.0:

Planar center f/2

Otus, center, f/2.0:

Otus center f/2

Planar, center, f/5.6:

Planar center f/5.6

Otus, center, f/5.6:

Otus center f/5.6

Planar, center, f/8:

Planar center f/8

Otus, center, f/8:

Otus center f/8

Planar, upper right corner, f/1.4:

Planar corner f/1.4

Otus, upper right corner, f/1.4:

Otus corner f/1.4

Planar, upper right corner, f/2.0:

Planar corner f/2

Otus, upper right corner, f/2.0:

Otus corner f/2

Planar, upper right corner, f/5.6:

Planar corner f/5.6

Otus, upper right corner, f/5.6:

Otus corner f/5.6

Planar, upper right corner, f/8:

Planar corner f/8

Otus, upper right corner, f/8:

Otus corner f/8

Both lenses show a strong vignetting wide open which is typical for Zeiss lenses. As you can see the Otus has nearly perfect sharpness wide open, even in the corners. In addition it has a very beautiful rendering, lovely colors, great bokeh and extremely low CA. It is clearly the best full frame standard lens available at the moment. Is it worth 3500€? That’s a difficult question. Stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8  at infinity the difference to the Planar is small, besides CA where the Otus is much better. But if you really need or want a 50mm lens with perfect sharpness wide open at f/1.4 and can afford it, get the Otus.

For now I will keep both lenses. The big advantage on the Otus is that it can be perfectly used wide open and therefore serves the double purpose of a landscape lens and a portrait lens. The only disadvantage of the Otus is the weight. I will therefore use the Planar on trips where weight really matters like on long hikes or when I’m sure that there is no need for shooting wide open or at close distances. For everything else I will take the Otus.

19 Responses to “Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 vs. Zeiss Planar 1.4/50mm”

  1. Leo

    Why should you buy a fast lens when you only use it stopped down? I think I could live with soft corners, 50 mm is not my first chose for nature photography. The 55 mm of the Otus is the only thing I do not like, apart from the price and no auto focus.

    I own a Sigma 50 mm F1.4, I like it very much. And now the Sigma 50 F1.4 Art is there. What I read about this new lens is that it match the Otus ánd has a nice 50mm.

    Reply
    • Boris

      Leo, you should probably think of the Planar as a mislabeld great 2.8/50mm lens and not as fast lens.

      Regarding the focal length of the Otus: for me 55mm and 50mm are the same. A difference of 5mm is a lot for a wideangle but not for a standard (or tele) lens.

      The new Sigma 50mm Art lens sounds great and if you need AF it’s the best choice at the moment.

      Reply
  2. Dave

    Very interesting comparison Boris. Well done.

    How would you rate the Otus’s bokeh and “drawing style” compared to the planar

    Reply
    • Boris

      Thanks Dave! I’ve not shot enough with the Otus to give a competent answer. But from what I’ve seen so far both lenses have stopped down a very nice rendering and lovely smooth bokeh. Wide open the Otus in a class of it’s own. But rendering and bokeh reminds me a bit of the Leica Summilux 50mm Asph wide open but with much better sharpness of the Otus.

      Reply
  3. Leo

    I have bought the Sigma 50mm F1.4 art. This weekend I visited Paris for a couple days . The IQ of the lens is amazing, open at F1.4. But for a streetlens it is big.

    Reply
    • Boris

      Leo, I’m sure the Sigma is a great lens especially considering the price. And it’s smaller and lighter than the Otus.

      Boris

      Reply
      • Leo

        The lens is something special, but I am sure the Otus is that as well. I wish you lots of pleasure with it 🙂

  4. Roquencourt

    Suite à vos essais de l’APO-summicron, ne serait-il pas opportun de le comparer avec l’ OTUS sur le même réflex Nikon 800.
    Mes salutations.

    Reply
  5. Boris

    Hi Roquencourt, you can’t mount the Apo Summicron on a DSLR since it is a rangefinder lens. A direct comparison between the Otus and the Apo Summicron would be interesting, but you can do it only on cameras like the Sony A7R or the Leica M using adapters.

    Boris

    Reply
    • Boris

      Thanks Roquencourt! I hadn’t seen seen this test from Roger before. What I don’t understand yet: Maybe the Apo Summicron is really better than the Otus but my Summilux was wide open at the edges clearly not as good as the Otus. Roger’s test shows something different.

      Reply
  6. Roquencourt

    http://lcap.tistory.com/entry/Sigma-50mm-f14-ART-vs-Otus-55mm-f14
    Ces essais sont aussi intéressants. “L’avantage” de l’Apo est sa taille.
    Pour effectuer des comparatifs , je pense qu’il est nécessaire d’avoir le même capteur (même fréquence de coupure), c’était la raison de ma proposition erronée.
    On peut constater que les essais sur ces 3 objectifs intéressent beaucoup de monde.
    Cordialement.

    Reply
  7. jmui852

    Hi,

    I am just wondering whether you can give me your thoughts on the 50mm makro planar? I use a D800 as my body and currently have a 35.4 sigma ART, Nikon27-70 2.8, Nikon 60mm2.8 macro. I am a very casual shooter and Most often I do not use a tripod. I recently got the nikon 60mm lens to shoot food photos when I dine in nice restaurants (planning on starting a food blog) but never in a studio setting. I noticed when I shoot anything but macro the 60mm 2.8 doesn’t produce really nice IQ. But my friend who owns the zeiss 50mm2.8 makro planar has taken some amazing food shots / street photography. So I am just wondering if you can give your thoughts on that? Also if I do not bring an tripod, would it be really difficult to use(since it is manual focus) as a walk around lens when I travel/ go on vacation? And I heard the lens even though it’s a macro lens it is also very good when used to shoot other things/ served well as a walk around lens? Thanks so much!!

    Cheers
    Jeffrey

    Reply
    • Boris

      Hi Jeffrey,
      I really liked the 50mm Zeiss Makro Planar on my Canon 5D Mark II. It had a nice rendering and was stopped down very sharp with very high micro-contrast. But to get sharp corners you need to stop it down to f/8 – f/11, but we speak about the last few pixels in the corners here. The center area is perfectly sharp wide open. Depending on the conditions the bokeh can sometimes be a bit harsh/nervous. The smoother bokeh and the possibility to get 1:1 magnification without extensions rings are the only advantages of the Nikon 60mm macro lens.
      In my opinion the Zeiss 50mm Makro Planar is a much better walk around lens and I can highly recommend it. It is also very good at infinity and not only at close distances, I’ve used it a lot for landscape images in the past.

      And sorry for the delayed reply, I was on vacation the last two weeks.

      Boris

      Reply
      • jmui852

        Thanks for the reply Bloris.

        I am wondering if you mind explaining what exactly does the extension tubes do? Also how would you compare it to the other 50mm 1.2 / 1.4 lenses by nikon or canon? I heard that the Color this lens produce is much nicer and it somehow allows the image to really pop? Could you please verify this and care to explain a bit? Would this lens be hard to focus without a tripod as it is manual focus only? Because I am not a serious photographer and do not even own a tripod, and even if I do I would not wanna be bringing t along with me on vacation.

        I also have another question that I would like to seek your advice on the focusing. As I have never used a MF only lens before, I hope you can let me know what’s the best way to focus. Understand for nikon if the middle focus point is in focus, there will be a blink so you would know it’s in focus. So do I focus on an object first, then frame the shot? Or can I just frame the shot firsts, then manually turn the focus ring until I see what I like? Also if I go with the latter (framing the shot first before focusing), would it be possible to move the focus point off the middle so it would give me a notification when the point I wish to focus on (say top right corner) is in focus? That would be more accurate no? Thanks so much!!

        Regards
        Jeffrey

  8. Boris

    If you put a 50mm extension tube on a 50mm macro lens you can get from 1:2 magnification to 1:1 magnification. This means that the Zeiss 50mm Macro Panar gets the same maxmimum magnification as the Nikon 60mm macro lens, if you add a 50mm extension tube.

    I have not much experience with the Nikon and Canon 50mm lenses. From the images I’ve seen the colors (and clarity / micro-contrast) of these two lenses look not as nice as with the Zeiss 50mm lens.

    The Zeiss Macro Planar is extremely smooth and precise to manual focus, but the Nikon D800 is clearly not the best camera for manual focus. The viewfinder is just not very informative and precise regarding the current plane of focus und the focus confirmation lights are also too inaccurate. The Canon 5D behaves much better in this regards.

    There are two possible ways to precisley manual focus with the D800:
    1. Using LV mit max zoom. This is best done from a tripod but it is also possible handheld. I’ve used this technique (LV handheld) on a wedding with great success. Important is that the subject doesn’t move.
    2. Stopping down the lens to at least f/5.6 und focus wide open using the viewfinder. That way the higher DOF at f/5.6 mostly covers any focus errors.

    You should probably either rent a MF lens or try it out in store. If that’s not possible for you then just use some of your AF lenses in MF for some days and check how you like it and how much images you loose due to focus errors.

    Boris

    Reply
  9. Andrea Verdi

    at f5.6 i prefer the colours of planar ze..for my taste it has much saturated colours and better contrast. IMHO. the best performance of 50 1.4 are around 4.0 – 5.6

    Reply

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