ZEISS "CLASSIC" 50MM F2 MAKRO-PLANAR ZE LENS
Published November 2010; Updated March 9, 2017
|Released||December 4th, 2009 (Canon ZE Mount); DPReview|
|Lens Composition||8 Elements / 6 Groups|
|Angular Field of View||38.5º at Infinity|
|Aperture Blades||8, Curved (Circular)|
|Focus Type||Manual Focus|
|Minimum Focus||6.4” / .24 Meters|
|F-Stop Scale||F2.8 to F22 in 1/3 Stop Increments|
|Filter Size||67mm, Front Thread, Non-rotating|
|Metal Lens Hood||Included|
|Lens Pouch||None Included|
|Weight||1.26 pounds / 570 Grams|
|Size||W 75.4mm x L 65mm|
|Mounts Available||ZF, ZK and ZE|
|PDF / MTF||Specification Sheet|
The newly released Zeiss "Classic" 50mm F2 Makro-Planar ZE is the same lens optically as the the ZF version for Nikon released a couple years ago. For Canon owners the key differences in the ZE mount are: automatic aperture operation, complete EXIF data, focus confirmation and no need for third party lens adapters. Using a Zeiss ZE lens is like using any other Canon manual focus EF lens - aperture is set via the controls on the Canon camera body, EXIF data shows the lens and exposure information - including the aperture selected, focus confirmation beeps and so on. The Zeiss ZE’s work on all EF and EF-S dSLR bodies.
After spending several years shooting with the Leica M8 and Leica M9, it is easy to grow accustom to Leica’s build quality. Leica lenses are known for tight tolerances, smooth focus action, lightly dampened focus rings and high grade materials. I am happy to write that the Zeiss 50mm F2 Makro-Planar ZE’s build quality and materials feel as a good Leica lens.
The focus scale and macro magnification markings are engraved on the lens barrel. The knurling on the focus ring is very fine. It is likely that finger oil and dust will accumulate in the ridges, so wiping down the lens with micro fiber lens cloth is good preventive maintenance. The lens does not come with a pouch or lens case.
Compared to typical 50mm lenses such as the Canon EF 50mm F1.4 USM, the Zeiss 50/2 ZE is not a light lens. Part of the weight difference is the all metal barrel construction. Zeiss uses very little plastic in their lenses. Also the Zeiss 50mm F2 Makro-Planar ZE employs a floating element design, so there are 8 elements. A typical kit 50mm lens has around 6 elements. The ZE version weighs 40 grams more compared to the original ZF version - presumably the electronics for the auto aperture mechanism.
The front lens tends to pop off as the lens is pulled out in placed into the camera bag. At first I thought the caps lacked enough grip, but that is not the case. When putting the front cap back on, it tends to sit crooked. With a bit of extra wiggling the cap will sit flush. A half twist helps to “lock” the cap into the filter threads.
When focused at infinity (the lens’ shortest barrel length), the 50/2 ZE balances nicely on the Canon 1Ds Mark III. At the infinity position the lens is relatively compact - about the size of the Canon 35L. At 1:2 magnification (the 50/2 ZE’s minimum focus distance) the 50/2 ZE is about 1.5 inches longer. Being a macro lens, the added length is expected, but it does shift the balance. The 50/2's size and mass become more noticeable.
The front element is recessed very deep, so to keep the lens kit a smaller, one could shoot without the included lens hood. With the front element being so deeply recessed, I am not sure if the lens even needs its hood except in extreme lighting conditions. Thus far I have been shooting the 50/2 ZE without a hood and have not encountered any lens flare with the sun to my back or side. A metal lens hood is included. To attach the hood, it rotates into place and locks into position with metal spring clips.
The 50/2 ZE’s focus ring turns smoothly, but feels stiffer than 28/2 ZE and 21/2.8 ZE. Both the Zeiss 50/2 ZF and 100/2 ZF are infamous for their stiff focus rings, and it appears the 50/2 ZE continues in the family tradition. A stiff focus ring makes one more aware of the long focus throw when racking the lens. The stiff focus ring was very noticeable the first day, but after using the lens several times - either the focus ring is improving, or I am getting used to it.
Like the other ZE lenses, the focus ring is well positioned. The ring is about a half inch wide and easy to find by touch. Focus confirmation works fine with the 1Ds Mark III. he Canon focus points cover an area larger than the specific point on the focus screen, so whether focus confirmation beeped for the exact point for where focus was intended may or may not be the case. If shooting at extreme close distances, Live View is more exact.
Focusing the 50/2 ZE requires attention and a sharp eye. The focus confirmation beep puts focus in the right right area, but hitting the exact point takes added effort. The 50/2 ZE’s long focus throw can complicate matters. First, going from one end of the range to the opposite end takes several twists. Next, once the focus is in the right range, deciding whether focus should be tweaked forward slightly, or backed-off by a hair can be difficult to judge. Again, Live View can make the focus process much easier when trying to “nail” focus.
Racking the focus from infinity to the minimum focus distance is almost a full turn of the focus ring (about 330º of rotation). The focus throw when focusing from 1M to Infinity is only about 30 degrees of rotation, so for normal walk-around pictures, the focus throw is a normal amount of distance. Macro lenses generally have long focus throws for more precise control over the placement of the focus plane.
The Zeiss 50mm F2 Makro-Planar ZE’s roots date back to 1896 with the first symmetric lens design by Dr. Paul Rudolph. On the Zeiss page there are two optical formulas shown - one the Contax 60mm Macro and the second for the Hasselblad 120mm CFE. Both those designs consist of 6 elements. The 50mm Makro-Planar ZE design has 8 elements - with the most significant changes in rear lens groups. The take-away here is - the 50mm Makro-Planar is not a new design, it is an evolution.
The Zeiss 50mm Makro-Planar ZE’s sweet is wide apertures at close distances. Under those conditions the 50/2 ZE delivers shallow DOF, highly abstracted bokeh, a sharp, pronounced focal plane, and bold, contrasty colors. The amount of fine detail is amazing. The Zeiss 50/2 ZE renders those images in lovely with colors and contrast that I really like.
I have seen the usual Zeiss chromatic aberrations (CA) in the bokeh. The CA has not been objectionable and the focus plane is essentially CA free. Based on my previous experience with the 50/2 ZE and ZF, I would not expect CA to be a problem; however, CA is one those areas where a lens needs to be used across a wide range of settings, locations and light conditions before any conclusive statements can be made with a high degree of confidence.
In my opinion the 50/2 ZE’s standout features are its sharpness, resolution and bokeh when focusing at close distances. Light fall-off in the corners in minimal and is a non-issue around F4. Likewise, the corners are a tad soft F2, and by F2.8 to F4.0 they are quite sharp. CA is well managed. There be a slight touch of pincushion distortion. I have seen no signs of focus shift. The 3D pop is there from time to time, but it really depends on the scene, lighting and aperture. In the 3 to 5 foot range the 50/2 ZE has a nice 3D feel. Starting around 10-15 feet, the 3D feel slips away.
Similar to the Zeiss 28mm F2 Distagon ZE, the 50mm Makro Planar’s signature / fingerprint is most apparent at close focusing distances. For landscape work at mid distances and infinity, the Zeiss 50mm F2 Makro-Planar performs admirably, however, its fingerprint is less distinctive. If trying to decide between the Zeiss 50mm F1.4 Planar ZE and the Makro-Planar ZE, I would pick the Makro-Planar every time. I have no love for Zeiss 50mm F1.4 Planar ZE because its wide open sharpness was very poor, and the lens exhibited moderate focus shift.
Zeiss has since replaced the 50/1.4 Planar ZE with the much larger and more expensive Zeiss Milvus 50mm F1.4; this new version is reportedly to be much improved (I have not tried one). Unfortunately that new Milvus is a pretty large lens too - not quite Otus sized, but it is big. Likewise, the "classic" Zeiss 50mm F2 Makro-Planar ZE has been replaced with a new Milvus version. The new Milvus version has the same optical formula; the update was for the new barrel style and lens coatings. Thus, the "classic" 50mm F2 Makro-Planar ZE's can be found on the secondhand market for bargain prices.