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Sunday, December 16, 2012

••◊ Zeiss versus Canon lenses versus Samyang

I borrowed a focus chart over the weekend to do a few tests on my lenses.  After paying an atrocious amount of money for a set of Zeiss primes I wanted to see if they were really worth it.  What I had available is a mixture of popular lenses used with a DLSR for video.  So I realize that the lenses aren't quite the same value, performance range, or expected performance.  It's what *I* had available to me.  I have a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L series, Zeiss 50mm f/2 macro, and Zeiss 35mm f/1.4.  My friend brought over his Canon 24-105mm f/4 L series and Samyang 35mm f/1.4.


First, I'll say that the Zeiss lenses are really top notch precision quality.  Their lower end SLR lenses are made by Cosina in Japan, but these clearly aren't spec'd like Canon or Nikon lenses.  No plastic or rubber, nor tolerance slop, as I've become accustomed to from Canon L series lenses.  Even the lens shades are metal!  But, more importantly, I really wanted to look at the optical quality of the lenses.  I'll get into the ergonomics of the design in a future post.

Let's start with a comparison of crops from the lower left corner of the focus chart using the 35mm focal length at f/4.  Frankly, they're all really good with the exception of the 24-105mm Canon, which is starting to show chromatic aberration and distortion.  The Samyang actually has really great performance, which is surprising given the bargain price - most likely due to the mostly plastic construction of this lens.  Notice how the Zeiss still has detail in the "A" pattern?  Very nice.

Canon 24-70mm @ 35mm
Canon 24-105 @ 35mm
Samyang 35mm
Zeiss 35mm

Then lets look at the same plots at 50mm f/4.  The 24-70 and Zeiss seem pretty close, with the exception of some aliasing in the A pattern on the Canon lens.  However, both Canons still show distortion even at this "normal" focal length.  The aliasing on the 24-70mm might have something to do with the distortion skewing the lines slightly.

Canon 24-70mm @ 50mm
Canon 24-105mm @ 50mm
Zeiss 50mm
 

This is all cool, but what about pictures in the real world?  For that I went to a nearby hillside and took some pictures while focused at infinity. One thing I'm still getting used to is the Zeiss lenses and their hard stop at infinity. The infinity markings on the Canons aren't always dead on. You really have to focus them via live view to know you have a sharp image. Below are the same outlook at 35 and 50mm using each of the lenses.

Although the Canon 24-70mm is still really good, it doesn't match the Samyang nor Zeiss.  The Canon 24-105 is definitely more distorting and blurry. The Zeiss and Samyang were both excellent.  I invite you to download the images and examine them for yourself.  The images below are 960x640px, so you're not seeing the full story by just looking at the images in in the blog post.  Blogger downscales everything to 320px wide.

Overall view
Canon 24-70mm @ 35mm
Canon 24-105mm @ 35mm
Samyang 35mm
Zeiss 35mm
Canon 24-70mm @ 50mm
Canon 25-105 @ 50mm
Zeiss 50mm

I fully realize I'm being overly nit picky here, but when you pay so much for a lens you deserve to be.  What I can say is that the Zeiss and Samyang seem to be matched pretty well optically.  Both are excellent.  It appears as though what you're really paying for with the Zeiss is the all metal bomb-proof construction and tight German tolerance.  What I haven't been able to investigate is the bokeh, flare control, and transmission characteristics.  Frankly I'd rather be out shooting than doing lens tests, however it's the end of the year and production is pretty much shut down until the hangovers from New Year's Eve wear off.

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