If I were to create a description of the ultimate 28mm manual focus lens, it would read like the Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 Lens’ press release.
It seems like the Zeiss marketing department took all of the attributes one could want in a lens and pieced them together to create the Otus 28mm announcement.
Zeiss had set the bar high for lenses bearing the “Otus” (means owl) name with the 55 and 85mm f/1.4 variants delivering pure excellence and the Otus 28 now takes its place beside them.
Along with extreme high quality, standard with the Otus lenses is an extremely high price.
Also standard is that these lenses are manual-focus-only.
If your budget is not solid or if you need autofocus, this is not the lens for you.
Otherwise, you want to keep reading.
You may want to continue reading regardless.
28mm Focal Length
Interesting to me is that Zeiss chose the 28mm focal length for this lens.
I more frequently use the 24mm and 35mm focal lengths, each roughly twice as commonly found in prime lenses.
The 28mm’s 75° angle of view lands nearly squarely in the middle of the 24 and 35mm’s 84° and 63° respective angles of view.
The 28 is 3° closer to 24, and that slight difference is probably what you will notice in a comparison borrowed from the
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens Review:
The uses for 28mm are essentially the same as those for the more common neighboring prime focal lengths.
While not always possibly, backing up slightly allows the 28 to frame similarly to a 24mm lens and moving in covers the 35mm framing.
Focal length matters because it drives focus distance choices and perspective is then determined.
Because it provides a pleasing perspective for many uses, the 28mm focal length can work well in a wide range of situations.
I’ll create a starter list for you.
The 28mm focal length works well for photojournalism and street photography.
Event, wedding and portrait photographers appreciate the perspective provided by 28mm for full to mid-body portraits, group portraits and images that capture the venue itself.
Landscape photographers, definitely targeted by Zeiss for this lens, will have no struggle finding use for the 28mm focal length, with this angle of view being easy to work with from a compositional standpoint.
When combined with an extreme wide aperture, a 28mm lens is a great choice for night sky photography, another specifically-targeted use by Zeiss.
This lens will certainly find itself being used by videographers including for documentary work.
Architecture and many medium and large products can be nicely captured at 28mm.
Although I don’t expect this lens to be as commonly used on smaller-than-full-frame sensor bodies, it will perform very well on these cameras.
On an ASP-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format DSLR, this lens’ angle of view is similar to that of a 44.8mm lens on a full frame DSLR.
This angle of view is close to 50mm, the focal length that many consider “normal”.
Providing a perspective similar to how we see, the 50mm angle of view is great for general purpose use which incorporates many of the 28mm uses while also allowing for a more flattering perspective in tighter-framed portraits.
Very few DSLR lenses have an aperture wider than f/1.4 and none of those lenses are wider than 50mm.
So, as of review time, this lens is as fast as wide angle lenses get.
A big advantage of a wide aperture is the amount of light transmitted to the sensor, allowing for shutter speeds capable of stopping camera and subject motion blur in low light.
Another big wide aperture advantage is the shallow depth of field provided, causing distracting background details to go out of focus.
The 28mm focal length is not going to enlarge background details completely beyond recognition, but with f/1.4 in use, background distractions can be significantly reduced.
With the Otus focused to its minimum focus distance and a distant background framed, we see the maximum blur potential of this lens.
Note that, especially under full sun conditions, a 1/8000 shutter speed may be only marginally fast enough to avoid blown highlights at f/1.4.
Cameras with shutter speeds limited to 1/4000 may need the assistance of a neutral density filter to keep images dark enough at f/1.4.
Shooting with a narrower aperture of course remains an option.
Here is a look at the wider aperture range of this lens with moderate distance subjects found in Whitby Beach, North Caicos and Bambarra Beach in Middle Caicos respectively.
The background blur an f/1.4 can create is noticeably stronger that what an f/2.8 can create and even more so with a close subject.
The image quality section of the Otus 28 review is what I was waiting for.
Image quality at f/1.4 in any lens is usually at least somewhat compromised.
The first two f/1.4 Otus lenses were superb – best-available – and this one of course promised the same (especially if you read the press release).
Wide open at f/1.4, the Otus 28 has very good sharpness across the entire full frame sensor.
One stop down at f/2, a bump in sharpness makes this lens razor sharp with corners only trailing the center slightly.
A slight increase in sharpness is seen at f/2.8 with extreme corners getting a slightly bigger improvement.
I don’t see much reason to stop down further for sharpness reasons, though some slight improvement in the extreme corners can be seen.
The improvements seen at f/2.8 are, as expected, slightly more pronounced on an ultra-high resolution imaging sensor.
Still, this is easily the sharpest 28mm lens available and I see only one other wide angle lens rivaling this one (more later), even within 1 stop of the max f/1.4 aperture.
Here is a look at the center of the frame performance of this lens as seen by an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R.
These images were captured in RAW format and processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to “1” and cropped to 100% resolution.
The following examples are from the center of the frame.
f/1.4 Sharpened |
Note that the f/1.4 images above were increased in brightness by 1/3 stop in post to give them a brightness comparable to the other aperture results.
I’ll talk more about aberrations soon, but notice the lack of color fringing even with blown white next to shadows.
The “f/1.4 Sharpened” results show how a small amount of Unsharp Mask changes the results.
Let’s now move to the extreme corner of the frame – paying the most attention to the top right corner of these examples.
Again, this 5Ds R image set was lightly sharpened (“1”).
Most apparent in the corner is the vignetting and its clearing causing increased brightness and contrast at narrower apertures.
While many wide angle lenses render corners very noticeably blurred at their widest apertures, the Otus 28 holds things together well even into deep corners.
I’m not ready to say that this lens is sharper than its longer siblings, but it performs at the top of its class.
As made obvious in the last comparison, this lens is going to show peripheral shading at f/1.4.
The amount, about 3.5 stops in the corners, is strong, but not unusually so for a wide angle f/1.4 lens.
The shading quickly diminishes with stopping down with about 2 stops remaining at f/2 and about 1 stop left at f/2.8.
Less than a stop of vignetting is not readily noticed and this lens continues to show even less shading as it is further stopped down with about .4 stops at f/16.
Really impressive is this lens’ control of lateral CA (Chromatic Aberration).
Lateral CA shows as various wavelengths of light being magnified differently with the effect being increasingly noticeable toward the image circle periphery, causing the most-affected area of the image to appear less sharp.
Look for the strongest color fringing along edges of strongly contrasting lines running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) near the corners of the frame, generally irrespective of the aperture used.
Lateral CA is easily corrected (often in the camera) in software by radially shifting the colors to coincide, but … that correction is not necessary with this lens.
Essentially, there isn’t any LatCA.
LatCA becomes more pronounced with an ultra-high resolution DSLR in use and here is a worst-case example from a 5Ds R corner:
I don’t recall any wide angle lenses performing as well in this regard.
A common lens issue affecting sharpness in ultra-wide aperture lenses is spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color
(looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration which is different colors of light being focused to different depths, but is hazier).
The spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration (but not axial CA).
While not completely free of these aberrations, the Otus 28 performs impressively in this regard.
Following is a worst case, center-of-the-frame, 100% crop example captured with the EOS 5Ds R.
Notice the slight color fringing in front and behind the plane of sharp focus with purple being most prominent.
The slight spherical aberration is primarily seen at f/1.4 and this defect clearing is what makes the center of the frame details appear slightly sharper at f/2.0.
At f/1.4, with the sun in the corner of the frame, this lens shows very little flare effect.
Stop this lens down and it is not until f/8 that some minor flaring begins to show.
The effects grow more obviously from f/8 through f/16 where the effects are noticeable.
Coma is generally recognized by sharp detail contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery.
Coma is most visible in wide aperture corners and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down.
The pin-point stars in the night sky are the subject that brings this aberration out most easily for me.
While this lens shows some coma, it is a good performer in comparison.
One of the advantages that typically comes from using a prime (vs. zoom) lens is lack of geometric distortion.
With only very slight barrel distortion showing, this lens is again performing very well.
The following example shows a reduced size full frame border with straight lines, making any distortion easy to see.
Easy to evaluate is the ability of a lens to throw the background out of focus and this lens rates at the top of its class in this regard.
Conversely, evaluating bokeh, the quality of the foreground and background blur, is always a challenge as there is an infinite number of test scenarios available.
The background blur I have been seeing appears very nice.
Here is an example showing specular highlights at f/5.6.
The normal concentric rings can be seen around the borders of specular highlights, the outer transition is not harsh and the centers are rather smooth.
With an odd-numbered aperture blade count, you can expect distant point light sources showing a star-like effect to have 18 points due to the odd number blade count.
Overall, with little to complain about, image quality is going to be a strong driver for sales of the Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens.
As mentioned in the beginning of the review, the Otus 28 (and all other Zeiss ZE and ZF lenses) is manual focus-only.
But it delivers excellence in manual focusing.
“Like butter” is a common analogy for extreme smoothness and this lens’ manual focus ring qualifies for this designation.
The extremely smooth, ideally-dampened focusing ring with a big 120° of rotation and no play allows very precise focusing.
Subjects change size in the frame by a modest amount during a full extent focus adjustment, but size changes during short focus adjustments will not likely be found bothersome.
As expected for a lens of this class (and for all of the Zeiss lenses I’ve used to date), the front element does not rotate during focusing.
This is important for use of some filter types including circular polarizer filers.
A full DOF (Depth of Field) scale is provided – including wide aperture marks – not just f/11 and narrower.
Unique from the other Zeiss lines (Classic and Milvus) is that the ft/m distance scale resides in an uncovered window built into the lens barrel.
A concern I have is that dust/dirt can get into the lens in this area, landing on the ring and getting turned under the lens barrel housing.
My concerns were not realized during my time with this lens (or the other two Otus lenses).
Also unique from the Classic and Milvus lines is that the Otus line’s lettering and markings are provided in a high-visibility yellow color.
While I remain a bigger fan of the white from a cosmetic perspective, functionality is paramount with these Otus lenses and the yellow color is said to be ideal for use in low light conditions.
All markings and lettering on this lens are etched into the metal lens barrel, focusing ring and lens hood.
Infinity and minimum focus distances are hard stops with distant subjects (such as stars) being sharp just before the infinity hard stop.
Focus distance settings are easily repeatable – a very important feature for some uses including video focus pulls.
As always, focus accuracy is up to you with a manual focus-only lens.
In the old days, manual focusing was all we had.
But, we were given bright viewfinders with split image rangefinders and microprisms.
Today’s DSLR viewfinders are optimized for autofocusing and the provided focusing screen makes precise manual focusing a challenge.
Focusing screens can be replaced (either via accessory drop-in replacements or via a service provided by a third party camera service center),
but one challenge potentially remains and that is focus calibration.
If the focusing screen is not precisely calibrated with the imaging sensor, perfect viewfinder-based focusing can result in a front or back focus condition.
The viewfinder’s in-focus indicator light will come on when the camera thinks that accurate focus has been acquired, but this is an imprecise indication.
Ideal is to use live view under maximum magnification where very precise manual focusing can be very reliably established.
The downside of course is that not all situations permit use of the magnified live view method.
If I have to choose something unremarkable about this lens, I would likely pick the 11.8″ (300mm) MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and resulting 0.16x MM (Maximum Magnification).
These figures are not terrible and none of the other lenses listed in the comparison table below are dramatically better, but this lens is tied for last place in the close focusing category.
|Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||8.3″||(210mm)||0.16x|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||11.0″||(280mm)||0.21x|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Lens||11.8″||(300mm)||0.18x|
|Nikon 24mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||9.8″||(250mm)||0.179x|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||11.8″||(300mm)||0.20x|
|Samyang 24mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens||9.8″||(250mm)|
|Samyang 35mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens||11.8″||(300mm)|
|Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||9.8″||(250mm)||0.19x|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||11.8″||(300mm)||0.19x|
|Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||11.8″||(300mm)||0.16x|
|Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZE Lens||11.8″||(300mm)||0.20x|
MFD can be reduced, increasing the MM, by mounting an extension tube behind the lens.
As always, infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed with an ET in use.
This lens is not compatible with Canon extenders.
Build Quality & Features
As with the other Otus lenses, this lens’ build quality gives up nothing to its image quality.
The Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 is built like few other lenses and just using this lens is is a blast.
The family resemblance, especially the aesthetically pleasing curvature, is not hard to see.
The Otus lenses are shown from left to right in the order they were released.
With each successive lens, size and weight have increased with the Otus 28 now being the biggest and heaviest.
Select View: MFD |
w/ Hood: MFD |
The Otus 28 is smooth-shaped and rock solid.
The all metal construction features only one moving exterior part – the focus ring.
The nicely-sized flush-mount focusing ring is smooth-rubber-covered for a secure grip and comfortable feel under a wider range of temperature conditions.
The included metal lens hood is very substantially constructed.
It is very protective and does not noticeably deform even when very firmly squeezed.
The metal lens hood is so strong and well integrated/contoured that it simply feels like an extension of the lens barrel.
This design is comfortable enough that I frequently found myself supporting the lens partially by the hood (ensure it is properly installed before doing this) while using my thumb and index finger to fine tune focus.
Note that this is not a weather-sealed lens.
Use caution if dust and moisture may be encountered.
Like the the Otus 85, the Otus 28 is a handful of a lens – especially from a diameter perspective.
Among the 24 to 35mm prime lenses, the Otus 28 far outclasses the rest for both size and weight.
Nothing is close.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||22.9 oz||(650g)||3.5 x 4.2″||(88.5 x 106.9mm)||77mm||2008|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||26.8 oz||(760g)||3.2 x 4.2″||(80.4 x 105.5mm)||72mm||2015|
|Nikon 24mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||21.9 oz||(620g)||3.3 x 3.5″||(83 x 88.5mm)||77mm||2010|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||21.2 oz||(600g)||3.3 x 3.5″||(83 x 89.5mm)||67mm||2010|
|Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||23.5 oz||(665g)||3.3 x 3.6″||(85 x 90.2mm)||77mm||2015|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||23.5 oz||(665g)||3.0 x 3.7″||(77 x 94mm)||67mm||2012|
|Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||49.1 oz||(1390g)||4.3 x 5.4″||(108.9 x 137mm)||95mm||2015|
|Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZE Lens||29.7 oz||(840g)||3.1 x 3.9″||(78 x 99.3mm)||72mm||2010|
|Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||36.4 oz||(1030g)||3.6 x 5.7″||(92.4 x 144mm)||77mm||2013|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||42.4 oz||(1200g)||4 x 4.9″||(101 x 124mm)||86mm||2014|
|Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens||28.4 oz||(805g)||3.5 x 4.4″||(88.5 x 113mm)||82mm||2012|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
While it is big and heavy, this lens is not difficult to use and control.
The Otus 28 can be handheld for modestly long periods of time without undue fatigue.
And, the additional weight helps steady the camera.
To appreciate the size of a lens, I always find a comparison picture helpful.
Deciding which lenses to visually show beside the Otus 28 gave us pause.
The decision we made was to show two comparisons with the Nikon, Sigma and Canon being represented beside the Otus 28.
The 24mm f/1.4 variants are shown first:
And here are the 35mm f/1.4 options.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens to many other lenses of your choice.
Also large is the 95mm filter size this lens utilizes.
These are big, expensive filters that will not be shareable among many other lenses.
However, it is a size that I have and use occasionally.
Zeiss does not miss with the out-of-the-box experience.
Remove the outer box sleeve to find a somewhat large but very protective hinged box with cut-out foam cradling the lens and hood in place.
This box is nice enough that I wish Zeiss had taken the next step of providing a hard plastic shell case with latches or something similar that would hold up better for use in the field.
Price and Value
The price of this lens, combined with the lack of autofocus, quickly narrows its target market to professionals and serious amateurs.
For some, the price of this lens will be tiny compared to their production budgets for a single shoot.
For others, purchase justification will come from the image quality and reliable performance delivered over, potentially, an entire career.
The Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens is available in Canon (reviewed) and Nikon mounts.
While I usually warn of potential incompatibilities between cameras and lenses made by different manufacturers, autofocus issues are what I am typically most concerned about.
Without AF, I see the risk of choosing this lens to be very minimal.
Zeiss provides a 2-year warranty.
The review lens was retail/online-sourced.
Alternatives to the Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens
The Otus 28 is the widest aperture 28mm DSLR lens currently available.
Thus, there are no direct alternatives.
As discussed, 28mm falls between 24mm and 35mm with those two focal lengths having a plethora of options.
The lens that I see competing most strongly with the Otus 28 is the Canon 35.
The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens, though far less expensive, much smaller/lighter and AF-enabled,
has image quality that is right there with the Otus.
Check out the image quality comparison between the Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 and Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II Lens.
At f/1.4, the Canon is slightly sharper in the center while the Zeiss, with slightly less LatCA, is slightly sharper in the corners.
The Canon has less distortion, has a better maximum magnification spec and is weather sealed.
The Zeiss provides a better manual focus ring experience and, though the Canon is very strongly built, the Zeiss gives me more confidence in ruggedness.
Referencing the focal length discussion earlier in the review, these two lenses do not share the same focal length, but …
I’m guessing that more than a few photographers will opt for the extra 7mm of focal length for the other Canon advantages, primarily for AF and a lower price tag.
I’ll direct you to the site’s comparison tools to compare the specific lenses you are considering.
If you demand a very high level of quality in a wide angle manual focus lens, don’t mind a large size and weight and have a sufficient budget, this might be your lens.
The Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens is impeccably well built and should reliably deliver excellent image quality for decades.