The title alone brings a feeling of excitement and excellence and it should. The C/Y Zeiss 85mm Planar 1.4 is an exceptional lens which can elevate you to the level of a photography God......well maybe not that last part but at least you will feel that way. This “vintage” lens is made for the Old Contax / Yashica 35mm film cameras and are easily considered some of the best glass a photographer can own and are highly regarded by those who have them. The C/Y Zeiss lenses can still be had at a good price if you can find a deal but with the resurgence of film photography as well as the ability to adapt glass to todays mirrorless systems, prices have certainly risen.
The construction of the lens is everything you have come to expect from the name Carl Zeiss. My specific copy was made in West Germany however many Zeiss lenses have been made in Japan as well. In my experience either type will suit you just fine and I haven’t noticed an edge either way.
Smooth focusing with solid stops and just the right dampening. Solid audiable aperture clicks. The famous T* Zeiss coatings that offer extraordinary contrast and pop to give you that a Zeiss 3D rendering they are known for.
When I set out for my copy I had two...well three applications in mind. First and foremost I wanted to adapt this lens to my Fujifilm GFX50S digital Medium Format camera. I have seen results and they were amazing. Not wanting to spend close to $2,000 USD on a Zeiss 80mm F/2 Contax 120mm Film Medium format lens, I opted for the 35mm film version the 85mm Zeiss Planar 1.4. As luck would have it the image circle covers the GFX sensor just fine with a very soft and minimal vignette which is easily gone when adjusting the vignette slider in post to about 65-70%. This set up when adapted to the GFX gives me roughly a 67mm f/1.1 in 35mm equivalent focal length. People are not used to seeing a 67mm focal length let alone the wide DOF of 1.1 and needless to say it makes your image stand apart. A really three demensional look where your subject just pops from the image. A lot of talk as of late is the great debate as to why one would adapt an old lens to a new resolution Beast like the GFX. Why not use the native Fuji glass.....well, because its my camera and I'll do what I want to. No, in all seriousness though adapting glass while fun also offers benefits like different looks and effects not seen before as well as a cheaper option to shoot various focal lengths. Plus it just plain F.U.N.
The second application would be to use on my crop sensor Fuji bodies. This gives me a 127mm f/2.1. Another really nice focal length for portrait work. Focus peaking on the XPro2/XT2 series cameras works wonders. A little tip I found helpful is to set you cameras film simulation to black and white and the focus peaking is even easier to spot. If your shooting RAW files it won’t matter at all once imported because everything goes back to the standard image info (no simulations).
The third reason these lenses and this 85mm lens in particular was beneficial to me is I use them on my Contax RTSii 35mm film camera. Yep... you guessed it. The focal length is......85mm f/1.4. A true classic portrait lens. Portrait photography is one of my favorite genres of photography. It’s pretty evident if you took the time to browse my website or Instagram feed.
I'm not much of a technical charts/numbers guy when it comes to evaluating glass. I never check the DXO rankings. I skip over the highly technical reviews of lenses made by other bloggers. While I appreciate the effort, skill and knowledge they put into those reviews they hardly tell me the most important aspects a lens has to offer. For me that most important trait is CHARACTER. Some lenses have it and some are just plain duds. Some lenses are a necessity when doing pro work but are uninspiring. The Zeiss Contax 85mm Planar is no dud. It oozes character out of every element. This lens is just ready to work and if deployed properly will make you look like a hero. It’s huge front element combined with its fast 1.4 aperture sucks in every ounce of available light. Sometimes this isn’t a great thing if you want to shoot wide open on a sunny day. Thank god for ND Filters right? Go grab yourself a 3 step or variable ND filter for those hard light days.
I truly enjoy this lens for weddings as I feel it gives my work a look that stands out for the everyday images potential clients see when researching their future photographer. I was using the Pentax67 105mm 2.4 a lot for weddings and while it is a fantastic lens I found the look to be similar on the 85mm plus the set up is smaller. This is definitely helpful when your shooting with two cameras and the other one is a huge Nikon D5. I mostly break out this beastly combo during bride/groom prep as well as intimate couples portraits. The images are just so rich with detail and the fall off is something surreal that a full frame 35mm cannot give you. Here is a recent set I took using the GFX and 85mm Zeiss combo while shooting for another wedding photographer Devin Peppler Photography. He called last minute asking me to help him out and I was happy to test this combo out professionally........it did not fail.
Please keep in mind all these images in this set are slightly edited Jpegs as the RAWs were handed over to the photographer I was shooting for at the time.
While shooting these images of the groom during prep I also used my Nikon D5 with the amazing 58mm 1.4 lens. I really love this lens. It definitely gives off a bit of that medium format feel when shot close up and in a portrait setting. I love shooting the men in this pose. Sitting in a chair near a window with arms and elbows resting on the thighs. Have them lean forward a bit and it will really square off the jaw bone adding to that masculine look.
For more info on my approach to wedding photography please visit my recently featured interview in FUJI X Passion Magazine. You can head to their website HERE or check out my blog post indexed below as well as other interesting things you may like.
Nikon D5 & 58mm 1.5 Nikkor
Fuji Acros Simulation ( a little brighter then the GFX image)
Fujifilm GFX & 85mm Planar
Fuji Acros simulation
When we start getting some distance is where we see the gorgeous medium format fall off become apparent. Especially with the 85mm Zeiss. Not only are we at a shallower DOF but the Zeiss lenses are known for their contrasty pop.
GFX/Zeiss 85mm on Left ---------Nikon/ Nikkor 58mm on Right
Shhhh!!!! I'm aware the colors are not an exact match.
Ok, I've babbled on long enough. Below are an assortment of personal images I took with the 85mm Zeiss 1.4.
Well, to close this one out please send in your comments and questions and I'll do my best to help you out and answer what I know. Please share the blog and help others out. Check out my Instagram Feed and while your there give it a follow. Also come check out my youtube channel and subscribe. I'm posting more videos soon but right now there is an accompanying video on this exact topic so you may find that helpful as well.