Shooting the Zeiss 28mm Distagon T* f/2.0

As a film photographer I shot with Contax SLRs because I liked the performance of their Zeiss lenses but as that company became a second footnote in history and digital photography came along, I took refuge in the Canon marque but missed shooting those splendid Carl Zeiss optics. Not anymore…

The 28mm Distagon T* f/2.0 ZE has a maximum aperture opening of f/2.0 that combined with its moderately wide-angle focal length makes it a great all-around lens especially under low light conditions. It’s not a small lens as might be expected with such a large aperture and uses retro-focus construction. Retrofocus design solves proximity problems by using an asymmetrical design allowing the rear element to be further from the plane of focus than its effective focal length might ordinarily suggest. The lens focuses from less than 10-inches to infinity, enabling you to make sharp images of even tiny objects. The T* anti-reflective coating deals with reflections and stray light and Zeiss includes a metal lens hood to seal the deal on flare.

The wide maximum aperture isn’t just for focusing in dim light, it  provides more control of depth-of-field allowing to keep foreground objects sharp, while allowing the background to go pleasingly soft making it useful for environmental and outdoor portraiture. Its  wide focus rotation makes it ideal for shooting with the supported (Canon, Nikon and Pentax) SLRs that have video capability and who want a lens with manual focusing control.

Zeiss lens/ chip size comparisonWhat do you lose when shooting the 28mm Distagon T* f/2.0 in a camera that has a lens multiplication factor greater that 1:1? The top shot was made using a full-frame EOS 5D and the bottom with an EOS 7D that has a 1.6x multiplication ratio. Each camera was placed on a tripod that was not moved during the shoot while the lens was changed to the new body. ©2012 Joe Farace

Like other Zeiss ZE lenses, the 28mm Distagon T* f/2.0 ZE incorporates a CPU and data contacts for communication with the camera body. This means the aperture setting is controlled directly from the camera body and all of your camera’s exposure modes including E-TTL flash metering are supported and all lens and exposure data can be accessed via the captured image file’s EXIF data. Focus confirmation—this is a manual focus lens—is provided in the viewfinder complete with audio chirps from affected focus points.

Focusing is smooth using a finely knurled metal focusing ring—no rubber coated rings here—and it worked perfectly as long as the weather was dry. When it got wet, the fine knurling on the focusing ring that made it so delightful to use in the dry became slippery when wet. More coarse knurling would make it better in the wet but not as good as the dry.

The photographer not used to working with Zeiss lenses may be initially surprised at the weight of this lens but they will also be impressed by the precision construction. This is a solidly built optical device combining the finest materials and construction along with an optical design that is time tested and even legendary. If you don’t mind focusing, with maybe a little assist from your camera’s focus confirmation feature, you’ll discover Zeiss has produced the best combination of optical performance and low lighting versatility that can be found in this focal length.

Author: Joe Farace

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