Saturday, January 29, 2011

Carl Zeiss 2/35 - review!


As the first of many (hopefully) photography reviews I'm doing, I should remind you that I'm not going to focus on the technical sides. These are only my personal impressions and views. Things like chromatic aberrations won't be featured here, as I'm no fan of pixel-peeping (though I do sometimes to check the focusing) to search for a flaw my lenses have. Again I remind you that these are all my opinions and may differ from other reviews or your own thoughts.

How on Earth did I discover this amazing piece of glass?!

In late November 2010, I was in a massive dilemma. Not only did I have an important exam coming up, but I also didn't have an 'everyday, go-to, do-everything' lens. The Tamron 17-50 which I had at the time could only be used in DX crop mode on my D700, and the 50mm f/1.8 I always had on that camera wasn't truly mine, it belongs to my brother. I then checked out flickr and found a very talented photographer from the U.S. He is Raymond Larose, easily the most wicked photographer I have on my flickr contact list. Everyday, I drop by his stream to view his newest photos. At the time, he 'only' had a 3.5/18, a 2/35 and a 1.4/85, all of which are Zeiss lenses. Day by day, he had other photographers commenting on his beautiful photos, and most of it were taken with the CZ 2/35. I had never heard of Carl Zeiss and their prestigious lens lineup before I met Raymond, so I owe him for that! I then googled 'Carl Zeiss'...followed by Carl Zeiss 2/35...followed by other lenses Carl Zeiss offers in their arsenal!

I found out that there weren't many people who owns the 35mm, so I approached Raymond and sent him a message on flickr. He responded very well, and told me to go for this lens, and I did. Exactly a week before my exams would start, the lens was shipping from the Southernmost part of Malaysia, the state of Johor. I ordered the lens through, and the lens is an import product. Although this means that the warranty is not from a local shop, I did save a few hundred Ringgit from the purchase. The lens was delivered to my doorstop on the 22nd - a day before the start of my exams! I told my parents that I wouldn't open the box....jyeahh right! But I had to open it anyway, to make sure the correct lens was in there.

Why did I pull the trigger for this?

Carl Zeiss has a long history of making lenses. A lot of photographers have owned Zeiss lenses from the mid-1900s! For my case, I like the design of their lenses and their sheer beauty and precision. It reminds me of the 3 vintage film cameras I adore and still have but no longer use, Elikon 535, Vilia and a Minox 35 AL. All of them are fully manual, and manual focus. And although the manual focusing of these 3 cameras do not surpass the CZ 2/35, its certainly better than modern AF SLR lenses. So the feel of focusing intrigued me. Also, the sharpness of Carl Zeiss lenses, even wide open truly impressed me. They are sharp, but produce pleasing softness around the edges, which I like. Some of you may argue that sharpness isn't everything, and it certainly isn't. But I like to shoot at big apertures, and that's where the Carl Zeiss lenses stole my heart again (and my dad's money!)

First Impressions

Only one word could describe the lens - Unbelievable. Right from the moment I took it out from the box, to the moment I put it back in, the lens was surreal. The build quality is just amazing. Its like I had a tank, with a focusing ring on it and a piece of glass right in front of it. Speaking of focusing ring, its very very very, utterly smooth, precise and quite amazingly, enjoyable! Right there and then, I knew, focusing with this thing is going to be my weirdest hobby! Seriously, if you don't have a hobby, focusing with a Carl Zeiss lens would be a great start. The only surprise I encountered was the lens is heavier than I thought it would be. Being small and compact, surely you would think it's going to be light. But no, don't be fooled. Having said that, the weight does assure you of the build of the lens, with an all-metal and glass construction, it gives you confidence to hold it with minimum grip and still have the lens stuck in your hands somehow.

What's in the box?

It doesn't come with much! The lens with both caps, lens hood, manual, warranty and a test certificate of the lens. This is a clever gesture by Carl Zeiss, as they assure you that every lens that leaves the factory is hand-checked by one of their workers and is able to perform flawlessly albeit if no user-error takes place.


It comes as a standard, I don't know why any lens hood should be an optional purchase, really. As with the lens, the hood is made of metal. The inner part of the hood attracts dust easily, which can be annoying. As for usage to avoid flare, do you really need it? Much has been said about Carl Zeiss lenses being flare-resistant.  I wouldn't say that this lens is resistant to flare, it just handles flare very well even without the hood in place. I just put it in there for added protection from any mishaps that could cause damage to the front element.

hood reversed

hood attached


Lens mount

Lens barrel - metal and almost always dusty!

The lens is very compact and very easy to hold. For me who have very small and oddly shaped hands, it's easy to hold it. The finish of the lens makes it easy to hold it with sufficient grip. The aperture ring rotates very smoothly, and as with all lenses with aperture rings for Nikon cameras, stop it down to the minimum aperture to enable aperture control via the camera's dial. The focusing ring is very smooth, and very precise. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8D is terrible for manual focusing because its 'too smooth'. The feel of focusing with the 2/35 is very smooth, and some refer to it as 'damped'. Frankly, I wouldn't blame you if you buy one of Zeiss' offerings just to get a better feel of focusing!


Carl Zeiss only produce manual-focus-only lenses (with the exception of ZA lenses, which are used on Sony Alpha system, those can be autofocused). Doesn't matter if your Nikon body has a built-in focusing motor, the focusing ring won't rotate end to end when you half-press the shutter release!

Manual-focus, why?

Well you'd want manual focus for a lot of things ; macro, landscapes, occasionally for portraits as well. For events, it might be too hazardous, especially in such fast-pace (and important!) events like weddings and something similar. For such occasions, you're better off investing in those lenses capable of auto-focus, or you're going to make some couple very unhappy! I must say, getting used to manually focusing a lens was difficult at first. But practice makes perfect, and I have never looked back. In fact, out of the 3 lenses I'm looking to buy this year, only one of it is capable of auto-focusing. And what can you take from this? Manual-focus is the way to go, IF and only IF you have enough time to do so with your subjects.

For me, and you if you wear spectacles, do rely on the focusing dots in the viewfinder. The three focus indicators on my D700 is very helpful, and bright, I've had no problems using that. If that's not enough, you might want to spend some money on a focusing screen.


This particular Carl Zeiss lens has a maximum aperture of f/2. Not only is the depth of field so shallow when shooting wide-open, but the bokeh this lens produces are very pleasing. Having said that, even if you stop it down, the lens can still produce very nice bokeh.

Portrait magician
This lens handles skin tones very well, maybe a little bit better for the price. Really, I don't see a reason why you shouldn't be able to use this lens for portraits. The focal length also allows you to shoot environmental portraits, something I'm looking forward to do. Good portraits are easy with this lens, focus on the eyes and you'll be amazed at how well it fares.

Landscapes made easy

What would be better than a bright lens stopped down? A brighter lens stopped down! Seriously, this lens is ideal for landscapes. To be honest I haven't done much landscapes in a while. But when I do get a chance to, I wouldn't be "I need a proper wide-angle lens for landscapes" and stop shooting. It'd probably be because this lens is not wide enough. But, that's just it. Other than that, I have no reason not to shoot landscapes with this baby, excellent colours, contrast and sharpness, what else do you need for landscapes?

Architecture, you can't be serious.

Before the 2/35 came into my life, I thought the only way to shoot architecture is to get the highly expensive tilt and shift lenses to prevent signs of distortion. Well this lens does architecture with the slightest of distortion (don't really care about these things), and amazing colours. Then again, what do I know about photographing architectures?

Other alternatives

Over the last few months, there have been quite a few announcements for 35mm lenses. Nikon, Carl Zeiss and Samyang have all announced their 35mm's. Out of the three, the Samyang 35mm is the cheapest. The Nikon and Carl Zeiss 35mm will set you back over $1800+/RM5000+

Not to worry though, as other manufacturer offers cheaper 35mm's. Nikon and Canon both have 35mm f/2 which is about $400/RM1000+. Do note that both of those are made of plastic, but are really small and compact. So if you'd prefer to be discrete, those are the best choices.

If you need the best quality, there's no denying that the Canon, Nikon, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 are the best in their class.

Should you get this one?

If you need a wide-angle lens but don't need anything wider, or if you need a telephoto lens for portraits but don't need anything longer, this lens will serve you incredibly well. Forget all-in-one zooms (unless you really need the flexibility they offer), this could be your one-lens solution. I find this lens very versatile, thus I shoot almost everything with it. Another area where this lens might shine is photojournalism, though you'd have to be really fast at focusing, and nail it every single time!


Wow, what a lens. Surely my dad isn't regretting my purchase now! This lens is on my D700 95% of the time. I find that it shines in portraiture, landscapes, and close-ups, and I'm shooting more of these because of this lens. Could you do street shooting with this? Why not, I have seen others using this lens for the streets. As a walk-around lens, this lens is phenomenal. It's wide enough for most situations, and forget your longer lenses! Get up close! Again I emphasized that if you want a lens that can do everything in its own way, this is it. I would highly recommend this lens to anyone. But since Nikon and Carl Zeiss itself have launched faster versions for this popular 35mm range, maybe you should consider those too. Will I get the CZ 1.4/35 or the Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G? When I start earning my own money and pay my own bills, yes, without a doubt!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

CZ 2/35 review teaser

Hello, Mr. 35mm
Originally uploaded by Ahmad Ihsan

I'm working on a review for this lens, the Carl Zeiss 2/35. It should be up on the blog by the weekend. Check back soon ;)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

a Voigtlander coming my way? *Updated*

In the past few days, I have been searching for a cheap wide-angle lens on the net. Among the ones that I'm interested in are and my take on them ;

1. Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5 (picture above)
+ Small and compact
+ works well with filters
+ superb MF feel
+ good build quality
- The most expensive among the three I'm looking at
- Unpredictable behaviour at different apertures - from the reviews I've seen

2. Nikon 24mm f/2.8
+ Great price, in between the Voigtlander and Samyang
+ Small (not as small as the Voigtlander)
+ f/2.8 versus f/3.5 on the Voigtlander
- Cheap build quality
- MF feel not the greatest

3. Samyang 14mm f/2.8
+ Widest AND cheapest of the three.
+ Superb resolution
+ Good build quality
- Not sure if 14mm is that practical
- No place to attach filters
- easily to damage front element

I think I'm opting for the Voigtlander. The MF feel is similar to Zeiss but not quite. The smaller maximum aperture doesn't bother me. Since I'll be using it for landscapes, I'll use smaller apertures anyway.

Anyway, we'll see how things progress and I hope that I get my salary soon before my trip to Cameron Highlands in early February. Fascinating times ahead for me!

On another note, lookie what I found in facebook! This young Swiss boy is trying to organize an Earth Hour in his country. I've been lucky enough to be in Switzerland when I was a young boy and I know how beautiful that country is! So, I hope you folks can be good human beings that you are, and click here that will bring you to facebook, and give him some ideas. It won't take much energy from you, just flick your mouse over to that link and type a usable idea for him to use. Hopefully, he'll find something that will be useful for his organization. And a shout-out to Earth Hour for having this event every year, I hope we'll all participate to preserve this beautiful home we share.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Photos taken on the 15th - Ampang Lookout Point

Here they are folks, some of the ones that I found good enough to post online! These were shot with my D700 + my brother's 70-200mm.

Also on my flickr
1/40sec at f/2.5, ISO 1600

Also on my flickr
2.5sec at f/2.8, ISO 200 

Also on my flickr
10sec at f/8.0, ISO 200

New photos coming soon ! Will be uploaded tonight

I have some new photos I have been saving up (for a week!) to upload online. Due to some reasons, I'm not allowed to upload those photos until after 7pm today. Why, you ask? You wouldn't believe it if I tell you. One of the photos is a long exposure taken with the Zeiss 2/35 attached on the D700, up to 20 seconds if I remember correctly. The situation allowed me to test my Jusino tripod, which fared really well. To me, it was as sturdy as my brother's carbon fibre Manfrotto tripod. Considering that the Jusino is made of Aluminium and cost only half of what my brother paid for for his Manfrotto tripod, I was beyond satisfied with my purchase. Which tripod am I talking about that made me so high on bragging rights? This one.

I'll upload those photos after dinner tonight, should be up online on my flickr and this blog by 9pm.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

reaching a thousand visits!

Okay that's a small matter, but still an achievement to say the least! I've had a very unproductive week so far this week, photography-wise. All those ideas are stuck in my head but I'm not doing them any favours by going to work almost every single day and not having my camera when the light is just sublime *smacks head*. Anyway, that's the challenge anyway right. To have things not going your way and to be strong enough to fight off anything that gets in your way. I'm gonna try and do some food & product photography this weekend, since I have a couple of days off from work. What I'm not looking forward to do is buying all those backdrops, I really don't have a clue where to start. That is when I'll be more thankful to the internet! I'm also not looking forward to making the food and having them ruined cause of me.... surely nothing can go wrong....

Anyway, to sort of celebrate the upcoming one thousand visits to this blog, here's a picture I took recently on the same day I took these :)

f/8.0 at 1/640sec, ISO 250

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lost in the modern era

With all the new gadgets and technologies introduced recently at CES 2011, are we spoilt for choices? Are we too greedy? Do we really need the best of everything? Shouldn't we focus on being a better human being than developing better robots and computers? You might argue that most of us need those gadgets for work, but there's already enough out there that are better than what we require them to do. I'm using a 2 year old Sony handphone, simple phone that I only use for calls, texts and a bit of gaming. Having said that, I am thinking of getting the Google/Samsung Nexus S. Simply because I'll need those widgets as those Android people call it, like Google Maps for example - I'm bad with directions! What's more is the ability to surf the web when I'm not at home, and who wants to bring a laptop when you're out at dinner? So, technology drives men nuts. But is it good or bad? Depends on what you're gonna do with it, I'd say.

Okay back to the photography side! I know I've been quite recently. So what has been going on? Well, I received my first paycheck on Saturday - January 15th worth RM200 as my salary for December. That was a welcomed event, cause I was running out of cash! I didn't hesitate on spending 'wisely' though. Yesterday I brought an ND & an ND Graduate filter (both ND4s) as well as the adapter and the filter holder. All I've done since was experiment with both filters and learn how to use them properly. So far, the results have been alright, not spectacular. But I know that will come with good practice! I'll use them more as days go by, hopefully I'll master it before February!

Earlier today I went out around the neighbourhood and took some shots. All were taken with a Nikon D700 and Carl Zeiss 2/35 attached.

f/2.8 at 1/500sec , ISO 250

f/4 at 1/400sec, ISO 250

f/3.2 at 1/800sec, ISO 250
also on my flickr

Thursday, January 13, 2011

is the CZ 2/35 fast enough for (my) cats?

A couple of days ago, I was rather bored at home so I decided to take the CZ 2/35 out for a spin in the cat house. Somehow, my cats seemed intrigued at the lens, much more so than when I used the Nikon 50mm f/1.8. Hemm maybe cats have good taste. Anyway, I entered the cat house, they seemed very sleepy (as always!). Once I got in, they got hyper! I don't know what sort of vibe the Carl Zeiss lens brought, but it worked! My cats were running around, reaching for the roof, and biting my foot, typical. I fired off some shots and surprisingly, have a few keepers. Sure there wasn't as much as when I used the 50mm f/1.8 but remember that the Zeiss has no AF, so I had to rely on manually focusing the lens, as well as searching for the perfect spot to focus on through the viewfinder. The other problem I encountered was when my cats were moving (as you'd expect by using an MF lens), the difficulty in focusing back and forth is very annoying and frustrating. Though once my cats stood still, it was all natural, focus point on the eyes, and boom - nailed the focus. That may be down to the smooth focusing ring of the 2/35, or the bright viewfinder of the D700, or both.

So, would you want to use an MF lens when shooting animals? My advice, avoid it. Unless you're really patient and understand the typical behaviors of those animals, you're gonna have a hard time keeping up with where to focus, and ultimately producing a sharp, focused image. For me, I wouldn't mind using the 2/35 again when I take pictures of my cats, since I have a good relationship with them, and most of them would pose for me (you'll see what I mean!). I also know how to make them relaxed, or make them lose it and go nuts. For example, my cats have a habit of going hyper once I touch their back and belly - they'll start running around as if there's a race!

That's my opinion, of course I'll take more photos of my cats when I have the time (and their time as well!). Do you have any other way of dealing with focusing when it comes to animals or fast moving subjects? Share them if you will, by writing a comment :)

Enjoy the photos and let me know what you think of them :)

this is also on my flickr

Monday, January 10, 2011

DRC 2010/2011 - photos

As I mentioned on Friday, I was going away on a trip to participate in a Rotaract event all the way in Hulu Langat. Long story short, it was a memorable trip! On Friday itself, we were divided into 6 groups, I was in the Red group (GO REDDDD!). That night, we had a treasure hunt. From what I can remember (I just had 9 hours of sleep!), there was an obstacle course, and a bunch of other group activities. Oh, the highlight of the treasure hunt was when the groups had to find a type of fruit in an open space, and break it open without destroying it, eat it, and then combine the pieces back together. For my group, we had a watermelon - I found it :D, and ate it clean! We opened it up with a door key, and everybody were eating like a colony of monkeys! After that, we had supper..... yes after the watermelon was finished completely....

Saturday started early (too early for some!), the first activity was a morning exercise. The stretching, the bits of dancing, aahhh it was too much! We were then treated with a wonderful breakfast, 'nasi lemak'. Please don't directly translate 'nasi lemak' in English, I'll feel bad !! Afterwards, a Rotarian came in to talk about how he led an unconventional life. He has been a Rotarian for decades, and he has clearly won the hearts of many at the conference. After that was another talk, this time by a former model, who is now a terrific food blogger. You can follow her blog right here. Of course, being a model, a lot of guys didn't hesitate to try a shot at her! In the end, she was asked (more like forced!) to do a catwalk. Soon after, a bunch of guys also joined in! The pictures will show you what I mean. Next was the jungle trekking. The hike got us up to the waterfall. A breathtaking waterfall with freezing cold waters was the perfect place for all of us to have some fun and enjoy with nature. The walk back down was a little easier, thankfully! Then we were served with a barbecue dinner back at the cafeteria. I had some of everything! - chicken, sausage, fries, rice, coleslaw. I was thinking of having a go at it again, for the next round, but I was too full after that! After everybody had clean up, there was a plenary session/forum back at the hall. The District reviewed the activities they've done last year, and brought up some new ones for the year! I have to say, I'm not a member of any Rotaract club yet, but all the activities look spot-on fantastic! I can't wait to be part of it.

On Sunday, the day started off way too late for most of the participants. By 8.45, including me, there was only about 10 people having breakfast at the cafeteria! I guess they were all tired, most of them didn't sleep on Friday so it was understandable. After breakfast was the revelation of the guardian&angel game. Basically the guardian is supposed to take care of his or her angel. Everybody had one of each. My guardian was a good guy, he made sure I was okay the whole time, really appreciated that! However, I wasn't much of a good guardian myself. I knew who she was, but I guess it was weird having an older angel to take care of. On Saturday night, I told her that I'd get her supper. I didn't see her at all until the revelation of the game on Sunday morning! For most of the participants, it was a good way to get to know more of some of the others. Next was the final talk, to me, the highlight of the conference. Jason Lo - yes a local musician, and now the CEO of Tune Talk was the speaker. I have to say, I am now considering to switch to Tune Talk! As for him, he was hilarious! Musicians are known to be funny, but he was out of the ordinary. I've been looking up to him for bringing the local music industry to new heights, and now for being so honest about how the mobile service works. When he was done, a bunch of us took photos with him! Being a superstar here in Malaysia, he was natural in front of the camera. After that was the closing ceremony, the committee did a good job with the farewell video. Brought back the 3 day event into media form, to remind us of all the fun we shared. We then had lunch and head home.

I have to say, the people I've met from the last 3 days were very inspiring, and bring a lot of positives into my way of thinking. Are they naturally like that or Rotaract has helped them along the way? I think it could be both. Some of them are from Penang, way up North in the map of Malaysia, and some are from Johor, the most Southern part of Malaysia. They all came for the event to simply meet new people, gain new experiences, and learn more about Rotaract. Simply, the whole trip has made me want to change. And I'm ending this post with new resolutions for the year (its never too late!) ; to be more matured and talk more!

All of these were taken with a D700 and CZ 2/35 and sometimes SB-600

And with that, enjoy the photos! :)

Friday, January 7, 2011

A weekend with the CZ 2/35 out in the jungle!


I decided to join a trip out to the middle of nowhere (I hope not!) with some Roteractors. Its the District Roteract Conference 2010/2011 ! Having been part of the Interact Club in secondary school, it was inevitable that I would join Roteract once I leave school, and Rotary further on. It sounds like a fantastic event, I'm looking forward to it! Though I'm gonna miss the things and people I'm already used to :(

Oh, I'm ONLY bringing one lens for this 3 days 2 nights event, the CZ 2/35. Its already attached to my D700. Lets see how well this lens copes with the harsh conditions (not too harsh, please!) out in the wild. Let mother nature run its course!

Since I'm attending this event, I won't be online for a few days. I'll be back on Sunday. Hope for some refreshing portraits!

Have a good weekend, folks!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My favourite images from 2010!

2010 was certainly a memorable year for me, in all aspects, it made me grow. One of those aspects are photography, and my way of seeing things have changed and I look at subjects differently now. I also approach subjects that I never did years before. So here's my pick for my favourites of 2010 !

Hopefully I'll take better pictures this year!