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!


  1. First off, fantastic review you put together of my favorite lens! It looks like you are having a blast with it and proving once again how versatile it is. I can't wait to see what else you do with this bad-boy!

    Second, thank you for the wonderful compliments and links to my photography. I like the "most wicked photographer" line!!

    Have a happy week, my friend, and keep shooting!