Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Planar on my 5D MkII

We spend so much time talking about how sharp a lens is. It may come as a surprise for me to then talk about a lens, in this case the Zeiss 50mm f1.4, and concentrate firstly on how it resolves the out of focus elements in the image. It does this so beautifully!

As a newspaper photographer, I need to be able to cope with any situation. As a result, I need to carry a fair amount of equipment and my bags are laden with Canon prime lenses (from 15mm to 500mm) and Canon L zoom lenses (from the 16-35mm f2.8L II to the 70-200mm f2.8L IS). I’m a huge fan of Canon’s lens technology; pin sharp, fast and reliable. Some of my lenses have seen daily use for around five years, in all kinds of weather, and they’re still going strong.
By far though, my favoured Canon lenses are the stunningly good 35mm f1.4L and the 85mm f1.2L MkII. I can’t recommend these lenses highly enough and I’m at my happiest when I’m on a job and using these optics.
However, for all the technical superbness of these optics, there’s something missing. In the film days I used to have an Angenieux 180mm f2.3 APO lens for my Canon F1n and T90. It was a superb lens. After this period I switched to Leica M and R systems. On the rangefinder my favourite lenses were the 21mm f2.8 Elmarit, the 35mm f2 Summicron and the 50mm f2 Summicron. On the SLR system, the 90mm f2.8 Elmarit was my favourite. All of these Leica lenses and the Angenieux had something special about them. It wasn’t that they were just sharp or well made, or that they had a superb focusing action. It was something else.
This brings me back to the first thing I said; how out of focus elements within the image are resolved. On the Canon 85 mm f1.2L MkII something magical happens when you use an aperture of between f1.2 to f1.6. The out of focus detail is given a lovely dreamy look which makes you image pop.
The Leicas and the Angenieux did this. However, they went one step further. There was a different look. The Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Planar in the ZE (Canon EOS) mount has taken me back to those days, and reminds of this special characteristic. Its not just a nice softness to the out of focus areas; its something more, something not easy to verbalise. To top this, the Leica, Angenieux and Zeiss also go one step further when you have a light source in the image; be this sunlight or the bright spots of artificial lights. They resolve both of these in a way that even the best Japanese lenses just don’t do. You somehow manage to keep the sharpness and contrast of your subject even if its strongly backlit. 
On another note, the Zeiss also brings back fond memories of the good old days when lenses and cameras were made of metal! Its a solid and beautifully made metal lens with a lovely metal lens hood. Naturally, all of these Zeiss lenses are manual focus and the manual focus action is beautifully fluid and a joy to use. Its going to take getting used to after relying on AF for so long, but its such a lovely sensation to manually focus with such a beautifully engineered piece of equipment.
If you get a chance, give the Zeiss lenses a try; you won’t regret it.

5 responses to “Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Planar on my 5D MkII

  1. I’m hoping this is the lens I’ve been looking for to complete my limited lineup of Canon lenses. The Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T should fit nicely between my Canon 35mm f/1.4 L and 85mm f/1.2 both of which I love. Didn’t feel there was any other solution other then turning to the Zeiss. Lens expected to arrive in the morning.

  2. Just took delivery of same, was out yesterday with lens for first time. Agree with all you say. I’m using LCDVF on 5dII which I recommend for accurate focusing when wide. This lens is joy. My other MF is a Zuiko 35mm – cant praise that highly enough either. MF is the future. Advise you go back there.

  3. It’s been about a year using the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T lens with my Canon EOS 5D camera. I found the lens to be fantastic in both sharpness, Color and Contrast. Had allot of of trouble focusing the lens with any of the focusing screens provided by Canon for the 5D. Plan to made an update in the EOS 5D Mark ll or lll camera body if it ever comes out. Meanwhile I found a custom focusing screen for my Canon 5D which I understand will also fit the Mark ll. I have the split image and Micro Grid. Using the Split Image I find the focus point to be somewhat small and the center focus square gets in the way. But using the focus beep and watching the split image come together the focus is a dead on point. No longer is there any focus range using the lens. The Screens are not cheep but the performance is more then worth the price.

    Rich C…

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