I had the opportunity to play with a old Zeiss lens last Tuesday. I only had the lens for a day (actually, a night) and did not have much time to do serious testing so I decided to skip the standard and boring sharpness assessments and move to a topics you will find more interesting: how it performs for video.
About the results: the Zeiss lens is an old model and the newer version should perform significantly better. The reason I was interested in this old lens is that a lot of people are using old Nikon and Zeiss lens to shoot video instead of using original Canon products. Some people do it because they prefer the look produced by these models or simply because they bought them before the release of the 1.1 firmware and stuck with them. Of course, these older model are also significantly cheaper!
What is important for video
A good video lens needs (of course) to be sharp but since the video mode of HDSLR only uses a fraction of the resolving power of the lens, we can assume that any good lens will be sharper than what can be captured by the sensor. Also, videos are captured differently than stills so I thought it would be a good idea to assess both lenses from this perspective.
This is how I ended up with the following list:
- focus ring operation
- image look
Notes: all tests were performed on two different 5DMrkII with the exact same settings. The only thing different between the two camera was the neck strap!
I shot the test clip in probably one of the worst possible condition to maximize lens flare. As you can see, the Canon model performed much better than the Zeiss. Actually, I never saw a lens flare as much as this one! Both tests had the camera set on a tripod and reproduced the same motion (but as different speed, my fault!). You can see how quickly the Zeiss starts to flare. It is obvious to me that, unless you are looking for that kind of look, you need to screw a hood on this lens!
I really feel stupid on this one but I lost the test footage. Accidentally formatted the card while thinking the clips were already on the computer… Oups!
Short of a Christmas tree, I had to point he camera at the two more brilliant things in my loft to produce some nice bokeh: my kitchen lamp and a book about Chuck Norris. While I cannot explain why there are no halos around Chuck, we can see some in the back of the frame.
The difference between the two lens bokeh is very subtle but you can see the Zeiss bokeh to be a bit softer and clearer. It is not a big difference but if I had to pick one, I would go with Zeiss.
Focus ring operation
As soon as I had to turn the focus ring, I understood what the whole Zeiss thing was about. Focusing with this puppy was an entire new experience than with any other lenses I have tried before. Manual focusing was smooth and precise. This has probably to do with the fact that the lens was designed to be used in manual focus cmode ontrary to most modern lenses who are designed with AF in mind.
My look test with the Zeiss was limited to shooting inside, in very poor light room, but from what I have noticed, the Zeiss glass produce a cooler image than the Canon. Is it good or bad? Well it depends of your desired end result. From a color correction perspective, both can be made to look what ever you want them to look like in post. Using the right lens will only make this process easier.
This difference in image look make it obvious that you should not mix and match clips shot with these two lenses unless you want to spend some serious time in Color.
If you had the choice between the two, which one should you pick from a videographer perspective? The Canon 50mm f1.4 runs at about 350$ on Amazon while the Zeiss sells around 150$ on eBay. While the Canon aperture is a bit wider, it is not like you are going to shoot what wide often anyway. That is why I would suggest videographers on a budget to get the Zeiss (dont forget to buy an adapter too) and to keep it until they can afford the incredible Canon 50L1.2 or move to the Zeiss Ikon 1.4/50mm Planar T* ZE which is the updated version of the lens I tested. From what I have seen, the only reason to get the Canon 50mm would be if you plan to shoot stills too. In that case, the AF will be handy.