Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZE: Well Above the Mark



Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZE

Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZE

Neha Mutreja tests the new Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZE to check if this is the best wide angle lens in the market.

Whether it is the medical field, scientists or filmmakers, there is a large number of people that rely on Zeiss lenses to get excellent quality. So when I was told that I will be testing the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 lens, I was eager to see for myself if the lens is worth all the praise and hype.

Digging through its history, I found out that the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 was first introduced way back, in the era of Contax/Yashica. At that time, this wide angle lens was very much appreciated and liked by one and all. But then, it was discontinued and a revised version of the lens was announced by the company a few years ago. This is a manual focus lens for full frame DSLRs. It is available for three different mounts—Nikon, Pentax and Canon. I tested it on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
The lens construction is quite complicated as it has 16 elements in 13 groups. One may not usually expect bokeh from a wide angle lens, but the 9-blade diaphragm ensures that the background looks quite pleasing when shooting at f/2.8. The closest focusing distance of the lens is 0.22m, which is much better than similar lenses from both Canon and Nikon.

When I first held the lens, I found it quite heavy. It is far heavier than ultrawide prime lenses from other companies, and almost as heavy as the Nikkor 14–24mm zoom lens. But then, the Zeiss has the best construction of the three and its build quality meets the high demands of any professional.
Since its design is similar to the manual focus lenses of yore, the lens has several features that modern-day proprietary lenses lack. For instance, it has an infinity focus stop and also an infrared focus index. Moreover, the distance scale and depth-of-field scale are clear and detailed, thus making it extremely simple to use the lens on field.

The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 easily matched my expectations, and in some cases, exceeded them too. Its sharpness is excellent. At f/2.8, the lens is tack sharp, and much superior to any of the proprietary wide angle lenses that are currently available. At apertures like f/4 and beyond, the sharpness is still excellent, but some other lenses, such as the Nikkor 14–24mm f/2.8 are equally good.
Vignetting is present at the widest aperture, but this can be corrected digitally by most full frame cameras today. The lens shows exceptional control over flare. Even in photographs that directly include a burst of sunlight or light source, we did not notice any ghosting or pattern flaring.
Purple fringing is practically absent as well. There is a slight amount of distortion visible in the photographs. It is of a complex nature and not easily correctable in any software.

A price of Rs. 1,09,950 may seem steep, but the Zeiss 21mm is one of the best wide angle lenses in the market. For landscape photographers who use Canon full frame bodies, it is an absolute must buy. The wide angle zoom lenses produced by the company do not do justice to the high resolution sensor of the 5D Mark II, and the Zeiss 21mm stands well and truly above the others.

Nikon users have an interesting decision to make. This Carl Zeiss lens is far superior to proprietary lenses when shooting at f/2.8, but at other apertures, the Nikkor AF-S 14–24mm f/2.8G ED matches up, and is even better, at times. The Nikkor lens also has the added advantage of zoom, autofocus and lesser distortion. More curiously, it is slightly cheaper than the Zeiss 21mm in India, unlike abroad, where the Zeiss is less expensive.
The question that you need to ask yourself is whether you see yourself using the same lens 10–15 years later. The build quality of the Zeiss 21mm is to die for. So, if you are willing to sacrifice AF and zoom for an investment that will serve you for an extremely long time, the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 should be on top of your priority list.

The lens shows exceptional control over flare without losing contrast. Exposure: 1/100sec at f/16 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

The lens shows exceptional control over flare without losing contrast. Exposure: 1/100sec at f/16 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Final Ratings
Manual focus only, fast aperture, no IS

Excellent sharpness, great control overflaring and less distortion

Build Quality
Sturdy metal construction

Excellent DOF scale

Warranty & Support
Replaceable in case of manufacturing defect for three years, no service centre in India.

Value For Money: 4.5/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
Pro photographers who do not mind sacrificing some convenience for quality.

The rugged build is complemented by optics that are superior to most proprietary lenses. The difference in quality is quite stark when using a high resolution DSLR.


Tags: Neha Mutreja, Shridhar Kunte, manual focus, Lens review, February 2012, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZE, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Professional Lens