Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar ZF2: Trying too Much?


Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar ZF2

Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar ZF2


Raj Lalwani tests the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar ZF2, to see if this macro-portrait combination satisfies any target group.

The legendary status of Carl Zeiss’ manufacturing excellence is something that everyone is aware of. This is why it is always exciting to be testing a Zeiss lens, as one only expects the best. But then, there were conflicting thoughts running through my head when I first received the 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar T* ZF2. Is this is a macro lens, as its name suggests? Or is the lack of true 1:1 magnification going to be a hindrance?

That was disappointment number one—that this is only a half-size macro lens. So while it allows you to shoot a variety of subjects from tiny insects to the venations of leaves, it does not have the extreme ability to transform a subject the way true 1:1 macro does.
Like all Zeiss lenses, this is a manual focus lens. Is this a hindrance? Not really. A serious macro photographer will usually employ a tripod and focus manually. This is why I would not consider the lack of stabilisation and AF as something that would affect one part of its target audience.
According to Carl Zeiss, the lens is also an effective tool for portraiture, considering its maximum aperture of f/2. This is one stop faster than other macro lenses in the market.

This is one solidly built lens. Its superb finish means that it makes a great combination with Nikon’s solidly built full frame DSLRs, like the D700. Its length increases quite a bit when focusing at a closer distance. This extension that takes place is far more than competing lenses like the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro The large focusing ring has a metallic ribbed texture that is comfortable to use, unlike most modern-day lenses. You need to move the ring through a complete rotation to go from the minimum focusing distance to infinity. This kind of a precision focusing system is ideal for macro shooters.
This was the disconnect that made me wonder what the company was thinking. The entire ergonomics are ideal for macro photography, but there is no 1:1 shooting. The fastest aperture is f/2, but a portraitist might find the macro-like focusing experience frustrating.

The Zeiss 100mm is a very sharp lens. The admirable thing about its quality is how well the sharpness holds up, even at the widest aperture. As you stop the lens down to f/8 and f/11, it shows excellent centre-to-edge definition.
But then, this is the level of sharpness that you would see in several other macro lenses, especially some of the best ones from Nikon or Canon, so at narrow apertures, the Zeiss does not give as much of an advantage.
The nine-bladed diaphragm ensures smooth bokeh, but is not completely circular. Chromatic aberration is quite visible, especially while shooting slightly far-off subjects at f/2. Vignetting is clearly visible at the widest aperture, but it reduces at f/2.8 and more or less disappears at around f/4. Distortion is more or less absent.

There is a lot to like about the Carl Zeiss 100mm f/2 ZF2. It is built like a tank, compatible with some of the oldest Nikon bodies and gives excellent sharpness, across the aperture range. But then, considering that this is only a 1:2 macro lens, a dedicated macro photographer may not find the Carl Zeiss 100mm f/2 good enough.
Also, considering that the focusing experience is more suited to macro photography, I do not see this lens attracting too many portraitists, unless they are shooting in a controlled environment and can afford to take a bit of time to fine tune focus.
More importantly, there are other proprietary versions that give this lens some stiff competition. The Nikkor AF-S 105mm f/2.8G and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L USM IS are both excellent lenses, that provide the additional benefits of 1:1 macro capability, optical stabilisation and autofocus… and all this, at a much lower price!
So whether you are a portraitist or a dedicated macro photographer, this is one of the few Carl Zeiss lenses that you may want to give a miss. In trying to give the best of both worlds, the lens falters, and remains neither here, nor there.

The 100mm f/2 is a sharp lens, but one wishes that it could capture lifesize macro. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/22 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The 100mm f/2 is a sharp lens, but one wishes that it could capture lifesize macro. Exposure: 1/200sec at f/22 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Final Ratings
Fast f/2 aperture, no 1:1 macro, no VR, no AF

Good sharpness, slight fringing

Build Quality
Extremely sturdy finish

Barrel extends a lot, excellent focusing ring

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

Value For Money: 2/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
Someone who is satisfied with1:2 macro and needs a fast f/2 aperture.

This is one of the fastest lenses around when it comes to macro photography, but the lack of 1:1 capabilities are a huge drawback.


Tags: Raj Lalwani, Macro Lens, portrait lens, april 2012, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar ZF2, 1:2 Macro, portriature, Manual focus Lens