Pulling out a favorite lens and pushing it just to see. Morning shoot on white.

A 100% crop of the image just below all the "gray space." (type). 

I've been playing around with one of my old, favorite lenses quite a bit in the last week. It's a Contax Zeiss 28-85mm, f3.3-f4.0 zoom, combined with a CY > Nex K&F Concepts adapter. Now it's a manual focus, manual exposure lens for my A7Rii. 

I started playing with it again when Fuji announced their two, new, inexpensive "cine" lenses, just recently. The introduction led the major photo and video sites to revisit what's different and wonderful about "cine" lenses versus just plain, old vanilla lenses. There are lots of operational and cosmetic reasons between the two genres but the real reasons pros feel like splashing out on "cine" lenses mostly has to do with the benefits of par focal zooms and the standard focus and aperture gearing that allows the use of focus follow mechanisms. 

Here I am mostly interested in the idea of par focal lenses because it would be nice to shoot video with my big mirror-free cameras and be able to zoom in or out during a take without the focus shifting. I tested the lenses I have in house and just about any of them will work if I am zooming from a long focal length to a shorter focal length but very few (one) will do the trick in the other direction. You probably guessed it but that lens would be the Contax/Zeiss 28-85mm lens. I've tested it and it actually does the whole par focal thing; and in both directions. 

That piqued my interest and so I ended up tossing it in the camera backpack and taking it with me to my shoot this morning with the idea that I'd use it for everything. Which I did. 

Today I was photographing an actor for a play that will run in 2018. He was in town and the marketing people pounced. The marketing staff will drop out the background on the final file they choose and will do any sort of retouching necessary to make the image work for their project. My reason for posting the images here is solely to discuss the lens performance!

A few caveats. I've looked at the original MTF curves published by Zeiss for this particular lens and found them to be very, very high performance; especially for a zoom lens. The center of the lens, at every focal length, is outstanding when used wide open and even bette when the lens is stopped down to f8.0. Here are the exceptions to what I just wrote: The corners and the farthest edges of the frame take a fairly big hit in terms of sharpness, as accurately described in the same MTF curves. Secondly, the lens has various distortions that affect straight lines, etc. But the distortions are nowhere close to what you see from modern zooms if you turn off the internal camera corrections for those lenses.  

What this means is that if you are considering this lens to use in photographing products or architecture you are bound to be disappointed. Likewise, if you are a portrait photographer with a mania for putting your main subject into one corner you will also be disappointed. For the rest of use who photograph three dimensional, organic forms, and lots and lots of portraits, you will likely be delighted. 

I'm not sure how much compression Blogger/Google does to the files that I upload so I'll just give you my impressions from today's shoot. I spent most of the shoot at f5.6 and used the focal range between 50-85mm for nearly everything except the three quarter shot at the bottom of the post. If I needed to keep a hand and a face in focus I went with f8.0 and split the focus difference. 

When pixel peeping at 100% the A7Rii files were very, very detailed and very lifelike. The lens has very nice microcontrast (and enthusiastic nano-acuity). Within the confines of the limitations I wrote about above I find it to be exemplary. With appropriate technique is has low flare and no perceivable fringing. The native contrast is neither low or high but accurate. It is at least as good as the $1,000+ Sony/Zeiss 24mm-70mm f4.0 lens, which I like as well. 

The older lens is mechanically robust and offers good focus control as well as smooth zoom control. And it remains par focal all the way from 28 to 85 at f5.6. The rush to autofocus zoom lenses has brought us.....autofocus zoom lenses. But we've lost some controls in the process. Trying to do good manual focus and focus pulls with a fly-by-wire lens is more or less an exercise in frustration. Zooming with most modern AF lenses is equally unsatisfying. We traded control and repeatability for convenience. 

I'll be keeping my eyes out for other cool zooms from the old C/Y mount and N mount Contax systems. Zeiss lens formulations combined with total imaging control is a powerful combination. One I'm willing to come out of pocket for. 

I put all these images up as big files. I'm thinking you can click through and really see the detail. If that's not the case you'll have to trust what I wrote. After all, I'm not trying to sell you one. In fact, I'd like to keep them all for myself.

On another note, we used the four Aputure LightStorm LED fixtures again today and once again I am so pleased at the color accuracy and spectral accuracy we're getting out of these lights; especially when I take the time to do a good, custom white balance. The days of LED lights with magenta or green color casts seem to be coming to a quick end. I've written about these lights before but they are high output panels that have CRIs of 96-98 (depending on the model). That's a great metric, and it's borne out in day-to-day use. 

Final note: When using a relatively slow, manual focus zoom lens (especially at the wide angle settings) you really do need to hit the focus magnification button and look carefully at your focus. It's trickier than we remember back in the days when our eyes were perfect, the focusing screens superb and the system resolution low.  Not anymore. 

Yes, we have variations without paint on the actor. Yes, we can use those too. 

Focus. Breathe. Wait for the Moment. 


amolitor said...

That sounds very nice, but does it have adequately intemperate milli-definition? And you and I both know that nobody can abide a lens without sufficiently antagonistic pico-chromaticity,

Anonymous said...

Nice to see some love for the Zeiss 28-85mm which has been pretty much overshadowed by the internet hyped 35-70. Personally I think it renders shots beautifully; less contrasty than most high quality modern zooms it's still sharp enough for an A7r and colour transitions have a lovely smooth quality to them.

After selling one as part of a process of cycling through the C/Y lens range I ended up buying another 28-85 for the keeper set - along with the sharp, compact 28/2.8, 50/1.7, 60/2.8 Makro and 85/2.8 lenses. All of which balance beautifully with any A7 series body.

Peter Ziegler said...

Lovely photos Kirk, as usual, but I have a note for the model/actor: when standing, arm outstretched, most oil painters grip their brush closer to the back end, further away from the tip. A close, pencil-like hold is for close work, and the painter would be standing much closer to the work, arm closer to the body.

99 out of 100 wouldn't notice, but the one that does, does.

Kirk Tuck said...

HI Peter, thanks for posting! I'd have to defer to our show expert. The play is about Seurat, who was a pointillist. He worked in a series of a fast, almost "jabbing" movements. Since his applications of paint were so very precise they conjecture that used a closer grip on his brushes. Eventually we'll super a transparent layer over the painter layer which will have paint marks. I'm not a painter so I just followed our on-set advisor's lead. He may be mistaken. Thanks for bringing this to light.

Kirk Tuck said...

Loving the "pico-chromacity" of this particular lens. It transmute the visual elements in a nice way.

PhotED said...

Looks like this will be a very interesting play. Thanks for sharing the photos; definitely something to be said for old manual focus lenses- I clicked on the photos and they are very sharp!