As promised, a review of the Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/50 – graciously donated to me by Carl Zeiss for a month-long demo. I’ll once again state that I do not get all über-technical in my reviews but give a look, feel and ease of use report through the eyes of an amateur photographer. Though I have only had the lens two weeks so far, it has quickly become one of my favorite lenses to shoot with. I’ll post some of the various 3,000 photos I have taken in the past 13 days that show the varied performance of this very versatile lens. I’ll try my best to not get all wordy here.
Out of the box, the super fast f/2 macro has the same magnificent build quality of my other Zeiss lenses. This lens is all glass (8 floating elements) and metal, including the hood, as you would expect from Carl Zeiss. There is a solid feel at 530 g and a smooth turning 300º perfectly damped focus barrel. This is once again a beautiful piece of art. There is very little distortion (less than 0.8% from my research) and almost no light drop-off, wide-open. The lighthouse shot above was wide open.
Putting the Makro to Work
This is where the Makro-Planar shines – and one of it’s chief functions in life – macro photography. The shot to the right is actually the very first shot I took with this lens. There is no edit on this shot – no crop, no color adjustment – a straight SOOC example. I was focused on the ‘e’ in Zeiss from about 9″ away. As you can see, tack-sharp with amazing drop off to the out of focus region – very smooth (you can click the image for a full size version). Though it magnifies at 1:2 rather than 1:1, it is still the fastest and most beautiful in its class.
Again, this shot is wide open at f/2 – super fast for a full frame macro, and has just amazing color rendition.
Speaking of Fast
Here’s another wide-open f/2 shot that was requested from one of my followers on Flickr. The only lighting I added was a couple of stationary flood lights and bumped the ISO to 800 at 1/2000 second. Looking at this large, you can see how great the focus is, with some drops in sharp focus and others way out of focus. This photo was just for fun – to see if I could actually freeze the coffee with this setup.
As you can see from this one, the region transitioning from focus to blur is very smooth. And the out of focus region is smooth as hell. Those cups in the distance are only 3 feet away.
So, moving on.
The Bokeh Canon
Let’s face it – when you buy a macro, what you really want is extremely sharp close-ups with outstanding bokeh. A bokeh cannon, if you will. So, I took this shot yesterday to demonstrate the wide-open bokeh of the 2/50. And what better subject than an old CZ 2.8/80 mounted on a Hasselblad 500c? Again, the smooth transition from focused to blurred is incredible.
And the bokeh region is like magic.
One minor draw back wide open is the bokeh is more of a football / cat’s eye look – but that transitions to a perfect beautiful circle by f/4. I do love a smooth round bokeh, but to be honest, I am not at all turned off by this more oval bokeh at f/2. And the color? Just perfect here. This is exactly how it was seen in the coffee shop.
Again, as asked by a bunch of people, how does the 50mm macro perform with landscapes? Outstanding, I say. The shot to the right is an unedited 1/6000 f/2 shot of crashing waves at sunset. Beautiful color rendition, sharp waves and great contrasts from light to dark. Zoom in (4000 pixels) and check out the lady sitting on the porch just in front of the sun and compare with the sharpness of the trees on the distant shore.
Man, I was in love with the lens after this shot.
Pure Dynamite with Portraits
I was also tasked to see what this could do with natural light photography. So, here’s a shot of my friend, Edward – owner of the Hasselblad above – at the coffee shop. This was taken with indirect sunlight pouring in from the windows, camera left.
Again, wide open at 1/350 second – the lens performs amazing. Thanks to the 8 floating elements, focus is much easier than with the 1.4/85. It does a great job with shadows, highlights, sharpness, etc. No blowouts here. I really think this makes a wonderful piece of glass for the portrait shooter.
My wife hates it. Well, she hates that I now am going to buy this delicious piece of Zeiss goodness. But she does love the versatility of this lens – as do I. It is an amazing performer through and through – from maco to landscape to portrait. I have a growing collection of shots and still 2 weeks to demo it. Though I have over 3,000 shots with it in the past 2 weeks, I am only posting those that are different enough to demonstrate the wide range of subjects, light and ranges you can shoot with.
I know once I buy this, it will be a tough battle for the honor of sitting on the D700 between this and the 2/35. If you have the means, I highly recommend you picking one up.
I am not affiliated with Carl Zeiss or Nikon – I am just in love with what I have and love to share the information I have gathered through hands on experience.