Zeiss Distagon 28mm ZE
Legendary T* with a floating lens element
The Zeiss Distagon 28mm ZE is based on the renowned Distagon design for the Contax system in the 1980s. If you aren’t familiar with photography from this era, Contax’s premium camera systems were paired with Zeiss’s prime lenses that made for a very popular wedding photographer rig of the time. The German photography company originally named “Carl Zeiss” has a heritage in photography spanning over 150 years. Notorious for their precision engineering and superior build quality you know a Zeiss lens when you see one.
This moderate wide-angle lens offers something different for the creative photographer looking to exploit it’s design. This Distagon lens has a floating element, and offers a strong field curvature at it’s f2-f4 apertures. This causes the lens to test relatively poorly in lab results. However, if the curvature is properly understood it can become a creative tool when applied to compositions that will benefit from the lens unique selective focus. Once you get the hang of it you will find yourself trying to same trick with you other lens only to be sadly disappointed.
The throw on this lens is incredibly buttery smooth to use. With it’s 28mm focal distance we find it is perfect for using in live view modes on our cameras use it almost exclusively in live view mode. We love shooting this lens on the dance floor thanks to it’s perfect focal length and smooth exact focus attainable by the focusing ring! In low light situations with its super fast f2 aperture and short focal length it’s nothing short of awesome. When paired with high ISO this is a tool worth exploring!
Ok, so there’s an elephant in the room
This lens is manual focus only, wait don’t leave… Are you still with us? Ok. So it makes photography a little different than what you may have become accustom too. The good news is it does sport a focus confirmation light on the main focus point that lights up red when focus is obtained just like the Canon. While this doesn’t make it incredibly fast to focus it does give you some confidence that you are hitting your focus with some consistency! At it’s moderatly wide angle focal distance this lens obtains focus relatively easily compared to a manual focus telephoto lens. Another caveat of introducing manually focusing, which we hadn’t considered is muscle memory. To clarify after shooting with this lens your own muscle memory can interfere with the use of your autofocus lenses.
Amazing with the use of Live View
Ok so this is a manual focus lens, which is its weakness but also its strength. Like we mentioned we use this lens almost exclusively in live-view mode. In low light situations it can become difficult to attain proper autofocus. During the dancing portion of most wedding it’s generally very dark and people are moving everywhere. This is not the friendliest environment for any auto-focusing systems and it often fails us. If we connect a flash to the camera the auto focus assist light can help. However, we like to maintain the ambience of the scenes our clients worked so hard to create, and will only use flash as a last resort solution.
This focal distance paired with a full farm camera gives you plenty of scene and night vision! In conjunction with the Live View it’s possible to get very sharp images in very dark situations We use ours by magnifying in at five times magnification, which givers you a view similar to the human eye in live view! With this pairing of lens and camera we will pan or walk along side our dancing subject focusing as they move towards and way from us. Live view also allow you to move around the sensor focusing square to help with composition, for us this lens combined with the high ISO capabilities of our Canon 6D create the most incredible dancing pictures.
Awesome build quality & testing
Not only can you tell the build quality when you hold it, but Zeiss goes to extreme lengths to tirelessly stress test their equipment for real life scenarios. In a promotional video Zeiss released depicting a researcher in a testing lab putting the lens through the gauntlet of high tech devices designed to render lesser lenses completely useless. Obviously we haven’t owned this lens for a lifetime, but it feels like it would hold up to much more torment than any of our other lenses ever could. Let’s just say if the earth were to encounter a nuclear fall out all that would remain unscathed would be cockroaches and our Zeiss Distagon 28mm ZE lens.
Something special here
So this lens basically has no training wheels, and you must practice with it a lot to get proficient enough to use it in a wedding situation. However, with practice sharp exposures in live action scenarios can be totally possible and repeatable! We use precision focusing screens in all of our cameras to allow for a brighter viewfinder displays at wide apertures and it does make manual focusing easier. Like everything in life we adapt, and as we climb the photographic ladder we find autofocus becomes less available in the most premium of lenses. To truly find our photographic vision manual focus is a huge asset, especially in portrait scenarios that allow us to slow down. We spend more time composing and our photographic process benefits. We are very happy with this gem of a lens and appreciate the new skills it taught us.
*Past Love: We no longer carry this lens in our bag and have upgraded to the Canon 24mm 1.4L. Zeiss’s 28mm lens isn’t incredibly sharp, but it creates images that us and our clients just love. That being said, we found that the lack of autofocus has made some wedding day situations very difficult with this lens and have since broken up for this reason only.
Are you interested in learning more about this lens? There are lots of great useful resources all of the web to help us photographers achieve our photographic dreams! We have included some of the articles and resources that were helpful for us when researching our own gear purchase.
Zeiss Official – 28mm ZE Tech Specs