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Zeiss Otus 55mm

One lens to rule them all

The Zeiss 55mm Otus is the sharpest lens we have used for the EOS System. Ever. It’s also the most expensive at roughly 4000 USD at the time of this writing.  The engineers at Zeiss were given a single task – to create the absolute best lens possible and were instructed not to take normal design requirements into account like size, weight or cost.  What they ended up with is a 55mm lens – that weighs roughly the same as an 85mm 1.2 with the length of a 200mm – that is capable of total astonishment!

This lens was designed to fill a gap that’s been missing since the insanely popular Contax medium format days. Back in the nineties, Contax was the go-to camera system for lots of wedding photographers. It was paired with a Zeiss 80mm lens that could create a whimsical look that become wildly popular.  The medium format system, combined with the standard 80mm lens would give the photographer roughly a 55mm perspective equivalent on a current full frame DSLR.

Today’s pro full frame sensor is much smaller than the medium format sensor. However, thanks to the insane pixel density of modern camera sensors, it’s possible to create images with as much detail as the older larger medium format film cameras could. This insane detail that the Zeiss 55mm lens captures is just the start and will improve as new camera sensors are released. We equate our Otus to a fine wine that will just get better with age… we’ll drink to that!

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Major Studio Investments

Every so often we find that our studio makes a major concession to attain a new piece of gear that we see as a game changer.  We saw the Otus 55mm as such an opportunity and decided to make the plunge. For this upgrade to take place we had to sell off a few lenses and pull our 2014/2015 lens budget. This is a very expensive piece of glass and a serious investment. However, like major purchases of the past, such as the Canon 85mm 1.2 and the Zeiss 100mm Makro Planar, this lens changes everything.

By turning everything on it’s head, new artistic life can be born and it’s often worth the temporary learning curve to attain something new. This lens has done just that and compared to the system, it was ment to emulate it’s actually a cost effective solution. Otus is very sharp and capable of rendering incredible color, contrast and detail.  Shot  wide open it creates very shallow DOF, yet it still manages to retain its insane sharpness and creates an ethereal look that we adore!

Otus vs Medium Format

Otus is an amazing lens. However, it can not replicate the DOF that a medium format sensor creates. This is one of the major strengths of the medium format systems. Incredible whimsical photos that nothing else can truly replicate, due to their sensor size. A typical 80mm lens on the medium format system gets the photographer roughly a 55mm view after the conversion, but with the added awesomeness of the 80mm tele-compression. Viola, amazing photographs over and over!

Of course this look is very expensive and many photographers seek out the older Contax 645 and shoot film to attain the look on a budget. Obviously, this is a great way to create something unique and we have explored this route only to return the same prohibiting factors. This vintage camera system cost 3k used on eBay, and maintenance might be costly if not impossible to get. Then there is the workflow overload that comes with shooting film alongside digital.

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Chromatic Aberration & Post Production

Contrary to the additional workload that a legacy medium format system would bring our studio, Otus has made things easier. Thanks to its APO design, it’s almost completely free of color fringing when shot wide open at f1.4. This is extremely helpful for the post production time. If you have past experience with Zeiss lenses you know that they tend to exhibit a significant amount of purple color fringing. Obviously this is a quick fix in Lightroom, but Otus – in this regard – can save us time.  It also saves us time in that the images that come out of Zeiss need very little additional presets or other color correcting steps to finalize. This is a huge time saver on the post production side that we’ve come to appreciate very much.

Final Thoughts

The insane cost of this lens along with it’s manual focus only ring will certainly keep it from going mainstream. This is a huge benefit to us as wedding photographers. After all, being a professional photographer (simply put) is the ability to create something that the normal person can’t create with their camera. For this, Otus is obviously awesome. If you consider its cost alongside the Leica or Hasselblad medium format systems it’s meant to emulate the cost is but a drop in the bucket. While it certainly does not replace the medium format it does create a fantastic look and for the DSLR, this lens is king. It’s even been rated so by DXO Mark referring to it as a peerless prime. We agree. This lens is insanely sharp and creates an ethereal whimsical look that so many brides love. If you have the means and the need for an incredible lens for your livelihood, we can’t recommend this lens enough!

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*Past Love: We no longer carry this lens in our bag. This is in our mind is the pinnacle of DSLR Lens design! It is however, very expensive and we needed the capital invested into this lens to propel our kit into digital medium-format! 

More Resources

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 – Otus 55mm Specs