A few years ago optical masters Zeiss embarked on a highly ambitious mission.
To make a range of lenses which when paired with a high resolution full frame 35mm camera would give the same quality as medium format and so the legendary Otus range was born.
Built without compromise.
With eye wateringly high resolution, contrast and light transmission, not to mention build quality from another era, all at a premium price.
The Otus 55mm F1.4 is wonderful, Otus 85mm F1.4 is probably the best ever portrait lens (my favourite focal length on a full frame 35 mm sensor) and Otus 28mm F1.4 is the wide angle daddy of its kind.
Recently there was a new addition to the Zeiss Otus range - the Otus 100mm F1.4
As Zeiss says “Lens design, with aspheric lenses and special glass materials keeps chromatic aberrations and distortion to a minimum. Even when shooting against the light, the T* anti-reflective coating developed by ZEISS allows for extremely high contrast and minimizes stray light.”
You can read the specs in all of its full glory
I have been using the 1.4/55mm and particularly the 1.4/85mm Otus lenses on assignment to good effect on my Fujifilm GFX 50S for some time now (more on this another time).
It is a funny old world when a killer lens is not even made for the camera that you are using, indeed the superlative Otus range is meant for Canon and Nikon cameras.
People have adapted lenses forever, indeed I remember the first time I adapted one of my M42 Practica lenses (the thread that is, not the jammed motorway near Birmingham) on my Canon A1 which I bought with money from my paper round (yes, I have been doing this a while now).
It’s fair to say that in recent times Sony have been the trailblazers embracing adaptors by the likes of Metabones.
I mean when you launch a new camera range like the Alpha and you have a limited range of lenses you’re hardly going to stand in the way of companies who facilitate lenses of all shapes and sizes being made to fit in some way or another to your cameras.
There is now a bewildering array of adaptors which adapt 35mm lenses to the Fujifilm GF mount.
I’m saving my thoughts on adapters for the GFX family for another time but I used the Kipon which is very nicely made and is like good value too - what is there not to like?
The GFX has a sensor which is 70% bigger than 35mm so the 100mm is roughly the equivalent of the 80mm F1.0 on a full frame sensor 35mm camera, which makes the 100mm give or take a few millimetres the perfect focal length of portraits on the GFX.
Naturally I was curious to see how Zeiss Otus in 100mm form would fare on my GFX 50S
The burning question and the first hurdle is how much does Otus 100mm vignette?
Camera focused at infinity, all images processed in Capture One 12 with no adjustments.
So Otus has a very generous image circle one which with some vignetting wide open covers the sensor of the Fujifilm GFX.
Image quality, where to begin.
If you focus Otus precisely the chances are you will never have experienced sharpness and contrast like it previously in your photographs.
The caveat is ‘if you focus precisely’
Though manual focussing is WAY easier with the GFX EVF than the optical finders for which it was conceived, particularly when you zoom in to 100 percent as you focus or use focus peaking, manual focusing at full aperture is still a challenge when you hand hold and when there are micro movements between yourself and the subject.
Precision, practise and a bit of luck are called for as what is in focus one moment can be a country mile out of focus in another.
Nail the focus though and the angels will sing - giving a result that you may have dreamt of but never quite attained.
It gives truly beguiling results, not entirely dissimilar to a 5x4 field camera.
Having shot extensively on paid assignments with the Otus 1.4/85 I suspect (though have not yet had the opportunity to side by side test yet) that Otus 1.4/100 is possibly even sharper.
I shot these images over a couple of days in my hometown in Frome, Somerset and I make no apology for shooting all of these images at F1.4 (yes, I know it’s a little bit of a niche test but this lens is a portrait lens and I suspect to get this remarkable ‘View Camera’ effect, many users will be shooting at F1.4)
Any lens with this level of performance is going to be no featherweight, indeed like the rest of its brethren if you were to drop corpulent Otus (weighing in 1405g) on your foot you might want to be near the nearest accident emergency department as it could inflict damage to your soft tissue.
In many ways the Otus 100mm could be considered to be the answer to a question nobody asked, I mean we are probably chasing down the last 5 percent of image quality.
So the burning question, is all this faffing about worth it?
Adaptors, manual focus, a depth of field at full aperture which is shallower than a toddlers’ paddling pool would seem to mitigate against the Otus.
Fujifilm do make the highly rated Fujinon 110mm F2.0 lens which as a native lens has the added practicality of autofocus and edge to edge coverage with no vignetting and it is significantly cheaper too (it is worth remembering that Canon and Nikon users who use the Otus lens ‘natively’ in ZE or ZF form will avoid any vignetting or other optical pitfalls as it is engineered to cover the 35mm sensor)
But that really is somewhat missing the point.
The F1.4 aperture is one obvious advantage but it’s a sheer sense of occasion when you use Otus, it encourages you to slow down, to savour the long throw focus ring which runs on Teflon coated bearings giving sumptuous manual focus experience which you may not have previously experienced - there are no motors and gears to muddy the waters.
Even its smooth styling and trademark high visibility yellow lens markings (which it shares with the opitical legends of cinematography the Master primes) suggest that the Otus is very special indeed.
When all is said and done this is an emotional purchase which for some will defy logic, particularly when the Fujinon GF 110mm F2.0 is on offer.
However much of my photographic life though has been ruled by my heart and not my head, and I will find it very difficult to turn my back on this simply stunning lens which lends images a unique look and feel all of their own.
I was very sad to see this spectacular lens go back to Zeiss.
I had better get saving…..