Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Review

If you have previously used any of the Zeiss lenses, you probably have a good idea of what to expect from the Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens. If you have not previously used a Zeiss lens, you are in for a real treat with the 50 f/2. The Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens features best-available image quality and ultra-high build quality. If autofocus is on your requirements list, this lens is not for you. But otherwise, you will be challenged to find a better lens for your 50mm needs.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens on Canon EOS 5D Mark II on Tripod

Focal Length

On a full frame camera body, the 50mm focal length is often referred to as "normal". This is the focal length of the lenses that were typically included in SLR kits back in the film days and the focal length demonstrated below.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Sample Picture

The 50mm focal length works well for general purpose uses including for products, portrait photography and, obviously, landscape photography. This is also the widest focal length currently available in a DSLR macro lens (though only reaching 0.5x magnification - more bout this later).

On an ASP-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format DSLR camera, this focal length provides an angle of view similar to an 80mm lens on a full frame camera. Obviously, 80mm has a narrower angle of view than 50mm and is useful for short telephoto needs that also include portraits and products.

Aperture

For a 50mm lens (there are MANY of these available), an f/2 max aperture is not totally exciting but is not bad either. With the very short minimum focus distance this lens has, a very strong background blur can be created. Below is an example of the full range of apertures available in this lens.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Aperture Comparison Example

These leaf photos were captured on a table in my studio and lit with a single Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Flash in a small softbox positioned overhead. The water was applied-by-me and proved quite effective at hiding the usual blemishes found in leaves. Another leaf photography problem was solved by an overnight pressing via moderately heavy books.

Use shallow depth of field to draw a viewer's eye to your intended subjects. Strong contrast will also draw your viewer's eye.

Here is another f/2 sample photo captured at a longer distance:

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Sample Picture

I'm guessing that all photographers love a sunflower field and this lens worked very well on this shoot. A circular polarizer filter (I couldn't live without these) was used to capture the photo above. Sunflowers always face the sun, until the yellow flower opens. Then they face east. In this huge field, there was only one flower with sun illuminating the full flower face at this time of the day. It apparently didn't get the message, for which I was grateful.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Angled View

Image Quality

The Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens is renowned for its overall image quality and especially for the sharpness/contrast of the images it captures. And rightfully so.

With a wide open f/2 aperture, this lens is sharp throughout the entire full frame image circle. A slight improvement is seen in full frame corners until the aperture narrows down to f/4 where this lens is razor sharp. You might see a tiny improvement in corner performance at f/5.6, but it will more likely not be noticeable.

This lens delivers better 50mm f/2 image quality than any 50mm (or near-50mm) lens I've used to date – including those with much wider apertures available. I probably will not be able to say this after getting a Zeiss OTUS 55mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZE Lens in my hands, but the 50 f/2 will remain impressively-sharp for a fraction of the price of the OTUS.

Expect to see a noticeable 3-stops of vignetting in full frame corners at f/2. About 1.4 stops of corner shading remain at f/2.8 and a seldom-noticeable .6 stops remains at f/4. About .4 stops of corner shading remains over the balance of the aperture range. You can see this shading in the aperture comparison images above. The f/2 vignetting helps draw your eye to the sunflower in that sample picture (also above).

APS-C format body owners will see a just-noticeable 1-stop of vignetting in the frame corners. Stop down to f/2.8 to eliminate APS-C corner shading.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is negligible in images captured by this lens.

The flare pattern this lens delivers with the sun in the corner of the frame (my standard flare test) varies significantly with aperture selection. At f/2, there is a relatively small amount of flare that is somewhat isolated. As the aperture is stopped down to f/4, the flare effects remain similarly located and sized, but they become more pronounced. As the aperture narrows beyond f/4, the flare then fades away until very little flare is visible at f/11. At f/16, mild but contrast-impacting flare patterns can be seen across much of the frame.

The Zeiss ZE 50 f/2 delivers a nearly-negligible amount of barrel distortion. The amount is so small that I'm not sure you will notice it even with straight lines at the borders of your frames. Most 50mm lenses have noticeably more barrel distortion, but macro lenses usually have little or no distortion.

Featuring a 9 rounded-blade aperture, the ZE 50 f/2 will create 18-point stars from specular highlights when used with a narrow aperture. The blur quality from this lens is quite good and the amount of blur this lens can create is strong.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Bokeh

Image Quality Summary

This lens delivers image quality that might leave you feeling uneasy about the image quality that your other lenses are producing.

Focusing

All Zeiss ZE lenses are manual focus-only. But, these lenses have the best manual focus systems you will find. With the focusing ring consuming most of the main lens barrel, you will spend no time trying to find it. The rock-solid focus ring is extremely smooth with an ideal amount of resistance.

With very detailed, etched-into-the-lens focus distance settings and a huge 305° of rotation, obtaining critically accurate and repeatable focus is easy. A DOF scale is also etched into the lens.

This lens, like the other 50mm macro lenses, extends significantly during focus until reaching maximum length at MFD (Minimum Focus Distance). Subjects change size modestly as they go into and out of focus. Attached filters do not rotate during focus adjustment.

I admit that, without the split-prism viewfinder focusing screen I used exclusively in the film days, I am not an excellent manual focuser. Give me 10x Live View, and accurate manual focusing with this lens is easy. A joy actually.

As you already figured out from its name, the Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens is a macro (or "Makro") lens, but like the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens and the Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens, this lens only reaches 0.5x MM (Maximum Magnification) without extension tubes utilized. A 0.5x MM means a 1:2 reproduction ratio – that a subject can be projected onto the imaging sensor at 1/2 its actual size. Of course, the final size of the subject depends on your output choice. A 1" (25.4mm) subject can consume a very significant percentage of your frame and a relatively large monitor can show a subject at many times life-size.

Following is a demonstration of reproduction ratios that I borrowed from the Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens review. The examples are of a large iris captured with a full frame body. Use the mouseover labels below the image to see the specified ratio.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Maximum Magnification Comparison

Few lenses have a maximum magnification value lower than 1:10 (0.1x), so the 1:10 ratio example is essentially a worst case lens MM. The Canon 50mm non-macro lenses have a 0.15x MM spec, which is very close to the 1:7.5 example. The 1:5 ratio (0.2x) is not uncommon for today's lenses and 1:4 (0.25x) is near best case for non-macro lenses. The 1:2 (0.5x) example of course represents MM for the Zeiss ZE 50 and the 1:1 (1.0x) example (simulated here) is representative for most other true macro lenses.

Here is a close-focusing specification table that includes a wide range of macro lenses and a variety of non-macro 50mm primes.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens9.1"(230mm)0.50x
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens7.9"(200mm)1.00x
Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens9.4"(240mm)5.00x
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens12.2"(310mm)1.00x
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens11.8"(300mm)1.00x
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens18.9"(480mm)1.00x
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens17.1"(434mm)0.14x
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens7.5"(190mm)1.00x
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens12.3"(312mm)1.00x
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens15.0"(380mm)1.00x
Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens18.5"(470mm)1.00x
Tamron 60mm f/2.0 Di II Macro Lens9.1"(231mm)1.00x
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens11.4"(290mm)1.00x
Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Di Macro Lens18.5"(470mm)1.00x
Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens9.4"(240mm)0.50x
Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens17.3"(440mm)0.50x

As I hinted above, the maximum magnification of this lens can be significantly increased using extension tubes.

Build Quality & Features

Zeiss sets the benchmark for lens build quality. The all-metal construction, starting with the lens barrel, including the focus ring and going all the way to the lens hood, makes this lens feel like it would last a couple of lifetimes.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Product Images

Select View:  MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    Rotated        Compare >

As I mentioned before, this lens extends with focusing – by 1.17” (29.8mm). But there are no worries about the solidness of this lens being compromised by the double barrel extension – the extension remains solid. There are no other exterior moving parts on this lens – including no switches.

Light is not a descriptor I typically pull out for Zeiss lenses. While this lens is considerably heavier than the other two 50mm macro lenses in the large list below, it is not a heavy lens and not heavy in overall comparison. I do consider the Zeiss 50 f/2 to be a rather compact lens.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens19.2 oz(545g)3.4 x 2.6"(85.4 x 65.5mm)72mm2006
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens10.2 oz(290g)2.9 x 2"(74 x 51mm)58mm1993
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens4.6 oz(130g)2.7 x 1.6"(68 x 41mm)52mm1990
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens9.9 oz(280g)2.7 x 2.5"(68 x 63mm)52mm1987
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens11.8 oz(335g)2.9 x 2.8"(73 x 70mm)52mm2006
Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens25.8 oz(730g)3.2 x 3.9"(81 x 98mm)58mm1999
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens21.2 oz(600g)3.1 x 4.7"(79 x 119mm)58mm2000
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens22.1 oz(625g)3.1 x 4.8"(77.7 x 123mm)67mm2009
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens38.5 oz(1090g)3.3 x 7.4"(83 x 187mm)72mm1996
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens18.0 oz(510g)3.3 x 3"(84.4 x 76.6mm)77mm2008
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens11.1 oz(315g)2.8 x 2.5"(72 x 64mm)55mm1998
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens25.6 oz(726g)3.1 x 5"(78.3 x 126.4mm)62mm2011
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens40.6 oz(1150g)3.1 x 5.9"(79.6 x 150mm)72mm2012
Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens57.9 oz(1640g)3.7 x 8"(95 x 203.9mm)86mm2012
Tamron 60mm f/2.0 Di II Macro Lens14.1 oz(400g)2.9 x 3.1"(73 x 80mm)55mm2010
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens14.3 oz(405g)2.8 x 3.8"(72 x 97mm)55mm
Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Di Macro Lens32.5 oz(920g)3.3 x 6.5"(85 x 166mm)72mm
Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens18.7 oz(530g)2.8 x 3.5"(72 x 88mm)67mm2010
Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens24.0 oz(680g)3 x 4.4"(76 x 113mm)67mm2010

For many more comparisons, review the complete Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Aiding in the Zeiss 50 f/2's compactness is the small, narrow lens hood. Reversed, this metal hood takes up almost no additional space. The with-hood-reversed (or even in place) dimensions make this lens easy to fit into a case. Actually, firsthand experience has shown me that it is easy to get more Zeiss lenses into a case than you want to carry for a long period of time (due to weight).

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Top View

Zeiss does not provide cases with their lenses, so it is up to you to decide upon your protective storage solution.

The ZE 50's 67mm filter size is not large, is moderately common and has an additional macro benefit - it accepts the Canon 67C Macrolite Adapter. With the Macrolite Adapter in place, the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX Flash and Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash become usable on the Zeiss ZE 50.

Price

Top notch optics will make a big difference in image quality on even today's low end DSLR cameras. These top notch optics seldom come with low price tags. While far more expensive lenses are available, this is not a low-priced lens. I do feel that this price is in line with the value of this lens.

Macro Sample Picture

Alternatives

Below you will find the Zeiss 50 f/2 positioned along with another pair of 50mm macro lenses and the longer Zeiss ZE 100 f/2.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Specifically, from left to right in their fully retracted positions are the following lenses:

Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens
Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens
Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens

The same lenses are shown below in their fully extended states with their lens hoods in place.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

There are many more comparisons available in the site's product image comparison tool.

You may have noticed that all of the lenses shown above have the same lens mount cap. Because manufacturer's rear caps vary in depth, I use the same Canon lens cap to equalize the overall height of each lens. A shallower rear lens cap does allow very slightly more compact storage, but I think the comparison of actual lens size is the most important consideration.

Compared to the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens, the Zeiss is sharper until the aperture narrows to about f/5.6 where the two lenses become similarly sharp. The Canon has less distortion and has AF to its advantage. The build and focus ring of the Zeiss are FAR better than the Canon and the Zeiss has a 2/3 stop wider aperture. You could buy a handful of Canon 50 macros for the price of one Zeiss.

Compared to the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens, the Zeiss is sharper. The Sigma is sharp in the center at narrower apertures (about f/4), but it is not until about f/11.0 where the Sigma's corners reach near-Zeiss levels of sharpness. The Sigma has less distortion, but the build and focus ring of the Zeiss are again much better than the Sigma. The Sigma costs much less than the Zeiss.

There are not many 50mm macro lenses to choose from, but there are MANY other focal length macro lenses to consider. While a 50mm macro has a purpose and makes a great in-studio product photography focal length, I prefer at least a 100mm focal length for most of my macro needs. The narrower angle of view along with a stronger background blur make 150 and 180mm focal lengths my overall preference for macro photography. The macro lens recommendations page will talk about many of these options.

But, this lens is definitely not limited to macro photography and the range of uses for 50mm become extended dramatically with distance. As I said before, I have not used a 50mm lens that delivered image quality this good at f/2. And none were better-built.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Front View Angled

The Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens is available in Canon (reviewed) and Nikon mounts. I usually provide a warning about potential incompatibilities (mostly future ones) when using non-manufacturer-branded lenses, but I perceive the risk of using this MF-only lens to be very low.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Angled View with Hood

My evaluation lens was purchased directly from Zeiss via a special purchase program. I've had this lens in my kit for well over 3 years and have never been disappointed by it.

The Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens is a luxury to use and it delivers all-around impressiveness. As I said before, this lens delivers image quality that might leave you feeling uneasy about the image quality that your other lenses are producing.

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