Simply outstanding. Few word combinations send waves of desire through the hearts of photographers like "Zeiss Otus". Zeiss has garnered great respect for the Otus line, representing ultra-high-end image quality merged with ultra-high-end build quality.
I love reviewing Zeiss Otus lenses and they are perhaps the easiest of all lenses to review. They are built like tanks (the military kind — not the fish holding variety) (add this lens to your will because it will probably last longer than you). The only moving exterior part is the focus ring and it is buttery smooth with a long throw. There is no time consuming (and boring) image stabilization tests to complete and being a manual focus lens, also-very-time-consuming (and often troublesome) autofocus testing is removed from the to-do list. The Otus image quality is phenomenal and the price is unquestionably high.
The primary review task is the search for gloating words to use in the description. Now that I've shared the ending to this review, I'll move into the details.
Obviously, this is a prime lens with only a single focal length available. This makes focal length selection more important and "What is the 100mm focal length good for?" is the pertinent question. The standout use of the 100mm focal length is for portraits.
The 85mm through 135mm focal length range (after FOVCF is factored in) is classically considered the ideal portrait focal length range, for reasons including perspective and working distance. A 100mm lens hits just under the midpoint of that range on a full frame DSLR with the 160mm angle of view equivalent on an APS-C 1.6x body being a bit narrower and still great for portraiture, especially the tightly-framed varieties. An APS-C format DSLR of course requires a longer working distance to get the same framing as a full frame DSLR and therefore will have more depth of field and a less-strongly blurred background at the same aperture.
The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video subject framing (from full body to head shots) and a wide variety of potential venues (from indoors to outdoors). Portrait subjects can range from children to seniors and individuals to groups. Think engagements, weddings, parties, events, families, small groups, senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are great uses for the 100mm focal length. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with a 100mm-provided angle of view. Entire portrait sessions can be done, inside or outside, with or without added light, with a wide aperture 100mm lens.
A note about head shots: everyone loves head shots, but it is easy to get too close to the subject's head when using a too-wide focal length, resulting in a not-pleasing perspective that usually includes an enlarged nose and reduced-size ears. The tight head shot portrait framing distance that the 100mm focal length angle of view on a full frame camera provides is about as close as I like for this type of image. The example below came from an under-4-minute portrait photo shoot ended by somewhere to be on time and, simultaneously, a thunderstorm.
Being too far away is seldom a perspective problem (until communications fail), though features appear more compressed at longer distances, reducing the feeling of being close to the subject in the result.
I always contend that people are the most important subjects available. You can't buy stock photos of (most) people and that means portrait photography is one of the most-revenue-producing genres. Producing revenue of course makes a lens purchase much easier to justify (and this one might need that help).
Regardless of the camera format being used, the 100mm focal length (like most others), can be used for landscape photography, though few will be interested in carrying the size and weight of this lens too far into the trail. Some sports, such as basketball, can be captured with a 100mm lens and this lens can capture such events in very poorly-lit venues including gymnasiums (though lack of AF will add challenge to this use). This lens also works very well for medium-small through huge products, commercial and general studio photography applications, some architecture needs and a wide range of other subjects.
With only a few exceptions, the f/1.4 max aperture made available by this lens is as wide as DSLR lenses get and none are wider at 100mm. The basic concept is, the wider the aperture, the more light that is able to reach the imaging sensor. Allowing more light to reach the sensor permits a faster shutter speed to be used for freezing action including handholding the camera in lower light levels and/or the use of lower, less noisy ISO settings. This wide aperture is especially valuable after the sun sets, in the shade, and when shooting indoors, including indoors using only ambient light.
One of my favorite features of a wide aperture lens is the shallow depth of field these can create. Increasing the aperture opening reduces the depth of field, creating a stronger background blur (at equivalent focal lengths). The shallow f/1.4 depth of field must of course be acceptable to you for the scenario at hand, but shallow depth of field can make a subject pop, isolated from a strongly blurred, non-distracting background, drawing the viewer's attention to the subject.
Here are the blur differences of the aperture settings illustrated.
While 100mm is a telephoto focal length, it is a short telephoto focal length. When background blur considerations are important, longer focal lengths hold the background blur advantage at the same aperture. Longer focal lengths of course require more working distance and thus will provide a different perspective resulting in a more-compressed appearance that might or might not be advantageous.
The following image illustrates the maximum background blur possible.
Being able to strongly blur the background adds artistic-style imaging to this 100mm lens' capabilities list.
A wide aperture issue to note is that, especially under full sun conditions, even a 1/8000 shutter speed will not likely be fast enough to avoid blown highlights in f/1.4 images. The options are to use a neutral density filter to darken images or simply photographing with a narrower aperture remains an option. Or, find/create shade.
An ultra-wide aperture always comes at a cost and, as usual, the cost includes a large diameter, a heavy weight, and a high price tag.
Everyone loves a sharp lens and the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus defines sharp image quality.
Wide-open at f/1.4, this lens is extremely sharp from full frame corner to full frame corner, showing excellent contrast and resolution. There are very few lenses of any focal length that rival this one at f/1.4.
Improving image sharpness is almost universally obtainable by stopping a lens down one or two stops from wide-open but, from an image sharpness perspective, there is little reason to use a narrower aperture when this lens is mounted. Only a very slight contrast improvement can be seen at f/2.
In addition to our standard lab test results, I like to share some real-world examples. The images below are 100% resolution center of the frame crops from images captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R. The images were processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" (note that even modestly-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the true characteristics of a lens). Be sure to find details in the plane of sharp focus to base your opinions on.
I see a lot to like in these results. Increasing the sharpness of the f/1.4 results very slightly makes them appear the same as the f/2 results.
In some lens designs, the plane of sharp focus can move forward or backward as a narrower aperture is selected. This is called focus shift (residual spherical aberration, or RSA), it is seldom (never?) desired and this lens does not exhibit that problem.
Next we'll look at a comparison showing 100% extreme-top-left-corner crops captured and processed identically to the above center-of-the-frame images. These images were manually focused in the corner of the frame.
I would be completely happy if I was told that these were center-of-the-frame results, but that these are from the absolute corner of an ultra-high-resolution image is ultra-impressive. Note that I leveled the exposure of the flower corner samples to a small extent, somewhat compensating for vignetting, enabling the sharpness differences to be more easily seen.
When used on a camera that utilizes a lens' entire image circle, peripheral shading can be expected at the widest aperture settings, especially when the widest aperture is this wide. At f/1.4, expect a quite-noticeable but not extreme about-3.5-stops of shading in the corners. Stopping down one stop reduces the shading to about 2.0-stops and about 0.8-stops is visible at f/2.8. Shading continues to decrease until leveling out at roughly 0.25-stops, an amount very seldom noticed.
Shooting with an APS-C format imaging sensor camera? You might see the 1-stop of shading in the f/1.4 corners if an even color (such as a blue sky) is present, but otherwise, peripheral shading is a non-issue for this lens on APS-C cameras.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths typically exists.
While lateral CA is usually easily corrected with software (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide, it is of course better to not have the problem in the first place. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example, a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of an ultra-high resolution 5Ds R frame showing diagonal black and white lines.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and that is what I see, indicating a superb performance.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
In the examples below, look at the fringing colors in the out of focus specular highlights created by the neutrally-colored subjects. Any other color is being introduced by the lens.
Did we find a chink in the Otus armor? There is a touch of color separation showing here; however, it is mild from a relative standpoint.
Flare is caused by bright light reflecting off of the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and interesting artifacts and flare is an image quality attribute that can be quite destructive. Counteracting the flare potential is Zeiss' T* anti-reflective coating and the 14/11 element/group count is not high (as a rule, increase the element count and the flare increases). In our sun in the corner of the frame test, this lens shows practically no flaring at f/1.4 and still very little at f/8. By f/11, the flare effects are noticeable, but from a short telephoto lens-relative standpoint, the flaring is not bad.
There are two lens aberrations that are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point, instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners, and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma), or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional). Remember that lateral CA is another aberration that can be apparent in the corners. The images below are 100% crops taken from the extreme top-left corner of EOS 5Ds R frames.
The stars in this corner are not perfectly round, but they are comparatively good. By f/4, the stars become very round.
This lens has very slight pincushion distortion. The amount is low enough that it is revealed by very few subjects, primarily ones similar to our distortion test chart.
The blur and quality of blur seen in the out of focus portions of an image are referred to as bokeh. This lens delivers strongly in the amount and high in the quality. Here are some examples:
Stop the aperture blades down 5 stops and the f/8 image, a 100% crop, reveals what out-of-focus specular highlights appear like. The two f/5.6 samples are full-sized images reduced. The CE-designated example is a cropped and reduced f/1.4 image top-left corner, illustrating the cat's eye effect, a form of mechanical vignetting. Here is another study of this attribute:
By f/4, the corner specular highlights become very nicely rounded.
When stopped down, this lens' 9-blade aperture produces very nice 18-point stars from point light sources.
The Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens utilizes a sonnar, floating element design that includes special glass with anomalous partial dispersion (the lavender elements illustrated below) and an aspheric optical surface (the rear element).
Overall, this lens provides outstanding image quality, proving that it is ready for the highest resolution imaging sensors available today (and likely those coming available long into the future). There is very little to complain about in the image quality the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens provides, especially from a relative standpoint.
The Otus 100, like all of the other Zeiss Otus lenses, is manual focus-only. Fortunately, it delivers the ultimate manual focusing experience.
The Otus focus rings (all I've used so far) are rubber coated, smooth and flush with the lens body, making the lens very comfortable to hold and use, but slightly increasing the difficulty of finding the focus ring, especially with gloves on. The extremely smooth focusing ring has a huge 315° of rotation that allows very precise focusing at any distance. The rotational resistance of the ring is on the light side.
Subjects change size in the frame due to focus breathing by a modest amount during a full extent focus adjustment as illustrated below, but size changes during short focus adjustments will not likely be noticeable or, minimally, not be bothersome.
All Otus lenses get a full DOF (Depth of Field) scale that includes wide aperture marks – not just f/11 and narrower. The Otus 100's ft/m distance scale resides in an uncovered window built into the lens barrel. A concern I have had with this Otus-standard design is that dust/dirt/moisture can get inside the lens via this area – by landing on the ring and getting turned under the lens barrel housing. Positive is that my concerns have thus far been unfounded.
Also standardized into the Otus line is the high-visibility yellow paint used for the lettering and markings. While I personally prefer the color white from an aesthetic perspective, functionality is paramount with this lens and the yellow color is purposed for use in low light conditions. Infinity and minimum focus distances are hard stops and focus distance settings/marks are easily repeatable, a feature highly valued by videographers.
With a manual focus-only lens, focus accuracy is 100% your responsibility. When using a tripod with fully-zoomed-in Live View manual focusing, my hit rate is nearly 100% even at f/1.4 with a close subject. With a stock DSLR focusing screen in an optical viewfinder, my f/1.4 hit rate is significantly lower.
Lenses available at review time with a similar focal length and maximum aperture also share a minimum focus distance of 39.4" (1000mm). At that distance, the maximum magnification from this lens is 0.12x (a 1:8.6 reproduction ratio), one of the lowest numbers among all available lenses.
|Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED AF-S Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.13x|
|Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.12x|
|Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||39.4"||(1000mm)||0.12x|
|Zeiss 100mm f/2M Milvus Lens||17.3"||(440mm)||0.50x|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||31.5"||(800mm)||0.13x|
|Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||19.7"||(500mm)||0.14x|
|Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.16x|
A subject measuring approximately 12.3 x 8.2" (312 x 208mm) will fill this lens' frame at the minimum focus distance.
While close focusing is not this lens' major strength, the 0.12x magnification is adequate for head shot portraits at distances as close as this lens should be used for perspective reasons and images remain very sharp at this distance. Those desiring to photograph small products may be left wishing for greater magnification potential.
Need more magnification? Mount an extension tube behind this lens. Infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed with an ET in use, but a modest increase in maximum magnification is obtainable with the longer extension tube models.
Like the Otus lenses before it, the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens' build quality gives up nothing to its image quality. The Otus lenses are built like few other lenses and they seem indestructible (please don't take that statement as a challenge). Here is a Zeiss Otus family picture including, from left to right, the 28mm, 55mm, 85mm, and 100mm f/1.4 lenses:
The word curvature is more commonly used in lens reviews to describe the area a lens renders in-focus, but these lenses have very attractive physical curvature. The Otus 100's lens barrel, after a quick but significant bump-out near the mount, is straight with a gentle outward-flaring contour starting in front of the focus ring and finishing in the lens hood.
The Otus 100's smooth-shaped, rock solid, all metal construction features only one moving exterior part – the focus ring. The focus ring on the Canon mount Otus lenses turn in the same direction as native Canon lenses and the focus ring on the Nikon mount Otus lenses turn in the same direction as native Nikon lenses.
All lettering and other markings on this lens are etched into the metal lens barrel, focusing ring, and lens hood. This lens is not weather sealed, so use precaution if wet might happen.
The included metal lens hood is substantial, matching the build quality of the lens and nicely integrating into the overall design. The hood is very protective and does not noticeably deform even when very firmly squeezed. The lens hood is so strong and well-integrated/contoured that it feels like an extension of the lens barrel, increasing overall comfort during use.
While comfortable to hold and not unwieldy, the size of this lens, especially the diameter, makes it a handful. The weight of this lens will remind you that there is something substantial in your hands while the weight of the Sigma option keeps this lens from being a chart-topper.
|Model||Weight oz(g)||Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)||Filter||Year|
|Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED AF-S Lens||34.8||(985)||3.7 x 4.2||(94.5 x 106.0)||82||2016|
|Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||57.9||(1640)||4.6 x 5.2||(115.9 x 131.5)||105||2018|
|Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||49.6||(1405)||4.0 x 5.1||(101.0 x 129.0)||86||2019|
|Zeiss 100mm f/2M Milvus Lens||29.8||(843)||3.2 x 4.1||(80.5 x 104.0)||67||2015|
|Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||42.4||(1200)||4.0 x 4.9||(101.0 x 124.0)||86||2014|
|Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||36.4||(1030)||3.6 x 5.7||(92.4 x 144.0)||77||2013|
|Zeiss 28mm f/1.4 Otus Lens||49.1||(1390)||4.3 x 5.4||(108.9 x 137.0)||95||2015|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
Making the Zeiss Otus 100 appear more compact is the Sigma 105mm lens, a lens that grew out of our standard product image size capacity. Here is a visual size comparison of the about-100mm f/1.4 lens options.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens to other lenses.
This is a big lens and it requires big filters to shoot through. Filters 86mm in size are not shared by many other lenses and are rather expensive. I opted to buy an 86mm-to-95mm step-up ring to allow use of my kit's existing 95mm circular polarizer filter. The downside to this strategy is that the lens hood does not fit over the step-up ring.
Zeiss does not include a case with this lens, but the presentation-like box it comes in is quite protective. Using the large box for daily use will not be found ideal and better case options are available.
As I said in the Zeiss Otus 85 review, relieving some of the pressure on demand for the Zeiss Otus 100mm f/1.4 Sonnar Lens will be its price. This is an expensive lens and many photographers will be unable to overcome the price tag. Without question, price is a volume-limiting factor for this lens.
That said, wildlife photographers often spend two times this much or more for their primary lens. I love wildlife and personally own such a lens, but I will argue that the human subjects this lens is ideal for are far more valuable than the wildlife we pursue. If you can't afford to buy an Otus lens, rent it.
The Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens is available in Canon (reviewed) and Nikon mounts. While there are potential compatibility issues with third party lenses, a manual focus lens stands a lower chance of encountering such than more complicated models. Zeiss USA provides a 2-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens was on short term loan from Zeiss.
While I don't have any strongly-relevant exactly-100mm comparisons to share with you, the 105mm focal length has an only slightly narrower angle of view and that focal length picks up a pair of contenders for us to look at.
First up is the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens. In the image quality comparison, the Zeiss shows its awesomeness up against a very high performing lens. The Zeiss is sharper at f/1.4 and most noticeably so in the center of the frame. Stop down to f/2 and you might drive yourself crazy trying to determine which is the better performer. The Sigma lens shows less vignetting at wide apertures.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens vs. Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens comparison shows that the Zeiss lens is not so big and heavy after all. While the difference is not dramatic, the Sigma's wide objective end and included tripod ring (an advantage) make the size difference appear especially large. If you thought the Zeiss lens' 86mm filters were large, check out the Sigma's 105mm filters. The Zeiss lens has 315° of focus ring rotation vs. the Sigma lens' 154°. That the Sigma features AF is a huge advantage for many and this lens' weather sealing adds versatility. The Zeiss lens seems more ruggedly constructed and its simplicity should make it more reliable. Not lost on most folks will be that three of the Sigma lenses could be purchased for the price of this Zeiss lens.
Those with Nikon cameras have the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED AF-S Lens as an option. In the image quality comparison, the Zeiss lens handily bests the Nikon. The comparison is considerably closer at f/2, but the Nikon is still not focusing all colors perfectly and the comparison looks better at f/2.8. The Nikon lens shows less vignetting at wide apertures but it also shows slightly more pincushion distortion.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens vs. Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED AF-S Lens comparison shows the Zeiss to be the larger and heavier lens. The Nikon also has a modestly narrower and significantly more common filter thread size, 82mm vs. 86mm. The Zeiss lens has 315° of focus ring rotation vs. the Nikon lens' 128°. The Zeiss lens is more ruggedly constructed and its simplicity should make it more reliable. While the Nikon lens costs more than the Sigma lens just compared, the Nikon lens still costs far less than the Zeiss lens while offering the versatility of AF.
The Zeiss Otus 100 is only the fourth Otus lens to arrive in the market. Why was the 100mm focal length, only 15mm longer than that of the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus Lens, selected? Sometimes, the 15mm of difference matters and 100mm was deemed important.
In the image quality comparison, pick the focal length you like best. The difference in image quality, even at f/1.4, is very slight. With the browser zoomed in, it appears that the 85 is better in the mid-frame and the 100 is better in the corners. I doubt you will be able to see the differences in your images and both lenses are awesome performers. The 85 shows less vignetting at f/1.4, has slightly less geometric distortion, and wider-angle lenses by design perform better in our flare test.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens vs. Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Otus Lens comparison shows the 85 being slightly smaller and lighter, but mostly similar in other regards. How do you make an Otus 85mm f/1.4 Lens appear to be a bargain? Compare it to the Otus 100. The difference is not dramatic, but the current 10% difference is noticeable. If the 100mm focal length is not an advantage (and it sometimes is), the 85mm option might be the right choice.
Zeiss has another 100mm lens in their lineup and if an f/2 aperture is wide enough for you, the Zeiss 100mm f/2M Milvus Lens is on the alternatives list. In the image quality comparison, the Otus is sharper than the Milvus, especially in the center of the frame. By f/2.8, the differences are much less. With few lens elements/groups (9/8 vs. 14/11), the Milvus shows slightly less flaring at narrow apertures. The Milvus shows less geometric distortion.
Looking at the specs and measurements, the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens vs. Zeiss 100mm f/2M Milvus Lens comparison shows the Milvus lens being considerably smaller and lighter. The Milvus lens extends with focusing vs. having a fixed-size design. The Milvus lens has 67mm filter threads vs. the Otus' 86mm threads. The Milvus lens has a considerably shorter minimum focus distance (17.32 vs. 39.37" / 440 vs. 1000mm) and higher maximum magnification (0.50x vs. 0.12x). The Milvus lens is weather sealed and costs far less.
If an about-100mm manual focus lens will meet your needs and your budget accommodates the Otus price, the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus is the lens you want. A single number rating or grade for a lens is meaningless (for a huge list of reasons), but if it wasn't, this lens would receive one of the highest rating numbers ever applied; this lens defines great image quality.
As I said regarding the Zeiss Otus 85, with the Zeiss 100mm f/1.4 Otus Lens in your hands, you have the confidence of knowing that there is no better 100mm (or similar) lens available. This lens is extremely-solidly built and you can count on your wide-open aperture images to be very sharp with high contrast and excellent resolution.
Flaws? There is not much to complain about here aside from the lack of AF, leaving nitpicks to look for. There is some peripheral shading at the widest apertures, but nothing unusual. There is some color separation happening in the foreground and background at wide apertures, but the low amount is actually a positive feature (it is less than normal). Physical attributes have this lens being somewhat big and heavy and I mentioned the price.
The Zeiss Otus 100mm f/1.4 Lens extends the Zeiss "accepts no compromises" strategy for this lens line. Not only is it a joy to use such a phenomenal lens, but it is a joy to review the images captured by it and after seeing what this lens can do, it is hard to go back to a lower-performing option. Try this lens at your own risk!
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