Zeiss 21mm Comparison
LEICA 21mm f/2.8 ASPH, Zeiss 21mm ZE, Canon 16-35mm L II and Nikon 14-24mm AF-S. enlarge. It helps me keep adding to this site when you use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and eBay to get your goodies. Thanks! Ken.
Zeiss Manual-Focus Lenses for Canon 15 September 2008
I shot these all in raw.
I opened the files at the same size (6,144 pixels wide) Adobe Camera Raw at default settings in either Photoshop CS2 (for the LEICA M9) or Photoshop CS4 for the rest. (the Oriental cameras' raw files aren't recognized by CS2, and CS4 has funny artifacts when opening DNGs on my G5 Mac.)
These are all small crops from the equivalent of huge 40 x 60 inches (1 x 1.5 meter) prints.
Here we go.
Center, f/2.8 top
Center, f/8 top
Lower left corner, f/2.8 top
Lower left corner, f/8 top
The Canon is worst, and Nikon isn't much better.
LEICA and Zeiss are about even, not bad considering that the LEICA M9 has three million less pixels than the 5D Mark II. I think the LEICA looks a little sharper, but it's a small difference compared to how awful Canon and Nikon's lenses look here.
The Canon looks bad because I think it mis-focused, an occasional problem with Canon's super-fast AF system. Sorry, Canon.
The Nikon looks bad because Nikon isn't competitive in the high-resolution DSLR market, with only 12 MP in the under-$7,000 category seen here.
Nikon is trying to screw us by holding-back the D700X, but in this case, Nikon screwed themselves. Sorry, Nikon: you just don't measure up to the competition today.
Of course maybe Canon and Nikon's lenses aren't that good at f/2.8; in any case, they are far inferior to the real sharpness captured by the LEICA or the Zeiss lenses.
Nikon looks the worst. It's because its cameras don't measure up; thus we really have no idea how well the 14-24mm compares. So what, it doesn't matter how good or bad a lens is if the camera can't capture it.
Canon and Zeiss look about the same, both pretty good, as you'd expect at f/8.
The LEICA is a smidgeon sharper, but not by much. IN this case, the LEICA M9's superior American-made sensor lets it outperform Nikon and Canon's imported sensors.
What makes or breaks a wide lens is its performance in the corners. Center sharpness should be irrelevant.
Gag me; Nikon and Canon both look hideous. This time, neither lens measures up. Canon fans will point out that the awful Canon 16-35mm L II's image has a slightly sharper core, while Nikon fans will opine that the 14-24mm has much less smearing. They both are awful.
I'd take the Zeiss as the winner here.
The LEICA is close, but less contrasty. The LEICA has a slightly sharper core, but lost in more contrast-reducing haze.
This is where it really matters. The things worth shooting are usually shot at reasonable apertures, and the corners are what make or break wide shots.
Nikon still looks worst, about 33% due to the lens and 67% due to Nikon cameras' lower resolution in this under-$7,000 category Heck, even the old Canon 5D is better than today's Nikon D3 and D700.
The Canon 16-35mm L II lens on the 5D Mark II is much better than anything on the Nikon. In fact, the Canon 16-35mm L II is almost as good as the Zeiss 21mm.
The Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 is still a little better than the Canon 16-35mm L II.
Much to my surprise, the LEICA M9 and 21mm f/2.8 ASPH combo still wins, even with three million fewer pixels than the Canon 5D Mark II. Obviously, quality is more important than quantity.
Other Lenses top
What about the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L?
What about Nikon's fixed 20mm lenses?
Nikon's 14-24mm is the best ultrawide Nikon has ever made.
What about the Zeiss Biogon 21mm f/2.8 for the Contax G?
This tiny lens is the smallest, lightest, and quite possibly the best lens here.
It certainly has the least distortion.
I didn't compare it because I don't yet have a 24MP Contax G3 full-frame digital on which to compare these.
On Canon, I'd give this Zeiss lens serious consideration for nature and landscape use. It's a better lens than Canon's own zooms.
The Zeiss lens is superior to Canon's, although stopped down, the Canon 16-35mm L II is almost as good.
I'd also consider Canon's TS-E lenses as alternatives to Canon's zooms.
This Zeiss on the Canon 5D Mark II is about as sharp as LEICA's best LEICA ELMARIT-M 21mm f/2.8 ASPH, for seven-thousand dollars less for the combined camera and lens.
Sharpness is about the same between the Zeiss/5D Mk II and the LEICA, but far more importantly, Canon's color rendition is worlds better than the awful colors I pull out of an M9.
Yes, The LEICA is the best system here, but I'd rather have colors ten times better in exchange for getting 1% less sharpness. Screw the digital LEICA for color; I'd rather shoot RealRaw on an M3 like a man.
Everyone's tastes differ for colors. I prefer RealRaw, and I'd shoot the 21mm Zeiss G lens on the Contax G2 on Fuji Velvia 50 long before I'd lug a DSLR out in the woods, but that's just me, a multiple top-place award winning photographer with decades of experience.
I haven't tried this Zeiss lens on Nikon. It probably works really well on a D3X, as does the 14-24mm. I have tested the 14-24mm on the D3X, and it's a close call, with the Zeiss/5D Mark II combo probably a bit better for a lot less money and size and weight.
I don't know that I'd want to lug this Zeiss 21mm SLR lens around with my Nikons. I'd probably prefer the smaller size and weight of Nikon's own 20mm lenses in exchange for sloppier performance.
If you're considering the Zeiss 21mm SLR lens, also consider the slightly newer Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 SLR lens, which performs as well, and is even smaller, lighter and less expensive than this 21mm lens.
All said and done, the Canon 16-35mm L II lens is OK on the 5D Mark II, but you have to stop it down for best results, which you don't with the Zeiss. Oddly, the Zeiss 21mm costs a little more and weighs a little more than the Canon zoom.
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