Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 review

The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 is a sharp wide-angle lens, but you can get an autofocusing 35mm f/1.4 that's just as impressive for less.
Photo of Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35

The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 ($1,117 list) is one of two manual focus 35mm lenses currently in the Zeiss lens catalog. It’s available for Nikon and Canon cameras, and while it’s less expensive than the faster Carl Zeiss Distagon T*1,4/35, it doesn’t sacrifice sharpness. Our Editors’ Choice 35mm lens, the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM is faster, less expensive, and supports autofocus. But if you prefer the feel of an old-school, manual focus lens, the Zeiss Distagon is worth a look.

The lens isn’t overly large like its Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 sibling, but is still heavy. It measures 2.9 by 3.9 inches (HD), weighs 1.3 pounds, and supports 58mm filters. The Distagon 1,4/35 is 4.8 by 3.1 inches, weighs 1.9 pounds, and uses larger 72mm filters. It focuses on objects as close as 11.8 inches, the same minimum working distance that the f/1.4 version provides. A metal lens hood is included.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness and distortion characteristics of the lens when paired with the Nikon D800. It is much sharper than the 1,800 lines per picture height that we use as the cutoff for acceptable sharpness at every tested aperture, even at the edges of the frame. At f/2 the score is 2,490 lines, and it only gets sharper from there; f/2.8 gets you 2,973 lines, the score jumps to 3,283 lines at f/4, and it peaks at 3,538 lines at f/8. There’s a very moderate level of distortion—1.1 percent barrel—which will cause straight lines to curve slightly.  Both the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 are extremely sharp as well, and those faster designs equate to only a bit more distortion—1.4 percent. Neither amount of distortion is a deal-breaker in real-world use; each is easily rectified in Lightroom for those shots where the straightness of lines is paramount.

If you’re in the market for a 35mm f/1.4 lens for your Canon or Nikon SLR you have a wealth of excellent choices. The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 is a an excellent performer, but you can buy our Editors’ Choice Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM for less money without sacrificing performance, and gaining autofocus capability. Autofocus isn’t for everyone, just for most people. Cinematographers who use follow-focus when shooting video on D-SLRs have a good reason to prefer manual focus, and Nikon shooters who are still using manual focus 35mm cameras will be turned away by the Sigma due to its lack of a manual aperture ring. If you’re in that camp, we recommend spending the extra money and picking up the Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35—it costs about $725 more, but it is a full f-stop faster and is also an amazingly sharp optic.


Verdict
The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 is a sharp wide-angle lens, but you can get an autofocusing 35mm f/1.4 that's just as impressive for less.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc