The Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/50 ($1,283 list) is a standard-angle lens with macro focusing capability. It is a full f-stop faster than most similar macro lenses, which open only to f/2.8, but still retains the 1:2 magnification factor that macro lenses in the 50 to 60mm focal range typically support. If you’re in the market for a macro lens for your Canon or Nikon camera, don’t mind manual focus, and want one that is fast enough to double as a standard lens when the light gets low, the Makro-Planar is a solid choice. If autofocus is more your speed, or if you’d simply like a longer working distance and higher magnification, consider a lens like the Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro.
The lens is bigger than most manual focus 50mm f/2 designs, which are typically quite compact. It measures 3.6 by 3 inches (HD), weighs 1.3 pounds, and uses 67mm front filters. The front element is recessed, but as you focus closer the barrel extends. It nearly doubles in length as it reaches the 9.4-inch minimum focus distance, which accounts for design. You wouldn’t think that a hood would be required for a lens like this, but a metal lens hood is included nonetheless. The Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/50 is smaller and twice as fast, but can only focus to 17.7 inches and isn’t nearly as sharp.
Imatest shows that the Makro-Planar is extremely sharp even at its widest aperture, and always shows negligible distortion when paired with the full-frame Nikon D800. A score of 1,800 lines per picture height is used to mark a photo with acceptable sharpness, and the lens exceeds that at every tested aperture. At f/2 the center-weighted score is 2,918 lines, with all but the extreme edges of the frame crossing the 1,800-line mark. Sharpness increases to 3,318 lines at f/2.8, and it jumps to 3,701 lines at f/4; f/4 is also the aperture at which the entire frame is sharp, with even extreme edges crossing the 2,400-line mark. Performance is even better at f/5.6, where the lens scores 3,861 lines, and at f/8 where it hits 3,822. Not even our Editors’ Choice 50mm lens, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G shows these numbers—it hits 2,567 lines at f/2 and peaks at 3,689 lines at f/8.
The Makro-Planar T* 2/50 is one of a pair of macro lenses available from Carl Zeiss. The other is the Makro-Planar T* 2/100, a lens with a longer focal length and an equal aperture, but one that also limits you to 1:2 magnification and manual focus. Both lenses are incredibly sharp and feature the smooth focus and all-metal build that you come to expect from Zeiss. The 50mm version has the benefit of doubling as a fast standard-angle lens, while the 100mm is an excellent focal length for portraits. It’s easy to recommend either lens, and shooters with deep pockets may opt to have both in their gear bag. If you are looking for a macro that supports autofocus, the longer Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro is an excellent choice; it’s another sharp lens, and its longer focal length allows for more distance between your camera and subjects, as well as true 1:1 magnification.
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