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Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2 ZF

Introduction

Carl Zeiss used to manufacture a whole range of SLR lenses for its Contax range of 35mm and medium format SLR cameras. The Contax lineup was eventually discontinued in early 2000s after Kyocera, which owned joint development rights for the Contax brand name, exited the camera business all-together. The good news for Carl Zeiss aficionados is that the company finally decided to update its SLR lineup and Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2 was one of the first three lenses introduced to the world. The lens is currently manufactured for three different camera mount - ZF for Nikon F, ZS for M42 universal screw and ZK for Pentax K. Carl Zeiss selected Cosina of Japan to manufacture its new lineup of SLR lenses (Cosina is predominantly known for its line of excellent Voigtlander SLR and rangefinder lenses). New copies of the lens are sold for ~US$850 (as of April 2008) at online photography retailers like B&H Photo.

The newly released version of Distagon T* 35mm f/2 incorporates a redesigned optical formula of the older Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 - the optical construction consists of 9 elements in 7 groups instead of 9 elements in 8 groups. If you examine the optical designs side by side, you will also notice that the element configuration has also changed. Hopefully all these changes are going to improve the overall optical characteristics of the lens. The physical dimensions of the new Distagon also changed - at 65 x 73mm (2.55 x 2.87in) and 520g (1.16lb), the lens is slightly narrower, smaller and lighter then its older f/1.4 variant. The build quality is as solid as ever - no plastic, no rubber - the barrel, cams, aperture and focus rings, even the lens hood are all metal. The lens carries that aura of German excellency - it looks and feels very sturdy, with no wobbling inside or out, very smooth focus ring and snappy aperture ring, which rotates in half f-stop increments. Bottom line is that Carl Zeiss did not skimp on the quality here.

As all other lenses in its ZF/ZS/ZK lineup, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2 is a fully manual lens, so there's no electronic coupling on the base of the lens mount to control the aperture or focusing. This unfortunately limits its usage on consumer grade Nikon cameras like D40, D70, D80 - if you are using one of these cameras, you will have to switch to the fully manual mode. The aperture priority mode is still going to be available to anyone using more advanced cameras like Nikon D3, D2 series, D200 and D300. Fortunately for the Pentax users, the ZK version of this lens does not carry any of these limitations and the lens will support aperture priority, shutter priority and automatic exposure control modes along with the fully manual one on all modern digital SLR cameras.

The lens is designed for full frame cameras, so while you can use it on APS-C type bodies, its field of view will no longer resemble a wide angle lens - on a 1.6x crop sensors, the field of view of the Distagon T* 35mm f/2 will resemble that of a 52mm prime on a full frame camera. The lens has the minimum focusing distance of 30cm and the minimum aperture of f/22. It accepts 58mm screw-in type filters and since the front of the lens does not rotate during focusing, would allow using a circular polarizer.

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The factory box includes Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2 lens, front and rear caps, metal screw-in type lens hood, manual, warranty and registration cards. In the scope of this review, the lens was tested on a native mount Nikon D3, as well as on two Canon bodies (an APS-C type Digital Rebel XTi and FF type 5D) using a Nikon to EOS non AF-chipped adapter. When testing the lens, all three cameras were switched to aperture priority mode.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 9 elements in 7 groups
Angular Field 63 degrees
Minimum Focus 30cm/1.1ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/22, manual
Filter Size 58mm
Lens Hood Metal (included)
Weight 530g/1.16lb
Dimensions 65x73mm/2.55x2.87"
Lens Case N/A