Introduction

Carl Zeiss 'Hollywood' Distagon T* 28mm f/2 was one of two 28mm primes that Carl Zeiss used to manufacture for its now defunct Contax/Yashica SLR system. Technically speaking, the origins of the 28mm f/2 prime go way back to the times of Rollei SL35 system first launched in 1970. The Contax lineup was discontinued back in 2005 after Kyocera, which jointly owned development rights for the Contax brand name, exited camera business. Carl Zeiss still retains the Contax brand name, but due to some legal restrictions could not reuse the name for any products (although the company hinted that it will likely resurrect the brand sometime in the future). In the meantime, Carl Zeiss reintroduced a number of SLR lenses, including a 28mm f/2 version for Nikon's F and Pentax's K mounts. The 'Hollywood' is a fairly rare lens these days, although good quality copies do appear once in a while on used markets like eBay, selling for ~US$700-800 (as of March 2009).

 

Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8 (left), Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 (center), Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF (right)
Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8 (left), Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 (center), Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF (right)

The optical construction of the lens consists of 9 elements in 8 groups. The optical formula of the lens is based on a Carl Zeiss cinematic lens, hence the name 'Hollywood'. The lens implements a floating element design, which is designed to provide for better closeup performance. Like with all Carl Zeiss lenses for Contax/Yashica mount of that time, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 sports a very solid build quality, with all metal barrel and cams and rubberized focus and aperture rings. The lens is slightly longer and heavier then its slower cousing - Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8, but it is certainly not a heavyweight giant among wide angles, measuring 62.5 x 76mm (2.46 x 3in) and weighing 485g (1.07lb).

The minimum focusing distance of the lens is 25cm (0.78ft) and the minimum supported aperture is f/22 (the aperture ring moves in one full f-stop increments). The lens accepts 55mm screw-in type filters and since the front element does not rotate, you can use a circular polarizer with the lens.

Image

The lens used in the review was an AE type, manufactured by Carl Zeiss in West Germany (to the best of my knowledge, 'Hollywood' was actually never manufactured in Japan). The lens can be adapted to a number of alternative mounts, including Canon EF/EF-S and Four Thirds cameras using readily available lens adapters. Since the lens was designed for traditional 35mm cameras, when used on APS-C type bodies, its field of view will be equivalent to that of a 45mm prime on a FF camera , thus loosing its wide angle appeal.


Summary
Lens Composition 9 elements in 8 groups
Angular Field 74 degrees
Minimum Focus 25cm/0.78ft
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/22, manual
Filter Size 55mm
Lens Hood G-2 soft hood or No. 1 metal hood
Weight 485g/1.07lb
Dimensions 62.5x76mm/2.46x3"
Lens Case No.2 (included)

 

Field Tests

The first thing you should be aware of the Contax branded Distagon T* 28mm f/2 is that this lens does not fully clear the mirror of Canon 5D cameras. There are two possible reasons for that - firstly, the adapter thickness and secondly the variance in Canon 5D mirror box size. Two versions of this lens tested on two different Canon 5D cameras produced same results (with four different adapters thrown into the mix) - at infinity the mirror of the camera would lock up, rendering the camera non-operational. A minor focus shift towards the closeup, and everything worked just fine. Interestingly enough, the lens worked just fine on all APS-C/APS-H cameras, as well as on 1Ds MkIII FF camera (although there have been sporadic reports about various issues even on 1Ds series of cameras). Hence this review is somewhat inconsistent - all lenses are tested on Canon 5D and Canon Digital Rebel XTi, but due to 'Hollywood' hitting the mirror box of Canon 5D at infinity, most of the tests were done at distances from closeup to 'near-infinity' -a midpoint between the 2m and infinity mark on the lens barrel, which was the farthest distance that did not cause mirror lockup. Additionally, a few test shots were made at infinity using Canon 1Ds MkIII to give a general sense of how the lens behaves on a full frame body. Keep these limitations in mind when reading the review.

Like all alternative mount lenses, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 requires special handling on modern digital cameras. For the first part, you need to focus the lens manually, which by itself might not be appealing to everyone. Granted, the focusing ring has a pretty short drive from the infinity to the closeup - about 90 degrees, with longer significantly more precision towards the closeup. The distance scale goes from 0.24m to 2m and then immediately jumps to the infinity. Still, this does not mean that you will be able to focus the lens quickly to capture for example a moving object.

More importantly, however, because you loose automatic aperture control, you would end up using the lens in stop down metering mode. Open up the aperture, focus, stop down the aperture, meter, take a shot - can this be any slower? If you are using an adapter with an AF chip, you are in a slightly better position, but keep in mind that even AF chip has its limitations - as you stop down the aperture of the lens, less and less light gets through, so by f/8 your camera's contrast-based auto-focusing system will simply give up and you would have to revert back to using stop down metering.

In general, 28mm focal length is quite popular among photographers and is a natural step down (towards the wide angle perspective that is) from 35mm. It gives users a wide enough field of view to photograph scenery or even architecture without worrying about significant amount of barrel distortion typically found in super wides like 21mm and 18mm. Many will also find it much easier to compose their shots with a 28mm prime then with wider lenses since the latter ones give a significantly larger depth of field, often requiring users to get really close to the subject or risk filling the frame with 'empty space'. Speaking of getting close to the subject - 'Hollywood' Distagon's floating optical formula is designed to improve image quality at close distances and given the lens's fast aperture and relatively small minimum focusing distance you get a very nice control over depth of field at close distances - the shot below demonstrates how narrow the DOF can be at f/2 near the minimum focusing distance.

 

ISO 400, 1/60, 28mm f/2 (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/60, 28mm f/2 (Canon 5D)

 

The shallow DOF at f/2 can obviously be used for your advantage when trying to isolate a subject in focus from fore/background. The quality of bokeh (out of focus areas) plays a major factor in such situations, and while the bokeh is often a matter of personal taste (that is why we are trying to avoid calling bokeh outright good or bad), generally speaking the shape and of out of focus highlights, levels of contrast in the out of focus areas and existence of double-edging around out of focus objects contribute quite a bit to the feel of the bokeh quality. It is commonly accepted that well rounded and uniformly lit OOF highlights improve the look of bokeh, while oval-shaped highlights with harsh edges create a dizzying effect. Image viewers also often prefer out of focus areas that have reduced amount of contrast that create a blending feel for OOF objects. Obviously the existence of double edges around objects will also distract the viewer and thus are less desirable. Based on these three evaluative criteria, the 28mm f/2 Distgon is somewhat of an average performer - the lens produced pretty severe edge outlining in OOF highlights, as well as occasional double edging. At least the contrast transitions in fore/background areas were pretty neutral.

 

ISO 400, 1/125, f/2, 28mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 400, 1/125, f/2, 28mm (Canon 5D)

 

The lens showed very good resistance to flare, which can be observed in the shots below. The sun in these cases was hitting the front element of the lens under ~65 degree angle from the left hand side. As you can notice, both shots show generally reduced amount of contrast across the entire picture frame, which is quite common for pretty much all lenses. Surprisingly, that is actually the worst it gets - absent are any major signs of glare or aperture ghosting. Not that bad overall...

ISO 200, 1/8000, f/2, 28mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 200, 1/8000, f/2, 28mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 200, 1/640, f/8, 28mm (Canon 5D)
ISO 200, 1/640, f/8, 28mm (Canon 5D)

 

Like with most wide angle lenses, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 shows noticeable vignetting on a full frame camera from f/2 down to ~f/4. Beyond that light falloff is minimal to nonexistent. And on an APS-C camera vignetting is not an issue streight from the widest aperture - even at f/2 vignetting is barely noticeable.

 

Vignetting @ f/2 - full frame vs APS-C
Vignetting @ f/2 - full frame vs APS-C

 

Color rendition was generally quite decent. Color palette was well saturated with good amount of contrast and detail in midtones and shadows. Color fringing was pretty minor with some axial aberration visible around borders - nothing disastrous though as can be seen from the sample shots in the gallery. Distortion was quite moderate and in most cases not even noticeable. Still, if you are shooting objects with straight edges, you might see minor shifts around image corners.

 

ISO 100, 1/4000, f/2, 28mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/4000, f/2, 28mm (100% crop)

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 showcased very solid center performance on an APS-C camera, with good to excellent resolution throughout the tested aperture range. Border image resolution lagged to some extent, particularly at wider apertures from f/2 through f/2.8. The overall trend is quite typical for most lenses -- quality improved with stopped down aperture, reaching peak performance from f/4 through f/8 and then starting to slowly drift lower due to the diffraction effect taking place. The lens is capable of delivering good 16in and decent 24in prints in the f/5.6-f/8 range, which can be considered to be a good result for wide anges. Conclusion? With somewhat lagging border image quality at wider apertures, Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 is a solid, but probably not an exceptional lens.

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 28mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 28mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm

 

The lens showed moderate amount of chromatic aberration at wider apertures, where both center as well as border CA was hovering ~0.8px and 0.9px respectively. Fortunately. CA levels dropped with stopped down aperture, with center CA averaging ~0.4px and border CA averaging ~0.6px through the most of the tested aperture settings.

 

Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 28mm
Chromatic Aberration (APS-C) @ 28mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with an APS-C type Canon Digital Rebel XTi, comparing image borders at f/2 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8

Canon FF: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 produced very good results on a full frame camera. Center image resolution was top notch throughout the aperture range, reaching its peak in the f/4-f/8 range. Border image performance struggled to some extent at wider apertures, particularly at f/2 and to a lesser degree at f/2.8, but improved very nicely by f/4 and stayed on a consistently high level throughout the rest of the aperture settings. Conclusion? The results are quite good, again not necessarily unique among wide angle primes, mostly because of the border performance at its widest aperture level.

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 28mm

 

Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 showed moderate amount of barrel distortion - at ~1.1% distortion should not cause major problems to photographers, but can be occasionally visible, particularly with straight edges around extreme corners.

 

Distortion (FF) @ 28mm
Distortion (FF) @ 28mm

 

Chromatic aberration on a full frame body was minimal in the center, where CA averaged ~0.4px throughout the tested aperture range. Border CA peaked at wider apertures, with levels ~0.8px in the f/2-f/2.8 range, dropping towards more manageable ~0.5px by f/5.6.

 

Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 28mm
Chromatic Aberration (FF) @ 28mm

 

Here are 100% crops, taken with an FF type Canon 5D, comparing image borders at f/2 and f/8.

 

Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8
Image borders @ 28mm (100% crop): f/2 vs f/8

 

Alternatives

As mentioned in the introduction section, Carl Zeiss used to offer another 28mm prime in its Contax mount - Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8, which offers excellent image characteristics at a very reasonable price. The lens is also more compact and lightweight when compared to the 'Hollywood' version reviewed here. If you're using a Nikon or Pentax camera, then you're in luck - Carl Zeiss recently reintroduced Distagon T 28mm f/2 ZF/ZK for both mounts. The new lens showcases excellent image characteristics and resolution-wise slightly outperforms the older variant as can be seen from the charts below (please note that the comparison between the two lenses was done at all except infinity focusing distances).

 

Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 vs Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF (Center)
Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 vs Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF (Center)

 

Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 vs Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF (Borders)
Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 vs Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2 ZF (Borders)

Outside of the Carl Zeiss lineup, you might want to consider Leica's Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8, although keep in mind that the first generation of this lens dosn't really exhibit any particular strengths. A couple of other interesting options are Nikon Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AiS as well as Olympus OM Zuiko 28mm f/2, and its slower versions OM Zuiko 28mm f/2.8 and OM Zuiko 28mm f/3.5.

 

Recommendation

Carl Zeiss 'Hollywood' Distagon T* 28mm f/2 is an excellent wide angle prime that is certainly worth your consideration. There is one caveat you need to be aware of - if you are using a Canon 5D series cameras, you might experience problems with this lens. Specifically, the lens might cause your camera to lock up due to the camera's mirror not clearing the rear of the lens. Other then this rather unpleasant (possible) side effect, the lens showcases very good characteristics with strong resolving capabilities, good color reproduction, relatively low color fringing. Like with all wide angles, you will see some vignetting and some barrel distortion with Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2but this should not be a major surprise to anyone. All in all, a solid performing wide angle.