Article Index



Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 is one of the most eagerly anticipated UWA lenses in the modern Carl Zeiss lens lineup. If you're not familiar with the history of this lens, just type Distagon 21mm in your browser and read users' comments on various online forums. You will probably be left with an impression that the lens is the best thing that happened to the humanity since sliced bread. The original design of the lens was first introduced during the Contax/Yashica era. The lens was discontinued after Contax line was dropped by its joint holder Kyocera. Because Contax Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 gained such popularity among users in the last few years, the prices it skyrocketed, with used copies selling for almost double the original MSRP. I am sure that all that frenzy did not escape Zeiss management and the company did eventually re-introduce Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 in 2009. The lens was initially released in ZF and ZK (Nikon and Pentax respectively) mounts and ZE (Canon) mount was added in late 2009. With the price tag of ~US$1,400, the lens is one of the most expensive lenses in the SLR lineup that the company offers right now, but is also over US$1,000 cheaper then the average going price for the used Contax versions before the introduction of the revised version. Surprisingly though, even after the new version was introduced, the prices for old Contax lenses did not plummet completely - they now typically sell for a slight discount to the new Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8, which is somewhat puzzling to me. Considering that the Contax lens has to be adapted to work o any modern digital camera, there must be some kind of perception of the old Contax lens that drives the price. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to obtain both the old as well as the new versions of this lens and shoot them side by side. Check out the field notes on this topic.

The optical construction of the lens cosists of 16 elements in 13 groups - the new design adds one more elements compared to the old Contax version. By the way, the Distagon 21mm optical formula is one of the most complex I have seen so far in an UWA lens. The build quality of the lens is superb - metal barrel, knurled metal focusing ring and aperture ring. The lens tested in this review was a Nikon ZF variant, which is essentially an Ai lens with no electronics. As such the lens can be used on any Nikon body in fully manual mode and on certain high end cameras in aperture priority mode. The aperture ring rotates from f/2.8 to f/22 in half f-stop increments.

The new version of Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 retains the same distinct look of its Cotnax predecessor, with a wide nose sticking out of the barrel. Despite its size, 87 x 109mm (3.4 x 4.3in), the lens is fairly light, weighing only 600g (1.32lb). The barrel length remains constant throughout focusing. The lens accepts 82mm screw-in type filters



The manufacturer's box includes Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 lens, front and rear lens caps, metal lens hood, registration and warranty cards. The lens is designed for traditional 35mm cameras and therefore when used on cameras with an APS-C sized sensor, the field of view of the lens will resemble that of a 32mm lens on a full frame body. Like all Ai and AiS type Nikon lenses, Carl Zeiss Distagon is easily adaptable to a number of alternative mounts, including Canon's EF/EF-S and Four Thirds systems. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on 12Mp full frame Nikon D3 camera, as well as 10Mp APS-C Canon Digital Rebel XTi and 12Mp Canon 5D and 21Mp Canon 5D Mk2 full frame cameras.


Lens Composition 16 elements in 13 groups
Angular Field 90 degrees
Minimum Focus 22cm/0.72ft
Focusing Action MF
stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, manual
Filter Size 82mm
Lens Hood Petal-shaped metal (included)
Weight 600g/1.32lb
Dimensions 87x109mm/3.4x4.3"
Lens Case N/A