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Introduction

We are taking a short detour with Carl Zeiss CP.2 Distagon T* 35mm T/2.1 ZE since this is not strictly speaking a traditional photo lens, but rather a cine lens specifically designed for the burgeoning HDSLR market. The CP.2 series of lenses trace their roots to the original Super Speed Primes the company used to manufacture through 80s and 90s. The current generation of CP.2 lenses was specifically adapted for the use on modern HDSLR cameras and have interchangeable mounts, giving users the flexibility of using the same lens on multiple camera systems, including Canon, Sony, Nikon and MFT. CP.2 series are also the most affordable cine lenses in Carl Zeiss current lineup, with the CP.2 Distagon T* 35mm T/2.1 ZE priced at US$3,900.

Don't get fooled by the name Compact Primes - it might be compact in the world of cine lenses, but not in the SLR world. The lens weights 1kg/2.2lb (compare that to say Master Prime Distagon 35/1.3, which weighs 2.2kg and you would realize that this is really compact). The bulk of that weight goes into housing - fully metal, with superb overall construction. The lens has conical shape, with very wide front designed to accept 114mm matte box. The lens measures 80 x 115mm (3.15 x 4.52in). The optical construction of the lens consists of 9 elements in 7 groups. The minimum aperture level is T/22 and the minimum focusing distance is 30cm (12in).

 

 

Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on a full frame Canon 5DMk2. The lens can also be used on APS-C type HDSLRs like Canon 7D, or with the appropriate mount on Nikon, Sony and MFT cameras.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 9 elements in 7 groups
Angular Field 64 degrees
Minimum Focus 30cm/12in
Focusing Action MF
f-stop Scale T/2.1-f/22, manual
Filter Size 114mm
Lens Hood N/A
Weight 1kg/2,2lb
Dimensions 80x115mm/3.15x4.52"
Lens Case Custom Pelican case

 


Handling

Let me start with a fun observation about the CP.2 Distagon 35/2.1 - the lens is a 'dude magnet'. Yes, you heard it right - show up with this lens in public places and you are guaranteed to be stopped at least a couple of times and asked about what that lens is, why is it so bulky, why does it have such a large front etc. On top of that, you will also have dozens and dozens of people simply looking at you with curiosity, trying to figure out what exactly you're doing. When I think about it, this lens actually attracted more attention than the Canon 500/4L, which is a much longer lens. And so if you're hoping to take some candid pics/video, you might has well forget it if you're using this lens.

If this is the first time you're handling a dedicated cine lens (it certainly was for me), you will be surprised by a couple of thinkgs. Firstly, the lens if fully manual. Well, that was not the surprise actually, but whatever. Both focusing as well as aperture control are manual. Focusing is super pricese. I am not kidding you - the ring rotates for 270 degrees, which you can find in some macro lenses, but not in a wide angle. The aperture ring has 'click-less' settings, meaning that it rotates continuously without preset positions like with regular photo lenses. While you can obviously rotate both focusing and aperture rings manually, in the cine world you would rely on a dedicated follow focus system..

As indicated eaerlier, the CP.2 lenses are fairly bulky and heavy in SLR world. This makes them front-heavy, even on larger cameras like Canon 5DMk2 and Canon 1DsMk3. You need to use a fairly good ballhead to keep the camera/lens combo from tipping downwards. On smaller camera bodies like Sony NEX or MFT cameras, you would need to use a separate screw-on type plate that attaches to the base at the lens mount.

If you have not noted that already, all CP.2 lenses, including Distagon 35mm carries the T/2.1 marking. Unlike the f-stops of traditional SLR lenses, which simply indicate a ratio of focal length to the effective aperture diameter, the T-stops measure actual transmission of light through the lens. Interestingly, the previous generation of Zeiss Super Speed cine lenses had a faster maximum aperture, measured at T/1.4, but according to Zeiss, the company reduced the maximum aperture by expanding the rear lens rim to make the lenses perform better wide open.

One annoying part about the CP.2 Distagon is the lack of electronic contacts at the base of the lens mount. Hence the camera does not record aperture level, nor the actual focal length. This might not be a problem in the cine world (although I can't imagine why one would not want proper metadata recorded), but in the photo world this is kind of a pain in the neck - writing down aperture levels for every shot I made was quite annoying.