Zeiss, Zeiss, Baby – 50mm f1.4 lens Product Review

andrew sorlie 50mm footage
    This post is a review of the Zeiss 50mm f 1.4 lens which is our most recent investment. The video above is a bit of test footage for you to see just how sharp and rich the lens is.

On my birthday, Sunday August 21, 2011, I decided to film an event as a favour for a friend of mine (a restaurant owner). It was the second annual event and the idea was simple: a pizza eating contest – held outdoors in the restaurant’s parking lot.  Takeru Kobayashi is the world record holder for eating hot-dogs and he was invited to the event last year and destroyed the competition. We made a video for that event and it was played 30,000 some odd times and was embedded on websites across the world. Pretty cool.  So it was not a problem for me to film the second annual “Let ’em eat!” event as Kobi was returning to defend his title.

To make a long story short – the event, which was 12 minutes in duration, started at 3:00pm sharp. It was cloudy but the rain was holding off.  About 30 seconds after the contest started – it started to drip a bit. Then it started to pour. And then it basically turned into the extra-rinse-cycle on my mom’s high efficiency front loading washing machine. All within the first 3-4 minutes.  There was a 30′ x 12′ plywood backdrop on the competition stage that ripped off during the gale – it nearly blew onto the highway (aka. interstate)  which could have been a huge danger to the traffic. Here’s where this gets relevant to you fine In[Focus] readers: I decided to continue to shoot in the rain – disregarding whatever warnings I was given about filming in these conditions. I figured – hey – my Canon 5D Mark II is supposed to be weather resistant and my Canon 50mm 1.2 L series lens is designed to hold up to a bit of rain.

Long story short: two days later – the $2300 lens was not responding. I took it to Canon Professional Service and they took one look at it and said it was destroyed.  They had this attitude in their voice like I was a bad parent.  It made me sad. If you’re at all interested in seeing the footage that came out of this  – click here.

I shared this news with my facebook friends and one of my good friends from Texas – and fellow In[Focuser] – Aaron Tharpe of 31 Films suggested that instead of replacing the 50mm f1.2 from Canon – I should purchase a 50mm f1.4 from Zeiss instead.   I was surprised by this at first – because the lens is less than half the price of my recently deceased L-Series sweetheart. But I absolutely love and respect the work those creative Longhorns are doing, and after all: You Don’t Mess With Texas. I also knew that another friend and mentor Michael Y. Wong had recently switched from Canon glass to Zeiss – so that was good enough for me!

Ok – so – the Zeiss lens came in and the first thing I noticed was the size of the lens. It was small and compact. It was built like a tank – solid metal construction. It had a good weight to it. I like a lens with some weight to it.  I quickly popped the lens on at the store and did some quick tests and immediately – I decided that this lens will do just fine. So I bought two. As my friend Aaron informed me – the Zeiss Planer T SLR lense features the exact same lens elements as the Zeiss Compact Primes (which are $4000 each to start). We haven’t missed that extra stop of light yet. (from 1.2 on the Canon to 1.4 on the Zeiss).

If you haven’t seen the video above – take a look at the footage. It’s some random footage (real wedding footage designed to show you focusing and bokeh).

Some quick reasons why I think this lens is awesome:

Price. $725 USD
Lots of metal and glass – very little plastic
It just looks nice
Has a hard stop on both ends for pulling focus – unlike Canon lenses that will rotate forever and don’t give you a real idea of when you have hit your mark.

Bottom line – this lens is sweet and you should give it try.

Andrew SorlieZeiss, Zeiss, Baby – 50mm f1.4 lens Product Review