You've asked for it, so here is my spin on the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 3.5/18 ultra-wide angle lens. Once again, I won't get all geek/techie on you, rather I'll just give you my experiences, thoughts and impressions on using this lens. As you know from other reviews, I shoot with a Nikon D700 in full manual and keep my post-work in CS5 to a minimum - usually a contrast adjust or the occasional cross-balance when the mood strikes me. I love to keep my shots as close to SOOC as I can. With my Zeiss glass, I really find no need to do much post work. No need for color correction, sharpness layers, curves or what have you. A few people have questioned if the shots I post here are truly that good from Zeiss - I assure you they are. I keep my EXIF in tact so you can see for yourself. (That being said, the above product shot did use a curve to darken a bright spot I had in the background.)
Like all other Zeiss glass, this is a hefty lens weighing in at just over a pound. No crappy plastic or rubber make this thing as solid as a Sherman tank. No plastic and rubber means very smooth and accurate focus control on this fully manual piece of German goodness. You can focus as close as 30 cm (about a foot) and capture amazing sweeping landscapes. With a 99º viewable angle, you can expect to get some smooth, wide and dramatic shots. Also, this is one of the coolest looking lenses I have seen with the glass being a good deal wider than the barrel - a massive 82mm thread. Definitely turns the heads when you walk around with this. Like the Zeiss 1.4/85, you may be tempted to take photos of the lens as much as with it.
Though I colossally underutilize this lens, I absolutely love it. In the Nikon F-Mount, the 3.5/18 is as wide as you can get with Zeiss. As much as I'd love to see a wider mount, like the 2.8/16 you can get on the Sony Alpha, this 3.5/18 is plenty wide when mounted to a Full Frame camera and still respectable at a 27mm equivalent on DX sensors. Architecture, landscapes or anything else you may shoot are sharp from corner to corner, front to back. For example, the photo above is of Searles Castle in Windham, NH. I was able to catch it in its entirety from about 40 yards from the front door. This was taken at f/22 and the shutter was open for a full 30 seconds @ ISO 1600.
I just love the way the 3.5/18 treats lights. A beautiful sharp twinkle light that adds a spectacular charm to a night shot. Also, notice there is zero distortion thanks to the precision floating elements design of Zeiss lenses. This design allows for the highest image quality and sharpest focus. Look at the brick in the foreground and the stone on the castle - this thing is tack-sharp!
Ultimate in Landscapes
Lanscapes are a passion of mine. Though I have not shot too many in the past few months, it is what brought me into photography. What the Zeiss 2/35 and Zeiss 1.4/85 do with Bokeh, the 3.5/18 does with stunning landscapes. For this one, I shot at F/22 once again with no filters. This was a 0.7 second exposure with the camera and lens balancing on my foot (forgot my tripod like a tool) a few feet from the water.
Yes, me, the camera and the lens all got soaked.
Like I said, I am really under-utilizing this lens right now, mainly because I have not been doing landscapes lately. I have a ton of test shots (of very uninteresting subjects) that I took with this - but nothing I really want to highlight here. I do promise to get out there and shoot more of them, especially at the lake where this lens is so dramatic. Then I will come back to update this article for you.
Depending on how wide you really want to go, I think you should try both the Distagon T* 2.8/21 and Distagon T* 3.5/18. Compare what they give you and see what will work best. Though I have not tried the 2.8/21 yet, I have heard some very pleasing results. Now get out there and shoot!
Next Up - Makro-Planar T* 2/50
Carl Zeiss will be sending me a Makro-Planar T* 2/50 to demo next week - something I am so excited for. It'll be the first Makro lens I get to try and plan to take full advantage of it while I have it. I will do a full write-up of my experience!
Once again, I am not affiliated with Carl Zeiss or Nikon – I am just in love with what I have and love to share the information I have gathered through hands on experience.