Carl Zeiss 2/35 Review

The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 is easily the favorite lens in my bag right now.  And having a favorite among a bag of Carl Zeiss primes is no easy task, mind you.  This "bokeh machine" has become my everyday walk around lens - mounted like a permanent fixture to my Nikon D700.  I use it for vast nature landscapes, portraits and near macro photography.  This is the king of all Carl Zeiss lenses in my humble opinion (though, they just came out with the Distagon T* 1.4/35 which is looking to be an absolutely stunning lens).


The ZEISS Distagon T* 2/35 is a solid lens that has incredible edge to edge sharpness, even wide open. At f/2, the sharpness is more pronounced in the center, but as you stop down to f/4 the sharpness truly is edge to edge. There is little to no barrel distortion or chromatic distortion to my eye. There is the slightest vignetting wide-open, perhaps a half stop at the most that quickly dissipates at f/2.8. The all-metal design and smooth barrel rotation make the lens a great pleasure to use. It produces slightly warm tones with the classic ZEISS look.

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  • Focal Length: 35 mm
  • Mount: ZF.2
  • Aperture: f/2 - 22
  • Elements: 9 in 7 groups
  • Min Focus: 0.3 m
  • Weight: 530 g
  • Length: 97 mm
  • Filter thread: 58 mm

For the filter, I recommend you use the B+W 58mm Clear with Multi-Resistant Coating which is in the F-Pro mount. Below, I will get into some of the various ways I have shot this lens - different subjects, lighting, and scenery. I won't get too technical, but will give some highlights on why I enjoy this lens in these specific situations.

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

Tack Sharp Landscapes

If you're a landscape photographer, this is an amazing lens to have in your arsenal.  Of course, there are wider Zeiss lenses out there and I really love the Distagon T* 3.5/18 - but there is something about this 2/35 that makes a landscape magical.  A combination of perfect color and perfect sharpness is what does it for me.

Take this shot above.  Handheld with no filters.  This beautiful color and crisp detail is what a Zeiss lens offers you right out of the box.  You just need to find the right light and location, then let the lens sing for you.

I take my 2/35 out at least once a day to experiment with settings.  Some shots I'll do wide open at f/2 - some shots I lean more towards an f/5 to have equal sharpness across the scene.  The shot to the right was taken at f/4 and as you can see, no issue with light drop off.  The color and light balance is perfect across the entire swamp and sky.  Sure a GND filter would have darkened the sky to match the water - but why do I need that?  I think the Zeiss does fine all on its own.

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

Brilliant Portraits

I have not done a ton of portrait work with the 2/35 as I have the Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/85 for that most of the time, but the portraits I have done have been quite amazing.  This example above, though not a close-up portrait, shows just how beautifully the 2/35 can render someone.  This is a shot of my friend, Mary, taken in Chinatown in Boston, at f/2.8.

I have quite a few other portrait shots in my library of Ashley and Tara, but this is easily my favorite portrait I have taken to date.

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

The Bokeh Machine

And finally I get to what I love most about this ├╝ber-versatile lens - the creamy-smooth bokeh.  I challenge you to find a 35mm lens on the market from any manufacturer that can duplicate the the razor-thin depth and bokeh smoothness of the 2/35 (and don't you dare say the 1.4/35 - that's not in my hand yet!)  I won't sell Nikon 1.4G/35 and Canon 1.4/35 lenses short, they are quite amazing with near perfect quality.  But if you compare them side by side - Zeiss has that something special that's hard to put into words.  It's that something you know when you see it, but there's no way to describe it.  Some people call it the 3-D feel of a Zeiss lens. But don't take my word for it, search Flickr on all three lenses and judge for yourself.

I have been doing quite a bit of work with narrow depth of field lately, so this is something I am picking up on quite a bit.  When spending so much time in this style, you begin to notice different things.  Things like the shapes of the bokeh (perfect round, hexagons, etc), worming, soft drop-offs, etc.  I like to look for a perfect blend when using this style and my 2/35 seems to get it right every single time.

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 2/35 + Nikon D700

How I Shoot

There is not much to my routine when shooting with the 2/35.  For the most part, it eliminates the need for any kind of post-production work.  All the images in this posting are straight from the lens, aside from titles placed on the final pieces.  What you see is what you get with this.  So, my routine is to shoot in manual, of course, and get the focus that looks best.  The readings on my D700 are pretty close to right on and no in-camera adjustments are needed.  Once I am done with my shoot, I export all my RAW images to my computer, add text in Photoshop CS5, then upload.  That's really it.  No need for tonal adjustment, contrast fixes, vibrance and saturation enhancements.  No need for filters either.

Next Steps

Get your own.  You won't be sorry.  I get many emails each week from people asking about my Zeiss glass, what they should start with, is it worth it, etc.  95% of the people I point right to the 2/35 (and now the 1.4/35) and I have not heard a single regret yet.  Will I get the 1.4/35?  Most likely.  I still have a 2/50 and 2/100 makro on my list, so the 1.4/35 will just have to wait.  Now get out there and shoot!