Carl Zeiss 2/100 Review

It is amazing how quickly a month goes by when you have such an amazing piece of glass in your hands.  I have to say, without a doubt, the Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/100 is one of the highest performing macro lenses on the market - and contrary to the belief of some narrow minded fanatics*, it does portraits just fine.

Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 + Nikon D700

Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 + Nikon D700

Again, like in my previous postings and reviews, this is not going to get into all the tech-specs that are laid out on the Zeiss website - no sense in reinventing the wheel.  But I will give you my personal impressions of the lens and how it handles in day to day use.

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For the last 30 days, I shot exclusively with the 2/100 mounted on my D700.  One thing I really enjoyed about it was, of course, the amazing build quality. Like all Zeiss glass, there are no plastic parts.  The lens is hefty at 680 g (24 ounces), which makes sense when you take into consideration the 9 elements in the optics used to ensure distortion-free photography.  Also of note, once again, is the super-smooth manual focus ring with nearly 360º rotation from infinity to a mere .44 meter (17 inches).

Macro

I began using this as a macro lens when it first arrived in December.  I noticed right away that the colors were vibrant and true to life.  The focus was sharp and right on.  [Also, as you can see when focused in at .44 meters and wide-open, the bokeh is beautiful and round.  The lights here were from my Christmas tree that stood about 2 meters behind the ornament on my table.  This was my first test shot and the lighting on the ornament was actually just my flashlight - who needs $2000 strobes?] This section being re-worked as I dig up this old image.

I also later did a shot of some Grado SR-80 Headphones to really show this great shallow focus.  It really does perform well in this specialized area. This month, I was commissioned to do some work for a medical company, photographing their surgical cannulas, and I am so impressed with the sharpness this performed at.  I was able to photograph the tip of the cannulas (like needles) in perfect detail.  Once the brochures are printed, I'll post a copy up here.

Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 + Nikon D700

Zeiss Makro-Planar 2/100 + Nikon D700

Portraits

But where did this glass really shine for me?  As a portrait lens.  Yes, a portrait lens.  From close-ups like the picture of my friend Tara above or Ashley at the top, to images taken from further back (see below) this is perhaps the best portrait lens I have ever held (and I had held Canon L-glass, Nikkor, etc). - And for a 2017 update, I still feel this is true.

The nice thing about using a macro lens for portraits, believe it or not, is the sharpness.  If you click on any of the portraits on this page, notice the detail in the eyes.  I said in my review of the the Zeiss 1.4/85 that there isn't another lens out there that can touch it - but I may have to eat my words.  This 2/100 is incredible.  I don't think the 1.4/85 has the tack-sharp ability of the 2/100 when shooting wide-open, though stopped to f/4 they are on pretty equal terms. If this is a bit too sharp for your taste, nothing wrong with using your editor to soften some of the lines. (In Lightroom, I tend to slide down about -4.) You can always take away sharpness, but you can't put it back really well.  Personally, I really like this ultra-sharp look.

And though the 2/100 also has floating elements, it doesn't suffer the focus shift issues I have had with the 1.4/85.  Something to consider if you are looking for a portrait lens.

Like I've said, I am so impressed with this lens.  I was pretty much sold on getting the Zeiss 2/50 already for macro photography - but now I will also be purchasing this lens.  I am hoping with the 2/50 and 2/100 that my 1.4/85 won't collect dust on the shelf.  But I think this lens is just that good!!

Next Steps?

As always, the next step is up to you.  If you thinks its psychotic to shoot portraits with a 2/100 macro, that's fine.  If you want to dedicate the lens to nothing but macro photography, that's your choice - but you'll be missing one hell of an opportunity.

If you want to buy it, I am not a professional lens reviewer and don't do this to scam money out of you.  Just find your favorite Carl Zeiss lens peddler and have at it!

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.

 

*Note: the comment had to do with a Flickr discussion back in 2010 where someone was adamant that 100mm was not a possible portrait length and it made models look ugly. She haunted my stream for months, trying to convince me of this.