Carl Zeiss 1.4/85 Review

After such an amazing response to my Carl Zeiss 2/35 review this weekend (and thanks to the article being posted by Carl Zeiss Lenses on Twitter and Facebook), I thought a review of the gorgeous Planar T* 1.4/85 was in line.  Though this will by no means be a technical review, it'll be my impressions about using this lens (mainly for portraits).  This lens ranks #1 in looks of any piece of glass I have held in my life.  But this slice of heaven goes well beyond looks.  Of my three Zeiss lenses in my bag, this is another almost permanent mount on my Nikon D700 (second only to the mindbogglingly amazing Zeiss 2/35).  When I am not using my 2/35, chances are pretty good I am using my 1.4/85.  And though I use this mainly for portrait work - don't limit yourself just to that.  This is actually quite the versatile lens.


The ZEISS Planar T* 1.4/85 is another solid lens that is perfect for portrait and some street and landscape photography. At f/1,4, the bokeh is buttery smooth and sharpness is more pronounced in the center, but as you stop down to f/2.8 and beyond the sharpness is spot on for portrait work.

ZEISS f/1.4 85mm
  • Focal Length: 85 mm
  • Mount: ZF.2
  • Aperture: f/1.4 - 16
  • Elements: 6 in 5 groups
  • Min Focus: 1 m
  • Weight: 700 g
  • Length: 85.1 mm
  • Filter thread: 72 mm

There is little to no barrel distortion or chromatic distortion to my eye. Vignetting wide-open is negligible. 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.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 1.4/85 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 1.4/85 + Nikon D700


Not only beautiful to shoot with, the Zeiss 1.4/85 - a medium to longer distance prime weighing in at 600 grams (just over 1.3 pounds) - is an absolute marvel in craftsmanship.  There is nothing chintzy about this lens - nothing plastic or rubber on this beast.  The construction is precisely engineered and finely tuned like a German sports car - with features like distortion-free shooting and smooth and long barrel rotation (270ยบ) to allow flawless focus on your subject.

And this is a big and beautiful lens to behold.  Mounted on your camera - it looks like it means business.  The lens has a large 72mm thread to hold your UV protector (I suggest the B+W 72mm Slim-Line Clear UV Haze filter).  But enough on the superior build - what the heck can it really do?

Zeiss 1.4/85 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 1.4/85 + Nikon D700

What a Portrait Lens Should Be

I've owned several portrait lenses from Sigma and Nikon, but they are not playing on the same field as Carl Zeiss.  Superior build quality aside, the distortion-free 1.4/85 does what you expect a portrait lens to do, and then some.


I've only been using my 1.4/85 for 2 months now and am always testing it in different lighting conditions to see how it performs with portraits.  I am not much of a studio shooter and am too lazy to carry around flash, diffusers, reflectors or powered lighting.  So, I rely 100% on natural lighting.  95% of the time I shoot in the dreamy light of dusk.

This shot above was taken at sunset with my lovely model, Tara. I wanted to freeze her miod dance, so exposure was set to 1/2000 and ISO was 200, and finally, the aperture set to f/2. 

As you can see below, the sharpness is just where I want it for a portrait.  As there should be a small amount of softness to a face, this lens does perfect.  What you see is what you get, once again. The shot was offloaded in RAW format, color balance was set and that's it.  Sharpness and bokeh are untouched (I leave all my EXIF intact if you care to look that deep).

Zeiss 1.4/85 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 1.4/85 + Nikon D700

Focus Shift

The only complaint I ever hear about this lens is the focus shift.  (That is the shift in sharp focus as you stop up or down).  Understand it, and you won't have any issues.  You need to keep in mind that this is a very fast top quality lens with no floating elements.  As you stop up or down, the spherical aberration will cause the sharpest point of focus to move forward or back.  Learn where that point is and you can accurately adjust your focus.  Don't rely on the "green dot" in your camera to tell you that you focused right.

Zeiss 1.4/85 + Nikon D700

Zeiss 1.4/85 + Nikon D700

Rely on your eye.

I tend to use the Live View Tripod Mode and zoom on my D700 to ensure the focus is what I want.  When wide open, the accurate focus in my experience has been just in front of where the camera thinks the focus is.  Play with it and shoot all your can, checking your focus as you go.  You'll get the hang of where the focus sits and get pretty fast with it.

Next Steps

First off, decide if you want manual focus for portraits.  I think you have superior control of where you'll be focusing, but it's all about your comfort level.  But if you are comfortable shooting a manual lens, then you can't top this one.  For me, the sharpness, contrast and bokeh are exactly what I seek in a portrait.  For build quality, use and image quality, I don't think there is a lens out there that can touch it.