Zeiss Otus Kit in Review

Our Canon lenses have treated us well over the years. We started with zooms, then upgraded our zooms, then moved to primes, then moved to better primes. The L Series primes were our go to in house kit since 2016, but as time went on we started noticing more and more flaws in the glass that left us wanting more.

When it came time to upgrade, we decided to test run a set of lenses we’ve had our eyes on for a while, the Zeiss Otus prime set. We quickly fell in love and have new in-house lens kit.

Overview

These are serious still lenses. At first glance, we noticed the build quality is reflective of the price. They’re big, fast, and are housed 100% in metal. This alone makes them feel almost like cinema primes.  

Our kit consists of a 28mm f/1.4, a 55mm f/1.4, and an 85mm f/1.4. Zeiss recently introduced a 100mm Otus lens, but that was released shortly after we purchased our kit. Additionally, we’ve got our much more affordable Canon L Series 70-200 II 2.8 that is battle tested and loved, and it fills the gap between 85 and 200mm quite nicely. Truth be told, I don’t imagine we’ll ever add the 100mm to our set. If Zeiss came out with something much wider…that’d be a different story.

If you dig around online, you’ll find one word used again and again to describe these lenses. Uncompromising. Also expensive. But let’s focus on uncompromising. Zeiss set out to build the best still lenses on the market, and in our eyes, they’ve come close to hitting that mark.

The Good

Sharpness

These lenses are truly tack sharp. A lot of film folks out there might knock them for being a bit too sharp, and while we understand that note, we really aren’t bothered. These lenses are stunning and we like our images to be crispy sharp. Plus we can always toss in a digicon filter if we need.

The front element of the 28mm is a massive 96mm

As far as cinema lens comparisons go, I’d align the Otus sharpness most closely with Leica Summicron C Primes. An extremely clean, exceptionally sharp image that has so few flaws some might say they lack character. And while the Otus lenses definitely have a cooler hue than the warmer Summicrons, they’ve got the same critical focus point that makes images jump off of the screen.

All that said about sharpness, I have been dropping a mix of ¼ and 1/8 stop Schneider Digicons into my matte box from time-to-time to soften the image ever so slightly.

Focus Breathing

It’s definitely visible, albeit minimal. These are still lenses after all, so some breathing is to be expected. Hasn’t bothered me once on a shoot, though.

Apochromatic

Basically, this is a fancy way of saying that these lenses were built to limit distortion of any kind. The way the elements interact each other and with light reduces chromatic aberrations (ugly fringing in highlights).

Apochromatic design also limits lens distortions. Because of the lack of distortion, we’re able to get in touch with our inner Lubezki and shoot on wide lenses close to our subjects.

For how wide the 28mm is—especially when paired with a full frame camera like a RED Monstro or Sony A7 series camera—the distortion is almost non-existent.

T* anti-reflective coating

The coating on the Otus lenses (and most Zeiss lenses, for that matter) reduces contrast, making it possible to shoot dark subjects against light backgrounds without any distortion.

Future Proofing for Large Sensors

It’s no secret that high end cameras are all moving towards larger sensors. Because these are FF lenses, they’ll keep up with any camera we rent moving forward, while also giving us full 5K coverage on our RED Gemini.

A full-frame RED MONSTRO sensor

Bokeh & Falloff

One of the strongest points in these lenses. They fall off is beautiful—the image just sort of melts away into the background. I also love the subtle vignette you get around f/2.

A frame from Denver’s 420 “Fly High” Event in Civic Center Park (OTUS 55mm)

The Bad

These are still lenses

Although these are top notch lenses, they were designed with photography in mind—not video. Because of this, there’s a few design elements that are missing (de-clicked aperture ring, focus gears, focus breathing). However, on 80% of the jobs we do, these things don’t affect us.

We bought some 3rd Party Focus Gears for our OTUS Kit

For jobs where we need a specific look, anamorphic, or the highest quality imaginable, we rent from our good friends down at MP&E Denver.

“No Character”

Vintage lenses are becoming popular again, and we get it. We shot a project last month on TLS Cooke Panchro Speeds, and they were absolutely stunning. They come in bizarre focal lengths like 32mm and render colors, shapes, and bokeh like no other glass I’ve ever seen.

But if I showed up to shoot a shoot for a social media campaign on those lenses, the look just wouldn’t fit. And our Otus kit would, perfectly.

One of my favorite frames from the shoot we did on the TLS Cookes

The Beautiful

What Really Matters?

At the end of the day, it’s the story, the production value, and the way things come together in the edit that make a great video. These lenses bring our baseline production value on every single job that we do. They’re sharp, they’re fast, they’re heavy, and we can’t wait to bring them out on our next gig.