If you like to shoot portraits, an 85mm prime lens could be one of the best investments you'll ever make for your DSLR. Richard Sibley and Michael Topham put five models through a rigorous test

Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*

Resolution

Although the performance of the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lens is nothing to write home about when fully open, at f/5.6 it is the sharpest lens in this group test, although the edges struggle to match the centre. Performance at f/11 is also very good and on a par with the Sigma lens.

Shading

Once again, we see the familiar dome shape from the vignetting chart of the Zeiss lens, with a darkening of around 0.6EV in the corners. At f/2.8, the very edges of the corners darken quite sharply to around 0.16EV.

Curvilinear distortion

The Zeiss lens has an interesting distortion pattern that is slightly pincushion rather than the barrel distortion of the other lenses. That said, it is actually so slight that it is difficult to see, even when drawing grid lines over images in Photoshop.

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Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*

Price: £1,049
The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lens might be manual-focus only, but it’s built to an exemplary standard

The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* is one of four lenses on test that feature a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and it’s available in either the Nikon F mount (denoted ZF.2) or a Canon EF mount (ZE). The size of the lens is more compact than its Canon, Nikon and Sigma rivals and is based on the famous symmetric lens design invented by Dr Paul Rudolph at Zeiss in 1896. The construction features nine diaphragm blades, with its six lens elements split into five groups.

To reduce unwanted stray light and internal reflections, all the lens elements are finished with a Zeiss T anti-reflective coating before receiving a special jet-black paint that’s applied to the edges by hand.

It is similar to the Samyang lens in that it’s manual focus only, and its focus ring offers a pleasingly smooth rotation over half a turn. However, it’s the only lens of the five not to feature a rubberised focus ring, making it slightly more slippery to operate when wearing gloves. Focus-distance markings in front of the variable aperture ring are clear to read, and as is to be expected, the build quality can’t be faulted in any way – it’s robust, strong and finished to an exceptional standard.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Data file

Filter diameter 77mm
Lens elements 6
Groups 5
Diaphragm blades 9
Aperture f/1.4-16
Minimum focus 100cm
Length 88mm
Diameter 78mm
Weight 670g
Lens mount F mount (ZF.2) EF mount (ZE)

  1. 1. Anatomy of an 85mm lens
  2. 2. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM
  3. 3.
  4. 4. Samyang 85mm f/1.4 IF MC
  5. 5. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
  6. 6. Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T*
  7. 7. Second-hand alternatives
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