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Wide Without the Weird: Zeiss’ New Low-Distortion 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE for Canon

Gear Talk

Note: Just as this post went live, we got in the Nikon version of this same lens. It is available to rent here.

Natural Proportions for Architecture

The new Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE for Canon is an ultrasharp, full frame lens that controls distortion much better than its other ultrawide peers. The natural proportions of this lens, despite its angle-of-view, lends itself well to architecture photographers. The relatively close focus of 0.25m (10”) also makes this lens a great option for those shooting in tight spaces, particularly party and wedding photographers.

Finally a Filter for a 15!

In comparison to similarly wide lenses, the consensus so far is that the Zeiss 15mm outperforms the best of them in terms of sharpness and distortion control. Another advantage of the Zeiss 15mm over the Canon 15mm Fisheye, the 8-15mm, or the 14mm is that this lens comes with a front threaded filter ring that accepts a 95mm filter. This, and the built-in metal hood, provide more protection for the bulbous glass that is natural for a lens of this focal length. The large front element makes this one of the largest wide angle primes we have in inventory.

Full Frame and (almost) Full F-Stop

While this lens is designed for full frame cameras, it can still be used on crop sensor cameras–your angle-of-view being the equivalent of a 24mm on a 1.6x crop camera, such as the Canon 60D or the 7D. At f/2.8, this lens is handy in lower light situations and stops all the way down to f/22. With a 9-blade diaphragm, the Zeiss 15mm produces smooth bokeh that is very surprising on a lens this wide.

In Action

The distortion control on this lens is evident in the following test shots we took. The domed ceiling of Westfield San Francisco Center is pretty much how the eye sees it looking straight up. Our interior shot of a rustic creperie shows obvious stretching on the edges but is still impressive given that the entire restaurant is captured. In the third image, we tested the limits of the lens’ focusing distance (10”). This photo was taken about 1 foot away from the bamboo. As you can see, there is very little barrelling given the distance.

Additional Observations

  • This lens is heavy (28.9 oz) but the front element is shielded by the built-in metal hood. Add a filter for extra protection.
  • When pointing this lens downward, the metal slip-on cap falls right now. Watch out for this when renting!
  • Pay attention to your posture when shooting with this lens. Any shift in one direction or another could mean the difference between a distortion-free shot and a skewed one. You may not notice these slight distortions until you get the images on your computer.
  • This is a manual-focus only lens. If you don’t have pilot eyes, consider also renting a camera with Live View to help ensure that your shot is sharp. Full frame cameras with Live View include the 5D Mark IIMark III, and the 1D X.
  • Warning: This lens is NOT weather sealed.

If you don’t mind the relatively hefty weight and manual-only focusing, this lens would be a great addition in the camera bags of photographers interested in architecture, real estate, interiors, landscape, and events.

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Alexandria Huff is a portrait photographer based in San Francisco. Her tutorials can be found here on the BorrowLenses Blog, 500px, Shutterfly, Snapknot, and SmugMug. She specializes in studio lighting. Follow her work on 500px.

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Comments

  • Ryan Cooper says:

    Man… I would LOVE to own one of these. Such a gorgeous lens, but a few pennies outside my budget. ;)

  • Eric Gould says:

    Integrating Focusing. This lens can communicate directly with Nikon’s focussing system and will give you the green light (little circle on the bottom left on the View Finder ) when in focus. Simply place your focus point over the area you want sharp and press down half way and the camera will tell you which direction to turn the lens for a in focus shot. No need for “pilot eyes” or Live View.

  • Alex 2.0 says:

    Good point, Eric! We have heard this also works in conjunction with the back focus button on Canons but haven’t tried it out yet.

    • ray common says:

      Here’s the question. Since Zeiss lenses are not weather sealed, should
      this be a major concern when it comes between Nikon and Zeiss.
      I love Zeiss, but no seals makes me nervous with a D800.

      • Eric Gould says:

        After testing the Zeiss for 20 days. I would love to recommend over the Nikon. However bottom line the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is as sharp if not sharper and better all around lens and value… That said I would always reach for a Zeiss when shooting Canon bodies.

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