The Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 is Good

Published October 9, 2012

For those who don’t visit often, this isn’t a lens review. It is simply my impression and the Imatest results for the first batch of Zeiss ZE 15mm f/2.8 lenses that we did before they got shipped out to our customers. Particularly with a very wide lens like this, Imatest results must be taken for what they are: the results of testing at about an 8 foot distance. The real-world results may be different when working at longer shooting distances.

First Impressions

I was a bit surprised about the size-to-weight ratio of the lens. It’s a fairly large lens, as you would expect for an f/2.8 ultra-wide lens. With the hood, it weights a substantial 29 ounces (820 grams) but really doesn’t feel as heavy as I would have expected just looking at it.

Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 next to Canon 17-40 f/4


The built-in semi-petal hood is metal (feels like aluminum).


I’m not a fan of filters on ultra-wide lenses, but for those who are, well, there will be some issues. Especially considering it’s 95mm across this bad boy. I do like those nice, big metallic sides protecting the front element, though. The glass doesn’t look nearly as vulnerable as the Nikon 14-24 or Canon 17 T-SE glass does. On the downside the metal feels a bit thin and I can see the hood edges looking a bit battered on our rental lenses after a while.

Focus has the nice, smooth feel that all the Zeiss primes do, but the focus throw is a bit narrower, at perhaps 80 degrees from near to far. That’s appropriate given the focal length, though, even with fairly close work. (Which this can do, with a 10 inch minimum focusing distance.)

Imatest Results

As I mentioned above, always take Imatest results on ultra-wide lenses with a grain of salt. Even with our largest chart we’re shooting this one at 8 feet distance. It’s not a good predictor of what the lens will be like at infinity. We were able to only test 2 copies before the packers came in force and requisitioned them, but they tested almost exactly the same on Canon 5D II test cameras.

Center MTF50 at f/2.8 was 920 line pairs / image height, dropping to 460 line pairs / image height in the very far corners. Sharpness was well maintained right up to the edges, and average resolution was 830 line pairs / image height.

The Canon 14mm f/2.8 II lens provides the obvious comparison. It has similar center resolution at 920 line pairs / image height but isn’t quite as good in the outer 1/3, resolving 370 line pairs / image height in the extreme corners and 750 line pairs / image height average resolution. For Nikon shooters, the 14-24 f/2.8 is probably equal to, or just a bit lower than the Canon prime (a remarkable performance for a zoom).

Distortion isn’t bad for such a wide angle at 2.1% barrel. This is comparable to the Canon 14mm (2%) and lower than the Nikon 14-24 at 14mm (3.9%). Vignetting is quite noticeable at f/2.8. It’s not as bad as the Zeiss 18mm lens was, by any means, but appears a bit worse than the Canon or Nikon lenses at 14mm. Not a deal breaker, by any means. Like distortion it’s easy to fix in post. (On the other hand, fixing corners in post gives back some of that corner resolution we’re always wanting.)

Soooo . . .

This is a really, really good ultra-wide lens. It will be quite popular. If I already had a Canon 14mm or Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, I don’t think I’d be standing in line for it like an iPhone 5 or anything. If I was in the market for a new high-quality ultra-wide I’d certainly be considering it. It’s clearly the best lens in the corners. Even people who don’t like to manually focus won’t have any problem with manual focus at this focal length.

But if I was a Nikon shooter, I’d have to give consideration to having not-quite-as-good, but still excellent image quality, being able to zoom 14-24, and having an extra $1,000 to spend on something else. For Canon shooters, the ZE makes a better argument at only $800 more than the Canon 14mm which doesn’t zoom well at all. But I like having an extra $800 as much as the next guy .  .  .  .

So either way I’d probably hold of a month or two and wait until enough early adopters had posted their images and comparisons before I took the plunge. Sure I would. OK, no I wouldn’t.  I shoot ultra-wide a lot and I’ll have to see for myself because I never believe what I read online anyway.

Roger Cicala


October, 2012

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Other
  • Jr

    Purchased the 15mm for my Nikon D800… OMG are the images to die for… sharp everywhere…. I come from the 4×5 and 8×10 view camera era where there was “one shot/one kill”… It is THAT good.

  • PrestonR

    Well, it is expensive, but it’s impressive as well.
    I shoot a bit of everything but focus is architecture. Since getting this, I have not used my 24 pc much, this baby just blows it away as long as the composition works it’s so true it’s amazing. For taller buildings, etc. maybe not but keep it level and it’s just spot on!

  • Roger Cicala

    I agree with you, Ed. But the proper name is RokiBowYang 🙂

  • Ed M.

    I’m thinking the same, George. I use the Tokina 11-16/2.8 (version 1) for panos, landscapes and timelapse (including astro). It’s a fine lens but I may sell it to help fund a good normal range zoom and go with the RokSamBow 14. I shoot a crop, but may add a 6D later this year. Manual aperture/focus doesn’t faze me. I have the RokSamBow 8mm fisheye and am impressed with the build quality.

  • George Galatis

    I was thinking about rokinon 14mm 2.8 because canon’s 14mm is expensive although only for landscapes and timelapses. any thoughts about?
    a really useful review by the way, thanks!

  • Roger Cicala

    I don’t know (there’s something you don’t see written on the Internet very often): Imatest is reaching it’s limits at 16mm or so and I’m not totally comfortable with it’s results at this focal length. On the other hand, ultra wide lenses usually don’t resolve as well as normal wide angles and the 21 is still the resolution gold standard. So I guess I’m saying the results don’t surprise me, but being unable to test them on an optical bench I recognize actual resolution might be slightly better. Or worse.


  • RVB

    Roger,don’t you think the Zeiss 15 resolution is a little low at 920 center considering the Zeiss ZF 21 is 1140 / 905 at f/2.8..?

  • Jarj

    I am a wide angle fan and have owned most of Canon’s very wide lenses. I am also a detail and resolution zealot. The 14mm f2.8 is very good in the center but the edges fell apart too often (which possibly had something to do with the autofocus on my 1Ds III). Same with the 16-35 f2.8 II zoom. I finally replaced them with a 17mm f4 TS/E, which is very good center and corners and quite versatile, but huge and heavy and with a large protruding unprotected bulb in the front that is prone to flare. So I was really looking forward to the Zeiss 15 but I was disappointed. My copy was not properly calibrated. Infinity focus was way short of the infinity mark on the lens. Another complaint was the lens cap. It is held solely by friction and mine fell off if the lens tilted down, which of course it does at times. You can’t put the cap on then walk around with the camera hanging by a strap. The image quality was good but not observably superior to the 17 TS/E. So the only advantage to the Zeiss is a slightly wider angle (114 degrees compared to 104) and one stop faster, which is no big deal on a super wide. I have another Zeiss lens (21mm f2.8 zm) and consider it comparable to Leica. So, I may have just had a bad copy of the 15 but for $3,000 there should not be a bad copy. There was even a certificate in the box from the quality checker who didn’t notice these things. I returned the 15 and will continue my quest for the perfect super wide short of a fisheye.

  • By request from Vincent. 🙂

    Okay…..first off this is a non scientific comparison of the 16-35 II and the Zeiss 15mm. The two shots were taken 3 days apart…and the framing is slightly different. Both processed through DPP with the same settings, didn’t bother with trying to match color (or do anything with color…it’s WB straight out of camera.) The big gray block is there since I’m posting files at 100%. (Not that these are that great….but…)

    Both shots are at f/11. Canon on the top, Zeiss on the bottom.



    Links to original files @ 100% (Warning LARGE files)



    Note, it was a little misty the day I shot the Zeiss. The Canon had a Zeiss polarizer and the Zeiss had a Marumi polarizer.

    Again…not a particularly scientific comparison…but you gives you an idea of how the lenses compare.


  • Vincent Kluwe-Yorck

    Put in links to your fantastic full size comparison shots between 15 & 16-35, Tim, and that will end all dicussions. 🙂

    Even a blind can see the differences. I already love my 21 and 18 Distagons, but the 15 is just stunning. Have never seen anything even coming close to that clarity. And I know both Nikkor 16-35 and 14-24 very well from my own work.

    I will sell my 18 and get the 15, even if it’s the last operation in my life! 🙂

  • Lee Saxon

    Putting this thing on a D800E is priority #1.

  • Got mine last Tuesday, did some waterfall photography. An amazing lens (coming from a Canon 16-35 II).

  • Dave Holliday

    Thanks for the informative review (like all others), Roger. Any chance you’d stock the Samyang 14mm?

  • I have the Canon 14 f/2.8 and have just put in an order for the ZE15. I like the Canon item, but one area where the Zeiss may have an advantage over is while shooting northern lights. In pitch dark conditions, the 14mm was a pain to infinity focus using Live View. If the Zeiss has infinity focus locked in with a hard stop of the focus ring, that would be a huge advantage (my ZE50 MP has this feature). The edge performance is also likely to be better.

  • Bob B.

    Roger …thanks for the input!

  • Roger Cicala


    The Zeiss is slightly better in the corners, at least up close. Personally, I’ll take the Canon 14 f/2.8 and the money if I’m buying. Although I will be shooting with the 15 Zeiss a bit and may change my mind if I see more difference in real-world images.

    The Zeiss is probably the slightly better lens, but I’m seeing $800 better. I could pick up a nice 28mm IS prime with that difference.

  • Bob B.

    So Roger …if I am reading this correctly (I love all of your tech posts BTW!)…are you saying that the Zeiss is very close in sharpness across the image frame to the Canon 14mm. Just slightly, slightly less sharp in the corners?
    The Canon is $800 less and has AF.hmmmmmm.
    I guess, I want to put you on the spot and ask: OK…(LOL…multiple copies of) both lenses are sitting on the shelf as you walk out the door with a 5DIII in hand with body cap off…… Which lens are YOU going to grab??????????

  • Roger Cicala

    The Samyang is an excellent lens, amazing at the price, really.

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Christian,

    The Canon 16-35 can’t compete in the corners unless it’s stopped down a bit. But then, the Zeiss can’t compete in a zooming contest.

    The hood will have to be replaced at the factory – it’s actually one piece with the end barrel.

  • Christian

    thx for the quick review. 2 Questions remain…
    1) do you see a chance to replace the aluminium hood in an easy way or does the average user need to send it to Zeiss in case it is bent too much?
    2) How would it compare to the next best Zoom Canon has available – the 16-35/2,8 which is at the low end pretty close to the 15mm of the Zeiss?

  • malchon kao

    Thanks for all the infos. I learned every time reading your article.
    Would you please comment on Leica R 21mm F4 wide angle lens and Leica R 28mm F2.8 lens?

  • A

    Roger, have you ever tried the Samyang 14mm f2.8?

    I’m really impressed by the sharpness of mine, particularly when compared to my 17-40 f/4L… (Sorry, yes, I know, standard forum idiocy)

    I don’t think it would make a good rental lens, but as a personal lens it’s probably cheaper than the lens *cap* on the Zeiss 😉

  • John

    Fortunately for me 15mm is to wide for my taste on full frame (love my ZE21 on the 1ds2! ), and the CV 15 is OK enough for the NEX. Whew, saved a bundle.

  • Despite the big size, this thing just looks sexy! I’d superglue that to my 5D3 at any time.
    If the micro contrast is as good as, well, anything Zeiss make, I’ll be probably getting one! 😉

  • Joachim

    Thanks for your testing and opinion, interesting as always. Now, imatest is one thing and real world pictures another. And while my 14-24 has nearly no distortion between 18 and 21mm, it would be hard to beat it in terms of building a very nice three-dimensional picture. But unfortunately, not too hard to beat it in terms of flares. Anyway, the 14-24 rests as one of three absolutely favorite lenses I own. I’m always happy to use it. So, my bank account feels relaxed, other Zeiss glass will probably offer more “worth the money”.

    I’m looking forward to the new line of “high resolution lenses” they announced on photokina. With a shy smile – I don’t think i need to change a Nikkor with fast AF against a Zeiss without, but who knows?

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