Lenses and Optics

Quick Zeiss 85mm Otus MTF Charts

Published October 5, 2014

Well, we finally got a few copies of Zeiss’ newest Big Ass Lens, the 85mm f/1.4 Otus in Friday afternoon. I didn’t have time to do a whole lot with them other than take a few shots, and run them through the optical bench for MTF testing, so this will be a short post. (Assuming I get a little more time with them Monday before they ship out, I’ll add field curvature graphs as an addendum to this post.)

The summary is short and sweet: the Otus is every bit as good as it’s supposed to be, and the best 85mm f/1.4 lens we’ve tested. At $4,600 and 2.5 pounds of manual focus lens, we sort of expected it to be the best 85mm f/1.4 we’d ever tested. But still, life does like to chew up some tasty expectations and leave a pile of disappointment in the front yard sometimes. So it was nice to see the Otus 85 was as good as advertised.


MTF curves for 5 copies of the Zeiss 85mm Otus compared to the standard ZE 85mm f/1.4


I put the original ZE 85mm f/1.4 MTF charts up for comparison, since it’s a nice middle-of-the-road 85mm f/1.4. You can make some more comparisons from our last article on 85mm lenses in general. And yes, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art stacks up against the new Otus.

The quick summary is this is an amazing performance. Notice that the Otus at 50 line pairs / mm (orange lines) is about as good as the original ZE 85 is at 30 line pairs / mm. That really is amazing. But the performance difference is there at every frequency and at every spot across the lens field. If you want the sharpest 85mm money can buy, well, you have to buy the most expensive 85mm money can pay for.

We also checked variance on these copies. Again, I’ll use the ZE version for comparison since it’s a lens with very good variance numbers. As one would expect for this price, the Otus is even better than the ZE 85mm, meaning the difference between best and worst corner on the average Otus 85mm is quite small — too small to detect in a photograph or even with some pixel-peeping.

I’d love to have some profound conclusion here. But like the 55mm Otus, what we expected is exactly what we got: a very expensive, very large lens that is the best lens available optically in this focal length.

Addenedum: Field Curvature

The Otus field curvatures are really remarkable, both tangential and sagittal are nearly perfectly flat. Below are the field curvature graphs wide-open at 30 line pairs / mm. The flattest we’ve seen so far on any lens.

Roger Cicala


October, 2014

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 Lenses and Optics
  • Arthur Meursault

    Roger. How about the Otus 28mm? Munchme is right.

  • Carleton Foxx

    Every word is true. I rented this lens last week and every other lens looks like dog meat comparatively.

  • Munchma Quchi

    Roger – you never reviewed the Otus 28mm. Maybe soon ?

  • wayne seltzer

    Just wondering if you find the Otus 85 sharper than the 55?
    Can you generate similar MTF graphs for the Otus 55?

  • Carl

    Given Roger’s fantastic (as usual) measurements, I strongly suspect that the (optical) difference between Sigma’s future version, and this 85mm Otus, will be larger in favor of the Zeiss this time…than it was for the 50 and 55mm versions from the two brands. I.e., the 85mm Otus could possibly be thought of as justifying its price a bit more than the 55mm Otus. But I could be wrong. Makes me wonder if they actually will produce any wider angle “Otus” models. This one is certainly ready for a 50MP full frame sensor! I wish my wallet was!

  • Anton Berlin

    It’s not just resolution and MTF scores that make a lens. It’s color, resistance against flare and coma, reduction to nearly the point of elimination of all LOCA and SLOCA. These combined result in a lens you can shoot anywhere, anytime in any direction. The charts say a lot but what can’t be shown is the artistic freedom you get with an Otus or the Apo-Sonnar to do exactly what you want to do with the lens.

  • Roger Cicala

    Grant, I haven’t tested any of the m4/3 on this setup yet. October is by far our busiest month in the repair department and both Aaron and I are travelling this month, so there won’t be much more done until November.

  • Grant

    And how does the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 compare to these two ZE lenses? Just as an exercise, you know.

  • MT

    Informative as always, Mr. Cicala. Thank you.
    On a side note, upone reading about “chewing up” things and “leaving them in the front yard” (or so), I could not help but recall that someone has a dog named…

  • John Leslie

    I have a question I’d liek you to consider considering… how does it compare with the Canon CN-E 85mm T1.3 L?
    It’s about the same price, so are you just paying for low-volume cine mechanics, or is it a step up from the 85/1.2 II (which your last post suggested was a pretty good piece of kit, especially considering you don’t rate Bokeh).

  • Kim

    Forgetting pixel peeping, how big should the print be, and how good the printer, so that one can see these differences? Thanks.

  • Ben

    Wow, it’s much better than any other 85.

  • Preedee

    I’ve compared MTF from your test with measured MTF provided by Zeiss’ datasheet and results are pretty much the same.
    Kudos to Zeiss for publishing data that measured from real lenses not theorical data. And thank you again, Roger, for the great article. 😀

  • Tom

    No Mrs. Cicala, but it’s never too late for some baby Cicalas to be running around to end those dreadfully free Sunday nights.

    Baby Cicalas sure sounds a lot like baby Cicadas.

  • EL

    I’d love to see how the 85mm Otus compares to other great (and pricey) lenses in the same range. Have you considered measuring it against the 90mm Summicron APO?

  • James Scholz

    Thanks again, Roger. I am sure a lot of people have been waiting for your tests.
    While it is hard to justify the price of a long exotic lens that will only be used once in a while this lens is much easier to rationalize because it will probably be used on a daily basis. Years of the best lens performance is very inviting.

  • Roger Cicala

    Ah, Mrs. Cicala left some time back, so my Sunday nights are quite free 🙂 Her absence has not improved my proofreading skills, though.

  • intrnst

    Wow, Sunday night… Mrs. Cicala may (most definitely) eat your liver next time.

    Maybe you should change “*to* small to detect in a photograph” for “*too* small to detect in a photograph”

    And thank you, sir, for been that courageous.

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