Home CameraDSLRs Zeiss Lenses: Sharp and Snappy

Zeiss Lenses: Sharp and Snappy

written by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

Lenses are one of the most critical choices when you are mounting the Canon 5D Mark II to a lens. Do not treat this camera like it is a film body. Remember to mount the camera to the lens, not the opposite.

Zeiss Lens

Zeiss Lens

Zeiss lenses produce a colder, contrasty feel. They are incredibly sharp which is an important feature in HD capture. When an image looks a little soft, you loose your depth and snap. A 32 pitch focus gear mounted to the lens makes it easier for your focus puller to deal with the after market focus rings.

Be sure to use more fill light when using these lenses and also control your highlights. Increased contrast means that certain detail is lost such as the subtle features of a set, face or location will be lost in the highlights and the blacks.

What excites you about the Zeiss lenses? I would love to hear your experiences on the set.

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Nydelas October 11, 2009 at 8:53 PM

Great site. Keep doing.,

Shane October 27, 2009 at 5:41 PM

Nydelas, Thank you so much, I will keep it crankin’, All the Best

Andrew Reid October 27, 2009 at 8:08 PM

Hey Shane. Nice blog, just read every article with great interest. I also find the Zeiss lenses very cool and contrasty compared to the Nikons and Canons. The Zeiss 85MM F1.4 for Contax Yashica mount is a great lens and I use it with my 5D and Panasonic GH1 for various amateur projects here in England. It only cost me $300 on eBay and dates back to 1971! The power of these lenses when combined with the 5D gives us grass roots film makers a huge shot in the arm.

Shane October 27, 2009 at 9:36 PM

Andrew, I agree, this is game changing technology, a paradigm shift. If this sensor showed up in a Panasonic 3700 or a F35, there would have not been any talk about it. But the fact that this sensor showed up in a Still camera body that weighs 2.5lbs and you can buy it at Best Buy for $3000.00, now we are talking. Tear it up!!!

Michael Greive November 1, 2009 at 12:47 AM

Hey Shane, Love your work! Was really amazed to see you put such a lot of energy
in spreading the info on this gear! NICE!!!!!!
I own a couple of the new Zeiss lenses (Nikon mount) and was wondering if they would work with a converter on my 5D.
Use the coverter or trade m up for the ones with Canon mount?
Keep up the great work!
Michael, The Netherlands

Shane November 1, 2009 at 12:09 PM

Michael, the professional fotodioxs Nikon to Canon mounts are the best. The ones on the internet are flimsy and have tons of play. These fit solid, like a glove. I would just get the adapter. That is what I did.

ken glasssing November 3, 2009 at 1:34 AM

When mounting a Panavision lens to the 5d is the focal length the same or does it widen a bit because of the full frame? Conversely, mounting a Panavision lens onto the 7d…?
Thanks in advance

Shane November 3, 2009 at 1:58 AM

Ken, yes when you mount a Primo on the 5D because of the size of the sensor, a 35mm becomes a 24mm. With the 7D a 35mm is a 39mm.

volker.striemer November 3, 2009 at 11:40 AM

Hi Nydelas,
it´s absolutly correct, Zeiss lenses a great for the 5D MKII.
I use some lenses from Zeiss of a Medium Format Camera, with a adapter for Filming and also for photo shooting.
The lenses are very crisp and have a good stop between 2,8 and 4.
My lenses are f4/300mm, f2,8/80mm, f4/50.
The only Problem what I have is, You can´t get the picture sharp in infinite. distant Objects to get sharp is not possible. That is the Problem of the adapter, I think.
And the next Problem is the extrem crop factor. I also use it on my EOS 7D, and at this camera is very extreme.
Wide angle You can always forget.

BTW. Also, I have use these lenses with a adapter at a 2/3 HD Broadcastcamera. The results are great.

kristoffer akselbo November 17, 2009 at 9:19 AM

dear shane…
love to read the blog..have a question..i know the zeiss ze are bulid for the eos mount..but older zeiss and the zf or leica lenses..does the liveview or viewfinder get darker when stopping down on aperture when using other than zeiss ze…also thinking of the old nikon glass??
anyway loved the footage of the Terminator..what do you guys use for colorgrading?
bes kristoffer

Shane November 17, 2009 at 3:16 PM

Kristoffer akselbo, everything works the same, you just have to adjust the lens manually. You can’t use the wheel in the back. But all the ZF glass, Leica or whatever you would like to mount on it can be done with a Fotodiox Nikon to Canon adapter. The color grading system that I use is Speedgrade DI. The old Nikon glass is awesome, the old AI works the best.

kristoffer akselbo November 18, 2009 at 8:04 AM

dear shane. thanks for taken the time for a reply..
i just tried some leica summincron glass..really sharp..but i guess i just have to live with the viewfinder getting dark when its at more than f5.6.
if you have the time..you mention a follow focus gear size for the zeiss…is it a redrock you use or do you use a fancy remotedcontrolled model…i saw a cheap one from hokus focus.
it also seems that you shoot without filters?? and then ad in post.
best kristoffer akselbo

kristoffer akselbo November 18, 2009 at 8:35 AM

forgot..what kind of tft screen did you use when you did these navy seals shots? the one mounted on the redrock rig.
best kristoffer akselbo

Shane November 18, 2009 at 2:38 PM

Kristoffer akselbo, the gear size for the Zeiss is 32 pitch. That is an industry standard. You can get the ZF or the ZE primes retrofitted with a 32 pitch ring on the lens. But if you want to take any lenses that you have and be able to put a remote follow focus motor or a manual follow focus system the best gears to go with are the ZIP GEARS from Zacuta. They fit the best and are smaller and less cumbersome. I use all remote follow focus, I find when anyone touches the camera it messes with your operation, with the camera being so light. I use the Preston III remote focus system, but it is $32,000.00. Red Rock Micro is coming out with one that will be released for NAB, and I have tried it and it is very good, and only $500.00. The monitor that I had on the camera is a Varizoom, NTSC monitor. It has its own on-board battery and was the lightest that I found $450.00.

kristoffer akselbo November 18, 2009 at 5:59 PM

thankz..u r amazing. great info

Shane November 18, 2009 at 7:56 PM

Kristoffer akselbo, no problem, that is why I am here. Keep them coming. I am ready.

ken glasssing November 30, 2009 at 12:59 AM

Shane…what about the older zeiss Planar or Distigon lenses for the Contax/Yashika mount? They can be had for not too much money and even though they are smallish, they still have a pretty good “cine focus throw”…?
Ken Glassing

Shane December 2, 2009 at 1:33 AM

Ken, I need to look into those. I have not tested any of them. Thanks for the info.

Abdi January 8, 2010 at 3:37 PM

Shane, I cannot begin to express how much I am loving all the info your kindley sharing – my question relates to using C mount lenses on the 5D?

Shane January 17, 2010 at 4:28 AM

Abdi, thank you so much for your kind words, I have not tried that. Have you tried fotodiox.com, maybe they have an adapter for them.

Abdi January 8, 2010 at 3:38 PM

is it possible?

Shalom January 13, 2010 at 6:01 PM

I use a Contax 85mm 1.4 and 50mm and both are great. Only 6 blade aperture as apposed to the 9 blade on the recent models but still have that Zeiss magic.
I also own a Yashica 28mm 2.8 which is pretty great too.
I had a cameraquest adaptor but have since got some cheap ones from Ebay and these work just as well.

Shane January 17, 2010 at 4:08 AM

Shalom, it is your vision. Use what makes your creativity come to life. I always choose the lenses based on the story and its characters. You never can go wrong when you put the story first.

Blake January 17, 2010 at 7:18 PM

Hi Shane, I’ve been checking your blog almost daily for several weeks now. Thanks for being so generous with your info/time! I just bought a few Contax Zeiss lenses (28 2.8, 35-70 3.4, 135 2.8) and I’ve been reading that some of these lenses have large tabs that may hit the 5d mirror or scratch the AF contacts. I know that you have not personally tried these lenses yet, but since you’ve mounted an array of other glass, I wonder if you or any of your readers may have some advice on how to carefully try these lenses. I have read that some people have no problems and others have been forced to “shave” the offending tabs. Thanks again Shane!

Shalom January 18, 2010 at 5:12 PM

Hi Shane, Just heard your interview on Lensflare35. Incredibly inspiring stuff. Great to hear you talk about the soul of the camera and also the environmental impact we can make but using these amazing DSLRs.
Can’t wait to see your extensive lens comparisons!
Awesome work and words!!

Shane January 19, 2010 at 1:53 AM

Shalom, thank you so much for your kind words.

Jen Rich March 3, 2010 at 1:44 AM

Thanks for this post. It it very helpful for me.

Shane March 6, 2010 at 1:55 AM

Jen Rich, you are welcome.

PORTLAND FILM » Blog Archive » The DSLR Cinematography Guide March 29, 2010 at 3:15 AM

[…] Zeiss lenses “produce a colder, contrasty feel. They are incredibly sharp… Be sure to use more fill light when using these lenses and also control your highlights.” Shane’s absolutely right; one of the disadvantages to a DSLR movie when compared to, say, 35mm film is the DSLR has less dynamic range (and, to date, lacks some of the gamma knee options of a sophisticated video camera to control highlights). A very saturated, contrasty lens like the Zeiss would often be an advantage, and I do appreciate their aesthetic (I own a Zeiss set myself), but you have to be even more careful with Zeiss lenses to protect your highlights from blowing out harshly (tip: use the Magic Lanternzebra stripes). Zeiss lenses are famous for having very large, all-metal focus rings with a lot of fluid drag, which many DPs like (I actually find the action a tad too heavy for handheld work), and they share many rendering qualities with Zeiss cine lenses, which is to say: they’re beautiful. […]


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