For an exclusive pre-testing, the renowned independent author and photographer Lloyd Chambers had the chance to try out the new ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 in practice.

Lloyd Chambers has seen many lenses in his professional life. As a professional photographer and the author of one of the most successful photography blogs, he has been testing a variety of lenses, cameras and gear of reputable manufacturers for many years. Impressing him is not easy — so you would think. But ZEISS again succeeded in doing that with its new Otus 1.4/55 lens.

D800E (f/9, 30, ISO 100, +2 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 4900°K Tint +9, Shadows +100, Highlights -100
Moonrise over Kuna Peaks and Tuolumne River. In order to achieve the contrast in this scene, massive Raw conversion adjustments were needed. The fact that this was even possible is a tribute to the superb qualities of the Otus 1.4/55 when it comes to flare and contrast control. (Higher resolution)

Chambers got the exclusive chance to try a prototype of the Otus 1.4/55 for practical use — and the new ZEISS lens left behind a lasting impression.  “When I first shot with the Otus 1.4/55, I was shocked in a way; the images showed an entirely different quality. There is a transparency and three-dimensional quality to the images; it is a sense of 'presence' and immediacy, of being in the scene as if seeing a moment frozen so perfectly in time that one could almost step through a portal directly into the scene. That sense of presence is the most compelling aspect of the Otus 1.4/55.”

D800E (f/1.4, 1/1600, ISO 100, +0.16 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 4900°K Tint +9
Ancient Bristlecone Pine. A strict control of lens aberrations and color yields high contrast and sharpness with a wide open aperture. Combined with moderate vignetting, it is useful for directing attention to the subject. (Higher resolution)

Chambers has a personal preference for outdoor photography. He loves the solitude of untouched nature. He often hikes alone for an entire week. The calmness and sense of space help him to focus on the essential — just like in photography. Therefore, the Otus 1.4/55 also accompanied him on a photographic walking tour in the White Mountains in California: “When there is a synergy with my professional work, I like to bring an exploratory or documentary aspect to my images, including a penchant for recording details that often go unnoticed.  Details of special places are often passed over in favor of a spectacular mountain or sunset scene. But such details can deliver a tangible feeling of ‘being there’, so I enjoy shooting the gamut of subjects wherever I go. I also enjoy making portraits, which to me means any subject (not just people), such as a fantasticly twisted and sculptured 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine, or an unusual glacial erratic — anything for which a singular focus applies.”

D800E (f/1.4, 6, ISO 100, +0.15 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 5000°K Tint +9, Shadows +50, Highlights -100, Contrast +30
Glacial Erratic, Late Dusk. A deceptively simple image. The highlights are pulled way down and the shadows pushed way up. The whole effect was made possible by the high lens contrast and the superb resistance to flare, in this case a very bright sky. (Higher resolution)

For Chambers, the visual effect that is created by a picture is decisive. The visual effect reveals more about the special performance of a lens than all the numbers and values. That is precisely why the new Otus 1.4/55 fascinated him so much: “Every optical characteristic is tightly ‘nailed down’ by the Otus 1.4/55: sharpness and contrast, bokeh, color rendition, vignetting, distortion, freedom from color errors, exceptional flare control. It is a sum total effect. One might call it a cine-grade lens for still photography, but in a manageable form factor.”

The aspect of manageability is extremely important to Chambers. It is a real benefit that with the Otus, Chambers has a lens at hand that on the one hand is relatively compact and on the other so powerful that he does not have to think anymore about technical limitations while taking pictures. The mechanics work smoothly and yet precisely – a true luxury. And even in difficult shooting situations, the Otus proves itself as decidedly reliable: “The control of veiling and ghosting flare makes the lens my very first choice for any kind of contre-jour shooting. It helps make the lens exceptionally versatile and I can generally ignore adverse lighting as a concern: in fact, I might seek it out for effect, knowing that the lens will deliver.” It is a wonderful tool for creative work because it is so extremely reliable – both with an open and a closed aperture.

D800E (f/2.8, 1/25, ISO 100, +0.8 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 4800°K Tint +9, Highlights -30
Cabin # 9, Interior. A sense of depth and poise characterize the Otus 1.4/55. (Higher resolution)

When Chambers compares the Otus 1.4/55 with the performance of camera lenses, he probably thinks less about spectacular Hollywood-type images and more about spectacular optical details. For it is the detail, the unrelenting focus on the subject, that fascinates him. When asked about his favorite picture taken with the new Otus, he answers a bit coyly: “a rather banal” picture that shows his daughter’s black cat on a wooden table in his yard during dusk. Chambers’ attention was on the cat’s shimmering yellow eyes. “To be persuasive, the yellow eyes and its interior iris structures should be razor-sharp, the lens has to deliver high contrast into black fur (with small white specks in it), and there should be no veiling haze or violet color fringing or off-center oddball effects. And all of this at ƒ/1.4.  And that is what the Otus 1.4/55 does.  No other lens could put all those elements together that well.”

D800E (f/1.4, 1/30, ISO 100, +0.33 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 6500°K Tint +7
Black Cat Dreaming of Gopher Dinner. Some patience and very precise focus provide a rewarding combination of razor sharpness on the cat’s eyes combined with lovely bokeh. (Higher resolution)
D800E (f/1.4, 1/30, ISO 100, +0.33 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 6500°K Tint +7
Black Cat Dreaming of Gopher Dinner. 100% crop.

In order to get a comprehensive impression of the performance delivered by the ZEISS Otus 1.4/55, Chambers tested the lens under controlled conditions as well as freely in practice. Shooting at night is one of the most difficult disciplines and bears a real challenge for a lense. A very small source of light combined with a maximum of contrast in the image do reveal any optical weaknesses a lense might have. If you try to depict stars or highly illuminated windows as an exact point source and without coma, that comes near to the standard testing procedure in the laboratory to determine the optical quality of a lense.

D800E (f/2, 1/200, ISO 800, +2 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 4900°K Tint +9
New York City at Dusk. Aberrations such as coma and violet fringing are nowhere to be seen in this image, making the Otus 1.4/55 ideal for night shooting. (Higher resolution)

Here, too, Chambers sticks to his highly positive opinion of the new lens. “ZEISS calls this new family of lenses ‘Otus‘ (owl) and that is fitting. But you could also compare it to the eyes of a cat, which are able to adapt to all conditions of brightness and contrast.”

D800E (f/2, 1/60, ISO 800, +3.35 stop PUSH)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 2850°K Tint +0, Highlights -70, Contrast +86
Signage at Night. The contrast of the Otus 1.4/55 facilitates heavily “pushed” images, with shadows opened up from near-black values. (Higher resolution)

Another typical test situation for lenses is close-ups. Here, too, Chambers naturally wanted to know how the Otus 1.4/55 would work under these conditions. He even went a step further, toward macro photography. He used a close-up extension ring because this distance lies closer than designed focusing range of the Otus. And again he got excellent results: “I also made various comparisons to other lenses. A real strength of the Otus 1.4/55 is in delivering total image quality across the entire frame also from very short distances. The constant quality to the edges and corners is just excellent.”

D800E (f/5.6, 1, ISO 100, 0.5 stop PULL)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 2650°K Tint +8
Macro range shooting at 1:3.3. The subject lies outside the focusing range of the Otus 1.4/55. For that reason an extension tube was used. The extremely high quality is maintained. The bokeh is just as superb as the control of color aberrations. The pixel-precise crop of the image shows the details when used on a D800E. (Higher resolution)
D800E (f/5.6, 1, ISO 100, 0.5 stop PULL)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 2650°K Tint +8
Macro range shooting at 1:3.3. 100% crop. (Higher resolution)

All in all, the new ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 not only passed the scrutiny of Lloyd Chambers, an experienced and passionate tester, but truly won him over. He would go so far and describe the Otus as a “milestone in optics technology.”  “This is a true professional-grade lens.  One might say it’s the first and only such lens for a DSLR, when all aspects are considered, thinking in traditional medium-format terms with very high expectations for optical and build quality. The resolving potential of high resolution digital cameras can only be realized by lenses performing at a very high level, and here the ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 sets the standard by which other lenses will be compared.” Chambers does hold great expectations for the future lenses of the Otus family that are still in state of development at ZEISS. It may be expected that he already reserved a timeslot in this agenda for another prototype testing.

D800E (f/1.4, 1/10, ISO 100, 1.1 stop PULL)<br />ACR: Adobe Standard, 5550 °K Tint +8
Close range shooting at ~ 1:10. The bokeh is pleasing at every aperture. Color rendition is sensational. (Higher resolution)


About Lloyd ChambersLloyd Chambers

Lloyd Chambers learned photography thoroughly from scratch. He acquired knowledge of laboratory technology during high school. Later, as a university student, he was the head of the dark room of Stanford University. These days he has of course already become immersed in the digital age. He is a photographer and author.  He has been writing for years about the newest developments in photography technology, evidenced by his popular blog and numerous printed articles. Many of his readers are professional photographers. He therefore has high demands when providing an overview and orientation among the impressive selection of lenses, cameras and gear on the market. Chambers lives and works in California.

A detailed report about the ZEISS Otus 1.4/55 can be found in the Guide to Zeiss on





Further blog posts by Lloyd Chambers concerning the Otus 1.4/55 can be found here:

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  1. BigD

    So this guy has no REAL credentials other than he has a blog and has mastered SEO?

    His photography skills are seriously lacking.

    Although I have no doubt this is a great lens endorsement by some schmoe with a blog isn't exactly what I'm looking for. You may as well have had Ken Rockwell give it a thumbs up.

    Try finding someone who can actually take a decent photograph and who has some actual training in the field.

    1. Romain

      Lloyd Chambers might no be Gursky or Ansel Adams, but he probably is the best lens reviewer there is. His reviews are the only one there are that are extensive and have actual field relevance.

  2. db

    You do not know what you are talking about.
    Lloyd Chambers is "the source".
    He blog is the best out there, digging really deep into every aspect of everything related to gear you want to know more about and especially Zeiss gear.

  3. Well I like both...Ken and Lloyd....

    Ken can be very funny sometimes, but doesn't always make things to academic.
    Lloyd is precise and goes deep..... sometimes I think...a little less is ok

    A 2400 euro 50mm Zeiss, still 600 euro cheaper than my 50mm summilux from Leica, is of course a stunning lens!

    Or dou you think you can do better than Zeiss.
    Same for the 6000 euro 50mm apo f/2.0 from leica...yeah they find some flare after pixelpeeping at molecular level...

    I am a photgraphic engineer and to test lenses well, you need knowledge of glass and opticals, but you need also high level (most of the time made by Zeiss) machines to evaluate

    Most people don't have A an B at the level of Zeiss or Leica engineers, if they had they would be working in that industry and develop better optics

    Erwin Puts in the netherlands is one who comes close and write very well taught articles.

    for me... I just take my cam and lens and shoot, that's what's it all about

  4. George

    Quote from this interview - "No other lens could put all those elements together that well" - that statement sounds completely credible and objective, particularly when one wants to photograph a house cat.

    As a former subscriber to Mr. Chamber's reviews/musings about various equipment, I agree with BigD.

  5. Jeff K

    BigD, your clearly expressed concern that Lloyd Chambers lacks photographic gravitas is not matched by other notable photographic websites, for instance The Luminous Landscape. Rest assured that Mr. Chambers has been properly vetted by real credentialed photographers. I am not a real credentialed photographer, merely a photographic enthusiast seeking to improve my ability to create art through photography. And a substantial part of my endeavor involves choices about appropriate photographic tools to the task. In this regard and in my experience, Lloyd Chambers has saved me from hours of research and costly equipment mistakes, all of which has allowed me more time and money to be in the field doing photography. The photographs Mr. Chambers uses on his website are taken by him with the express purpose of being functional to the task of equipment analysis in the field. His photographs are intended to reveal photographic equipment characteristics running the full gambit of the photographic experience with said equipment in the field. His photographs help to provide evidence of equipment characteristics. I have seen a few of Mr. Chambers' photographs where he explicitly states they are intended to be what you might refer to as "decent" photographs. If I were to take such photographs, I would be proud to public display them. I am grateful to Mr. Chambers for sharing his years of photographic experience and knowledge in his usual dogged and consistent manner. I do greatly appreciate his dedication to provide knowledge and understanding of photographic equipment and how it affects the photographer and effects the photograph. So, it is with no surprise to find his analysis of a new and significant Zeiss lens posted on Zeiss' website, an honor well deserved!

    1. Dave

      @ Jeff K

      + 1

      Exactly that! And besides Lloyd Chambers is a nice guy, enthusiastic enough to answer substantial questions from even non subscribers to an extent one would not expect. His photographic (not technical for testing purpose) pictures are excellent, as Jeff K already mentionned.

  6. I agree on Jeff K.

    Lloyd has been for me a very nice source to get information, besides other websites as LL, Huff, Rockwell etc..

    The Photographs he use in his articles are supporting his testing more than showing that he could be a credentialed and creative photographer (whatever that may be)

    And if Lloyd says that this lens puts everything together, it is not an empty say, it's well tested

  7. Eric

    The point of a lens review is not to put up pretty pictures, but to expose weaknesses -- focus shift, flare, unpleasant bokeh, QA issues, vignetting, steep ray angle, chromatic aberration and so on. Chambers does this and goes further, showing how to work around, or even exploit them in certain circumstances. I have based several purchases on his recommendations, and have found his analyses to be consistent with my experience. Would a beautiful, dreamy photo be more artistically satisfying than one of a cat and a pumpkin? Certainly, but it's my job to make the art, and his to demonstrate the lens. His full report does that very well, and is worth the money, in my experience. I just wish $4k were easier to earn, because based on my earlier experience with Chambers' advice, I fully trust that this is a superlative lens.

  8. gcg

    There is no need to test this lens and a nice picture could be made with any lens. This lens will demonstrate its outstanding properties in everyday work within the next years. There might be some people who buy that lens only because they want to have the best lens available, like a status symbol. But most of the photographers will buy it because they can get a better image quality even in extreme situations. Only the handling will limit its use, as there are different demands for different kinds of photographic work. If you are experienced you know exactly what you need.

  9. Having a D800 camera it is obvious that the weak spot is the lens. So a real 36MP lens is much appreciated. If you buy a good lens , solid built as Zeiss does, you know that every picture will bring you this beautiful little extra in every picture for now and years to come. The price is comparable to the medium format lenses , but then the d800 brings that quality with less weight,more flexibility and less cost.

  10. MM

    Some people are simply disappointed by the fact that ZEISS makes such a great lens (in a sens) and to promote it, they publish B-quality content. Show us some nice solid work with that lens please :) This is not some accessory, this is your flagship product.

  11. Jef

    I found a typo in this article. May I have my free Otus lens now?

    "Shooting at night is one of the most difficult disciplines that means a real challenge for a lense."

  12. Jef

    Two more lenses please. My wife will want one and I'd like a spare.

    "A very small source of light combined with an maximum of contrast in the image do reveal any optical weakness a lense might have. If you try to depict stars or highly illuminated windows as an exact point source and without coma, that comes near to the standard testing procedure in the laboratory to determine the optic quality of a lense."

  13. Jef

    Lloyd is thorough and bashes on equipment in a way that highlights its potential and weaknesses.

    As well, he drives the OEMs to improve their products to a set of high standards and practices that are compelling for real world use.

  14. Almer

    I am so tempted to buy this one. But not so fast. I just bought me a Zeiss Touit 12mm. Thanks to Lloyd's critical review! I wanted this one, but I will wait for Zeiss wide angle for my Nikon D800E. Hopefully it will be as good as this one.

  15. Jeffrey

    I would love to see some images that were shot by BigD. Meanwhile I'll be busy shooting with my new Otus from the moment that it arrives at my doorstep. Owning 4 other Zeiss lenses for Canon cameras gives me every confidence that the new lens will be equal to or better than the fantastic lenses that I already own and use frequently. Also, I find shooting to be much more satisfying than complaining. Give it a try, BigD, you might surprise yourself.

  16. Jeffrey

    I promise you, I'm not Lloyd. I wish that I had even 10% of his technical knowledge. I'm astounded at the amount of controversy this lens has caused in that I'm not aware of anyone else but Lloyd shooting even a single frame using the new lens. Yet, anyone and everyone has already judged the lens without even touching one. I'm sure the usual rental houses will have this lens available soon. Take one for a test drive and decide for yourself. Then you can express an opinion based on experience instead of speculation.

  17. Mandark

    Lloyd Chambers is a reviewer. Through and through. He shoots test images very well. If your forte is pixel peeping (And I mean that in the nicest possible way), his site is the best place to go to. But please don't call him a "Photographer". He doesn't have the artistic skills to be one. Not even close.

    A lens like this is mostly aimed at fine art photographers who want to make jaw dropping images with the utmost technical perfection. It would have been nice if Zeiss employed one of them to truly show what this lens is capable of. Hell, lend one to Joe McNally for 2 weeks and see what he comes up with!

    Also, as a D800 owner, I can safely say, the only area where it competes with Medium format is in terms of resolution. But that's only ONE aspect. The D800, with whatever lens is no match to even a 5-8 year old medium format back when it comes to tonality, dynamic range in highlights and color accuracy at base ISO. Carl Zeiss AG of all people should know this because you guys have contributed more to medium format photography than any other company on earth. Your past achievements include the incredible Contax 645 system (It breaks my heart that this system is no longer in production), Hasselblad V lenses, Rollei lenses and so on.

    Lastly, as great as the Otus lens range will be, dropping 4K on a manual focus 35mm format lens is a bit hard to digest. Sorry. If Sigma, Tamron and Tokina can figure out how to do AF lenses for the F and EF mount, why can't you guys?

    The price of an Otus + a D800E can get you a used Hasselblad H system camera on ebay. And trust me, it will beat the pants out of the otusD800E combo on anything except maybe sheer pixel dimensions at base ISO.

  18. Jeffrey

    Spot on! I shoot a Phase One 645DF with an IQ280 back and Schneider glass as well as my Canon 1D-X. The quality of the images from the medium format cameras is so far beyond any DSLR that it isn't funny! I do have some Zeiss glass for the Canon and it is really great glass. However, the Phase One is in an entirely different world when it comes to images.

    1. Rohan

      Dear Ben. You chose your moniker poorly as it is obvious from the language used in your attempted insult that your mind is quite small, and no doubt other parts of your feeble anatomy too. There are very few other people on the net who dedicate more time to extending our knowledge of photography than Lloyd. If only you could add something constructive and worthwhile. You sir, are a cunt

  19. I was really excited about this lens when it was announced. But I don't see the "pop" I expected in these images. I have the 50 Makro and really, it's good enough. I already dropped $4k on a Leica Lux ASPH so will wait for what I really need - a WA to replace the pretty good but could be better Zeiss 21.

  20. I am a close-up and macro shooter using Nikon bodies. I have several dozen of the best macro lenses from Nikon, Leica, Voigtlander and others. Of the scores of lenses I own, over time, the only ones I consistently use and delight over at highly corrected APO lens, like the Voigtlander 125mm f/2 APO-Lanthar, the Leica 100mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R APO, the Coastal Optics 60mm f/4 APO, and a number of industrial Nikkors (Printing Nikkor 150mm), etc.

    I also own a number of Zeiss lenses, including the 50mm and 100mm Makro-Planar. The point of my writing is this: there is a very, very big difference between the Zeiss Makro-Planar lenses and the new Zeiss 135mm APO lens. I own (but seldom use) the Zeiss Makro-Planars because they are not well corrected, not APO lenses. The Zeiss 135mm APO is, IMO, an incredible lens as I imagine so will be the new 55mm Zeiss Otus. Here are a few photos from the 135mm:

    I suggest that (if you can), borrow or by the Zeiss 135mm APO and see for yourself what it is capable of. I did not believe it until I tried the 135mm, but it is a wondrous lens, even for close-up and macro work!

  21. Ben

    Zeiss have pictures with this lens on their Flickr page. Picture quality is STUNNING at F/1,4.

    Bravo, Zeiss.

  22. This lens is indeed superb. Lloyd reviews (also this one) are usually very thorough and he says what has to be said - good or bad - about lenses. Besides, everyone of us has its favorite "brands" - we're all fanboys about lenses, cameras, tv, cell phones, football teams etc - yet he's definitely what I'd say a professional when it comes to be honest objective. If the 55 is "the best lens he has ever used" - no matter the price, it must be true. For me it would be very hard parting with my actual set of excellent ZF2 lenses, as if they were "faulty" of not being "as good as the newest one" but I'm sure many photographers trying to achieve the utmost from their equipment will be genuinely interested in such line. Sure, they are expensive lenses but we're talking about Ferrari here, not sub-standard no-brand lenses. I'm waiting for the outcome of such high performing line with the greatest interest.

  23. Jef

    Michael E is right - as is everyone else that's every used the APO 135. Not my favorite focal length but it is the first lens I've ever used that doesn't get in the way of what I am trying to do. I can trust it 100%. I have the same hopes for the Otus which I am confirmed to have on release day. Looking forward to it.

  24. ZEISS Camera Lenses

    Hi everyone,
    Just a short remark: Critical comments are always appreciated. However, insults are not. That's why we removed two comments.
    Best regards,
    ZEISS Lenses Team

  25. Don Craig

    My gosh, what a lot of picking on Lloyd Chambers. Lloyd is clever, diligent, and totally, totally anal when it comes to lens testing. Lloyd's reviews of the lenses I own closely match my experience. I agree with him less when it comes to cameras, and I outright disagree with some of his post processing techniques, but his opinions are valuable and I am calibrated on them. Lloyd is not running a landscape photography gallery, and many of his photographs are simply test images, but occasionally he has a real winner. I don't share Lloyd's personal taste, and a friend of mine has found his user interface a bit prickly, but Lloyd's review of the Otus prototype carries real weight, and his website is a valuable, no-hype resource.


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