French fashion photographer Siddhu Sudarshan tested the new Otus 1.4/55 from ZEISS and created a picture series that shifts between reportage, glamour and painting.

It is Paris Fashion Week 2012. Behind the catwalk, models and designers are preparing hectically for their show. Photographer Siddhu Sudarshan has to fight to get the attention of the stars for his camera. The surprising result of this stressful shooting is a series of photos that exude a calm and contemplation that appear to have fallen out of time. Siddhu believes there is a direct link between these remarkable photos and the qualities of the Otus 1.4/55, the first member of the new high-end SLR lens family. He tried the lens on his D800E.

D800E, Otus 1.4/55 (f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 180)
Backstage at Hexa By Kuho Spring Summer 2013 Fashion Show. (Higher resolution)

“The dreamy and timeless mood of this portrait is not only visible in the look of the model,” says Siddhu. “I don’t think I could have created this picture with any other lens. The extraordinary bokeh projected by this lens plays an important role. When I look at my pictures, which were shot over the course of several shows, in their entirety I find the same basic mood in every single image.” The sharpness of the images also stands out: details like the model’s eyebrows appear fine and are clearly recognizable. The interaction between sharpness and bokeh demonstrates impressively the performance of the new Otus 1.4/55 — especially with a wide open aperture, which is a prominent characteristic of this new ZEISS high-end SLR lens.

D800E, Otus 1.4/55 (f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 180)
Backstage at Hexa By Kuho Spring Summer 2013 Fashion Show. (Higher resolution)

Between a painting and a still image from a movie: This picture of two waiting models creates a dreamy, almost meditative atmosphere. Yet the corners of the image are just as sharp as in the middle. Remarkable: the spotlight in the back causes no chromatic aberrations whatsoever; instead, it blends harmoniously into the background.

D800E, Otus 1.4/55 (f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 640)
Model Noam Frost. Hexa By Kuho Spring Summer 2013 Fashion Show. (Higher resolution)

“Noam Frost is a film student and only models on the side,” says Siddhu in describing this image. “She asked me about the lens I was using and really liked my pictures of her. She thought this was the best portrait she had ever seen of herself.”

D800E, Otus 1.4/55 (f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 100)
Model Aine O’Gorman. Junko Shimada Spring Summer 2013 Fashion Show. (Higher resolution)

“I really like this picture. It’s a classic ‘behind the scenes’ image. Although you can distinguish every single hair, it does not appear clinical at all,” says Siddhu.

D800E, Otus 1.4/55 (f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 3200)
Models ready to go onto the runway. Hexa By Kuho Spring Summer 2013 Fashion Show. (Higher resolution)

Many spectators think catwalk models look like types rather than individuals. This observation seems to be applied on purpose in Siddhu’s pictures and this group photo proves the point very well. “I wanted to give the protagonists a generic aura and the lens helped me do that,” says Siddhu.

At the same time, the pictures document hairstyles, make-up, fashion, and model types during the Paris shows. They are snapshots of what is perhaps the most short-lived industry that exists. “The fact that the pictures do not breathe a sense of fleetingness is the achievement of the Otus 1.4/55, combined of course with my handwriting as an artist,” says Siddhu. “By creating aesthetic images of the backstage area, which should remind future generations of the Paris fashion scene of our times, I want to create a counterweight to the usual ‘fast food pictures’ of celebrities that circulate these days and are being consumed in large quantities by our picture-hungry society.”

How did Siddhu achieve his artistic intentions from a technical standpoint? Which settings did he choose? “Since I work in an extremely hectic environment, I use the aperture priority mode. According to the usual rule of thumb of 1/focal length, the minimal exposure time for 55mm should be 1/55 s. For a high-resolution lens like the Otus 1.4/55, I ignore that and select an exposure time that is two or three times shorter – provided the existing light conditions permit shooting with an ISO up to a maximum of 3,200. In general, I use the lowest possible ISO value in order to maximize the dynamics of the image and minimize noise. Therefore, I work as much as possible with ambient light, or I choose a perspective which allows me to utilize the maximum of the existing light. This adds to the authenticity of my pictures. The D800E has an auto ISO function with which you can also determine the longest desired exposure time. In the case of the Otus 1.4/55, this is 1/125, or ideally 1/160. I used that function and concentrated solely on the aperture to create the depth of field and mood I wanted. I see the aperture as my most important technical stylistic device.”

D800E, Otus 1.4/55 (f/1.4, 1/160, ISO 220)
Designer Junko Shimada being interviewed. Junko Shimada Spring Summer 2013 Fashion Show. (Higher resolution)

Siddhu believes the Otus 1.4/55 is particularly suited for the situation behind the catwalk. “During the preparations for a show, so many things happen at once,” he says. “What I really value about ZEISS lenses is the manual focusing. In my experience this is always faster than autofocus since my focal point is often not in the center of the image so I would have to shift the AF area just before taking the shot. At the same time, manual focusing allows me to incorporate my own style into the pictures. Could I have shot this photo series with another lens? No, definitely not. The Otus 1.4/55 translates the scenes in a very special way, which is unique in the global market of photo lenses. You can see immediately that these pictures were not taken with a lens that is used by most fashion photographers.”


The photographer:

After almost giving up photography for music, his first experience with ZEISS lenses made him return to his old job. Today, he combines both vocations by composing and recording the music for fashion shows. His latest musical work is the soundtrack for the presentation of the fall/winter collection 2013/14 of the legendary Japanese designer Junko Shimada in Paris. The photos shown are part of a series in which Siddhu has photographed all the shows of Paris Fashion Week since 2011. His work led to several follow-up assignments to document other shows.

More photos from Siddhu's series, taken with Otus 1.4/55, can be found in our Flickr set:

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  1. Florian

    Will there be a version of the Otus lens for the new Sony A7 and A7R cameras?

    Reason for the question:

    Short: Focus peaking (and viewfinder focus zoom) would make focusing easier.

    The large images on Flickr show the extreme sharpness of the lens very well. It is also clear that the thin DOF of the lens at f1.4 is a huge challenge to the focusing skills of photographers. Probably too much of a challenge for most users because optical viewfinders or Nikons interpolated LV on the D800 make high precision focusing difficult (The LV noise on the D800 screen at low light is almost legendary). Focus peaking using an OLED viewfinder like the one found on the A7R would most likely help to overcome the focusing problems in fast-paced situations like the "reportage" photoshooting described on this page.
    1. I do realize that the lens is huge compared to an ILCE Alpha 7 camera.
    2. I do realize that Zeiss did (so far) not release some of its popular lenses for Alpha-mount for some reason. I hope that nothing prevents Zeiss from releasing lenses for e-mount. (based on Touit lenses it seems to be that way)

    1. ZEISS Camera Lenses

      Hi Florian,
      Thanks for your question and your detailed remarks.
      However, right now, we have no plans for any other mount than ZE (EF) and ZF.2 (F) for Otus 1.4/55.
      Best regards,
      Your ZEISS Lenses Team

      1. camera

        I am sorry for writing this here. I found some zeiss information about manual focus lenses for sony full-frame CSCS.I am so excited to know this ,just want to affirm it,thank you.

    1. ZEISS Camera Lenses

      Dear chen chen,

      We are really sorry to have to to tell you this because we know that you have been looking forward to a new ZM lens for a long time now. But due to many other developments this year, we had to postpone any new ZM lens to an uncertain later date. We hope for your understanding and assure you that we will inform you as soon as there are any news on this topic.

      Best regards,
      Your ZEISS Lenses Team

      1. Dave

        That's bad news and stops my hope for a second M-mount FF-camera brand. Wouldn't it have been nice to have a Zeiss M-mount camera with enhanced features for manual lenses, like e.g.focusing balance, focus confirmation in the OVF? Looking at the rave about the Nikon DF, I see a market for a simple camera, where the photographer regains full control over a reduced to the max camera.....

  2. zoran

    I view spring and summer as very cheerful and happy seasons. The whole atmosphere in these images reminds me of a gloomy production line scenery. They generate an uneasy feeling of the fashion industry and its trends.
    But I must say that the lens produces superb images. I am waiting for a wide angle lens (35mm) in the series.
    Congratulations Zeiss!

    1. Ian

      I think the lack of catchlights in the eyes give the models that gloomy look. Obviously the idea of these shots are to shot off the lens, so that makes sense, but they are dark images.

    1. ZEISS Camera Lenses

      Dear Myung Soo Lee,
      Thanks for you question. To keep the outer dimensions of the Otus 1.$/55 as compact as possible, we managed it to reduce the orginally filter diameter from 82mm to 77mm without any side effects on performance, functionality and sturdiness. If you have further questions, just ask :)
      Best regards,
      Your ZEISS Camera Lenses Team

    1. ZEISS Camera Lenses

      Dear Reynaldo,
      we're sorry to hear that you haven't received your Otus yet. However, the demand is very high. That's why distributors and resellers are supplied in chronological order. Have you already talked with your local dealer where you pre-ordered the lens?
      Best regards
      ZEISS Lenses Team

  3. SplittingImage

    I understand that the question was answered about the A mount already. My question is, would would I have to pay to get a custom made lens for my A99? I'm a Model Photographer and am a fast lens junkie. I need something that can compete with my Sigma 35m 1.4 Art. I've tested out the 24-70m 2.8 and Love it, However, in some conditions where flash is not permissible it lacks the low light quality that I require. Please help me find my next Ultimate Prime! Even if I have to get multiple photogs to help me fund this project. Thank you!

    -Splitting Image


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