When it was launched, Zeiss claimed that the lens was one of the best in its class, capable of producing extremely sharp images and boasting outstanding build quality. Zeiss goes so far as to say that medium-format quality images are capable of being produced by the lens.
Like the vast majority of Zeiss lenses, the Otus 100mm f/1.4 is very expensive. At the time of writing, it costs around £3,499. When you compare it to other similar models, such as the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED AF-S lens, which is currently on sale for around £2,000 or the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art lens, which retails for around £1,500 (and are both autofocus lenses), it’s a costly proposition – but is it worth the extra outlay?
If you can get the focusing spot on with a lens like this, the images are nothing short of superb. There’s fantastic, class-leading sharpness and bokeh which is extremely pleasing. It’s easy to see why portrait photographers would benefit from a lens like this – especially if you’re working with a professional model who is very good at keeping still.
It’s also a lens that you can get nicely creative with too. Throwing large areas out of focus and working with the beautiful bokeh that the lens is capable of leads to some very interesting results in a variety of different situations. It’s well-suited to portraiture, but fine-art subjects such as flowers are also a good option for a lens like this.
Using a lens like this forces you to think about and approach your photography differently. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be frustrating for those who are used to the benefits of autofocusing. It’s a lens to use when you have the time to slow down and really consider each and every shot.
Flare, chromatic aberration, unwanted reflections and distortion are all kept to the absolute minimum with this lens, indeed I found it hard to find any particularly obvious examples of any problems at all.
Below is a selection of sample photos shot with the Zeiss Otus 100mm f/1.4mm during the course of our review.
The Zeiss Otus 100mm’s optical construction allows for superb bokeh, such as in this field of flowers.
A closer view of the same flowers. Focal points are sharp, with smooth, milky background blur.
Fine detail, such as the edges of this rose, are crisp.
The Zeiss Otus 100 f/1.4 is also fantastic for portraiture.
This is a lens that is unlikely to sell in huge quantities, appealing to a fairly narrow subset of photographers. But, for those that have the money to spend on a lens like this, it performs exceptionally well.
It’s large, it weighs a tonne, and frankly, using manual focus is a pain that often feels unnecessary when autofocus is so accurate with modern cameras and lenses.
However, even with all that said, there’s something beguiling about the images that the Otus 100mm f/1.4 lens is capable of producing. Yes, sharpness is superb – but realistically unless you’re doing some extreme pixel peeping or printing your photos to fit the side of a bus – you won’t spot enough of a difference between this and similar focal length lenses from Nikon or Sigma at most ordinary sizes. For me, where it really appeals is with the gorgeous bokeh that is simply stunning.
If £3,500 is too much to spend on a single lens – and let’s face it, it’s going to be for most ordinary photographers – it’s a good one to consider renting, giving you the experience of a special lens for a particular shoot without the astronomical price tag.