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a david and goliath lens comparison between the "zeiss otus 55mm 1.4" and the "nikkor 50mm 1.2 ais"


this comparison was mainly done for myself since i couldn't find any article comparing the highly praised zeiss otus to a lens that i know pretty well, that is the nikkor one above mentioned.
while at a photographic fair, i seized the chance to shoot some comparative pictures at different aperture settings.

 

technical specifications

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 zf2

hight: 125mm/4.93" *1
width: 92mm/3.34" *1
weight: 970g/2.22lbs *1
price: 3499.00 Euro (07.05.2017) *1

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais

hight: 59mm/2.3"
width: 69mm/2.7"
weight: 359g/12.7oz *2 (=0.79lbs)
price: 724.95 USD (07.05.2017) *2


setting 

pictures were taken through a clean window with the same camera - a nikon 800e - handhold and focussed at a distance of about 100m.

all pictures come from unretouched raw files and adapted only to achieve the same brightness in the middle of the picture. to avoid any supplementary noise, only the brighter image was adapted.

the nikkor had a l1bc filter screwed on, the zeiss otus had no filter attached.


rating

to compare the two lenses at different aperture settings (f1.2/f1.4; f2.0; f2.8; f4.0; f5.6; f8.0), five picture segments - at specific distance from the center point - were chosen:

ic0     0% image circle = center = focussing point
ic25   25% image circle
ic50   50% image circle
ic75   75% image circle
ic100 80-100% image circle = far border

 

illustration of the different image circle lines on a full-frame sensor.

 

key to rating scales

"a" = advantage - designates the lens that has an advantage over the other
"p" = par - no significative differences between the lenses

image resolution rating scale:

1 = no resolution; images with no details
2 = low resolution; images with only few details
3 = average resolution, images with a little more details
4 = good resolution; images with good amount of details
5 = very good to "perfect" resolution; extremely detailed pictures

contrast rating scale:

1 = no contrast
2 = low contrast; images look washed out
3 = average contrast
4 = good contrast; images start to look crisp
5 = very good to excellent contrast; crisp and clear images

 

test section

overview of test scene zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 and nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f1.2

overview of the upper half of the test pictures at f1.2/f1.4 *3

 

overview of test scene zeiss otus 55mm f8.0 and nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f8.0

overview of the upper half of the test pictures at f8.0

 

aperture series 1 - 100% crops at f1.2/f1.4 *3

100% crops beween the zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f1.4 and the nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f1.2

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f1.4 nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f1.2 -0.35ev

 

numerical rating

resolution/contrast

c0

c25

ic50

c75

ic100

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0     "a"

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f2.0

5/3 5/3 5/3 4/3 3/3


interpretation

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4:
this lens definitely provides very high resolution and contrast images - edge to edge.
a picky hairsplitter might notice a tiny loss of resolution and contrast in the corners. in any case, when wide opened, the zeiss otus clearly outperforms the nikkor in terms of contrast. the resolution differences are conspicuous in the ic75 and ic100 only.

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais:
this lens doesn't give its best when wide opened. the presence of spherical aberrations *3 gives the image a soft, low-contrast look.
this is especially true when it has to manage highly contrasted details.
in terms of resolution, the lens certainly provides lot of details from the center till ic50. after this, at the ic75 and ic100, a loss of details is noticeable.

 

aperture series 2 - 100% crops at f2.0

at this stage of the comparison a problem occurred. although the very center looked very sharp and detailed, the off center performance decreased quite substantially. this was completely unexpected.

perhaps i might have unwillingly touched the focusing ring, to better support the lens. don't know for sure, but - as i couldn't find any similar user reports elsewhere - this is the most probable explanation.

strange enough is the fact that the ic0 picture remains always sharp while the the resolution drops almost immediately outside the image center.
see the zeiss otus' unrated test shots at different aperture settings here...
by the way, while checking this on the web, i stumbled over the mtf data from lensrentals *4 on "the-digital-picture" webpage *5. the zeiss otus performance seems to decline towards ic75 between f2.0 to f4.0 - to rise again from f5.6 to f8.0.

presuming that i must have been the error source, from now on the nikkor was compared with the zeiss otus at f8.0. at this aperture, the zeiss otus was tack sharp and delivered its best results.

 

100% crops beween the zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 and the nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f2.0

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 -0.7ev nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f2.0

 

numerical rating

resolution/contrast

c0

c25

ic50

c75

ic100

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0     "a"

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f2.0

5/4 5/4 5/4 4/4 3/3


interpretation

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0:
perfect performance edge to edge at f8.0. there was nothing else to expect.

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f2.0:
the nikkor leapfrogs when closing down the aperture to f2.0.
there are still differences between the two lenses, both in resolution and contrast. at the ic75 and ic100 a loss of details can be seen.
that said, the image quality of the nikkor at f2.0 is perfectly usable and very pleasing.


aperture series 3 - 100% crops at f2.8

100% crops beween the zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 and the nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f2.8

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 -0.7ev nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f2.8

 

numerical rating

resolution/contrast

c0

c25

ic50

c75

ic100

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0     "a"

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f2.8

5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 4/5

interpretation

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0:
it's still perfect at f8.0.

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f2.8:
the nikkor has again improved dramatically, both in resolution and contrast. there are virtually no differences to discern from c0 to ic50.
besides, high magnification of the cropped images is required to eventually spot differences in terms of resolution at ic75, here the gap is almost closing. at ic100 it is still not perfect.

 

aperture series 4 - 100% crops at f4.0

100% crops beween the zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 and the nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f4.0

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 -0.7ev nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f4.0


numerical rating

resolution/contrast

c0

c25

ic50

c75

ic100

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0     "p"

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f4.0     "p"

5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5

 

interpretation

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0:
it's perfect at f8.0.

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f4.0:
at f4.0 the nikkor is basically on par with the zeiss otus at f8.0 at all image circles. the contrast is very slightly lower than in the zeiss otus.
this can only be seen in direct comparison.

 

aperture series 5 - 100% crops at f5.6

100% crops beween the zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 and the nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f5.6

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 -0.7ev nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f5.6

 

numerical rating

resolution/contrast

c0

c25

ic50

c75

ic100

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0     "p"

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f5.6     "p"

5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5


interpretation

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0:
it's perfect at f8.0.

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f5.6:
both lenses are basically on par and deliver perfect performances.
at higher magnifications the nikkor seems a little crisper in the ic50 and ic100 image sections.
the contrast is still very slightly lower than with the zeiss otus in the center. outside the center, the contrast is quite the same.
again, this is only to be seen in direct comparison.

 

aperture series 6 - 100% crops at f8.0

100% crops beween the zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 and the nikkor 50mm f1.2 at f8.0

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0 -0.7ev nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f8.0

 

numerical rating

resolution/contrast

c0

c25

ic50

c75

ic100

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0     "p"

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

5/5

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f8.0     "p"

5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5 5/5


interpretation

zeiss otus 55mm f1.4 at f8.0:
it's perfect at f8.0.

nikkor 50mm f1.2 ais at f5.6:
the lenses are on par.
at high magnifications the nikkor again seems a little crisper in the ic50, ic75 and ic100 image sections.
here too - this can only be seen in direct comparison.

conclusion

after gathering all the info - while also taking in consideration the focussing error mentioned above at f2.0 - the response is pretty clear: the zeiss otus is the better lens in resolution and contrast. at f1.2/f1.4 especially, the differences in contrast and neatness are striking.

what somehow surprises me, is that there is not such a big difference in the center areas of the pics (ic0 to ic50), even at f2.0. honestly i expected - almost feared - the nikkor to be completely outclassed.
but even compared with the very best zeiss otus test setting (at f8.0), it holds up extremely well. at f2.8 the differences are to be found on the edges, only.
from f4.0 onwards the lenses are basically on par.


2017.06.10 © l.i.


sources and remarks

*1: informations gathered on www.zeiss.de
*2: informations gathered on www.nikonusa.com
*3: the nikkor wasn't tested at f1.4 since there is nearly no difference to the f1.2 setting.
*4: www.lensrentals.com. this photographic site rents out photographic equipment and does some very serious lens testings.
*5: www.the-digital-picture.com. the digital picture is a long running photographic site featuring lens and camera reviews.

 

 

 
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