The Carl Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 has the reputation to be one of the best 28mm lenses ever made. I put it on my Sony a7 and created an extensive review.
- Diameter: 62.5mm
- Length: 50mm
- Weight: 280g
- Filter Diameter: 55mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 6
- Elements/Groups: 7/7
- Close Focusing Distance: 25cm
- Mount: Zeiss C/Y
More information in Zeiss’ official data sheet.
The younger MM version usually sells for a little bit more than the older AE version.
There are two versions of the Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 T*.
The older AE version introduced in the mid 70’s won’t allow program and shutter-priority with film cameras. I think it was made in Japan from the beginning while other C/Y lenses were manufactured in Germany before production was moved to in Japan (als called AEJ). I have no definitive proof for that but a collector who looked really hard for a made in Germany copy and compiled dozens and dozens of serial numbers couldn’t find one. Unlike the later MM version the AE version has Ninja-star shaped bokeh circles stopped down. Check out my Contarex 2/50 review to see an example for that.
The younger MM version was sold from 1984 to 2005. It can be identified by the green color of the f/22 marking, see image below. It was only manufactured in Japan. If you want to leitax your lens to Nikon F-mount or Sony A-mount you need to buy the MM version.
Some people claim that the coatings and the optical design have been improved when the MM version was introduced but I couldn’t find any good source to back it up. This comparison shows a little better performance for the MM version but I think it is within the margin of error.
Credit for much of this information goes to the great guys over at the FM forum.
Zeiss also produced the ZM Biogon 2.8/28 which has a totally different optical design and different mount. And a C/Y 2/28 which has a different characteristic as well.
The Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 can of course be used on a wide range of Contax and Yashica film cameras but I know little about those so I can’t tell you any details.
You can also buy adapters to use it on Canon EOS cameras but in some cases the mirror will hit the back of the lens. Check out this site for more information.
To use a C/Y lens on a Nikon F-mount camera you need to replace the mount of your C/Y lens. Check out Leitax for more information. I can recommend their products, they are very well made.
The easiest way to use a C/Y lens on a digital camera is to buy a mirrorless camera. I can only recommend to buy a full frame camera so the Sony Alpha 7 series cameras are your only choice (unless you have too much money and want a Leica SL). Check out this article for more information about how to use manual lenses on the Sony a7-series.
Build quality is superb and the lens feels very solid.
The barrel is made of metal with very low tolerances. Both focus and aperture ring are rubberized and easy to grip.
All markings are engraved
The Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 is about as large and heavy as your average 1.4/50. It is very well balanced on the Sony a7.
The focusing ring travels about 100 degrees from 0.25m to 1m and a further 20 or so degrees to infinity. I think this is a very good transmission, focusing was easy at any distance. The focusing feel is just quite nice: Very precise but not too smooth.
The aperture ring has full stops from f/2.8 to f/22 but it isn’t too hard to select half-stops. I think it is one of the nicest aperture rings I have ever used, resistance is just right and every stop very distinctive.
Honestly I wouldn’t know how to improve the handling of the Distagon 2.8/28.
I don’t own a hood for the Distagon 2.8/28 but according to mir.com there were two different hoods: The Metal Lens Hood No.1 and the Soft Lens Shade 55mm G-12.
The 55mm filter thread is made from metal
The front of the lens does not rotate so polarizers are easy to use.
At f/2.8 vignetting is significant at close to 2.5 stops. At f/4 it is reduced to about 1.5 stops and by f/8 a little less than 1 stop.
The flare resistance of the Zeiss 2.8/28 is very good. There is very little contrast loss and only minor ghosting.
This is the very worst ghosting I could provoke and it is only visible because I pushed the shadows of this image a lot:
A small blob like in this image was more common. The shadows were pushed as well which makes it more obvious:
The distagon shows a small amount of barrel distortion, a setting of +3 corrects it very well in Lightroom.
Lateral CA are well corrected for a wide angle lens but certainly visible on more critical subjects so I would advise to correct them.
Bokeh is not a strength of the Zeiss.
Out of focus highlights a a defined edge and the transition zone is quite nervous:
OOF highlights in front of the point of focus are much smoother:
At the minimal focusing distance bokeh is quite nice but this is because the lens itself is less well corrected and quite soft.
At longer distances the lens is sharper but the bokeh quite harsh:
The Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 only has 6 aperture blades so sunstars only have 6-pointed stars. From f/11 they are well defined and at f/16 they are very prominent.
Contrast is great from f/2.8.
I am usually very cautious with claims I can’t support with some data so take my impression with a grain of salt: To my eyes the images I took with the Zeiss 2.8/28 C/Y stood out because of their plasticity and contrast.
The full aperture series can be found at flickr.
f/2.8: The center is excellent, the midframe region is good but the outer half of the image circle is not very sharp.
f/4: Very little difference to f/2.8
f/5.6: The edges of the frame have much better contrast and they are a little sharper. The corners remain soft.
f/8: A significant improvement can be seen in the corners. With the exception of the extreme corners and a small dip around r=15mm it is very sharp across the frame.
f/11: The center is a little less sharp but the extreme corners improve a bit.
F/2.8 gives excellent results as long as your subject is more or less in the central half of the image and not too close. For landscapes I would recommend to stop down to f/8 . If the extreme corners are important you can stop down to f/11 and trade a little less sharpness in the center for better corners. I think this is a very good performance for a wide angle lens.
The Distagon does show a significant amount of field curvature. At r=15mm the plane of focus is closest to the camera. Beyond this point it bents backwards. The extreme corners are focused significantly behind the center. If you have the Distagon 2.8/28 set to f/11 and have a flat subject at infinity even the extreme corners will be sharp but the rest of the frame will be out of focus.
Close Focus Performance
The Zeiss 2.8/28 has a close focusing distance of 25cm which results in a reproduction ratio of 1:6 which is decent for a 28mm lens.
The Distagon does not feature floating elements so performance suffers quite a bit at shorter distances. F/2.8 is downright soft, f/4 is okay and you should stop down to f/5.6 for good sharpness. For very good results I would recommend f/8 or even f/11.
Sony FE 2/28 – The Sony has AF, is faster and it has nicer bokeh. It is also sharper in the extreme corners at f/8 if you don’t correct the distortion, if you do the Zeiss is a little sharper across most of the frame. The FE 2/28 vignettes a lot and it has very significant distortion. It is a little smaller than the Zeiss Distagon if you include the adapter but twice as expensive. Build quality is no contest, the Zeiss wins. See this post for a comparison of both lenses.
Sony FE 4/16-35 ZA OSS – Four times as expensive, two times as heavy but more flexible because it a zoom and because it is stabilized. Distortion is more pronounced. Sharpness at f/8 is very close with an advantage for the FE Zeiss in the extreme corners.
Olympus OM 3.5/28 – A very small and very affordable lens which is only a little less sharp and contrasty than the Zeiss 2.8/28 but it has less field curvature. Build quality is not as nice as that of the Zeiss.
SMC Pentax K 3.5/28 (52mm filter thread) – Even though it usually sells for half the price of the Zeiss 2.8/28 it comes very close to it in performance. I think the Zeiss is a tad sharper but at f/8 the extreme corners of the Pentax are sharper and it has less CA. Build quality is quite good.
Nikon Ai-S 2.8/28 – I don’t own it but from what I have seen and read it is a little weaker at longer distances. The big advantage of the Nikon is that it has a very short minimal focusing distance and floating elements. So it is much more suited for short distance work.
Also check out this interesting comparison on the a7rII on FM with the Pentax 3.5/28, Olympus 3.5/28 and Nikon AI-S 2.8/28.
The Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 T* is a very enjoyable lens and well suited for landscape photography.
Few lenses are built as well and handle as nicely as the Zeiss 2.8/28. To me this is an important aspect of a lens, I don’t shoot for money I shoot because I enjoy the process and the end result.
For my landscape photography the Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 performed very well, by f/8 it is very sharp with the exception of a few pixels in the corners. It handles most back lit situations with ease and because it it doesn’t weight me down much I often have it with me.
Of course it isn’t a perfect lens. While the center is excellent from f/2.8 you should at least stop down to f/5.6 for good corners. Vignetting is also very obvious at f/2.8 and to a lesser degree at f/4. The performance drop at shorter distances is a bit of a letdown.
The Zeiss is a bit more expensive than other manufacturer’s competing lenses but it is also a little better. Compared to today’s Sony FE lenses the price/performance ratio is awesome and you get a lot for your money.
I can recommend the Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 T*, in fact I enjoyed shooting with it a lot and I think it is one of the very best manual 28mm lenses you can buy. If you look for a very versatile 28mm lens the FE 2/28 is a better versatile solution but I enjoyed the Zeiss 2.8/28 more because it is built so well and has a real focusing ring.
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Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 T* Sample Images
All images are processed in Lightroom from Raw. Many more full resolution samples in my Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 flickr album.
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