ZEISS’ New 55mm f/1.4 Otus Reaches New Heights in Optical Performance and Price


ZEISS announced that it was working on a new line of ultra-high-quality lenses last year. These lenses were being designed from the ground up to provide unmatched optical performance for high-resolution full-frame cameras like Nikon’s D800.

Well, the first fruits of all that labor have finally arrived on digital shelves in the form of the Distagon 55mm f/1.4 Otus: a lens ZEISS promises will perform better for you than anything else on the market… assuming you can afford it.

Here’s a video comparing the optical quality of this 55mm with your standard “fast 50″ lens:

That are two things you’ll notice about the 55mm f/1.4 immediately: it’s big for its focal length, and it’s got the Distagon designation usually reserved for wide-angle lenses. Both have to do with the high design standards ZEISS placed on this lens.

The Distagon designation simply indicates that they “were aiming for the best possible imaging performance,” and the only way they could achieve this performance was by packing more glass elements into the lens, hence the size.

Unlike most 50mm lenses, the 55mm f/1.4 sports 12 elements in 10 groups, six of which are made of glass so rare it’s more valuable than gold. Here’s another video that goes into a little bit more detail about the lens:

You can read into the technical details of the lens on the ZEISS blog, but the basic premise here is that this is best “fast 50″ on the market… period. It supposedly offers a level of contrast and sharpness at f/1.4 that other lenses can only match when stopped down to f/4 or 5, and you won’t notice chromatic aberrations even in the corners.

Here are a few sample photos taken with the new 55mm (pixel peepers can find the high-res versions here):




“Our goal was to bring the best standard lens for SLR cameras onto the market,” explains product manager Christophe Casenave. And as you might imagine, the “best standard lens” on the market doesn’t come cheap.

The lens is officially up for pre-order in both Canon EF and Nikon F mount over on B&H at the not-so-affordable price of $4,000. Both mounts are expected to ship early next month.

  • Mansgame, yo.

    55 is too long to be a standard lens even on FX. 40 would be a good length since even 50 is a bit long.

  • Sum_it

    Really wish it was priced closer to $2200-$2500. Then it would have been killer. Alas, it is out of my price range. Jealous of those who can enjoy this glass!

  • Alex A.

    How nice, a standard (55mm) f1.4 lens with 77mm filter thread and weighting 2.3lb (1kg)… Are you serious, Zeiss?

  • Leonardo Abreu

    4K? Jeez…

  • thingwarbler

    Wow… as soon as I get around to affording the 200-400 4.0L from Canon, I’ll start saving up for this baby. Honestly, should be any time now… Srsly, news clients are paying less and less, expecting more and more — including higher and higher quality — and the gear we need to deliver is hitting these astronomical prices (no, of course we don’t *need* this toy to deliver — but it would help). Doesn’t make sense to me — who the hell has $4K for a fixed length lens?

  • David Vaughn

    it depends on the perspective when you say “best.” Yeah, it might have superior optical quality to anything out there…

    …But is the optical quality 11 times better than the Canon 50mm f/1.4 that I own now? Haha.

    I’m kind of kidding (that logic is poor), but I’m still not sure it’s worth as much as it touts considering that I could buy a 50mm f/1.4 lens for 1/3 as much.

  • TSY87

    … I should just switch to leica.

  • faloc

    not really all that heavy

  • faloc

    wise choice

  • faloc

    when it’s made in Germany, that’s a normal price xD

  • Anto de Chav

    Optically excellent but really heavy,manual focus and super expensive,is it really over 3grand better than the nikon 50mm 1.2 manual focus??

  • infini

    I come from the Hasselblad medium format digital down to Nikon D800 now. This is the kind of lens the 35mm world needs where product photographers are concerned that are not using Phase or the H3D/4D systems.

  • julianndimare321

    My Uncle Harrison got a nearly new blue Buick
    Regal GS by work using a laptop. recommended you read J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Anto de Chav

    I prefer medium format I.Q to the D800E (i have one)

  • Alvaro Gómez Velasco

    The samples pictures were taken in Bilbao, my hometown. That was unexpected.

  • Sean Molin

    Probably. I have said 50mm 1.2 and it’s a fun lens with a beautiful cinematic character… but it’s NOT super sharp or contrasty wide open. At f/2 it’s incredible, but why would I have an f/1.2 lens to use it at f/2!?!

  • Vin Weathermon

    Hope I tap that Powerball soon..

  • Anto de Chav

    I have owned a 1.2 85L,I think its nice to have the speed but mostly f2 is better,at f1.2 you cant take a portrait without the tip of the nose and eyes being just a big blur..I have the nikon 24mm 1.4 and 85 1.4 and still I rarely go below f2..Looking forward to sigma’s new 50 and 85 Art glass…

  • Cinekpol

    “who the hell has $4K for a fixed length lens?” – 4k is nothing once you compare it to 10k for 600 f/4

  • Woody ONeal

    Funny Germans

  • Renato Murakami

    Ouch! 4K? Think I’ll keep my Canon 50mm f/1.4…

  • James

    1.2* you could buy several more 1.4s

  • wishinghand

    Isn’t it because generally lenses are at their best stepped down, so stepping down from 1.2 leaves you brighter than those stepping down from 1.4 or 1.8.

  • infini

    Yes of course! IQ on the 645 digi is far superior to 35mm FF. However if one must go the 35mm digital route…..

  • Zlatko Batistich

    This is going to be an amazing lens!

  • Syuaip

    Reminds me that Photography is a ridicolous mega expensive hobby…

  • eric

    Yeah, thats true, but considering the nikon 50mm 1.4 is under $500, its a tough pill to swallow. Is it worth the extra $3500? For me, hell no.

  • Jeff

    Zeiss don’t make in Germany any more. They are made in japan

  • kassim

    If normal is 40-50 and portraiture is 85-130, then this should fall in between the two.

  • kassim

    Cinema people buy manual lens for 20k even. It’s not that they don’t have alternatives – like you said, Nikon sells for a lot cheaper – but maybe they just want the best, don’t need AF and most importantly, they have the money.

  • kassim

    It’s the `law of diminishing returns’.

  • kassim

    They should move to China. Maybe made in China Otus would costs less.

  • radiancedeluxe

    kudos to zeiss for continuing their legacy of excellence, even though this may be “just” be a MF lens (MF image circle) on a 35mm mount. bravo. this is a nice option for the Lloyd Chambers of this world, haha.

  • Peng Tuck Kwok

    Compared to a price of a Leica 50mm ?

  • sam

    Wonderful. Sharper boring photos.

  • David Vaughn

    Yeah, 1.2 lol. Sorry.

  • Matthew Palmer

    totally agree with you! I will be doing the same.

  • Yoda

    Not the most important thing, but what’s up with the outer “touit” looking design ? What happened to the old “german” look & feel ?

  • ride5000

    how about 33x better than a nifty fifty! ;)

  • madmax

    They are way overpriced Cosina lenses. I´d better go Leica instead.

  • madmax

    Made in Japan by Cosina.

  • faloc

    well its still German engineering, but I doubt its made in japan for that price.. usually its cheaper when it comes from japan.

  • Raul

    those ‘manual lenses’ for 20k have very different qualities to this lens… that aside hardly any glass I have ever used outperforms the 50mm 1.4 in IQ (you can pick your own flavour of either Canon or Nikon) why reinventing something awesome and making it absolutely unaffordable?

  • Raul

    The Noctulus is a 0.95…not many lenses in that category! That sort of justifies paying 11k a lot more then paying 4k for a 1.4…

  • Peng Tuck Kwok

    No what I meant was they are just following Leica’s philosophy more closely – @*#(!# the cost of the material just put it in

  • Azz

    Too long, too heavy, too pricey.
    The difference between this exceptional quality and the 50 mm 1.4 300$ nikkor is unsubstantial if you are after the image, not the pixel peeping.
    Yes, nice to have it, but no, not for 4k$.

  • Fed Up with weirdos like you

    not impressed at all with the images….Dear Zeiss…..please get real….I am very happy with my Canon L glass and my penis works just fine…I don’t need something like this dangling between my legs to “attempt” to show off to the one person out of 500 that might care. thank you very much

  • Fed Up with weirdos like you

    and another thing Zeiss……in the English language and at least in the United States….the name “Otus”…..does NOT create positive imagery….it’s a ‘untermenschen namen’

  • Polisonico

    Germany or Japan, it’s ZEISS they adds $3000 tot he price just because people will pay.

  • Polisonico

    cinema people make millions.