So for the first blog of 2013 lets go back to October 2012 – we were off to Namibia it was booked. I anticipated lots of great landscape photographs (boy did we find them) and whilst I had two D7000’s following the Botswana trip I was not really happy with my 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX NIKKOR plus I felt it was time to make a leap to full frame. The Nikon D800 was getting great reviews and holding the camera it felt great plus it didn’t have the D7000 left hand mode dial which I find is always changing when knocked (silly issue I know).

What to get with a D800?

Well I took a few test shots and then did some timings on the laptop for both load and Lightroom processing … and I bought a new Macbook Pro 15” Retina Display 2.6GHz with SSD and 16Gb RAM … on this machine one image takes 23 seconds into Lightroom through Ingestamatic onto the SSD and backed up to USB 3.0 external drive (this is the fastest procedure by x3!) … on the old machine (well specified Samsung 9 series) forget it. Also you don’t have wait a whole year to zoom in on an image in Lightroom to check on sharpness. Since I got back LR4.3 came out with Retina support.

The next was which wide angle lens so the choice seemed to be the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR (see Ken Rockwell) I was put off the 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR due to it’s lack of ability to put on filters (at least not without an expensive approach) and the weight. However at the time there was no stock in the UK and so I kept reading. I came across Lloyd Chambers site and walked into the Zeiss world. His reviews sold me on the Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2 - a description from the Zeiss site …

The Distagon T* 2,8/21 is a super wide-angle lens and is the leader in its range. Thanks to its aperture of 2.8 and its non-reflecting and virtually distortion-free characteristics, it will help you create spectacular compositions full of variety, dramatic contrast and deep, vivid colours.

… it’s all true. Also I found Robert White their usual helpful self and got both the Zeiss and D800 from them in a few days.

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/5.6 1.0sec

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/5.6 1.0sec

Within a couple of days I was up early and off to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle then onto Hexham fireworks and then up early again for sunrise at Bamburgh Castle (see more images in the Northumberland Gallery).

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/8.0

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/8.0

I was amazed. I also could not see any diffraction issues that Lloyd Chambers talks about (in more depth here), however I mostly used f/5.6 and occasionally used f/8.0 and f/11.0 – jumping ahead of myself – with more experience I have in general rarely stopped down more than f/8.0 and use f/5.6 especially if focus is 5m or more. Actually whilst discussing this I mostly focus on infinity and nudge it back so the edge of the ∞ is inside the Infrared mark at f/5.6 everything from just under 3m to infinity is in focus (plus at f/2.8 infinity is in focus – so always a safe spot). If I am looking for foreground focus I get my composition right and use liveview to focus then decide if I want infinity in focus – at 2m at f/11 it is – so it’s only under 2m there is any issue and to be honest it’s nice to have the background out of focus.

Focal plane 40cm @ f/2.8

Focal plane 40cm @ f/2.8

The manual focus felt a real backward step – it is not – it such a great feeling to be back in charge of focus and to think again. In addition I had forgotten what it felt like as these auto-focus lens have such small “throws” the Zeiss is so perfectly balanced you can easily focus down to 22cm (which is only about 3cm in front of the lens hood).

So back to the timeline, I took over 1,200 landscape images with the Zeiss 21 and D800 in Namibia the percentage wastage was staggering small at 5% compared to 50% on wildlife using AF.

What are the highlights of the Zeiss Distagon 21mm and D800 combination?

  • It is a very easy combination to use in the field you can “feel” where you are with focus even if your eyesight is declining (though I need liveview for foreground focus)
  • The micro-contrast and colours are amazing
  • The lens is so sharp
  • The moustache distortion is visible, but rarely meaningful in a distracting way, and it can be removed easily in Lightroom but I don’t remove it! I used to with the Nikon 16-85 but the image doesn’t feel as good to me – I think the micro-contrast is disturbed by the algorithm?
Uncorrected distortion (Image A)

Uncorrected distortion (Image A)

Corrected distortion (Image B)

Corrected distortion (Image B)

I would be surprised if you can see much distortion (until you flick between them on the lightbox) it was the worse image I could find and needs a human artefact - however you can how see the effect of Lightroom’s correction if you look closely at the foreground plus the nice vignette goes
  • I really like the natural vignette at f/2.8 plus also the colour seems somehow a little richer
  • I have mostly stopped using graduated ND filters – what? – yup 14 stops of contrast in the D800 (i.e. local contrast/tonal differentiation) means that you can pull and push with minimal noise. Of course it’s nice to Expose to the Right (ETTR) to ensure you can pull without noise – of interest the “blinkie’s” on the D800 do exaggerate a little and can be pushed – but don’t rely on it and blame me ;-)
RAW Unadjusted (Image C)

RAW Unadjusted (Image C)

Adjusted (Image D)

Adjusted (Image D)

Adjustment to RAW: Graduated filter (with Highlight -60) then global Curves; Highlight -60; Shadows +60; Sharpening +60; Contrast +8; Clarity +12 – very slight noise can seen in the sky which can corrected with Luminance smoothing +24

 

What are the lowlights of the Zeiss Distagon 21mm and D800 combination?

  • 21mm is a big field of view and in Namibia I felt I occasionally needed something between my AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G and the 21mm (Oooo that’ll be the Distagon T* 2/35 … the f/1.4 is massive) but overall with 36Megapixels you can also crop!
  • The price was double the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR

You might wish to see my other blogs on Namibia, my blog on Safari photography and my galleries African wildlife plus importantly Namibian Landscapes.

Current Zeiss 21mm photos on my flickr

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One Response to "Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2 on a Nikon D800 for Landscape Photography"

  1. Samuel M. (Pete) Purvis III

    Wednesday, 1 October 2014 Reply

    Great stuff!

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