Hands-on Test: Zeiss 15mm Distagon T* f/2.8 Lens

Weighing in at about 1.7 lbs, depending on mount, and at slightly over 5 in. long, the Distagon 15mm is a definite presence in your kit bag. Shown here mounted on a Canon 5D camera.

The new super wide angle Distagon T* f/2.8 15mm lens for Canon and Nikon mounts is neither lightweight nor inexpensive (1.6 lb for Nikon, 1.8 lb for Canon mount, $2950) but what you get from this manual focus lens is exceptional image quality and facility that is perhaps unmatched by any other lens in its focal length class. With a 95mm filter thread and integral and fully compatible lens shade, the lens offers an extraordinary 110-degree angle of view that is pleasure to work with on a wide variety of subjects. The fast f/2.8 aperture is matched on the narrow end by a minimum aperture of f/22, which at 15mm means there’s potential for extraordinary depth of field effects using the 10-inch closest focusing range. While decidedly not a portrait lens, the 15mm is ideal for landscape, street photography and creative advertising work, as well as architectural and urban photography, as I discovered in mybrief time working with it.

The 95mm filter thread takes standard filters, but you know they will not be inexpensive. There is no internal filter slot.

At 15mm and with a minimum aperture of f/22 deep depth of field effects can be dramatic. And at f/2.8 and with a nine-bladed diaphragm, out of focus areas in shallow depth of field shots will be very pleasing. Shown here is hyperfocal setting and potentialdepth of field at f/22, about 1.3 ft to infinity.

When working with a lens this wide you will naturally get some edge bending effects, although they can be controlled to an extent afterwards, which I did using Photoshop CS6 Beta manual controls. But when shooting dead center on an XY axis (in other words, not tilted one way or the other) distortion seems well controlled and in some cases I didn’t need to correct much, if any, at all.

When you tilt lens up you will necessarily get extreme fallback and edge distortion. But that’s fairly easy to correct if desired, as I did here using Photoshop CS6 Beta lens corrections.

The lens incorporates two aspheric lenses and special types of glass material with abnormal partial dispersion to minimize chromatic aberration, as well as a floating element design. While the photos I made at the WTC site late in the day had numerous severe reflections, they seemed well controlled and flare was less of a problem than I imagined it might be. Highlights that were out of the dynamic range of Canon 5D I mounted the lens on were easily controlled in ACR touchup. According to the company, this was thanks to the Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating and the treatment of the lens element edges with special light absorbing paint.

The lens is especially made to cut down on distortion at the edges, but you can only achieve that if you center the subject right at the axis of the composition, as I did here for this photo of the World Trade Center Memorial site. The sun was low and the light was hard, but flare was kept at a minimum thanks to the special lens coating used. The exposure range was beyond the dynamic range capability of the 5D, but you can still see some detail in the high glare spots on the buildings, thanks to slight retouch in ACR.

Operation of the lens was smooth and flawless and manual focusing was “buttery but firm”, as you might expect, and contrast was extremely crisp. There’s a long focus rotation that allows for critical working, and while I shot mostly at f/8 and narrower, I am told that the nine blade aperture provides a nearly circular opening, producing natural looking out of focus details.

As mentioned, the lens shade is integral, which helps protect the large and heavy lens from handling mishaps. And while the filter thread is a very large 95mm (no internal filter slots) one can use standard filters, including the recently released Carl Zeiss T* UV and POL filters.

Images are crisp and very sharp, with excellent contrast, as shown here in this takeout of a detail of Washington Square arch. Every line and even the stone’s texture is clear.

While the price of the lens might seem intimidating, think of it as an investment in glass that will serve you well for many years to come. Those who can make good use of it will come to appreciate its qualities.

Photos by George Schaub


Focal length: 15 mm

Aperture range: f/2.8 -22

Elements/groups: 15/12

Focusing range: 10 inches – infinity

Image ratio at close range: 1:9 (close-up)

Filter thread: 95mm

Mounts: Nikon (ZF.2) Canon (ZE)

Suggested price: $2950

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