Zeiss ZV Lenses For Hasselblad; Classics In The Modern Age Page 2

Even so, all three are incredibly sharp and contrasty, with excellent illumination and minimal distortion. The figures given below are taken by eye from published Zeiss charts, and always sound worse than they are: plenty of good lenses would have figures twice as bad, or worse.

Castillo de Javier, Navarre. For me, the Hasselblad is a black and white camera par excellence, an almost perfect blend of convenience, tonality, sharpness, and overall quality. The only alternatives delivering similar quality are even more expensive: "baby" Linhofs and, for wide angles, Alpas. (Ilford HP5 Plus printed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone; 120mm Makro-Planar.)

Evenness of illumination is predictably worst with the widest angle, the 50mm Distagon: about a couple of stops at the very corners at full aperture. By f/8 with the same lens, a typical MF shooting aperture, it's only about one stop at the corners and at the edges of the frame (the straight sides) it's only about half a stop. With the 120mm Makro-Planar it's about a stop at f/4 and maybe 1/4 stop at f/8 (corner values: edges, 2/3 stop at f/4 and 1/10 stop at f/8). With the 180mm Sonnar it's under a stop at f/4 and about 1/3 stop at f/8 (corner values: edges, 2/3 stop at f/4 and maybe 1/10 stop at f/8).

As for distortion, you need to distinguish between the edges of the frame (about 28mm out from the center), where straight lines may bow inward (pincushion) or outward (barrel), and the corners, where distortion is effectively invisible anyway. Percentage distortion for the three lenses, edge/corner, is as follows: 50mm Distagon (barrel), about 1.5/1.0 (yes, it's less at the corners); 120mm Makro-Planar (barrel), <0.1/0.2; 180mm Sonnar (pincushion), 0.6/1.2. Even 1 percent distortion is trivial and rarely perceptible; under 1 percent is negligible, and the Makro-Planar is justly regarded by many as a reference point for distortion and illumination.

The 180mm Sonnar is perfect for picking out details (the lamp and chimney, which has been cropped on the right) while the 50mm Distagon allows you to incorporate plenty of context even when shooting from close up (the water trough, all in). All three lenses are of course perfectly matched for color and in all other respects; only through perspective can you easily tell them apart.

The Distagon is nine glasses in eight groups, retrofocus-type; the Makro-Planar is six glasses in four groups, a symmetrical derivative; and the Sonnar, although misleadingly described as a "high-performance telephoto" by Zeiss themselves, is in fact like all Sonnars a Cooke Triplet derivative, non-telephoto, with five glasses in four groups. All surfaces are common curves (no aspherics) and all are T* coated, Zeiss' standard and (like everything Zeiss) as good as the very best.

Zeiss reckoned that very few photographers would miss the floating element control on the 50mm, and they are probably right: certainly, the differences are pretty minor in most pictures, and when I have used manually adjusted floating element lenses, I know that I have neglected to set the floating element as often as not. Maybe this makes me sloppy, but I know full well that I am not alone among professional photographers in this.

I shot a fair amount of color for the purposes of the test (Fuji Velvia 100 home-processed in Tetenal chemistry using a JOBO CPE-2), and although the results were very good, I have to admit that for me, the true appeal of these lenses is for black and white where they have "sparkle." "Sparkle" is easier to see than to describe, but according to research by both Ilford and Zeiss it corresponds to a very high MTF at relatively low frequencies. Probably the best "sparkle" would have been with Delta 100 but I prefer the tonality of HP5 Plus so that's what I mostly used.

Technical Specifications
Focal Length
Aperture Range
(1/2 Stop Rests)
Closest Focus
Image Ratio
At Closest Focus
Area Covered
At Closest Focus
Angle Of View In Degrees (Diagonal/Horizontal)
Filter Thread
Lens Shade Fitting
60 bay.
60 bay.
60 bay.
27.9 oz
31.4 oz
39.8 oz
Dimensions (mm) (Diameter/Length)
Dimensions (Inches) (Diameter/Length)
Recommended Prices

The real question is, why do these lenses exist? Well, Imacon/Hasselblad seems to see classic Hasselblads ("V-series") as belonging to the past rather than the future. They survive on a mixture of sentiment, marketing, and just-strong-enough sales to keep them afloat. On the used market, they are available in vast numbers, and can be kept in service virtually forever with a minimum of maintenance: there's not much to go wrong, after all, in either a 500-series body or back. Most of the engineering is in the lens, which is presumably why Zeiss considers the Classic series worthwhile. But why buy a new ZV-series lens when there are plenty of older, used lenses on the market?

There's a strong clue in the question itself: the single word "new." These are new lenses from one of the finest manufacturers in the world; many would say, the finest bar none, though there are a very few others in the same class. Apart from the 80mm Planar they are probably the three most iconic lenses, too, built to the highest mechanical and optical standards. Most importantly, you know what you are getting when you buy new: you don't know how often a secondhand lens has been dropped or repaired, how much wear it has had, and so forth. If you can't afford new--and new at Zeiss prices will never be cheap--then by all means buy used; but if you can afford it, new makes sense.

Zeiss lenses are imported by Carl Zeiss MicroImaging, Inc., One Zeiss Dr., Thornwood, NY 10594; (800) 543-1033; www.zeiss.com.