Screw Vision, Gimme Fast and Shiny!

In GEAR by David39 Comments

Ok, not really. I’ll take vision anyday over the shiny toys. It doesn’t always have to be one or the other, though. This is one of those rare posts that talks about gear and if you’re not ready to hear me geek-out, perhaps now is a good time to go read What The Duck or something.

I have been planning this for a while. Lacking a 50mm lens for a while I bought a Zeiss Planar 1.4/50 (HERE’s the lens on the B&H Site) It wasn’t a moment of weakness. But it could have been, this is a nice lens! Sharp and fast, no surprise there. But here’s the kicker. It’s a Nikon mount lens. I shoot Canon (for now). With a Novoflex EOS/NIK adapter (B&H Link HERE) I can put this on my Canon bodies just fine. So why then, would I pay for a lens I had to buy an additional (and, at almost $300, expensive) adapter for? Good question.

First, the Zeiss lenses are amazing. Beautifully built and with incredible optics, this is a no-compromise lens and the thought of buying Canon’s 50/1.2 just didn’t sit well with me for the money they cost (not that the Zeiss lenses are cheap but this one was just over $800CAD and the Canon L is $1800CAD). And did I mention how beautifully these are made? They feel like a lens should and are all metal – including the lens hoods.

Second, while Zeiss makes these lenses with a Canon mount, the Nikon F mount version has an aperture ring on the lens which the Canon version does not; so this is a step back to my old-school roots. I wanted an exceptional manual focus lens, and with a little digging around I discovered that the combo would give me both manual focus and manual aperture. Love it!

Third, as I look to the day when I will shoot both Canon and Nikon bodies, this allows me to begin building a collection of prime lenses – a 21, 50, and 85 – that I can use on both mounts. One day in the not-to-distant future I want to shoot both Nikon and Canon (another topic for another post) but for now I’m not keen to duplicate my lenses. However I also want a selection of good primes for travel and this will eventually let me invest in one set of glass I can use for both bodies. Until now I had no idea it could be done.

For many of you this won’t matter a bit, but if you’re looking for some of the best primes – and the Zeiss 21mm is arguably one of the best wide angles available – and want manual functions and brand-neutrality of some degree, this is an exciting option. Downsides? Well, it’s manual so the more I stop down the darker things get in that viewfinder. And there’s no EXIF data coming from the lens. And it’s manual so I’ll miss some shots while I re-acquire my manual-focus chops. But as part of the purpose of all this was to slow down a little, that’s a gain, not a loss. And with this Novoflex adapter, I can start borrowing older lenses from my unsuspecting Nikon friends. You hear that, Delnea? Yeah, I’m talking to you!

Now, I’m off to Italy to try this baby out. Remember, Vision is Better – but Gear is Good!


  1. Very interesting.

    I use gaffers tape to cover my logos on the camera as well. Have you wrapped one of your white Ls with it? I’ve been tempted . . .

  2. I feel so much better that someone else had the same idea as me to get the Zeiss in ZF mount for my Canon so I can jump ship back and forth to nikon and canon bodies but keep the same great lenses plus the aperture ring is a big seller and there is no 25mm for canon thanks for justifying my bad lens behavior.

  3. David
    Thanks for your thoughts. The manual focusing, non electronic (meaning we manually set the stop on the lens) adaptor on ebay is $45
    from Adorama,
    Part Number DL0628

    Now, follow up question. I want to make the Canon logo invisible on my body. Looking at your photo above, what do you find works the best to block the number/letter on the body? I’ve tried black electrical tape, not a great solution so far…

    VIB, GIG!

    Cheers, Mate!

  4. Author

    @Jim – Nope, no reason. The link is fine and my motives aren’t off at all – when I bought it it was the only adapter I was aware of. If you’ve got a line on one of decent quality for a better price, then please, by all means, share that link with my readers. But I share what I know and can’t possibly know it all, though it doesn’t stop me from trying? Where were you BEFORE I shelled out for the pricey one? πŸ™‚

  5. David
    Great Manual lens, and good idea, and have a wonderful Italy trip.
    Your link to an expensive B and H Novoflex adaptor, however, is a bit off. I agree with Rob Orensteen, the Nikon to Canon adaptors are available for around $30 from Hong Kong.
    Is there some reason the Novoflex NIK to Canon adaptor is better?

    Can’t wait for the next book. Cheers, mate.


  6. Regarding manual focus…I know that the 5DII has interchangeable focusing screens – Jeff Ascough (UK wedding photographer) has raved about how it makes it so much easier to focus manually.

  7. Slightly off the subject, but there are some good k-mount adapters for the Canons too. Now, it’s a little harder to find glass as good as that Zeiss Planar, but man there are some nice, affordable options out there in k-mount (the 28mm f/3.5 is a good start). Really, almost for pennies. And a nice side benefit is that, with manual focus and aperture on the lens, you can grab cheap extension tubes for extreme magnification levels. I have fun with old manual lenses, but it is a little more challenging. Enjoy…!

  8. I think you’re trying to have another sponsor: Nikon! πŸ™‚ Just kidding! πŸ™‚

  9. o dear – how my heart leaps for joy at a blog post title like this one… (must…..value……vision……. – now let me find those links to B&H)

  10. Can’t wait to see some shots from this lens! The occasional detour into the realm of gear and geekdom is fun. Thanks for sharing. I think your comment on using Nikon and Canon is a welcome and needed take on the topic. I think photographers definitely get too caught up in the brand and forget that what matters is the image. I currently own Nikon equipment but one of my best friends shoots Canon. We will occasionally switch gear or just borrow each other’s for different projects. It’s been a great way to be more familiar with what’s available and to concentrate more on the finished product. I still love my Nikon gear, but I’m growing to like his Canon stuff more each time I use it.

  11. nice – i’m all for slowing down the process. We gotta get you rockin’ the tilt/shift when you’re back! Enjoy your travels (easy on the gelato… i’m speaking from experience!)

  12. Ah – finally talking about Zeiss. last year I lucked into 4 Zeiss primes, 25 2.8, 50 1.4, 85 1.4 & 135 2.8, a Contax ETR body all for…$250.00. The only lens this guy really used was the 50.

    I got a cheap adapter from Gadget Infinity for $30.00 and was on my way giving the 30D all it can handle. I will probably invest in a better adapter from Steve Gandy or Novolo in the near future, but this one is getting me buy for now.

    As far as “boketh” on the 50 – it’s fine…not sure many would care if the picture is right anyway…

    I have been shooting these primes for a while and have been absolutely delighted with them…stopping down is no big deal – I count clicks to f8 when I need to – things go fast enough.

    How ever, gorgeous pictures and all, I am getting the Canon 85 1.8 for portrait work on location…AF is a big deal when shooting seniors and kids – you will get a few great captures that are slightly blurry with MF.

    If Canon shooters are interested, get the Contax mount Zeiss primes on eBay or KEH. The prices are cheaper than buying the new ZE mounts (which I eventually will, especially the 21 the DC talks about).

    My 2 cents.

  13. @David: thanks for explaining, now i understand πŸ™‚ otherwise there migth have been rumors on the net, that you cave in from your “don’t by any new gear”-standpoint, because of massive pressure from gear lobbyists and sponsors πŸ˜‰

  14. Hard to share your vision without gear eh? I think there’s a strength in having gear that’s better than you. Removes all the excuses….

    “Oh boy do I need to work on (insert vision bit here), cause that ugly shot wasn’t the camera’s fault…”

    PS 55? Are you kidding me?

  15. @David – yup, missed that. Was surreptitiously reading the blog while I was supposed to be working and I must have skipped it! πŸ˜‰

    Is it a “nostalgia”/muscle-memory thing for you, or is there some other advantage to being able to select your aperture directly on the lens as opposed to via the camera body?

  16. David, ah yes, the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4. I had my eye on it for a while last year and finally cowed in November to get the ZE. It’s so well built, has a very pleasing heft and solidity, and focusing is so smooth. The creaminess from it at or near wide open is just beautiful. For spring I have gone back to exclusively using this lens when out and about in NYC. I totally agree about slowing down and focusing on image construction. I am really enjoying it and a lot of my recent posts to our blog and flickr have been with this lens. It’s definitely making me a better photographer.

    I’m also curious as to whether you black out the details on all your bodies, such as above, and what you do about those instantly recognizable L lenses with their red stripe and grey bodies on the telephotos?

    Have a great trip! Looking forwrad to 50mm images form Italy!

  17. Author

    @Angelo – Hmm, someone didn’t read the post very carefully πŸ™‚ The Canon versions of this lens, to the best of my knowledge, don’t have the manual aperture ring that the F mount does.

    @Dean Forbes – right you are about this. The newer focus screens aren’t really made for manual focus. I think there are optional screens for many cameras, but you’re right about the weakness there, with or without 55-year old eyes.

  18. I was hot to trot for one of these lenses for my Nikon dSLR but after using a fine old manual-focus 50mm f1.4 Nikkor I realized that my 55-year-old eyes have difficulty discerning focus without using the focus-confirmation light in the viewfinder, especially when shooting wide open. I’m sticking with AF lenses.

  19. I rented the the Zeiss 85mm for the Canon a while back when I was comparing it to the Canon 85mm. The build was killer but I ended up sticking with the Canon…I guess I’m too lazy…the auto-focus sucked me in…;)

  20. @David I’m brand loyal due to lack of money – lol. I would love to be a double-system guy and I know one day it will be feasible.

    Great post.

  21. I was looking for a 50mm prime last month as well — my choices were between the Canon 50/1.4 (bad chromatic aberration, lousy AF implementation), the Sigma 50/1.4 (gorgeous bokeh, spotty quality-control), and the Zeiss 50/1.4 (precision mechanics and optics, unimpressive bokeh). I ended up with the Sigmalux and love it, but I came VERY close to going with the Zeiss!

    David, I have to ask — why not just get the native ZE Canon-mount version?

  22. Good on ya David, Zeiss lenses are sexy ! and then as you said, slowing down a bit is only a good thing. I am with you. Dario

  23. Author

    @ Torsten – Good questions. As I see it you’re asking one question in three forms, all of them could be re-stated as “What the hell, duChemin?!” πŸ™‚

    I’m interested in shooting with both Canon and Nikon for a few reasons. One is so I am familiar with both systems. I teach international workshops and right now when someone using Nikon has a question I just try to distract them and hope they forget what they wanted to ask. I use the words “hyperfocal distance” and “circle of confusion” a lot and eventually they give up and read their manual. That’s one reason.

    The other reason is curiosity. The tools we use to create affects the process by which we create, and the different cameras and sensors create different looks as well. I think too many photographers are brand-loyal to their own detriment. I want to be able to play with both.

    A third reason is simply the unexplainable allure of Nikon’s aesthetics and ergonomics. I just like Nikon. I used to shoot Nikon for a while when I shot film, and I always liked the feel of the cameras.

    None of these are reasons of necessity, my Canon gear is still doing what it’s meant to. But I think playing with new brushes sometimes changes how we paint, know what I mean?

  24. since this is turning into a gear-geek blog now … πŸ˜€ no, i’m just kidding.
    just one question david – what would be the advanteages of beeing able to shoot with canon and nikon bodies? what would be different than as if you chose one brand and stick with it? [ok, now it’s two questions πŸ˜‰ ]
    in my understanding they are both very great and differ on some minor level (speaking of results) – but to have both does not make so much sense to me. so for what reason would you want that? [sorry, nr. 3 πŸ™ ]

  25. Welcome back to the wonderful world of manual :D. Last year I sold almost all of my autofocus zoom lenses and returned to manual prime shooting and it was truly liberating. I think you will enjoy that lens, as I know I love mine. Sometimes its a bit tedious wide open, but makes up for everything when you get things right.


  26. I recently bought the Zeiss 35mm f2, and took it on a short trip to Lisbon where I shot it almost exclusively. On my return, when looking through the pictures, my girlfriend remarked she was amazed at how much my photography has improved lately. So yes, Vision is Better… but sometimes Buying New Gear Is Just What You Need πŸ˜€

    Have fun with your new toy David πŸ˜‰ You’ll love it I’m sure. I found manual focus to be a liberating experience. Focusing by eye gives you the ability to focus on a subject regardless of its position in the frame. No more “focus and recompose”!

  27. I have a Leica R f2 50mm that I use on my 5D MKII and love it ~ I agree with the “slowing down” aspect and it work well when I use the Canon to shoot some video…

  28. I am fortunate enough to have recently acquired the the Zeiss 21 and the 100, and love them both. They are built like tanks, and are such a joy to handle (not to mention the photo quality)! The 21/2.8 has a huge 82mm filter size (for better or worse). Diglloyd gives them high marks as well. I’m not so old school to get the ZF, so I happily got the ZE versions.

  29. So, David, are you saying Canon Gear is Good, Nikon Gear is Better? πŸ™‚

    Wandering & Wondering in Boston,

  30. Hi David,
    Welcome to the Dark side!
    Now that you got that adapter try some old primes, manual focus from Nikon, they are cheap and great. (BTW, these are excellent lenses for Video!! – I know it’s not your thing but…)
    I’d love the idea of shooting Canon and Nikon… to get the best of both worlds.

  31. I shoot with a Nikon (D700) and use older Nikkor MF primes frequently. The stellar lenses from bygone days have become affordable for “those who are only amateurs” πŸ™‚ Though I mainly use the D700 in combination with 24-70 and 70-300 zoom lenses, the relative number of “keepers” and “just a tad more special” photos coming from the use of primes is significantly higher. I am especially fond of the 20mm f/3.5 (decent quality, weighs next to nothing, very good for shooting into the sun), 28mm f/2 (sharp, sharper, sharpest! I use it mainly for night photography) and the 50mm f/1.2. MF lenses are just more fun to work with… πŸ™‚
    If you want to delve into today’s world of MF lens use, check out forums such as Fred Miranda, and

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.