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Advice needed on Zeiss Distagon 28/2.8


Hi fellow Contax users,

I am thinking of getting the above mentioned lens as compared to the 21mm one. May I know what are the significant differences between these 2 that justify the price for the 21mm? Thanks.


Well-Known Member
Good question, Chyeo.

One year ago, my daily system was Canon and my camera, the D30 DSLR. Then, I noticed the best scores from were coming from Contax, especially for WA lenses (my fav). After perusing MTF data from Zeiss, I decided the Distagon 21 needed some serious, personal inspection. So I bought one, and an RTS III. Now the D30 collects dust.

It's an awesome piece of glass that can make a hardened digital shooter go back to 135 film so, yes, the D21 price is justified. Technically, it outperforms the D28/2.8 while offering a substantially wider view - impressive optical feat. The D28 has a little CA, while the D21 has essentially none. Both are equally sharp in the center, but the D21 is sharper in the corners. D21 has internal focus (very nice).

The D21 is much less attractive in terms of price, weight, and length. The D28 balances on the Aria. The D21 is long and deceptively heavy, calling for a heftier body.

If you can afford the D21, then also pick up the D28: there is useful difference in coverage. The D28 is part of my travel kit.


Hi Rico,

thanks for the input. I was too using D30 and EOS 3 before I was captivated by the quality that CZ lenses produce. Now my D30 is in a similar state as yours, collecting dust.

I am using S2, so the D21 would seem rather unbalanced in terms of weight. Is the weight suitable for travel?

Also, how is the distortion in both the D28 and D21?



The D21 is definitely the *best* wideangle in the world for 35mm. It's contrast, sharpness and colorbalance and the nearly complete lack of distortion and vignetting (apart from the natural light fallof ALL lenses have due to the inherit Design) are simply stunning. Definitely no comparison to the 2,8/28

IMHO the Lens is much better than the famous 1,4/85 and in some aspects even than the 1,4/50.

It's quite bulky and heavy so it's not for light travelling. And you are right, it doesn't balance nicely with the S2. But SLRs are after all not at all for light travelling. For this you probably use a G2 with appropriate (and similarly good) lenses.



Well-Known Member
Every C/Y Distagon has about 2% linear distortion: a CZ design parameter, I guess. The D21 has the slightly worse "gull wing" variant but, in any case, it's far better than a zoom! For exacting architecture shots, the Biogon is a better choice overall.

I certainly pack the D21 for specific outings but, as Mike said, it's not for light travelling. In contrast, the D28/2.8 is an ideal tourist lens and produces a fine image.


Hmm seems like D28 should suit me better than the D21, in the case of travelling. Thanks mates, will be getting the D28 soon before my trip.


> > =20 > For traveling light with 21mm and Contax SLR I recommend Yashica 21 ML 3.= 5. It's not so much larger than D28 and still gives excellent results - b= ut I haven't compare it with D21
It's not so easy to find, but much ch= eaper (I bought mine for about 120$) That's my perfect travel combination= : taht 21, D28 and Planar 85.



There is another advantage to D28 that is actually quite obvious, but nobody mentioned it. It uses the same filter size as Sonnar 85mm f/2.8 and Planar 50mm f/1.4 - 55mm size. With D28 you can have a pretty substantial number of filters to use interchangeably between all these lenses without making a hole in your pocket. Or you can even have a collection of 67mm filters (thus fitting your P85mm f/1.4) and 55mm-to-67mm step-up adapter ring.

D21 uses 82mm size filter and due to simple fact that it's practically a "super" wide angle it also means that it might be necessary to use thin filters without outer rim (I'm not actually absolutely sure about this, but at 21mm I would imagine that will be a factor possibly resulting in vignetting). Combined with its sheer size, it means that you will have to make quite an investment if you intend to use numerous filters to achieve certain effects (say you're into B&W photography and want to have red, green and orange filters; or need color conversion filters)

To give you some idea, here are some prices I took from B&H site.

B+W LightRed (090) 82mm "slim" filter is listed at B&H for $98.50. Non-slim version of it is $61.75 and similar Contax filter is $69.95. Compare it to B+W 55mm Light Red 090 for $29.95

So, take this and what other people have said into account before you commit some money to it. D21 is definitely a good lens, but overall cost of ownership is way higher than D28.



Chyeo. I too have thought much over this matter. For what its worth, here are my conclusions.

1. D28 is about 4~6 times cheaper than the D21. Depending on where you buy.
2. Performance of the D28 is close, but not as good as the D21. But still head and shoulders above the rest of them. (Rico, Michael)
3. D28 much lighter and smaller. (Rico, Michael)
4. Smaller fitlers. (Mike)

From the above assumptions, I have decided to get the D28. I will put it through much of normal use, and if I still need to go wider, then there is no other solution then the D21 or even the D18. Regardless, the US$300 or so (from BH, Adorama etc..) for a top quality Zeiss lens is peanuts. If you decide that you really need something wider or narrower (that is, you find the D28 in no-man's land), then you can sell it, or keep it as a back up lens. Because of its relatively low price, you are not holding onto something really expensive that doesn't get used. Hope that helps you.


As a neophyte Contaxian, I have just bought the 28/2.8 lens to use along with the 50/1.4. I would like to state as an aside that I am in the process of up-grading AND down-sizing because of my poor economic standing here in the USA. Thus, I have traded-in some of my Canon EOS equipment and would like to concentrate on a modest kit of a Contax body and a few single-focal-length lenses.

I am a little disturbed by the “perspective distortion” exhibited by the 28/2.8 as compared with two Canon zoom lenses. I owned the 28-70 L f2.8 EOS lens for two years and remember well what I saw through the viewfinder at 28 mm; and yesterday I compared side-by-side the view through a 28-135 (IS) EOS zoom and the Distagon 28. Looking through the viewfinder of each camera and panning horizontally back and forth, the degree to which the walls in our living room “warp” is much greater with the Distagon. Even my wife, who is thankfully much less worrisome than me, can see how the Distagon “bends” objects more radically, or perhaps more unevenly, than does the 28-135 EOS zoom set to 28 mm.

I know that this kind of phenomenon is natural with wide-angle lenses, but, after having studied all of the posts here on the Zeiss 18-, 21-, 25-, and 28-mm lenses, I did not anticipate such a pronounced effect in the 28/2.8. I apologize for my technical ignorance. Can anyone comment on why this effect is so strong in what ought to be, I assume, a lens that is superior to the EOS 28-135 (IS) zoom lens?


Well-Known Member

I have the Distagon 28/2.8 and the Canon EF 28/2.8 primes: you can be confident the wide-angle distortion will be identical on the image plane. If you perceive a difference through the Canon viewfinder with the EF 28-135, bear in mind two possible causes: crappy Canon viewfinder optics, and barrel distortion of the (non L) zoom.

For interiors like dining rooms, I consider the 28mm focal length a necessary evil: necessary because it has the coverage, and evil because the linear distortion is inescapable. I shoot a lot in this setting and much prefer the kinder effects of a full-frame fisheye on a DSLR (complete with 1.6X sensor crop). For film, Pentax offers the unique zoom fisheye - brilliant idea!


Well-Known Member
Hi Leon, as you may have found out here the D28 is really more a 27mm lens and most= 28-xx Zoom lenses are more a 29mmlens. The shorter the more distortion ma= y be one reason. The other may be the viewfinder. Don't expect a viewfinder to have zero di= stortion!

I have tried many lenses, primes and zoom-lenses, Canon, Pentax, Contax, R= ollei (and Tokina, Vivitar, Sigma, Tamron) but the D28 is the best 28mm le= ns I ever used!

Enjoy it !



Well-Known Member

The D28/2.8 is actually 28.5mm according to Zeiss specifications on the Web. However, I believe you have correctly identified Leon's problem: the Canon zoom must be significantly longer than 28.5mm. I once read the international standard for labeling lenses in the matter of focal length and aperture. The degree of permissible slop is fairly shocking.

For such performance at a low price, I consider the D28 a must-buy!


Well-Known Member

the D2.8/28 is THE lens that brought me to the Contax-System : Incredible results.

I read somewhere that some of the 28-nn-zoom lenses are 30mm lenses in reality ! Even the 28mm primes are differing up to 28,9mm and f-stop 2.8 is actually up to 2.98.

When the coating is not as good as the Zeiss or Pentax than the loss of light will add some percent so that you get quite a difference when you're measuring with an external light meter and set everything manually....

I have used several SLR-systems, AF and MF but my last holidays I only took the Contax with some primes with me - and I#m glad I did so ! Paul


Thank you, Rico and Paul, for your all of ideas, suggestions, and reassurances about the high quality of this Zeiss lens. I had not considered any distortion that would be added or subtracted by the viewfinder's optics. I am satisfied with my new purchase.

Just to double-check things, tonight I got out my wife's (a) Canon Elan II with her EF 28-135 lens set to 28 and my (b) EOS-3 with my 28-135 set to 28 and compared these with my (c) Aria and the Distagon 28/2.8 in our living room, which is one location where the lens will be used.

The coverage of the three is roughly the same (close enough for me).

The Canon setups still "spread" objects that occupy the outer 25% of right and left sides much LESS than does the Aria + D28. I may take comparative photos to test this effect, to prove to myself that this "spread," or lack of it, results from the viewfinder's optical system. Nonetheless, I do believe you when you state that this lens is a tremendous value for the cost and I appreciate your sharing the conclusions from your extensive experience with me.

I routinely keep people's heads away from the edges when using wide-angle lenses. Rico, because you love wide-angle lenses, you must be quite expert at this!


Well-Known Member
I'm not an regular user of wide-angle lenses, but i do have a related experience to share.

I bought a Mamiya 6, medium format rangefinder camera about a year ago. I subsequently acquired a 50mm lens for it, which, with the 6x6 format, equated to somewhere near a 35mm camera's 28mm focal length. This lens is know for its lack of distortion, and compares favourably (some say superiour) to the Hasselblad 50mm....

I tested it by shooting the New York skyline from my window, and the results shocked me. There was an obvious, significant amount of 'convergence' where i expected none. I compared the negs/scan to the same shot from a digicam, and the differences were further exaggerated. The digicam (G2/Digilux1) showed an extremely flat field of view, but the Mamiya showed that the outer edges 'caved-in' toward the top middle of the picture. It wasn't like a carnival mirror effect, but it was distortion nonetheless.

It was a new lens, so i called the dealer and returned it. They exchanged it with another (also used) lens, and i tested it in the same manner. The problem disappeared.

Long story (sorry) for a small payoff, but i learned something about lenses. Even though the first lens was pristine and looked perfect in all respects, there may have been something wrong internally. Perhaps an inner element was misaligned? I dunno, as i try not to involve myself too much with the truly technical details (optical engineering?).... So, whatever - what i'm trying to say is that you may simply have a bad s&le.

You do have to be sure to maintain a level/flat perspective when using very wide lenses, to minimize/eliminate distortion, but if you've taken all precautions and the other lenses tested were used under the same conditions - well, perhaps it is just this particular lens that is the culprit.

Hope you have a way of exchanging it or acquiring another s&le to compare. Good luck.


Well-Known Member
Jeez, Louise. I shoulda proofread that last post.

1. "This lens is KNOWN for its lack of distortion."
2. The Mamiya lens i was using was a Used lens, but was New to me at the time. Since i had just received it from the dealer, i was able to return/exchange it without any problems.


Derek, many thanks for your contribution to my concerns. Unfortunately, the thought of having a substandard specimen that passed Zeiss Quality Control is distressing. The reason I am turning to Zeiss results from my 2001 purchase of a 70-200 IS f2.8L lens from Canon that repeatedly malfunctioned even after several repair attempts by Canon Factory Service in Illinois and Pro Serv. in New Jersey (a long story). Canon lenses come with service warranty, not a REPLACEMENT warranty.

I am not referring to barrel distortion. I would be very grateful if others could compare their Distagon 28/2.8 as have I and report whether this spread is "normal."

In my living room test at home, I hold the camera so that a decorative vertical support column (~30 cm, or 1 foot, wide), that is ~3 m away, occupies the rightmost (or left) ~25% of the viewfinder. With the Zeiss 28, it is much WIDER than with either of the two Canon EF 28-135 lenses we own, set at 28 mm.

I have only one Contax body to test, the Aria. I bought the Aria new from B&H last month and the 28 new from B&H last week.

So my carnival mirror effect is either from the Aria viewfinder or the D28?


> Without being a pro, I personally own and use the Distagon 28/2.8. However, because of space & weight concerns, I thought about zooms and especially about the recent 28-70. I know that it is ranked not as good a= s the 28-85 or the 35-70, it has a variable aperture etc., but I actually tested it last year comparing it to my 28/2.8 and 50/1.4 primes (i couldn= 't do any other comparisons not owning any Zeiss zoom!). I also shot at 35 m= m. For all focals I shot at f3.5 (actually f4 as declared by Zeiss, either a= t 28 or 50 mm! See MTF at and f8 on the zoom (roughly correspondi= ng to f8 at 28 mm and f9 at 50 mm). "Test pictures" were shot with Kodak Ektachrome 100 professional. Well, results quite astonished me! For the following reasons: - First. 28 mm on the VS 28-70 gives a wider angle: Zeiss declares 77° = and 28 mm focal, but 77° is actually 26.5 - 27 and the D28/2.8 is declared = to be 28.5 mm with an angle of 74-75°. The wider angle difference is VERY wel= l visible. However: distortion is more visible at the widest angle. It woul= d be interesting to compared the distortion reducing just a little the angl= e in order to have the SAME shot as the D28: I guess the D28 would still be better. BUT: at 35 mm distortion is very slight, probably less than the prime D35/2.8. - Second. Contrast is much more "brilliant" (more "Sonnar"!) on the VS 28-70, especially if compared to the P50 rather than to the D28. The VS 28-70 actually "looks somewhat sharper" in the final result. Colors also = are very saturated, similar to the D28. Some have defined this lens an "APO Vario-Sonnar". Other pros: reduced flare compared to VS 28-85 (but perhap= s not to the D28). In conclusion the VS 28-70 is a light-weighted very good lens, BUT I have= n't yet bought one because ... G2 + VS 35-70 + B 21 is certainly even better, and 21 mm is not 27 mm!



you posted your original question on November 11. Now it's November 14 (where I live) and I'm surprised that you haven't shot at least one roll of film with the D28 in order to prove whether the distortion is an issue for you or not. Here in Hong Kong I can buy a camera or lens in a shop and finish shooting at least one roll of film by the time I get home from the shop, and then put the film in to a minilab near my home and have the prints in my hand one hour later.

With all due respect, the opinions given in response to your question are no substitute for just shooting a roll of film. Are you nowhere near a minilab?

Kind Regards,