What's Sharper at f8? Zeiss 45mm Planar or Nikon 50mm f18


Well-Known Member
Close call after what I just saw. The $99 Nikon lens is like a razor at f/8. Looks as sharp as my Planar does at the same f stop. Maybe even better?



According to Photodo testing. The two lenses are quite equal in contrast (0.91 vs 0.93), but Contax wins in the resolving power (0.62 vs 0.70). The sharpness is somehow subject to individual preference or eyesight. I personallly do not believe there is much difference between the two except for those subjective feeling's. Who can tell with normal bare eyes the 10, 20 or even 40 line pairs per millimeter? Who even cares the difference down to micrometers for circle of confusion if he is not to enlarge a half wall print?

I once made an 12" by 18" enlargement with Fuji Reala (claimed the finest negative) taken with Planar 45 with tripod in good light. You guest what? I need 'interpolation' (of the laser printer from the lab) to keep the color saturated. From this, I learn that use the right tools to do the right things. Don't go into the extreme!

Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8 Effective focal length: 51 Weighted MTF for 50 mm: f1,8 0,62, f2,8 0,78, f4 0,83, f8 0,86 Average Weighted MTF: 0,85 Grade: 4,4 Weighted MTF 10 lp/mm: 0,91 Weighted MTF 20 lp/mm: 0,82 Weighted MTF 40 lp/mm: 0,62

Contax Planar 45mm f/2.0 Effective focal length: 47 Weighted MTF for 45 mm: f2 0,71, f2,8 0,83, f4 0,88, f8 0,87 Average Weighted MTF: 0,87 Grade: 4,7 Weighted MTF 10 lp/mm: 0,93 Weighted MTF 20 lp/mm: 0,85 Weighted MTF 40 lp/mm: 0,70


New Member
I own both lenses, the Nikon simply is no match for the Planar, period. It's quite sharp but the end result is not pleasing at all like the Zeiss. Call it bokeh or whatever.
>>Close call after what I just saw. The $99 Nikon lens is like a razor at f/8. Looks as sharp as my Planar does at the same f stop. Maybe even better?<<

With all due respect, this is a silly comparison...I see inexperienced photographers do this all the time (and I was there once), compare a bunch of lenses' specs at f8, photograph a bunch of brick walls, and assume they get by fine using a zoom at f8 or f11 and not have to even sniff at a prime lens.

If all you're looking for is sharp brick walls, then great, use that Russian zoom or that sub $100 prime you picked up on eBay...but really, there are many more factors that make up an aesthetically pleasing image than sharpness and the results of resolution tests, as most people on this forum know.

I'm all for using a variety of interesting tools to make interesting pictures, including pinhole and plastic cameras that are worlds away from pricey Zeiss lenses. But I have to say that having used the both Nikon 50mm lenses and the 45mm f2 Planar, there is simply no comparison. Bokeh, microcontrast, tonality, whatever buzzwords you want to use, the Planar totally destroys just about every Nikon prime in existence, certainly for the kinds of pictures I like to take.


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Hello, are we not comparing a rangefinder lens to an SLR lens? There's NO COMPARISON. As a matter of fact, the Planar 45mm 2.0 is sharper than the Hasselblad Zeiss 80mm planar in LPPM. The Rangefinder lens will win every time due to the optical purity of not having to design around a mirror box. In addition, the Planar 50mm f/1.4 (SLR) is still sharper than the Nikkor or Cannon or the Leitz. Pop photogaraphy did a test some years ago and the Zeiss was the overall winner. LPPM is the standard and the only lens that surpasses the Planar is the Makro Planar, of course.


>=20 >=20 >=20 > I think it is generally true that a lens design for range finder system i= s > easier to design and usually better than the lens of same focal range for= SLR > but not always. In some Leica literature they did mention some R lenses > outperform the M lenses of same or similar focal range. It is depending = on > the actual optical design, technology able to be implemented at the time = the > lens is designed or made or the development of optical glass. Brgds/kais= ern >=20 >=20


I have and use both the Planar 45mm f/2 and the Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8. The Nikkor is one of the best lenses from Nikon, but the problem is that the Planar is the definition itself of "the normal lens". Plato would define it "the ideal normal lens"

Cheers, L. Argüelles


I just got a wonderful 12" x 18" enlargment from the Planar, with that kind of medium-format-like tonality and microcontrast. I start wondering if it is the magic of the lens, or the magic of the digital printer like David said ?


Let me tell you my gut feeling: I want to put that Planar on a digital body such as a Nikon D100, or better still, Contax just makes us a digital G3, although that's the most unlikely to happen...

As it now is, doesn't the $99 Nikkor look not so bad ? As great as the 45/2 Planar might be, it is stuck in the film era.

You must understand the design philosophy of Nikkor and Carl Zeiss. Nikon's philosophy is to make the best camera for the photojournalist. So their lenses are optimized for wide open performance and extreme contrast. Get that shot, and make it look good in the news. Bokeh is not high on a photojournalist's priority list, although a handful of Nikkors have great bokeh. Others are awful. Nikon evolved with age but to this day you can still see their philosophy is well and alive. If you are not doing something similar to a photojournalist, there is no point of using anything Nikon. After all, it is just matching the right tool to the right photographer !


Posted by Bobby Tong (Cyberstudio) on Friday, December 12, 2003 - 7:00 pm:

>>I just got a wonderful 12" x 18" enlargement from the Planar, with that kind of medium-format-like tonality and microcontrast. I start wondering if it is the magic of the lens, or the magic of the digital printer like David said ?

That's a scary thing to think about. 12x18" is almost certain to have come from a digital minilab or possibly a Sienna. Either way, it's doubtful that such a print would give you much of an indication of the true quality of any camera lens. A Sienna printer has a maximum true optical resolution of 300lpi and is a CRT / fibre optic exposure engine. Though it can be pleasant, it isn't considered to be the sharpest digital printer. We've had one for a few years. Current minilabs have a few different technologies, with laser being the most common. The AGFA D-lab is probably the highest resolution printer of the bunch, printing interpolated files at 400dpi, BUT almost all of these labs scan a maximum of 2000x3000 line file. Bottom line is, you're getting a 12x18" print that is really 166 dpi max without any cropping, and lower if cropped. The machines are programmed to certain sharpness levels and colour responses, usually not accurate but "entertaining" to the human eye. They are edging away from being real and are interpretations for the most part. Consider another factor. If the machine is giving us programmed profiles for colours etc. what are the chances of realizing the true "character" of any film? Will we truly be able to realize the difference and true character of XPS, or NPS, or Portra film if the printer is programmed to respond to certain criteria etc., in other words, putting it's own "spin" to the image?

I shot a roll of Agfa Ultra in Vegas and had it processed at PMA in March. I had the same negatives run on the Agfa D-Lab and a Noritsu printer to 12x18's. If you studied the prints there were disturbing differences in the colour palette and the sharpness had a different look from both labs. I then took the negs and printed 8x12's on my Agfa MSC 101 upon my return. Surprise!! They looked totally different and frankly considerably more pleasing, deeper looking and better detail. The digital prints are puzzling because they appear sharp, but lack detail which pretty much sounds like a contradiction. There just seems to be information missing from the print.

A similar scenario played itself out this week. I got a visit for a minilab service tech who was in town on a service call. He showed me 12x18's done on the minilab that were scanned from 6x7 negs. This is where the real crying shame comes in. Again, the maximum scan is 2000x 3000 lines because of the CCD design. This means you'll get the same resolution from 35mm or 6x7. It's obvious that a lot of info isn't being captured especially in the larger format negative. He was quite taken back when I showed him a true optical print done on our Devere enlarger with Rodagon lenses. The print was 24x30 from Optima 400 on 6x4.5 format. The optical print exhibited a considerably higher fidelity in sharpness, detail, shadow detail, accuracy and most importantly depth. Smoothly descending shadow detail is still quite a challenge in the digital arena. That's probably the largest obstacle to matching a good optical print.

So it all gets pretty messy in the new arena and chances are what you see in print isn't really what's on the negative. If that's the case, then a great camera lens vs. a good one really won't matter a whole hell of a lot. If however, you really want to put lenses to the test, you're going to see a whole lot more by shooting chromes and / or real B&W film and processed at good labs. You might even enjoy the experience. :) I won't be decommissioning my enlargers any time soon. I'm too stupid. I realized a long time ago that I'm in it for the love more than the money.

Don't know if I'm right or wrong. It's just my view of things.



<<So it all gets pretty messy in the new arena and chances are what you see in print isn't really what's on the negative. If that's the case, then a great camera lens vs. a good one really won't matter a whole hell of a lot.>>

Yep.. I think you've articulated the problem very well, Paul. If anyone has dealt with labs that produce quality images from our quality lenses, let us know.


>>Yep.. I think you've articulated the problem very well, Paul. If anyone has dealt with labs that produce quality images from our quality lenses, let us know.

Indeed, these are trying times when, as I mentioned earlier, I am in it for the love more than the money. These new technologies have new capabilities but often times mask the true performance capabilities and character of the tools and mediums we love. Digital processing as we know it today, uses only as much information as necessary to get the job done in order to speed up production and limit taxation of memory etc. If you look at these images alongside "real" images, you'll see a "real" difference. I think it's safe to say that digitally processed images can be considered to be "edited" or "altered" images, but certainly not an accurate rendition of what's really on the film. Personally, I want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I mean, why else would we bother shooting the "Zeiss device" :)

It gets even more painful when we consider how larger formats are being tossed aside now. Are we just that lazy? Or are we really that blind? With my Fujica 6x9, Agfapan 25 and / or Verichrome Pan (sadly discontinued but lots in my freezer) in Rodinal, the sweet music still plays on. How sweet it is!

We won't even touch on the obvious abandonment of fundamentals in a digital age.......... Shoot now, fix it later in Photoshop. Well it doesn't take a wizard to see that s**t in, is still s**t out.

At the risk of sounding like a spammer, I'll highlight our services to the group. We do indeed have both the traditional and digital services. We print both minilab optically and custom enlargements in a real darkroom in both colour and B&W and of course my pride and joy Q-LaB certified E-6 service with top not Loersch mounts. All colour films are done in a deep tank (dip-n-dunk) process and B&W is still done by hand in D-76, Xtol and the luscious Rodinal. We also sell all the film and darkroom supplies.

Paul Drouillard (President) Skylab Professional Photofinishing Inc. 1175 Crawford Avenue Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9A 5E2 dmax1@sympatico.ca 519-256-6166
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No offense to the Nikon fans about, but as mentioned above there is more than lpmm to measure a lens. Shoot each lens for a week on 100 speed black and white film. Print it yourself, and THEN comment on the quality of the lenses. If you can't see the advantages of the Zeiss lenses, sell them and buy more Nikons. I'll bet you WILL see the difference though...


>Thanks Paul for the very helpful and useful posts. It sure makes you think. John

You are welcome John.

Actually, I'm surprised at how little reaction I got from that last one. I thought it would raise fur for sure. We in this group all have a fascination with good glass, yet in the arena of colour prints and some B&W we have moved on to accept digital imaging from minilabs as being par for the course or even cutting edge. Though these machines can stand up and do lots of tricks, they generally won't be able to exploit what's really on film not to mention the profiles / settings / parameters etc. that's applied to "enhance". Bottom line is, usually what you see ain't what you really got and that doesn't seem to bother a lot of people. I must be weird. :)




I am just an amateur, Paul, but when I started taking pictures with a good camera (Contax RTS) 25 years ago and I noticed the variations between different labs, I decided to go to slides for color. I had started with home-developed B&W, so I never had to deal with labs for that.

I have come back to photography as a hobby over the last couple of years, and now that I keep shooting slides and black and white my concern is how to be able to get decent scans and prints on my own. Even when I think the scan of a color slide is good, seeing the image properly projected brings me back to reality.

And your point is very well taken: we love to think we use some of the best lenses available, but frequently the limiting factor of our results is the processing.

Best regards,



Hello Paul, you certainly are not weird. All of us invest a lot of time and money into sharp and superior lenses and want the old fashioned type of enlargements. Many have not responded, like myself, because we feel a bit helpless. There is so little we can do about it. I think it is very difficult to swim against the stream, or to keep away from the trend. I myself am not sure, where I can get good analog enlargements here in Vienna. I envy all of you, who can send their negatives to Paul. Best regards from Vienna, Peter


Well-Known Member
Yes, I certainly do not want my Zeiss produced pictures diminished by built in digital parameters. I also tend to use slides often but I do scan them into the computer nowadays whereas I always used to project them. I know I should dig out the projector again to gain the real benefit.
Presumably pictures which are published in magazines and on calendars and so on are now processed digitally. Does this mean that there is no longer any benefit from using high quality lenses for work one hopes to get published?


Hello John and Peter,

I really don't think the situation is hopeless but I do admit it will probably get a bit more challenging. Perhaps the digital flood will help make good imagery more precious and distinctive. I certainly am preparing to become the niche player in my area for 2 reasons. One is my love and beliefs in the photography that I totally fell in love with, smelly chemicals and all. The other is purely business. I simply can't see solid income potential from digital investment. It's too expensive, quirky, high maintenance and outdated before it's paid for. I see the digital road as being a never ending bottomless pit of updating and upgrading. The banks do well, customers get cheap generic prints, machine manufacturers make big bucks but still go broke and I flirt with financial disaster.

On the other hand, traditional machinery can be bought for pennies on the buck now and I'm also seeing a healthy number of people that have made up their mind that digital wasn't their thing. The way to survive in a niche market is low overhead and a superior service. We certainly can't play in a price game with the big box stores, but we can kill them with quality, service and support. Granted, not everybody cares about quality or even know the difference for that matter.

The bottom line is that it's unlikely that you'll get first rate imagery at a big box store. It's simply a drawing card for them, not a world of experienced technicians with a passion and interested in your cause. On the other hand if you do want the services of serious lab, a little research in the yellow pages should yield you some results. Look under "photo finishers commercial" for one thing. Labs trumping up one hour services etc. are likely not what you want. Look for other in house services like B&W, slides and enlargements. A Kodak Q-Lab member is usually a good sign. A few visits should tell whether u have found a lab that cares and the results should speak for themselves. A good camera store that sells real equipment like medium format etc. should be able to point you the right direction too.

John mentions scanning slides to view images on a screen. U are not alone there, but that's too much work for me. I still keep a nice German projector with Rodenstock lens set up to view my stuff. Load the tray and off I go. Light years ahead of Kodak projectors and millions of light years ahead of monitors. I really get a kick out of people doing digital projection. Great for business / education stuff, but not for good imagery. But hey, don't tell the camera clubbers that one. :) The new generation slide films are remarkable to say the least and Agfa Scala will knock your socks off. The trick to keeping this stuff happening is to make sure the world sees it. The worse thing we can do is keep such things hidden. I take customers to the light table all day long to show them slides and hand done B&W prints. Usually tickles their fancy.

As far as magazine and calendar production. That world has been digitized for ages. The images they use are another thing. Both digital and analog survive nicely. Printed matter rarely needs the highest quality images and digital will work for most things. However, in the commercial world film still has a strong presence. We still process a lot of 4x5 and even 8x10 film. In that arena, the digital equivalent is expensive beyond belief, slow and doesn't always meet the challenge. The other reason for using film is time. Though digital capture will show you an image faster, most photographers find themselves having to work into the evening now to tweak the images. Seems their work day is getting longer. So in a lot of ways, digital is the long way home.

Enough babbling.

Cheers and happy holidays.