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Zeiss 85mmf1.4 Comparison of three variations


Different designs, different look??? If you have experience with two (or soon three) variations on the Planar theme, your thoughts would be
very welcome. I just ordered a C/Y myself and have owned the N-version which is optically much more complex. The new ZF lens appears to be a return to the basics.

Specifications (in chronological order):
1. Zeiss Contax-Yashica: 6 elements, 5 groups, close focussing 1 meter.
2. Zeiss N: 10 elements, 9 groups. Close focussing 83cm.
3. Zeiss ZF (for Nikon): 6 elements, 5 groups. Close focussing 1 meter.

Brochure describing the N-lens: "For the Contax N system, Carl Zeiss has designed an all-new Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 lens. This lens excels with very high image quality over the entire frame, clearly visible in the SLR viewfinder. The full speed of f/1.4 can be utilized not only for composing and focusing, but also for actual picture taking. At f/1.4, the wide-open aperture enables image compositions with selective focus that are very pleasing for portraiture. A novelty in such a fast lens, the high performance is maintained over the entire focusing range, from infinity down to minimum object distance. Carl Zeiss achieves this with a new internal focusing design IFD, which moves 6 of the 10 elements for focusing."

What has motivated Zeiss to return to the simpler formula? How would you characterize the N-variant?


Gold CI-Patron
Interested to know if there is a "best version" among the 3 variants. I have the N mount version and thought it was perfect. Why would they change what works ?


I am afraid, it is because of cost cutting. The ZF design seems to be the same as the RTS design.

In this respect, newer might not mean better, except maybe lens flare reduction and colour reproduction...


Well-Known Member
Speaking of cost cutting: may be you noticed "price drop" from $3.3K to $2.3K on CZ 2.8/21 on eBay. Do people know something that I don't? May be it's about new ZFs coming? Anew rumors known? Please share any information. Thanks.


Hello Sergei,
I think the price drop is nothing more than ebay's quiet period - the time between July and September always sees a drop in prices as so many people are on holiday and away from their computers. It is always a great time to buy and a lousy time to sell! I doubt that the price drop is any more than that - but then, who knows....

I have a load of duplicate lenses and cameras I want to sell - from 15-500 and from the original RTS through to the S2b. Steve Moseley warned me last year to wait for September/October before selling and I am heeding his advice.

Watch some of the ebay prices start to creep up again - particularly with the very active buyers from China.




Well-Known Member
If you trust the interpretation of the MTF graph, here it is.

Although by looking at the design of lens elements, both C-Y 85 1.4 and NF 85 1.4 look the same. They are completely different in terms of MTF curves.

At 1.4, NF 85 is better in terms of image quality and bokeh. In the old C-Y 85, you can see some sharp edges in the bokeh but the new one is softer and do not have this problem.

At 5.6, NF 85 has also better image quality and bokeh.

When you look at the curves, the tangential and saggital lines stay more or less together in NF, whereas the two lines go far apart in C-Y 85 suggesting astigmatism.

The new NF 85 is even better than N85 1.4. The curves is suggesting N85 1,4 has a bad bokeh at 5.6.

In practice, I used to own the C-Y 85 1.4. I might go for NF 85 1.4 if I don't have C-Y85 1.2.

Concerning the price fluctuations in ebay, it is just ordinary changes. Unless Zeiss is announcing a new ZS 21 in Photokina, C-Y 21 2.8 will remain high for a long time. The chance for that to happen is remote.


To me it is new that one can see the bokeh quality out of the MTF graphs. Can you explain that for me/us. The N version is the most complex one in terms of lens design. This has been done due to internal focussing and to improve optical quality at short distances. The ZF version has the same lens design as the "old" C/Y version. The weak point of both are short distances where MTF graphs will drop down. Unfortunately this can't be seen in the published MTF graphs as they are measured for infinty. The new ZA version for the Sony system will have the same lens design as the very famous C/Y 1.2/85. To me this sounds promising....


Well-Known Member
Although many people are bored by the MTF, I find them useful to assess a lens before buying them. When you don't have the lens, you use MTF to assess them, once you brought them, you shoot.

When you take a out of focus photo of a wheel head on, lenses with astigmatism will show different degree of blurring at the spokes and the rim of the wheel. The rim represents the tangential direction and the spokes represent the sagittal direction. Bokeh is the out of focus pattern of the lens. If the lens exhibits astigmatism, the bokeh would become ugly with sharp edges. A lens well balanced without astigmatism will give a nice circular bokeh, soft with colour evenly distributed.

Astigmatism also affects the image quality. Portraits from lenses with astigmatism has a less pleasing look. Astigmatism is less of a problem in landscape shots.

Zeiss and Leica do provides MTF graphs so that their customers can have an objective understanding of the lens performance. On the other hand, Canon's MTF is meaningless because she does not give you the f-number. Although many people do not believe MTF can give you informations about the bokeh,in actually facts, they do.

The graph has a number of pairs of curves each in different line pairs per millimeters. Each pair of curves has two curves, the sagittal and the tagential curves. Lenses without astigmatism will have these curves lying closely together. Good ex&les are the Zeiss macro lenses, most of them have these curve going closely with respect to each other. These lenses do have excellent bokeh and a pleasing rendition of the subject. you will understand this concept if you look at Contax 645 apo-makro-planar 120 f4. For this lens they have several graphs at different f nos and different distances. Most of them the curve pairs do lie closely together. The only except is f4 at infinity, when the line pair goes separately from each other. When I shoot portraits with this lens at f4, I got a less pleasing bokeh and less pleasing redition of the image.

I have questions to the users of N85 1.4, the MTF graph predicts poor bokeh at f5.6. Does the users agree ? perhaps you people don't shoot this lens at 5.6.

Andreas, where did you find out that ZA 85 1.4 has th same design as C-Y 85 1.2 ? Making CY85 1.2 was very expensive in 1985 and it would be more expensive nowadays. The cost of 85 1.2 is several time to ZA 85 1.4. Are you sure that Zeiss will produce a lens similar to 85 1.2 with only a fraction of its cost ?


Active Member
Please let me to give a (very) little contribution to this discussion.
The Zeiss variations of 85 mm 1,4 are much more the listed above and are (in chronological order):

1. Carl Zeiss Contarex Planar : 6 elements, 5 groups, close focussing 1 meter. Triangular iris

2a. Carl Zeiss T* Contax-Yashica AE: 6 elements, 5 groups, close focussing 1 meter. Exagonal iris
2b Zeiss Ikon Rollei HFT Planar : 6 elements, 5 groups. Exagonal iris
2c. Carl Zeiss T* Contax-Yashica MM: 6 elements, 5 groups, close focussing 1 meter. Exagonal iris

3. Carl Zeiss T* N: 10 elements, 9 groups. Close focussing 83cm. (Iris? Exagonal?)

4. Carl Zeiss T* ZF / ZS (for Nikon or for Screw Mount): 6 elements, 5 groups. Close focussing 1 meter. (close to) Circular iris.

The nr.1, the grand father of the family, mainly differ from sons for non-T* coating and TRIANGULAR iris. I Never tried this lens nor sow any picture taken with it.

The 2a 2b 2c are all variation of same lens, which 2a is the starting point.
I read the MM (2c) variation is worst than the AE (2a) version. I tried both, for my taste are exactly the same.
May be someone more raffinate than me could catch particulars absolutly invisible to my eyes.

2b. The Planar for Rollei. Also for this lens someone sey is better than the Contax counterpart. I had one on my hands, and I can duplicate the same comment for 2a-2c dispute.

Ok, this is my two cents.



Hi Chi Yan Joseph,

Thanks for your MTF explanation.

You can find this on the .com website of sony:

SAL-85F14Z - Carl Zeiss® Planar® T* 85mm f/1.4 Telephoto Lens

Get gorgeous intimate or low-light portraits, fashion shots, and quick candid photographs with superior visual accuracy with the Carl Zeiss® SAL-85F14Z lens.

Preorders will begin on September 8th, 2006

MSRP: $1,299.95

Specifications Carl Zeiss® Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 Telephoto Lens Professional performance for portraits and close-ups Astonishing sharpness at fully open aperture T* Coating to reduce flare and increase contrast Smooth, visually pleasing background effects Focus Hold button for full creative control Auto Clutch to stop manual focus ring rotation Focal Length – 35mm Equivalent: 85 mm Focal Length – APS: 127.5 mm Angle of View – 35mm Equivalent: 19゚ Angle of View – APS: 29゚ Min Focus Distance: 2’ 10†(85 cm) Aperture – Maximum: f1.4 Aperture – Minimum: f22 Maximum Magnification: 0.13X Lens Construction: 8 elements in 7 groups with 9 aperture blades Filter Diameter: 72 mm Dimensions: 3-1/4 x 2-7/8†(81.5 x 72.5 mm) Weight: 1 lb 3-3/4 oz (560 g) Supplied Accessories: Front and rear lens cap, SH0002 lens hood

The mentioned lens design is exactly the same as for the C/Y 85/f1.2. The minimum focus distance is 0,85m for the ZA version whereas the C/Y 85/f1.2 has 1 m!

No idea about floating elements in the ZA version, which the C/Y version definetely has. The C/Y 85/f1.4 doesn't have any floating elements which is the reason for its less impressive close focus quality.


Not being familiar with the Minolta Maxxum/Dynax system, what is the best full-frame camera for the Zeiss (for Sony) ZA 85 and 135mm lenses? I think I will want to try this. Does anyone have experience with the Maxxum/Dynax 9? It appears rarely at the auction site and is no longer stocked by dealers.
The ZF Planar is coming with me on a trip to the old continent with my F6. I may change the screen on it to the microprism split type since I'd like to use more manual focus lenses. Is that worthwhile or is the focus indicator light sufficient? I can hardly wait to see what other ZF lenses will appear this fall!
Thanks for the comments above.



Concerning bokeh quality you have desribed the optical background very well. What about the mechanics, like position of the aperture inside the lens and the number of aperture blades. As far as I know both facts have a major influence on the quality of the lens bokeh.

For ex&le Zeiss (and some others) are advertising it's new aperture design with 7 or even 9 aperture blades for beautiful bokeh instead of only having 5 or 6 in the "old" C/Y lenses.

Which fact has the major influence? In which way both facts are related?


Well-Known Member
Number of aperture blades affects the shape of bokeh when aperture is closed but not wide open.

Bad bokeh is bad bokeh no matter how many aperture blades there are.

Beware of Zeiss commercial gimmicks.

Although C-Y 85 1.2 and ZA 85 1.4 have the same numder of elements, they have different filter rings, different f nos, different minimal focal distance, different weight and different prices. These two are very different. Sony has published lots of commercial advert. on this lens but Zeiss has not published its MTF graph.

I am quite pleased that ZA 85 1.4 has a different minimal focal distance from ZF 85 1.4, it implies that they are different as well. Zeiss really work hard to make their lenses as diverse as possible. Zeiss likes to keep every system unique.



The most modern Minolta camera would be the pro model Dynax/Maxxum 9. But it is big and bulky on photos I have seen. I have never used it though, so I can not comment on AF speed etc.

The former pro model was the Dynax/Maxxum 9xi. Small, light, AF good for that time (but not as fast as nowadays the standard).

It depends on what you want to do withit. The cheapest aleternative would be a used 9xi or 800si. The 800si has a very powerful flash integrated. AF speed slightly faster tehn the 9xi, but not "pro" model.

Both cost on ebay Germany around 200 Euro. Maxxum 9 I do not know.

But be aware, that the pro models do not feel like Contax bodies

They are not bad, but with a Contax benchmark, you have to make some compromise there