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Zeiss announces new ZF lenses for Nikon F Mount

Carl Zeiss is about to introduce ZF, a new range of interchangeable lenses for Nikon SLR cameras, both analog and digital. ZF lenses bring the Carl Zeiss image quality to the Nikon SLR camera system. Zeiss emphasizes the use of the lenses for analog cameras too, but that's to be seen now that Nikon has stated to concentrate on digital and a recent InfoTrends study reveals that 90% of professional pictures will be taken with digital cameras by 2010...
Zeiss announces new ZF lenses for Nikon F Mount - digital camera and photography news


Carl Zeiss AG of Oberkochen, Germany is about to introduce ZF, a new range of interchangeable lenses for Nikon SLR cameras, both analog and digital. ZF lenses bring the highly acclaimed Carl Zeiss image quality to the Nikon SLR camera system, which has been the preferred equipment of millions of professional and ambitious amateur photographers for decades. ZF lenses can also be used on the Sinar m professional digital camera and a multitude of industrial video cameras.

ZF lenses provide Nikon F-mount cameras with the creative potential and phototechnical performance available so far only in the Contax system. In addition, ZF lenses incorporate new technical advances from the ZEISS Ultra Prime®, Master Prime® and DigiPrime® lenses for motion picture cameras. Results have been seen in feature films like "Lord of the Rings", "Alexander", "King Arthur", "Air Force One", "Collateral", "King Kong" and many commercials and music clips.

Like the ZEISS lenses for motion picture, ZF lenses feature unusually high mechanical quality, fixed focal length, very precise manual focussing, reliability, and exceptional durability. Special attention is paid to guarantee absolute color matching throughout the whole range of lenses resulting in state-of-the-art image quality.

The first ZF lens will be the Planar T* 1,4/50 ZF, which, in its Contax RTS version, was rated the world's best fast standard lens by "Popular Photography" in 1999. It will be followed by the Planar T* 1,4/85 ZF, which in its Contax RTS version became known as a great portrait lens and story-teller.

Both lenses will become available in spring 2006. The Pricing will be suitable competitive with similar items in the Nikon F-system. Several more ZF lenses will be introduced during 2006.

With the introduction of ZF lenses, Carl Zeiss will set up a new international distribution network and will announce information on availability of the ZF lenses at


Answers from Dr. Winfried Scherle (left), Vice President & General Manager, Camera Lens Division and Kornelius Mueller (right), Marketing Manager

CLN: "ZF" – what is that?
Dr. Scherle: ZF designates a new range of Carl Zeiss lenses for 35 mm SLRs with Nikon F mount.

CLN: For digital, too?
Dr. Scherle: Sure, for digital, too. Even for cameras with full frame sensors!

CLN: Why did Carl Zeiss decide to make ZF?
Müller: We have seen a strong demand for Carl Zeiss lenses from photographers using 35 mm SLR's with original equipment lenses. Those photographers decided on, say, Canon or Nikon as their cameras, but always envied Contax users for the quality of their pictures. Since our former partner, Kyocera, has discontinued their Contax activities, we wanted to find new ways to offer Carl Zeiss lenses to demanding SLR 35 mm photographers, especially those who use digital equipment.

CLN: And why did Zeiss decide on the Nikon F mount?
Dr. Scherle: We had three main reasons:
1) Nikon has, for half a century, earned a great reputation with professional photographers. They began with copies of Zeiss Ikon Contax rangefinder cameras right after the World War II. In the 1960's they introduced their famous Nikon F SLR and with this legendary camera and its successors Nikon established the standard for professional 35 mm SLR's worldwide.
2) As a result the Nikon F mount became popular in the field of industrial optics, since these mass-produced lenses were available off the shelf, at reasonable cost, everywhere in the world. Carl Zeiss has been active in the field of industrial optics for a long time and now, with ZF, expands its offerings to this market.
3) Also, we work closely with Sinar, the Swiss maker of professional cameras, and supply them with autofocus medium format lenses for the Sinar m camera system. For this camera they also have a 35 mm SLR module with Nikon F mount. Now, with ZF, users of this module can just bayonet a genuine Zeiss lens onto their cameras to satisfy their really high-end needs.

CLN: Canon users would love to be able to use Zeiss lenses, too!
Müller: …and they keep telling us day-in day-out. So along with the ZF line, we are also introducing "ZS" lenses. Carl Zeiss ZS lenses come with the same optics as the ZF line; only the mount is different. ZS has the M-42 screw mount, the one that used to be called the "Universal SLR mount." We don't think the M-42 screw mount is going to take the market by storm, but it has a unique advantage: there are M-42 adapters available for any SLR bayonet mounts, including Canon EOS and FD. So you can adapt a ZS lens onto any 35 mm SLRs (and many other applications as well) if you crave the optical characteristics of this lens line and are willing to get along without the convenience functions of recent lenses.

CLN: The two ZF lenses announced today, Planar 1,4/50 and Planar 1,4/85, seem to be the same that were available for Contax RTS. Should we look at ZF and ZS as a continuation of the RTS lenses with F mount?
Dr. Scherle: It may seem that way today, but that is only an appearance. We have launched ZF with two lenses that were, and are, highly appreciated among Contax photographers for their creative characteristics. You probably remember that the Contax Planar T* 1,4/50 was even rated the best fast SLR standard lens in the world by "Popular Photography" in February 1999.
We want to make these lenses, in updated and further developed versions, available to users of other camera systems. But that's just the beginning – we will soon offer lenses that were never available for Contax!

CLN: Who will want to use ZF lenses? Who will buy them?
Müller: Mainly photographers who place very high demands on image quality. Photographers who, for whatever reason, cannot use medium format, but have to get the maximum out of 35 instead. Photographers who use the latest in top-performing SLRs, like Nikon F6 and D200. Photographers who specialize in studio work and other demanding interiors. Pros as well as keen amateurs. And, as hinted before, industrial users of lenses. Not to forget cinematographers and cine rental businesses.

CLN: And why would they prefer Zeiss ZF to Nikon?
Müller: I see two reasons.
First because they know that with Zeiss lenses they will get state-of-the-art image quality, technically and aesthetically. They will recognize that ZF lenses come with much larger rotation angles for the focus rings, like the cinematography lenses we make for Hollywood. This means that focusing can be performed much more accurately than with designs optimized for photojournalistic work.
In addition to this, ZF lenses come with a completely newly-designed iris featuring a circular shape, not those hexagons, octagons and similar geometries that give out-of-focus highlights an artificial, unnatural look. While the Japanese have appreciated this natural look for a decade or more, Hollywood has only recently rediscovered it. Curiously, it was the Japanese photo equipment makers who were mainly responsible for introducing the hexagon and octogon iris; European makers favored the circular iris until the 1960's
The other reason for buying Zeiss ZF instead of Nikon is much simpler:
Nikon just announced it was discontinuing the manufacture of manual focus lenses.

CLN: Do you at Zeiss have personal photographic experience with Nikon cameras?
Dr. Scherle: Sure! We have virtually every important camera and lens available here at the Carl Zeiss factory, Nikon SLRs being essential parts of this assortment.

CLN: Which Nikon cameras have you personally used?
Müller: The F3 was my workhorse in slide-AV photography some 20 years ago. Then came the F4, followed by the F5. Recently I changed to the F6. And my D200 is already on order.

CLN: Where are the ZF lenses made?
Dr. Scherle: We develop the lens specifications for series production and the quality targets here at the Carl Zeiss factory in Oberkochen, where we also perform prototype testing in our labs and "torture chambers." The production is done at the Cosina factory in Japan under the watchful eye of Carl Zeiss employees in charge of quality assurance. The actual quality control will be performed on measuring machines designed and made by Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen just as it has been on all Japanese-made Zeiss lenses.

CLN: Carl Zeiss has so far distributed its lenses through camera manufacturers like Hasselblad, Kyocera, Alpa, Rollei, Sinar. How will Carl Zeiss distribute ZF? Via Nikon?
Dr. Scherle: Here we are facing a new and challenging situation: ZF marks the beginning of a lens distribution by ourselves. We are in the process of setting up this distribution organisation.

CLN: When will ZF lenses become available?
Dr. Scherle: We target early summer 2006.

CLN: And how will they be priced?
Müller: ZF lenses are precision tools, not luxury items. They should be in reach of demanding photographers and should be economically justifiable for pros. Likewise, for industrial applications like machine vision, pattern recognition, process control, advanced robotics, and quality assurance, prices cannot go through the roof, since lenses are usually not purchased as single units, but in quantities of 50, 100, or even 1000 at a time.
Dr. Scherle: By the way: This is why we have them produced in Japan. Thus we can achieve the price level that Nikon customers all over the world are used to.

CLN: Will we see more ZF lenses at Photokina in September?
Dr. Scherle: You bet! A handful.

CLN: Which ones?
Müller: This will be announced in Camera Lens News when the time is right.
January 18, 2006
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