Zeiss announce 18mm f3.5 – not for Alpha

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The parallel development of Carl Zeiss lenses for Sony (AF lenses in the Alpha mount) and independent manual focus lenses for other makes continues. The latest CZ design is a revision of the classic 18mm Distagon last seen in the Contax system, optimised for colour balance and reflection supression with digital SLRs.

This is the press release:

Oberkochen, Germany – June 2008. Carl Zeiss expands its range of SLR lenses with the addition of the Distagon T* 3,5/18 super wide angle lens. With an impressive field of view of 99°, this new, rectilinear lens provides dramatic perspectives for architectural, landscape and close-range photography for photographers utilizing full-frame DSLRs or film-based cameras. The Distagon T* 3,5/18 is a derivative of the ZEISS designs for the Contax RTS series of cameras, but utilizing all modern materials and eco-friendly glass materials.

The Distagon T* 3,5/18 is designed with a floating lens element in the rear lens assembly, which results in impressive image quality from infinity to the closest focus range. Utilizing the superior ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating and critically designed interior elements, the lens is remarkably free from stray light artifacts and internal reflections. Images are brilliantly rendered, with extremely crisp resolution right to the edges – even at wide-open apertures under the most difficult lighting conditions. Like all Carl Zeiss SLR lenses, the Distagon T* 3,5/18 uses the ZEISS ‘color matching technology’, which provides homogeneous color rendition across all focal lengths in the product range. The front filter diameter of 82 mm allows for use of standard screw-in filters when combined with the included lens shade.

In addition to the outstanding optical qualities, the special hallmarks of all ZEISS lenses are designed into the Distagon T* 3,5/18. This includes an all-metal mount for secure mounting to the camera, extreme robustness for professional applications in a wide range of conditions and precision workmanship which results in a ‘silky’ smooth focus rotation.

The price in Britain – in Nikon F or Pentax K only – is £745+VAT from distributors Robert White. This does not allow the lens to be used via an adaptor on the Alpha body range. The demand for this lens is driven by Canon full frame users, who have found all existing Canon wide-angles to be below the standard required for optimum full frame coverage. This has produced a thriving niche market for specially converted 18mm Distagons; those from the Contax AF system can be adapted to include aperture control and ultrasonic AF, as the Contax AF protocols were related to Canon designs. Nikon wide-angles are easily converted for Canon full frame digital using the Rayqual Nikon AI to Canon EF Adaptor available from Robert White at £69 + VAT (01202 723046, or see Robert White Zeiss lenses). You will notice that Robert White has now started to stock Sony Alpha Zeiss lenses!

We can not necessarily expect this lens to be made for the Sony system, ever. Compared to the Sony SAL 20mm f/2.8 (itself a former Minolta design from 1986, in turn based on the 21mm f/2.8 MC with floating element focusing, of ten years earlier) the 18mm Distagon should yield slightly truer orthogonal geometry and marginal corner sharpness/brightness benefits.

With the announcement of the Nikon D700 full frame 12 megapixel DSLR today, as expected, the market for high quality full frame Nikon lenses will harden up and people will be less able to find ‘cheap’ older Nikon ultrawides for Canon conversion. Nikon has, however, moved ahead of the trend by creating the 14-24mm f/2.8 full frame design. This proves easily as good as any professional would need at any focal length within its range, and makes fixed focal length wides redundant except for a few critical applications like aerial mapping.

Technical Specifications
Focal length 18 mm
Aperture range f/3.5 – f/22 (1/2 stop intervals)
Number of elements / groups 13/11
Focusing range 0.3 m (0.98 ft) – inf.
Angular field* (diag. / horiz. / vert.) 99 / 90 / 67 °
Coverage at close range 44 x 29 cm (1.7 x 1.1″)
Image ratio at close range 1:12
Filter-thread M 82 x 0.75
Length (with caps) 84 mm (3.3″)
Diameter 87 mm (3.4″)
Weight 470 g (16 oz.)
Camera mounts ZF (F bayonet) ZK (K bayonet)
Scope of delivery Lens Shade included

I assume Sony and CZ will aim to match the quality and performance of the Nikon 14-24mm in the forthcoming 16-35mm f/2.8 (presumed) full frame CZ wide angle zoom, and will be unlikely to replace the SAL 20mm f/2.8 with a cousin of the 18mm Distagon.

– David Kilpatrick


  • The departments of Zeiss which design for Sony are entirely separate from those which work with Cosina producing the retro-Z lenses. For Sony, Zeiss create new designs; for Cosina, they give access to historic designs to Cosina’s own engineers, who rework the designs jointly with Zeiss. The same designers at Cosina also produce the Voigtlander range which sells for lower prices – we are currently using two Voigtlander designs on the Nikon D3, and they are superb.

    So the answer is not that Zeiss will or will not do any particular thing, it’s whether Cosina or Sony will ask them to. If Sony wants superb primes, or allows permission for these to be made in Alpha mount, the Zeiss lenses may one day be there for Alpha just as for NF and PK. But the zooms made for Sony are very unlikely to appear anywhere else as they are SAL CZ designs and Sony would never release them for use in other systems.

    I think a 21mm Distagon is definitely possible, same goes for a 25mm.


  • David:

    1. As an avid former Contax user (currently Sony R1 user), I’ve been anxiously awaiting the further development of Zeiss / Sony line of products. Thus far–> things have been fairly disappointing from my point of view (mainly due to only one marginally produced APS-C lens and a very limited line of full frame lens).

    2. The choices that Zeiss lens fans has become very interesting, especially with the introduction of the D700 etc… along with the anticipated Sony FF this fall (along with the supposed 16-35mm Zeiss).

    3. What is your speculation in regards to the following questions:
    a. Zeiss continues to come out with more ZF prime manual lens for the Nikon (which is a good thing from my point of view due to similarity to the Contax Zeiss MM primes). But is Zeiss going to develop any of the autofocus zooms as they are developing for Sony?
    b. And vise versa the above question–> why isn’t Zeiss coming out with more primes for the Sony mount when they obviously have the ability to do so.
    c. Basically, it’s somewhat confusing to me as to why Zeiss would only come out with manual focus primes for the F mount (and K) but not for the alpha mount and at the same time come out with autofocus zooms for the alpha mount.
    d. Any guesses as to whether or not Zeiss will ever reintroduce the 21mm distagon? I’m surprised that they came out with the 18mm prior to the excellent 21mm distagon.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Harry

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