#277. Fighting off Otus envy.

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Sep 14
Kogel Baai morning

Kogel Baai morning

Zeiss’ 55mm Otus doesn’t stir me much. Of course, I want one; I’m a photographer after all. But I’ve got an ancient 50mm f1.4 manual focus AI Nikkor that delivers fantastic images and I still haven’t learned to get the best out of it yet. Besides which, it was a US$96 eBay buy. Zeiss’ monster costs forty times as much. So, thanks, but no thanks.

Then Mr Thein got his hands on a pre-release 85mm Otus and in a heartbeat, I found myself looking into a rarely used corner of the camera cupboard for my own 85.

It’s a Nikon – I’m nothing if not brand-loyal – f1.8, bought at the same time as my D700. Unlike the body, it’s barely used, often overlooked by my preference for the manual AI 105mm f2.5.

Ignoring my rapidly burgeoning case of Otus envy, Ming Thein’s article had given me a reason to re-look at shooting landscapes with a short telephoto, rather than the wider angles I usually use. I mean, there’s no point in splurging US$4k for something I might not know how to use properly is there?

Sunrise on Friday morning saw me ten kilometres along the coast at Kogel Baai*. Mind you, I wasn’t looking for the rocks. there is a particular rill flowing from the hills and down across the sand into False Bay, that had caught my eye as I’d driven past the day before.

Kogel Baai morning

Kogel Baai morning

As the sun came up and before it peeked over the Kogelberg mountains behind me, I managed a really enjoyable and interesting hour or so. With a crystal clear blue sky overhead, I was able to reflect strong blue from the water the retreating waves left behind and capture the sand roiling under the watershed across the beach.

Daylight was coming up fast, meaning ISO100 at tiny apertures still left me with a shutter speed way too fast for the effects I wanted. So, to slow the water to a blur, I tried a 12X ND, but that just threw everything out of whack.

So, I opted for a different spot, nearer the surf. At ISO 200, f11 and a histogram-driven +1 stop, I got half a dozen really interesting images of the water moving across the sand in a small rivulet.

That’s when I really fell for the 85’s ability to shrink perspective, while giving me the detail I wanted to retain. Back home, I let Aperture do some of the white balance changes, added some micro contrast and found three shots I’ll be pleased to keep for a future ebook.

Thanks Ming, for the idea – but I think I’d rather spend more time with my 85 that splurge on yours, much as I’d love one.

Kogel Baai morning

Kogel Baai morning

* Translated from the Afrikaans, it means Cannonball Bay, a reference to the predominant large round rocks that are a feature of much of the area.


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  • pascaljappy says:

    Paul, you’re overlooking a very important fact: if you buy an 85 OTUS, I’ll be able to use it when we meet in Paris ! I really think you should take a closer look at Ming Thein’s superb imagery with that lens 😉

    Jokes aside, the 55 didn’t move me much either. I – like everyone else – fell for the perfect image quality and lovely bokeh. I enjoyed it when I tried it for an afternoon with a D800e, but not not nearly enough to make me want to carry something that big when my Cron-R 50 is so pleasing for 99% of the (very rare) shots I make at that focal length.

    But the 85 ! Ah, now that’s a focal length that sees much more use on my traveling. Thing is, I’m totally smitten by the 90/2.8 Elmarit (in M or R mount). It too displays that uncanny double personality – lovely creamy bokeh wide open and sharper than 36Mpix closed. The fact that the OTUS can do both wide open is interesting indeed. Plus I really love how wide open shots do not display any of the unwanted swirl, tunnel effect or other nasties commonly associated with lesser wide lenses. And I *really* love the colours and general drawing in Jorge Torralba’s Caufield House shot. And the price, well … it’s just money. I really can’t afford or justify it, but am quite willing to sell a few lenses to finance it.

    So what’s really holding it back is the absence of real-life comparisons with other lenses such as my 90/2.8 and Philippe’s even more direct competitor, the 80/1.4 Summilux-R, which costs 25% of the OTUS’s price. Maybe I’ll rent one for a week and make a more informed decision … I’m not holding my breath though. It’ll take some lens to dislodge the 90/2.0 from my heart (and smallish bag).

    Thanks for the thoughts!

    • paulperton says:

      Paris? For me, anything longer than 50mm is way too long and unwieldy.

      To date, most of my Paris street images have been shot with the Zeiss 25mm Biogon (35mm equivalent). In fact my guess is that when we’re done it’ll be 90+%.

      Sorry to remind you about that lens again – remember it was you that convinced me to buy it.

      • pascaljappy says:

        There is reason to expect the Biogon 25 will once again be part of the family under the Loxia denomination 🙂 Come on Zeiss, why are we waiting ? nudge nudge.

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