#407. Wide Wide Test. The Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2 review.

By pascaljappy | Review

Sep 27

Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2. These few words pack a whole lot of semantic value. But all I could think of when using mine during the first few days was that 15 part in the middle. This was not a review like any other.

Usually, Zeiss send along these lovely optical works of art, I make photographs with them over a period of 4 to 8 weeks, send the lens back and publish an article or two.


Biosphere 2, Arizona. Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.Z

This time, 3 weeks into the process, I didn’t have a single interesting picture to show. Oops.

15mm. Wide. Very wide. I used and loved a Leica Elmarit-R 19/2.8 for years and imagined the 15 would simply be a slightly larger variation. It isn’t. 15 is a lot wider than 19 and much more demanding as a focal length. At least for someone who’s eye gets trained almost exclusively by 25mm to 85 mm lenses.


Biosphere 2 main staircase – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.Z

Still, after some effort and enough self-pity for the universe to take notice and send me a variety of interesting subjects, I finally got into my stride and started producing photographs interesting enough to warrant an article.

So here’s the menu for this one:

  • a brief technical review of the lens (there isn’t much to tell, it really is very good)
  • some thoughts on how to use it in the field

Biosphère 2 artificial growth – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.Z


Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2. Brief Technical Review

What can I say? Technically, this lens is as close to perfection as can be hoped for such a wide angle. But that doesn’t mean it produces perfect pictures time after time. This needs a little explaining.


The Biosphère 2 lung. Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

From a purely technical point of view, there isn’t much wrong with this lens.

My main concern was distortion and there is very little of it. Zeiss state 2%, which is not negligible, but it is very rarely noticeable (see below and in final image on the page – both uncorrected) unless you are quite close to the subject.


Biosphere 2 / University of Arizona research platforms – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

Vignetting is likewise fairly benign. Quite visible on some subjects at f/2.8, it is mostly negligible at f/4 and easily corrected in post-processing.


Flagstaff reflection – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

More disturbing is the presence of very dark patches in the extreme corners at full aperture (see below). These occupy tiny surfaces and can easily be cropped out, but they are very difficult to remove if you can’t crop.


Dark corners and stretched bokeh – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

This same photograph illustrates the other unwanted characteristic of this lens that I find bothersome: “stretched bokeh“. This is also seen below, to a lesser extent. It is not a default in the lens design itself, simply the ugly effect of true out-of-focus capabilities and the stretched-out lines in the corners.


Flagstaff Cadillac – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

What this implies is simple: first of all, it’s actually very possible to use out-of-focus areas in your compositions, even with a 15mm lens but, secondly, when composing with strong lines in the corners, you will need to shut down to about f/5.6 for a more pleasing rendering.


Flagstaff mannequins – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

But perhaps the worst offence is field curvature. It doesn’t show up very frequently and I hadn’t noticed it until contributor Boris Buschardt mentioned it. But focus on a nearby object (say 2-5 meters) as you might for the foreground of a photograph, and it gets very difficult to get the background in focus. The center will be perfect but both edges are thrown out of the sharpness range. So this lens is definitely happier in situations that do not require overall sharpness in near-far relationships, which is a major downside for landscape photographers. No worries in architecture (infinity focus) or close-up work or street photography …


Flagstaff car sales – – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

Other than that it’s wide-angle perfection.


Flagstaff car sales II – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2. Life in the field

This lens does everything a good 15mm lens does. Tight places …


Besh Ba Gowah ruins – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


Inside the pueblo houses – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

… unusual tight places …


Only in France – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


Sore eyes – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

… broad panoramas …


Grand Canyon upstream – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

… broader panoramas …


… strong perspectives …


Cite de la Science – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


Approaching La Vilette – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

… even the odd bit of wide field astronomy.

LSD Milky Way

LSD Milky Way – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

Compared to other lenses, this specific 15mm has strong contrast and low distortion. I think it makes it particularly interesting for architecture and indoor architecture.


Biosphere 2 grand staircase – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


La Villette stairs – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

Indoor architecture is particularly great as images always pop, even in dull or difficult lighting.


Hotel Biltmore – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

It is in urban environments I had the most fun, playing with near-far relationships, contrasts and exaggerated perspectives that allow to create shapes were there are none, get real close to people …


Puddle – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


Police – Sony A7rII & Zeiss 2.8/15 ZF.2


Top golf session – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

DSC05047DSC05093DSC05048DSC05044-2DSC05257DSC05024DSC05246All is not as well in landscape photography, unfortunately. The strong field curvature creates background focus issues and the bokeh in corners can be ugly at wider apertures.

DSC01396As an aside, I find this lens excels in black & white. Again, its super contrast makes it particularly brilliant indoors.


Cafe corso – Sony A7r & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


Stair graffiti – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2


There are far cheaper options out there. For instance the Voigtlander 15 version III. Is this one sufficiently better to justify the  expense ? I honestly have no idea, as I’ve never tested the alternatives.

All I can say, is that 15mm is a difficult lens to use. And my feeling is that rigor is needed for a lens this wide to express its style. Mucky corners and bent lines would change the aesthetics completely.

Cite de la Science - SOny A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

Cite de la Science – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

So, although I probably wouldn’t buy a 15mm lens altogether (that’s too wide for my abilities), I would buy the best my budget could stretch to if I wanted to go ultra-wide. And the fact that today’s gear allows us to create this sort of results, handheld, sure is a powerful incentive to do so.


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  • Atilla says:

    Forgive me for asking … can you rule out the possibility that dark corners in some shots are because of a filter that is not slimline …


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Atilla, I didn’t have a filter at the time of the review. It may have been the lens shade, on the other hand. Never thought to check (he admits, blushing).

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