#487. A walk in the Provence vines with a big 28

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jun 12

So here’s a post almighty Google ain’t gonna like much. Not enough words, not enough keywords. No link strategy. No nothin’ SEO. Just plane-Jane photographs straight off the press after a quick walk (drive, actually) in the nearby country side.

Wildflowers in Provence photographed with a Zeiss OTUS 28

**super** sharp close up with lovely background blur

The truth is: writing a good review for a lens that took a large group of very clever people a very long time to design and build, takes time. I could say this is the best lens I’ve ever used and it wouldn’t be far from the truth. But what does that even mean?

It’s crazy sharp at all apertures and all areas of the frame. But who cares, really? It’s also crazy big, which probably matters more to most photographers (not even mentioning what it costs).

Old well in Provence photographed with a Zeiss OTUS 28

Perfect balance between global contrast and micro contrast

It’s also crazy elegant, which is already treading into very subjective waters and should probably be described in terms of the balance between sharpness and smoothness of tone, global contrast and local contrast, colour density and colour fidelity …


Low distortion and low vigneting make panoramas a breeze

Focusing is a dream come true. At least on cameras with huge, bright OVFs and those with quality EVFs & focus peaking. Much of the lens’ goodness, which relies so greatly on accurate positioning of the point of focus,  is probably lost on cameras designed with AF in mind.


Very selective focus, even at small apertures

And there are quite a few other more technical aspects that require specific conditions to test for. Flare, for example, requires bright lights, more often than not, the sun, which is in short supply in late spring 2016 all over France.

So, yes, all of this takes time. Plus, DS policiy forbids the use of lab testing which has much use in the field as French politics for employment. So my prefered mehotodology for testing lenses is to use them during leisurely walks, work, assignments and other stolen moments, identifying the right conditions for meaningful comment as I go along.

Provence vines and stakes photographed with the Sony A7rII and Zeiss OTUS 28

V V is for very very nice !

The photographs that don’t serve a review purpose end up in travel ebooks or personal albums. And why not share them as I go along?

For the travel-minded, the photographs on this page were made in Moulin de Redon, just 10 miles North of Pagnol’s Aubagne, in an area where product prices and awareness of the tourist potential have more or less maintained the perils of intensive farming and consecutive fuggliness at bay.


50 shades of green

How long will that last? Many years, I hope.

The highly into debt pretend megalopolis of Marseilles is slowly absorbing nearby villages to spread out the financial load of decades of mismanagement onto a wider range of victims and my guess is all of this will turn into housing as soon as the perspective of short-term profit overcomes the pride of centuries of symbiotic relationship with nature. Sick transit …


2-frame stitch in spherical mode, hence the strong curvature.

But local farmers are planting vine and olive groves, while the villages have enforced a green (no-building) belt around them and the lack of high-volume infrastructure will probably slow down evil. So, for now, all seems good 🙂

Stakes in a vine in Provence, France. Sony A7rII & Zeiss OTUS 28/1.4

High stakes


Welcome chais Michelle

In the mean time, it makes me happy to document and share the current state of my testing grounds as I go along reviewing the gems Zeiss are kind enough to send my way, soaking in the sun and rain with my tog head in the clouds.


Is there such a think as too much out-of-focus on a wide angle lens? Yes!

All the while, I’m experimenting with colour, B&W, bokeh quality, 3D, drawing and, generally speaking, trying to find the envelope inside which the lens performs most beautifully. At the end of the day, I’ve seen very minor chromatic aberration, identified situations where bokeh is slightly less sexy, found very minor distortion (and will share all this soon) … but the lens is essentially perfect to my eyes and determining wheather it is for you (and me 😉 ) or not is really a matter of beauty / price ratio.


Stepping up

So, as a very early intermediate verdict: why carry this humongous thing around to use it at f/8, an aperture at which almost any other lens is going to perform well (or is it?) ? The answers are too numerous to list here. Tactile pleasure. The ability to switch to warp f/1.4. Colour rendition that allows any PP fantasy and still looks good. That focusing ring. Watching the paper-thin plane of focus move back and forth in focus peaking mode (never gets old). The joy of knowing that nothing is beyond reach. Knowledge that it will have to return to its masters all too soon if a gold vein isn’t found on my land. I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the day after. It’s that much fun 🙂

Oh, and it seems the sun has finally found its way here. Watch this space for much more on what this amazing lens makes of Provence 🙂

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  • DDA says:

    What lens is it ? You really are making me curious …

  • DDA says:

    Zeiss Otis 28 1.4 ?

  • Leonard says:

    Seriously lovely cloud rendering. We don’t get natural phenomena like that in these here parts.


  • benjamin says:

    A very lovely review and wonderful pictures. Thank you ~

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    What I love most about the Otus lenses, Pascal, is the way they capture colour. They seem to provide a path to “true colour” that I haven’t found with other lenses. Maybe this is a delusion – I know I am a Zeiss junkie, which perhaps clouds my thinking and my perception – but I do not see colours like these in MOST of the shots that are plastered all over the internet. Your sepia print excepted, the others just leap out of the page !!!!!! (Ooops – my apologies – I should be praising the photographer, of course, and not the camera, lens, tripod, whatever !!!! LOL)

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Pete,

      I don’t think it’s a delusion 😉 They are really lovely with colours and many other aspects. It’s not always easy in cloudy conditions and that 28 comes out with flying colours.


  • artuk says:

    I almost don’t like to mention this, as it seems inappropriate dirty talk, but lots of people say very good things about the rather cheaper Sony FE 28mm f2. Sorry to bring the conversation down…

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ha ha! Trust me, if we could have a Sony FE 28/2 to compare the Otus to, we would. But Sony have never considered us interesting enough to send any test gear our way, or answer any of our emails (in spite of the fortunes we have spent with them and have made others spend), which is less than polite, in my book. Life’s too short to chase after these guys.

      • artuk says:

        Long term Minolta and Sony user, photographer and journalist David Kilpatrick has similar problems in spite of his 25+ year relationship with Minolta A mount. I own the 28mm f2, and although its not my favourite focal length I like it for some available light open aperture work, where the central core of the image is very “sharp”. As for drawing style etc as its used often in low light and wide open its hard to comment. For the price, it’s a nice lens, though maybe not a landscape photographers lens as others seem to think the corners and edges never “come in” (cannot comment as I haven’t looked).

        • pascaljappy says:

          Some of these legacy lenses are superb. My personal favorite legacy poison comes from Leica-R. These lenses are no so cheap and build quality is second to nothing built before or since. The joy of using a Summicron-R 50 is unparalleled. Plus drawing is lovely at f/2 and becomes super sharp as you close down. An absolute steal. Hang on to your Minolta if you feel the same way 🙂

  • Ross says:

    Given the superlative optical quality of the Zeiss Otus family, the Zeiss 135/f2 etc., combined with the latest crop of high-resolution cameras (Sony A7r II for example), would it be fair to say that zooms are rendered superfluous for a great deal of general photography?
    Sensors in the order of 100 mpix are in the offing, hopefully with acceptable sensitivity.
    I plan to test this proposition in an upcoming visit to Rocky Mountain National Park armed with only
    two fixed Zeiss optics : 135/f2 apo-sonnar and the 28mm Otus you’re reviewing. There’ll be a lot of wildlife, and I’m hoping significant crops to the 135mm images will provide acceptable close-ups.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Ross, that sounds like a great plan. One thing is for certain:with cropping and stitching abilities being what they are, the reach of two primes has grown tremendously and what would have been a stretch some years ago would work fine today. The 28, stitched will give you a 24 or less and the 135 cropped will give you a very good 180. Anything in between will be covered too. So you’d be covering a superzoom range with “just” the two primes (and a little more shooting discipline). Please let us know how it works out and send us some photographs 🙂

      All the best,

  • Ross says:

    Thanks Pascal, I will.
    Good to know you don’t think I’m too far afield.
    As an engineer, I’ve really been spoiled by Zeiss quality, hence my kit contains only Zeiss manual-focus primes.
    I see that you often shoot mirrorless; from a purely electro-technical standpoint, I think it’s the only way to go. Flopping mirrors etc. are noisy, subject to misalignment, and an anachronism given today’s high resolution EVFs.
    It remains only to instrument an all-electronic shutter of acceptable capture speed … obviously Sony’s thinking along these lines with the exploratory silent shutter in A7R II.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Unhappily Ross, quality assurance has become more of an issue with photographic gear in recent years. I agree with you on Zeiss – I’ve been using their gear for 60 years (doesn’t that sound awful !!! – I had barely become a teenager when I HAD to get Zeiss !!) But I’ve come across some very negative stuff about certain “other brands”, and for me, there’s too much money at stake to gamble on whether or not I’m heading into a QA disaster.
      The latest offering from Hasselblad is an example of what the camera industry COULD do, if it tried harder and listened to its customers more. Theirs is an offering for a restricted market, of course – most amateurs can only drool over it & get back to the cams they have.
      All of which reinforces views Ming Thein expressed 7 months back, about mirrorless cams. None of the “solutions” hasn’t been invented yet – but none of the cams selects & collects them, to produce something that I’d really want. I mostly use my PowerShot for fun stuff, like snaps of the dogs. There’s not one mirrorless out there in my price range that I could honestly say I’d like to have, for serious photography.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Yes, an electronic shutter would let us use leaf-shutter lenses, too. Some of which are the finest ever created on this good Earth 🙂

      Fuji are really on to something with the OVF / EVF idea. The EVF is really a dashboard but the information (very) occasionally gets in the way of seeing the minor details. So the OVF for composition, that turns into an EVF for fine tuning really makes sense.

      All these brands are pushing forward along different lines and someday, we’ll probably see something really spectacular coalesce from all these ideas 🙂

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