#490. Ongoing OTUS 28 review: 8 hours of street photography in Marseilles

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Jun 19

After a walk in the vines and some architectural photography in Aix-en-Provence, here is the third and last “leftover pics” post I’ll be publishing about the OTUS 28.
DSC03618This is a biggie …;) The lens is large and its possibilities even more so. So let’s honour this fact with a large post. I’ll mostly shut up and let you take in the photographs, but here’s a little bit of context and intentions to help it all make sense.

So, the occasion is a trip to Marseilles taken to photograph some regattas and classic sailboats. One of the boats is below.

Having made the trip with time to spare,  I decided to walk about and enjoy the area. By the time the follower boat was set to depart, I was having so much fun in the little back streets of Provence’s capital that I didn’t bother returning to the port.

DSC03609What you see on this page, then, is just a series of photographs made during my aimless wander. Since WordPress (annoyingly) insists on inserting batches of photographs in reverse chronological order, you should start at bottom if you want to retrace the walk. But it works just as well in top-down mode.

The goal for my walk, and for this article, is to evaluate how useful a wide-angle OTUS can be on the streets. Generations of street photographers have used smaller ans stealthier lenses, usually in slightly longer focal lengths to insert themselves inconspicuously into the lives and events of others to tell their stories on film, or in pixels.  Can a dark grey manual focus behemoth be used for the same purpose?


Well, I probably wouldn’t want to carry such precision machinery into a war zone, to be honest. Nimbleness is one limiting factor, resistance to rough handling, another. But for wading through a city all day long, shooting landscapes, shops, people and general street life, it’s actually quite brilliant. Optical qualities obviously have a lot to do with this, but ergonomics play a major role as well.

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Yes, the lens is large, and quite heavy. But not more so than many a decent zoom. And I know which I’d rather carry with me at close quarters or for broad landscapes. The day a zoom produces (almost sooc) image quality such as displayed on the photographs above, I’ll gladly invest. But today (Q2 2016), that doesn’t exists and I’ll happily loose (what many perceive as, but really isn’t) convenience and keep the unparalleled imaging style. These hand-held shots have a distinct medium or large format look to them. DSC03578-PanoThen, there’s that focusing ring. Every bit as smooth as anything I have ever used, at any price, it is better weighted than on my OTUS 85. Slightly firmer, so more reassuring (it’s easy to change the focus point on the 55 and 85 by accidentally touching the large rubber ring post-focusing).

And, there’s the aperture ring. It’s super sexy to see a 28mm go all the way down to 1.4. It’s just great to have a ring to use, any ring.

<rant>So many lens designers, even of good lenses, rely on in-camera aperture control, these days. Zeiss themselves are guilty of that with the Batis range. Poo poo is DearSusan’s verdict on that trend. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Creating a lens is not just about delivering photons to a sensor. Everything we create in life tells our philosophy. It’s our responsibility, as creators of anything to promote a vision, not just rake in cash (this may explain why immense wealth seems to elude me with great talent). And creative lenses should promote creativity, which is 110% stifled by abandoning our decision-making to a silicon brain or the rancid ergonomic divagations that have plagued camera body design in the past decade. </rant>


Anyway … big, yes, heavy yes. Great in hand? Oh yes!

About weight, about price (the other pachyderm in the OTUS room). Out of range for most. Undeniably. The unlucky who simply cannot afford this lens include me. That’s too bad. (famous last words …)

For others, the decision is more along the lines of “a single 28 or a 12mm, a 24-70, a 70-200 and a 300 ?” Weight and cost are roughly similar, if you aim for mid-to-high-range lenses. Weight probably in favor of the single fatboy. In my mind, there’s only one answer to this: get the fatboy. Think about it.

  • Only one lens is paradise. No lens swapping is paradise. I walked all day with just the one lens and didn’t feel the vaguest itch for more at any point.
  • More importantly, the zoom spread is all about quieting your fears. Fear of missing a shot. Who cares? I probably missed a 1000 shots today. But still have at least 10, I’m really happy with. Fear is never a good guide, whatever your life mission. Whereas the single prime is all about image quality and creativity. Positive choices. Minimalist empowerment. Of course, if your thing is wildlife, being stuck with a 500/4 might be a tad tricky on holiday 😉 And if you’re a pro, you need the range to feed your family. But amateurs shouldn’t imitate pros. Amateurs should imitate successful amateurs and creative minded individuals.


But enough with the lecturing. Men with grey hair compensate for their keratin deficiencies by lecturing others 😉 Don’t listen to them and have fun!

Fun! I doubt that Christophe Cazenave and Dr Nasse’s brief mentioned fun-to-use as top design goal. But, among the copious doses of technical righteousness poured into the conception of the OTUS 28, these two gentlemen have instilled generous amounts of giggle-inducing fun into it as well. Coupled to the lovely sensor in the Sony, it repeatedly brings a huge smile on your face when you watch a scene, focus in a snap and watch the sublime result on the rear screen seconds later.

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All of this begs a question … Every time I’m given the opportunity to review one of Zeiss’ masterpieces, I should be grateful and express my thanks at length. Instead of which my answer to their generosity is to repeatedly ask the same question : “when are you releasing the camera that would complement these lenses so brilliantly?” It’s become a recurring joke between Christophe Casenave and myself. I had to ask 😉

Except, this time, what if the answer to this repeat request came from another North European country? If you’ve read Ming Thein’s blog lately (if you haven’t, you should) you’ll know Hasselblad are making a major announcement on June 22nd. These guys have taken a bad rap after the whole celebrity-Sony-rebrand episode. Which hasn’t stopped them delivering sublime medium format gear at prices that (like Pentax) are gradually bridging the gap with high-end full-frame.

So, what if …? I mean, just, what if … ? Who knows. This here photographer will be watching the live feed with pulsing heart and feverish wallet! Spouce-cajoling arguments welcome from readers …

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But, back to the OTUS 28 and back to Marseilles.

Gentrification happening at a pace that big-profit-perspectives alone can fuel has made this place a wonderful paradox to photograph. Littered with posers and insufferable pseuds, it is also (still) host to crime and violence unparalleled in France. But, beyond these irks, the amount of creativity that has accompanied the big money renovation of all the waterfront has helped create a really, really lovely place to be and to photograph.

I’ve been wanting to host a workshop here for years and might well do so if enough readers twist my arm. Now is the time and the city is changing so fast that all ancient-modern contrast will soon be lost to gucci and versace. Your call guys.

DSC03529-Pano DSC03524 DSC03523 DSC03522 DSC03521Anyway, a 28 seems like a perfect lens for this city and the OTUS is the perfect 28. What started as a search for test targets soon ended up being an 8-hour long walk that only my inability to focus (mentally) any longer finally interrupted. It’s a hard life reviewing the world’s best lenses, you know 😀


But let me shut my trap for now and just enjoy the photographs, the city and the lens. Some pics are straight out of camera, some have been processed. Some are colour, others B&W. Some are both. My only intention is to show you the city and show you what photographs made with that lens on a Sony sensor (that covers a lot of the market) can be made to look like.

The formal review and comparison will be published shortly and I’ll be much more specific about settings and processing. For now, just let the look and rendering sink in. I’ve tried to include many subjects and scenarios to mirror as many reader preferences as possible.

I’ll conclude with this: in 3 days time, this Zeiss OTUS 28/1.4 will leave casa Jappy to ship to its new owner’s residence. Sad? Not really. I know the owner. And so do you, if you’re a regular. So you’ll see plenty more of Karl on DearSusan in the future. Oh yeah, we’ve called him Karl. I’ll let the rightful owner explain why in a few days !

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So. What are your thoughts on this lens’ qualities and about Marseilles? Please share your thoughts 🙂


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    LOL – I can tell you’re an addict, Pascal, from the number of photos you took with Karl. Unfortunately, as I’ve already mentioned, I cannot see myself being able to afford one – much as I’d love to. So I will have to sit back and enjoy the photos posted by others on Dear Susan, as you guys all beg, borrow, steal or buy an Otus 28.

    Marseilles looks fascinating – and while I (and countless others) mourn the loss of Les Halles, I confess to a love of GOOD modern architecture. Most of what you are showing us here floats my boat – the MuCEM took me completely by surprise, it is sensational.

    I didn’t like the dead bird as much – and I was startled to find ABC’s popping up on Dear Susan, I must have misunderstood earlier comments on this site! I adore photographing cathedrals etc – not because of all those decades spent singing in the choir, but for the sheer beauty of them – they offer so many photo opportunities, if you have the time to wait for the right lighting and the eye to see what they offer. But I guess that’s true of a stroll along the street too – so many things catch my eye. My “enthusiasm” for shooting cathedrals is probably the result of living half a world away from them, they don’t pop up here very much as I move around, looking for things to photograph.

    Tell me – how do you couple the Otus 28 to a Sony A7R? All I can find on the net is suggestions that you need an adapter – described by some as 29mm thick, leaving me wondering if you end up with an effective focal length of (28 + 29) = 57mm. And coupled with suggestions that this puts too much strain on the mountings, and can bend the mounts out of shape, so it is alleged to be essential to fix the adapter to a tripod . . . . etc etc. By that stage I am left gasping – but it doesn’t sound a bit like what you’re talking about.

    (Not that that’s my problem – I shoot FF with a D810 – I guess I can’t complain about the weight of the lens, either – LOL. While admiring the Otus 28, I looked at the weight and thought what the hell, my cam already weighs about 2 Kg with the Otus 55, so another 380 gm is hardly going to hurt!)

    • pascaljappy says:

      Addict? Guilty as charged 😉

      The Otus is designed for a Nikon (or Canon) camera, both of which are (to put it non-scientifically) “thicker” cameras than the very slim Sony. The distance between the rear of the lens and the sensor is much lower on the Sony. So the adapter (mine is a Voigtlander, but Novoflex make them as well) is essentially an expensive spacer … just e metal tube with Sony mount at the rear and Nikon mount at the front.It serves no other purpose than to allow the lens to focus exactly as on the orginal camera it xas designed for. So this has no impact on the focal length.

      Marseilles is a spectacular city. It combines a great setting with a lot of history and tremendous variety. What this post shows just scratches the surface. And the areas around Marseilles aren’t ba either, with Aix worth the visit and the hills a true haven for wildlife and photographers.

  • Joakim Danielson says:

    It certainly looks like a great lens and it was put to good use too! Sharpness, colours, bokeh,… , it seems to tick a lot of the right boxes. Great introduction to Marseille as well for someone who has never been there.

    I’ll be busy on the 22:nd of June as well 😉

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Joakim. Come over one day, we can visit lots of great places there 🙂

      Ah June 22 … speculation, speculation 😉 A MF RX-1 ? A mirrorless MF ? A FF adversary for Leica ? I have to say a mirrorless MF compatible with the OTUS lenses would appeal to me too strongly for common sense to prevail 😀

  • Bob Hamilton says:

    A word of friendly advice from one who’s been there.
    Don’t be tempted by Hasselblad, whatever people like Ming might say.
    My experiences with my HD4 equipment were downright awful which was the reason why I moved to Leica S. The camera kept refusing to work at usually the decisive moment, with “lens connection” error messages and Hasselblad’s customer service department was unhelpful and arrogant. My experiences were not unique and I well remember the regular howls of anger on a Better Moments Iceland workshop when the 2 HD40 users on that trip (I was with Leica by then) repeatedly experienced the same issues I had encountered.
    Unless they’ve changed beyond belief, stick with what you have is my advice.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Bob, thanks for the warning 😀

      I do think the H5 is good enough, with some issues reported in wet weather. Unfortunately, talk to Leica owners and you’ll hear horror stories as well. And my own history with Sony is one of extreme frustration also (mine died on me on two occasions, during expensive trips to remote locations and the guys in the country capital’s Sony store essentially told me to f..k off. “We sell cameras, we don’t fix them” was one of the phrases that still hurts when the weather is turning grey). So, I’ve come to think that camera reliability is just bad throughout the board these days and that (1) you need a good dealer (2) you need a bit of luck but, eventually, the thing will die on you. The same school of “thought” that brought us awful ergonomics improvements also gave the world reliability and customer support to match. And with the whole SLR market sinking, it’s hard to imagine things getting better anytime soon.

      Perhaps more importantly, I’ve written a few times to various people at Sony and never once got a reply. Whereas I’ve had warm contacts at Hasselblad and Zeiss. The day my camera once again decides it’s time for an untimely nap, I want it to be from a brand that’s shown interest in me as a person. I’m not suggesting Hassy are better than Leica here. But if you have good contacts with Leica, go with them. For these smaller, more expensive brands, it really comes down to inter-personal relationships.


      • Bob Hamilton says:

        As you say, Pascal, no brand is perfect in this electronic age but at least Sony (or Fuji if that’s your poison) kit is a damn sight cheaper than the MF brigade and a back up camera and additional, strategic focal length lenses are hardly a major burden to carry on a trip given the form factor compared to MF….and the image quality from the high resolution Sony is at least as good as the direct MF competition.


        • pascaljappy says:

          Yes, plus every new generation of the FF cameras is better than the last, too. What bothers me is the ever increasing price point. This is fully justified by feature level but customer servvice is still firmly planted in the middle-ages. That’s a pain with a 400€ camera and an absolute NO GO (for me) at 4000€, which is probably what the next cameras will cost. Plus the financial hit we take at every camera change (made necessary – again, for me – by the absolute lack of faith in reliability and service met in the past) finally adds up to something that easily get me into MF territory. But there is hope at the end of the tunnel. It seems that the rumored future Sony cameras will push the megapixel level ever higher, which is of no interest to me, so I’ll probably be able to buy something to my tastes one step down the Sony ladder that doesn’t break the bank quite as much.


  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,

    It appears that these OTUS lenses have the distinct ability to catch light without damaging its pureness.

    It’s the photographer’s responsibility to respect this remarkable ability in practical terms by crafting memorable images of that ability … that is, to prove an OTUS lens is the best brush the photographer must find the best canvas … that’s a challenge …

    Wish I had enough lollie to buy one or more of ’em …


    • pascaljappy says:

      Yeah, me too !! The keeper rate with that lens is exceptional ! As you say, purity is what describes it best. Truly lovely. Maybe we can timeshare 😉 😉 😉

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pascal, can I ask another question? Is the second-last photo retouched, to bring out the tapestry on the wall? – or is that lighting on it the effect of the window (out of sight) on the right hand side of the photo? I won’t ask on this one – I was struck by the fact Marseilles seems to be overrun with Hungarians – they’re all over the place, through these photos – it’s of interest to me because, for some inexplicable reason, my life seems to be touched by Hungarians over & over, despite the fact there are relatively few of them living in this country.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Pete, the last photo is converted to b&w and contrast has been enhanced slightly. The circular patch of light comes from an overhead projector. That’s probably what creates the impression you describe. But the lens also has spectacular 3D.

      The Hungarian invasion was a fun event 😉 They were supporting their national football team for the UEFA Euro 2016. They were a lot of fun !

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        You lucked out with the lighting – who’d expect to wander through a church and find one of the things one wants to photograph has special illumination to highlight it? It IS a spectacular shot.

        And I share your feelings about the Hungarians – every time I’ve had the chance to pass time with them, they have been a bundle of fun. Like the 94 year old grandmother at my (hungarian) friend Jocko’s wedding, who managed to dance practically all the guys at the reception to the point they were all exhausted, and she was still kicking up her heels at 2am when the party broke up – she never stopped, except for a glass of wine to slake her thirst!

        • pascaljappy says:

          Yes, the lighting really makes the shot here. That 94 year-old seems like a hoot 🙂 The Hungarian fans were dancing in the streets, I know where they got that from 😉

  • Bernie Ess says:

    Hmm, I am a bit late here, just found that site recently, with the Loxia 85 review. In both reviews (Loxia 85 and Otus 28) I find – me too – that striking purity. Seeing the a7rII & Otus 28 files I’d without knowing what they are made with, I’d probably say MF gear.
    Not sure if you talk about that, but what converter do you generally use? Capture 1? THose photos clearly show how good Sony files can be made to look like, colorwise.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Bernie. In most cases the converter is Adobe Lightroom. Philippe, my co-author on some of these reviews, uses Capture One. And I’ve been experimenting with Capture One a lot recently. One very striking and puzzling aspect of Zeiss lenses is that the Sony produces better colours with them than with Sony lenses. Weird but systematically the case in my experience. That OTUS 28 is an absolute gem.

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