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Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE: A review of a favorite lens

When I started taking pictures of grasses and leaves, I realized how important bokeh is in this genre. I chose the lens with what I thought was the most expressive background blur, the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE. I chose it over the big name Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM and Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM for its bokeh.

I photographed with a Canon EOS 5D mark II, wasn’t afraid of the lack of autofocus and was open to experimentation. By then I had already mastered the Sigma AF 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM, made sure it was dead in terms of bokeh, but left it for autofocus and sharpness.

Now I use it on the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.

carl zeiss planar t* 1.4:50 ze + canon eos 1n + kodak portra 160

Appearance of the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE

The Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE is small, especially when compared to the Sigma 50mm. It’s about the same size as a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, but you can’t compare them in terms of build quality. Canon should be ashamed that they sell these imitation lenses, and the metal Carl Zeiss will outlive me.


This lens is good in every way, its bokeh is superb.

The Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE blurs in flaky, even, uniform colors. Any mottled subject illuminated sufficiently will be turned into a fairy tale in the blur zone. It’s so beautiful.

Focus, sharpness

Focusing by hand. For me, the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE is comfortable and organic. Tailored for manual focusing, so it has a long stroke on the focus ring. This allows you to adjust the focus very accurately and then tweak it some more.

Sharpness is inferior to the competitor from Sigma. But it’s enough, sharpness is what it should be. 

canon eos r + carl zeiss planar t* 1.4:50 ze

Color, contrast

No complaints. Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE is perfect for color and contrast. Only Canon’s L-series lenses can reproduce color so correctly. Zeiss does it by default without focusing on it. Still, there is a 100 year technology gap between Carl Zeiss and Canon. The closest in color reproduction and micro-contrast I can think of is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM.


The 50mm gently and smoothly blurs your subjects and surroundings, thereby mimicking the image of the human eye. When we focus on the subject at medium range, the foreground and background do not blur into a smooth mush. We continue to see and be aware of them, but not as clearly. The human eye is used to this “airy” volumetric picture and a 45-50 mm fast lens is very close to it.

The telescope “flattens” the picture, makes it two-dimensional. A good example is Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM: it doesn’t make your photos look three-dimensional. The only lens I know of that is even more three-dimensional is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM.


In film photography the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE opened up a new side for me. Film is about color and halftones, about plasticity and dynamic range. The lens handles these things perfectly. I mean, it does it all better than the most advanced Canon lenses.  The result is that I get not only the color of film photography, but also the “air” of photos from centuries ago.

Overall impression

The Carl Zeiss optics are the best I’ve tried in my entire career as a photographer. The Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE is my best lens: exceptionally creative and versatile at the same time. Old school: making lenses not for their intended purpose, but for photographers. This lens can’t ruin a photograph, it will do everything. The Carl Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/50 ZE captures portraits, subjects, landscape, street, architecture and whatever else you have to. I don’t know what else to add to that.