The Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Review {Portraiture}

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Review, Amanda CME / IG : marcus_low

Otus. The crème de la crème brand of the Germany’s Zeiss lens maker. My review focuses only on its aesthetic output for portraits and doing so using a DSLR and handheld.

All images shot here are done on Canon 6D MK II, Handheld, at wide open f1.4 except for snapshots of bags, camera setup itself done on phone.

We all know that story in 2013 when Zeiss launched the Otus 55 1.4, a standard lens type of focal length with a hefty price tag, some of us are quick to jump on the keyboard warrior pods while others sang praises with less than a day of using it.

I was one of them. When reviews started coming in with images of the Otus size, I was both baffled and intrigued. Baffled because of my own decision of using a Noctilux f1 (50mm) on a relatively small FF camera like the M9 or 240 tells me that it is not going to be a very practical lens.

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portrait, Amanda CME
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, Amanda CME

Intrigued because, knowing Zeiss, this is a solid company that don’t just slap on a price tag because “we can”. What magic lies in that lens to justify the asking price? Sure, we all know the mantras shared in every darn forum and page on “gears don’t matter” , while the background chants sponsored by phone makers whispers “Let us just stick to our Iphones and huaweis”, but for those in the know, you want the best with you when you can. Phones and it’s yearly bs about replacing DSLRS and Mirrorless are just marketing gimmicks. Each year more baals worshippers join the herds as commercials done using dslrs are put up to mislead the public again and again.

Otus 55 1.4, Amanda CME

The day finally came when I sold off the Leica M240. For those looking to buy your first Leica camera, let me just put it this way, the M240 produces one of the most boring, most inaccurate white balance on any of the cameras I have owned and tried and its a huge list in my last 8 years of photography. What it is however, is a very beautiful camera and feels fantastic at hand.

After I left the m240, I essentially left Leica as a brand I would continue to pursue in my journey. Next on my list, Zeiss. So when I got an offer for the Otus 55 1.4, I took it and started shooting.

Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 review
The Zeiss Otus 55 on Canon 6D Mk2

My main concerns and probably the same concerns that you will have

1.Will it be too heavy?

A Canon 50 1.2 weights 545g. The Otus 55 1.4 is 970g. It is not light but if you are looking for One Camera + One Lens and rule the world setup, this is it. I am a Asian guy, I don’t find it heavy and I am at 169 cm in height. I took it and walked with it the whole day and I feel its ok.

2. Is the size practical?

I would say this is an even bigger concern than weight. The good news is that the size can easily fit a small bag with the camera if you reverse mount the hood. If you want to carry the camera and lens with the hood in the normal position, then you will need a medium size bag.

zeiss otus 55 size
Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 in a small bag x 300cm long

The red watch is a normal sized watch for the ladies so you can see here the small bag I mentioned is not “small like a wallet or jacket pocket” but it is a very common sized bag.

zeiss otus 55 size
Zeiss Otus 55, the One Camera One Lens Setup

3. How in the world do you manual focus accurately?

Aha! Let me share to you a technique I use just for this kind of setup. It is both practical, enjoyable and produce decently sharp results.

Here are some proof.

How to use manual focus on DSLR for the Otus 55 / Indoor / Handheld

And the crop results.

How to manually focus Zeiss Otus 55 1.4
100% Crop

So here is the technique and the criteria for using it.

  1. You will need a camera that supports Touch Screen (more on the whys later). On Canon this means 6D MK2 and newer.
  2. You must be able to turn on LiveView easily on the back of the DSLR
  3. You need a strap. The kind you hang over your neck and without too much elasticity.

You will need to stretch the camera out before you and have a bit of tension. This provides the stability to reduce handshakes that is needed especially for indoor type of shoot.

Press on the LiveView button, on the Canon 6DMK2, you can easily reach it using your right thumb while holding the camera with two hands.

COMPOSE! You do your composition now, ignore the focus point.

Press the Magnify button (or whichever button on your camera that allows you to select a focus point via touch). This is the reason why I insist that this technique requires touch screen, it makes the whole shooting process easy because you already composed your shot, there will be no recomposing.

Press the Magnify button twice (eg 6DMK2) or whichever button to get you maximum ZOOM. Twist that smooth focusing barrel on the Otus 55 1.4 and when you see the image is clear, just press the shutter, don’t worry about the image looking wobbly while being in the zoom mode.

So just to recap, you shoot using the liveview, compose first, click on the focus point, zoom in and manually focus on the zoomed-in image, press the shutter. All while having that tension between the camera and strap.

Marcus Low

What’s so great about the OTUS 55 1.4?

Now that we are done with the technique, let’s see why this lens is a must have for a standard focal length if you don’t mind manual focusing.

Contrast, Colors, Sharpness

The bokeh. I am a bokeh whore and there for a 50mm kinda portraits you will need bokeh. The Otus at 55 1.4 means you will have plenty of that, but who needs ugly bokeh?

Check out the ugly bokeh of some 50s that you have probably come across. Below is the 50 1.4 Canon USM.

Bokeh Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 vs Canon 50 1.4 USM
The model is beautiful (fb: colleen), the Bokeh is questionable

Now check out the Otus 55 1.4

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Bokeh
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, Busy background but beautiful bokeh, Model Amanda CME

More examples of great COLORS, CONTRAST, SHARPNESS

Readers of my blogs will understand that I often prefer to demonstrate the points by picture instead of elaborate texts. So sit back and enjoy the images. Pay attention to the shifting tones between light and shadows, highlights and the falloff in depth of field rendering.

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 f1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4, 3D POP!

Check out the colors! Those living in Malaysia know we don’t have the best angle for good sun light, every bit of advantage you get from the lens helps!

Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 portraits
Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 DOF renderings / Melaka

When I first got the lens and took some shots, I saw something I didn’t find in my other lenses. Something subtle yet makes the images different. I found it hard to pinpoint the factors. I spent some time reading the technical details on Zeiss own site and took notice of the amount of work their engineers had to do to create this lens.

Flare is like none-existing, instead you get a kind of glow.

Otus 55 f1.4 portraits glow
Otus 55 f1.4 portrait. Flare becomes a glow / no-flash

I am so happy with owning this lens, although admittedly I didn’t come in with the launching price, I wished I owned this lens much earlier and I would have happily paid the price for admission. Sometimes, the timing in technological advancement and features are just not there to make this connection, for example, I would have failed in using this if not for the touch screen introduced on the DSLR like 6DMk2.

Otus 55 f1.4 review
Bobba tea anyone? Cheers to Zeiss

Thanks for reading. You will notice I did not add any affiliate links to BHPhoto/Amazon or anywhere, that is because I am not paid for writing these, just sharing from one enthusiast to another. – Cheers.

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