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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Iceland travel for asian, {single camera} Part 1

iceland travel blog

Iceland travel for asian, {single camera} Part 2

Yeah, i went to iceland. Let me just drag that timeline cursor to the beginning so i can share some of the tips and ideas you can do while travelling to iceland, especially so if you are not an expert backpacker or if you are coming from Asian countries like malaysia, singapore or thailand.

Before i took this journey, i had tons of tips coming from well meaning folks about what i should or should not do in iceland. “You will need to spend at least RM 5k (USD 1.3k) on gears and clothing!” says one uncle, who had never been there  himself.  “Why are you going on summer?, you will miss the aurora lights!”, says the other.

A short advice about these things that ppl dishes out to you….”ignore”, it’s absolutely ridiculous to take any of those advices given that different seasons in Iceland requires a firsthand experience, not from some imaginative minds.

Well here are the cost breakdown that i had spent on my own clothing and gears :

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water proof shoes (iphone 7+)

  • waterproof shoes – karrimor shoes, from sports direct RM 250 (usd 60).  i got mine from the sports direct outlet at Double Tree Hotel. Even though i went on summer, i faced unpredictable weather in Iceland and lots of walking and simple hiking. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish, get yourself a waterproof boot or shoes.

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waterproof jackets from uniqlo / blocktech (35mm zeiss FE f2.0)

  • uniqlo blocktech jacketRM 120 uniqlo, you will need these water repellent and wind proof jackets so that you can get behind some of the beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. If you notice most instagrams have the picture of the person way in front of the waterfall, its because they didn’t bring these jackets along.  Get the ones  with the hood.

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Get near the waterfalls (iphone 7+)

  • Bring other basic clothing like pants, gloves and i totally recommend those light clothing from Uniqlo’s heattech.

Now that you have the basic gears covered, you will need to book the flight ticket.  There is no direct flight to Iceland from Malaysia, so we went there using Thai Airways, 1 day stop in Bangkok, landed in Denmark and went on a direct flight to Reykjavik using IcelandAir. The flight from Denmark to Iceland that we took is not a connecting flight, its a separate flight that we booked online and it was 3 hours departure from our ETA to Denmark, so we took a little risk there.

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IcelandAir Direct Routes

Now, the CAMERA. For the last few travels i did, i always chose film over digital but for Iceland i decided to bring my trusty Sony A7s with three batteries and a Casio TR wide angle camera (otherwise also known as selfie girls cam hahaha, a little bit on that later).  So why? Why digital over film, fact is that i kinda chickened out, i could not google up much information on film labs and availability in Iceland and given that this is one trip that i needed wide angle lens, i have the 35mm Zeiss f2.8. I have partly regretted that i didn’t bring along a film camera for a surprise reason that will be shown later on!.

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That one Camera one Lens

 

For the next chapter i will be sharing on some of the early photos i took using this setup and other things  i encountered with my family during our visit to Iceland.

Iceland travel for asian, {single camera} Part 2

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 8

leica travel photographer

Read the earlier series :

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 7

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 6

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 5

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 4

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 3

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 2

Dubrovnik, Croatia {travel with film} Part 1

After Dubrovnik and Lokrum, we went to Zagreb and took a personal tour with a local there to visit the Plitvice National park, on the way we stopped by this small town named Rastoke. Boris is a super personal guide that drove very safely and was patience in showing us the locations and updating us on the scenes that we visited. You can find Boris in trip advisor, be sure to tell him that about this blog and ask for  a discount 😉

This is a beautiful town that looks like it came out straight from the disney fairy tale.

 

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fairy tale residential scenery

Houses are built surrounded by beautiful mini waterfalls and streams. Its a sight to behold and there is a cafe at the entrance that you can sit and enjoy this beautiful view. Prices here are cheaper than Zagreb and if you want there are lodging that you can book and stay.

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slope for scenery view

If you walk up the road on the side you can see how the houses are built around the streams and in harmony with nature. There is no better landscaping than one that makes nature your neighbour. Totally awesome and the envy of any architect.

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surreal living

One of the main attraction here are the houses at near the entrance just a 5 minutes walk in the area and you will see crystal clear water in a shallow lake by the houses

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Mesmerizing scene

We spend around an hour at Rastoke, enjoying the view and sat a while at the cafe. We then proceed to the Plitvice National park.

Plitvice is our last travel destination and thus the end of this long series of travel with film for Croatia. We spent nearly 5 hours here. Yup, 5 hours. It involved a lot of walking, trekking and walking. I suggest you get a some water resistant shoes and clothing when you visit this place.

In fact, if this was a solo trip, i would probably spend the whole day here. While Rastoke is beautiful and surreal, its also a small town, Plitvice on the other hand is a huge garden of Eden.

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You will find yourself surrounded by emerald lakes and clear rivers that will make you wonder if such paradise is worthy of humans. These images that you see here are unedited and captured on film for its analogue and organic feel, something which i feel would be corrupted by digital capture.

Lets just enjoy these last set of images as i close this chapter on Travel with film for Dubrovik, Croatia and its attractions.

beautiful croatia, malaysia top travel blogger marcus low

best travel blogger marcus low malaysia for croatia

plitvice travel blogger leica marcus low of malaysia

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most beautiful travel photographer marcus low malaysia plitvice sceneries

top 10 film blogger photography travelling to europe

10 ultimate travel blogger photography in leica
Say grace to God, for allowing us to enjoy this beautiful scenery

This whole series has taken me one whole year to write and share. All the images in this travel blogging photography series is done using Leica M7 with 35 mm Zeiss ZM f2.0 lens. All the images are shot wide open and i used various films like kodak color plus 200 (bought in Dubrovnik), Superia 200 and Fuji Pro400H and developed in Publika Bang Bang Geng, Malaysia.

Thank you for visiting my blog, i hope you find inspiration to travel to Croatia.

(Next in 2017, ICELAND!)

kim {film | portraiture | LC-A 120 | Leica M7}

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lc-a 120

I had a fantastic weekend unwinding by doing a set of portraiture using the LC-A 120 medium format film camera and my trusty Leica M7.

One of the challenge that i faced is that LC-A and the bigger LC-A 120 have exposure control. This means that if you shoot backlighting photos, you will just end up with silhouette images. But as you can see in the images here, i managed to come up with a technique to fool the camera without using any filters or add ons.

Lomo cameras should be used with a lot of common sense and thoughts to get good images. If there is one thing you should forget, is to forget the 10 rules of lomography. There is no shortcut for good images and visualization.

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lc-a 120

All these photos are shot on a Fuji 400H pro for both the LC-A 120 and the Leica M7.  You can easily differentiates the pictures of the LC-A 120 by its square format and the Leica being rectangle. These are taken at the beach and hotel called “LonePine” in Penang, an island on the northern state of Malaysia.

 

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lc-a 120

Miss Kim here is a top 10 Miss Malaysia in 2013. Though it has been years since she got involved in any beauty contest, you can see that she doesn’t require much effort to be photogenic. On the LC-A 120 camera, i took these images by standing just 1 meter apart. In lomography sites, you often see that almost all the images shown are taken on a centre subject and with light facing it else its dark, my examples here are unique because for once you get to see images taken using the LC-A 120 backlighting and yet decently exposed on the subject. 

 

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lc-a 120

The technique is very simple. PM me if you want to find out 😛

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leica m7, 35mm biogon

Now i did a complete album using the M7 and fuji 400h pro film. It’s an emotional theme that portrays the relationship between a girl, a vintage camera at a lonely room. Do enjoy the images here, the complete set could be found at my facebook, fb:marcuslowphoto.

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leica m7, 35mm biogon

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leica m7, 35mm biogon

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leica m7, 35mm biogon

Next, i be sharing some of the  candid photos i took on the LC-A 120 as well as street photos. Till then, adios.

 

Getting close {Street photography | 18mm f4 Zeiss}

supermodel?
supermodel?

18mm f4 zeiss is one of those lens that keeps coming back to your side, sweet talking you into taking it out for some good time. Today i decided to shoot really close, 1.2-2 meters. This has to be done from the hips and its not something new to me as i prefer shooting silently as an observer rather than taking the VF up to my eyes. Granted, Leica ME/M9 uses mechanical shutters and its nowhere as silent as today’s electronic shutter that you can find in many mirrorless cameras. However once you are on the street, its barely audibe and could be used in almost any street photography except a quiet subway.

look left
look left

If there is one thing that i love about the 18mm more than any lens is the drama it brings to the image. 18 is not your average street photographer’s nor portrait lens, but that is exactly why its a compelling lens to used. While shooting at F4, base iso 160 and 1/250 on a cloudy midday, i notice i could easy frame and get the image almost exactly as i imagined it would be.

crossing
crossing

Street photography is very different from my model portraiture shoot. You don’t have all the time to focus and shoot and you would want as much elements in the picture as possible that shows the subject being in the street or environment. This particular shot i was very close to the subject and they came out from my left suddenly from the mall’s entrance. I set my camera to be in focus for 1.2 meter. Its really beautiful how manual focus lens have these distance markings easily readable when you are shooting from the hip. The masters of the old film days didn’t have any option but to shoot using distance zone focusing when they don’t want to miss the moment, hence the popular one liner of “F8 be there”. I use f4, i want the background to be visible enough buy not as sharp as the subjects.

where's mum
where’s mum

This photo is unedited. The beautiful subject isolation is caused by direction that these people are moving towards the bright outdoor. I notice the cute baby expression of being anxious and quickly move towards them.

leading lines
leading lines

This is probably a photo that i don’t feel like publishing because it actually resembles an upskirt kinda shoot but i am actually pretty far off and took this picture only because of the rare empty distance between me and the subject. When i imported my images to LR, i noticed how perfectly straight the lines are even though i took it from the hip and did not double check on it after the shot. Was tempted to put the caption as “stalked” after i converted it to B&W, but no.

cafe infestation
cafe infestation

Malaysia is undergoing some Cafe booming market right now. This is a standard Starbucks and look how full it is. There are so much activities and interesting people in a cafe.

Chelsea Chang & Sasha Gold, Portraiture

Most of the images here are done using the Zeiss 18 f4. However some are done using a very ancient lens, the Cyclops 85 1.5.
I take it that you will have no problem knowing which is which.
You may contact Chelsea via facebook from my page : www.facebook.com/marcuslowphoto for modelling jobs and casting.
I must say she is a very dedicated model and able to do her own makeup. Sasha is not working towards being a model, so its just a fun collaboration.

I hope you enjoy the images as much as i did creating them. And as for the Cyclops, there is 1 very big con that i should mention, its only sharp at centre. Hence even for some of these photos where i composed using rules of 3rd, the face is a bit blur. That is the limitation you will have to live with, but the legendary bokeh, its not something u can create by photoshop easily.

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Vanessa, Post Era (Portraiture)

Vanessa will be leaving Malaysia soon. This is her album, portraiture using my emoref (emotional reflective) style.

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Vanessa
Vanessa

This was taken using Minolta Rokkor 55mm 1.7. Manual focusing oh yeah!
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The minolta lens continues to surprise me. There are many of these lens lying around in japan and ebay, get yours while you can. I am not selling mine on ebay, but my advice would be, you usually gets what you pay for, look properly at the lens images and description before bidding. Some of the images in this series completely astound me when the “flare” hits the Rokkor at 1.7, more on this later.

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Images taken in this post is taken using Zeiss 18mm F4 and Minolta Rokkor 1.7.
Zeiss 18mm M mount at Bhphoto