Zeiss has officially pulled back the curtains on a new series of lenses for Nikon film and digital SLR cameras. As revealed when news of the Zeiss "ZF" line leaked in mid-December 2005, the first two F-mount manual-focus lenses are a Planar 50mm f/1.4 and Planar 85mm f/1.4, with more to come later this year. In fact, notes the January 2006 issue of Zeiss' Camera Lens News newsletter, a "handful" of additional ZF lenses are promised to be unveiled and on display at Photokina 2006 this fall.
The reason for the creation of Zeiss ZF? The newsletter offers this: "Since our former partner, Kyocera, has discontinued their Contax activities, we wanted to find new ways to offer Carl Zeiss lenses to demanding SLR 35 mm photographers, especially those who use digital equipment."
And it goes on to say: "ZF lenses provide Nikon F-mount cameras with the creative potential and phototechnical performance available so far only in the Contax system. In addition, ZF lenses incorporate new technical advances from the ZEISS Ultra Prime®, Master Prime® and DigiPrime® lenses for motion picture cameras. Like the ZEISS lenses for motion picture, ZF lenses feature unusually high mechanical quality, fixed focal length, very precise manual focussing, reliability, and exceptional durability. Special attention is paid to guarantee absolute color matching throughout the whole range of lenses resulting in state-of-the-art image quality."
The lenses themselves are to be manufactured by Cosina in Japan. We're not clear on whether it will be possible to set the lens' aperture via a command dial on a modern Nikon body (though it appears doubtful), or whether there will be any electronic or mechanical linkage between a ZF lens and a Nikon camera (to support metering and other functions). ZF lenses are slated to ship in spring or early summer 2006. Pricing has not been set.
The newsletter doesn't specify what other new lenses will be unveiled in the Photokina timeframe, though photographs of the ZF series on the Zeiss web site clearly show two additional F-mount lenses beyond the two announced. One appears to be a Distagon prime wide angle, the other a Makro-Planar prime macro, both with maximum apertures of f/2 (the two mystery lenses are also shown in the picture below). The not-yet-announced lenses have been photographed in a manner that makes it impossible to determine their precise focal length.
Perhaps not coincidentally, a recent Nikon UK press release stated that Nikon was ceasing the manufacture of most F-mount manual-focus lenses.
Zeiss has also announced Zeiss ZS, lenses that are identical to the new ZF models except for the mount, which is the older M-42 screw type in the ZS series. The company envisions this as a way for Canon users to take advantage of the new lenses, since "there are M-42 adapters available for any SLR bayonet mounts, including Canon EOS and FD. So you can adapt a ZS lens onto any 35 mm SLRs (and many other applications as well) if you crave the optical characteristics of this lens line and are willing to get along without the convenience functions of recent lenses."
Zeiss ZF Planar 50mm f/1.4 and Planar 85mm f/1.4 plus two mystery lenses (Photo courtesy Zeiss)