Zeiss Otus 28mm vs Leica Q

Zeiss Otus 28mm vs Leica Q

In the pantheon of lens focal lengths, 28mm is a bit of an outlier. Photojournalists are more apt to reach for the 35mm, while many manufacturers have settled on 24mm for primes and the wide end of their zoom lenses. But 28mm has become visually familiar to consumers because its field-of-view equivalent can be found on many smartphones like the iPhone.

Zeiss caused a ruckus when it announced its line of Otus lenses in 2013; a line designed for maximum still photography performance with a weatherproof construction made of glass, aluminum and rubber. Maximum quality also means eye-popping prices. The 28mm f/1.4 Otus can be yours for a touch under $5,000.

Although I have no need for a 3 lbs, manually focused lens, I was curious to take it out for a spin affixed to a 45MP Nikon D850, and even more curious to compare the picture quality to the Leica Q, which has a fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens. Let’s take a look!

The Otus’s minimalist aesthetic makes for a gorgeous looking lens. When mounted on a camera, it’s the type of combo that I found people staring at because of its size. There is no sense in trying to be discreet with this hunk of glass.

FOCUSING

Manually focusing with the Otus is challenging while hand-holding a DSLR. If you’re shooting wide open, strictly relying on the viewfinder is not accurate. So I found myself trying to use Live View combined with focus peaking. The problem was that when I regripped the camera, I often knocked the focus ring without knowing it. Part of this is a lack of technique, but the other is a design quibble. The rubber focusing ring feels very similar to the rest of the body, especially in colder weather where you can’t rely on the tackiness of the rubber. Notched focusing rings provide both grip and as well as a tactile differentiation from the rest of the lens. I missed more than a handful of shots because of this. 

It’s easy to miss focus while handholding the Otus.

The Leica Q has a lightning quick auto-focusing mechanism despite relying on a contrast detection mechanism rather than the typically faster phase detection.

VIGNETTE & BARREL DISTORTION

As expected, the lens has strong vignetting and barrel distortion at f/1.4 – both easily solved by applying a lens profile in Lightroom. The Leica Q has a built-in profile, so we can’t readily view non-computationally corrected images straight out of camera.

MOIRÉ

Because we’re dealing with different sensor resolutions, moiré patterns are revealed with certain details at specific distances on one camera and not the other. Neither camera has an anti-aliasing filter, so moiré was produced in a variety of scenes. This isn’t a function of the lens, but it is worth pointing out that expensive gear doesn’t insulate you against the laws of physics.

SHARPNESS

It’s impossible to make a straight apples to apples comparison because the Nikon D850 has nearly twice the resolution of the Leica Q, but suffice it to say, both camera/lens combos produce incredibly sharp images. I wasn’t able to say that one lens was obviously superior in my tests.

Some 1:1 comparisons.

Both lenses produce a creamy bokeh.

CONCLUSION

I’m not quite sure who the Otus is designed for. Without autofocus, it’s impractical to handhold at wider apertures. It’s not a street photography, photojournalism, or portrait lens. I can see nature photographers using this on a tripod, but there are a number of lighter, cheaper lenses that work pretty well at f/5.6 or smaller. And if you’re going to hike a few miles to get the shot, I’m not sure the added weight is worth a nearly imperceptible increase in quality.

You can certainly make the argument that a 45MP sensor needs great glass, and in this regard, the Otus delivers the good. But the slow operation of the lens turns a pretty great digital camera into something more like a large format camera. If you like “slow” photography and have deep pockets, the Otus might be for you. If you just have deep pockets (and a bad back), stick with the Leica.

 

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. He co-hosts the "I Love Photography" podcast on iTunes.

There are 20 comments for this article
  1. Magno at 4:23 pm

    Flawed test and premises. First, the D850 does not have nearly twice the resolution of the Leica Q. It has nearly twice the pixel count, which is very different. Second, the D850 sensor becomes difraction limited one stop faster than the Leica’s. No to mention the inaccurate focusing on the Otus.

    • Juan Depostana at 1:26 pm

      The test is certainly flawed but diffraction has nothing to do with MP count { pixel size} Diffraction is an optical phenomena entirely produced by the lens. The testers inability to focus the Otus makes everything that follows pointless. The fact that you also used JPEGs only confounds things

  2. Munchma Quchi at 4:29 pm

    This is a bogus review. You are processing the images differently. You don’t know how to use a DLSR and manual lens and you’re not qualified to make comparisons based on the bias and false information you are presenting.

    I’ve already posted a criticism on Petapixel that shows the actual results possible with the Otus 28mm and the D850.

    It would be no problem for an experienced photographer with a D850 and Otus 28mm to outperform in every IQ metric the Leica camera you used and any other 28mm combination.

    Not sure what credibility you had before this article but it’s zero now.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 4:44 pm

      Images are straight out of camera.

      I’m 100% sure that someone experienced with the lens could produce better images than me (I haven’t manually focused regularly since switching to digital). But I dispute the notion that looking at the images reveals a visual advantage from either system. I’m not interested in metrics – I’m interested in what my eyes see.

      If the Zeiss works for you, go for it. As I concluded in my piece, it doesn’t work for the types of things I shoot, and the weight is oppressive.

      • Munchma Quchi at 4:55 pm

        The setting profiles must be different. Are you talking straight OOC JPEGS? A scientific test would have a protocol that would ensure all of the settings were equal, shot in raw, used tripods to eliminate variables such as motion blur, then processed the images with the same settings in post.

        There are a million ways to do this test incorrectly of which you found at least one and maybe several. There are very few ways to conduct it correctly.

        I’d bet money that I could beat you on every IQ parameter using a D850 and the Otus 28mm and you can use any FF or APSc camera you’d like.

        • Allen Murabayashi Author at 5:08 pm

          The crux of your argument seems to be that the Otus (particularly when paired with the D850) used by a skilled operator produces optically superior images. I don’t dispute that position.

          But I still don’t deviate from my conclusion. I’m not sure who this lens is designed for because of the weight and lack of autofocus. There are distinct trade-offs for a small increase in performance. The price:performance ratio gets very steep.

          Similarly, I’ve tested the Leica Q against the iPhone. With sufficient light, and with the way that people consume photos nowadays (i.e. online, usually on small devices), it’s not clear that spending $4200 is a better proposition. Context on how images are used matters, and perhaps that wasn’t clear enough from this comparison.

          Enjoy your lens!

  3. Pingback: A strange shootout: $5,000 Zeiss Otus 28mm F1.4 vs $4,250 Leica Q – Joanne Maly
  4. Raphael Bruckner at 6:28 pm

    I own Zeiss lenses and this review is crap the The quality and the workmanship of the Zeiss lens is unsurpassed and you don’t buy Zeiss lens for the typical reasons you buy lens. There is a reason why they are manually focus.

  5. Frank at 7:56 pm

    …do I see a “PRO Digital” filter on the Otus lens??? That is not there by default, is it? So why on earth did you screw it on?

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 12:01 pm

      No comments have been removed. Perhaps you’re talking about a comment thread from a different site like PP or DP?

  6. J-Man at 10:24 am

    What a horrible way of engaging in a dialogue from Munchma Quchi and Raphael Bruckner.

    Indeed you are on the internet now, but that does not warrant the type comments you are making. What has happened to a moderate form of dialogue in the era of Trump…

    Unless of course you are suffer from a form of autism that prevents you from following the norms of social interaction. If this is indeed the case, I understand.

  7. Mazen at 4:15 am

    People pay thousands for these lenses to use them properly and enjoy the highest image quality and great craftsmanship for a long long time and you have provoked those people with your public announcement that the price and the features of this and similar lenses aren’t realistic. I will reply to your question that the others have failed to reply to. This lens is admired and bought for the following features:

    Delivers unbeatable pleasing quality in color depth, tonality detail and contrast on small and extra large prints for photographers and film directors who know what they are doing

    Unparalleled durable craftsmanship and manual mechanism that will work perfectly after 100 years

    Price will rise when the limited stock disappears because exceptional craftsmanship, durability, optical and image quality has a historical value

    It is for movie makers, pro architectural and landscape photographers who want the best looking prints in magazines and exhibition

    Saying the above, i add that the leica Q falls under the same category of quality but you can’t profit from the quality of the lens on other systems. It’s why the zeiss cost more and is built strongly to endure heavy duty usage on multi platforms for decades. Plus this piece is rarely sold for individuals, more to professional photo and cinema equipment rental companies.

    If you can’t see the difference and unable to harvest the advantages of such a product, then you are not ready to use it. Some people who can afford it and who will buy it aren’t ready to use it as well and many people who know how to exploit its qualities and produce inspiring results can’t afford it, like me for example ; )

  8. One at 1:06 pm

    Thank you Allen, great review, I wanted a back up SLR to use with my Hassy, but after reading this I believe the Leica Q would deliver a whole new approach and workflow to my work which is currently missing. Speed, video, high ISO, lighter, smaller, and optically the 28mm on Leica is a legend, plus it makes for a great travel camera. I have been eyeing it for a while, and only reason I didn’t get one to date is because I have been suspecting that an upgrade might follow soon.

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