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16mm Showdown
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16mm Zeiss Hologon

16mm f/8 Zeiss Hologon. enlarge. I get my goodies at Adorama, Amazon or Ritz. It helps me keep adding this site when you get yours from these links, thanks! Ken.


October 2008      Nikon Reviews      Canon Reviews     Contax G System




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I borrowed a Zeiss Hologon 16mm f/8 to review.

Out of curiosity I shot a comparison among it, a Nikon D3 and the spectacular 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S set to 16mm, and a Canon 5D with Canon's 16-35mm f/2.8 L II, also set to 16mm. All were set to f/8.

I used the center filter on the Zeiss 16mm, making it T16. It may have been more fair to shoot the other lenses at f/16.

The results were enlightening, and show the foolishness of comparing cameras or lenses by themselves, instead of considering each as a part of the larger system of which it is a part.

The Nikon and Zeiss lenses are superb. The Canon 16-35mm L II isn't as good, and gets softer at random areas of the periphery.

Shot with perfect lenses, the Canon 5D is sharper than the Nikon D3. The Fuji Velvia 50 film on which I shot the Zeiss was scanned by NCPS at 5k resolution. The film scan was about as sharp as the 5D, and much sharper than the D3, when seen at 100%.

So the film and 5D are sharper than the Nikon D3, but the 14-24mm lens is superior to Canon. Which wins this crazy race? What happens when you look at each system as a whole and look at the final results?

The differences were obvious.

Nikon D3 and 14-24mm

The D3 image had the same sharpness from edge-to-edge. The 14-24mm lens is better than the resolving power of the D3. The image is limited by the sharpness of the D3, which is the softest medium in this test.

The D3 image is sharp from center to edge, and has nice color, but…

Canon 5D and 16-35mm L II

The Canon 5D combo is sharper than the Nikon D3 throughout most of the image. The D3 combo doesn't get softer in the corners, but it's never as sharp as the 5D to begin with.

The 5D colors are just as nice, and probably better in actual use. The Nikon has wild but unnatural colors cranked-up, while the 5D cranked just looks better. I like to use a Tiffen 812 filter on the 5D to get a warmer look with AWB.

The center of the image made by the 5D and and 16-35mm L II image is much sharper, seen at 100%, than the image made by the D3, but the 16-35mm L II lens is not as good as the Nikon 14-24mm on the sides.

The sides and corners of the 5D image were softer than the center. The softer sides of the 16-35mm L II image on the 5D were about as soft as every part of the D3 image.

Contax Zeiss 16mm f/8 Hologon

The Zeiss lens is superb. It loses no sharpness in the corners. The scanned film is almost as sharp as the 5D in the center, and since the Zeiss lens loses no sharpness in the corners, the corners of the scanned film were sharper than either of the other two combinations.

The colors suck on the Zeiss/film combination. Why? Because the 16mm lens can't take filters, and filters are mandatory with film to get the right colors because there is no such thing as a white balance setting. On film, you set WB and color by your choice of film and the filter pack used over your lens.

Which is best?

Of course this is all art, so "best" is in the eye of the beholder.

The D3 image is boring technically. It has the same so-so level of sharpness from edge to edge. The D3 is a news and sports camera; it's not optimum for careful landscape photography.

The Canon 5D is the best. It's the sharpest where most of it matters, and the softer corners are still as good as the Nikon D3. The 5D is excellent for careful landscape photography, but too ponderous for action.

The Zeiss Hologon on film is the sharpest out to the corners, but who cares: the colors stink since I can't conveniently drop my favorite A2 or other filters over it.

I prefer the image from the combination Canon 5D and 16-35mm L II. A 5D Mark II will be even sharper in the center, and its sides will be limited by the lens, which is Canon's newest state-of the art. Nut jobs use adapters to jam the superior Nikon 14-24mm onto Canon bodies for totally manual operation, but that's not for me.

Sharpness has little to do with anything. You'll have to select which system gives you the best "look" for your own work. I'm sticking with the 5D for landscapes for its superior color first, and for its superior sharpness second.


Example Images

The images were made at a secure test range and have not been cleared for publication. Even if I was at liberty to publish them, you'd be looking at about 25MB of data.



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Thanks for reading!


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