Lens test: 35mm Oldies — Nikkor vs. Zeiss

in photography •  20 days ago  (edited)

So, you have old lenses left from the analogue era? Can they have a second life in the digital World? Spoiler: Don’t throw them out yet!

Today we have two contenders in out quick & dirty quality test, and they will both be put up to the modern kit zoom lens for comparison. The direct reason for bringing them out of the closet, was a rise of mirrorless cameras. Why? Because, manual focusing with these old lenses on a DSLR cameras was always very tricky. With the manual focus aids inside the new generation of MILC (mirrorless cameras), that job is much easier, and they are becoming useful again. But then, what can we expect from the old optics made for film?



Today we have, in the red corner:


Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2 a.k.a NIKKOR-Auto, AI and AI-s, made in several variants from 1965 until 2005.

SummaryNikon Nikkor 35mm f/2
MountF mount, metal
Optics8 elements in 6 groups
FOV62 deg
Min. focus30 cm / 1 ft
Diafragm7 blades (stops to 22 at full stop)

And in the blue corner:


Carl Zeiss Jena MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 (M42 screw mount), also made in B version, Praktica mount with electric contacts, starting from some 40 years ago.

SummaryCarl Zeiss Jena MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4
MountM42 universal screw mount, metal
Optics6 elements in 6 groups
FOV62 deg
Min. focus19 cm / 7.48 in
Diafragm6 blades (stops to 22 at half-stop)


The test came rather unexpectedly, and I didn’t have the time and space to prepare a serious test setup. Computer screen and equal conditions should give a proper relation between optics. Do not expect an absolute quality estimation. Thank you.

The Dull Part — Pixel Peeping

This is a test of the lens sharpness. Both lenses are manual focus only, so the results may depend on my old and not too certain eyes. However, I have tried several times, and I think the conclusion is a fair one. Let’s start with the comparison of those oldies. Both have beautiful full metal construction, with smooth focusing rings. Key difference on f-stop ring is that Zeiss gives you a half-stop clicks, while Nikon goes only for a full stop. Both are joy to use, especially with a mirrorless cameras of new generation, which have very nice choice of focusing aids. Focusing isn’t quite so beautiful like with Leica rangefinder cameras, but on the other hand, your wallet won’t experience a heart attack either. All test photos were made at ISO100. We are going to start with Nikon at f2.0…

Nikon f2.0, 1/85, CenterZeiss N/A
01 Nikon-2,0-DSCF6838-fs_cr-c.jpgWhite.jpg
Nikon f2.0, 1/85, Lower RightZeiss N/A
01 Nikon-2,0-DSCF6838-fs_cr-dd.jpgWhite.jpg

Center sharpness fully open is not spectacular, but it is not bad at all. Contrast is not impressive, which is understandable for such old optics. Edge sharpness is visibly softer and darker due to an inevitable level of vignetting.

Nikon f2.8, 1/52, CenterZeiss f2.4, 1/60, Center
02 Nikon-2,8-DSCF6839-fs_cr-c.jpg01 Zeiss-2,4-DSCF6831-fs_cr-c.jpg
Nikon f2.8, 1/52, Lower RightZeiss f2.4, 1/60, Lower Right
02 Nikon-2,8-DSCF6839-fs_cr-dd.jpg01 Zeiss-2,4-DSCF6831-fs_cr-dd.jpg

Now, since Zeiss starts at f2.4 and Nikon does not have half-stop clicks, we have to compare Nikon at f2.8 with Zeiss at f2.4. Center sharpness is just a tiny bit better with Nikon (go ahead and give that to the f-stop difference), but the edge sharpness is visibly better with Nikon. Center contrast is improved, while edge contrast is lagging, especially on Zeiss, where we have a visible portion of vignetting. Both have chromatic aberrations well controled.

Here, we will make a little diversion. At f3.5, we are going to compare old Zeiss with a modern day Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4, at 35mm and f/3.5, just to see how much the technology has gone forward in the last 40 years:

Fujinon f3.6, 1/26, CenterZeiss f3.5, 1/38, Center
02 Fuji-3.6-DSCF6829-fs_cr-c.jpg02 Zeiss-3,5-DSCF6832-fs_cr-c.jpg
Fujinon f3.6, 1/26, Lower RightZeiss f3.5, 1/38, Lower Right
02 Fuji-3.6-DSCF6829-fs_cr-dd.jpg02 Zeiss-3,5-DSCF6832-fs_cr-dd.jpg

Now that difference is staggering. Modern kit zoom is far better in every aspect comparing it to the oldies. If you have old lens, use it, by all means, but if you want to buy an old one, check first if it is worth having it together with available modern entry-level AF optics, made specifically for digital cameras.

Let’s continue now with the Nikon-Zeiss match at f/4.

Nikon f4, 1/27, CenterZeiss f4, 1/27, Center
03 Nikon-4,0-DSCF6840-fs_cr-c.jpg03 Zeiss-4,0-DSCF6833-fs_cr-c.jpg
Nikon f4, 1/27, Lower RightZeiss f4, 1/27, Lower Right
03 Nikon-4,0-DSCF6840-fs_cr-dd.jpg03 Zeiss-4,0-DSCF6833-fs_cr-dd.jpg

At f/4, center sharpness is very good on both lenses, and edge shapness is improved on both, with Nikon still in an obvious lead.

Nikon f5.6, 1/14, CenterZeiss f5.6, 1/14, Center
04 Nikon-5,6-DSCF6841-fs_cr-c.jpg04 Zeiss-5,6-DSCF6834-fs_cr-c.jpg
Nikon f5.6, 1/14, Lower RightZeiss f5.6, 1/14, Lower Right
04 Nikon-5,6-DSCF6841-fs_cr-dd.jpg04 Zeiss-5,6-DSCF6834-fs_cr-dd.jpg

At f/5.6 center sharpness is really good (again very slightly better with Nikon), and at much better the edges, with Zeiss closing on Nikon, but… no cigar.

Nikon f8, 1/7, CenterZeiss f8, 1/6, Center
05 Nikon-8,0-DSCF6842-fs_cr-c.jpg05 Zeiss-8,0-DSCF6835-fs_cr-c.jpg
Nikon f8, 1/7, Lower RightZeiss f8, 1/7, Lower Right
05 Nikon-8,0-DSCF6842-fs_cr-dd.jpg05 Zeiss-8,0-DSCF6835-fs_cr-dd.jpg

At f/8 Nikon is almost perfect, and Zeiss is not far away. That would be a sweet spot on both.

Nikon f11, 1/3, CenterZeiss f11, 1/3, Center
06 Nikon-11-DSCF6843-fs_cr-c.jpg06 Zeiss-11-DSCF6836-fs_cr-c.jpg
Nikon f11, 1/3, Lower RightZeiss f11, 1/3, Lower Right
06 Nikon-11-DSCF6843-fs_cr-dd.jpg06 Zeiss-11-DSCF6836-fs_cr-dd.jpg

Almost the same story at f/11…

Nikon f16, 1/2, CenterZeiss f16, 1/2, Center
07 Nikon-16-DSCF6844-fs_cr-c.jpg07 Zeiss-16-DSCF6837-fs_cr-c.jpg
Nikon f16, 1/2, Lower RightZeiss f16, 1/2, Lower Right
07 Nikon-16-DSCF6844-fs_cr-dd.jpg07 Zeiss-16-DSCF6837-fs_cr-dd.jpg

At f/16 a diffraction problems begin to show, and although they are not heavily pronounced, use f/16 and f/22 only with a good reason.

In summary, contrast and vignetting are relatively easy to correct, so both lenses are optically still very usable. Nikon has clearly better sharpness, especially edge sharpness, but also has a slightly warm tint, while Zeiss is more color neutral.

Real world examples

While pixel-peeping can give you a technical answers, you didn’t do your homework if you do not show a real world pics, which are the only way to show you what lens really can do. And since we are at homework… here is our favorite model, Alex, doing his math homework:

Fujifilm X-T20, Nikon, f2, 1/125, ISO2500

Fujifilm X-T20, Zeiss, f2.4, 1/125, ISO4000

Fujifilm X-T20, Nikon, f2, 1/125, ISO1600

Fujifilm X-T20, Zeiss, f2.4, 1/125, ISO1600


Examples above are made under the incandescent light, and are slightly color corrected. Correction confirmed that Nikon gives slightly warmer tone. Optically, Nikon is clearly better, but Zeiss has one unique feature — very close minimal focusing distance. It is actually shorter then on some dedicated macro lenses! You almost have a macro function with it, and you have true macro function with the macro reverse ring. Here we have a few photos of the tiny Autumn flowers at the closest distance (non-reverse), and with the open diaphragm:

Fujifilm X-T20, Zeiss, f2.4, 1/850, ISO200

Fujifilm X-T20, Zeiss, f2.4, 1/3500, ISO400

Fujifilm X-T20, Zeiss, f2.4, 1/3000, ISO400

Nice bokeh was always Zeiss trademark, so you have it here also. On the closest distance and wide open, Zeiss lacks sharpness and contrast, but for macro shots you will have to stop it down anyway, to increase depth of field (DOF). If you reverse mount it, you will have to take it to f8 and further. For example:

Ocev sat-DSCF0806-fs-steemit.JPG
Fujifilm X-T20, Zeiss 35mm (reverse), f11, 1/90 sec, ISO12800

More than enough sharpness, wouldn’t you say?


Nikon’s Nikkor 35mm f/2 lens was kindly provided for this test by the professional photographer Zoran Marjanović, whose works you can see at this link. Thank you!


e-vizitka - 2017-10-28_131026-mala.jpg

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One way to make digital photography feel more alive is the use of old lenses. New ones are just too perfect, and in times of colour-anarchy this can be really boring ;)
You know that Nikon got their old lenses out of their backroom storage and selling them again?! For a hefty price!


Nikon transformed into the most arrogant Japan camera manufacturer, @captainklaus.

Fortunately I'm seldom using the 35mm format ;)

What do you use, @captainklaus?

Mostly a 8x10 Tachihara, a Nagaoka and a Graflex 4x5, and recently I've come back to my 6x7 Mamiya RB67...
Instead of 35mm I use a digital Sony RX1R. Not bad for an electronic piece...

My God, I couldn’t carry any of those things! Except maybe for that Sony RX1R… ;)

That's why I have a huge bus, that is also loaded with a darkroom ;)
seems I like big things...
Has taken me 2 years to work my way back down to the Mamiya and the Sony, after 10 years of 8x10 only...

I liked reading this post. You have a catching way of writing. 👍 Here comes you upvote. 💕

Posted using Partiko Android

Glad you like it, @wakeupkitty. Thanks for the support :)

You are welcome. Happy day. 👍💕

Posted using Partiko Android

Bang, I did it again... I just resteemed your post!
Check the latest update to learn more about me.
Pixresteemer is also listed as promoter on The Steemians Directory

Nice post! I like it.

Follow me @mlmtraffic
Thank you so much 😍