Infinitely Wide: The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm F2.8 Super-Wide Angle Lens

This is not about Zeiss overtaking the stratospheric Leica prices. This is optical craftsmanship at its finest — and you get what you pay for: available from May 2012, MSRP is $2,948 or €2,148. Ouch. But what a differentiating-from-the-crowd design:

The infinitely wide Distagon T* |
The notable German lens manufacturer announced the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm F2.8 Super Wide for Canon and Nikon mounts.

It’s a monster of a lens weighing 820 g with an EF bayonet — and it’s Zeiss’ first lens with a metal lens cap and integrated lens shade. Quality-wise? Looks like a perfect companion for the 5D Mark III and the D800.

“Infinitely wide,” blogs Zeiss:

After plenty of guessing by Carl Zeiss fans, it’s now official: the new super wide angle Distagon T* 2,8/15 lens (specs) has arrived. With a large angle of view of 110 degrees in combination with a fast F2.8 aperture, the lens enables the features for dramatic perspectives and performance demanded by the most ambitious landscape and architectural photographers. With a unique ability to capture events in a natural and extraordinary manner, it is also an ideal companion for advertising, journalism and commercial photography. It will be available with an EF (ZE) or F bayonet (ZF.2).

No chromatic aberration at all, insists Zeiss, creator of finest objective lenses. And more from the official blog:

Thanks to the extreme angle of view of the lens, the fore and background can be creatively emphasized in landscape and architecture photography.

The super wide angle lens with its extra-large angle of view of 110 degrees guarantees an excellent image quality

These applications will also benefit from the large depth of field, which provides a wide range of image sharpness from close-up up to infinity.

With a close focus of 0.25m (10”) — combined with a wide angle view, photographers can work in tight spaces, while also allowing focus on close-up details. Distortion is extremely well controlled, producing naturally proportioned photographs which are not typical of many other super wide angle lenses. Even at full aperture it achieves outstanding detail rendition and opens up room for extremely imaginative design.

The Distagon T* 2,8/15 incorporates two aspheric lenses and special types of glass material with abnormal partial dispersion to provide an extraordinary correction of chromatic aberration. A floating elements design guarantees high image quality from close focus through infinity. Like the other SLR lenses in the ZE and ZF.2 series, stray light and reflections are well controlled by the Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating and the sophisticated treatment of the lens element edges with special light absorbing paint.

Lloyd Chambers has a cutaway of the beauty, explaining:

The intricate construction of the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon is revealed in this cutaway: 15 elements in 12 groups all intricately and precisely positioned to extreme accuracy to deliver an exceptional level of performance.

But it’s not just the optics; the mechanical focusing mechanism must move the groups relative to each other through a wide range while keeping precise optical relationships intact. Some lenses cannot be built for the mass market; their optical and mechanical requirements can prove too difficult to manufacture and/or make then very expensive to manufacture. In such cases, alternate designs must be chosen which are less sensitive to minute build tolerance variations.

Zeiss Distagon 15/2.8 Cutaway | Lloyd Chambers

Is it me or is there an apparent lack of distortion? We’re talking super wide:

Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/15 for infinitely wide horizons, cramped interiors or small objects in large surroundings |

Zeiss posts more samples, shot by award winning nature and landscape photographer Pilip Kulisev:

The Distagon T* 2,8/15 allows you to take very creative shots with unusual perspectives. Compared with other super wide angle lenses, this one impresses me with its splendid focusing and outstanding image performance across the entire image field. Concerning the depth of field, I achieved particularly strong results with an f-stop of 7.1 for the range three meters to infinity (…) Thanks to the lens’s high speed, you can also take beautiful photos of stars, time lapses, and landscapes. I also was able to capture the northern lights in their marvelous color.

Tromvik, Norway by Filip Kulisev |

Jubilant Ken Rockwell‘s not modest in praising the Distagon as the “world’s best ultra-wide SLR lens.” Period.

This Zeiss 15mm lens is extraordinary. It’s the best ultra-wide SLR lens I’ve ever tested. It’s for people who demand the best image quality on their full-frame cameras, and don’t worry about having to focus manually. You Canon, tripod, HDR and pan-stitching guys are going to love this lens.

Lloyd Chambers of Diglloyd is no less ecstatic. Why add color saturation: “The 15/2.8 Distagon just has exceptional color saturation naturally.”

Many many more samples at Zeiss Images, them loving “Da Bomb”, well there’s a drop of bitterness:

Architectural photographers will love this lens. It is rectilinear and curvature of straight lines is almost nonexistent even at close range. I see a lot of photographers on posting wonderful work taken with the 21mm of cathedrals, palaces, industrial areas and other subjects which require a wide angle. I can only imagine that once this lens is available, it may become their new standard for architectural photography. This could be the holy grail of wide angle lenses they have been waiting for.

Landscape photographer will surely appreciate the angle of view provided by this lens. And with the new Nikon D800 camera boasting a 36 megapixel sensor this lens will surely be put to use.

Street photographers will also get a kick out of this lens. It’s short focusing range with the ability to focus between 1.5 feet and infinity at f16 will give you the opportunity to shoot candid pictures with a wide field of view. At f8, you are within 2.5 feet and infinity. Note, these are estimates just by looking at the scale on the lens.

The pros and cons of using this lens for street photography will vary depending on your style. However, I photograph up close to get exaggerated perspectives and the only drawback I can think of with the 15mm is that you have to get very close to your subjects to achieve that result. I mean in your face close. In some of the sample you see below, I almost hit the subjects with the lens while taking their picture. This is just something you will need to get use to.

+++ Time to spoil yourself a little. Order the Distagon now from B&H for Canon or Nikon mount, or at Adorama for Canon or Nikon mount.