Friday, 31 August 2007

The ‘perfect’ portrait lens (Leica vs Zeiss)

Focus lengths between 75mm to 100mm are the sweet spots for most portrait use. It is a combination of facts that 135 format and the DOF produced by the apertures available at these focus lengths gives the right image style for the portrait photography.

So what will be the 'perfect' portrait lens? Yes, 'perfect', we all know there is not a thing which is perfect. What I mean here is what we can think of the best possible.

Leica M 75mm F/1.4, a legendary lens that famous of its amazing bokeh and sharp focus, it render color beautifully. The pictures taken by this lens has a painting look. The problem is the size. It is not big at all compare to the SLR lenses at this range, in fact rather compact. But when it is attached on to a M body, it looked very unbalanced. That may be why Leica introduced a new 75mm, but a F/2 version with APO correction and ASPH element, 75 APO-SUMMICRON-M. A great lens for Leica M, balanced really well on M bodies. It gives the classic M cameras a younger and much more elegant look. Of course the image quality is out of question, it offers anything you could imagine from a modern Leica optics. This lens together with a 35 summicron makes a great travel kit on M bodies.

Compare to the range finders, in my opinion SLR are much more suitable for the portrait use. The APO-SUMMICRON-R 90 mm f/2 ASPH, is a perfect example of what leica is offering in this era. The R80/1.4 is a re-design M75/1.4 in the SLR form, it transformed the range finder legend to a SLR classic portrait lens.

Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 is a legandary opponent to the Leica R80/1.4, many regard it to be the best portrait lens. Well, certainly one of the best from Zeiss. It is a lens with character. The ability of creating smooth and creamy rendering at large apertures and supper sharp images stoped down makes it a difficult creature to master. Never the less, it is one of my favourate Zeiss optics.

However, the new Makro-Planar T* 2/100 is a very different animal. It is very much like the R90AA, at F2, the resolution power is fully obtained. Both have F/2, and both offers crisp sharp images wide open with great color. Some may believe that the R90AA may have slight edge on the image quality. but the close up performance of the Makro-Planar is certainly a killer. I find it very useful to have the freedom to work as close as you want to the subject. Having said that, R90 is not bad at all in this respect, it focus down to 0.7m offering 1:6 reproduction, very impressive as a non-macro lens. Comparing to 1m minimum focus distance of Planar 85/1.4, it is a big advantage. The ability to go even further with the Zeiss Makro-Planar, 1:2 reproduction enables a complete different usage of a portrait lens, as it allows you to dig into ppl's eyes!

What about the F1.2 ones? Surely, they are tempting. But the size and weight of those beasts really put me off. It is another trend of portrait from what we have been discussing here. Here, I am after a lens with balanced features including: image quality, functionality, mobility, and handling.

Finally, how do they look? Not the images created by these lenses, but their physical appearance. It may not be that important to many, but certainly it is one of my priorities. The down side of the Zeiss Makro-Planar is that the lens does extend to quite a length when it focuses down.

The conclusion is: if some one make a lens 85-100mm, F2, Macro to 1:2, AF with internal focus, surely that is too good to be true, there is always too much to ask for.