Why I recommend the ZF lenses for Canon DSLRs over the ZE

One of the best things about Nikon lenses is they mostly have manual irises. None of this crappy controlled via the camera iris. Fine for stills but for video it sucks.

For me the biggest issue with both camera controlled iris and manual iris is the damn clicking. No smooth iris change, awful if exposure changes during a shot. That is why if you are a Canon DSLR owner (and obviously a Nikon DSLR D3s owner)  I recommend buying the Nikon mount versions, the ZF.2 , get a Fotodiox Pro adaptor (make sure it is the pro adaptor) and get your lenses modded by Duclos lenses. Not only will they turn the iris into a smooth cine style iris but they will add of a permanent follow focus gear and even give all your lenses the same front filter diameter. All way cheaper than buying the new Zeiss Cp.2 lenses (although they won’t have the dual PL/ EF mount) or the same cine action, but they will be pretty damn close and be much cheaper.

One word of warning Nikon ZF lenses focus in the opposite direction to ZE lenses (an annoying Nikon thing) BUT these lenses will be able to be used on all sorts of cameras in the future like Scarlet etc…

Modded Nikon lens
Modded Zeiss lens

If you buy ZE you are stuck as there is no manual iris wheel. You can still get the permanent gear and the front size changed, but no cine style iris!

I prefer the Zeiss lenses for video over the Canons as they have a longer focus barrel rotation and have nice hard focus stops. Also their optics are superb. Mind you so are the L series Canon ones too!

This will of course work for all manual iris Nikon lenses too…

On average the mod costs around $250, well worth it.

Check out Duclos lenses here.

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121 comments

  1. Interesting note!

    One question. What happend when you put a Nikon Lens in a Canon camera? does the mount make the sensor crop part of the image? It will be the same 1.6 crop factor for the Canon APS-C?

    Thanks!

  2. I have a particular Nikkor I wanted to try with my T2i APS-c sensor: the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AIS. I’ve seen stuff shot with this lens on a 7d that made me gasp it was so sharp and the color so natural. (see link below) But, at 1.2 the DOF was so narrow I imagined it being impossible to use for close-ups. A good example is here:

    (the example)
    http://www.vimeo.com/7524971

    (the lens)
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/36976-USA/Nikon_1435_NIKKOR_Normal_50mm_f_1_2.html

    So, I’m excited to hear about this modification, it seems like it would make this a lot easier to use with a follow focus, and the intermediate steps in the iris (aperture) ring would give more precision to the exposures, too.

    Is this correct? (thanks for posting this)

      1. Optically ZF and ZF.2 are identical. The ZF.2 lenses have a chip that gives the camera data like focal length, aperture, focus position via contacts on thenewer mount. So the ZF.2 lenses have the advantages for still photography I mentioned earlier in my post (below)… on Nikon cameras. On a Canon the only difference is the price.

        An while I’m already beeing a wise ass: ZE.2 doesn’t exist, the EF mount always had the contacts (EF stands for “electro focus”).

        1. Shamol, Philip, the answer to this question may be an obvious “no”, but can the ZF.2 lenses communicate with Canon cameras (AF confirmation) using an EF mount (like the ZE versions)? I would love to invest on a set of Duclos-modified ZF.2 lenses for cinema, but I’d also love to use the gorgeous Zeiss 35mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.2 for stills on my Canon DSLR (with AF confirmation), and dropping close to $1800 twice on a given lens makes me a bit nauseous (that is, a ZF.2 for cinema and a ZE for stills).

          Thanks!

  3. Philip,

    You make some noteworthy points. You should also mention that the Nikon lenses focus in the opposite direction; contrary to the direction of cine lenses and most photography lenses. This could be a learning curve for some, but I’m sure you’d argue that the pros outweigh the cons.

    For what it’s worth, the cameraquest adapter has proven to be solid and accurate.

  4. I almost bought the ZF.2 mounted Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 like many do. Fine for video but for stills it sucks 😉 Because I also want to use it for stills, I’m glad I went for the ZE mount, it passes the lensdata to the camera (focusassist) and still have the choice to use any mode. Manual iris is at my right finger in stead of the left hand. If I need a real smooth cine iris as you mention, then (renting) a real cine lens might be my choice.

    For a lens exclusively for video I would have went your way. But I build my whole kit up as hybrid.

    I finally want to try a fader ND, I’d like to control brightness without effecting DOF/Shutter/ISO.

    1. Really sucks? Dang… That’s what PB said to buy when I purchased them about two years ago… Argh… So now I have unusable lenses if I purchase the Canon 7D?

      My lenses:

      Distagon T* 2/28
      Distagon T* 2/35 ZF
      Planar T* 1.4/50 ZF
      Planar T* 1.4/85 ZF

  5. Hi Philip

    Thanks so much for this info, so annoying though because…

    I had the Zeiss 50mm ZF to fit my Shoot35 Adapter for my Panasonic HVX, bought the Canon 5DMKII, feel in love and luckily enough exchanged my Zeiss ZF for the ZE…when I put that baby on the Canon, I was like…huh wheres the IRIS control gone but lived with it and now….you tell me this ha 🙁

    I know you prob dont have the time but if you did a quick demonstration video of the differences, I’d really appreciate it

    Im hoping I dont have to buy another Zeiss 50mm but the ZF ha

    Keep up the great work and filling us in with much needed info 🙂

    Daniel

  6. Phil,

    RPLens.com also has this very service. All of his lenses have the clickstops removed on the iris ring, pressfit delrin focus gears and 80mm O.D. step-ups with caps. I bought an amazing set of Nikkor High speed primes from him and had some Canon primes modified as well (including a 50 Macro that needed a special gear nearly an inch and a half wide.) check out his site. http://www.rplens.com

    Don’t work for rplens.com, just a VERY satisfied customer.

    Gregg

  7. Nice post – will have to look into it..

    Quick little question Phil , you have your 5D + your zacuto rig…

    If you had to choose ONLY 3 lenses for your 5D video ( for all your work )
    what would they be ?

    1?
    2?
    3?

    Ive had a look at your amazon store , but curious to know what your top 3 / cant live without are !

    Cheers

    seb

  8. Mr. Bloom,

    I’ve been following you for quite some time now. I feel that you are one of the authorities in the world of cinematography and the DSLR film making world. I love your work and appreciate the information you put out.

    I was curious if there was any room in the future for some information or advice, etc. for someone who is just starting out with DSLRs. I recently became the proud owner of the 7D. As previously stated, I love the information you put out, but it tends to be somewhat… one sided so to speak.

    What I mean by that is, all of the gear you recommend, such as the above, seems to be geared toward someone who can actually afford these things. I just shelled out $1800 U.S. for a camera. I sure as hell cannot afford lenses, rigs, a follow focus and all of the amazing toys that I would LOVE to have, but have no way of acquiring.

    So, I just wanted to express that to you and hope that one day you will highlight a piece in your great blog for the newbies. Thank you Mr. Bloom and I will continue to look forward to new material.

    Very Respectfully,
    Bryan Tosh
    Maryland

  9. Phil,

    Thanks for this observation–I feel validated–except on the ZF vs. ZF.2 distinction. Are you sure the glass has been changed? I was under the impression that 1.) the 100mm makro ZF was the first to incorporate Arri/Zeiss Cine Optics (according to the pamphlet with the lens), 2.) then the rest of the ZF lens series followed (not sure about this, an assumption), 3.) then ZF.2 arrived with the only difference from the ZF being the chip, 4.) then the Compact Primes, with the only difference being the Cine gears and internal focusing. Apparently you’ve heard otherwise–if so…well, I guess I’m close enough, at least for now, with my 3 ZFs, kickin’ it old school early 2000s style…

    Gracias, all best,

    Joe

  10. sorry… not really the same topic … but maybe you can help … i am looking for a zoom lense that i can use with both: letus extreme (ex1/3) and canon 550d … maybe this one …?!
    Tamron AF 17-50mm F/2.8 SP XR Di II, Vibration Compensation, APS-C size

    i am a newbie at both: adapters and dslrs … any help is highly appreciated!! thanks

  11. Phil.
    RPLens does a great job of refitting primes in this manner.
    I’ve had the click stop springs removed from several of my Nikkor AIs
    lenses with adapter rings for the Canon cameras, they work very nicely. A little touchy, but allow you to roll the iris very smoothly. Any experienced lens tech can modify the Nikkors or the Canon lenses in this way. Simple and inexpensive.
    Cheers.

  12. Odd.. I have an OLD FD prime Canon lens I use sometimes with a FD mount. It also has the iris adjust on the lens and thought it was pretty cool (except for the clicking). Never having used Nikon lenses… I’m kind of jealous.

  13. Hello Phillip Bloom!

    Does this mean that the Zeiss ZE lenses aren’t good for video on the 5d/7d? Or does it just depend on what you need to do?

  14. Hi Philip,

    I’m a big fan of Contax and have been using CY mount (Contax and Yashica mount) Carl Zeiss to 5DM2 with EOS mount adapter. They are really good lenses as same as ZE, ZF, etc but much cheaper. I think this could be better alternative choice than Nikon lenses.

    1. Hey Kook, do you have AF indicator with your Contax CY lenses? Is there any changes in the focus indicators with the use of an adapter and you have to account for that?

      I’m thinking about Contax CY because of the kind of image they provide or Nikor lenses. New Zeiss glass if too much expensive for me…

  15. Hi Phil,

    I’ve been researching my first set-up. (I’m in the UK)

    5D,
    Zeiss ZE, 50, 85, 35 and 50 Macro.
    Zacuto Cross Fire and Z finder 2.5
    Zoom HN4 and Rode Mic
    IMac Quad with FCP, and Creative Suite.

    I had thought I was nearly there, but do I need to re-think lenses in the light of what you have just posted?. I’m doing some narrative music docs and straight music/guitar videos….

  16. Hi Philip

    Thanks for your thoughts again.
    One other thing to mention is that Nikon bayonets will fitt more camera’s than the Canon’s with the bigger mount. So as there will be more and more types of camera’s comming you don’t have to buy new lenses all the time.

  17. Phillip,

    Great post, and great DVD, thanks!

    I am assembling a 5D video set-up and have started with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM for general coverage. I want to add some fast primes one-by-one and would like your advice between the Zeiss ZF 50mm or 85mm for critical DOF work. I have the 85mm framing covered with the zoom, though not with precise DOF. Would you go for the 50mm first or the 85mm?

  18. Anyone on the best place to buy used Nikon manual focus lenses (in the US)? I know of KEH, but thought maybe someone knows of a place with lower prices.

    I’ll probably search e-bay as well. I guess if Philip keeps talking about how great these things are the prices are going to go up!

  19. So are the optics actually different in the ZF.2 or are they the same as ZF? If they are the same I can basically get the ZFs with the mods for the price of the ZF.2s without the mods.

  20. For me having the option to use the camera with the 5D on the auto modes for stills, just when I walk around with the camera, was good enough reason to to go with the ZE. How many times do you really change the f stop during a shoot? We are not in Hollywood people….. and if you do need to change exposure so much, you can use a Vari ND…. right?

    Its nice to have your lenses work without adapter etc, (I can’t take mine off from one of my Nikon lenses by the way, I’m afraid to break the lens and I also cut myself while trying to take it off)

    So… that’s my two cents.

    1. By the way, if you are shooting and need to change the F stop, the DOF will change… so using a Vari ND to do it will keep the DOF the same, just changing exposure, right? So isn’t that the better route to do this anyway?

      1. I was wondering the exact same thing. Don’t see how changing the stops mid-shoot would be a good idea, unless you’re going for a dramatic change of DOF.
        If that is the goal I guess a modded ZF is that way to go.

        I have several Nikon AIS lenses which all have an aperture ring. A bit of a pain (minor) really, compared to being able to control shutter AND aperture with my thumb and index finger.

        For me the ZE version is the way to go.

        1. when shooting documentaries, events or anything other than narrative there are times when the light will change and you need to change the iris, hence you need a smooth way to do this. i don’t get your comment about changing the iris to get a dramatic change of DOF. would not be possible with changing the ISO/ shutter to maintain exposure. My iris changes are tiny, those are ones I am talking about.

          1. A dramatic change of the iris could be used as an effect. A modded ZF version, with a smooth aperture ring, would be perfect for this. Would cause exposure problems though, as you mentioned.

            I can see how a modded ZF would work great when doing small changes to the iris, to adjust exposure. The changes would be smooth and you would probably not notice the change of DOF.

            At this point in time I can’t justify the mod. I do photography as well and price is a factor. Having a ZF mod AND a ZE would be pure luxury. Some day 🙂

            I will just have to live with a more abrupt change in exposure, changing the iris using the scroll wheel, or go the Vari ND route as Mark B mentioned. A bit more fiddly but cheaper.

  21. Hi Philip,
    I’ve been following your post for a while now.
    What would you recommend to use as Cameras for TV Commercial shoot?
    a 5DMII or a 7D?

  22. Hi Phil, I just purchased a Canon T2i, would this modification for the lens work on a T2i as well? Or is it just a 7d and 5d mod?

    Do they lenses stay on a certain aperture setting once you set it? I have a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens and Im really happy with the quality but when I zoom in the aperture changes and you can see adjustment in the exposure and that clicking noise. I guess that was what you mean by your article? Sorry Im new to the dslr filming and what lenses do and all the terms.

  23. I have the Duclos modded Ziess lenses.

    Declicked aperture – Im not sure how they do it, but what you are left with is a beautifully smooth aperture ring.

    Delrin lens gear – Looks great, works great.

    All lenses have a permanent step up ring to 80mm – No stuffing around buying different sized filters if you want to shoot without a mattebox.

    Finishing touch – on all but my 21mm they added a nice Arriflex lens cap which I thought was a nice touch.

  24. It looks like you buy one adapter and leave it on the lens? Would it be possible to have one that stays on each lens? Is there anywhere that would just permanently change the mount?

  25. Does anyone know of a place here in the US that I can send a couple of my Zeiss lenses to get a simple clean up? I see inside the lens some dust spots here and there. Was wondering where I could send them and cost.

  26. Hi Phillip!

    Should i get a ZF 50mm or wait.

    It seem like there are alot of gadgets coming for the 5d like remote follow focus that’s using internal AF motors. Wouldn’t it be possible for all the hackers out there to make a smooth iris digitally.

    I am about to buy a adaptor and the zf lens that’s why i am asking.

    /Robert

  27. hi sir,

    I’m planning a 5D Mark II video set-up …can u pls suggest me the best possible lens set …what about canon IS II USM 14mm, Zeiss CP.2 21mm,35mm,85mm,100mm macro, Canon 50mm f1.8, Canon IS II USM 70-200mm Zoom, Redrock Cinema Bundle & Cage, hdmi Marshall monitor, pls suggest,

    rgds,

    somak

  28. Dear Philip:

    Hello, I know you thinking of installing a 12- 120mm lens Angeniuex of the Bolieaux 16mm camera, with a C mount, to a Canon 7D, it will be good?

    Thanks and congratulations for all his contributions to audiovisual world.

    Greetings,

  29. Hi Philip,

    I’m new to DSLR video. If you had to pick one Canon lens on a 5D II for a stationary interview in plentiful light which would it be?

    Thanks,

    John Trejo

  30. Dear All,

    I always used video and am sort of switching to a Canon 5D MK II.
    So I have some silly questions. I am trying to put together a good quality basic kit with different lenses (fish eye, regular and tele, one with large field of depth for documentary work). Which 4 lenses should I choose?
    And should I go for Canon EF lenses or Zeiss EF Lenses?

    Thanks a lot

  31. will a Zeiss ZF.2 used on a Canon T2i will have a crop factor of 1.6x?… sorry but i´m a newbie with DSLR and i´m about to buy a set of lenses and i just found your blog.

    thanks

  32. So if shooting on a Canon 5D, does it make any sense getting the ZF.2 over the original ZFs? The differences over the ZE are obvious, but not clear why one would spend the extra money on ZF.2 over ZF when shooting on Canon.

  33. Hi Philip, thanks so much for your blog. This is my first post:

    If you use the manual aperture ring on the 5D/ZF set-up, does the camera register the change electronically? I’m confused bc you end up having two options for aperture control: manual ring & body click — so does the ring override the body? How do they calibrate?

  34. Hi Philip,I have a problem:

    I am intending to use Zeiss Ze 21mm lense on my 5d with Glidecam x-10 but i don’t know if it’s image is in focus in all situations, so that i can use it with Glidecam or i have to adjust the focus?
    i dont want to use Wireless FOLLOW FOCUS.

    It would be really appreciated if you could help me

  35. Also, do you find any loss of sharpness when using an adapter with ZF.2 to canon? I’ve been told there can be loss of sharpness past thirty yards or so. Have you experienced this?

  36. Philip you mention that these lenses focus the opposite way of traditional cine lenses. Correct me if I am wrong. traditional without a follow focus when rotated to the right focuses closer objects and when rotated left focuses objects further away? So are the Zeiss ZF the opposite of this? Forgive me if this is silly. I appreciate your response.

  37. I use a “Leitax” adapter to mount an old Leica lens on my Canon 550D, and will probably do the same later with a Zeiss ZF lens, after seeing Philip’s recommendation. The Leitax “adapter” bayonet mount screws into the original mount. Very solid. Seems like a good solution to me (except that you have to buy one for each lens to be adapted). I’m surprised no one has mentioned them.

  38. Hi Philip,

    Question regarding the fotodiox adapter.

    There are two options, both are pro, but one has a dandelion focus confirmation chip. What’s your take?

    Thanks

  39. Philip,

    What do you think of using the Zeiss ZK model lenses? Are they the same as the ZF(zf.2)? Would you suggest those to be cine modified for an AF100? I will be using the lenses exclusively for my AF100.
    THANKS!!

  40. Hi. I just started using the ZFs on my 7D. I have a Novoflex adapter. The quality of the adapter seems good. However, on the 35mm f2 ZF.2 and 28mm f2 ZF.2, the adapter fits quite tightly and it is very (too) difficult to turn the aperture ring. Just a heads up.

    The camera store has ordered me a new model of Novoflex made for Nikon G lenses to EOS mount, just to see if it has a hair more clearance. One possible benefit could be that these adapters, which are made for lenses with no manual aperture ring (but apparently work on non-G Canon mount lenses) have a little slider to control aperture. I’m pretty sure there are no clicks, just smooth transitioning as the aperture opens and closes. This could be the poor man’s alternative to “modding” the lens the way some are doing.

    Final quick point (hope it’s not off-topic): for those who dream at nights about having a set of CP.2 Zeiss’s for your dslr but have never actually held one of those babies in your hand (I hadn’t until recently), they are surprisingly large compared to photo lenses and the focus throw (I think it’s called) is huge. I have to change my grip mid-turn. I don’t know about other people more talented than me, but I would not be able to focus those lenses myself while operating the camera. I think you really need a focus puller, so they’re not for every job.

  41. Hi Mr. Bloom,

    Do you have any experience about the Carl Zeiss AEG and MMG for Contax/Yashica?
    Any problem when shooting in video?

    Many thanks for your precious help.

    Cheers

  42. I feel that people forget about the older Zeiss lenses, such as the Carl Zeiss Jena’s, i know their not as optically perfect as a new Zeiss or Canon L but as we all aim for that ‘filmic’ look, maybe going for something optically perfect isn’t allways the best option. over here in the UK theres a style which has been going round with soft images and a lot of lens flares, they might even do lens whacking, but im not sure, i tried m had at it with a Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm 2.8 which i picked up for £10, TEN POUNDS! and i have to say the image quality is pretty stunning and as its an M42 lens theres no other lens getting in the way or an expensive Fotidox filter, i’d highly recommend the Carl Zeiss lenses, there cheaper than the old Nikkors and wow do they put out a nice image!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOzXGZNjAsE – a little piece i put together with a T2i/550D and the Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm 2.8

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