Contax Zeiss 18mm f4 v Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f2.8
Further to the apparent narrow victory of the Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f2.8 in the 21mm play-offs for second place to the Zeiss 21mm, the natural next step was to assess its performance against the Contax Zeiss 18mm f4 Distagon. While nowhere considered the equal of the all-conquering 21mm f2.8, the 18mm shares joint honours with the similarly well-regarded Zuiko ON Olympus 18mm for the title of the world's best at this focal length.
Mechanically, both are exemplary, though quite different: the Nikon is a smouldering brute of a thing, all metal and engraved numerals, but the iron fist is gloved with silky-smooth operation - a uniquely smooth zoom control (I thought it was broken at first) and reassuringly swift focusing. The Zeiss is a Zeiss: absolutely no bigger than it needs to be, beautifully T* coated, and an understated aura of indestructibility about its construction - this, incidentally, was an absolutely mint MM sample on a dSLR Exchange adaptor. Some claim the German made AE versions are sharper.
I have to confess I was expecting the Nikon to do well in this test, but can't quite shake the suspicion somehow that it's not the giant killer it has appeared to be in earlier tests. On with the show . . .
Testing as usual was conducted with a 1Ds II, ISO 50, choice made between three focus bracketed exposures at each apertures, RAW processed through C1 and saved for web with BoxTop Pro JPEG. Modest identical USM applied to each image. 100% crops shown. Plumbing still needs fixing.
The image below is the full frame reduced to 500px wide as shot by the Zeiss 18mm. Placing your cursor over the image will cause it to rollover to show the same frame as seen by the Nikon 17-35mm at (almost!) the same focal length.