To make this image I did 3 things I don't do often:
1. I used a Zeiss lens (my first foray into Zeiss glass).
2. I used manual focus to photograph my daughter.
3. I used focus stacking on a hand held portrait image.
Lets talk about #3. I took a series of 4 image, each with the focus plane slight shifted going from the left eye to the right eye in focus. Just for kicks I loaded up all four into Photoshop, auto-aligned them and auto-blended them. To my pleasant surprise it worked beautifully. Now I have an image with both eyes in focus.
Earlier this week, I got my hands on two Zeiss lenses, the ZF 35 f/2 and the ZF 100 f/2 Makro Planar. I've heard people describe the way that Zeiss lenses render an image as everything from superlative to merely 'different'. I went the ZF lenses since I could use them on my D3s as well as my Canon bodies with the CameraQuest adapter.
The Zeiss lenses are definitely different and whatever they do I like it. I've been shooting with them all week in an effort to try and understand how they render an image and where it'll be most useful. For color images I don't see a huge difference. Compared to my Nikon zooms, the Zeiss lenses have slightly less shadow contrast which means more shadow detail is recorded, this I like very much.
Its the B&W images where I see the biggest difference. First, there's a qualitative aspect to the Zeiss images that I prefer. I think its because there's a smoothness to the tones which other lenses don't have. My suspicion is that this smoothness comes from the lens transmitting light across the visible spectrum evenly (as opposed to having certain wavelengths where some is absorbed more than other wavelengths).
Maybe, I'm totally out to lunch, if others have any theories I'm open to ideas. Color imagery on the D3s is still sublime. I find that with the D3s' ability to reproduce accurate color even at high ISO, the Zeiss lenses are a perfect combination for image making in low light levels.
I was very skeptical as to what kind of success I would have with manual focus. Much to my surprise, I found that I was able to get a significant number of in focus images by focus bracketing (which again is made easier by the high speed and gigantic buffer of the D3s). The super smooth long throw of the focus ring on the Zeiss lenses makes manual a lot easier than a lot of auto focus lenses I've tried in the past.
I've tried using the lenses on the 1Ds3 as well. Though I've had success on a tripod, I haven't had as much success with it hand held as I have with the D3s.
This experience now has me really curious about the other alternative glass out there. Some photographers have described certain lenses as having character or a soul. I understood what this meant before, a few Canon lenses I own, I've felt have had a certain character, the 85L, 200 f/2, and the 800 just to name a few. The Zeiss 35 f/2 and 100 Makro Planar I would definitely say have character. So what else is out there?
I would love to play with a Leica M9 and a slew of Leica lenses, but that is definitely out of my price league. I'm planning on building a "poor man's Leica" using a Sony NEX-3 and some Voigtlander glass. I'll post my experience as it grows.
For the next week though, I'll be at SIGGRAPH 2010 in Los Angeles.