So the rumor mills are working and the latest news is that Carl Zeiss will soon be announcing the new Distagon T* 15/2.8 lens in Nikon ZF.2 and Canon ZE mounts. Originally reported by zeissrumors.com and most recently by photorumors.com, the news spread to the rest of the web within a day. As a long time Zeiss user and aficionado, I got pretty excited about this little piece of news, but then mental gears kicked in and I started to think what does it really mean to the end users like you and me? Should we all get jiggeddy-jaggedy about this and rush with pre-orders, or what?
Original Zeiss Distagon 15/3.5 was first released in Rollei mount back in late 70s and at that time was quite a master-piece. Later re-released for Contax and most recently in Leica M mount, the lens was very popular, primarily because of its price. The current version of Distagon 15/2.8 ZM goes for ~$4.600, making it pretty much out of reach for most of us. Ole Contax 15/3.5 sells for ~$2,500 these days. Still a ton of money, particularly when you consider it against what else is available on the market. For Leica mount we have Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5 ASPH goes for ~$600. In Nikon mount we have a couple of interesting options, starting with the uber zoom 14-24/2.8G, than 14/2.8D and finally old 15/3.5 Ai-S. All three cost less than used Contax or new ZM versions. For Canon mount we have the 14/2.8L and slightly longer, yet absolutely superb 17/4L TS-E. Again, both cost less than either of Distagons. Finally, we have a bunch of oddball alternative and 3rd party lenses, some of them now discontinued, from Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Samyang etc. Bottom line is that there are a lot of 14-15mm lenses out there, so it's not like Zeiss is going to be filling in an empty niche... Because of that, I expect that the price point for the SLR version of Distagon 15/2.8 to be significantly below the Leica version of the lens - probably somewhere in the $2,000-$2,500 range.
Now, some of the cheaper options available out there are not particularly.good - resolution, distortion, CA etc. So naturally many who are not happy with the alternatives are looking at Zeiss as a premium lens designer who can solve all of these problems, in which case, the argument goes, the premium price for Distagon 15/2.8 is going to be justified. But is it a realistic expectation? At a minimum, I expect that the new SLR version of Distagon 15/2.8 will have a fairly good resolution. ZM version certainly improved in this domain over the old Contax version - see MTF charts below (Distagon 15/2.8 ZM is at the top and Contax 15/3.5 is at the bottom).
However, distortion remains pretty much the same, as can be observed from the charts (ZM is on the left, Contax is on the right). And I expect that other characteristics like vignetting and aberration, will most likely be similar as well.
So that begs us a question of whether it is really worth buying the newly announced Distagon T* 15/2.8? My personal take is that if the price point is significantly above $2,200, this lens is not going to see much demand as majority of users would opt for alternatives. Of course, without testing the les first it is hard to say what its real differentiation is going to be against all the other players. And so I reserve the right to change my opinion after I had a chance to test this lens...