ZEISS lenses have always commanded a certain level of respect in the optics world. The company seems to have been around since quality optics became a thing, first making microscopes, then putting all that scientific knowledge into camera optics. Fast forward roughly a century and a half and the company is still producing world-renowned glass.
ZEISS isn’t exactly known for producing budget lenses, so when we say there are ZEISS lenses under $1000 out there, it’s only just. The simple reason is that the company puts optical quality above everything else.
This is why NASA snagged a Carl Zeiss 50mm Planar f/0.7 for certain missions back in the day. You can get your hands on one of these as well if you don’t mind parting with a cool $23.1 million.
For the rest of us mere mortals, ZEISS produces very useful lenses in a more affordable bracket. These don’t just have quality optics, they also produce images with that extra special something. This basically means there are very good lenses from other manufacturers and then there are affordable ZEISS lenses that produce a professional look you can’t find elsewhere.
1. ZEISS Milvus 35mm f/2 (Overall Winner)
Although there are cheaper ZEISS lenses around, the ZEISS Milvus 35mm f/2 represents excellent optics at a very useful focal length. The lens has the latest ZEISS barrel design, along the lines of the drool-worthy ZEISS Otus range.
This lens is made up of a Distagon optical design, featuring one anomalous partial dispersion element and the renowned ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating. A floating element design ensures consistent quality throughout the aperture range.
This is a manual focusing only lens, with a manual aperture ring that can be ‘de-clicked’ for video use. As you would expect from a high-quality lens, the lens barrel is fully weatherproofed, with an anodized surface, and a very tactile, rubberized focusing ring.
The image quality from this lens is outstanding from f/2 and upwards, providing gorgeous levels of color and contrast. Even seemingly boring, generic shots are produced with vibrant colors.
When the focus is dialed in, images are tack sharp. Bokeh rendition is exemplary, with even the most complicated of backgrounds having a wonderful transition of colors.
A touch under $1000 may seem expensive for a 35mm prime lens. However, after owning this thing you won’t be wanting for another 35mm lenses. Especially considering the highly useful focal length.
Sony and ZEISS have had a healthy relationship for many years, which means if you’re lucky enough to own a Sony E-Mount mirrorless camera, you have a good deal of options on the table. In this case, it’s the ZEISS Batis 25mm f/2.
This f/2 25mm can be used on APS-C camera bodies, providing a 37.5mm equivalent focal, which is very near the useful 35mm standard. Inside the lens are the usual ZEISS goodies: two aspherical elements, a floating element system, and the ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating.
The lens barrel is very simple in design, featuring only a focusing ring and a very useful OLED display for distance and depth of field parameters. Quality is outstanding from the Batis, being extremely sharp and fast and every bit what you would expect from a high quality ZEISS lens.
Just like the Batis lens above, the ZEISS Batis 85mm f/1.8 is for the Sony crowd, and while it’s currently a smidge over our price limit, it’s worth the inclusion for its very useful focal length. An 85mm lens is traditionally a good option for portrait work, providing just the right amount of zoom and compression.
The lens benefits from an f/1.8 aperture, producing wonderful bokeh effects through three anomalous partial dispersion elements and the ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating. The lens also benefits from having autofocus and as you would expect, images are wonderfully sharp throughout the aperture range. This high-end ZEISS lens also works extremely well on APS-C models, providing a 127.5mm equivalent focal length.
To cover the wide angle side of things, the ZEISS Touit 12mm f/2.8 provides the best quality for this price point and focal length. This lens is compatible with the Sony Alpha and Fujifilm X series and as it weighs only 270g, it provides a nice overall balance for both camera types.
The aperture ranges from f/2.8-f/22, with a minimum focusing distance of 18cm and autofocusing. An aperture ring is included with full stop intervals, just in case you want to go the manual route.
A 12mm lens is extremely wide, without going into fisheye lens territory, with the Touit producing extremely low distortion levels. For the likes of landscapes, architecture, and interior shots, the Touit is a very high-quality option.
5. ZEISS Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 (Budget Winner)
The ZEISS Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 is our budget pick, and it covers the standard 50mm focal with an old school design. The fast f/1.4 aperture will be ideal for the likes of portrait images and the ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating ensures that color and contrast are of the highest quality, making it the best value lens on our list.
The optical design is wrapped around seven elements arranged in six groups, with nine rounded diaphragm blades, a minimum focusing distance of 45cm, and full manual workings.
Weighing only 380g, this lens would be an ideal travel companion, useful for the likes of street photography. Manual focusing and aperture adjustments may take some time, but in exchange, this affordable lens delivers not just a crisp, shallow depth-of-field, but also natural degrees of color saturation.
Scoping Out the Best ZEISS Lenses Under $1000
If you’re lucky enough to have one of the latest Sony cameras, you have more wealth of choice in the ZEISS lenses under $1000 than other brands. But as shown above, there are still versions available for other brands if you want to take advantage of ZEISS optics.
Sony users generally benefit from the autofocus versions but don’t feel left out if manual focus only lenses are the only ones available for your chosen camera platform. If you check out some of the highest-priced ZEISS lenses, they are mostly manual focusing only, as its the quality of glass where everything counts.