Since everyone else seems to mainly want to breathlessly quote press releases, and the few remainders are mainly taking pictures of test charts and tabulating the results, I thought I'd take a crack at WTF is up at Zeiss? since that's actually the interesting question.
I am by no means an industry expert, and arguably should be roughly the last person to write this piece, but since nobody is stepping up, here we go.
There are to my eye two important threads in these product lineups. The first is the ultra-luxury aspects of the Otus lenses. Yes, they are superb. Duh. MTF charts? Who cares. The lines are higher and straighter than anyone else's, we get it. Me, I masturbate to pictures of naked people, but I won't judge what you choose to look at in those intimate moments. It is equally clear that in order to see any observable benefit from the use of one of these lenses over a cheaper but still high end competitor, you have to engage in heroics. Heavy tripod, good quality body, very precise focus, and pretty specific shooting parameters (wide open, lots of important fine detail in the scene, etc, etc), and you have to print the results.
As an aside, I like to note that as you go up Nikon's price scale, the pixel pitch consistently drops, so arguably you'd be best off pairing your Otus with the lowest end Nikon body, rather than the highest end. File that under "things that make you go hmmm."
Reality is, almost no pictures taken with an Otus lens will meet all these criteria, and so the benefits will not be there. It is therefore clear that Zeiss is devoting substantial resources to delivering a Luxury Item, rather than a Picture Making Instrument. Coach handbags are good handbags, but the point is that they're Coach. Ditto, Otus. That these lenses are luxury items has been noted by other, wiser, heads than mine, I will add. This thought is by no means original with me.
Hold that thought.
The second thread is weatherized (in at least one line) lenses with clickless apertures. These are, basically, cheap cine lenses, as is frequently noted by reviewers, but rarely thought about much.
A quick poke around the internet suggests a bunch of these things for Sony E-mount, but they're also offering some clickless aperture stuff for other mounts. So, they're covering some bases here.
Let's see if we can reverse engineer any kind of strategy from these two things. (Spoiler warning: I can't, sorry.)
Why is Zeiss building super high end lenses into a market that everyone agrees is collapsing? Sure, there's always a play in milking the high end of a dying market, but you don't go big there, you stand pat, invest as little as possible, and suck up as much market share and cash as you can. Zeiss is going pretty big here. These are not moves you make to attack a shrinking market, there are moves you make to grab a piece of an expanding market.
The luxury market, as it stands now, is pretty straightfoward. Europe and the USA set the standards, they define what is and is not luxury. They do not, however, pay the bills. The Chinese, the Arabs, and the Russians pay the bills. Mainly the Chinese. So the name of the game is to get the west to agree that your thing is desirable and luxurious, and then take that to the money who should obediently buy a ton of it. Zeiss apparently thinks that they can make a nice business selling Otuses to these people, which implies that they think these people will be buying high end cameras and whatnot.
The cine lens thing is different. As DSLR lenses go, these things are pricy. As cine lenses go, they're cheap like borscht. Does Zeiss think there's going to be an explosion in indie filmmaking? That's a very interesting idea. I am explicitly not seeing this as a Chinese, Arab, or Russian phenomenon. There's a reason those guys are rolling in mountainous piles of cash, and it has to do with the fact that they shoot people who make indie films.
Is this simply a two-pronged approach to the product line? Zeiss doesn't strike me as a large enough player to be defocusing in this way, to serve two completely unrelated markets. It's not even obvious to me that there are halo effects in play here -- the indie film guys by definition don't give a crap about luxury, and the luxury guys don't give a crap about what lenses indie filmmakers use (although they probably DO want to watch the more chic of the films).
The Thom Hogan answer here would probably be that Zeiss is a bunch of idiots who should let him run the company. I am dubious.
Realistically there's a couple possibles here:
- Zeiss is a bunch of idiots
- Zeiss is bigger than I thought and can in fact go after two separate markets without losing their focus
- Zeiss sees some connection here that I'm missing.
Given that I'm basically just some dumb guy on the internet, the smart money is on the last one.
Perhaps Zeiss thinks there's some synergy, that there's some exotic spin in running a cine lens on your still camera that's going to appeal to the monied classes outside of the Europe and the USA? Are they going to push some sort of weird cachet in clickless apertures, or are they really making a serious play for some potentially expanding low budget filmmaking market?
So there you go. WFT is up at Zeiss? I don't know.