Here's the thing about Zeiss glass. It's expensive, the lenses are manual and there are generally a lot cheaper options that can get the job done just as well. Yet somehow their glass seems to be widely appreciated, and not just by Sony users. The 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 is one of the most expensive lenses of this type currently available on the market and to ask so much money for a manual lens in this day and age, it has to be something truly special.
But before we dig deeper into things, let's have a quick look at history. Quite some time ago, Zeiss licensed a Japanese company called Kyocera to build lenses for Contax cameras. Sadly, Contax went bankrupt and vanished in 2005. That left Zeiss with quite a few lenses that need to be mounted on cameras still in use. Enter the ZF 50mm.
They took a lens designed for a Contax and put a Nikon mount on it.
Moving to the physical aspect of it, it looks like a vintage lens picked up from a garage sale. It's an all metal beast that comes with a beautiful metal bayonet hood that definitely gives it a distinct feeling.
Inside, the optical design consists of 7 elements positioned in 6 groups. The aperture is changed via a "traditional" ring positioned at the back of the lens. It looks old and it feels old.
When it comes to performance, things start to change and you slowly (and I do mean slowly) lose the odd feeling that comes with using a manual lens for taking photos with a DSLR.
At f/1.4 it's sharp. It's not the sharpest, but it does behave very well. It has the resolution but it lacks the contrast. At f/2.8 things start looking really good. In fact, they look amazing. If you put this lens on a D810 and shoot portraits with it, you'll start seeing more detail than with the naked eye. It's just pin point sharp and it stays that way all the way up to f/8 where it loses a little detail, but still remains way above average.
The focusing, although manual is very smooth. As a word of advice for anyone using manual lenses with DSLR, consider buying a focusing screen. It will help you with accuracy. But either way, using manual focus lenses, be they old or new requires a bit of practice, so don't buy one the day before a wedding or a paid assignment.
So who is this lens really for? It's certainly not for the amateur photographer used to paying $100 for his nifty fifty. It's also not recommended for photographers who see a lot of fast action, unless they're really good at focusing manually.
But it is a fantastic lens if you're looking for top notch quality. It simply has brilliant optics and it is very well built. If you don't care about anything else, then yes, the Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 ZF is the prime to get.