As a newspaper photographer, I need to be able to cope with any situation. As a result, I need to carry a fair amount of equipment and my bags are laden with Canon prime lenses (from 15mm to 500mm) and Canon L zoom lenses (from the 16-35mm f2.8L II to the 70-200mm f2.8L IS). I'm a huge fan of Canon's lens technology; pin sharp, fast and reliable. Some of my lenses have seen daily use for around five years, in all kinds of weather, and they're still going strong.
By far though, my favoured Canon lenses are the stunningly good 35mm f1.4L and the 85mm f1.2L MkII. I can't recommend these lenses highly enough and I'm at my happiest when I'm on a job and using these optics.
However, for all the technical superbness of these optics, there's something missing. In the film days I used to have an Angenieux 180mm f2.3 APO lens for my Canon F1n and T90. It was a superb lens. After this period I switched to Leica M and R systems. On the rangefinder my favourite lenses were the 21mm f2.8 Elmarit, the 35mm f2 Summicron and the 50mm f2 Summicron. On the SLR system, the 90mm f2.8 Elmarit was my favourite. All of these Leica lenses and the Angenieux had something special about them. It wasn't that they were just sharp or well made, or that they had a superb focusing action. It was something else.
This brings me back to the first thing I said; how out of focus elements within the image are resolved. On the Canon 85 mm f1.2L MkII something magical happens when you use an aperture of between f1.2 to f1.6. The out of focus detail is given a lovely dreamy look which makes you image pop.
The Leicas and the Angenieux did this. However, they went one step further. There was a different look. The Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Planar in the ZE (Canon EOS) mount has taken me back to those days, and reminds of this special characteristic. Its not just a nice softness to the out of focus areas; its something more, something not easy to verbalise. To top this, the Leica, Angenieux and Zeiss also go one step further when you have a light source in the image; be this sunlight or the bright spots of artificial lights. They resolve both of these in a way that even the best Japanese lenses just don't do. You somehow manage to keep the sharpness and contrast of your subject even if its strongly backlit.
On another note, the Zeiss also brings back fond memories of the good old days when lenses and cameras were made of metal! Its a solid and beautifully made metal lens with a lovely metal lens hood. Naturally, all of these Zeiss lenses are manual focus and the manual focus action is beautifully fluid and a joy to use. Its going to take getting used to after relying on AF for so long, but its such a lovely sensation to manually focus with such a beautifully engineered piece of equipment.
If you get a chance, give the Zeiss lenses a try; you won't regret it.