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Macro 120 CF lens


New Member
I am given the opportunity to buy a 120 macro CF 4.0 lens in good state for 550 euro.

would this be a good deal?

for now i shoot 1:10 until 1:1 with extension rings on my 60 and 80 lens. Would the difference be that high?

It is a great lens and that is a good price. I would have thought that the difference in quality to be significant, but it's not my expertise.
Lenses are designed to give best results at infinity.
The exception to that rule are Macro lenses that will give best results at close range.
The 120 Makro-Planar features low distortion and gives best results at close range.
It can be used at infinity.

The 120 S-Planar from the C series is even better at close range but is one stop slower.
It is not advisable to use the 120 S-Planar at infinity.

550 euro for a Makro-Planar is a very good deal provided the lens is in good condition.
Paul, the CF 120mm Makro-Planar is a real favourite of mine. It will NEVER disappoint you!

Although it is optically optimised for distances shorter than infinity, it is SHARP at infinity (no, not 180mm sharp but it is sharp). NEVER take seriously some "stuffy gear snobs" comments (in other forums) that it is soft at infinity - it is NOT soft at any distance - it is simply optimised at closer distances.

In fact IMHO it is a wonderfully versatile lens and renders beautiful images - versatile and relatively compact etc.. IMHO the 120mm M-P is one of Zeiss' real gems.

Its optimisation at closer distances is why it is called "Makro" - optimised for use with tubes to make "makro" images. This has NOT degraded this lens' performance at infinity whatsoever - 90% of the images I shoot with it are at infinity - the slides are pin sharp.

I also agree with Paul's comments about the 120 S-Planar - The 120 M-P is IMHO the pick of the 2 lenses for the reasons Paul states.
Carl Zeiss states on the website:

-->Das Makro-Planar T* 4/120 CFE Objektiv beruht auf einer Optikkonstruktion, die ihre Abbildungseigenschaften sehr gleichmäßig auf hohem Niveau hält, und zwar weitgehend unabhängig vom Abbildungsmaßstab oder der Aufnahme-Entfernung.

When I translate this German correctly, it says that the image quality is largely independent of the image scale or longer image distance. So very suitable for "normal" work.

Take a look at the MTF information that Carl Zeiss gives for this lens.
It makes clear that the 120 Makro-Planar is not anywhere near as good as the 150 CFi at infinity.
Compared to its predeccesor the Makro-Planar performs better at infinity but is not as good as other lenses that were designed to perform best at infinity.
Suitable yes, excellent like other lenses no.
Guys, by all accounts the 120 Makro-Planar is a stellar performer at close distances, but at what point does the advantage of using it diminish? Opinions in terms of subject size would be illustrative and very helpful.

Another question, why did Hasselbad specifically recommend the 120 for use with the V96C and CFV?

for simplicity, it's stellar at anything closer than a patio window filling the frame.

Beyond that, it's just plain really, really good. The quality never becomes average at any distance.

I find the real benefit of this lens is shooting a 10'x10 feet subject with the best available lens quality then getting well inside the 1 metre marker without even thinking of a lens attachment to do a head only subject.
Carl Zeiss specifies MTF graphs for 5:1 and at infinity.
Both at full aperture and two stops down at F8.

There are no figures for other ratios available.
CZ states that the performance stays at about the same level in close up range meaning from 20:1 down to 5:1.
This means for objects till about 1 m you can expect the best from this lens.

At infinity resolution drops fast when measured out of a 20 mm circle of the frame.
Stopping down 2 stops helps but does not solve it.
"At infinity resolution drops fast when measured out of a 20 mm circle of the frame.
Stopping down 2 stops helps but does not solve it."

I don't know why this is such a difficult concept to grasp, or why photographers try so hard to convince themselves that a 120 macro lens will perform on par with a 150 lens at infinity. It is no different for any other "true" macro lens made. They are specialty lenses designed to do a certain job. No lens, or at least any I am aware of, perform equally well across the board.
Case in point is Nikon's own micro lenses, which I've owned and used for over 30 years. The early models, such as the 105mm/f4 micro, is, in my opinion, the finest performing 105 micro they ever made in the macro range (1:10 and closer). However, its performance at longer distances and infinity was average at best, and no match at all for the famed 105mm/2.5 "standard telephoto" lens.
Years later, and a couple of "upgrades" later, Nikon introduced the totally redesigned AF 105mm/f2.8 micro lens, greatly improving its performance at infinity, but at the cost of diminishing some of its stellar macro performance. But this is what customers seem to want. They would rather have a "do all" lens that performs mediocre in all focusing ranges than a superb performer at either end.
If your objective is the best quality macro image, then there's no substitute for the 120 lens. If macro mode isn't your chief concern, then you'd be better off with the 150 or 180, and use the occasional extension tube or even close-up diopter.
There is no superb performing "do all" lens. As should always be the case, pick the right lens for the job. Different horses for different courses.
Michael H. Cothran

You are absolutely right but may I point out that the 120 Makro-Planar is also less of a true macro lens when compared to the old S-Planar either the 120 or the 135.

Do not get me wrong the Makro-Planar is a fantastic lens for close up jobs.
Those old C model 120 S-Planars can be picked up for a song and are truly amazing.

I recall some information from Zeiss that for reproduction work up to 1 x 1 m they recommend the Makro-Planar, beyond that the Planar 100.

Thanks to all for the responses, really useful information.

I'm still curious as to why Hasselblad specifically singled out the 120 for use with the V96C?