The Overlooked 50
By Jorge Torralba
The Overlooked 50.
Over the past year, there has been resurgence in the market for 50mm range lenses from a wide variety of manufacturers. Needless to say, they all claim their 50, 55 or 58 are the best in their class. If it’s not the Nikon 58, then it must be the Sigma ART, Leica APO, Zeiss Otus or Lens X from Sylvester McMonkey McBean. Let’s face it, we have seen them, praised them and condemned them all without even owning them. It’s too big. It’s too expensive. It produces beautiful bokeh. It’s sharp. It’s dull. It is full of CA. It’s manual focus. It focuses too slow. It’s not weather sealed. And so on … But, we talk about them. Either in a positive or negative way, they get our attention and become the topic of discussion for the day, week or however long that thread on a forum lives for.
I am here to tell you of a not so talked about or popular lens that gets overlooked way too often. Rarely gets mentioned as a super lens or a must have. I am talking about the Sony Zeiss ZA 50mm 1.4 Planar. A lens made for the A mount Sony cameras like the A900, A77, A99 etc … When paired with an A99, A6000 or A7 it produces amazing images with such contrast and detail that it’s hard to imagine even considering a third-party lens for your Alpha camera. Granted, it is a little expensive but you can find deals now and then and when compared to some other high-priced 50’s, it starts to look even more attractive and worth considering. It is less expensive than the new Nikon 58, Zeiss Otus or Leica APO. However, It’s is worth every penny and when you start using it you will know why. Simply put, this lens is result oriented and it delivers without question.
For years I have been a fan boy of the Zeiss family of lenses I have owned the Otus, and several other great Zeiss lenses for my Nikon cameras which over the years have developed a reputation which has made them coveted by many. However, not long ago I decided it was time to move on and catch up with technology. I wanted autofocus Zeiss glass and a good full frame camera to use them on. Due to licensing restrictions, I was not going to find what I was looking for in either Canon or Nikon mount. The only modern solution which met my requirements was to switch to the Sony Alpha system and use the ZA lenses with a native Sony A mount and autofocus. Boy. You have heard the saying, never say never. But, let me tell you. After the switch and seeing results that clearly show why the Zeiss glass is so coveted, I find it hard to imagine ever going go back. The 50 ZA is weather sealed gem which focuses extremely fast, renders beautiful bokeh and is built like a tank. The 50 ZA sits nicely in your hand when attached to a DSLR or a small mirror less camera with the Sony LA-EA4 adapter. It is comfortable to hold and easy to focus when switching to manual focus. It is a true example of getting what you paid for. It has become my most used lens and it has yet to let me down. It is wonderful for street photography, snap shots landscapes and just about anything else you can think of. It even makes a great paper weight when it sits on my desk.
You have to ask yourself why this lens is overlooked by so many. Is it because it is for a Sony? Is it big or small? Is it too expensive? There are many thing s to bring up about this lens in conversation but you rarely read or hear about it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that only Nikon and Canon are at the top. Sony is on a steam roller squashing the competition with innovation and advances in sensor technology that is defining the photography of tomorrow. Their alliance with Zeiss was a brilliant strategy that was successful in converting me from Nikon to Sony and the 50 ZA is just one of the reasons I have not even thought of turning back.
You can see much more from the 50 and other great Zeiss or Sony lenses on www.ZeissImages.com or www.SonyAlphaImages.com . But, to give you a sampling of its capabilities, here are just a few examples from this wonderful lens used on my A99 and A6000
The Annex Bar in downtown Portland. Hand held A99 and 50 ZA at f4 and ISO 800
For a much larger image to view follow this link.
I met this gent outside of the rescue center near Burnside in Portland. He was very friendly, polite and did not mind me snapping a few pictures. For the most part, It looked like an average photo to me. However, when I started processing in Light Room and magnifying certain sections for a bit of pixel peeping is when I started seeing the detail and was taken by surprise by what I saw. Here is a full frame capture again at f4.
What you really need to look at now is a tighter crop of the face and the detail. The amount of detail in the lips and eyes is amazing. Follow this link for yourself and wee what this lens can do.
This was just outside of Escape from New York Pizza in the NW District of Portland. A little roughed up from a street fight the night before, a gracious pose was in order. This was shot at f3.5 and ISO 400 with the A99.
Follow link for a larger version
My son staring at a computer monitor in low lighting conditions. ISO 200 at f2 1/15th of a second.
Larger version here
Here is one of those typical boring shots that you do just because you had nothing better to do. But this shows a good example of the out of focus areas from this lens. Shot at f2 with the A99.
And finally a snap shot from the A6000 and the 50 at f2.0
Larger version here