The Overlooked 50 By Jorge Torralba

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 or . 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


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  1. Hi folks and great Often mis-Understood about Legacy lens. I remember reading on Huff related link that Minolta Roker Legacy lens did have “Near Leica Optics” due to the so called Failed Leica CLE past association due to the Little camera that could was competing and killing the profits of the Regular M series.
    Leica similar to any competing market…I also Prefer Classic Film lens. I hunt in various thrift stores and ask local AV techs who are willing to fix repair and modify various MF Primes RF and SLR lens.
    In the Film world for example Optical Laithes that can Machine mounts for Cine lens shoot 35mm Can adapt for various mounts for example Minolta-Leica.
    I mentioned this at an Industry event This does happen as a Custom Refurb these lens are Very expensive and the market does exist. This is a topic that IS Rarely mentioned because due to patents and rights issues (Underground market is controlled due to techs being reprimanded)

  2. Very well said, Jorge. In general I agree with you. The Leica Summicron APO is certainly the best, but cost aside, you might not see it as the best choice.

    You wrote, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that only Nikon and Canon are at the top”. I am surprised that anyone would think that. Forget test charts – use your eyes and try to tell me that Nikon and Canon make the best 50mm lenses. I know, some people are disappointed that Nikon’s 58/1.4 is a dog in the corners. Compared to the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH M – nevermind the Sigma ART 50/1.4 – it’s not much of a bargain, is it?

    Canon was wise to discontinue their 50/1.0 – it was twice as heavy as Leica’s f/1.0 Noctilux and probably performed worse. Smart Canon customers would go for either the f/1.8 or the f/1.2. The f/1.4 makes no sense.

    The Zeiss ZF/E 18/3.5 has distortion that’s difficult to correct. Even Leica’s f/0.95 is not as hot as you’d think. The lesson, once again: use your eyes, and trust them. Ignore test charts, ignore price (either way). Trust your eyes – and yes, that includes pixel-peeping (the derogatory term for testing whether or not a lens can produce significant enlargements). Then, of course, check things like CA, distortion etc. But trust your eyes first. (Maybe you could write a whole article on that!)

    Andrew is right when he recommends Minolta lenses. They are, AFAIK, very good indeed.

  3. Jorge,

    The Zeiss looks great, but now that you are on A mount I recommend you check out some of the very impressive and not-so-expensive legacy Minolta lenses. The old Minolta 85/1.4 is a true gem, not as sharp as the ZA 85/1.4 wide-open, but far more flattering for portraiture IMO. The 35/2, if you can find it, is a real gem, but even down in the $50 range the 28/2.8, though much maligned is a great street lens. VERY sharp from f/5.6, but more than adequate even wide-open and with gorgeous Minolta color. The 135/2.8 is also a bargain gem.

    Moving Sony to Leica I miss the suite of Maxxum lenses I used to own. I still shoot Minolta (MC/MD mount) on film and their glass is always a delight. There is a good reason Leica rebranded a few of their SLR lenses for the R series.

  4. Hi Jorge – nice post!

    I very much agree with your sentiment. I too, am also a fan of Zeiss glass. I also want AF.
    That’s a big factor in why I shoot Sony more often than Nikon now-a-days.

    Great images!.

  5. Thanks guys; that’s what I thought, but just checking. And I have read elsewhere that the 55/1.8 is exceptional. Cheers and thanks, kl

  6. Jorge, the second image is exceptional. A quick question from a Sony A newbie: will this fit directly on the A7 or A7r? Cold just be the one lens–one body I have been looking for. cheers kl

    • Kitlaugh, the A7 (R version, S version and the “normal one”) and the A6000 are E mount (ex NEX) while the ZA50 f1.4 is A mount. So to mount that lens you have to buy the LA-EA4 adapter which inside has the same semi transparent mirror tech of the A99.
      If you’re looking for a really exceptional 50 then don’t look farther and buy yourself the ZE55 f1.8, made by Zeiss for the A7 system: it covers full frame and according the test is even better than the ZA50.
      Take care.

      By the way: nice pics! 🙂

      • Forgot to add: A7 (or A7R) plus the ZE55 f1.8 might be the “one body one lens” combo you’re craving for..

      • I have to second Michele. I’m sure the 50 ZA is a great lens, but the E-mount Zeiss 55 f1.8 on my A7 is superb. And it makes for a more compact package than the 50 ZA plus adapter.

      • I have both ZA55 and the ZA50. The images from the ZA50 is much more pleasing to me but I don’t like the weight and LAEA4 so I always take the ZA55 outside.

        The bokeh at f1.4 fromt he ZA50 is so nice though.

  7. Jorge, I love the Annex Bar shot. Surprised you haven’t gotten comments on the rich color and ‘too HDR like’. It works for me.

  8. How does the ZA compare to the “normal” 50mm 1.4 Planer T*?
    There is a massive price difference and if the only real difference is the AF I think a lot of videographers might prefer the Zeiss rather than the Sony Zeiss.

  9. And I thought, “good, because I’ll be there in less than three years,” then slapped my forehead 😉 Yes, I also like the f2 Summitar on my IIIc and recently got a 50/1.2 for my F3. Rediscovering the 50mm.

  10. Cool to see you posting here, J.T. Great read and the photos definitely support your verdict. Great system and lens.

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