Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM Distagon (Leica Mount) on the A7s part 2
by Sean Cook
Hello again Steve!
It’s been two weeks now that I’ve had the Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon ZM on my A7s, and despite my initial reservations, and a lot of mental back and forth, I’ve happily concluded that I’m keeping the lens and it will become one of the three lenses I regularly use (replacing the actually wonderful Sony 35mm 1.4G on the LA-EA4 adapter). It is still not a perfect fit for the Sony A7s (nor is there a perfect E-mount MF 35mm 1.4), and I will be the first in line when a Loxia version is announced, but its character and rendering are just beautiful, and I love the ergonomics, so I can work around the issues.
Much like the A7s itself, there are things that I would change about the Zeiss, and that I will forever work around, but given the options available, and my needs, its beauty and potential as a tool outweigh its shortcomings, and make it a better choice than any other 35mm (again, for me). It’s like deciding to use a Noctilux all the time; you accept its flaws as part of the price for the rendering. (I know that’s a silly comparison, but I think you get the idea).
My wife and I just took a short vacation to Austin to visit some dear friends, and I was able to use the lens in the way I will be using it in the future — mostly outdoors, in the sun, with couples, wide-open. Now, being that they are dear friends and it was a short trip, I again wasn’t aiming for portfolio photos. Moreso I was just trying to see how the lens reacted to different situations, so forgive that it’s mostly photos of people looking at phones, and of backlit cats. 🙂
To me, the take-home message from the photos below is that if you are shooting a subject within 6 feet or so, you can shoot 1.4 and it will produce magic; the closer the subject, the more incredible. Beyond that, do yourself a favor and shoot at f2.0/2.8. Every photo below, except for the vertical photo of the couple (f16) and the very backlit tree (f2.8), is shot wide open.
You can see that the photos where the subject is within a few feet (which again is mostly how I will use this lens), the background is a gorgeous blur of colors, and the subject is sharp, with a smooth transition from in-focus to out-of-focus. There is a softness without feeling hazy, and everything is exactly what I want from a high-end 35 1.4.
However, when the subject is further away than that, things get a little dicey, especially toward the edges. The best example of how to use this lens at a distance can be seen in the different between the photo of the man riding the bike through the alley, and the very backlit tree. The trees to the far left in the man-on-bike-in-alley photo are a CRAZY wash of coma, haze, and blur. But the closeups on the backlit tree (shot at 2.8) show a great retention of contrast, and wonderful sharpness all over.
Three other things to note in the photos. First, one of my biggest concerns with the lens was that because of the double-image thing, if the subject was slightly out of focus, they would look crazy, and way out of focus despite only being a little out of focus (anyone out there who shoots a lot of manual focus knows all about this; you can’t nail focus everytime, so you need the lens to do you the favor of retaining clarity, even when it’s not sharp). However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. If you look at the vertical photo of the cat, it is not in sharp focus, but still looks satisfyingly clear. A good sign.
The second thing to note is the vertical photo of Joe with a flare splotch on his face. I included it to show the worst I could get the lens to flare. That is wide open, super backlit, and placing the flare right on the subject. Otherwise, that T* seems to be really doing its job.
Lastly, look at that cat on the balcony! Not only is it the cutest cat I’ve ever seen, but the bokeh is so rich. I personally enjoy a little more character to the bokeh, and not just completely clinical flatness, and the Zeiss delivers. The super close-focus shot of the cat (yes, is a little out of focus — can’t blame the lens, it’s a cat, at minimum focus with the VME adapter, at 1.4) has some of the most gorgeous bokeh I’ve ever seen.
Other than that, I think the photos should tell you everything else you need to know. They are once again edited in LR using VSCO, so they have artificial grain, and mostly haven’t been sharpened at all (the exception being the 100% crop of the cat on the balcony — that is no grain added, normal LR sharpening applied. I know it’s not a mountain focused at infinity, but if this is a real world review site, consider that a real world sharpness test 😉 ).
If you have any other questions about how the lens works for me, feel free to comment below, or check out the flickr album full of more photos for more pixel peeping (which is not the way to enjoy this lens, I assure you).
Thanks again for reading, and I hope this has been helpful! Again, part 1 can be seen HERE.