Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM Distagon (Leica Mount) on the A7s part 2 by Sean Cook

Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM Distagon (Leica Mount) on the A7s part 2

by Sean Cook

See Part 1 HERE.


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. ๐Ÿ™‚


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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

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.ย 



BTW, PopFlash.com has this lens in stock, in black.ย 

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  1. I hate to say it but the image quality of Your photos here is mostly dreadful. I am sure that lens can do better than that. Maybe You like that grainy frizzled edged unsharp look. Not a good idea to introduce a lens of that calibre to an interested audience. I would give that lens a wide berth if that is all it can deliver.

  2. A great lens and for some purposes, especially for shooting video, the Sony A7s, a great camera, but I’m sorry to say that I really don’t see anything too great with this combination of lens and camera. IMO, the pic of the cat is just not acceptable clear. (Which I know is a bit rich coming from someone who thinks the Nikkor F1.2, though not great in resolution at full aperture has pleasing ‘splintery’ bokeh).
    Still, how about replacing the sensor stack with the thin version and installation service offered by Kolarivision?


    However, visit the link and you can see that this potential improvement is not without some drawbacks.

  3. like you said when used for what its good for 6ft and closer its great. and i agree with the author on that. any farther and “normal” farther distances it looks like a great lens but nothing special,

    thanks for the review and the images that show the different ways the lens can be used and how it looks in each.

  4. Thanks for the write up. It would be nice if someone could test this lens as it was designed to be used – on a Leica M (hence the M mount) – to see if it still has these issues. This could just be yet another lens that does not work very well on Sonys.

    • Yes, I would like to see this lens on an M, I’m going to say it’s a safe bet that 90% of the corner issues would disappear. This is a beautiful lens but IMO way too expensive to compromise on a Sony. I think if I was a Sony shooter I would put up with the extra size and buy the new 35mm 1.4 ZA lens that is coming…for less money I would add.

    • Hello Huss!

      I’m totally with you; I’ve been debating renting a Leica for a week to test it out and see how it responds. Like I said above, I completely expect that lens to perform without fault on a Leica. It’s a beautifully designed lens, and it’s actually making me search for inexpensive M9s, haha.

    • Thanks kindion! It’s nice to hear that. It’s really easy to convince yourself that a photo looks good when really you’re just lying to yourself, haha.

  5. Really liked the color rendition in the images, but as I read the review I couldn’t help but think that the A7s (with adapter) was perhaps not the platform Zeiss had in mind when designing this lens. That being said, I think the images are quite nice and show a certain “mood” that appeals to my photographic eye. The fact that they are not in perfect focus is kind of nice too in the selected scenes, but I hope that this is more a function of the particular style of these photos rather than a limitation of this lens (which I am definitely considering buying for my Leica M). Thanks for sharing your impressions.

    • Thanks Eric!

      You’re definitely right, Zeiss designed the lens for use on an M-mount camera, and any artifacts are completely due to that fact. If you like the photos above at all, I would highly recommend at least renting it. All of the issues I’m seeing are from the Sony sensor, I’m quite sure. So shoot away! I think you’ll love it.

  6. I’ll never understand why, when posting images to show off a specific lens or camera, people feel the need to add artificial grain. We want to see a raw a file as possible to really gauge the products, not what your software can do post production! Lovely pics though!

    • Hello Nick B!

      Firstly, thanks for the compliment! Second, I actually struggled with that idea a little bit. But in the end, I tried to make sure it was clear how sharp the lens was, while keeping with the idea of this site being a real world review site. I personally find when I see a lens or camera review, it’s usually because I’m debating buying it, and all I really want to see are pretty photos taken using that equipment. So you’re probably right, and I apologize for the editing. If you ever want to see unedited files, let me know.

    • They’re nice pictures but you have a good point. It would be great to mix in some photos with little or no post processing occasionally in these type of posts so you can see how these lenses work on the A7s.

      I was going to pick this lens up but went for the Loxia 35mm instead. Except for the bad distortion with light-points in the corners at f/2, I like the Loxia, it’s quite nice. I wish there was a perfect 35mm for the A7x series but all in all there are quite a few choices.The Loxia, the original Sony 35mm f/2.8 was actually quite good, the Sigma 35mm ART / Alpha mount is also a reasonable choice although heavy, along with the Sony Alpha 35mm and I guess there’s always that Sony / Zeiss Distagon FE 35mm f/1.4 that just around the corner… The FE system is not complete by any means but it’s actually came a long way in the last couple of years.

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