The Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Loxia Lens Review for Sony FE. In Pictures.

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The Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Loxia Lens Review for Sony FE. In pictures.

Pre Order the Loxia 21 f/2.8 at B&H Photo HERE

I am back from my vacation, and now am sick with a fever, cough and sore throat but the good thing is I can lie in bed and write, so enjoy this write-up of the new Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 lens for the Sony FE system. It’s a gem indeed. All images here were shot with the Zeiss 21 f/2.8 on the Sony A7RII. Enjoy. 

About 2 weeks ago I received an email from Zeiss asking me if I wanted to review a new prototype lens for the Sony A7 system (FE). Now, of course I was not about to let this opportunity to test and review the latest Loxia lens from Zeiss slip through my hands! Yep, the new Loxia 21mm f/2.8 lens is in my hands, and let me tell  you..it is awesome. It keeps up and then some with the other Loxias we have so far, the 35 and 50, both of which are stunning, especially the 50mm. The kicker is I am reviewing a PROTOTYPE lens so this is not going to be a full formal test review, as I have a prototype. Even so, this lens I have here is stunning and when this lens is released I will be buying it for my own to add to the other Loxias.

When the 21 f.2.8 arrived I loved it for its small size and quality Loxia build. Feels the same as the other two in the Loxia line and that is a good thing as these lenses are built very well, even including a rubber seal around the mount to avoid dust getting in. The Loxia line of lenses from Zeiss are just what the doctor ordered for most of us who love a manual shooting experience with small high quality lenses.

YOU MUST CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO SEE THEM HOW THEY SHOULD BE SEEN. THANK YOU.

Coming in at around the same size as the 35 and 50 Loxia, this 21 feels and performs to a high level on my Sony A7RII and A7s. 

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The Loxia 21 f/2.8 went along with me and Debby to Disneyland for 4 days and I could not stop snapping this lens on my Sony A7RII where it did incredible in any light, even dark scenes up to ISO 32,000. Yes, ISO 32,000, real world shooting with the mega monster megapixel A7RII. This A7RII blows my mind every time I use it.

This review will be a bit different from my usual lens reviews (as I have a prototype) as I will just say that I found no problems in use,  and the IQ, to these eyes, is fantastic. I will let the photos below tell the story of why this lens is a must own for your Sony A7 series camera if you like wide angle lenses and a nice manual piece of glass as well as the name ZEISS.

click the lens below to read more at B&H Photo

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In use I had no problems focusing this lens, at all. Even in near pitch black scenarios I was able to focus thanks to the EVF of the A7RII. If it had an OVF it would not have been possible.

So let’s begin with the photos. EXIF is embedded on all of them but you must click them to get the larger versions. Oh, and the lens has a 52mm filter size 😉

1st up, this is part of “Cars Land” at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. They created a HUGE desert scene and it looks so cool at night. This was shot at a high ISO, and if you check out the image again with the crop below it, you will see how impressive this is for a high ISO shot, late night and at f/2.8. 

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100% Crop of above. ISO 6400. Zero NR.

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My favorite ride at Disneyland, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This was shot at ISO 6400 and at f/2.8. All noise reduction is off, as I always have it set to 0 for JPEG or RAW. The RII handled the scene perfectly as did the Loxia. 

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A band was playing and I saw this little boy in his Halloween costume rating his fist and glove at me. I squatted QUICKLY and snapped, knowing my focus was on the band and not him. I still like it 😉 

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This was shot in my home the day I received the lens. Shows a crop as well if you click on the image to make it larger. This is at f/2.8. ISO 1600.

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My Office/Man Cave where 75% of my time is spent working, chilling out, or enjoying some amazing tunes. I also review HiFi equipment so I usually have a rotating set of high end gear coming and going 😉 From my chair at f/2.8

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Disney Balloons! They sell a ton of these things and they are not cheap! 

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The Disneyland Castle all dressed up for the 60th Anniversay 

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High ISO, late night. Shot at f/2.8 I did not think I had nearly enough light but the high ISO of the A7RII keeps on surprising me. I never use noise reductions, so my high ISO images have ZERO NR.

ISO 25,600 – Zero NR – A7RII

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ISO 6400

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Inside of the Little Mermaid ride, again, the low light scenario was easy for the Loxia 21 and Sony A7RII. 

ISO 25,600, Zero NR – A7RII

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Good color, no flare, no issues that I have found, even with the Prototype. 

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Right outside of our hotel is this water ride that WILL get you soaked beyond belief. Same areas as the black and white one above which was shot at night. Here I used a filter from VSCO as I liked the colors.

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The man himself, harsh mid day sun but the DR of the Sony was not even phased. 

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ISO 32,000 and look at the color performance. Again, zero NR here and the Loxia gave me a nice usable image. Shot inside the “Haunted Mansion” ride and it was DARK which is why I needed ISO 32,000 at f/2.8, and I was in a moving ride car.

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Selfie in the mirror. Tri-X filter via Alien Skin.

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VSCO filter applied to this one…click for better

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The A7RII and 21 Loxia make for a good B&W combo as well…

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More…

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The B&W Below, ISO 5000, f/2.8 – click it to see it much better

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ISO 32,000, f/2.8

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I fell for this lens just as as I did for the previous Loxia 35 and 50. When it is released and final I will be adding this to my FE lens collection. It’s a beauty and even though I was using the prototype and it is already on its way back to Zeiss, I would have bought this one if I could.

Pre Order the Loxia 21 f/2.8 at B&H Photo HERE

a few more..

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65 Comments

  1. I had really high hopes for this lens but found it to be terrible in low light. I returned it and went with the batis 25 f2. I am so much happier with that lens than the loxia which was a huge disappointment. i do not understand the hype regarding the loxia series at all.

  2. Silly Steve, Amazon doesn’t work outside United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, India and Mexico.

    For me living in Norway, 99,9% of all items sold on any Amazon doesn’t ship here.

  3. Steve,

    Thank you for this great website, I love it. Inspired by your reviews of the A7ii and the Loxia lenses, I rented the A7ii and the Loxia 50/2 this week. I love everything about this setup, focusing manually is accurate, fun and easy. This is by far the sharpest lens I’ve ever shot with.

    Do you think that an A7iii will be released anytime soon? 24mp is plenty for me and I’m quite happy with the image quality of the A7ii, but am willing to wait a little longer to see the next upgrade to this model. Best regards,

    Doug

  4. Well, this seems to be rather an A7RII review than a Loxia review. I see no sense in testing a lens in high ISO, where critical image issues will be eliminated by noise. I could try out the Loxia 21/2.8 myself on a A7, at ISO 100. I made series through all apertures and can assure, that even at f/2.8 the IQ is just perfect all over the frame up to the very corners. I couldn’t detect anything, which I would call CA. As far as I could see, the distortion is at least very well controled and vignetting seems to be less than 1 stop wide open in the corners. I’m really blown. Handling is superb due to the fact, that the viewfinder magnification drops in automatically when you turn the focus grip.

    If someone is interested, I also shot the Meyer Optik Görlitz Nocturnus 35/0.95 for APS-C.

  5. I (briefly) had the Zeiss 21mm 2.8 M, but was not satisfied with the edge smear and purple fringing. However the distortion was as perfect as I could ask for so I was extremely disappointed when I had to let it go. Your test photos look like I should expect equal quality from the Loxia version and I am excited to add this lens to my bag for architecture work. I just wish it was a couple hundred less.

    • And don’t forget, Gus, the ZM is a Biogon design with 9 elements in 7 groups, whereas the Loxia is a superior Distagon with 11 elements in 9 groups. This allows for an even better correction. But it weighs a good 100gr more indeed and, yes, it’s more expensive, although that’s justified IMO. I ordered this lens in the very first hour and am very much looking forward to its arrival.

  6. Steve,
    Tell me about the distortion on this lens. The specs say that it has 2% barrel distortion but when shot on a Sony A7 body has 0% distortion.
    Does the auto distortion correction that the Sony A7 applies get embedded into the Raw, or is this only if you shoot jpeg?
    Perhaps you could check out some of your raw files to find out.

      • I have no problem in corners Whit my ultron on my a7. Thé only problem for me is important vignetting until f2.8. The M mount is maybe a advantage for futur…For use on another system. it is the big question…

        I search too results for ultron on a7r2. I now that the ultron is good on all a7 only a7r1.

  7. Steve on my screen, I do not see the Zeiss 3D pop to the normal degree, I am not going WOW at that aspect. I am going wow at the lack of noise though.

  8. With the instant-magnify on the A7 and this lens (and other native e-mounts I think) it’s hardly “manual” focus. It’s awesome super-precise focus. Better than auto focus, and pretty darn fast. My favorite now.

    • The modern manual focus aids (peaking and magnification) on the A7 series cameras do indeed make them faster than MF on a DSLR and far more precise as well. The MF process is also fairly fast, but not as fast as good AF. That is a compromise that one makes when using an MF lens even on an A7RII.

  9. Nice pictures Steve. Does the 21mm Loxia have a hard stop at infinity? That is my main gripe with the other 2 Loxias. I’am planning to switch from Canon to Sony this year. The 3 Loxias and the Sony A7S II would make for a very nice time-lapse kit.

      • Hmm. A few other reviews of the (35 & 50) Loxias said that the infinity focus is achieved some 3mm before the hard stop of the focus ring.

        I use the 21mm & 50 1.4 ZE lenses and love the fact that I can get perfect infinity focus by just turning the focus ring all the way to the end, even wide open. From all the accounts I read online the Loxias cannot do that. Being in India, I do not have the option to rent out these lenses and try it out for myself. So any first hand inputs from you would be very helpful. Thanks Steve.

        • Zeiss in the past used to make a point of making lens go past infinity for very sound technical reasons, for me I expect it and would be more concerned if I hit an end stop.

      • My Loxia 35mm goes slightly past infinity at the stop and is only in focus when pulled back by a slight amount. It could just be an issue with my particular lens though.

        • No Daniel, Zeiss has provided this on purpose. Because with different weather and humidity circumstances, there can be a minimal shift of focus. And with modern hi-res sensors, the slightest difference will show. So this is done to create a save margin. It’s also the case on the Otus, BTW. Necessarily.

          • I was only being polite in response to the comment above that stated that all Loxia’s had a hard stop at infinity, you might want to respond to that comment. I didn’t remember for sure if it was the same across all Loxia badged lenses and of course, I could have had a problem with my particular lens, focus that is, it obviously has bad coma.

  10. Hi Steve,thank you for the very nice review. I had pruchased a voiglander 15 4.5 III after reading your review, and I love the lence. Other than the obvious difference of 15 vs 21, and 4.5 vs 2.8, how do you compare these two lens in term of sharpness, coloring, and “air feel quality”. Somehow I feel the Voiglander produce picture a bit solid and color heavy, it lack transparency of lighting compare to other lense that I have, such as the Zeiss 55 1.8

    • Well, the 15 is MUCH wider than the 21, so two different lenses. This 21 would never replace my 15 but would be added to it. The 21 is really a beautiful lens. While not up there with something like a Leica 21 Summilux it offers rich color, nice detail and overall amazing performance with VERY little distortion.

    • I do not need any and my room sounds better than any room I have ever heard at an y dealer or another home. Anyone who comes by says the same. Acoustic treatment would deaden this room big time, I tried. Much better without it. There are no issues in the room at all.

      • If the room is at the Golden mean ratio or close to, sound treatments cause more problems. I would be concerned at the lamp destroying stereo imagery.

  11. Steve,

    Would you recommend getting this when I already have the 35mm Loxia. Love the line and may get the 50mm as well. Also, any hunches as to what is next for Loxia? Thanks as always.

    Brandon

    • The 21 is much much wider than the 35 so much different. One does not replace the other. I would use a 35 more but the 21 would come out when I need a wider view. I love all the Loxias, as they are all consistent in quality and build. My guess is that an 85 f/2 will be coming.

  12. this is a review of a prototype? so this finished product will have different IQ, feel, etc.. or maybe the same… no one way know ahead of time. i’m a big fan of zeis lenses, and i have a lot of confidence this will be an wonderful lens, but it is not correct to call this a review, a preview yes.

    • Not sure if anything will change, most likely not. I will say that I am 99.9% sure this will not be changed from what I had, but because it was a final prototype, I had to mention it. With that said, if you read the text you would read that I said this is not really a review, but more showing photos I shot with it. This is why you do not see dedicated tests for flare, for distortion, for any of that. I’d say read the text 😉 Thanks for the comment.

  13. Hello Steve. As far as I’m concerned, I much prefer this Loxia article over the Leica SL preview that so many expected. 🙂
    I ordered my Loxia 21mm today, few minutes after the official announcement. Delivery will be somewhere in December, I’m told. So reading this review obviously was a big but very pleasant surprise!
    BTW, as a prototype preview, this is a lovely article, with nice real world pics, as usual. Just loved it!
    Question: you write that exif is embedded with the pics, but I wonder how we can read this info. Particularly with the pictures with larger DOF, I’m very interested to know at what apperture they were shot, since large DOF is closer to most of my shooting, especially with a WA-lens like this. So how can we read the exif-data?
    I’m absolutely thrilled about this new Loxia. The focus lenght is my absolute favorit in wide angle (next to 35mm), and I find the Loxia concept to be simply perfect for the A7 series. I love the size and the build and I’m sure Zeiss will only deliver top quality IQ in its Loxia line. IMO, with Zeiss, one can’t go wrong, since their IQ and character are very consistent.
    I believe Zeiss will grant Loxia (and Batis) their highest standard, which shows in this 21mm Distagon being a real upgrade over the Biogon in the ZM series for Leica mount. I think Zeiss initially thought of reworking the ZM Biogon for FE, like they did with the 50 Planar and 35 Biogon. But I think they decided to upgrade, since the Sony A7 line is evolving that fast in quality (and is now leading the pack) and since the sales are exceeding the wildest expectations of both Sony and Zeiss. IMO, this proves that we (all) made the very right decision to definitally choose for Sony FE-mount, both regarding bodies and (Zeiss) lenses. (My Leica dream lies so far behind me…)
    So in time, I expect both the Loxia and Batis lines to evolve into very complete Series, with initially complementary focus lenghts (which is absolutely the right decision IMO), but in time, I expect all focal lenghts to become available in both series, since the sales numbers of those lenses will probably quickly exceed those of the ZM series. BTW, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zeiss would want to offer their FE lenses also in the new Leica SL-mount for their mirrorless camera to come… that is, IF the SL is to be somewhat successfull (which I trully hope for Leica, but I have my doubts…).
    Last consideration. I wonder what the next Loxia will be. Probably a tele. But then, we already have a Batis 85. So when they first want to come up with complementary focal lenghts, could it be possible that they’ll surprise us with something like a 100mm Makro Planar?… Mmmm, I would surely like that! But when it’s gonna be a “simple” 2.0/85mm Sonnar, I would also order it right away, next to the Batis, since I’m sure to prefer the MF possibilities over those of AF. I find Loxia to be absolutely perfect for the A7 line!

    • Good to read your comment, Dirk. Zeiss needs two complete lines for Batis and Loxia in the near future that complement each other. Eg for a tele as a mf lens 75mm seems to be a standard while longer lenses better be with AF. One new lens per line every year or so is too slow and shows a kind of hesitant and not too confident attitude towards the A7 cameras. I wish Zeiss gave us a road map to make sure this is not a Touit trap.

      • I’m convinced that Zeiss is very confident in the A7 line. FF mirrorless has proven to give people what they want. That’s why it’s not wise (anymore) to buy Touit, and for Zeiss to further expand this line. That’s not Zeiss’s fault. The market has decided. Zeiss’s confident in FE shows by the fact that they develloped a whole new lens now for this 21mm, a more complicated Distagon than the Biogon in the ZM series. Zeiss is a very close partner to Sony for many years and Sony is writing camera history with the A7 line. You can bet that Zeiss is absolutely belIeving in in FE.
        BTW, the A7 line exists for two years now and this is Zeiss’s fifth lens for FE. So that’s a bit more than one per year.. But yes, we all want them to release more lenses at a faster pace.

        • More will come from Zeiss, Sony and others and believe me, white a few are coming in 2016. The Sony A7 range is doing phenomenal for them, and the A7RII is their biggest selling A7 body to date, yet the most expensive. They are doing very well and many are adding an A7 body to their Canon and Nikon, some are switching (actually, I get emails lost daily form someone switching from C&N to Sony) and some are using them side by side with a Leica. They are phenomenal cameras and deserve all the accolades they get, (the newest bodies like the A7RII and A7SII)

          • Of course you have more insight in actual figures and relationships between Zeiss and Sony than I do, Steve. But what you tell me here is confirming and reinforcing my thoughts, that were purely based on logical thinking.
            I read today that the Leica SL will be 24MP and a set of body + lens will be around $10000. If that’s true, I fear for the future of this project. Numbers will be a lot smaller than the M-system, due to Sony, so the financial margin per body will need to be even higher than on the M to make the SL profitable, which make the system even less appealing. This seems to be a downward spiral to me. Nevertheless, I so much hope that Leica can stay on the market with up-to-date top level products.

          • I hope so as well, many times in the past they have released products that were just too expensive, and they failed for that reason (along with competition). The SL should be $5k with lens, then they would sell a TON and build a whole new base of users. In fact, if they did that I would be 100% all in. I worry for Leica, and especially being a company that is very hard to work with for a reviewer, they are very set in their ways, even with so many failures in the last 3 years. Their best selling digital cameras ever were the M9 and X1. The X2 and X failed, the M 240 did well but not M9 numbers and the Leica T flopped (Surprised me as I really enjoyed that system). The Q was doing VERY well but then they could not deliver bodies which made interest wane. Leica is very odd, and I am having a hard time seeing flourish in these times. Sony is going all in for 2016 and beyond…believe that. I just hope the SL will deliver something unique in use and IQ, the Q did to some extent but being a fixed lens turned some off. Hope you are well!

          • There is one aspect that could work in their favour. I guess the FFD of the SL will probably be smaller then that of the M. This means that all the new SL lenses could be AF. And they could themselves provide a top class adapter for their MF lenses of the M-line, ultra compact (even more compact than Loxia!) ànd with exif data transfer. Just imagine… Thàt would be pretty much OK. As a matter of fact, I really expect them to go this way! There still is a huge crowd that is totally into MF, even when shooting mirrorless. Leica is very aware of that. As is Zeiss. And Sony. I hope that one of my mottos becomes reality: “There’s a place in the sun for everybody!”.

        • I think Zeiss is convinced full-frame mirrorless is the future. Right now that’s only Sony but if Leica really does come out with the SL (and Canon and/or Nikon follow suite) then I believe the Loxia line will be quickly adapted there as well. It is very likely that most manufacturer’s will stick to Sony’s ~18mm flange distance. The Batis line of lenses is another story because they are dependent on Sony’s (relatively) open E-mount standard. Those are less likely to be ported to another system.

  14. Why not a complete Batis line, or complete Loxia line? Zeiss seems to be filling out the focal lengths (21mm, 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm) but mixing up the AF and manual focus capabilities.

    This appears to be a great lens, based upon your photos. Should we expect anything less from Zeiss? 🙂

    • Me too would like to know the strategy behind it. It is a torture like behaviour by Zeiss to chase the customer through all kind of lenses before having a full lens line up. In my case I’d like a two lens standard combo for portrait and landscape consisting of Loxias only for the small size. Equally the E-mount Voigtlanders start with 10/12/15 what leaves me a bit surprised since I can’t imagine these lenses to be really relevant for the most of us. I can wait. We don’t even know what and when the next lens is coming. And if Zeiss goes on as slow as they do, the line will be completed in 4-5 years only. I am certainly not changing from a small FF DSLR combo to smaller but compromised FF mirrorless combo that does not show a clear direction.

    • It’s a better lens all the way around. The Sony 28 is a massive bang for the buck, but it has distortions that the camera has to fix in camera and your RAW’s will have pretty bad barrel distortion unless you fix it. It’s build can not compete with the Zeiss either. The Zeiss, even this prototype has been fantastic in all ways. Very easy to Manually focus as well.

      • The Loxia 21/2.8 has 2% distortion before correction, not quite as clean as the 35/2 or 50/2. Still, the A7Rii corrects the RAW file when the option is selected, which makes one less step in post.

  15. Looks like a great lens. However, it would be hard to justify over the Voigtlander 21 f1.8. The big aperture comes in so handy indoors, not to mention the lack of distortion. I was hoping Zeiss would release a version of their 15mm f2.8. Love your pics though! I shoot a lot at the Disney Parks as well…

    • The 21 1.8 is an M lens and will not give the corner to corner sharpness on the A7 series that this one will. It’s also much larger than the Zeiss. But still a fantastic lens itself. Thanks for reading!

  16. How do you compare it to the Batis 25mm 2.0, besides the obvious auto focus? I was planning on getting the batis but now I’m not so sure!

    • The Batis is 2-3X larger, but has AF. It is fantastic. It’s also not as wide. 21 to 25 is quite different, so I see them as two different lenses. Id go Loxia for me, as the size is great and I like to manually focus. But can’t go wrong with either.

      • Thanks for another great review Steve. A joy to read and great photos.

        Nevertheless, 2-3x larger?
        2/25 Batis: 92mm long (with caps) and 335g
        2.8/21 Loxia: 85mm long (with caps) and 394g

        • Width. The Batis lenses are MUCH thicker/wider due to the AF. But they are built lighter, more hollow feeling. The Loxias are skinny and dense. Much like a Leica lens.

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