The Zeiss Sonnar 50 f/1.5 ZM and the FujiXF 56mm f/1.2 – Fuji X-T1 By James Stevenson

A Tale of Two Lenses: The Zeiss Sonnar 50 f/1.5 ZM and the FujiXF 56mm f/1.2 – Fuji X-T1

Zeiss_and_Fujinon

Hi Brandon & Steve!

You’ve kindly featured some of my photos here before, I thought it about time I shared something new with you.

Last year I sold my well used Olympus OM-D E-M5 to buy a Fuji X-T1, and I wanted to test out the Zeiss 50 Sonnar C ZM (Leica Mount) alongside Fuji’s highly regarded XF 56mm f/1.2. Whilst the two offer a similar price point and focal length they deliver very different images and user experience. Both are superbly made, solid lenses with the manual focus Zeiss being far more compact even with an adapter.

The huge viewfinder in the X-T1 and innovative focusing aids make using manual focus lenses enjoyable, easy and accurate. With its 1.5x crop factor APS-C sensor, both lenses become short-telephoto portrait lenses (around 75mm and 84mm equivalent on a full-frame camera). I won’t get into technicalities, This is really a ‘just for fun’ comparison.

As for my own conclusions, I tend to like lenses that exhibit distinctive, interesting bokeh and falloff. To my eyes the Zeiss has the more unique patterned bokeh with the Fuji being smoother. The Zeiss just nicks it for me, but it’s subjective and everyone’s opinion will differ.

Zeiss ZM Sonnar

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Fuji 56mm

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Zeiss 50 Sonnar ZM

V_Zeiss_Sea

Fuji 56mm

V_Fuji_01

Zeiss Sonnar ZM

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Fuji 56mm

Sun_Peaks_Fuji_143-2

Incidentally, the switch from Oly to Fuji was purely to try something new after several years. I loved the Micro 4/3 gear and feel it offers unrivaled quality at such a compact size. I was won over by the design of the X-T1 though and have not been disappointed at all… but that could fill another article! I’ll sign off here and leave you with some images, have a great day!

http://www.jpstevenson.co.uk/photography/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamespstevenson

Thanks – have a great weekend.

James Stevenson

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35 Comments

  1. I am not being bloody minded, but if only you had asked your model-friend (in the first shot) to hold the pose after shooting with the Zeiss lens, quickly changed to Fuji lens and captured her again in the same light against the same back ground…it would have been fair to both the lenses.

    BTW you can do it all over again…

  2. The zeiss color shift is also very visible in the woman’s eye color, which I’m presuming was blue but by the second zeiss color photo it’s more greenish. The zeiss lens does this a bunch to my sons blue grey eyes which can turn a yellowish grey green color with the zeiss 32 1.8.

  3. Having the zeiss tout 32 1.8, I have noticed a common thing with zeiss on Fuji. They exhibit a little more vibrant colors but they also add color to skin tones making them unnatural looking. I own the Fuji 56 1.2 which I personally like for portraits and would tend to agree with lighting differences above. As well as to the bokeh the fact that the subject was closer in all of the color zeiss shoots and with that focal legnth you will get better bokeh if the subject is closer to you. I’m personally am not a fan of my zeiss 32, I actually prefer my Fuji 35 f2 which costs half the price. Although Leica glass on the Fuji is a different story, that produces more color “pop” without causing a color shift in skin tones.

  4. I have a Fuji XE2, but Fuji’s lenses are a complete non-started for me. They have no mechanical helicoid, so they are autofocus or electronic manual focus by wire only. The Zeiss lens can be adapted to numerous other film and mirrorless digital system; Fuji lenses are incompatible with every other camera system invented by humankind.

    For folks prepared to buy into the Fuji system as a whole, the X Series lenses make perfect sense. Fuji’s X-Trans APSC sensor and X Mount lenses are capable of delivering fantastic results. Personally, I can’t justify spending that much money on a completely proprietary camera system. Especially so given Fuji’s propensity to kill any product line at any time if they decide it’s no longer profitable enough — the Fujica X slr system from the 80s being an obvious example.

    • Thanks for your comment Johnny, some interesting and valid points.

      Those who like to use manual focus, I’d agree, focus by wire is never a satisfying experience on any camera. I don’t like it either and would never use it on the Fuji lenses.

      However the manual aperture ring on fuji’s prime lenses is pretty great in my opinion; I can use the X-T1 in an instinctive way that I’ve not felt with other digital cameras.

      Re the likelihood of Fuji killing the X line, I think more than any other company right now, they are actually showing huge respect to their customer base – I’ll stress that I’m brand agnostic and enjoy experimenting. Firmware updates that continue long into a product’s life cycle actually add incredibly useful functionality that make using their cameras hugely enjoyable (1/32,000 shutter, new colour film sims and far improved auto-focus to name a few that came in the two years since the X-T1’s launch).

      To offer such high quality native lenses designed to work with beautifully designed cameras… I think there is huge value in that and I can’t seem them killing off the x series any time soon.

  5. There are not two lenses on the market having such a different origin, concept & lens formula – that behave the same… and I find it very hard to pull a conclusion from these few pictures. A real A/B test would have been something different, but even then things get often more complicated than they seem. I want to believe that Zeiss is better than the Fujinon… but (and this is once again the same old song) Fuji also knows how to create about the best glass on the planet, having the HC-Hasselblad-experience. My experience with this 56mm lens in particular is that it’s one of the best lenses I’ve ever owned. In the real world, I don’t think anyone would ever call this a ‘mediocre performer’ or have real criticism on its optical performance – I’ve really seen a lot worse from the more recent Nikon & Canon glass (and it’s with pain in my heart I’m saying this).

    • Thanks for reading A&C. Certainly the Fuji is a wonderful lens, I hope I didn’t give the impression I thought it mediocre! Far from it! This was the first chance I’d had to snatch an hour shooting both, and on this day the Zeiss character just edged it for me slightly.

      Fuji’s 35 /1.4 is an amazing lens, I think my favourite all-rounder to use on the x-t1 for it’s size, balance on the camera, build and image quality, it’s great. I’m enjoying using the 56 too, and will continue to experiement.

    • Thanks for all the feedback on here, I’m glad this was of some interest. I regret that I couldn’t share more side-by-side comparisons but it was only after shooting I decided it might be interesting to share these in the hope that something of each lenses individual character might show through. Comparisons always make for lively discussion on here!

  6. I don’t know how people are supposed to compare the zeiss look vs the fuji look by looking at the images above. I know it is “just for fun” comparison- but something is not right here.

    The above images are all skewed towards the Zeiss – Directional light, lower ISO images belong to Zeiss. All Fujinon images are shot at higher ISO, and shot in flat light. No wonder the Zeiss images look better.

    I haven’t shot with Zeiss or Leica lenses,I have never owned one, but have owned every L series canon primes unto 135mm f2 and more recently, have used prime and pro Nikkors. Oh….also owned OMD lenses including the awesome 75mm f1.8.
    The fujinon 56 is the best lens I have ever owned (its right up there with the Olympus 75mm). It fells right, AF is fast and accurate and image quality is just stunning. The above comparison does not do justice to this fine lens.

    • There was never any aspiration here to create a decisive, shot for shot comparison – just a little shoot I did for a friend in our local neighbourhood using two lenses that I’m really enjoying having the chance to own and test. It was something I did for myself that it occurred to me later might be fun to share after reading some recent articles about the Zeiss here on Steve’s site.

  7. As you already have mentioned that it is ‘not’ a comprehensive test, the results are not straight forward as I would have wished for. Having said that, while comparing zm and fuji at approximately similar distances, it is a very close competition. ZM seems to distort a bit more than the Fuji at close distances which might also add to character to the lens. Fuji on the other is just beautifully corrected and has beautiful sharpness as it is built as a portrait lens, which zm is not. I could choose either and be super happy with them or in an ideal world get both 🙂

  8. Fantastic pictures and a very interesting comparison. The Zeiss appeals slightly to my eye. The third and fifth photos in particular have very pleasing bokeh.

  9. Nice portraits James! I like all the Zeiss shots, but I can’t help wondering if they look better than the Fuji ones simply because of better lighting in every case, rather than any optical qualities inherent in the lens itself? From my experience, I think even a relatively nasty lens can still produce a beautiful portrait with good lighting and composition!

  10. Fuji colors muted compared to Zeiss to my eye…but very pleasing. Fuji bokeh….busy and distracting, at least on the portrait with the buildings. Fuji coma bizarre near the periphery. Both seem to be very good lenses. I would buy the Zeiss and use on my analog systems. I have a Nikon 50 1.2 and a Jupiter 8 (not 3 which would be better comparison) and a MS Sonnetar. Have not shot enough with the Sonnetar to get the hang of it. However, I really like the Nikon.

    Interesting and fun comparison. Thank you.

    • Thanks Hap, good to hear your thoughts. I’ll have to check out those lenses.

      Learning how to incorporate bokeh into portraiture is interesting to me, and something I’m very much still learning. I do like to see detail in the background, rather than a soft wall of mush, but I’m aware that lenses with more ‘character’ and visible definition in the out of focus areas can also exhibit this in an unappealing way under certain circumstances.

      I’m enjoying testing both of these lenses for now, and have to say I love the fuji colours and film profiles more than any other digital camera I’ve used.

    • if you were a careful observer you would noticed that the distance to the object was different so the smoother background of the Zeiss is mainly result of the distance and not the glass virtues.
      Fuji glass is just excellent as is the Zeiss. There are different but it is more about personal taste and not technical criteria.

  11. of course it’s not side-by-side comparison on the photos, Zeiss is noticeably sharper. If you need that big of a lens, why sell your dlsr anyway. Love the Fuji system but look at the newer lenses on fuji and sony…. huge!
    I own fuji system, i like my lenses small.

    • I do understand that sentiment – if portability is part of the reason reason for switching from a DSLR to mirrorless then why buy bulky lenses right?

      However I think it is all still relative; the equivalent setup on a full frame DSLR would be something like a 5D / 85mm 1.2, which would be significantly larger and heavier. The 56mm on the Fuji does make it front-heavy and a little poorly balanced, but it’s still a very light setup.

      I do prefer to use the smaller lenses too though, and I agree with your outlook. This might be factor into why I’m leaning towards using the Zeiss over the Fuji for now.

      • The equivalent on FF DSLR would require a 85 f1.8 lens, Canon and Nikon offer excellent and inexpensive ones weighting less than the Fuji 56mm. If portrait shooting is priority Fuji offers nothing in comparison to FF as far as weight and cost are concerned.

  12. Nice and informative, but it would have helped me comparing if the framing had been similar (and aperture, obviously).

    • True Michiel – I guess as I didn’t start out with a side-by side comparison in mind, I just wanted to try using both and thought I’d share these results to show some of the character of each lens. I’ll continue to experiment and share results on Flickr

      • Please do James. I find the “quality” of bokeh and out of focus rendering can change quite a bit with varying distances, varying backgrounds.

        I’ll be checking!

  13. The Zeiss seems to bee sharper but I do like the natural transitions from the Fuji lens. For my taste for portraits the Fuji wins (in your images)

  14. I won’t nitpick about the additional 6mm (9mm in full-frame terms) but unless you have the APD version of the Fuji, they don’t really offer similar price points. In USD, that’s an additional $400 for the Zeiss. And though there’s no doubt the Zeiss will have a great manual focus feel and build quality, but with face and eye tracking, the edge might have to go to the Fuji for portraits.
    Thanks for the samples!

    • Thanks for your reply Vernon. I should have qualified the pricing by stating that both are available at similar used prices, at least here in Canada where they can be found between $950 and $1100 with some careful shopping.

  15. I originally used the Sonnar 1.5 on a Leica M8 with great results although the focus shift was tough. I sold the M8 for a Fuji X-Pro1 but for me the lens lost much of it’s charm with the 1.5 conversion factor. On my M240 the Sonnar really sings, absolutely great lens; full of character wide open and quite sharp stopped down.

  16. The Zeiss has more character. But to be honest I’m not seeing the pop in both these lenses. Maybe its the xtrans sensor hopefully the xpro 2 will fix. But to my eyes images coming out of some micro four thirds lenses like the Panasonic 42.5 f1.2 has way more pop

    • Thanks for your reply. I’d agree in these samples, at widest aperture settings. I know that Lightroom might not be the best for handling x-trans files; I’m a PC user so I can’t try Iridient which is a shame, but I’m going to experiment with Capture one and other software too.

      Some may see it differently, but I think shot wide-open both these lenses have a slightly softer, more classic falloff than a biting 3D pop – I’m seeing more of that with the 35/1.4 which is a wonderful Fuji lens.

      • The lack of pop is the xtrans, the sharpness on the focus area isn’t there kind of just blends in with everything to a degree. Xtrans usually lack texture (micro contrast) and it’s like looking at a smooth HD still. Presently, it seems not 100% sure but the Xpro2 has finally caught up to the 16mpx Xa2 in detail.

    • I can tell you right now that in many of these photos the lack of “pop” has nothing whatsoever to do with the sensor or the lenses and everything to do with the lighting [or lack thereof]. There’s little foreground-to-background separation because there’s no foreground fill light of any kind.

      If one doesn’t have lights, or reflectors, or a fill board in these situations, then I would be inclined to spot meter for the face in some of these. The background might blow a bit, but the result would be more dynamic images.

      I’d also be interested to learn about the other settings that were being used in the camera; the ISOs; and the post-processing … which in these images is tending to make everything look at bit muddy and soft [no offense, just an observation; the X-Trans sensor can perform much, much better than this].

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