Testing the Zeiss Loxia 2/35 Biogon: the future of manual focusing
By Dirk De Paepe
Loxia. The name that enthused me the most during the last year. It’s the lens line that my life long favorite manufacturer, Zeiss, dedicates to my favorite camera, the Sony A7R. I love Sony for daring to explore new paths, resulting in the launch of the A7 family, the full frame/compact size bodies that finally offered a worthy alternative for the Leica M, and… at a reasonable price! I love Zeiss for believing in Sony’s boldness, and supporting them with excellent glass, Loxia being the most recent in the line.
From the moment they were launched, I knew this was it for me. That’s why I ordered them right away, both A7r and Loxia, and up till now, I didn’t regret it for one moment.
For this article, I did some shooting with the second and latest addition to the still young Loxia line, the 2/35 Biogon. And of course I shot it with my Sony A7r. The pictures that go with this review are all shot at the Antwerp Central Station (more info in the last paragraph of this article), and are available at a larger resolution on my flickr pages
(https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/). I gathered them in a dedicated album, named “Loxia 2/35 Biogon at the Antwerp Central Station”. Quite some of those pics are in full resolution, i.e. as a full 36MP file. Please check them out for image details and exif data, if you want, by clicking here.https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157650231351238/
The importance of Loxia
Loxia is Zeiss’s lens line, dedicated to mirrorless camera bodies, like ZE/ZF.2 is a line for classic DSLRs and ZM is for rangefinders. When first announced, I read that some publishers doubted if it really was going to happen, if Zeiss was going to push through with it, creating a whole line for “yet another” new Sony development. In other words, they adviced their readers to be cautious and not buy a system that was not fully deployed yet. I have never shared their opinion. From the start, I was absolutely convinced that fullframe E mount was going to be very important and therefore that the Loxia line was going to be thé way to go for me. I’ll explain why.
It all begins with the most important evolution in photography of the last decades: the digital sensor and its dramatic progression in two domains: resolution and ISO. Although ISO has the most impact on the IQ, resolution has the biggest commercial impact and is responsible for the decline of the film camera. Nevertheless, many masterly pictures have been made with a lot less MPs than today’s average, which causes the reaction amongst many serious photographers that you’d better go for ISO than for MP – or, regarding the A7 line, that you’d better go for the A7s than for the A7r. (I’m not referring to the A7II here because this is just the next evolution of the hardware, with indeed some significant improvements, but eventually we will see those in all A7 models. At this point, I’m purely referring to ISO versus MP.) Personally, I want them both, ISO and MP. So I bought the A7r. And I still would buy it today, because it kind of offers me both. How so? Well, when shooting at high ISO, one càn apply some noise reduction (I prefer to do it in post production), when shooting with the A7r. This is often being contested, because NR reduces the detail of your picture. But this occurs at pixel level, which means that you will partly loose the benefit of your extra MPs. Correct. When shooting for instance at 3200 ISO, after some carefully dosed NR, I reduce the picture size to 66%, and get a pretty clean image, significantly diminishing the gap with the A7s in this regard and ending up with a 16MP file, which is still more than the resolution the A7s offers.
As a matter of fact, the higher the ISO, the smaller my files will get, if I want them to be pretty clean, but that counts for every sensor, also the A7s’s. So I prefer the A7r, because at least it gives me the opportunity to also go for a large, detailed 36MP file, when there is sufficient light, which mostly is the case. So in the A7 family, I prefer the higher resolution. And let’s not kid ourselves, this increase of MPs will not stop! Yes, it asks for more processing power, but the processing speed of computers will further improve as well. Anyway, with my iMac, I experience not the slightest problem, when processing the A7r’s files. I’m sure my next computer won’t have problems with my next sensor neither…
The increase of MPs is a fact. Even the “low MP” A7s offers a multitude of the pixels, of what we had a few years back. Let’s not deny this any further. We will all shoot at higher MPs ten years from now. But this has consequences regarding focusing. The more pixels in our frame, the more critical the focusing gets. If you wanna focus very precisely at high MP, you need to do this manually. Although the AF systems will further improve, critical focusing also means selective focusing, and there will always be photographers that want to keep things 100% under control and perform the focusing themselves, not relying on whatever sophisticated system. To perform this kind of critical focusing, an optical viewfinder simply doesn’t do the job. That’s why the EVF is mandatory. There has been a lot of criticism, with many photographers rejecting the EVF. I believe they’re wrong. Already today, the EVF outclasses the OVF, regarding focusing precision. And the EVF quality will only further improve. The gap with the OVF will further increase and eventually the OVF will become totally obsolete. Is that a bad thing? I don’t see why. We’re talking about digital images anyway. One can argue that the OVF is closer to reality, but the EVF is surely closer to the final picture. And photography is all about creating a picture. So I see only advantages here.
Let’s resume. MPs will further increase and this will make the OVF obsolete. This means that the mirror is no longer needed in the camera body. Or in other words: mirrorless is the future! IMO this is ineluctable. And I believe that Zeiss nows this as well. And Sony is leading the pack in this department. Well, guys. That’s why I firmly believe in the Sony E mount, and that’s why I’m absolutely sure that Zeiss will further develop the Loxia range to become a very comprehensive product line. BTW, from what I read, the sales numbers of both the A7 family and the Loxias significantly surpass the initial expectations, (hense the backorders for Loxia), which further confirms my point.
The importance of Loxia is that it will be thė MF lens line for the camera system of the future: mirrorless.
Classic lenses versus Loxia
For many manual A7x shooters, M-mount lenses seem to be the preferred choice, because their compact size matches the compact A7x bodies very well. But we all now about the “issues” that arise with most wide angle M-mount lenses on the A7x, especially the A7r: corner color shift and smearing. At the Photokina Zeiss booth, I was told that the ZM line was, as a matter of fact, developed for film camera’s, not for sensors, and that they are therefore not intended to be used with modern sensors. I guess this also counts for (most of the) Leica M-lenses, because the digital Leica M-bodies correct their lenses with dedicated profiles. Loxia is completely issue free in this regard. But besides offering issue free lenses for modern mirrorless fullframe bodies, Zeiss announced from the start that the Loxia lenses would render state-of-the-art IQ. And I have to say: as far as now, they deliver! The 2/50 Planar is a clear step forward from the very familiar ZM Planar – what I didn’t expect, as you can read in my formar post. (http://www.stevehuffphoto. com/2014/12/10/ten-weeks-with- the-zeiss-loxia-planar-250- and-the-sony-a7r-by-dirk-de- paepe/) This Loxia 2/50 Planar made me think of Otus more than once. And how the 2/35 Biogon performs, is what I’m about to report here. But I can already tell you that this one surprised me even more!
Besides M-mounts, there are so many other lenses to be used with the A7x. All that beautiful classic glass, with so many different characters, that now can be shot on modern sensors, isn’t it wonderful?! For me too, this is a very important motivation to go for mirrorless bodies: thanks to their short FFD (flange focal distance), virtually all classic lenses can be mounted, with the right adapter. Those lenses often have a unique character, which I guess we all can quite appreciate and would like to exploit. However, most of the time, when used on modern hi-res sensors, those “classics” fall short in the IQ department. I own a few very nice vintage Jupiter lenses, with lovely signature, but it really makes no sense to go for the full 36MP resolution with them, since you simply can’t get a detailed image, when looking at full size. Luckily, most of the time, we don’t really need that much pixels, so I keep on using them from time to time. Classic glass on the A7x is absolutely a go!
However, with Loxia, I experience something else. This is modern glass, completely up to date, regarding functionality ànd performance. To me, this is a joy of shooting beyond compare and with a fantastic image quality, at par with the modern hi-res sensors. IMO their IQ is only topped by Otus (although Loxia makes me think of Otus more than once). Add to that their compact size and a weight of roughly 1/3 of Otus and you can image that nowadays I prefer to put my Loxia 2/50 in my bag, rather than my Otus 55. So I use the Otus a lot less these days: really only when I have a very specific project at hand, where the highest possible IQ is mandatory and gear transportation is no issue. Loxia is thàt good that I have even considered selling my Otus. But as far as now, it still feels good owning it, for those very special occasions.
Of course, Otus typically is a DSLR lens. But why not using SLR lenses on the A7X?! Think of old Leica R glass for instance. Makes a lot of sense, although of course we have to take the extra size and weight for granted with those SLR lenses.
What counts for all those classic lenses, is that they lack the data communication, which means that they can’t allow the “modern manual focusing” features that contribute to the joy of shooting with Loxia.
Loxia offers advanced functionality (top level in manual focusing) in a pretty compact package (only slightly outdone by M-mount) with excellent IQ (IMO only slightly surpassed by Otus). All in all, Loxia is undoubtably the best choice for MF shooting with fullframe E-mount camera’s, by combining in a unique way great performance in functionality, size and IQ. Nothing else comes close.
General Loxia features
Of course many of the features of the new 2/35 Biogon are common with the Loxia 2/50 Planar, that was the subject of my latest article, published on this website. Since I already talked about general Loxia features in formar posts, I’ll confine myself to resuming the most important general Loxia features here.
The Loxia lenses are intended for manual shooting. They have no Auto Focus, and even don’t offer Auto Aperture. So you have to shoot in Aperture Priority mode or in Manual. No Shutter Priority available. If you’re not feeling happy with this, there’s only one simple conclusion to make: don’t buy Loxia. But if you want to have 100% control about everything, those Loxias are a dream come thru.
The Loxias not only match the A7x style perfectly, from an aesthetical point of view, they also bring manual shooting ergonomics to a height, never known before. This is thanks to the automatic “VF-zooming” feature, when moving the focus ring (a function that you can turn on/off in the menu), and also thanks to the perfectly designed and smoothly operating focus and aperture rings. They allow almost simultaneous “one finger” ajustment, thus featuring the fastest thinkable way of manual focusing and DOF determining. (Again, read my 2/50 article for more details, please.) The de-click option of the aperture ring (normally in 1/3 stop steps) will in certain ultra-critical situations allow for hyper precise determining of the dof – of course besides it’s applications for filming, but that’s not my thing. The data exchange between lens and body, necessary to perform the automatic VF zooming, at the same time enables full exif data transmission.
When shooting with a hi-res sensor, like the 36MP one of the A7r, manual shooting is the way to go for critical focusing and, as I said, as well is the electronic viewfinder. The automatic zooming in the VF and the focus peaking add to that and together they make for very precise focusing. When you wanna shoot full frame in this way, with a pretty compact system, there is only one combination today: the A7x and Loxia.
Last advantage of the Loxias, compared to there ZM sisters, is their closer minimal focus distance. For the 2/35 Biogon, this is 30cm, compared to 70cm for the ZM. Big difference!
As a critical remark, again in comparison with ZM, I need to say that the Loxias are bigger (thicker, that is) ànd heavier. This makes your total system less compact than when using ZMs. In my smallest bag, I used to cary three ZM lenses plus body. With Loxia, that’s only two. A bit less compact indeed, but offering a better feeling. I guess this size must be about the ideal compromise between size, weight and ergonomics.
BTW the A7x/Loxia system still has a very big advantage, compared to a DSLR system, in this regard. The handling is still typically that of a handy, compact camera. Compared to a clumsy DSLR with big, heavy lenses, this is heaven on earth to me.
The Loxia 2/35 Biogon performance
Like the 2/50 Planar, this Loxia 2/35 Biogon was derived from its M-mount counterpart, the Biogon 2/35 ZM. But this doesn’t mean at all that it’s just an “adaption” of this lens. No way! Although those two Loxia lenses are admittedly familiar with the ZMs, they are thoroughly reworked. I don’t own the ZM 2/35 Biogon, so I couldn’t make a direct comparison, but I do own both 2/50 Planars (ZM and Loxia) and although there were no optical issues with the ZM Planar on the A7x, I could clearly see the difference in IQ and even in view angle. (Again, read my 2/50 article for details.) The ZM Biogons on the other hand unmistakably pose problems with the A7r: the known corner color shift and smearing. One could work around them and correct a great deal in post production, but franckly, this was not to be preferred, as I experienced with my ZM 2.8/28 Biogon. So I was very anxious about the Loxia 2/35, when I read, just before its launch at Photokina, that it was going to be a Biogon design. So I went to Photokina, to do a few quick shots – just to see if there was going to be corner problems. In “Testing the Zeiss Loxia, ZM 35 1.4 and Otus lenses on the A7R” (click here to read this article on this website http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/10/03/testing-the-zeiss-loxia-zm-35-1-4-and-otus-lenses-on-the-a7r-by-dirk-de-paepe/) I reported that there was no question of color shift, nor smearing with the 2/35. A great relief that made me order both Loxias right away. But of course, I couldn’t be absolutely conclusive after only a few quick shots. Owning the new 2/35 Biogon for some weeks now, I can report with a bit more background. So let’s go a bit more in detail.
Color shift. There is no color shift what so ever. Never, at no matter what aperture. I can be very conclusive about this. I never noticed the slightest corner color shift in any picture I took. None of my pics in this review were corrected for color shift, not even in the slightest way. So no color shift. Period.
Distortion. There’s no distortion – well, nothing that matters. I add quite some pictures here for this report, with straight lines at the borders. In none of my pics, I performed any compensation for barrel distortion. Zero. So to me, in this regard, the performance is simply perfect. Look for yourself. I have to say that I did as a matter of fact perform quite some test shots with grids, to check for distortion. Well, indeed a few times I noticed a minimum of inverse distortion, barely noticeable though. I think I push it over the edge, to even mention it here. In real life pictures, even the very demanding once like the Station’s front view from behind the window, nobody can or will speak of even the slightest distortion. This is an excellent performance IMO. It makes this lens very suitable for shooting buildings and the like.
Fringing. OK, there is some fringing, mainly at larger apertures. But it’s very limited and very controllable, should you want to correct it. IMO fringing mainly matters when shooting with large DOF, because then, you want a lot of cleanness and detail on all plans. You’ll find quite some pictures here, that I shot hyperfocally. On my flickr page, you can look at some at full size. I think in this regard, this Biogon’s performance is really amazing. Look for instance at the “Swirl” picture (placed first after the “Detail” paragraph), go to the right upper side to see a zone with great contrasts, very sensitive for fringing. I think the lens’s performance is astonishing here. In another picture, Left Arm (first image after the “Bokeh” paragraph), you can see about the maximum of fringing I got (green fringing here). Of course this was shot at f/2, with very close focusing, so that the out of focus effect was about maximal. It was still pretty easily correctable, but in a bokeh shot, I feel no need to correct any fringing, so what you see is what you get here. And in a third shot, Coffee Addiction (pictured hereunder), also shot at f/2 you get some magenta fringing around the lamps. Well, I don’t feel the need to correct this neither, but again, this can very easily be done, should you want it. So IMO the fringing with this Biogon is very limited, always easily correctable if you’d want, and at larger DOF non-existing or only very slightly visible, and only when looking at 100%. I think this is an excellent performance in this department.
Color signature and nuances. This 2/35 Biogon clearly has its own color signature. There’s a kind of slight silky softness in the colors, which goes together with very subtile nuances. An absolute joy to watch, IMO. It’s different than the Planar, that is more cool and strict, always correct and neutral. But I honestly can’t say that the Biogon is incorrect in any way. Of course performing “laboratory test shots”, with the necessary measurements could give more precise information. In real life though, I can only say, those “somewhat silky” colors please me a lot. And, BTW, with very little input, you can correct or change or enhance those colors in any direction you like. Everything you need is there, to be processed in any way you want. In every picture, I could easily get the final look, that I had in mind. One consideration though, when a lens has a specific signature, probably it will be disliked by some – the more by those who are stuck to the signature of another lens that they already own. With every new lens, I’m trying to keep an open mind and see what this lens can do for me. With every picture that I take with this Biogon, I enjoy the aesthetics of the colors, I feel inspired by them and I quickly get the exact image that I want. The words that pop into my mind, thinking about this Biogon’s color signature are: pictorial, subtle, versatile, silky. All are very positive. The latter involves personal taste. I like it very much.
Detail. In a former article, published on this site, I reported about this lens, after some quick shots at Photokina. I wrote that the 2/35 renders a somewhat softer detail than the Planar. Well, I have to correct this. I guess I was misled by its silkier color signature and because one always get less detail, when shooting out of hand (all shots at Photokina were OOH). I invite you to look in detail to some pics, shot with tripod. Go to my flickr page and select the full size image. You’ll find a “36MP file” indication at the full size pictures. Again, I didn’t perform measurements, but I have the strong impression that this Biogon produces as much detail as the Planar. And (!) it performs even better in the corners – there’s a bit more softening in the very deep corners with the Planar IMO. This was a big surprise to me. Maybe it is a small fraction softer all over, but really, with the bare eye and in normal pictures, like published here, I really couldn’t tell. Maybe it even renders a fraction more. But I càn tell you about the better performance in the corners, although the Planar was already outstanding there. To me it’s clear, detail is no issue at all – not in the slightest way. Incredible detail, when using a tripod, but also OOH, when taking care, the detail is still pretty amazing. The first picture in this post was shot OOH – you can get a 36MP from my flickr account. BTW, with its closest focusing distance of 30 cm, the minimal FOV can even be smaller than with the Planar, revealing even more detail of a certain object for sure! Regarding detail, this Loxia 2/35 is high class! As good as it gets!
Aperture range. We often think about a lens having a sweet spot, i.e. the aperture at which the performance is at its best. The designated way to determine the sweet spot is by performing specific test shots to measure, which I didn’t do. I just took “normal” shots throughout the whole aperture range. But I looked in detail and the results were pretty remarkable. Concerning detail, the 2/35 definitely renders a softer image wide open, at f/2. But already when closing one click (f/2.2), you can see a clear increase of detail. At f/4, you get as much detail as you’ll ever get (looking at 100%). Regarding detail, this stays that way up till f/16. Closing further towards f/22, the diffraction gradually occurs, with some loss of detail. Also the color dynamic range gets a bit poorer. I’d say the dynamic range is virtually optimal as from f/14 and wider. Regarding vignetting, there indeed is some at wide apertures. By f/3.5 I’d say it’s negligible and past f/4 it’s completely gone. As from f/2.8 you can completely correct the vignetting in the Adobe raw-converter, if you’d want. I’d say, the vignetting is never a problem. So what is the sweet spot of this Loxia 2/35? Well, I couldn’t tell. I’d rather speak about a “sweet zone”, that I’d place from f/4 to f/13, with this regard that the outer zones still produce very acceptable IQ, performing ever better than many “classic” lenses. The wideness of this sweet zone really surprised me. This means that I can use this lens at whatever DOF (at f/13 you can have acceptable focus from about 1,5m to infinite) and never have to worry about lesser IQ. Wow!
Large DOF shooting. This lens is really at its best, IMO, when zone focusing or even hyperfocusing. I thank Zeiss for continuing to put a DOF scale on their MF lenses – a great tool for zone and hyperfocusing! With its focal length and speed range, this lens is about ideal for street shooting, IMO. Again, I invite you to look in detail to some of the pictures here, that I shot with large DOF. On my flickr page is indicated which ones are shot with tripod and have a full 36MP resolution. Some of them, like the station front from behind the window (called “Dirty windows”) is a remarkable illustration hereof. This picture was shot a few hours after a melting snow storm. When looking at full size, you can clearly see the dirt that the storm left on the windows in the front plan and at the same time, you get tremendous detail from the station’s facade in the hind plan.
This lens’s ability to render amazing detail with constant clearness from front to hind plan is incredible. Again, I was quite astonished here. I can say it outclasses anything I saw up till now. (Again, I didn’t try every lens on the market, of course.) But what’s remarkable here is that one often (rightfully) speaks about acceptable focus, when talking about hyperfocusing and that some photographers even doubt that hyperfocusing is still possible anyway with a 36MP image, because “acceptible focus” becomes trickier as resolution increases – something I experienced clearly when upgrading from a 24 to a 36MP sensor. But this Biogon surprised me again! Indeed, I could realize pictures that showed clear detail all over – with no visible loss in IQ throughout the plans, even when looking at 100%. Simply jawdropping!
Smearing.This is really non existing. When I’m absolutely critical, I think I can see a very, ever so slight softening in the deepest corners, and only when looking at full size, like I mentioned above. I feel almost ashamed to mention this. Either way, I now of no lens that performs better in this department (of course I didn’t try all possible lenses). But smearing, I just don’t see any, up till the very tip of the corners. IMO, this performance is no less than Otus level. A big, very pleasant surprise to me, after what we’ve seen from the ZM Biogons. Also the Leica 2/35 Summicron, that I owned for a while, performed really not good in this department (on my A7r, that is) – that’s why I sold it.
Bokeh. Let’s be clear. This is no bokeh monster. It’s just not that kind of lens. Wide angle and f/2, what do you expect?! If you really want to create and explicit bokeh with this 2/35, you need to focus very close (or very far with very close OOF objects). But when you really go for it, like in the “Left Arm” and “Coffee Addiction” pictures, you get a really beautiful and soft bokeh IMO, both in front and hind. I believe it’s even softer than the Planar’s. But again, you really need to go looking for the right circumstances to achieve this. And in my kind of shooting, the bokeh is always a result, not a goal. BTW, even at f/2, the detail is not bad at all, as you can see, when looking at the next two pictures in full size, via my flickr account.
Low light and artificial light shots. I wanna talk about this for two reasons. First, low light almost automatically means artificial light. And artificial light implies specific white balance. When it gets dark, the Antwerp Central Station is illuminated by many different kinds of light, each requiring a specific white balance. Some of the shots combine different light sources in one picture. Colors created by artificial light are different from daylight colors, but still they require a correct white balance to make them look right. Therefore a specific post processing was mandatory for those picture, and to perform this, the basic material, provided by the raw-file, must be of good quality. Well, the files that the Biogon/A7r provided me, gave me the impression that I could do whatever I wanted. What a joy to work with! Oh, and another thing that I wanted to do, was showing the high ISO capabilities of the A7r. I’d like to illustrate this with “Evening Hall” (next picture). This was shot at 4000 ISO. After some processing, I reduced the file to 66%, ending up with a 16MP file (still 4MP more than what the A7s delivers!) and I must say that I’m very pleased with the result – cleanness, detail and overall rendering. I hope you understand why I prefer the A7r above the A7s, offering me the best of both worlds. On my flickr page, you can see this picture in full 16MP format.
Black and White. Concerning black and white shooting, let me first tell you that I deliberately had to decide to add some B&W pictures here, because in every shot, I loved the colors that much, that I just wanted to keep them. Of course, when you intentionally go shooting for B&W pictures, this is another matter, but I didn’t do that for this review – I was just trying out my newest lens. :-) Anyway, IMO, when shooting for B&W with a color sensor, you first need to get a good color balance, before converting the picture to B&W. The files you get from this Loxia 2/35 are a pleasure to work with, also in this regard.
The Zeiss online lens shop announces this Loxia 2/35 Biogon for €1149,- which is considerably more than the €849,- for the Loxia 2/50 Planar. But this difference is well justified, because the Biogon features 9 elements in 6 groups, whereas the Planar 6 elements in 4 groups. Nevertheless, the Biogon weighs a bit less: 320gr instead of 340gr for the Planar. This is probably due to the lens elements being a lot smaller in diameter and probably also in thickness. I don’t know if the lens shade, obviously being shorter for a wider angle lens, place a roll herein a well. Measurements are the same: 66x62mm, caps included.
Like with the Loxia 2/50 Planar (and I’m sure this will count for all future Loxias), it’s a tremendous joy to shoot with this Loxia 2/35 Biogon. Thanks to its great ergonomics and advanced features, it really accomplishes what I call “modern manual focusing”. In combination with the A7x, this is a wonderful and very powerful performance machine for so many different kinds of shooting. But I’m convinced that Zeiss mainly had the kind of photographer in mind, that takes profit from a compact camera. The OOH street shooter is probably the stereotype hereof. Although I wouldn’t be surprised when the wonderful colors would convert quite some B&W shooters. :-) Thanks to its compact size, out of hand street shooting is a great joy, as I said. This is probably the most handy combination on the market today for this kind of shooting, but at the same time it offers a remarkable IQ, at a surprisingly wide aperture range. So this is also a great choice for tripod work. This Biogon reveals itself in that case as a very precise tool with a very beautiful color palette and a personal signature, that I love.
I am so very glad that I immediately ordered this Loxia 2/35 Biogon!
Shooting at the Antwerp Central Station
For this article, I gave myself an assignment: making a kind of pictural essay of the Antwerp Central Train Station. So all shots were taken of or in the station building. I like working at assignments and thought this was a nice one. Indeed, Antwerp Central is one of greatest stations in the world.
The original building of the Antwerp Central Station was constructed between 1895 and 1905 as a terminal train station. The hall is 75m (246 ft) high, while the tracks and platforms are covered by a vast iron and glass trainshed of 185m (607 ft) long and 44m (144 ft) high. The complex has for more than a century been regarded as one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Europe. Between 1998 and 2007, large scale reconstruction works converted the station from a terminus to a through station, allowing high-speed trains to frequent Antwerp Central without the need to turn around. To accomplish this goal, a tunnel has been excavated under the station and a good part of the city, with added platforms on two underground levels. A central pit under the glass roof brings daylight to the underground platforms. Since the reconstruction, the station has 14 tracks and 4 levels. Today the Antwerp Central Station is an even more impressive infrastructure than it has been in the last century. In 2009 the American magazine Newsweek judged it the world’s fourth greatest train station and, according to the Brittish/American newssite Mashable, it’s even the most beautiful train station in the world. That aside, to me it’s as impressive as it is beautiful and a real “feel-good” place. If you ever can spare some time in Belgium, I advice you to make a train trip from Antwerp to Liege, to visit two exceptional stations.