Jul 062015
 
zeiss

The Zeiss Batis 25 f/2 and 85 f/1.8 Lens Review!

By Steve Huff

Here we are again with a couple of lenses made by Zeiss for the Sony FE (A7) system/series of cameras. As many of you know who have been following me for years, these days I really enjoy and love shooting my Sony A7II and A7s cameras. With so many amazing enthusiast and pro level camera out today, it is a tough choice on what to use, especially when you are a reviewer who gets these camera and lenses sent to you on an almost weekly basis!

LOVELY colors from the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2, up close focusing (Min 0.2 meters). Sony A7II, lens was at f/2. Must click on the image to see it correctly!

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But even so, a couple things have remained constant for me. I love the new Sony cameras and lenses they have been putting out for 2-3 years now. I feel with the full frame sensors and fantastic lenses available they are the TOP Mirrorless system camera as of July 2015. For me, Sony beats all others for the mirrorless title with Olympus coming in 2nd place for me with the E-M1 and E-M5II. Lagging behind (for me) are Samsung (even though the NX1 is a phenomenal camera) and the others with Leica making a nice come back with the special and amazing Q. (my review of the Q here).

But today and all month I feel it’s going to be a Sony fest as the A7RII is coming, the new RX100 IV is IN HAND and the new Zeiss BATIS lenses have arrived to me and I have been shooting them for the last 1-2 weeks. My impression? Well, they are designed and look like mini OTUS lenses and perform 85% as well. The BATIS line for FE is stunning and with the electronic LED display that shows you focus distance when in manual focus mode, we are getting a special set of lenses for those who are very picky about the quality of their glass.

Must click for larger and sharper version! Another with the 25 at f/2 on the A7II

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I remember when all the rage was the Zeiss Touit line for APS-C. This was not very long ago yet feels like it was for some reason. The Touit line was good, but not my favorite set of lenses. Then came the OTUS lenses for Canon and Nikon but for me, they are just too large for daily use. Pro use, 100%. Enthusiast? For this one, those are too large and way too costly. Then came the Loxia line and MAN OH MAN I love these. The 35 and 50 f/2 Loxia’s are manual focus only and as close as one can get to a Leica M mount for their Sony FE mount. Small, solid, smooth and gorgeous in build, style and rendering. The 50 Loxia may be my #1 fave lens on the A7 series.

So with the Loxias receiving critical acclaim, and the only complaint from some users being “it’s not auto focus” Zeiss decided to create the Batis line which would be Auto Focus Zeiss lenses, and these two lenses they started with are right here, the 25 and 85. The 25mm is a Distagon design and an f/2 lens. It is not as solid feeling as the little Loxia but it feels great anyway, with a nice OTUS like styling to them. The Batis lenses come with hoods and the AF on the 25 is rather quick. The 85 will hunt a little in lower light but overall it is pretty quick as well.

The 85 at 1.8 on the A7II, just a casual snapshot, she did not even know I was taking a shot until the moment I took it and the lens grabbed focus and nailed the color as well. 

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Another wide open at f/1.8…

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..and another!

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After shooting the 85 for a little while I started to adore the rendering. VERY sharp at your focus point and CREAM CITY after that when shooting at f/1.8. The color and contrast are 100% ZEISS with those bold yet gentle blues, nice yellows and a richness that comes from shooting Zeiss glass. I remember shooting loads of Zeiss ZM lenses on my Leica M8, M9 and M 240 and they all had this exact character that I see here. Much different from Leica or Sony’s rendering. It’s what Zeiss is known for and yes, all manufactures of lenses have a house “look”. From Olympus to Samsung  to Sony to Zeiss to Leica to Canon and Nikon.

Batis 25 at f/2 – never be afraid to ask someone if you can take their portrait. I have a 99.5% rate of success, and usually the subject is more than happy, and a little excited to let you take their photo. The girl below was pouring my beer and I said “do you mind if I take your photo” – she said “SURE!” but she did not look at me. So I shot one of her pouring and then asked her to give me a nice  happy smile, and she did. 

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Punching Bag with leaving the shutter speed slower to catch the motion/action of the shot. The 25 at f/2

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Glass is the heart of your camera system.

Many times I will get people asking me questions about what cameras to buy. They usually will insist on a kit lens of sorts even though they ask about more expensive cameras like the Sony A7 or Fuji X or Olympus E-M1. To me, if you are going to invest over $1000 in a camera, you should always invest in good glass, or lenses, for your system. Lenses are the paintbrush, the pencil, THE one thing that delivers the most change to the rendering of the image. WAY more so  than a sensor or internal processing. The lens you choose will decide if your image will be sharp, soft, colorful or dull, has high contrast or low or has a pastel like color instead of bold harsh color. Some lenses use cheap glass, some use exotic glass. The lens is the most personal choice one can make when buying a camera system, at least IMO.

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So if it were me, and I was going to shell out for a Sony A7II or A7RII, you can bet your bootie I would buy the Zeiss line of lenses (Loxia or Batis) or some of the better Sony FE glass like the 35 1.4, 16-35, or 90 Macro. I would avoid the kit zooms or lower quality zooms as you will never reach the true IQ potential of the system with cheap glass.

The Zeiss Batis line, being Auto Focus and gorgeous in all aspects of image quality, would be some of my top picks for most A7 users, and especially for those who ordered the A7RII as that camera is BEASTLY. It’s a resolution monster, a video monster and will be one hell of an amazing enthusiast or pro camera. These lenses would compliment that A7RII perfectly, and I for one can not wait to try these lenses on that body (of which I should have very very soon).

During my time with the Batis lenses, I had no issues with focus, feel, build, or performance. The only niggle I had was when taking the 85 1.8 out in the night, as the focus would hunt a tad in low light. That is when I switched it over to manual focus and shot. Using manual focus works very well due to the nice EVF in my Sony A7 cameras as well as the smooth action of the Batis focus ring. The on board OLED display also will show you a distance scale, electronically. Yep, pretty cool if you ask me!

Video Look!

My video on the Batis Lenses. See them on the camera bodies and hear my thoughts!

Details?

No point in discussing sharpness with these guys, they are SHARP. Plenty sharp.

These were out of cam JPEGS! Click them to see  the crops wide open. 

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Compared To?

With Sony FE we now have a few great semi wide angle lenses to choose from. The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 F/4, the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4, and the Sony 28 f/2 are all great lenses with the 28 f/2 being the cheapest of the lot, and while it has some distortion that needs fixing (which is done in camera for JPEGS) the Sony 28 f/2 is fantastic in IQ. I will say that it does not quite have the micro- contrast, color and pop of the Batis 25, but even so, at $450 it is around 3X less in cost than the Batis 25 which comes in at $1299. THAT is a pretty big price difference but you do see it and feel it with the Batis.

Sony 28 FE and Batis 25 side by side

Below is a side by side between the two..and you may not see much difference in this shot, but it is there. Click on the image to see them larger and you can see much more micro contrast in the Zeiss Batis shot, more detail and an overall more crisp and distortion free image. The Zeiss is better, but if it is $800 depends on you ;) I’d say if you want the best of the best for your Sony FE, in a wide angle lens then take a serious look at the Zeiss.

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The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 is more of an ultra wide and at f/2 will not give you the aperture speed of the Batis. The Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 is MUCH larger and heavier and is not nearly as wide as the 25 Batis, so I see these two as different tools.

For me, the best IQ you can get as of July 2015 for your Sony FE system in a native mount and in a semi wide-angle (between 21 and 28) is the Batis 25 f/2 and because it will focus as close as 0.2 meters you can get pretty close to your subject, creating some Bokeh effect and you subject will be sharp.

The next FIVE shots are all from my fave of the Batis lot, the 25 f/2. I say it is my fave as I used it more as I found it more useful. I enjoy getting close to my subject and while I feel 21 is a tad too wide and 28 is getting close to 35, I am finding the 25 to be perfect for my style of shooting. I used to own the Zeiss 25 ZM for Leica mount and reviewed it here YEARS ago. Loved that lens which is probably why I love the Batis version. 

CLICK THEM FOR BETTER VERSIONS!

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The Batis 85 f/2 vs the Mitakon 85 1.2

Another lens choice for the native FE mount is the Mitakon Speedmaster 85 1.2. I reviewed that lens a week or two ago HERE. It is larger, heavier and goes to f/1.2 BUT the Zeiss is a better lens with better color and pop. Even so, the Mitakon is not so bad, not at all. So may even prefer it! ME? I prefer the Zeiss for the smaller size and lighter weight. I feel Zeiss did a great job with the design and keeping them more short than long. But take a look at the comparisons below, click them for the full 100% crop to be seen.

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My final word on the Batis line of lenses? 

When I heard Zeiss was sending me these two lenses for review I was excited, and believe me, today after 7-8 years of writing these reviews full time, it takes a lot to get me excited. Many of you may not be aware but I get SO MUCH stuff sent to me for  review that never gets reviewed because it just doesn’t excite me or motivate me. I end up not reviewing many items because if it does not motivate me to go shoot, I can not recommend it to my readers here. While most sites would just go write a negative review, I just skip as I am not about negativity or spending hours writing to tell you I do not like a certain product.

So if I review it, it means I love it and really enjoy it.

As for these lenses, they deliver on the hype and promise, the really do. I have not used a finer 25mm lens and in the world of 75-85mm lenses, the choices are plentiful, no doubt. Even so, the Zeiss 85 f/1.8 Sonnar is up there with the finest I have used and my faves in life have been the Canon 85 1.2, Nikon 85 1.4, and Zeiss 85 f/2 for Leica Mount. This 85mm delivers the detail, creaminess, nice colors and perfect contrast for those portrait sessions where you want that Zeiss WOW.

OF ALL the lenses I have here for Sony FE, and I have a load of them, my daily driver would be the Zeiss Batis 25 and Zeiss Loxia 50. I’d throw in the Batis 85 for portraits and use my Sony 16-35 for my ultra wide. That would be all I would ever need, and all of these lenses are top notch 100%. I may also throw in the 35 1.4 Sony/Zeiss for when I wanted that 35mm FOV with some magic.

The Batis line rocks my friends. If you need Auto Focus, the are the way to go. If you would prefer a smaller lens, the Loxia line is stunning as well but manual focus only. Either way, you will get that Zeiss POP and BAM!

1st Three from the 85 f/1.8 all at 1.8

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Next few all from the 25..

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Words from Zeiss on the Batis Lenses:

On the 25 f/2

“Pairing the tested Distagon concept with contemporary functionality, the Batis 25mm f/2 Lens from Zeiss is a wide-angle prime designed specifically for full-frame E-mount mirrorless cameras. The innovative design of this lens features an OLED display that highlights the focus distance and depth of field range for quickly recognizing your focusing parameters, and its autofocus performance is benefitted by linear motors for fast, smooth performance. Four double-sided aspherical elements within a floating elements design help to control aberrations and distortions throughout the focusing range and contribute to even edge-to-edge sharpness and illumination, and a T* anti-reflective coating reduces flare and ghosting for increased contrast and color neutrality. Ideal for architecture, landscape, and interior photography, this lens’ 82° angle of view pairs with a 7.9″ minimum focusing distance for producing creative perspectives and unique close-up imagery. Additionally, for working in inclement conditions, the lens also features a dust- and weather-sealed construction.”

On the 85 1.8

“Updating a tried-and-true optical design for use with full-frame E-mount mirrorless cameras, the Batis 85mm f/1.8 Lens from Zeiss is a portrait-length, short telephoto lens featuring a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture for greater focus control and enhanced low-light shooting. The innovative design of this lens features an OLED display that highlights the focus distance and depth of field range for quickly recognizing your focusing parameters, and its autofocus performance is benefitted by linear motors for fast, smooth performance. Pairing the Sonnar concept with a floating elements design, this 85mm f/1.8 is also particularly adept at controlling aberrations throughout the focusing range, while a T* anti-reflective coating minimizes flare and ghosting for ensured color accuracy and heightened contrast. Rounding out the feature-set, this lens incorporates optical image stabilization to minimize the appearance of camera shake when working with slower shutter speeds and a dust- and weather-sealed construction lends itself to shooting in less-than-ideal environments.”

Yes, the 85 1.8 has Image Stabilization built in. 

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What about the negatives?

During my use I had nothing but fantastic results with focus, image quality and overall results. Never had distortion issues or CA issues or any issues. Really.

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MY STAR RATINGS:

Many have asked me to start doing ratings for my reviews so I will start here with a BANG. BUT keep in mind, if I rate a Sony FE Mount lens, that rating is compared to other similar FE mount lenses, in this case the Sony 28 FE, the Sony 16-35 FE and the Mitakon 85 1.2.

BATIS 25: I will give the Batis 25 f/2 FIVE STARS as to me it is the best semi wide/wide I have used (28 and under) for the Sony FE system. The IQ, color, sharpness, size and weight are all phenomenal. Add in the weather sealing, the OLED display, dour side aspherical elements and it’s close focus capability, along with its dust and weather resistant design and this guy gets FIVE STARS! Yes, it is expensive at $1299 but for me, worth it in every way, and hey, it’s a Zeiss.

STARS

BATIS 85 f/1.8: I gave the 85 1.8 4 1/2 stars and that is due to the only weakness I found, the AF gets slow and hunts in lower light, as in club lighting or low level concert lighting. Other than that this is a a beautiful 85mm lens and the IQ and color stand out to me and is up there with the best 85 fast primes ever made for 35mm. Image stabilized and loaded with all the good stuff, this is one hell of a portrait prime. Sure there are loads of 85’s you can convert to use on the Sony but the Batis is a better option for me, as I always will prefer NATIVE lenses when there are good options.

Where to buy and How Much?

The Zeiss 25 f/2 comes in at $1299, and you can pre-order/order it at B&H Photo or PopFlash.com 

The Zeiss Batis 85 f/1.8 comes in at $1199 and can be pre-ordered or ordered at B&H Photo or PopFlash.com 

I also highly recommend the Zeiss Loxia line HERE. 

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HLPHH

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Jul 012015
 
BATIS

Crazy Comparison! Zeiss Batis 85 f/1.8 vs Mitakon Speedmaster 85 1.2!

So check this out guys…

The Zeiss Batis 25 and 85 lenses for Sony FE mount have arrived for testing and they are BEAUTIFUL. I will not tell a lie, the 25 is the one I adore the most so far as it’s size is nice. FAT but short and squat. Looks fantastic on the Sony A7II. The 85 is a tad larger but still not so bad, much more manageable than I expected.

I am SO excited that Zeiss has not only released the fine LOXIA lenses for Sony but now we have the Batis line, which is an AF line of lenses for Sony FE (A7 series). There are so many fine lenses for the Sony A7 system these days and with the new A7RII on the way, look out..these Zeiss lenses may be just what the Dr. Ordered! THEY ARE FANTASTIC and I have only had them a day.

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Many have asked me to do a side by side “Crazy Comparison” between the Batis 85 1.8 and the Speedmaster 85 1.2 I recently reviewed (see that HERE)  – and while I assumed it would be a test showing the clear superiority of the Zeiss, well, it does but the Speedmaster hangs in there fairly well!

The Zeiss of course is a Zeiss. It is Auto Focus (and speedy on my A7II), it is shorter, smaller and MUCH lighter than the Mitakon, but for IQ..take a look:

CLICK IMAGES for larger and MUCH better versions. You will not see these as they were intended unless you click on them!

1st one, the Zeiss 85 at f/1.8 (thought I set it to f/2 but was wide open). The color has that Zeiss POP over the Mitakon but sharpness, not really any better here. Color and Pop goes to Zeiss though for sure.

ALL SHOTS ON THIS PAGE ARE WITH THE SONY A7II

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More that shows the COLOR pop of the Batis 85. Again, the Batis was at 1.8 as I thought I had it set to f/2, so the image is mislabeled. Still, you can see the crispness, and 3D color pop of the Zeiss here. Even so, the Mitakon is holding its own though the color is muted as is the contrast.

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The Zeiss is a fantastic lens and I only shot with it for a day so far. Love the digital focus display, love the size and feel and look. The AF is fast and accurate and my full review of both should be up within 10 days or so.

Here are a few more from the 25 and 85..

OOC JPEG with the 25 at f/2 – click it for larger

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OOC JPEG with the 25 at f/2

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Zeiss 25 f/2 from RAW with Alien Skin slide filter applied,  A7II

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Zeiss 85 Batis with crop

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The color, detail and rendering of the 85 is GORGEOUS. 

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ORDER THE ZEISS BATIS LENSES!

You can order the Zeiss Batis lenses from B&H Photo HERE or PopFlash.com HERE. Full review soon with video and LOADS of samples!

 

May 222015
 
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The Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon ZM Leica Mount Lens, my 1st look. Wow.

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Just tried out the new Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM lens and wow, the reviews and user reports are true, this is up there with the Leica 35 FLE though different in the way it renders and image. Some will like it better, some will not, but either way it is FANTASTIC. I’d say we can get most of the FLE out of this Zeiss, but with a whole different character and feel. It may not be as sharp as the Leica 35 FLE at 1.4, but it is close, and it offers a more “organic” rendering that I simply love. Smooth Zeiss pop on my Leica Monochrom 246 or amazing bold color and snap on the A7s or A7II. It’s a lovely lens, and I enjoyed the lens I rented so much I really want to own this lens for my new MM. From the few shots I have snapped so far I feel it makes a perfect match, and as a bonus it will work well on the Leica M 240 and the Sony A7 series as well. Yes, I rented the lens but will own it as soon as I can.

I will have a full review eventually here, maybe in a few weeks  – using it on the new MM and the Sony A7 bodies. But for now, Amazon has 2 in stock, via prime, in black. $2190 which is $100 less than normal. For less than half the cost of the Leica 35 FLE you can have a lens that is in reality just as good, but with a different character (which I prefer). The build is solid, the aperture click is AMAZING, best I have felt on any lens and the glass is beautiful. IT IS NOT large, but it is larger than the Leica 35 Lux by a bit. Reminds me size wise of a 50 Summlux ASPH.

The rendering is just what I like, and all Zeiss. I will own this lens as soon as I can afford it!

You can order this lens at Amazon (via PRIME) HERE. You can also buy it at PopFlash.com, or B&H Photo. 

A couple of samples on the Leica Mono 246:

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And a few with the lens on the Sony A7II:

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May 152015
 

Film Friday: Riots and Zeiss Biogon T* 2.8/25 on Leica M6

by fiftyasa

Steve already wrote a good review of the Zeiss Biogon T* 2.8/25 back in 2009 (http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2009/11/18/the-zeiss-zm-25-2-8-biogon-lens-review/), but the lens does not seem very common among Leica M shooters, especially if compared to other Zeiss lenses like the Planar 50 or Biogon 35.

I recently picked up one copy and tried to shoot some street action in the city of Hamburg where every year peaceful demonstrations and riots take place as a tradition on May 1st. Mounted on a Leica M6 loaded with TriX 400 and TMAX 400, I made my way through the “urban guerrilla”…

Shooting from the hip while walking and pre-setting the focus distance seem to work OK with a bit of luck (although the agents seem to smile at me, I don’t think they realized that I took a photo of them shooting from the hip):

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But the lens is wide! It seems you are never close enough… In the following 2 pictures I pre-set the focus distance, walked as close as I could and used the viewfinder to (guess-)frame.

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In the picture “you are never close enough” it is interesting to see that the 2 subjects did not notice me despite I was at less than 1 meter from them, while the young guy and the woman behind were probably asking themselves what I was doing so close…

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Unfortunately most of the copies of this lens bring up the 35 mm frame lines on the M6, M9 and Zeiss Ikon ZM. This is a bit distracting for me. The 28 mm frame lines would be a better choice (but not perfect, this lens is substantially wider!) if the external viewfinder is not available, but, at the time the lens came to the market, it targeted the M8 where the correct frame lines (35 mm equivalent) is triggered.

It is known that the lens can focus down to 0.5 m but the rangefinder disengages at 0.7 m. So if you want to use it from 0.7 and 0.5 m, you’ll have to guess the distance. I would also like to mention that, despite some websites state that the Zeiss Ikon ZM can use the rangefinder to focus down to 0.5m, this is not true. I have a Zeiss Ikon ZM and the rangefinder disengages at 0.7 m like the Leica M6 and M9.

Being the angle of view so wide, the Biogon 25 is an ideal companion for landscapes and cityscapes

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Or to give a “wide angle effect” to your shots:

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Or to capture a lot of things in one frame:

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Yes, the lens is sharp. In the picture above you can actually read the street sign next to the last flag on the right:

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Three more attempts to get closer to the subject:

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These pictures are digitalized by photographing the Kodak negatives with a Sony A7 mounted on a copy stand and equipped with bellow and macro lens Apo Rodagon-D 1x 75 mm. Negatives are inverted with negfix8 and post-processed (mainly tone curve adjustment only).

If you like to see more, please visit https://fiftyasa.wordpress.com

Apr 292015
 

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A User Review of the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM on a Leica M 240

By Howard Shooter

I must confess to being a bit of a Leica fan. I love Leica and the purity of the rangefinders’ back to basics approach to photography. Up until three days ago I have veered towards only Leica glass and my thoughts have been mostly positive. I was niggled and irritated by the slight softness of the 50mm Summilux on the M240mm compared to the M9 and the ever so slight lack of contrast, which means I sometimes have to give the files a bit of the proverbial kick in Lightroom. The shift from M9 to M240 was another learning curve in appreciating subtlety and nuance for me and took longer than I expected to really love the new signature of the much debated cmos sensor.

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I always loved the 35mm focal length, as it’s such a versatile lens for so many situations from landscape to portrait. I wanted the Leica 35mm summilux but the price is too steep for me to justify the outlay.

Zeiss have always had their avid and similarly loyal followers and the Leica fit Zeiss lenses have generally reviewed well and been passionately spoken for.

I ordered the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM a week before they came in and the initial online reviews were scarce and very favorable. At approximately one-third of the price of the Leica equivalent I was looking forward to testing out the lens and deciding if my long and loyal following to owning only Leica glass was now dwindling.

Physically the lens is a little heavy for my liking; bulky and substantial, not balanced perfectly with the body. This isn’t a deal breaker for me as the optics far outweighs the extra size but it is a consideration and a minor irritation. The focus ring is a little tighter than I’m used to but the aperture is wonderfully smooth in third stop increments. The lens blocks the viewfinder a little but not enough for me to care. For all of it’s differences it is a beautifully well made lens in the true tradition of Zeiss and feels and looks better than in the Zeiss promotional shots.

Incidentally I am not going to post shots of my camera with the lens as you can see other reviewers do this. I am not a “professional” reviewer so I’d rather share my hopefully interesting opinions and see if this helps you decide on whether this lens might be of interest to you.

I’m in my favorite photographic haunt again of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, a fishing town with a wonderful English appeal and atmosphere.

The following shots were all taken with the Leica M240 with the Zeiss 35mm lens at various apertures. All were processed minimally in Lightroom with a little post processing but the essence of the lens’s signature is preserved. After you’ve looked at the shots I’ll let you know my personal opinion.

Shot 2 Oyster Fisherman

Shot 3 Lobster cages

Shot 4 Boats Windows

Shot 5 Gone Fishing

Shot 6 Boat Silhouette

Shot 7 Fisherman Sorting Catch

Shot 8 Woman On Beach

Shot 9 Boats at Dawn

Shot 10 Man by house

 

I hope you like these shots because in some ways they really surprised me. Now this may seem strange but the lens seems to give more pop and contrast than most Leica lenses I have used on my M240. The signature almost reminds me of the look I used to get with my M9. In other words if you are missing the M9 pop from your M240 and are looking for a 35mm lens I think you can do no better then with the Zeiss.

Just to re-iterate, when used with the M240 this lens gives you the subtlety of the M240 cmos sensor with the pop of the M9… a perfect combination.

This leads me to wonder if the colour and contrast of this lens on an M9 might be a little too saturated and contrasty but I am merely speculating. I love this lens and think that it actually feels very old school Leica rather than modern day Zeiss. It isn’t overly clinical in my opinion but is very sharp, handles flare extremely well, is very adaptable with various subjects and in the right light gives plenty of pop but at a third of the price. The bokeh isn’t distracting but also isn’t class leading either as subjective as this always is. I think reds do come out a little too red and saturated on the M240 which means they need toning down a little but the black and white conversions are wonderfully filmic. The M240 has always been very good for black and white and I think with this lens you get a real sense of depth and dynamic range.

I can strongly recommend this lens. Have you got this lens and do you share my opinions….?

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Shot 13 Aldeburgh Town

As always many thanks for reading,

Warm wishes

Howard Shooter
www.HowardShooter.com

(From Steve: POPFLASH has one Zeiss 35 1.4 in stock in black!)

Apr 212015
 

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The Sony Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon FE Lens Review. Best 35mm Lens Ever.

Yep. I said it. The spoiler. This is the best full frame 35mm lens I have ever used in my life. But remember, I only review items I love and adore, so if there is something out there I have not reviewed it is because I am not a fan of it, plain and simple. Before anyone says “you like everything you review” – well, YES this is true as I have said over 1,000 times here. If this lens was a dog it would not have been reviewed. So what you see me review on these pages is all gear that I love and adore because if it sucks, it is not worth my time, my 40-60 hours that it takes to do a review like this. With that said, this lens is indeed the best 35 OPTICALLY I have ever used.

This image was shot indoor, f/1.4, and with only a bit of natural light coming in from my kitchen door window. Click it for larger. 

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Yes.

Better than ANY 35mm lens I have used in life, and that includes those from Nikon, Canon, Leica, or whoever…and I have used the best of the best. At f/1.4 it is stunning. Absolutely stunning. The lens is a masterpiece of optical quality from detail to color to bokeh. It is auto focus and the ONLY weakness it has is that it is quite large. I am used to Leica lenses, or smaller Sony lenses and this guy is a beast. No bigger than a Nikon or Canon or any DSLR lens, in fact, it is a teeny bit smaller than those beats income ways but not by much. Weight is around the same with this lens being about a few ounces heavier than the Canon and Nikon. (1.32lbs  vs 1.4lbs). Even so, after 2+ months with the lens, I am so impressed that I can confidently say this IS INDEED the best 35mm lens I have ever used, or reviewed or held. Yes, beats the Sigma 35 1.4 Art lens for those that were about to ask.

Below is the video I made for my 1st look report which was published HERE

Paired with the Sony A7, A7r, A7II or A7s, this lens delivers the goods but I especially loved it on the A7II. To me, the A7II is the pinnacle of the A7 series. The build, design, features, 5 Axis IS, Af speed, and superb low light capabilities really flesh out this system and mature it to another level. Yes, I own an A7s as well and have shot with the A7R and A7 extensively but the A7II, for me, is the most polished and nice A7 body yet. Notice I said YET as I know there is something else on the way,  I feel it in my bones, and hey, this is Sony..and they are on a roll..and I bet they want to strike while the iron is HOT. In the mirrorless world I feel Sony and Olympus are on fire with Fuji right behind. Nikon and Canon are seriously MIA with nothing new, fresh or competitive and the others keep releasing cameras hoping they will stick, and they never do. Leica is always beautiful but most can not afford a Leica setup. Sony is doing most things RIGHT today from design, performance, new lenses and price.

This lens is a tour de force of a 35mm. Versatile for low light and AF which is accurate and pretty fast for a 35 1.4 design. This was shot inside a limo at night. No problem ;) ISO 4000, ZERO NR, f/1.4

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Want to get up close and personal? The 35 1.4 has a minimum focus distance of .3 Meters which is GOOD.  1.4

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AF is snappy, even in dim light on the A7II – 1.4

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We can no longer say that “There is a lack of lenses for the Sony FE system”..because they now have MANY amazing lenses. The A7 system is less than two years old and Sony now has SO many good lenses..

1. The 55 1.8 Zeiss – A fantastic and sharp lens that gets rave reviews. 

2. The 35 2.8 Zeiss – Another fantastic sharp lens with the Zeiss pop. 

3. The 16-35 Zeiss – a superb wide-angle zoom, this one is one of the best I have tested for Ultra wide. (Review)

4. The 28 f/2 (stunner for cheap) – This is a must own lens, a superb value for under $450 (Review)

5. The new 35 1.4 (this review)

6. A new 90mm Macro! (Review soon)

7. Wide angle and fish attachment for the 28 (Review soon)

8. A pro level 70-200 – The standard 70-200 and this one is also fantastic.

8. Some mega pro zooms and some kit zooms

10. Zeiss Loxia Primes, the 35 and 50 (review of the 35 is HERE, the 50 is HERE)

and more.. From fisheye to ultra wide to telephoto to Macro Sony is now fleshing out the FE full frame lens system for the A7 series. They released lenses pretty fast and more will be on the way as there are many more planned lenses coming like a fast portrait prime. I feel an 85 and 135 will be here eventually, sooner rather than later.

This lens is stunning. This time at f/2. Crisp all the way around.

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I have quite a few image of Katie in this review as I used the lens for some of her Prom images..this one, f/1.4, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

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The Zeiss Magic & Pop Will Wow You

This lens is a Sony/Zeiss collaboration and it shows. Zeiss is a legend and has always been lumped in with Leica when it comes to image quality though they have always had their differences. With Zeiss you will usually get more 3D pop, richer and warmer color and USUALLY they are a tad softer than the Leica counterpart. With this lens, you are getting all of the 3D pop and color but even more detail where you need it over a Leica or other lens. At f/1.4 this lens could NOT be sharper. If it was, it would not be a good thing. As it is, it is PERFECT. When focusing on eyes (see and click on the very 1st image in this review) you can see what I mean. But it is here in all images I have shot with the lens so far and I have not had one hiccup with this lens, at all.

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With this lens, shooting wide open is where you will get the true character of the lens. If you want to shoot at f/2.8, you would be better off with the much smaller and lighter Zeiss 35 2.8 or Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia. THIS lens, the f/1.4 Zeiss, seems optimized for wide open shooting, and this is where its beauty lies. Much like the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux FLE which is the lens that used to hold my title for best 35mm lens ever made for full frame digital. Today the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 take that title as it is just so good, again, with the only weakness being the size. There is no distortion, there is no offending CA or problems, there is no vignetting and there is no softness or focus issues. I feel the reason for all of this is because Sony and Zeiss REALLY took their time with it and wanted it to be a WOW kind of lens. This is also why it is large. If it were smaller it would have issues like distortion and other things so I think it is fantastic that Sony chose to go the route of optical beauty vs optical issues.

I have seen 1-2 reports of people buying this lens and saying it is “soft”. This is so not the case. If you are getting soft images with this lens you either have a bad copy, have an issue with your camera body, are not focusing in the right spot (shallow DOF here is VERY THIN at 1.4) or you are mistaking Bokeh for being Out of Focus. There is nothing soft about this lens in any way, shape or form.

As I look over the images I have shot with the lens I am thrilled that Sony did what they had to do as they created a masterpiece. Anyone who loves t he 35mm focal length will be THRILLED with this lens on any A7 series body. I used it mainly on my A7II which is the A7 I use 90% of the time these days. Still own and love my A7s  but the A7II just clicks all of my boxes.

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This lens is good for color or for B&W conversions as you can see above and below. You can go light on the contrast or heavy on the contrast. By default, this lens puts out a medium contrast  – not too hard and not too soft.

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But one thing remains a constant with this lens. It delivers the goods each and every time I bring it out or use it. From deep rich color, to beautiful black and white to nice creamy bokeh (background blur) that will not give you a headache, this lens shows what the Sony A7 system is capable of. I have tried the Sigma Art lenses. I have shot with the Canon 35L on a 5DII, I have shot with the Nikon 35 1.4 on a D800 as well as the Zeiss ZF 35 1.4. I have owned and shot with the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, all versions. It is safe to say that I have had great experience with all full frame 35 1.4 lenses.

This Sony is the best one I have ever used for my tastes as it does everything right. Period. The one that comes closest is the Zeiss 35 1.4 Zf, then the Sigma Art 35 1.4. Last place would be the Canon 35L as it is getting a but long in the tooth, even when used on a 5DII or III. The size of the DSLR 35 1.4’s range from Large to Beastly and this Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 is at the large end. It’s a beast, and a few ounces heavier than the Nikon or Canon (1.4 vs 1.32lbs). After a few snaps you do get used to the size, though I admit I will always prefer a smaller lens. If this lens could be made in a small size it would be one of those legendary must own lenses.

The Leica 35 Lux is small, but manual focus only, a not so close minimum focus distance (.7 meters vs .3 of the Sony) and it does not offer the overall total IQ of this Sony/Zeiss. It is also $5400, so quite a bit more expensive. It is a jewel though, a beautiful legendary lens that was at the top of the heap for IQ. It is good to know that this Sony is up there in the same league as the Leica at a fraction of the cost.

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Before I end this quick lens review, let me show you a few comparison shots. Below you will find the same image taken with the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4, the Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia, the 35 2.8 Zeiss, the 16-35 at 35mm and for grins, the Leica 35 Summicron at f/2 (I do not own the Lux). I will show each lens shot at f/2 to keep it the same aperture except the 16-35 will be at f/4 as  that is wide open for that particular lens and the 35 2.8 at 2.8 for the same reason.

It is a LARGE lens  – left to right: Leica 35 Cron, Zeiss 35 2.8, Zeiss Loxia 35, Zeiss 16-35, Zeiss 35 1.4

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I am not looking for detail or sharpness here, as ANY of these lenses will deliver on that. ALL are fantastic in their own right. But I am looking at color, pop, depth, bokeh, and overall character of image, which is why 99% of us buy these types of lenses…character. A lens like this is not bought for low light or high ISO use, it is mainly bought because so many of us LOVE the character of a fast lens.

YOU MUST click images for the correct view..

1st the 35 1.4 at f/2 on the A7II

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Now the Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 at f/2 on the A7II

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Now the 35 2.8 on the A7II (at 2.8)

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Now the 16-35 at 35 at f/4

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and finally, the 35 Summicron on the A7II

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Which do YOU prefer? 

I still prefer the Sony Zeiss 35 1.4 but ALL are great, even the 16-35 at 35mm and f/4 renders a great image with contrast and pop. To me, the most amount of depth and 3D comes from the Sony 35 1.4 but all are great and most would have a hard time figuring out which is which. Goes to show, most lenses made today are good and get the job done though these lenses above are all $800 and up, all the way to $3300 for the Leica 35 Cron (though it is my #2 pick as the IQ is fantastic and the size is TINY). I will say if all you care about is corner to corner perfection your best bet is the Sony 35 2.8, but it will lack in Character compared to the 35 1.4, Zeiss Loxia, Leica cron, etc.

DETAILS!

Below is a 100% crop from this 35 1.4 Zeiss on the A7II. Plenty of detail for me! THIS is wide open!

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My Final Word on the Zeiss 35 1.4 for the Sony FE System

I love this lens. Period. For me, it is the absolute best 35mm 1.4 lens I have ever shot with, used or tested when it comes to image quality. As you know, I do not go by charts or graphs, I go by real world shooting. Using a camera and lens for what they are meant to be used for..images..memories…the main reason we take pictures! For pros, if you have a 35mm in your kit you owe it to yourself to give this one a try. It is a beauty of a lens and now takes the title as the best 35mm lens I have tested or used. THAT says a lot. If you have this lens and you are not getting astounding quality with it then you may have a dud, which is not cool, but it is NOT the norm for this piece of glass. For me, this lens is perfect for just about anything you want to shoot. Environmental portraits, fashion, every day life, landscapes, still life or what have you.

This lens takes the A7 series to the next level. AF is speedy for a 35 1.4 (bested the Art 35 1.4 when I used it on the Canon 6D) and 100% accurate on my A7II. Never did I get a misfocus. I also shot some personal images on my A7s and the results were just as fantastic as they were on the A7Ii with a slightly different feel due to the different look of the A7s sensor (slight).

So I highly recommend this lens. It’s the best of the native lenses I have used for the FE system. $1600 is expensive but cheaper than the competition while being better. Bam. Sony did it again.

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Where to buy?

You can BUY/ORDER OR PRE-ORDER this lens at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE. 

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

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Apr 172015
 

One from the Sony A7II and Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4

Many have been asking me when my full review for the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 Lens will be out. Well, I have been so swamped with all kinds of goodies lately, and I did not want to rush the Sony review so I will be wrapping it up within 10 days or so. For now, I will say that just as I thought in my 1st look report (see that here), this Sony 35 1.4 is the best 35mm lens I have ever shot with, period. For me it beats the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, it beats the Zeiss 35 1.4 Zm, it beats the Nikon 35 1.4, and handily beat the Canon 35 1.4 L. It has an extreme sharpness at 1.4 but ONLY at the focus point. The background melts away into a beautiful bokeh and the color performance is top notch.

THIS lens, optically, is amazing. As good as it gets in the 35mm world. I will leave you with ONE shot I snapped an hour ago of my Stepdaughter Katie just before her Senior prom.

Review in about 7-10 days.

Indoor, NO flash (I never use flash) and just some soft window light. Shot at f/1.4. Click it for larger. Sony A7II. 

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Mar 312015
 

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DUAL Review: Zeiss Loxia 50 F/2

by Bill Danby and Steve Huff

Hey everyone! I have been shooting the Zeiss Loxia 50 f/2 for 2-3 weeks now and LOVE it. I also received a guest report on the Loxia 50 and decided to post both my thoughts and Bill Danby’s thoughts at the same time. First, I will let Bill say what he thinks about the Loxia 50 as he says all that needs to be said! Enjoy!

Bill Danby Loxia Review:

Just about every discussion of the Loxia 50mm also mentions the most likely alternative, the Sony/Zeiss 55mm. (And now, I suppose, I have too.) But this is very rarefied air we’re breathing here. They’re both outstanding lenses designed specifically for the Sony A7 series cameras. Any idea that one will leave the other in the dust is entirely misplaced.

I have used my 55mm extensively; but this will not be a “This vs That” review. Just because there’s an elephant in the room, doesn’t mean you have to pet it.

I don’t do video, so this review won’t be helpful for photographers looking to use the Loxia for that.

I’m not going to be coy. I REALLY like this lens. But I’m not going to recommend it willy-nilly. I’d like to tell you about the lens, and let you decide. But as they say in the small print: The following is provided on an “as is” basis. Your mileage may vary, etc.

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So, why the Loxia 50mm?

The “Ifs:”
If you prefer primes lenses; and
if you prefer a “normal” (50mm) lens; and
if the manual focus is a serious plus for you; and
if you can live without some of the very attractive features of autofocus; and
if only having a manual aperture isn’t a practical negative,
then the Loxia 50mm might be the lens for you.

Image quality

The most important thing to know about the Loxia 50mm is that it’s balanced in terms of its qualities. Zeiss calls it a “flexible all-rounder.” There’s a lot of truth in that; but only for those that got through the “ifs” without having to think too hard about it.

The Loxia’s colour rendering and contrast are both great, and it has its share of Zeiss “pop.” Not OMG “pop;” but it’s a Zeiss Planar and it does what Zeiss Planar lenses do. Apparently the present level of contrast is more the result of the coating than the Planar design. The Planar design has almost 120 years of history and the Zeiss T* coating goes back almost 80 years.

It has extremely low distortion and very little chromatic aberration.

F/2.0 is pretty fast. To get to f/1.4 would have required a bigger lens and that would not have been in keeping with the brief. This is the same speed as its sister, the Loxia 35mm. You have to keep in mind that this is f/2.0 on a full-frame. That means that at f/2.0 on the full frame camera, depth-of-field is slightly more shallow than at f/1.4 with a 32mm (50mm equivalent) lens on an APS-C (crop sensor) camera. So, this affords acceptably narrow depth of field for isolation of a subject, such as for some portraits.

Apparently, the Inuit people have at least 53 words for snow. We seem to be working toward that number of adjectives to describe bokeh. The Loxia’s bokeh isn’t the very creamy style prized by some; but it’s not “nervous” either. I find the bokeh from the Loxia to be both attractive and useful.

This is an outstandingly sharp lens, with a slight softening at the corners, wide open. I had to look for it. It’s not a problem for me.

The lens is an equal partner for the Sony A7II. And from the other reports I’ve read, it also meets the demands of the A7r (which I don’t have).

It’s not a zoom

Prime lenses held pride of place for many years, but times have changed. The quality improvements in zooms have been revolutionary. So now, while there’s a bit of image quality in it, the main difference is lens speed.

Zooms for the A7 series (even the lowly 28-70mm kit lens) usually have their own stabilisation. So if you’re not going to be using an A7II (or, seemingly soon, the A7rII), then using the Loxia over a zoom will cost you the stabilisation as well.

Almost everyone who has had occasion to use my camera, has asked where the zoom ring is. Their reaction on learning there isn’t one, can only be described as pitying. Now, with the Loxia, they’ll be wondering why it isn’t focusing. (I fear that things will be moving from pity to something else.)

Manual focus

Manual focusing seems to have “old school” written all over it. It’s unfortunate that some think that manual focusing is just for “old guys” (apologies for the sexist terminology) trying to recapture their experiences from the day. Feeding such a view is the fact that old guys started in photography without any autofocus. So, they, or those with experience in using legacy lenses, adjust to manual focus more quickly.

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I hate thinking I’ve nailed the focus on a shot, only to find out when I get it into Lightroom that the system has chosen something else to focus on. (That, of course, is the camera rather than the lens.) So, while I still may occasionally miss the exact focus with the Loxia, I don’t get those surprises.

Any movement of the focus ring triggers an immediate magnified view. And a half-press of the shutter button brings you back the full view ahead of whatever timing you’ve set. You can, of course, turn that off and magnify when you want.

It took me a little time to get used to that magnification arrangement because I had been used to giving the shutter a half-press to force an autofocus.

Focusing with the Loxia is fast. It’s not always as fast as some autofocus systems, but it’s more reliable. Manual focus, however, rarely gets lost in the hunt. I usually leave focus peaking on, but I depend on the magnified view.

I’ve also assigned the magnified view to the A7II’s “C1″ soft key. That allows me to get an even higher magnification quickly when I need it.

If you’ve come to depend on Sony’s great, eye-focus feature (or faces, or smiles, or face recognition, or tracking focus), those don’t happen with the Loxia. Except for the loss of the eye focus (which is very accurate, and simple even on a tripod), I’m relieved. There’s no grid of phase detection points, or boxes around people’s faces, or green dots to signal focus.

It’s just point, focus, and shoot.

Zone focusing is not just for street photographers. Once you get used to a hard infinity limit and a hard close focus limit (at about 18 inches), then it’s easy to estimate where a shot is going to be.

I haven’t tried astrophotography, but my lens sets accurately to infinity. So, if you’re trying to focus on the stars, it’ll probably be easier on the Loxia.

It’s ironic for me that after years of watching the developments and discussing the relative merits of phase detection and contrast detection autofocus, I’ve decided to skip both — just when they’re getting really fast.

Handling

The lens is all metal, so it’s relatively heavy, although Zeiss calls it light. Zeiss says it’s 320gm, but with the hood and front lens cap mine was 358gm). My kit (the A7II with the Loxia, but without a strap, ) comes in at 970gm. With the strap, call it a kilogram (2.2lbs).

I find that the on-camera balance is perfect.

I’ve heard the lens called ugly. That, of course, is personal taste; but it doesn’t seem ugly to me.

The focus ring is well placed and wide enough. The ring begins just behind the lens hood when the hood’s attached, so the ring is quick to find. Yes, yes, the focus ring is very smooth. It’s a Zeiss manual lens — it needed to be.

The full, focus rotation for the Loxia is 180 degrees — a manageable spin. But, that’s not the useful information. What you need to know is that the focus rotation to go from 2 meters (6 feet) to infinity is only about 35 degrees (about a tenth of a turn of the focus ring). This means that for most situations I can focus within that range without taking my fingers off the lens.

I wouldn’t have minded a slightly wider aperture ring. No big thing.

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Manual aperture

If you’re not a dedicated aperture-priority shooter, then the Loxia isn’t the lens for you. It’s an absolute manual aperture.

The Loxia’s manual aperture benefit, as with manual focus, is that you not only set it on the lens, you can see what you set; and you can see it even if the camera is “sleeping,” or off.

With an auto lens you can select aperture priority, or not. No such choice with a Loxia. (This means that you can’t put the camera on “auto” to hand to a bystander to take your picture.)

I rarely use the video on my camera, so I don’t need to switch off the aperture clicks. But I was curious to see if the small screwdriver from my Swiss Army Knife (usually used to tighten the screws on eye glasses) would work on the Loxia’s click/declick selector switch, that’s located on the lens mount. It’s not a great fit, but it does.

Exif data reporting

Because the lens reports the exif data to the camera, the f/stop appears in the electronic viewfinder as well. Cool.

The exif data, however, is not just information for idle curiosity. The information feeds the exposure calculations. And when images arrive in Lightroom, you’ll have aperture data with those shots.

The focus data is also used by the A7II’s stabilisation to afford the full, five-axis assistance, rather than the three-axis available to other manual focus lenses. This also means that when you attach a Loxia, the Sony recognises it and sets the system to the lens just as it does for Sony lenses.

The details

The lens shade is metal, but light. It reverses, but the hood is deep. So, when it’s reversed it pretty much covers the focusing ring. There’s only the slightest sliver of ring available in a pinch. You really have to remove the hood to focus the lens. I mentioned that it’s metal, but it has a plastic ring on the inside for the actual connection to the lens. The inside of the barrel of the shade feels as if it has a coating and it’s BLACK. It takes a quarter turn to lock it into place, so if you start with the Zeiss logo at the top, then a quarter-turn will lock it into place and bring the “Loxia 2/50″ to the top.

I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, so most of the “features” of the camera are irrelevant to me. I love the manual focus and I welcome the manual aperture because I used to shoot in aperture priority anyway.

On A7 lens mounts there’s a white dot for aligning the lens when attaching. The corresponding dot on the Loxia 50mm is blue, and almost invisible in poor light. I use the words “E-mount” in (noticeable) white lettering that’s right next to the blue dot as my guide.

The Loxia is a much tighter fit on the A7II than on the A7. That’s a good thing, because the lens mount has been strengthened on the A7II. The only problem is that there’s very little finger purchase on the Loxia 50mm in the space between the aperture ring and the camera for giving it that twist. It’s a bit easier to use the space between the aperture ring and the focus ring.

I haven’t done any testing, but without an autofocus motor, I think I’m getting better battery life.

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Conclusion

I have the Loxia, and I’m keeping it. It’s my everyday, “walking around” lens. And, I’m hoping for Zeiss to release a Loxia 85mm in the future.

I’d like to think that after reading this, you’ll come away with an idea about whether this is a lens for you. But it’s serious money, so if you’re in a big city, you might want to rent one for a couple of days.

Alternatively, when these lenses are more available, head to your local dealer, put one on your Sony, and take it for a spin (focus-ring play-on-words intended).

I have to agree that autofocus has become incredibly good on mirrorless cameras, and you can still manually focus those lenses with fly-by-wire. So, I admit that the Loxia’s manual focus may provide more lens control than actual photographic control. But I’ve used fly-by-wire manual focusing as an adjunct to “auto” on many autofocus lenses, and I don’t miss those experiences.

Good luck with your Loxia, or whatever lens you choose.

————-

Steve’s thoughts on the Loxia 50:

After my 35 Loxia review I knew I would have fun using the 50 Loxia. For me, this lens is fantastic in size, feel build, and use. I am one who is used to manual focus primes, so this is always my preference. I love Leica M glass and using them, so the Loxia was a natural fit for me and my uses and tastes.

The build is fantastic, feels almost like a Leica lens. At least feels as good as the standard 50 Summicron. Image quality wise it is also fantastic with very little CA, distortion and the lens is razor sharp.

My 1st shot with the 50 Loxia gave me 50 APO detail and rendering, all on my Sony A7S

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I will not repeat what Bill said above as he nailed it when he described the lens qualities. He basically said what I would have said, which is cool as now I do not have to write it all ;) Even so, this lens is priced VERY RIGHT at $949. For under $1,000 you can get a lens that performs almost to the level of  the Leica 50 APO which comes in at $7500 or so. See Brad Husik’s test HERE between this lens and the 50 APO. 

The A7II and the Loxia is a match made in heaven. Color, detail and pop. 

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The build and feel is much nicer than the M mount version from Zeiss. It is a perfect match for the Sony A7 system, and it works well on my A7s and A7II. Beautiful. From the packaging to the all metal lens hood to the silky manual focus feel to the auto magnify when you touch the focus ring, this lens is a winner in every way. If you love manual focus primes with some speed, then this is a lens you will adore. For me, this lens and my A7II is really all I ever need. Sure, I own wide-angle lenses and longer lenses but for me, the 50mm is the true classic prime delivering closest to what our eyes see.

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During my use with the lens I enjoyed every second of it. I never once had frustration nor did I ever wish I had a faster or different lens. I never yearned for auto focus as this lens is as easy to AF as the 35 was, and these rank among the easiest MF lenses I have used. With the auto magnify of the A7 series, it was a breeze to lock in critical focus. It is really quite fun to use the Loxia line.

All images below from the A7II and Zeiss Loxia at f/2 – Various ISO EXIF is embedded.

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Color is delicious, typical of Zeiss glass. It has the sharpness and detail, the build and feel, the great usability and the super pop and color that one would expect. All in a small prime under $950. A must buy for those who love this type of lens. I would take this over a Leica M 50 converted for use on the A7 series. Easy. In fact, this is one of my favorite lenses for the A7 series camera. I enjoy it much more than the Sony 55 1.8 (which I own) as the build is nicer, the lens is smaller yet heavier (better build) and again, I prefer the manual focus. I also feel the images have more character than the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8. Price wise, they are about the same.

Below are more of my photos with the 50 Loxia during my time with it. All on the Sony A7II (my #1 camera of choice today) – my A7II review is HERE.

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Where to Buy the Loxia Lenses:

PopFlash.com is an authorized Zeiss dealer and they carry the Loxia line HERE

B&H Photo also sells the Zeiss Loxia line HERE

Mar 242015
 

Quick Crazy Comparison! Leica M-P 240 with 35 Cron vs Sony A7II with 35 Zeiss Loxia!

JUST FOR FUN!! I have a Leica M-P 240 here with a Leica 35 Summicron ASPH. I also have my A7II with Zeiss 35 Loxia so I decided to run out back to take a couple of TEST shots, just for fun. I was curious about BOKEH of each lens and for my tastes, the Leica 35 Summicron won the Bokeh test for me. The Loxia is a tad busy in comparison. In either case, both of these cameras and lenses can do wonderful things but there are small differences in IQ and HUGE differences in using the cameras.

I have become so used to my A7II and Manual Lenses I adore the EVF and accurate focusing. With the M I adore the experience of shooting a rangefinder in a mature digital body. I also love the battery life of the M. Below are a couple of shots all wide open at f/2 to see the character of each lens. Nothing more, nothing less.

All were RAW and colors were not tweaked. What you see is what came out of the RAW conversion except for test shot #2 where I converted each to B&W to see if there was a difference. I used Alien Skin for the B&W conversion. Click images for larger versions.

You can read my A7II review HERE or my Leica M Review HERE. 

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Mar 162015
 

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Battle of the Champions: Leica M & 50 APO vs Sony A7II & 50 Zeiss Loxia

by Brad Husick

It has been an exciting few years in the development of high-end digital cameras. With the advent of full frame sensors in compact mirrorless bodies, it is now possible to obtain truly outstanding results that can be printed at virtually any size for the home or gallery.

My objective in running this test was to examine the image quality of two of the most highly regarded full frame digital mirrors cameras today – the Leica M model 240 ($7,250) and the Sony A7-II ($1,699), paired with the best available standard optics for each. For the Leica the choice was obvious in the Leica 50mm f/2 APO Summicron ($8,250) and for the Sony the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* ($949). The prices listed here are retail. Street prices can be lower.

The cameras are very different from each other and there are many articles and reviews that go into these differences. My purpose here is to look only at image quality regardless of other factors such as price, functionality, shooting style, build quality, etc. The key question here is which camera and lens combination produces the best images under a variety of real world shooting conditions. This is not a scientific laboratory bench test, it is meant to see how well the cameras do under reasonable realistic conditions.

My methodology was wherever possible to shoot the lenses wide open at f/2 and match the other shooting settings as closely as possible, including ISO and shutter speeds. Both cameras were shot in RAW and the images are displayed in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1. No adjustments other than tiny overall exposure movements used to match the images were made. Settings were left in default positions and do not differ between camera images.

These lenses are both manual focus lenses so I used each camera’s focus magnifying tool at maximum to obtain the sharpest images I could. I did not achieve 100% focus accuracy despite using a tripod for all the indoor shots and high shutter speeds for the outdoor shots. This points to my abilities and the nature of f/2 lenses having very thin depth-of-field when wide open. The indoor shots were taken at ISO 1600 and the outdoor shots at base ISO 200. The wind was blowing at about 5 mph outdoors. The cameras were set on manual exposure and automatic color balance. I did not re-adjust color balance once in Lightroom. These are “as-shot” images.

Each comparison starts with a “master” image showing the entire frame, followed by a few 100% zoom details taken from various positions around the frame.

Rather than try to make this a guessing game, I will tell you up front that each of the side-by-side comparisons has the Sony on the left and the Leica on the right.

I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about the relative strengths of each image.

My conclusion, with which you should feel free to disagree, is that there is a surprisingly small difference here. Based on image quality alone, it’s very difficult to choose. I must conclude that both systems are capable of producing outstanding images, and other factors such as price, preferred shooting style, features and functions, and others are much larger influencers in the decision between these cameras and lenses. One might come to the conclusion that if you choose to invest $15,000 in a Leica system then $2,700 for the Sony system is cheaper than buying one more Leica lens, so why not own both if you care to?

I hope you enjoy this comparison.

IMAGE ONE – FULL FRAME

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Sony crops on left – Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops!

(Steve’s Opinion: The Loxia is sharper here in these MAP crops to my eye)

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IMAGE TWO – FULL FRAME

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Sony crops on the left, Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops

(Steve’s Opinion: These appear to be so close, I would call it a tie)

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IMAGE THREE – FULL FRAME

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Sony crops on the left – Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops

(Steve’s Opinion: What sticks out to me here is the warmer WB of the Leica, sharpness seems similar)

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IMAGE FOUR – FULL FRAME

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT – CLICK ‘EM!

(Steve’s Opinion: The LOXIA seems sharper in crop 2 and 3 with Leica for the 1st)

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IMAGE FIVE – FULL FRAME

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT – YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!

(Steve’s Opinion: To my eye, APO wins this one)

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IMAGE SIX – FULL FRAME

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: LOXIA wins this one – less CA and sharper)

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IMAGE SEVEN

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: These are close, VERY close)

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IMAGE EIGHT

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: Again, VERY close but I pick APO for this one)

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IMAGE NINE

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: Almost a draw again but the APO Bokeh is a TAD smoother)

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Best regards,
Brad

Mar 042015
 

A first look video and snaps from the new Zeiss Loxia lenses for FE Mount

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A few days ago I received a package from Zeiss. I opened up the box and there they were. TWO lenses. The Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 and 50 f/2. I opened the packaging expecting these huge big lenses but nope, they were quite small. They were solid, just about as solid as most Leica M lenses, and only slightly larger. I attached them to my A7II and A7s and WOW. The focusing action was smooth as silk, yet damped, almost like it was floating in a barrel of oil, lol.

The aperture rings clicked solidly yet smoothly. Someone at Zeiss did their homework and realized there is a large market for lenses like this for the Sony FE system. I went out, took a few shots (not too many yet as I was busy with the Zeiss 35 1.4 FE) and WOW. It’s all here. The Zeiss POP, the Zeiss COLOR, the Zeiss Depth. No issues. No colored edges. No vignetting. No distortion.

After testing them out for a day I thought “these are priced VERY well for what we get with these lenses”. The 50 f/2, appears to be just as lovely as the Leica 50 APO, at 1/7th the cost and only a little larger. Metal construction, metal hood INCLUDED and fabulous build. THESE are lenses ANY Leica lover wold enjoy on their A7 system.

Oh and they also have close .3 meter focusing!

A video showing the size of these lenses  – smaller than I was led to believe.

I love Zeiss, I love Leica, I love GREAT lenses, period. The Loxias appear to offer much better performance than the Touit line along with smaller size, better build and great usability.

I will have a full review up in the next few weeks but yes, I highly recommend these for your Sony A7 series. I did do a test between the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 and Loxia 35 f/2 which will be in my full Sony Zeiss review, but both are different. I preferred the rendering from the Sony 35 1.4 but the size of  the Loxia. The Loxia was a bit more clinical and the DOF difference, even at f/2 on both lenses was MUCH different with the Sony being more shallow, which is why I feel the Sony gives a true Leica “Lux” look.

In any case, these lenses are very hard to get as Zeiss told me they are doing much better  than anticipated. I can’t wait to see what is next for the Loxia line.

A few quick samples below during my one day of snapshots ;) Will have MANY more in my full review. EXIF is embedded.

Pre-Order these at B&H Photo.

PopFlash is also a Zeiss Dealer.

A7s – 50 f/2

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The 35 at ISO 1000 – A7II

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The 35 – A7II – ISO 1000 – click to see detail in crop!

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A7s – 35 at f/2 – click to see detail in crop

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A7s – 35 f/2

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Feb 092015
 

New Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 Distagon Leica M Mount lens IN STOCK!

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The new and SUPER HOT Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 M mount lens is NOW IN STOCK through PopFlash.com. I have spoken with quite a few who have either bought or shot with this lens and most have said they prefer it to the Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 FLE! It is supposed to be one hell of a lens and is perfect for your Leica M or Sony A7 camera.

PopFlash.com has them in stock in SILVER, right now! CLICK HERE to check it out!

 

Jan 302015
 

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The Sony-Zeiss 16-35 F/4 OSS Lens Quick Review

By Steve Huff

A few weeks ago Sony sent me the 16-35 F/4 Zeiss OSS lens to review and seeing that I rarely shoot wider than 35mm, I knew it would be a while before I could really evaluate the lens. I do not get a review item and go on the street, take 10-20 snaps and come in and write a review. I prefer to USE the gear I review for a few weeks as this way it feels like I own it. This is why when I started this site seven years ago I called my reviews “Real World reviews” as they are written by a real guy who really loves and is passionate about photography AND I despise technical tests with charts and nonsense. Testing with charts personally tells me nothing about a camera or lens, but the results and photos do, and for me, THAT is what matters.

So by really using the gear over an extended time, I can see what my feelings are on longer term use which is always good because if the lens or camera ended up sitting on my shelf most of the time instead of being used, then it would not be so good :)

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With the Sony 16-35 that did not happen. I used it any time I could and evaluated it on the A7s and A7II. For me, Lens reviews are pretty easy to write as I will just be sitting here to tell you about my experiences with the lens and how I feel it compares to other wide-angle lenses I have shot with. I will share most of the images I snapped while using it as well so you get an idea of the IQ from the lens. You will not see resolution tests as this does not matter. As I said above, the photos and results matter and tell me MUCH more than any resolution chart ever will.

To make a long story short, the Sony/Zeiss 16-35 is a hell of a lens for your A7 system. If you shoot wide-angle and LOVE the 16mm-35mm focal lengths…this is about as good as it gets for the A7 series, or any system for that matter.

These three were all shot on the A7s – A&s review is HERE

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Long ago I shot with a D700 and 14-24 Nikon lens. Even back then, not being a really wide-angle guy I was unsure about the lens purchase but with the raves coming in for it back then I knew it was a masterpiece..and it was. While it was large with a huge bulbous front piece the image quality was stunning and that combo of D700 and 14-24 had some magic going on with it. That lens brings back very fond memories of a unique time in life. As I go over the old photos I see my son, much younger..I see where I lived, as well as the fun me and him had with that wide-angle lens,  and I start to remember that just maybe…I AM a wide-angle guy! (just a little).

I always tell myself that I am a 35 and 50mm shooter as that is what I love to shoot with most of the time but there is a beauty to be seen with certain wide-angle lenses and the word at 16mm or even 21mm can be pretty cool. I still feel I am not skilled enough to pull off masterful shots with an ultra wide but with time, patience and passion I think I can get there. The Sony 16-35 may be the lens to push me in that direction as it is a stellar lens for image quality, flare control and distortion control.

While very large (and this I do not like) for a mirrorless system, I can not fault the lens quality or feel. It’s sharp, provides color that is bold and behaves like an ultra wide should. I have used the manual Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 on many occasions over the past 4-5 years but on most of the Sony full frame bodies (A7, A7r, A7II) it suffers from color issues and massive vignetting. On the A7s, it works much better as do most wide-angle M mount lenses. But with the Soy 16-35 there are no problems..though the lens is about 10X larger than the tiny 15mm Voigtlander ;)

There are shots with this lens in my A7II review as well..

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Impressive. The shots below were shot directly into the sun and NO FLARE. This lens has outstanding flare control. 

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The Info:

Here is the lowdown on the lens from Sony:

“With a dust and moisture resistant design, the compact and lightweight Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens covers your wide-angle zoom needs and is designed for full-frame FE-mount cameras but can also be used on APS-C E-mount cameras as well. A constant f/4 maximum aperture offers consistent performance throughout the zoom range. Benefiting working in dim light is Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, which serves to minimize the appearance of camera shake by up to four shutter speed steps.

The optical construction incorporates five aspherical elements, including a large diameter AA (advanced aspherical) element, and three ED (extra-low dispersion) elements to help reduce chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range as well as contribute to a compact overall form-factor. A Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating has been applied to the lens elements to minimize lens flare and ghosting while providing enhanced contrast, clarity, and color fidelity.”

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The lens is well made, and when I look over the images captured with it I see rich color, medium to high contrast and share details. There are no weird issues with the lens and the AF is fast and accurate as can be on the A7s and A7II. For video, this lens is also quite fabulous and with the A7II, the 5 AXIS really makes your video appear smooth as butter.

Usually my lens reviews are short, sweet and to the point and with the Sony 16-35 I really found nothing I disliked about the lens besides the larger size, so this review will be low on words and heavy on the images captured with the lens. The IQ, for me, beat the Leica Wide Angle Tri Elmar (When used on the A7s and A7II) which is a VERY expensive lens at 3X the cost. The Zeiss lens is larger but not so heavy and if I were a wide-angle guy this would be the wide-angle lens of choice for my A7 system, hands down. For Sony owners who love and adore ultra wide to wide, this could be your perfect lens in one simple zoom.

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How about the slow f/4 Aperture? Does this pose a problem in real world use?

In a word, NO, not at all. With the excellent higher ISO performance of these Sony cameras the f/4 aperture never ever was a hindrance. In fact, for wide-angle zooms I do not feel f/2.8 is needed at all (when you have camera tech as it is today). Look at the Leica Wide Angle Tri Elmar..VERY expensive but it is an f/4 lens as well yet considered one of the best wide-angle lenses you can get (when used on a Leica M). It has a huge cult like following and even on a Leica, the f/4 aperture was never an issue due to the fact that with ultra wides, fast apertures are not needed.

Also, at f/4, this lens is sharp and has the quality one would expect for a stopped down lens. So shooting wide open is not a problem AT ALL with the 16-35. This means that there are basically no limitations on what aperture you can shoot with the lens. It will reward you with the same consistent quality throughout the range.

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The lens also has optical steady shot inside which Sony says will give you a 4 stop advantage, and is another reason it is on the large side. When using it on the A7II you can choose if you want to use the 5 Axis in the camera or the OSS in the lens. I choose the 5 Axis in the body when I use it on the A7II.

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My Conclusion on this mega short review?

With lenses there is not much I can say or ramble on about if the lens performs exceptionally well, and this lens performs about as good as I expected, if not better. For the A7 system it will provide problem free wide-angle shooting and while it will not have the character of something like a mega exotic Leica 21 Summilux, it will give you sharp, consistent, bold color and a clean image. Seriously guys, one of the best wide-angle zooms I have ever tried or used, up there with the Nikon 14-24! At $1,398 the lens is NOT cheap but when we look at other full frame lenses like this for other systems, this one comes in well below the others. This is mainly due to the slower f/4 aperture but as I said, f/2.8 is not really needed for a lens like this, especially on the A7 system.

If I had to give a score, I would give the Sony-Zeiss 16-35 f/4 a 95% –  HIGHLY Recommended. Just a few points taken off only for the large size (I feel they could have made it smaller, which would have made it PERFECT) but optically it is wonderful. 

Where to Buy?

You can buy the Sony/Zeiss 16-35 F/4 Lens at B&H Photo or Amazon Below:

B&H Photo 16-35 Page

Amazon 16-35 Page

More images below. All EXIF is embedded and images are a mix from the A7II and A7s. Click any image for a larger size. 

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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Jan 152015
 

2014 – My year with Leica

By Jason Boucher

Long ago I read Mike Johnston’s post on The Online Photographer about a year with Leica and it would make you a better photographer. I wanted to jump in at the time, but at that time couldn’t imagine spending that much on an “old” camera and it would force me to buy a new lens. I ended up buying a used Bessa as well as a used Voigtlander lens. While the original article suggested to commit fully, I committed to at least 1 roll of film per month. In that year I relearned so much about photography. It slowed me down. It made me intentional in my shooting. It also was my 1st experience with a rangefinder and frankly, the focusing became second nature and something I preferred over the split prism I grew up with. I was happy with my Bessa and my m43 digital and DSLR autofocus kits. That year with film and my Bessa really did help me.

A couple of years ago, things changed for me. I took a new job where I was not providing social content and digital image assets to the company I work for. This freed me a bit from photography as work. I could do photography for me and for me only. Coincidentally at the same time, my friend at my local camera store, National Camera Exchange, called me one day and said they got a used M9 in mint condition. I went in and held it in my hands. Wow. It was love and lust at first sight. But…cash was still a problem and I left instead with a used M8. Figuring I could give it a try and not loose much money. I had 1 M -mount lens at the time, a Zeiss 35 f2.8, I attached it and shot it almost exclusively for a couple of months.

Here are a few shots from my summer vacation and family visit in North Dakota with the M8

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It was a lovely set up and gave me a few images that I truly cherish. That old M8 has some quirky but special mojo. To be honest, it is still my favorite black and white, digital camera of all time and one day hope to own one alongside my newer Leica digital M camera. That missing IR filter does something amazing to skin and skin tones. But…I just could not handle the noise of shutter as well as the inability, at least with my single lens I owned, to shoot at higher ISO’s and in lower light, something I do a lot. So I put it away and shot it on special occasion.

About mid way through 2014, I took the M8 on a trip again and was reminded of both the experience and the glorious output. So…I sold everything else I owned including my new Fuji XT1 as well as the M8 and came home with a used M240. Over the course of the fall I slowly added some used M mount glass. I know much has been written about the M240 and how some folks prefer the M9 CCD sensor. I had some experience with the CCD with the M8 and in certain instances do prefer it, the overall shooting experience, capability as well as the higher ISO capabilities make the M240 an easy and preferred choice for me. It just works.

M 240 Images…

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My Leica M240 has become an extension of my hand as well as the most amazing creative tool I have ever used. I am no professional and shoot only for myself, but I am pleased with and believe the camera has in fact been a driving factor in changing my personal style and satisfaction with photography. I know that for each of us that we all respond uniquely to gear and many feel that Leica’s are a bunch of hype. I thought that too, but in the end, I feel that it did help me develop, grow and output better images.

So….Even though I really only starting using Leica cameras halfway through 2014, I still consider it my year of Leica.  Hope you enjoy them and my wish to all of you in 2015 is that you find that muse, that tool, that thing that inspires you and helps you develop your craft and art.

Cheers

Jason
www.imaginegnat.com

© 2009-2015 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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