SLR Magic 23 1.7 vs Zeiss 24 1.8 on the NEX-7 – $379 vs $999
UPDATE: SLR Magic has seen my results and contacted me to tell me my lens must be defective as they sent me samples they shot with the lens on a NEX-5 and the corners and sides are not nearly as soft as they are on the one I have. I will wait for a new lens before doing a full review. Until then, take these samples with a grain of salt. I have added their samples to the bottom of this page so you can see what they took with the lens.
I just received a copy of the SLR Magic 23 1.7 lens for the Sony “E” NEX mount and since I am shipping the super slick NEX-7 back TODAY (yes, for real this time) I decided to do some quick tests since these lenses are so close in specs but so far away in price with the Zeiss coming in at about $600+ more than the SLR Magic Hyperprime. The 24mm Zeiss is a lens I have grown to appreciate more and more as I spent time with it over the past 2 months. It is not a critically sharp lens but it is indeed sharp, and gets really sharp as you stop down. The only niggle I have with it is that it is on the larger side but it is very very light. It does not have that heavy Zeiss build that we associate Zeiss quality with. BUT, the lens is a very good performer and the best native lens available for the NEX system to date.
So with the hype of the NEX-7 and Zeiss 24 1.8 along comes SLR Magic with the introduction of their 23mm f/1.7 HyperPrime for the NEX mount. It was clear they had their sights set on the Zeiss as a more cost effective alternative and they even one upped them on focal length and aperture. The only thing with the Hyperprime is that it is manual focus ONLY. For me, this is not a problem but many of you want Auto Focus so if this is you, you can ignore this lens right now as there is NO Auto Focus with the SLR Magic lens. This is a good and bad thing IMO. It is a good thing because you will never miss focus. Sometimes the Sony misses AF for me and with the Hyperprime you will be choosing your focus point and manually focusing the lens. Its foolproof with the focus peaking feature of the NEX cameras. It can be bad because if you want to get a quick shot where time if of the essence then using a MF lens will slow you down. It all depends on your needs and preferences.
With that in mind, let us take a look at these two lenses with the NEX-7. As you can see in the image below, the SLR Magic Hyperprime is smaller than the Zeiss in length and width. These are 35mm equivalent lenses.
The Hyperprime is also heavier and feels more like a Leica lens in build and feel. It has a manual aperture dial just like Leica, and a buttery smooth focus ring. The lens feels like quality. Coming it at $379 this lens is over $600 cheaper than the Zeiss but you would not know this by the build quality and overall construction. For all of you Leica shooters, this lens almost looks and feels like the 50 Summicron. The only thing is that the aperture ring does NOT click into place. Like almost all other SLR Magic lenses they kept it clickless to also aid in video performance. Changing apertures is silent but to see what aperture you are at you will need to look down at the lens barrel. I prefer clicks so I know where I am at but again, its all personal preference.
On the camera both lenses feel good. The SLR Magic makes the NEX-7 feel more solid and heavy and the Zeiss keeps the camera on the lighter side. I guess Sony knew that one of the features of the NEX system is small size, so they most likely wanted to keep the lens light otherwise it would defeat the purpose of the system. Size wise, the Zeiss is larger but remember it has Auto Focus and is a much sharper lens corner to corner as you will soon see. Keep in mind this is not a formal review of either lens, just a comparison of the performance between them. To see tons of Zeiss shots see my NEX-7 review. I hope to get more shots with the SLR Magic on a NEX-5n and the NEX-7 as soon as mine arrives. Even though the SLR Magic lens is heavier it feels really nice on the NEX-7. Balanced and solid. But how is the IQ? Let’s see in these quick tests…
The Sample Test Images for comparison – Sharpness, Distortion, Bokeh and Up Close Performance
I will put all of the test images below so you can judge for yourself between these two lenses. The SLR Magic 23 1.7 will be available soon at $379. The Zeiss 24 1.8 is available NOW at $999. These are strictly test images to judge sharpness at all apertures, bokeh, distortion and close up performance. You will need to CLICK ON EACH IMAGE to see the large size and full 100% crop. You can not judge them by just looking at them here so please click on them to see them how they are meant to be seen.
Sharpness is not the be all end all when it comes to photographs so I don’t mind it when a lens is not super sharp and in fact I prefer my lenses to not be clinically sharp. I am a fan of “character” in a lens. The SLR Magic and Zeiss both have their own character and neither is clinically sharp but the Zeiss IS sharper as it should be for the $$ difference.
CLICK IMAGES FOR FULL CROPS AND LARGER VERSIONS
I REDID THIS TEST BELOW AS MY 1st COMPARISON MAY HAVE HAD THE SLR MAGIX SLIGHTLY MIS-FOCUSED
The 1st set is the SLR Magic at 1.7 followed by the Zeiss at 1.8 – Tripod mounted on the Sony NEX-7
Stopped down to 2.8
stopped down to f/4
[ad#Adsense Blog Sq Embed Image]
The Zeiss wins here as the SLR Magic has plenty of barrel distortion. If you are a landscape shooter or like straight lines, Id go for the Zeiss. If you like character, go for the cheaper SLR Magic as it seems to have plenty of that. I would have liked to see the SLR Magic have less distortion though.
You can see how the SLR Magic twists the straight fence. These were tripod mounted and the tripod was not moved for these tests.
3. Bokeh/Up Close
Both of these lenses focus really close. The SLR Magic lens focuses as close as 5.9 inches and the Zeiss is 6.2 inches. So they are very close in this dept. Which do you prefer here?
That was about all I could get done before packing up the Zeiss 24 to go back to Sony. The SLR Magic Hyperprime will be available in January 2012 for $379. Check back soon for more my real world testing with actually photos. The SLR Magic is actually a very nice lens and the only weakness I found in my quick testing is the barrel distortion. When shooting straight lines or buildings this will be evident. The Zeiss doesn’t have this distortion. The SLR Magic also has a softness at the edges that the Zeiss does not have. With a price difference of over $600 only you can decide which lens suits your needs best, the manual focus SLR Magic or the Auto Focus Zeiss. I would say the SLR Magic is the more “Artistic” lens and the Zeiss is the more “Perfect” lens.
UPDATE: SLR Magic has seen my results and contacted me to tell me my lens must be defective as they sent me samples they shot with the lens on a NEX-5 and the corners and sides are not nearly as soft as they are on the one I have. I will wait for a new lens before doing a full review. Until then, take these samples with a grain of salt. I have added their samples below so you can see what they took with the lens on a NEX-5.
Below is the technical data on the SLR Magic 23 1.7 Hyperprime
SLR Magic HyperPrime 23mm F1.7
Fast wide-angle lens with five Tantalum glass elements to ensure superior cinematic performance.
All E-mount cameras
8 elements in 7 groups
Distance range: 0.15m to ∞, combined scale meter/feet
Manually controlled diaphragm, 12 aperture blades (circular), Lowest value 22
49mm; filter mount does not rotate.
Length to bayonet mount:
approx. 50mm (approx. 1.97in)
approx. 61mm (approx. 2.40in)
approx. 240g (approx. 8.47oz)
HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT’S EASY TO HELP OUT & I CAN USE ALL THE HELP I CAN GET!
PLEASE Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!
Even if you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at Amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance More info is here on how you can help!
If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter, my facebook fan page and now GOOGLE +!
Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader!
Update to this discussion:
I believe SLR Magic reintroduced the 23mm f/1.7 lens around July 2013 (in United Kingdom). They have given it a re-design which includes adding an extra element. I have a copy, (of the Fuji FX mount version), and although it still suffers from some barrel distortion, it can be quite easily fixed using Adobe Lightroom.
Wow, Matus, you are so right! So I reconsider which I should choose. Probably I will buy a Magic HyperPrime 23mm F1.7 lens.
SLR Magic spec is ok, but the quality really bad, really disappointed!
and as i know it’s China made lens, don’t think it’s worth?!
Steve, I know this is a super old thread (relatively speaking) but I was wondering if you have ever compared the Zeiss E 24 1.8 to the lens in the Fuji X100? Nothing like a silly scientific test (couldn’t care less about that) just what your general impression is? Seems when the X100 was released the Zeiss was still just a rumour and when the Zeiss came out you no longer had the Fuji.
any update on this les review? Have you already received a new copy from SLR magic?
Steve do you have any idea about the background of SLR Magic? Do you know how much they spend on R&D? how advanced their technology is? where the lenses are made?
Aouch, but the 1,8/24mm “SONNAR” is really an DISTAGON lens
I would be very suspicious of any new lenses that SLR Magic sends. It is very possible that they have one super example, cherry-picked for “special occasions.”
Actually I find SLR Magic to be very honest and straightforward. They would not “cherry pick” a lens for me and then ship out duds to consumers as that would only hurt them down the road. I do know they are letting something like 50 people test this lens in the next couple of weeks when it is ready to roll. I received one of the 1st lenses of the line.
I was excited about this lens initially but not so much anymore. Seems consistent quality is an issue with slr magic. Plus, I’ve tried contacting them several times via email and they NEVER reply. Decided to go with a more reputable brand; bit the bullet and ordered the Zeiss. Hopefully it will be $ well spent.
Hi Steve, I want to thank you for taking the time for this comparison, I always appreciate your ‘real world’ look at subjective quality 🙂
I know above you discussed using the Zeiss with and without lens correction and are probably sick of hearing about it, however there is one eventuality where users WON’T be using lens correction (and therefore useful to know it’s performance without) and that is on bodies that don’t support it such as NEX3, 5 and VG10.
You also mentioned that SLR Magic sent better samples shot on a NEX-5n vs what has been shot on your test NEX-7 (better corners / sides – not better photo’s). I was wondering if this might have more to do with the micro-lens arrangement in the 5n that hasn’t been applied to the 7 sensor that is supposed to improve performance on short registration lenses, such as M-Mount? It might be worth comparing the new sample you get with the same lens on your NEX-5n, or comparing the one you have (possibly faulty) on your 5n?
At any rate thank you very much for the comparison as I know they can be quite time consuming things to do and then to get nothing more than people bitching about them!
the surprise and disapointment is not that a cheap lens is rubbish its that the zeiss is not that good either….Ignoring the possibility of a faulty camera,how is it possible to design and release a specific lens for a specific camera and get it wrong?
thank you again Steve for your wonderful comparison tests
quick question I recall that the 5n has in camera lens compensation, I assume the 7 also has these functions, were the photos taken with these options on?
I know this is not a review, but what do you mean when you say the SLR Magic has character? Do mean it has better color or bokeh?
It’s about dreamy look I guess
This is not a real life review 🙁
That is because this is not a review. My review is coming soon. Thx
I just did a very simple test with Photoshop of the brick wall image from the Magic lens (Steve I hope you do not mind). Correction of about ‘+6’ removes the barrel distortion. While ‘+6’ is a lot, I do not see any waviness or bulging center left afterwards. Of course with subsequent cropping one looses 5% linear size of the image (about 10% of the area). Well, just and observation.
the zeiss outshines the slr on these pics, but from f4, f5.6 > the slr comes into play.
Steve, what would be interesting is the nex-7 with nikon adapter and a couple of ais lenses 🙂 …..if you have time, cheers.
Extremely useful but is the camera or zeiss lens actually available yet. I see that the lens disappeared very quickly at B&H.
“If you like character, go for the cheaper SLR Magic as it seems to have plenty of that. ”
I totally agree that absolute and perfect sharpness is not the crucial atribute in the lens and that character, rendering or whatever you want to call it is more importnat. However, I feel that more often than not character is used to describe the lens either to rationalize purchasing obscenely expensive lens that isn’t any better than one which is 10x less expensive but doesn’t have character name on it or as a sort of wild card to defend something that can’t be defended in any other way. Based on these samples of a wall, box with the lens and receipt and christmas decoration, all that one can tell is that zeiss is sharper, has much less distortion and has smoother bokeh.
Although it’s not always true, in general, you get what you pay for.
Even more often one does not get what was not payed for 🙂
Could it be that NEX-7 might be correcting the falloff and distortion of Zeiss? If that’s the case, I wonder how it looks without the corrections.
I really wonder how this SLR Magic lens will turn out to be. I’ll be waiting to hear more about it from you 🙂
I would like to know this as well, whether or not the anti-distortion was turned on in-camera, or if this was purely lens performance.
Steve, maybe that will be in the review I assume?
Even if it was on the camera would only apply this to the Sony lenses. With the SLR magic lens mounted the camera has no idea what is connected to it so no correction would be applied. The camera would only apply correction to the 18-55, 16, 24, 50, etc because the camera knows that those are attached so it uses the correct lens profile. No distortion correction would be applied to the SLR Magic lens.
So, could it be that the correction is the reason behind non-existing distortion and vignetting? It might even explain why 50/1.8 OIS was giving those flat-looking pictures.
Do you still have the 50/1.8? Can you give it a try with all the corrections turned off?
NO, Correction does not apply to non Sony lenses. The lenses have to communicate with the camera in order for any correction to be applied, and then it is applied for that specific lens. Leaving correction ON at all times would improve Sony lenses, not hurt them. Also lens correction has nothing to do with flat files. I find Sony cameras in general typical put out flat colors, which is one reason they tend to appear flatter than some other cameras. But no, lens correction had nothing to do with these files as the camera can not do any lens correction unless a Sony coded lens is on the camera.
There’s some misunderstanding here. I’m pretty sure everyone is well aware that the in-body image correction can only be applied to Sony lenses and cannot be applied to other lenses such as this SLR Magic.
We want to know if the Sony Zeiss lens was shot while in-body lens correction was enabled. If lens correction was enabled then this comparison was made on an uneven playing field. The others are asking if you could do a comparison with lens correction off, that way it would be a more honest comparison.
Again, 100% incorrect. It is a comparison of two lenses, how anyone would shoot them. Whoever owns the Zeiss and a NEX would leave correction ON. Who would want to shoot with it off when using a Sony lens? No one. The SLR Magic can not be corrected by the camera, period. So what you see is what you get. Why on earth would I shoot the Zeiss with LC OFF when no one would shoot it that way? This shows what you can get from each lens on the NEX, end of story. Doesn’t matter what the Zeiss looks like with it on or off as the option is there for it to be on.
Steve just brought the house down!! LOL yes you are right its how anyone would shoot with them, but just for shytz and giggles can you do a comparison anyway just to shut up those people that say it must be the LC. I still think it isn’t but would be interesting to know as you may technically in the future be able to LC the SLR in post at least.
Sounds like you (Steve) are getting annoyed with these lens correction comments. I was just trying to clear up the misunderstanding between you and the comments preceding mine. 🙂
But you are right, virtually no one would shoot with LC off.
Zeiss actually knows how to make lenses that have very little barrel or pin cushion distortion and some of their lenses are quite famous for how distortion free they are. You pay for this, in terms of cost and often weight as the designs are usually more complex.
I’ve no doubt that the ZA24/1.8 performs better than the SLR Magic lens even if in-camera correction is turned off. They do have a track record of designing good lenses that perform well at their core – optically – after all.
Soft or not, for a 24mm lens, at any price, that’s a fairly obscene level of distortion present in the SLRM lens. One hopes Steve did get a bad copy; if not, I can’t see them selling many, at least not to anyone that takes the time to investigate their purchase first. The two photos they sent along don’t exactly show the lens off well either.
Shoot, I was hoping for a little more from this SLR Magic lens. The Zeiss seems to beat it in every category, except price.
Steve – thanks for the review. I received my production copy yesterday. I am VERY happy. I also, enjoyed your review immensely. I think that having such a large difference near the center is a significant advantage for the zeiss, I am sure the corners will be even better. The zeiss doesn’t feel like any other lens I have used, so light, but such good quality.
If you want to waste some time, I made an unboxing video. I know, I know how lame, but it is here if you’re curious. Thanks
Will you buy a Nex 7 for yourself or is this it and you stay with the 5N? Nice, small lens. I wish someone would come up with a good 18 or 16mm lens. Thanks for the review. D!RK
I have the NEX-7 on order…
I prefer a lens to leave the artistry to me and just be as sharp, contrasty and distortion-free as possible. The Zeiss is the clear winner in my book.
The Hyperprime seems really soft wide open, even in the (near) center. If you are considering the 2 lenses, the Hyperprime is almost like a f/2.8 or f/4 lens compared to the Zeiss (actually you literally have to stop down to f/5.6 before it roughly matches the Zeiss at f/1.8!) To be honest, I wonder if Hyperprime f/2.8 comes close to the Sony kit zoom at 23mm wide open, if kit zoom has significantly better IQ then real world performance gain is not as impressive as that f/1.7 spec. Dreamy effects are great for cheap converted c-mount lenses and the like, but seem more questionable on a $379 lens.
The Zeiss is way out of my budget, but the Hyperprime seems too big and expensive for the performance. The SLR Magic 28mm f/2.8 seems to offer better overall package (understanding of course they are different focal lengths.) Or another comparison would be the M 4/3 Panasonic 20mm, not completely apples to apples but a much better, smaller lens at similar price point.
Can’t comment on corners yet, obviously…
Just redid the sharpness test as the 1st test may have had the SLR Magic slightly front focused. Thx
Thanks again Steve – that was very fast. Indeed – the results look better now. At f/4 the Magic lens performs well sharpness wise now (quite a step actually from f/2.8 to f/4). From f/5.6 on the Magic lens actually seems sharper !
Thanks for re-posting Steve!
As Matus said, much improved! f/4 looks actually excellent, f/2.8 not bad, and f/1.7 looks usable. This new set of crops is closer to the edge, so maybe the center will actually look better.
My previous comparison with the Sony 18-55mm doesn’t hold anymore, this lens now seems to have its own strengths.
Call me a skeptic and a pessimist, but what are the chances that SLR Magic is going to cherry pick a sample to replace your “defective” lens?
Thank you Steve, very helpful comparison. I have to admit that I expected more from this Magic lens. The (lack of) sharpness, poor OOF rendering and heavy distortion are just too much. I am surprised as their 12/1.6 for m4/3 while ore expensive seems to perform so much better. Maybe this lens is directed to those users who use either older or the lower-en NEX cameras. I personally can not really imagine investing the money in NEX-7 or 5N and the put this lens on. The Zeiss is on expensive side, but performs well and draws nicely. Well, only my opinion. Though the fact is – apart from the Zeiss there are no real options for 24/1.8 lens out there.
But there is one point that strikes me – at all apertures compared your toes are more in focus with the Zeiss lens (strange for me to notice, I know 😉 ) – would it be possible (I know, it probably should not) that you somehow get the Magic lens front-focused? For example at f/2.8 – look at the lettering on the lens on the box – seems sharper than the text on the box. What is your opinion?
I just redid the test just in case and it appears it may have been slightly front focused the 1st time. The new tests seem much closer. Thanks
I keep reading about SLR Magic lenses, they seem pretty hard to find. There are a few on Ebay, but the one I want 12 1.6 Hyperprime for m43 is essentially a phantom lens. I even wrote to SLR Magic about the 12 1.6, but they never got back to me. Seems like only the C-Mount and the 50 Noktor are the only ones around for m43. I enjoy your reviews and images. Thanks.
Carl Zeiss #FTW While AF alone is not worth the extra CZ price the sharpness and less distortion makes the CZ worth the extra money IMO. Most E-Mount less are pretty weak so at least I want to have one solid AF lens so that I can give my camera to someone and they can take a decent focused picture of me for once. Thanks for this quick review this makes me feel much better on my decision to purchase CZ.
Very similar to my experience with NEX camera’s. I almost can’t find myself in pictures ever since I owned NEX as all I use are MF lenses.
The images from the Zeiss look to me that they are starting to curve in the opposite direction to the SLR magic (top left of window).
Is it me, or do the corners of the pictures taken with the SLR Magic lens indeed look very blurry?