The Sony A7 and Zeiss 55 1.8
by Shawn Reynolds – His blog is HERE
THE SIREN’S CALL
The Sony A7 with Zeiss 55mm is a temptress – a Siren calling out “one camera… one lens… one… one… The one…”
It’s not the first to do so. Many have called-out in the past. The Minolta Hi-Matic and 40mm f1.7. The Panasonic GF-1 and 20mm f1.7. The D700 and 50mm f1.4. The tiny V1 and 32mm f1.2.
No, not the first… but perhaps, the loudest.
THE EARLY DAYS OF CONTRAST DETECT IN LOW LIGHT
However, I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to such a bold undertaking quite yet.
My sense is that a ‘one-camera-one-lens project’ works best when shooting a limited, or perhaps even a single, style or genre (case in point – Brian Stanton’s excellent work on ‘Humans Of New York’)
And I’m simply having too much fun exploring a wide variety of subject matter as my nano-second attention-span focuses and re-focuses randomly, like the early days of contrast-detect focus in low light.
THE THREE SISTERS
Also, I still use the 35mm for many shots.
A good 24mm, 35mm, and 55mm and I’d be set for about 90% of what I shoot. But no, not a ‘one lens’ only. Not yet….
NOT FOR LACK OF A LENS
But my lack of undertaking (and perhaps lack of ambition) is certainly not for lack of a most-awesome lens. If I were to do a one-camera-one-lens project, the Zeiss 55mm f1.8 would almost certainly be that lens.
MOST VALUABLE ASSET
What is the most valuable asset of the 55mm?
It’s tough to say.
The wonderful colour renditions of the A7 and 55mm which together produce beautifully film-esque images?
The absolutely masterful bokeh it produces?
Or maybe its unbelievable sharpness (how is such sharpness even possible??!)
It’s really a combination of the three I think.
So what’s the downside – no lens is perfect, right?
Well… some would say the cost. To me, it’s worth every penny.
What about the speed – it’s an f1.8, not a 1.4? True, but the difference in light collection is minimal. What makes many f1.4 lenses superior to their f1.8 counterpart (at least in some cases) is more the design and optics and coatings to be found on the more expensive f1.4. The Zeiss 1.8 has all those high-end characteristics… in spades.
There’s no OSS in the lens. I guess that’s bad for some hand-held shots and video. But in the past Zeiss has claimed that OSS can compromise the optics of a lens. I have no reason to doubt them, and yet I trust no one – particularly someone trying to sell me something. But I simply can’t argue with results – and the resulting IQ of this lens is phenomenal. So I like it just the way it is.
Light fall-off and vignette? Yes, there’s is a small amount. It’s part of the character and charm. I’m not sure I’d want it to not have
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
So what would I say to sum up the Zeiss 55mm? We could talk lens construction and formulas, DX0 ratings, and MTF charts… but that seems a poor attempt to quantify something that can’t truly, fully be quantified. There are some things in life that simply must be seen and experienced to be fully appreciated.
For me, the 55mm f1.8 is a ‘must have’ lens. It’s a lens that won’t sit on the shelf collecting dust because it ‘calls to me’, a call that can only be resisted so long before compelling me, compelling us, onward to adventure! Regardless of the type of system you shoot, everyone deserve a lens like that!
Ny Best lens for 55 year’s
I love your shots! I just got this lens. Which Creative Style did you choose? I found myself set to “Clear” mostly and sometime “Standard”.
great review man, I am taking the A7 and the 55 to New Orleans this month. I am really looking forward to putting it through the paces. Thanks for sharing, those are some killer shots.
Hey there, thanks for sharing.
I like your industrial shots. Great color and contrast.
The FL of 55 is interesting, especially if you already own the 35. And the f/1.8 make for a creamy bokeh.
I’ll receive mine tomorrow. My Minolta MC 50/1.4 will probably stay in the closet from now on… though I like it’s oldschool characteristics, it’s very low on contrast and soft wide open, with a rather busy bokeh.
Wow, thanks for the insight. Brings back some confidence in potentially buying this camera.
Mars, I’m glad to see you post some of your great photos here. Always love them, and your blog posts are always a treasure.
I got the A7 and the SEL55 for a trip and planned to resell it afterwards. Now I’m finding it hard to let go. This lens is just amazing and worth every penny.
There are a few lenses which can almost be reason alone to buy into a system. The SEL55, Olympus 75, Fuji 56 are among those :).
I have so many 50 primes already this review is scary. Makes me want to spend more money.
I really wish this lens was 45mm instead 55mm. FE 35mm seems like not as good as 55mm.
But it`s still excellent, tiny and weather sealed. It`s a little under appreciated simply because the 55 is such a stunner.
Can someone tell me why there is a picture of an A7 with a 35/2.8 on it at the top of the post when the post is about the 55/1.8?
The only reason that i have not bought this lens for my A7R is that I own a 50lux ASPH. Enough said I guess 🙂
But once in a while (like right now after reading this post), I do wanna buy one just to see how good it is. I’m sure it will be as good as (if not better than) the lux with auto focus and perhaps sharper, but I’m not ready to let this leica gem go (or to collect dust) yet.
The SEL 55 handily beats the Summilux on the A7r. I gave up with M lenses on the Sony and stick to native mount and adapted SLR optics. M lenses shine on the Leica bodies and the Ricoh GXRM.
My preference is the A7 fitted with the ZM Biogon 35mm F2. No OSS, no auto-focus just great images.
Something struck me as I browsed your set. With the greatest respect, I do think the last shot of the “cat in the box” shows that you can go too far with shallow depth. I think the subject could have done with more of the nose and ears in focus, and you could have still got a good balance of isolation/context by stopping down a tad. I appreciate this kind of shot can be down to a bit of luck as you have to capture that moment, and you do not always get a second chance to re-adjust & re-take.
I the greater scheme, I wonder if generally we as photography folk, are being lead once again into a merry marketing dance. Are we being conditioned to think shallow depth, bokeh and pin sharpness are the primary criteria for good pictures? The objective being that we feel the need for expensive fast glass and larger sensors.
I like very much like your set here, and think overall you achieved some great (just right) subject isolation/context with this combo. Keep them coming and thanks for sharing.
I was thinking the same thing re depth of field. The out of focus nose and mouth of the cat just looks wrong to me.
I’m seriously lusting after that lens though. I’m tossing up between either the Zeiss 55 1.8 or the new Sigma Art series 50 1.4… I will then buy a camera to go with whichever one I end up choosing.
Absolutely agree Pauly!
Most (all?) of these shots were taken ‘wide open’ mostly to test the bokeh and sharpness at f1.8… but would be much better served stopped-down (providing both more in-focus area, and better sharpness). The 55 performs well wide-open, but I’m guessing its ‘sweet-spot’ is likely around f4 or so.
But great point – even if I’m not testing a lens, I still often find myself shooting wide-open out of habit sometimes (I’m more likely to shoot wide open when I am using a smaller sensor camera, with slower lens… to get isolation). However, with a full-frame camera, and fast lens you can very easily get DoF that is *too* shallow – so I always need to be ‘on guard’ for this bad habit 🙂
Glad you took my point as well intended, and I acknowledge that you were posting a lens/camera combo test.
I am on m43 for digital, but often find myself falling into the trap of shooting “too” wide open, I too have to be on my guard and use the appropriate stop for the shot – “horses for courses” as they say.
As much as I loved my Zeiss Planar 50/2 ZM, I sold it to get the 55/1.8. My setup is A7 + 35/2.8 + 55/1.8 + Samyang 85/1.4
I am looking forward for the wide-angle lens to come, so my setup would be complete.
The A7 + 55/1.8 is simply superb. I am using the combination a lot, even for studio portraiture. It is so sharp that I have to kill a lot of sharpness in PP, otherwise all the skin pores would just pop and yell.
Funny note: after my first round of portraits in this combination, my wife interdicted me to take pictures of her because she feels so “old” because every skin defects just pop.
Lulian… That’s exactly my dream combo and I already have the 35 FE and 85 Rokinon. Couldn’t be happier with them and my hope is that once i get the 55 FE i will be appeased for a while…. maybe 😉
I know the feeling. For the longest time since canon days I’ve always shot with only the 2470 lens. Even ob the a7r I bought the 2470 at launch day. .I dismissed the 55 becsuse I never liked 50mm. But. .I bought the 55 anyways together with the 35.. and all I can say is. . The 55 never left the camera since. . The 2470 ended up on the a6000 instead
The 35 and 55 is such a great combo – I’m glad Sony chose to prioritize these lenses!
Shawn, do you never feel that for a two lens set-up, there’s too much overlap between 35 and 55, and that 28 and 55 might have been a better choice?
Some of my photographic friends reckon that photos of cats should be banned ! Is it because they think they are cliche. No! all my fellow photographers are animal lovers and most have done what we all do – namely shoot photos of our cats to try out our photo gear in particular new gear. The reason they want them banned is that they reckon it’s nigh on impossible to obtain a pin sharp image of a cat’s fur that you can be absolutely happy with. So I set up my Leica and took some photos of our cat “Lucky” a rescue cat and yes the photos are nice but they seem to have a point -not as sharp as every other subject seem to be. Damn lens seem to show up my face too accurate -aging, broken veins, and blemishes -but not the cat -why?
Can any other shooters cast any light of this mystery ?
By the way nice review -Nice lens and lovely cat.
Haha – I don’t know the answer to that, but I love using my cats as test subjects. One is almost all black (great for testing shadow detail), another is a calico with lots of bright white (good for testing highlight detail) and the other is just a ‘big ham’ 🙂
I just got this same combo (plus the 14mm 2.8 rokinon) and I have shot nearly 2000 frames now in 11 days now. The lens has no left the camera. I just feel bad for my Nex 5n and 50mm 1.8 that served me so well until now. I have never owned a Zeiss lens before, but to me is the best, since now (to my eyes) can achieve the rendering that Steve Huff and others seems to achieve with their Leicas… 100% agree with you.
Good story and great pictures. Keep it up.
Wow – that’s a lot of shooting- your shutter finger must be sore 🙂 How do you like the Rokinon? I really need a wide-angle for the A7 (rumour has it Sony may announce one on Wednesday).
Although I sold my NEX 5/6/7 (when I went to the A7) I am considering the picking-up an APS-C (A6000?) in future for those few occasions I want something just a little more pocketable. I’ve kept all my APS-C lenses and am still very fond of them (50mm f1.8, 24mm, 35mm and even the 16mm is fun to use still sometimes)
Index finger is stronger than ever 😉 … Regarding the 14mm I think I have shot 5 frames with it, distortion is pretty bad but fixable on PP, And the vignette its heavy but it’s pretty sharp though. I hope the announced Sony/Zeiss wide won’t be too expensive (it was tough enough to bite down the 55mm, even if it’s worth every dollar)
But, back on topic, I can’t stop taking pictures with the 55mm and run to my house to see them on my PC, it’s pretty addictive.
Good story, great and imaginitive images. Whilst not detracting from the quality of the gear used in any way at all, these also demonstrate that, with that high quality gear, you can do anything you want.
clearly zeiss is pushing the limits with this lens and its otus range being further built out…
nobody, not even sigma or leica (maybe with noctilux or apo 50f2, don’t know) can reach that level, as of yet. these lenses will last for generations of equipment, if sony’s marketing strategy survives that long.
I’ve had a bunch of lenses over the years that I’ve bought and sold, but there’s a ‘select club’ (including this one) that I can’t imagine ever selling 🙂
Alluring shots that show the creamy bokeh and sharpness of this lens.
It has a very nice rendering and If i was going to get an A7 to replace my E-M5 and Leica 25mm F1.4 then the A7 with the 55mm F1.8 would be a nice upgrade.
Oh man, that’s my dream combo. 🙂 To be fair, I shoot everything right now with my nex-5n and 50mm 1.8. I have other lenses, but I love this one so much that I’m never satisfied with results from the others. Saving up now to match your setup. 🙂
The 50mm f1.8 was/is one of my favourite lenses on the NEX7. Beautiful renderings, OSS, a great value and under-rated. I don’t know, but I’m guessing it was designed by the same guy 🙂
Great post Shawn! Falls in line with Steve’s sensible and enthusiastic approach to photography which I appreciate so much. I have the A7 and 35mm FE (a purchase largely based on Steve’s reviews) and CAN’T WAIT till I can afford the 55mm as well. I always loved photography but ever since I’ve read Steve’s blog over the past year and purchase my new gear (I had been shooting casually with the NEX-5 for a few years), I’ve been more passionate and motivated than ever. Thanks for sharing this post and all your hard work Steve.
Thanks Jordan. Steve’s enthusiasm is very contagious!
It took me a while to save up for this lens but (at least for me) it’s money well spent and one I see myself using for years and years to come.
Yes, extremely contagious and expensive. I got the Leica bug thanks to Steve, and had to sell my Harley-Davidson V-ROD to fuel it.
Of course, the M Monochrom takes much better black and white pictures than the V-ROD did.
Hahahaha – thats funny 🙂
But the V-Rod goes much better in a straight line than the Monochrom… (I rode MV Agusta F4’s – and crashed them – during HD’s ownership of the Italian company) I think!