At Photokina: the Zeiss Loxia 2,4/85
(a quick comparison with 4 other 85’s)
by Dirk De Paepe
A short tele was still missing in the Loxia lineup. Until now. I was sure it was coming. That one empty hole in my Zeiss Loxia case told me so. And I guessed it was gonna be an 85 (90 at most), since the length of the hole fits some of my other 85’s (adapter included). This means that for the first time, Zeiss comes up with an overlapping offering for FE-mount: both Loxia and Batis lines have their own 85mm now. The Loxia, although being less wide (2,4 vs. 1,8 for the Batis), is more heavy and … more expensive.
So is there any place for a Loxia 2,4/85?
Of course there is! But it’s for a specific kind of photographer. One like me.
I have always shot MF. When the Batis 85 was launched though, I was pretty impressed by its IQ and decided to give autofocus a try. I bought one of the first that were imported in Belgium, because I thought that AF could make sense on a short tele. Well … it didn’t. Not to me, that is. I find it very frustrating not to have total control and always wondered where the lens would place the exact focus point thìs time. It also felt as if I didn’t really gain much time in focusing speed and I surely didn’t end up with more keepers that when focusing manually. After changing my Batis to manual mode, in an attempt to get rid of this annoying AF feeling, I got even more frustrated. The focusing-by-wire mechanism isn’t giving me the feedback that I expect and that I get from a good MF lens. So, despite the exceptional IQ, more and more I went back to my old 85’s and I finally ended up putting the Batis completely aside. You can imagine that I have been anxiously awaiting this Loxia ever since. I guess you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ll trade in my Batis, when buying the Loxia. No more autofocus for me. It’s just not in my genes.
Last week Wednesday (Sept 21), I drove to Cologne because I absolutely wanted to try the Loxia, just to get confirmation of what I was already sure of: this 2,4/85 would be a phenomenal lens, totally according the Loxia philosophy and perfectly completing the Loxia line.
Just a 2.4
It’s only a 2,4 indeed, because Zeiss wanted all Loxia’s to have the same diameter and a 2,4 aperture was in fact the widest that they could squeeze in. The choice for a 52mm filter diameter throughout simplifies things concerning accessories and makes for a pretty compact set – a very “travelable” one BTW. That’s exactly what I want. When I will have completed my set, I’m sure that I will use Loxia for more than 95% of my work. I’m a Loxia guy. I don’t like Batis, but I adore Loxia.
Moreover, Zeiss claims that this Loxia is pretty perfect right away and that it performs better at 2,4 than most 85’s do at 2,8. Of course this caught my attention.
In fact, I had hoped for a 2,0 (same aperture as my Jupiter 9 and the discontinued ZM Sonnar 85), but really, 2,4 is thàt close to 2,0 that I don’t find this a deal breaker, since I’m anything but a “bokeh hunter”. If Zeiss would have chosen to come with a Loxia version of the 4,0/85 ZM Tele-Tessar, then I would have thanked for the effort.
I’m 100% sure that this Loxia will perform better over all, even wide open, than the former ZM Sonnar 2,0/85 (a pretty legendary lens that costed over $3000€) and the vast majority of the 85’s on the market for that matter.
This 85 Loxia is also a Sonnar design, with f/2,4 to f/22 aperture (10 blades) in 1/3 increments and declick feature (like all Loxia’s). The electronic communication with the body generates full exif data and triggers automatic EVF zooming, when selected, for faster critical focusing as from 0,8m (31.49”). The lens weighs 594gr (1.31 lb.) and has 7 elements in 7 groups. That’s less than the Batis (11 elements in 8 groups), but I guess the smaller aperture needs less correction (I’m not that technical, though, so this is not a statement). Anyhow, less lenses normally stand for more detail and you’re not gonna hear me complain about that. I read the Loxia is going to cost around 1400€ in Europe and the same amount of $ in the States, which is totally in line of my expectations. (Sorry that I don’t know about the price in other parts of the world.) It costs a bit more than the Batis indeed, but that’s justified by the more rugged, all metal built. This is a lens that will last a lifetime for most of us. I guess it will be more “the professional’s choice”, so to speak. The fact that Zeiss is offering a dedicated soft and hard case for the set, as it does for Otus and Milvus, is underlining this.
In the Loxia line, both the focus and aperture rings are placed in the same smooth and even cylindrical surface of the whole lens. Therefore some find them a bit hard to find, especially the one for the aperture. And I had the same experience in the beginning, after buying my first Loxia, the Planar 2/50. But then I reconsidered the way how to hold my camera. I realized that in fact the classic way of placing the left hand under the lens with thumb to the left finds its origin in the RF days, because a thumb down, fingers up position would block the view through the finder. Also, with very heavy lenses, this classic position is mandatory to support the lens weight. But I can’t think of any good reason to keep this up with an EVF body, when using the compact Loxia’s. On the contrary, with the Loxia’s the thumb down position offers nothing but advantages, IMO. One can put exactly the same pressure left and right on the body sides, just by relaxing the arms, because of the close to symmetrical position of both hands. This considerably improves stability. And the ultra smooth (but not too loosely moving) rings, with fine ribbing, allow the fastest control in this position. With some practice you can even simultaneously control both rings: middle finger for focus, thumb for aperture. Both the index finger’s knuckles transfer the arm weight to the body. Very relaxed and stable, I find this to be the most convenient way of shooting I have ever experienced. This is of course also thanks to the limited size of the Loxia’s, which prevents any unbalance towards the front.
The long throw of the aperture ring allows for very precise focusing, which is needed with hi-res sensors. IMO, the ZM line falls short in this department and is therefore a lot more difficult to fine focus.
3.5 times Zeiss plus an encore
One of the main reasons of my trip to Photokina was exactly to try this new Loxia. When thinking of the appropriateness of writing a post about it, knowing that tons of pictures would come on the internet, I considered: why not make a quick comparison with my other 85’s. So I put four lenses in my bag, to involve 5 in this comparison.
1) The new Loxia of course.
2) You already know the Batis. Besides that I personally don’t like its concept, this lens is still offering top IQ. So I wonder how the Loxia will compare to it in this department.
3) The Zeiss ZM 4/85 Tele-Tessar. It’s still included in today’s Zeiss ZM range and in fact the only ZM85 option at this moment. Maybe Zeiss will now work the other way round, making a ZM version of the Loxia 2,4/85? ( … as it made improved Loxia versions of the ZM Planar 2/50 and Biogon 2/35 … )
4) Jupiter-9 2/85. This pre-WW2 Zeiss design was handed over to Russia as a post-WW2 indemnification, (engineers included, as I read…) and stayed in production for decades. It comes in Leica pre-M 39mm screw mount (referred to as LTM or M39) and can easily be adapted to M-mount as well as to E-mount. Although not manufactured by Zeiss, I count it as a “half Zeiss” because of it’s design. 🙂
5) And finally the Canon FD 1,2/85 SSC Aspherical which I add as an encore. Clearly an outsider in this company, this was a flagship lens for Canon up till 1987, when the FD line was replaced by the EOS autofocus line. It was long considered by many as the most advanced MF 85mm lens, in its days offering stunning IQ, with great sharpness even wide-open at f/1,2. If I’m rightly informed, the present Canon EF 1,2/85 is build with basically the same optics as this FD. It did a great job for me (and still does from time to time) with indeed great IQ, although, I must say, that it’s surpassed in IQ by the new Zeiss lenses that I tried (Batis and Otus) and indeed also by the new Loxia. The MF FD line had outstanding built though. Many of them still perform exemplary today and find a second life with mirrorless camera’s. My 1,2/85 is still in excellent condition (as are a whole series of FD’s that I still own).
This comparison was done in the Zeiss booth at Photokina. It’s a quick comparison indeed, since I got only a time frame of 4 hours to see the whole show. So this had to be done in a bit of a hurry. It is what it is though, by far not a lens review, but just a few shots that I took handheld in more or less the same position, with more or less the same settings. If I would be a pro-journalist, I would have taken a lot more time and would have stayed multiple days at Photokina. I would have carefully written everything down, making sure that the settings were exactly the same for each lens. I would think it over carefully what and how to shoot, use a tripod, etc. But this was not possible for me. Sorry for that guys. I could have spent all the time that I could spare at the Zeiss stand to perform more shots with the Loxia though. But I’m sure this is not the only website that you visit, and there will be more and more Loxia 2,4/85 shots of all kinds all over the internet. So I decided to do something else, that, in its own simplicity, could be of a particular interest: placing 5 lenses next to one another, with the new Loxia amongst them.
So here come the shots. These days, I mostly take my pictures in full manual mode, but because I had to act fast, these were taken in auto-ISO mode. Those are mostly un-altered or very slightly altered RAW pictures, converted to JPG for this publication. In the cases that I performed some processing, I’ll tell you what I did.
I’m not going to comment too much in detail on these pictures. I’d mainly want you to look and draw your own conclusions.
Quick Comparison of 85’s
Picture 1: Bottle in the sand.
The lenses have all different apertures wide open. Of course this gives different possibilities regarding shallow dof. But since also the focus distance is a factor, I took this shot with all lenses at minimal focus distance, which obviously results in different framings. Here are the wide open apertures, with their minimal focus distance: Loxia 2,4 0,8m, Batis 1,8 – 0,8m, ZM 4,0 – 0,9m, Jupiter 2,0 – 1,15m, and Canon FD 1,2 – 0,95m. I focused them all on the bottle cap, and framed to assure an out of focus area behind as well as in front of the focus point. Strangely, some of the pictures were underexposed. I don’t know if that was due to the auto-ISO mode, since I’m normally not using that mode. Anyway, I corrected the exposure a bit in PS RAW converter to make them match to one other. Furthermore I lowered the black with 10% and raised the micro contrast with 10% with the five alike. For the rest, all settings remained untouched.
The goal of this shot is just to show the different ways in which maximal possible shallow DOF compares between those lenses and to compare the closest focus distance.
What strikes me in this first picture is how the Loxia and Batis clearly have a different color signature. I can’t tell if it’s more faithful to reality, or less faithful. It’s just an observation.
Picture 2: Fluffy Grass.
Also wide open, those were shot with a different goal: to show how much details and fine color nuances the lenses render. So I’m showing the whole frame first, shot by the Loxia, and then I’ll give you comparing fragments at 100%. All those fragments were shot wide open, straight conversions from RAW.
I took this one with different apertures, to see how the lenses compare wide open as well as when stopped down. Instead of giving you so many versions of the same picture, I chose to add inserts with fragments from the stopped down pictures, at f/2,8 , f/4 and f/5,6. From the ZM I added f/5,6 and f/8, because f/4 is its wide open aperture. All shots were taken with -1 compensation on the camera, because of the large dark background.
The only lens that really doesn’t keep up with modern times clearly is the Jupiter. Wide open it’s pretty dramatic, with a lot of improvement at 2,8 and a pretty good result by 5,6 (it’s hot spot regarding contrast and detail). But let me tell you that this is not the kind of shots to use a Jupiter for. I really love this lens for its unique dreamy rendering and “vintage” look. I recently used it at a meeting with collie owners and took most shots at 2,8. I personally find this a very favorable aperture, still producing quite some bokeh and already a lot more detail. Special about this lens is also its 15 aperture blades (the Loxia’s have 10, the Canon has 6), that prevent those hexagonal blur structures, but keeps them pretty circular. When I long for a feel that reminds my of my fathers pictures, I take this Jupiter for its very pleasing character. I won’t ever sell it. This lovely lens can be bought second hand today for around $100€. But not every sold example is of good quality.
Another lens from the past is the Canon (some 40 years old), but it still keeps up very well, IMO. Its shallow DOF possibilities at equal focus distances are tremendous. And imagine using a Voigtländer close focus adapter (M to E-mount) together with a second one in Canon FD to M mount … this would for sure offer great possibilities for all those shallow DOF lovers. This great lens is about the most expensive FD lens today. A good example will set you back around $1000€.
Also the ZM is keeping up pretty well, although the maximal aperture of f/4 is, even for me, a bit too narrow.
I leave the Loxia and Batis to your judgement.
Picture 3: Lantern with poles and net.
Being a Quick Comparison, I couldn’t give you as much shots as I would have wanted. Especially the bokeh possibilities were pretty limited on the Zeiss booth at the time that I was there. Of course, I couldn’t leave the booth with the test sample of the Loxia on my A7RII, so I had to choose spots with not too many people standing in the way. But still, in this picture, there is some front and hind bokeh, that gives you a first idea. And I’m sure, soon enough you will be able to find many bokeh examples of the Loxia 2,4/85 online. As I said, I found it especially interesting to put those 5 lenses next to one another. Because I know that many of you care for the out of camera jpg IQ, I wanted to show this to you as well. So those are all unaltered out of camera jpg’s.
The “Lantern” pictures were equally shot wide open and are uncropped. The right insert is a 100% crop of the wide open shot. The left is a 100% crop at the aperture that gave me the best IQ.
My personal conclusion
In a quick comparison, I’d like everybody to look, see and judge for himself.
But still I have to tell you that I am absolutely thrilled about the Loxia 2,4/85 Sonnar. Its built, feel and size is indeed perfectly matching the other Loxia’s. To me it perfectly completes the line and will fill up this remaining empty whole in my Loxia case … And regarding its IQ, well, for what I’m looking for in my pictures, the Loxia clearly stands out. It surpasses the Batis even more than I expected. The way the colors pop in picture 2 and 3 for instance impressed me. Even so for the way how it performs virtually perfect as from wide open. I know nothing will keep me from shooting it wide open, whenever I want shallow DOF. The f/2,4 aperture is sufficient for me in this regard on an 85. And I find the IQ wide open simply stunning. I know others will always want to go for the fastest possible aperture and reject anything less, but for me the blur amount is never a goal in itself. I rather prefer that there’s still some information in the background. Next to IQ and creative possibilities, I also find its ergonomics, with the compact built, the perfect balance and the incredibly smooth functioning rings, to overclass the others. Of course, this only counts when you’re really into MF like I am.
This was merely a quick comparison. To really compare, a lot more test work is needed. But to me it’s sufficient to decide about ordering. My experience with Zeiss in general, since my childhood, and with the other Loxia’s in particular makes me totally confident.
So, yes guys, I’m a Loxia guy at heart!