On Trial – Zeiss Loxia Lenses

With the ar­rival of the 42 megapix­els A7R II, Sony’s full-35mm mir­ror­less cam­era sys­tem can no longer be ig­nored by pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers… and Zeiss is ready with a pair of high-per­for­mance FE mount primes.

ProPhoto - - CONTENTS - RE­PORT BY PAUL BUR­ROWS

Sony’s Al­pha 7 Se­ries mir­ror­less cam­eras are start­ing to make sig­nif­i­cant in­roads into the pro­fes­sional sec­tor so it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that the mak­ers of high-end lenses such as Zeiss are start­ing to take no­tice. The Loxia 35mm f2.0 Bio­gon and 50mm f2.0 Pla­nar are the per­fect match for these high per­form­ing full-35mm sen­sors.

SLOWLY BUT SURELY MIR­ROR­LESS CAM­ERAS are mov­ing into the pro­fes­sional end of the mar­ket. Olym­pus’s OM-D E-M1 and Pana­sonic’s Lu­mix GH4 lead­ing the way for the Mi­cro Four Thirds for­mat. Fu­ji­film’s XT-1 and Sam­sung’s NX-1 are fly­ing the flag for ‘APS-C’ sen­sors, but per­haps most in­ter­est­ingly, Sony’s Al­pha 7 Se­ries of­fers the ap­peal of a full-35mm size sen­sor in a more com­pact form than any ri­val D-SLR.

Sony has got in here ahead of ei­ther Canon or Nikon (which surely have to of­fer some­thing sim­i­lar be­fore too long) and, af­ter a short pe­riod of lim­ited lens choices, it’s now full steam ahead for the full-frame ver­sion of Sony’s E Mount… bet­ter known as the FE mount. Not only has Sony put the pedal to the me­tal with new FE mount lenses, but Zeiss is weigh­ing in with its own se­ries of mod­els un­der the ‘Loxia’ name. Well, in fact, Zeiss is of­fer­ing two ranges of the lenses for the FE mount, but the re­cently-re­leased Batis mod­els are con­tem­porar­ily styled and fea­ture aut­o­fo­cus while the Loxia lenses are unashamedly clas­si­cal, both in­side and out. This means me­tal bar­rel tubes, glass el­e­ments and en­graved, painted-in mark­ings.

There are cur­rently two Loxia mod­els – a 35mm f2.0 Bio­gon and a 50mm f2.0 em­ploy­ing the truly classi-

cal Pla­nar sym­met­ric op­ti­cal de­sign. Both are de­signed for the FE mount, but can also be used on the ‘APS-C’ for­mat cam­eras with the at­ten­dant 1.5x in­crease in the ef­fec­tive fo­cal length. How­ever, Zeiss em­pha­sises that these lenses have been “specif­i­cally de­signed” for the Sony Al­pha 7 mir­ror­less cam­eras which pre­sum­ably in­di­cates some in­ter­face im­pli­ca­tions. The mounts carry a set of elec­tri­cal con­tacts so lens in­for­ma­tion is recorded in the Exif data and, pre­sum­ably, the cam­era’s lens cor­rec­tion pro­cess­ing (for vi­gnetting, chro­matic aber­ra­tions and dis­tor­tion) is avail­able. It’s also worth not­ing that this in­ter­face pre­serves the five-axis im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion in the newer A7 II and A7R II whereas all other non-Sony lenses de­fault to three-way cor­rec­tion.

Of course, Zeiss is al­ready closely in­volved with Sony in the de­sign­ing of the lat­ter’s own lenses (for both the A and FE mount), but the Loxia mod­els are en­tirely ‘in house’ de­signs, al­beit man­u­fac­tured in Ja­pan.

They’re both com­par­a­tively com­pact de­signs to com­pli­ment the size of the A7 bod­ies, but nei­ther are light weights and have a re­as­sur­ing ‘heft’ which sug­gests the min­i­mal use of plas­tics. Also ev­i­dent on the out­side is the pre­ci­sion of the en­gi­neer­ing with both the fo­cus­ing col­lar and aper­ture ring flush with the main bar­rel, lo­cated with clearly very fine tol­er­ances. As we’ve come to ex­pect from Zeiss, the fo­cus­ing col­lar’s move­ment is silky smooth… so much so that you’ll find your­self con­stantly wind­ing it back and forth just to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence. Like­wise, the aper­ture col­lars have nicely notchy de­tents – in one-third stop in­cre­ments – but there’s also a ‘De-Click’ fea­ture which switches the move­ment to con­tin­u­ous. This is done via a small ad­just­ment screw in the back of the lens mount and Zeiss ap­plies a ded­i­cated tool for the job, but should it go astray, a jew­eller’s mi­cro screw­driver will work just as well. Both lenses are supplied with a bay­o­net-fit me­tal hood.

While the pre­ci­sion of the fit will af­ford some mea­sure of pro­tec­tion against the in­tru­sion of dust or mois­ture, the Loxia lenses aren’t weath­er­proofed as such, but there is a sub­stan­tial sil­i­cone gas­ket – in Zeiss blue – on the mounts which shields the most vul­ner­a­ble area.

We tested the Loxia lenses on the orig­i­nal Sony A7 body which has the 24.7 megapix­els sen­sor, but there’s no doubt that the op­ti­cal res­o­lu­tion of both mod­els will be more than suf­fi­cient for the 43.6 megapix­els (42 MP ef­fec­tive) of the A7R II.

The Ver­dict The Zeiss Loxia lenses are ar­guably as much about the ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing them as their first-class imag­ing per­for­mance. The man­ual fo­cus­ing and man­ual aper­ture ring de­mand more in­volve­ment than the al­ter­na­tives at these fo­cal lengths, but you also still get the dig­i­talera con­ve­niences of an in­ter­face that en­ables the A7 se­ries MF as­sists, ac­cesses in-cam­era cor­rec­tions and records the lens data (which can be use­ful in post­pro­duc­tion, par­tic­u­larly with RAW files).

There’s no ques­tion these lenses are a de­light to use, but there’s also real plea­sure to be had from their bal­ance of tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence and vis­ual sen­su­al­ity. The 35mm par­tic­u­larly ex­cels in the lat­ter while the 50mm is su­pe­rior in terms of the for­mer, be­ing bet­ter cor­rected all round, but we’re talk­ing about very high stan­dards here so both lenses de­liver com­mand per­for­mances.

If you needed another rea­son to con­sider Sony’s A7 cam­eras, the Loxia lenses present two very com­pelling ar­gu­ments.

Zeiss is al­ready closely in­volved with Sony in the de­sign­ing of the lat­ter’s own lenses, but the Loxia mod­els are en­tirely ‘in house’ de­signs, al­beit man­u­fac­tured in Ja­pan.

Zeiss’s Loxia lenses are tra­di­tional man­ual fo­cus de­signs and have a man­ual aper­ture col­lar which have a ‘de- click’ set­ting for step­less ad­just­ment when shoot­ing video.

All-glass op­tics are easily a match for the new gen­er­a­tion of ul­tra-high res­o­lu­tion ful­l35mm sen­sors.

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