Zeiss Loxia 50/2 review
Zeiss brought to the market new line of lenses – Zeiss Loxia. Loxia lenses are specially developed for Sony E mount full frame cameras, such as Sony A7, A7r and A7s recently. Lenses could be of course used on any Sony E mount camera, including NEX and later APS-C models without limitation.
Zeiss Loxia are manual operated lenses with electronic transmission of data to the camera where they are recorded in EXIF. That is fairly unique in the recent lens offer for E-mounts, because all previously available lenses in the native E-mount where either fully manual without electronic contacts (Samyang e.g.) or fully electronic, where manual focus is so called – by wire, electronically coupled with the AF motor.
To be precise, there are on the market option to use Canon EF lenses in a full manual focus mode (with smart EF/E mount adapters), but aperture is controlled electronically only, or to use manual aperture but with focus by wire (Smart Contax G to E mount adapter). In both cases, EXIF will record most important data.
First two Zeiss Loxia lenses are Loxia 50/2 Planar and 35/2 Biogon. Today, I will write about first of them – Zeiss Loxia 50/2.
Lens cost around 750 EUR in Europe and comes in the nice case that is much bigger than one would expect. Inside, there are lens, lens hood, user instructions, warranty (3 years!) card, certificate of QC with a hand signature of the controller and de-clicking tool. De-what? Don’t worry, I will come to that soon.
On the images bellow, you can see what you will get from your hard earned money before and after you put it on the Sony A7 camera.
Getting back to this de-clicking thing… Loxia features fully manual aperture as was written above. Aperture ring will nicely click every 1/3rd of the f-stop, and proper aperture value will be shown (and recorded) in the camera. If you are however video guy, you know that clicking aperture is a no, no, when you want to fluently adjust your exposure within recorded clip. Most video enthusiasts (professionals usually have enough money to buy specialized, click-less aperture lenses), try different things to de-click their favorite lenses. Zeiss, being one of the most experienced cinema lenses producer, (I rarely shot with their lenses though, preferring old Cooke S2 ones, but I am weird guy anyway), came to meet video enthusiasts needs and brought user manageable de-clicking lens feature.
All you need to de-click your Loxia is to turn the little switcher on the mount side of the lens, using supplied special Zeiss De-clicking tool.
From there on, you will have perfectly smooth, click less aperture, with reporting aperture values to the camera and you are free to start your Hollywood or YouTube shining carrier.
If you lose this very special Z branded tool, you can either order 5 new ones for friendly 28 USD + shipping, or you can use any 0.5 USD micro screw driver, from a local DIY store. In the second case, be aware that you won’t have that special feeling of doing the right thing with the right tool, but you might have even better feeling by saving 27.5 USD + shipping.
Zeiss Loxia, as any other Zeiss lens that I ever had in my hand (there were more than two I swear) is beautifully made. In Japan. Presumable in Cosina factory.
Loxia introduces however some design innovations, that are supposed to make it look more… modern?
I don’t know, personally I find this design nice, but not outstanding, and my son and assistant Max, commented it differently – what an ugly lens. I am sure however that owners of the lens would love it, while others might remain rather indifferent. It also looks somewhat better on the images than in reality IMO.
Lens is not small as you would hope for, considering that it doesn’t have either AF nor optical stabilization, but if you look at the exit pupil, it has quite large diameter and there is probably good reason for it. On the other hand, it is also not as big as Sony Zeiss FE 55/1.8, that is again much smaller than Zeiss Otus 55/1.4. Sometimes, I have a feeling that resulting size of the lens is somewhere at the end of lens designers priority list.
Loxia is a lens made for manual focusing and aperture control though, and in that respect, its size is almost perfect. You might like those micro Leica RF gems, but when it comes to handling, it is not always easy to grab the right ring. Loxia 50/2 handles superbly, and that matters to me more, that absolute size.
Barrel is made of a high grade aluminum alloy and overall lens is not too heavy. It balances very nice on A7 camera and most shouldn’t have any problems carrying camera with this lens on the neck strap for few hours. (Here is a little tip for those who still find it heavy, or have neck issues. When you start to feel it on your neck, pick-up the closest staircase and run it up and down few times. When you start feeling terrible pain in the legs, you’ll usually forget about the neck one. Easy no? Neck pain killer tip works also if you gets hungry, thirsty or if you take your mother in low on the photo walk, but last one I strongly don’t recommend.)
Lens hood, deep as my empty pockets (very deep), is also metal, but unlike Sony SEL 135/1.8 ZA hood (that is probably heavier than lens itself), this is modern alloy and very light. I couldn’t see any mark on the hood to align for mounting, but I just turned around until it clicked in the position. I needed to push it a bit more than expected to lock-on, but that might wear with use.
While Zeiss doesn’t claim anything about lens being weather sealed, it does have a rubber gasket at the mount (that blue ring on the pictures), so at least you can expect rain not to reach inside camera from the lens side. That is nice touch from Zeiss, and I hope they won’t charge 28 USD + shipping for 5 replacements when/if needed. (If so, we’ll have to work out something with hair rubber bands, as they look pretty much the same).
What to say at the end? Zeiss Loxia 50/2 is perfectly assembled lens from the top class metal and glass, with a well dampened focus ring, nice decisive clicking aperture ring (or if DeClicked – very smooth to rotate), design that is slightly controversial but many will like it, and without AF or OSS, you can expect long and reliable functionality.
Optical design and specification:
To read more about Zeiss Loxia history (short) and idea behind, you might want to check my previous article – http://www.verybiglobo.com/photokina-2014-zeiss-loxia-story/, in which you will find statements of Mr. Andreas Bogenschütz and Mr. Hubert Nasse regarding Loxia design.
If you don’t want to read Loxia story, in short – Loxia lenses are based on their ZM alternatives Planar (50/2) and Biogon (35/2), with addition of corrective optics in order to cope with Sony E mount sensor protective glass and refractions that it cause. To make it clear, Loxia 50/2 is based on the Planar design with 6 elements in 4 groups.
From outside, Loxia 50/2 looks very different though than ZM lens (first on the left), it is bigger, wider and heavier. Not by much, but noticeable so.
|Focal length||50 mm|
|Aperture range||f/2.0 – f/22|
|Focusing range||0.45 m – ∞|
|Number of elements/groups||6 / 4|
|Angular field, diag./horiz./vert.||46.78° / 39.38° / 26.70°|
|Coverage at close range||255.1 mm x 168.3 mm|
|Filter thread||M52 x 0.75|
|Dimensions (with caps)||66.2 mm|
|Diameter of focusing ring||62.1 mm|
You might notice that Zeiss rarely use in the specifications – naming and number of special glass elements. No ED, UED, AS, no nano, crypto, wtf coatings, no marketing bullocks, jut carefully guarded optical excellence. I like that 🙂
Zeiss Loxia, as was already mentioned, are manual lenses made exclusively for the Sony E mount cameras with an emphasis on Sony A7 – full frame cameras. As Zeiss wrote on their web page, the idea is to bring the unique experience of a fully manual controlled lens to the owners of modern full frame Sony E mount camera users (A7/A7r/A7s), while using most of the goodies that electronics in the body has to offer. Therefore, while focus is fully manual, information of the focus plane distance are transmitted to the camera and can be used by TTL systems e.g. for proper exposure calculation. While setting aperture is manual and you have to turn the ring on the lens, all values are properly recorded by the camera, which also helps to use full potential of exposure algorithms. Finally, you will always have lens and exposure settings recorded in the EXIF, which helps in the image management and pp.
Aperture ring has clicks at every 1/3rd of the f-stop and proper values are reported. If you de-click the aperture ring, it will move smoothly, allowing you to seamlessly correct exposure while panning with the camera from your cute neighbor bathroom window, to the busy street bellow, when your wife suddenly enters the room. Of course, you can find many other possible usage of the great de-clicking feature.
The main feature of the Loxia is certainly manual focus. In that terms Loxia 50/2 works as any other top class MF lens, with focus ring well dampened and silky smooth (wow) that can be moved with a finger tip.
I can’t describe well enough, how huge difference is to manual focus Loxia 50/2 in comparison to Sony FE 55/1.8 ZA e.g. which uses focus by wire instead. Ok, let me try this – step on the half of the basketball court, close your eyes, turn 5 times full circle, and try to hit the basket in front of you. That’s how easy and precise to achieve critical focus is with my FE 55/1.8 ZA. Now, ask Cobe Bryant if he would be so kind to come under the basket and put the ball in it. That’s how easy is to manual focus with Loxia 50/2. (If you know Cobe of course).
To go from MFD (minimum focus distance) to infinity, you’ll enjoy the turn of 180°. (If you want it other-way around, it will still remain 180°)
Nice thing (for some) is, that lens will actually activate manual focus assistant, enlarging the image when you move the focus ring. I am not big fan of it (weird guy, remember?), but you can always disable it in the camera menu.
Overall, using Loxia for few days, was a quite new experience for me, combining best from both – classical and digital photography. If you’ll like how lens renders, need/like 50mm focal length and know that “real” art photographers uses only manual focus (I am kidding, they don’t use focus at all, because their images have to be all out of focus to be recognized as the art), then my friends, Loxia is your destiny…
Notice that instead of optical performance or IQ, I choose to call this chapter – rendering. Why? Because I like how it sounds.
Apart of that, I decided to stop pretending that I will ever be able to say that one lens is better overall than other lens. In this blog, I would rather choose the path to try to describe some specifics about lens rendering, instead of making wrestling stars.
For those who still believe that MTF can tell them everything they need to know about lens performance, (and those who understood DxO lens scoring system, (btw you are genius my friends)), instead of trying to calculate my own mtf figures, I would borrow them from official Zeiss site. Unlike some other producers, Zeiss mtf figures are not theoretical but tested in practice. When I spoke with Mr. Hubert Nasse, who is in charge of testing most if not all Zeiss lenses, he told me that he usually spend 3-4 days testing one lens, and that he collect hundred of pages with data, before he make final conclusion. That sounds quite fair to me, and I feel confident looking at his results 🙂
From this MTF chart, it seems that there is slight contrast loss in the image edges in sagittal plane, which means that while vertical lines looks sharp, horizontal lines in the same image section are less defined, looking blurred.
In practice, I haven’t seen such a behavior pronounced, but there are two things to keep in mind. While Planar is design which usually results in a very constant performance within wide range of magnification ratios (different focus plane distances), there are still some variation in the performance, and second – such a behavior of sagittal contrast loss toward image edges is not visible in every image you take. Quite in contrary, it’s not easy to see it in a real life 3D images, but it is specific that participate in the OOF rendering to certain extent. (Famous “bokeh”, if you don’t know what am I talking about).
Light fall off and distortion were also measured by Zeiss here:
Again, in the real life I haven’t noticed vignetting being a problem at wide apertures, but despite Zeiss talk about virtually distortion free performance, I still can see some barrel distortion at short focus plane distance. (Not a problem at all, at medium and infinity).
Before you accuse me that I was lazy and that I only copy material from Zeiss web, take a look at tons of work that I have done, trying to satisfy pixel peepers, by comparing 100% crops (sorry pixel fanatics, 200% and 400% crops will not come soon, but you can use microscope to blag it), of my sexy ISO 12333 chart. (Don’t get too excited, it’s dressed though!)
To make it more spicy, I added crops from original Zeiss Planar 50/2 ZM, young but already legendary Sony FE 55/1.8 ZA and of course Russian Helios 44-2.
Sorry, the last one is Zeiss Loxia 50/2!
Helios is in a league of itself.
Here are crops from respective zones of ISO 12333 chart for your better orientation. (Pixel peepers could write me for the GPS coordinates of the respective zone, and I promise not to send them anything).
From this test, I can see that best performer across the frame at apertures bellow f/5.6 is Sony FE 55/1.8 ZA, with sharpest edges from the three, followed by Loxia 50/2 and with Planar 50/2 ZM not so far behind. Center sharpness looks almost indistinguishable. However from f/5.6 and smaller, Loxia seems to edge Sony FE at all zones with Planar ZM coming close too. In practice, I would say, that from f/5.6 you will have hard time to tell them apart based on the chart image alone.
CA seems to be well controlled by all three lenses, with original Planar 50 showing a bit more, but that should be expected, if you have read my previous article – Loxia Story.
BTW, if you wander why have I used Sony A7 instead of A7r, I might sound boring, but Sony A7r suffers from shutter shock induced blur, that I am not able to control, and that despite my best efforts, seems to influence critical results in many occasions.
I tried hard, but each of my efforts ended with different and inconsistent results, like this one e.g.
Please don’t shoot me for mentioning it again. I receive quite a few emails and pms asking why I don’t use Sony A7r for lens tests. I simply can’t trust that camera for this type of work, and while for most normal shots, one will hardly notice any problems, when I am trying to make equal conditions for every shot, I can’t rely on A7r, that the result won’t be affected by some motion blur.
This is a bit tricky comparison because one would expect to use such a lens in a variety of situations and set-ups.
50mm is so called normal focal length, and that usually means – you can use it for everything, which for the time and budget reasons isn’t really possible.
If you ever tried to make a comparison of three and more lenses in the field, using one body, while keep smiling toward passing officers in order to convince them that you are only tourist and not professional, trying to earn some money by writing useless reviews, you’ll know why I said – it’s a bit tricky. Thanks a God and my dear wife, who gifted me with my son Max (and other two), because Max really helped me a lot with the images for this review. He was holding reflection board, collecting lens caps and covers that I lost running around, holding my lenses and cameras while I was trying to figure out which lens I already did and which I still have to mount on camera, and holding dress of our nice model, while she was changing wardrobe in the park.
Wait, that last wasn’t that hard, I could do it too!!!!
Every serious user review, should have at least one wall shot. I can’t change that because it is tradition. But I tried to find nice wall at least. Such a wall is kind of helpful to see how lenses perform at medium distances. The only problem is, that I don’t have my lasers and mirrors to perfectly align lens in parallel plane against the wall. That’s why I won’t show you wide open shots, but at least slightly closed to increase theoretical DOF.
Here are comparable shots at f/2.8 between Sony FE 55/1.8 ZA and Zeiss Loxia 50/2. Fresh, from my Lightroom 5.whatever…
You might notice, that in the center, Loxia seems to have very slight edge (could be due to the more precise focus), but on the edges, Sony FE 55/1.8 ZA is visibly better.
You can test flaring in the studio too, but I believe it is better idea to do so outdoor. Unfortunately, till I set up everything , sun went almost fully down, so I didn’t have time to open fully apertures. Here are three shots to compare:
In the first two shots of Loxia, you can see some flaring artifacts, green in the first and red and green in the second. Sony FE 55/1.8 ZA doesn’t show any, but it is also slightly more open for this shot. In any case, I don’t think that flaring resistance will be problem with any of those lenses.
Now, when we have all those formalities behind – mtf-wtf, wall etc., let’s see how the lenses perform when used as intended…
Situation 1. Tourist in the Prague!
“Hey dear, look at this beautiful church, let me take photo of it!”
“It’s gorgeous dear, make rather two! Our neighbor would love it, when we show them all 2000 shots we already have.”
It is not easy to notice, but you might trust me on that – Sony FE 55/1.8 ZA tends to boost reds more, while Loxia incline slightly to the greenish zone. Hard to say, which is better, it will depend on the situation.
What we can see however is great contrast on both images. Is that Zeiss T* coating or what!?
Situation 2. Tourists in Prague (long time together)
” Honey, come her, there is magnificent view to the city. Prepare your camera, while I take one panorama with my smart phone!”
” That’s marvelous dear, let me take a shot of you in front! Move little bit back, little bit more, just a tiny bit more…”
At f/16 almost every lens will have good sharpness across the frame. But diffraction will start to affect resolution. In that respect, Loxia seems to deal with diffraction slightly better, but both lenses are usable up to f/16 and even f/22 can be used in extreme situations. On Sony A7 at least.
Situation 3. People architect in the communist era, decided to do something monumental in that ugly old city.
Better sharpness is at f/8 though. f/8, is despite Zeiss mtf charts, Loxias sweet spot on Sony A7. At least in my experience.
Situation 4. Let’s ask nice model to pose, maybe she can help to increase site traffic?
Max, thank you for your help. Without it, I would never be able to put those comparative images together. You’re my boy! Literally. Well… I hope so.
Lisa, (models name) thank you too. You had been very professional and you are lovely and talented person.
Following images were all post processed from RAW files to the extent that I would normally do (more or less). In general, it was mainly some skin blemishes removal, skin smoothing, slight color correction and reasonable selective sharpening.
The idea behind those images was not to see which lens is technically better, but which one has more interesting character. That is, I admit very personnel and thus I will not comment on it.
You can pick the image you like the most, try to find out why you like it the most and then look with which lens it was taken.
Please, focus on the lens!
2. This is Max 🙂
While you can see OOF rendering in the daylight on the images above and you can compare it among lenses, for the full picture, let me show you highlights at apertures from f/2 to f/4 in the night shot where it is easier to follow their shaping and structure.
As you can see, highlights gets cats eye shaped toward edges which indicate slight coma, and while we can see aperture shape in the middle of the frame at f/2.2, it is still not visible at the edges. Highlight outlines are there, but not very pronounced and overall, looking at day and night images I would call bokeh rather smooth to neutral with a tendency for swirly edges in some situations.
Stopped down, 10 blades aperture makes nice stars from light sources
Zeiss Loxia 50/2 is very interesting lens, especially if you like manual focusing lenses. The experience in focusing Loxia is very special and very enjoyable.
Focus is one of the powerful creative tools in photography and Loxia will let you explore that part of the photography art with Zeiss excellence.
Build to highest standards, Loxia 50/2 is not too big or heavy and it balances great on Sony A7 cameras.
Optically, Loxia is very good standard focal length lens, with rather classical Planar rendering. Lens has similar performance at most focus plane distances, making it quite universal for many purposes.
Distortion is barrel but minimal and field irrelevant, while CA is very well controlled, but you can see some fringing at high contrast areas.
Bokeh is neutral with swirly tendency in some situations.
Zeiss Loxia 50/2 improves on the Zeiss Plannar 50/2 ZM especially in the corners, but it’s not as big difference in a real life as I expected, looking at the samples presented by Zeiss on the Photokina (bellow).
Maybe I have great copy of Planar ZM or maybe crops above are from the far edges of the image, which would correspond somewhat to my findings.
If I have to say how it compares against FE 55/1.8, I would say that it is quite different lens in every aspect.
While Sony FE 55/1.8 is optimized for high resolution and contrast at wide apertures, Loxia is rather oriented to smooth rendering wide open. But stopped down, to f/5.6 and smaller, Loxia probably even surpass Sonnar FE 55 in terms of sharpness. In fact, you have too lenses in one – nice portrait lens where due to some coma and bit of SA, you can notice characteristic bokeh and unique subject isolation, while stopped down it is great multipurpose and landscape lens.
At the end, I decided to part with my Loxia 50/2. Not because it is a bad lens, but because I am not a big fan of Planar design in general.
I have soft spot for Sonnars and only Planar based designs that I love are Biotars. I like Planars for landscape though, but interestingly enough, I use either 35mm or 60mm for landscape in the standard range, somehow always jumping over 50mm. And with Sony FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS and many other primes that I have for landscape, I don’t see many reasons to keep this Loxia. If I would at least sometimes shot video, it will make much more sense to keep it though.
However, I believe (from my short experience on Photokina) that Loxia 35/2 will be my lens of choice for Sony E mount at that FL. I never really liked FE 35/2.8 and from few test shots that I made on Photokina, Loxia Biogon seems to be my next 35mm lens…
It will be great if Zeiss can send me 35/2 for testing asap. 🙂
Thanks for looking, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask here or in the forum section at dedicated Loxia thread – http://www.verybiglobo.com/forums/topic/zeiss-loxia-50mm-f2/
Please help support this page and upcomming reviews and buy through affiliate links, with no extra cost for you:
Buy on BHPhoto: Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* Lens for Sony E Mount
To help this page survive, your donation will be highly appreciated.