Zeiss has been pretty active lately, releasing a number of solid and much needed prime lenses for the Sony FE mount. The first Loxia line is comprised of two manual focus lenses, the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 and Loxia 50mm f/2 and the second Batis line is even more exciting, with the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 and Batis 85mm f/1.8 lenses, with full autofocus capabilities. While both lines of lenses are superb in quality and build, the Loxia line is designed to be similar to other traditional Zeiss lenses, with manual aperture control and compact size. I had the pleasure of shooting with both Loxia lenses for the past few months using a number of different Sony A7 cameras and I decided to start off my reviews with the 35mm f/2 lens, which I happened to use a bit more than the 50mm f/2 due to the type of photography I have been primarily engaged in.
The Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 follows the classic Biogon optical design, featuring a total of 9 lens elements in 6 groups. Thanks to the relatively short flange distance of the Sony FE mount, the lens was made to be quite compact, measuring only 66mm in height, making it an ideal choice for Sony mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7 II. In this review of the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens, I will provide a thorough analysis of the lens, along with image samples and comparisons to other Sony FE mount lenses.
1) Lens Specifications
- DeClick feature: For video applications, it is possible to ‘declick’ the aperture’s locking mechanism.
- Precise manual focus: Large rotation angle enables precise and smooth focusing.
- Virtually distortion-free optics: Elaborate optical design nearly eliminates distortion.
- High-grade full-metal casing: A precision-engineered full-metal casing, focus and aperture rings made of metal, and a tough front bayonet and filter screw make the lens incredibly durable.
- Full frame compatible: Optimized for film and sensors up to full 35 mm format (24 x 36 mm).
- Mount Type: Sony FE
- Focal Length (35mm format equivalent): 35mm
- Lens construction (elements/groups): 9/6
- Angle of view: 63.02°
- Number of diaphragm blades: 10
- Maximum aperture: f/2
- Minimum aperture: f/22
- Focus range: 0.30 m (11.81″) – ∞
- Weight (approx): 340g
- Dia. x length (approx): 66.0 x 62.1mm
- Filter size: 52mm
2) Lens Handling and Build
Zeiss has always made exceptionally well-made lenses and the Loxia 35mm f/2 is not an exception. With a full metal casing, metal aperture and focus rings, metal filter thread and mount, the lens feels like there is nothing but metal and glass inside. And indeed, it is certainly the case – nothing about the Loxia 35mm f/2 feels cheap and the lens is engineered to last for years. It feels like a solid chunk of high quality glass. Similar to modern Nikkor lenses, the Loxia 35mm f/2 also features a rubber gasket on the lens mount to prevent dust from getting into the camera chamber.
The focusing ring with an engraved distance scale is huge, making up most of the lens. It is very smooth to operate – when going from close focus distance of 0.3m to infinity, the front part of the lens extends a little bit, by approximately 5mm (focusing also moves the rear element of the lens). The focus ring has a hard stop at both close focus and infinity. Sadly, the infinity mark is not representative of true infinity focus – it is about 3mm away.
The aperture ring is also very smooth to operate and clicks in between 1/3 aperture stops. If one desires to have click-less operation of the aperture ring for videography needs, it is possible to use a provided wrench to remove this aperture locking by rotating a small screw on the rear mount of the lens (Zeiss refers to this as a “DeClick” feature). Right between the aperture ring and the blue rubber gasket, there is a thin ring that displays “Loxia 2/35 Ser. Num. Made in Japan”. Similar to other modern Zeiss lenses, the Loxia 35mm f/2 is made by Cosina in Japan.
Weighing 340 grams, the Zeiss 35mm f/2 feels a lot heavier and chunkier than the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8. When mounted on Sony A7 cameras, it balances very nicely in hands. Just like the body of the lens, the hood is also made of metal. The inner part of the hood is covered with a thin layer of black cloth to reduce potential reflections into the lens and to absorb dust and other debris. The hood attaches and detaches easily and securely on the front part of the lens.
3) Manual Focus Operation
Without a doubt, Sony’s implementation of manual focus in its A7-series cameras is one of the best on the market. I have written about this a number of times and I don’t feel redundant in reiterating this again. When you mount the Loxia 35mm f/2 and start turning the focus ring, the cameras immediately detect focus changes and automatically zoom in. This not only makes manual focus operation a breeze to use, but it pretty much eliminates the potential for badly focused images. Unless your subject moves fast and you are shooting wide open, you will always have perfectly focused images with this system. In comparison, the green dot indicator within a viewfinder of a DSLR (which uses phase detection focus operation) is very prone to focus errors. Whether you shoot wide open at f/2 or stopped down, you do not have to worry about focus precision issues.
4) Lens Sharpness, Contrast and Color Rendition
The Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 follows the much regarded classic Biogon optical design that delivers excellent performance and beautiful rendering of images. With a total of 9 optical elements in 6 groups, the lens is designed similarly as the highly praised Zeiss Biogon T* 35mm f/2 ZM. For the front element, Zeiss used special glass with anomalous partial dispersion, which not only helps reduce optical aberrations, but also increases sharpness and contrast. Here is the optical construction of the lens which shows the above-mentioned special element:
Optically, the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 is superb, especially in the center frame when compared to other Sony FE mount lenses. Take a look at the below chart compiled from Imatest results:
Although the lens starts a tad weaker wide open, its sharpness is outstanding at f/4 in the center, reaching record-breaking results. However, there is certainly a down-side to its optical design – due to the pronounced field curvature (especially at close distances), the sharpness of the lens is not evenly distributed across the frame. As you can see from the graph, the mid-frame and the corners definitely suffer as a result. So if you focus at something flat like a wall, you might get really sharp center focus, but the mid-frame and the corners will look less sharp in comparison. As you focus towards infinity, field curvature decreases greatly. And once stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller, the effect of field curvature significantly diminishes and the lens can deliver excellent sharpness across the frame, reaching similar results as the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 (see the comparison section for more details). Zeiss did not optimize the design the Loxia lenses to be ultra-sharp all across – the highlight of these lenses is the beautiful rendering of images, which they accomplish wonderfully.
The second issue is focus shift, which was quite apparent when I was measuring the MTF performance of the lens. The good news is that focus shift for this lens does not matter, since you will most likely be setting aperture first, then focusing. But if you decide to focus once and change aperture, keep in mind that focus shift can result in focused area being slightly moved, resulting in unintended area getting in focus instead.
Just like the original Biogon T* 35mm f/2 ZM, the Loxia 35mm f/2 features 10 aperture blades, which render beautiful bokeh even when stopped down. As you can see from some of the sample images in this review, you can use this lens creatively at f/2 to isolate subjects and the lens will make background highlights pleasant to look at, without any harsh borders.
Due to the relatively short focal length though, the Loxia 35mm f/2 might not be an ideal candidate for portraiture. At close distances, it will surely distort facial features, so you have to be careful about how close you approach your subjects. If your primary subjects are people, I would suggest to take a closer look at the Loxia 50mm f/2 or longer lenses like the new Batis 85mm f/1.8 instead.
Here is a sample portrait of my daughter Jasmine with the Loxia 35mm f/2:
The Loxia 35mm f/2 shows some signs of vignetting at all apertures, but it is not bad by any means, as the below chart suggests:
In fact, unlike the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8, which seems to have pretty significant vignetting even when stopped down, the Loxia 35mm f/2 is quite good at f/2.8 and smaller apertures. Personally, I really like the vignetting characteristics of the Loxia 35mm f/2 – none of the images in this review have vignetting removed. When I applied Lens Profile corrections in Lightroom, images started to look rather flat, so I did not bother with those anymore.
Here is the worst case scenario at infinity focus:
7) Ghosting and Flare
Zeiss applied its latest coating technologies on the Loxia 35mm f/2 to reduce ghosting and flare, so those should not be of big concern, even when including one or more bright sources of light in your frame. If you stop down the lens to a very small aperture like f/16, you will see sunstars like in the below image:
As you can see, the lens handles flare and ghosting fairly well, although at very small apertures you might see random spots and discoloration in parts of the image.
The highlight of the Loxia 35mm f/2 is lack of distortion. Imatest measured pincushion distortion at 0.12%, which is basically non-existent (within range of error). Even the superb Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art has a higher level of distortion in comparison.
9) Chromatic Aberration
Chromatic aberration is well under control and Imatest measured at most over a pixel of CA:
Let’s move on to lens comparisons and see how the lens stacks up against other Sony FE lenses.
10) Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 vs Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 Comparison
Let’s take a look at how the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 compares to the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 lens:
The Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 outperforms the Sony 35mm f/2.8 in the center at f/4. However, its mid-frame and corner performance are a bit disappointing due to field curvature that I talked about earlier. The Sony 35mm f/2.8 is more consistent in performance from f/2.8 to f/4, but stopped down to f/5.6, there is very little difference between the two in sharpness.
11) Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 vs Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS
If you are wondering about how the Loxia 35mm f/2 performs against a high-quality zoom lens like the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS at the same focal length, take a look at the below graphs:
Looking at the above charts, it is pretty clear that the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS cannot optically match the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 at the same focal length in the center. Its mid-frame performance is quite impressive even wide open, although the same cannot be said about the extreme corners. Keep in mind that we are comparing an f/2 lens to an f/4 lens, so there is a two stop difference between the two. While the 16-35mm f/4 has optical stabilization to help reduce camera shake when shooting at very slow shutter speeds, it is now more or less negated with the newer camera bodies like the Sony A7 II, which feature in-body image stabilization (IBIS). Therefore, the Loxia 35mm f/2 is still advantageous not only for low-light situations, but also in its ability to isolate subjects.
It is exciting to see Zeiss pushing a number of great lenses for the Sony FE mount, making the Sony mirrorless system more and more attractive, especially for those who are looking at potentially switching from a DSLR system. Since the debut of the Sony A7 cameras, lack of solid native-mount lenses has been the biggest problem, but with both Sony and Zeiss actively working together, gaps are quickly getting filled with good lens choices.
Although the Loxia 35mm f/2 might not initially look very appealing to all Sony mirrorless camera fans out there due to being limited to manual focus operation and the rather steep MSRP price of $1,299 (while the AF-capable 35mm f/2.8 sells for $800), just holding the two lenses in hands is enough to see a major difference in quality. And while the Loxia 35mm f/2 might not be great in sharpness across the frame like the FE 35mm f/2.8, its optical design is optimized to yield very pleasant-looking images with beautiful colors and bokeh. In addition, while the FE 35mm f/2.8 suffers from heavy vignetting and more pronounced distortion, the Loxia 35mm f/2 is practically distortion-free and its light vignetting is actually pleasant to look at in images. The Sony counterpart simply cannot compete with such optical characteristics, so if you add everything up, it makes sense why there is such a price difference between the two – the Loxia is simply a much better lens.
Overall, I really enjoyed shooting with the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a high-quality 35mm prime for the Sony FE mount. Although it is certainly not a cheap lens to recommend, keep in mind that it is a beautiful, high-end prime lens built to last a lifetime…
13) Where to Buy
B&H is currently selling the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens for $1,299 (as of 05/06/2015).
14) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating