Zeiss 55mm 1.8 FE or 50mm 1.4 ZA for the A7

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I have been slowly migrating all my gear from Nikon to Sony while attempting to retain the advantages of using Zeiss glass. I have noticed that with old age comes a problem. As I have gotten older, I am having a difficult time focusing manually. Having the luxury of auto focus Zeiss lenses on a digital camera is what motivated me to make the switch.

For now, I have decided on the A7 while I build up an inventory of Zeiss glass for the alpha cameras. Since I mainly do street work, I thought the A7 would be the best choice for my needs. However, I am leaving the door open for the A99 or it’s successor. Leaving that door open has presented me with a dilemma. Do I get the highly coveted 55mm 1.8 FE, the 50mm 1.4 ZA or do I get both? Since the A7 can accommodate the ZA lens with the LA-EA4 adapter it seemed like a no brainer to go with the 50mm 1.4 ZA. This way the lens can be used on both bodies. However, I heard so many good things about the 55 FE that I wanted that one as well. But is it that much better than the 50 to justify owning both? Well, I will let you decide for yourself. This little comparison of the two was done to see if one is really that much better than the other and help you decide which lens to buy.

So here we go. These are tripod mounted using auto fous on the A7.

The first scene here is what was photographed. It shows both lenses delivering beautiful bokeh wide open which would make any Canon or Nikon user jealous.

 

Although the angle and cropping is off a little between the two sets of images, it will give you a general idea of how these two lenses stack up against each other.

 

The overall scene.
The overall scene.

 

100% Crop from the 50 at f1.4
100% Crop from the 50 at f1.4
100% Crop from the 55 at f1.8
100% Crop from the 55 at f1.8

 

100% Crop from the 50 at f2.8
100% Crop from the 50 at f2.8

 

100% Crop from the 55 at f2.8
100% Crop from the 55 at f2.8

 

There is no sense in continuing with smaller aperture samples since we already know both these lenses perform extremely well.

Based on the above samples, I ended up selling the 55 1.8 to have the 50 serve as a lens for both A7 and A99 bodies. I find the differences between the two marginal with a slight advantage to the 55 in sharpness/Contrast and an even larger advantage to the 50 for bokeh.

9 Comments on Zeiss 55mm 1.8 FE or 50mm 1.4 ZA for the A7

  1. Here is the gold standard for macro work like watches, It is the Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm. I mounted it on a Nex -5 body. SIngle source 5000K lamp. Mounted on a carbon Gitzo tripod. Original shot 14MP and here reduced to 1800 x 1000. Colors embedded in the file. Size reduction using GKON Lanczos 3 algorithm. The picture is very true to life. Notice there is no hint of color fringes at f8.

  2. Well, I have now tested five lenses on several cameras, and what I have learned is first: my Breitling needs cleaning! 2nd: some cameras are good for taking pictures of watches and some are good for landscapes and portraits. If you want to make a watch picture you need a lens designed for taking pictures of watches. You are not going to make a good watch picture with a lens that is good for portraits – the lens designer has to compromise some things to emphasize others. There is no such thing as a good all around lens – that’s why we carry so many around with us, not only different FL but even several 50mm lenses for different effects. Lens performance can’t be evaluated from one test -we all know this. I remember Leitz engineers saying that test charts were pretty much useless for measuring Leica lens performance. Even MTF testing was not much use, as each color needs to be evaluated, and no-one takes the time to measure this. SO, I was not surprised to see quite different pictures made of my Breitling watch with various Leica and Nikon lenses. Some pictures looked like the real thing, some like a magazine ad of the watch. I found that I liked some of the renderings and others not so much.
    I shot RAW and TIFF, from very close up to 4 feet away. Some lenses just won’t focus close (especially Leitz which hardly ever focus closer than 3 feet due to the aberrations that are generated any closer. On the other hand my Micro-Nikkor gets right up close and is designed to do macro work. Strangely one of my favorite pictures was made with a Summicron lens that could focus down to less than a foot, on an old 4MP camera.
    I finally decided that no one 50mm lens is going to be an all round useful device (that’s why I carry a few Nikons and Leicas with me. I would never do a portrait of a female with anything other than the 50mm Summarit on the NEX cameras. For technical work where I need DOF and sharp focus, I use the 55mm Micro Nikkor. You see, for portaits of women the lens needs to have high resolution and low contrast, so that fine hair looks like fine hair, and the wrinkles fade away. And skin tones look healthy. If you use a high contrast lens, the sitter won’t like the shot, and you can’t fix the picture in post processing unless you are willing to dodge and burn and do selective softening, which I sometimes have to do, but it’s not a good use of my time.
    So, the only way to evaluate a lens is to carry it around with you for a month or so and shoot everything you are interested in, then compare the quality of the work with what you have done with other lenses. And I don’t mean technical quality only but how have you approached the subject with one lens over another, and how do the colors look compared to the original, and how does the picture make you feel. Some lenses I use make mouth watering pictures.
    And of course, there is no color in the world, it’s all made by your brain. In the camera the color information is limited to red green and blue (in most cameras) which is then converted to a gray scale image in the camera, and from this gray scale image the computer creates a ‘color’ picture. What you are looking at on the monitor are flashes of red green and blue that the eye responds to and the brain makes yellow magenta and orange. Hopefully the lens you chose treated all the wavelengths in the scene equally, so that you at least start out with good data – some lenses don’t.

    If I can ever discover how to post pictures in this blog, I will give some examples.

    Cheers

  3. Decided to do some similar tests with my old Leica glass. I now see how difficult it is to set up the watch and light it properly. I have spent two hours so far and one of my studio lamps exploded and made smoke. I tested a 35mm SUmmicron, a 50mm Summarit, a 28mm Elmarit and a 50mm Nikkor RF lens. None of them come close to your Zeiss lenses when wide open. The 28mm won’t focus close enough. The best result so far is the Summarit 50 1.5 at f2.8. Colors are perfect. No CA even on OOF areas. Needs a lot of PP to bring up the contrast. Like to post the picture here but how to do it?
    Looks like I need a new 50mm lens!

  4. I can see the secondary chromatic abberation (green fringing and purple fringinging on OOF high contrast edges – such as the watch band.) This is because the lens is not truly apochromatic. It may be that the autofocus differs from shot to shot. Green fringes are behind the focal plane and purple in front of it. In the second shot the focus is better. It looks as if the date numerals are slightly behind the focal plane, and that the hands are about on the focal plane. AT f 2.8 the DOF is better and the fringing is less. I think the 50 at f2.8 is angled towards us at the lower edge and is slightly OOF. If you want to do comparisons of lenses you will have to control the environment better. Autofocus is not very precise. But if the intent is to draw comments from experiences with the lenses, it seems to have achieved its object.
    Cheers.

  5. I selected the 55/1.8 over the 50/1.4 to avoid another clunky Sony adapter. The 55 (and its sister, the 35) is a superb lens with incredible sharpness throughout its aperture range. The slight extra advantage of 1.4 would have been nice but the weight and compactness more than make up for it.

  6. Interesting philosophical approach. I agree with you that the difference is marginal but my question is ‘do really want to choose the non-native 50mm to be used with a clunky adaptor over the ‘made-for’ 55, part of a system which will clearly eclipse large bodied DSLR’s’?
    It’s quite clear where photography is heading, it’s clear where Sony are pouring their recourses and attention into and it ain’t big-bodies cameras.
    Also, does the “better bokeh” really make that much difference to whether or not your going to make a brilliant photograph?
    I think you know which lens I would’ve kept and in fact did keep when I sold off all my big-bodied stuff. I kept two lenses from Sony, the 35 & 55 FE!

    Best of luck. Amp.

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