Zeiss 135mm f1.8 ZA vs Zeiss 135mm f2 APO Sonnar

If you’re reading this post, chances are you are interested in the legendary Zeiss 135mm 1.8 ZA or the 135mm 2.0 ZF/ZE. Both these lenses have developed a reputation for being some if not, the best in their focal length and rightfully so.

A few years ago, when Sony acquired Minolta, their plan was to be very competitive in the DSLR market and provide tools which would make you consider switching to Sony from the other players on the field. Part of this strategy was their partnership with world renowned optics manufacturer, Zeiss.  Let’s be clear. Today, most cameras are very capable and render beautiful results. Whether it’s a Nikon, Sony, Canon, Fuji or other brand,  a major component of great image quality is the lens, the eyes of the camera.  As a human, without good vision, you’re just not seeing the world in all its glory without the assistance of glasses or contacts.  The same goes for a camera. The best cameras are nothing without their good eyes or lenses. Sony recognized this and has provided 20/20 capabilities for their cameras by partnering with Zeiss and one of their early offspring from this relationship is the Zeiss 135mm 1.8. A true example of superior optical and build quality over so many of the other manufactures.  I will talk more about this in the future.

The Zeiss 135mm 1.8 is a legend on its own. Rendering beautiful colors, contrast and bokeh that puts the competition to shame. This lens soon became a classic and the envy of many using other systems. Sony hit a home run. The ugly truth is that the fast Nikon and Canon 135 are so low in contrast, that their use is really limited to certain applications where the soft dull look is being pushed. Yes, you can post process the heck out pictures taken with a Nikon or Canon to simulate the Zeiss rendering. But, you should not have to do so with any $1000.00 + lens.  Sony nailed it.

Fast forward a few years and now we see the Zeiss 135mm f2 APO for the Nikon and Canon cameras.  This time its manual focus and insanely sharp while retaining that beautiful bokeh.  Another legend is born and has become a classic while still in production.

Both the 1.8 and 2.0 versions of the 135 are a must have for the photographer simply seeking the best. However, we now have a dilemma on our hands thanks to Sony.  Behold. I give you the Sony A7 and other Sony mirror less cameras; the new technology that is taking photography by storm. Compact, brilliant, full of features and small, these new cameras are the future for most consumers and pros.  A few more generations and the dinosaurs of big Nikon and Canon DSLR’s will be an extremely small percentage of the market and relics of the past. Even for pros! But we are not there yet. So I am not dismissing them at this point.

Our dilemma is not a bad one.  It’s a choice between an excellent lens and an excellent lens.  Which 135 should I get for my A7 or other mirror less camera?  Are they comparable to each other?  Is one sharper than the other?  Will one render better bokeh than the other? My head is about to explode with these stressful decisions I have to make. So much is on the line! Dear God, I could end up with an outstanding lens or I could end up with an outstanding lens! What should I do?  Can someone tell me the differences without getting all technical and scientific? Well, yes. I can. Even the great Carnac can.

Zeiss 135mm f1.8

Here are few obvious things to keep in mind between the two lenses.  One is auto focus the other manual focus. One has an aperture ring the other does not. One is a native Sony mount the other is a Nikon or Canon mount.  One is f1.8 the other is f2.0. (Whoopie Doo!)  One is apochromatic the other one isn’t.  Aha! or not! None of these differences really make one much better than the other. However, the auto focus could be a deciding factor for many.  In either case, both lenses would require an adapter to be used with the mirror less A7 or A6000. The Sony (LA-EA4) adapter for the ZA lens would transfer all data about the lens and allow auto focus. This could be an advantage for some.  A third party adapter for the ZF/ZE lens would just let you mount the lens on the camera without auto focus or technical data. However, manually focusing this lens is a breeze with the use of focus peak in the camera which outlines the focused area in the electronic viewfinder. A real Godsend to us users of manual focus lenses.  But in the end, both lenses render very similar images with a slight advantage going to the f2 APO for better correction of the lateral chromatic aberrations.  For me the differences are marginal. I chose to keep the 1.8 for its auto focus capabilities and the ability to use it on the A99 or A900 as well as the A7 or A6000. Basically kill two birds with one stone.

Zeiss 135mm f2 APO

 

Zeiss 135mm 1.8
Zeiss 135mm 1.8

 

The following are sample images showing the subtle differences between the two lenses.

ZA mounted on A99 , ZF mounted on A7. Both at ISO 200.

I purposely placed the watch under a bright flood light to help produce fringing.

The Quasi Test Scene
135mm 1.8 at f2.0
135mm f2 at f2.0

 

135mm 1.8 at f4
135mm f2 at f4

 

As you can see from the above photos, the f2 APO delivers slightly better CA correction than the 1.8. You can see this on the bezel around the watch.  However, for me, it was not worth giving up the auto focus of the 1.8 and the ability to use it on a ZA mount camera.

Now for some random samples from both lenses.

Zeiss 135mm 1.8 and Sony A6000
Zeiss 135mm 1.8 and Sony A6000

 

Zeiss 135mm f2 APO

Zeiss 135mm f2 APO

 

Zeiss 135mm f2 APO
Zeiss 135mm f2 APO

 

Zeiss 135mm 1.8
Zeiss 135mm 1.8
Zeiss 135mm f2 APO with Nikon F6
Zeiss 135mm f2 APO with Nikon F6
Zeiss 135mm f2 APO with Nikon F6
Zeiss 135mm f2 APO with Nikon F6

 

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 ZA Gallery

 

Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO Gallery

4 Comments on Zeiss 135mm f1.8 ZA vs Zeiss 135mm f2 APO Sonnar

  1. It’s great that we have lenses like the 135mm F2 which are now using APO glass to correct CA. However, as I see it the problem without it is minimal. With sofware correction, it’s just to easy to correct or have LR automatically correct for you in PP. Far more of a concern then is versatility of the lens. The 135mm 1.8 I still would contend is the all around champ. Far more versatile and pretty much imperceptible difference with the F2. Both Zeiss, superb contrast- excellent sharpness. Get the AF and take further advantage of all of that is what I would say.

  2. Thanks for the comparison, looking to the right the focus field seems to be different on the two lenses the APO does have mild positive field curvature and the ZA looks to be almost completely flat.

  3. Hi,
    great review, thanks for the effort. What really surprises me is, that the a6000 shot looks very similar to the a7… can you confirm that with other shots?

    br
    Mark

  4. Nice work. I will bye this lens immediately when available in fe-mount. I fear we will see a A7t, A7u, A7v, A7w, A7x, A7y,A7z before Sony provides any prime lens equal or above 100mm (100 + 135 + 180).
    Cheers

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