A day with the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZA

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
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You will see endless reviews and samples of new Zeiss lenses from Sony as they start to trickle into the market place.  We will read how one reviewer thinks it’s greatest thing since sliced bread while another thinks it’s overpriced. Let’s face it. Most of the reviews you will encounter on the web will be technical, boring and full of data the typical person viewing a photograph will not notice. Who gives a hairy rat’s ass if the corners are soft when you shoot a lens wide open? It’s supposed to be unless you are shooting a brick wall! And who the hell shoots brick walls anyway?  Most photographic situations are 3 dimensional. This means that your focus point sits at a certain plane within the frame while everything else is in front or behind your focus point. Of course things are going to be soft at the corners when shooting with a large aperture lens. Needless to say, if you are stopping down you would expect good performance at the edges.

Now that we are past my little rant about other reviews, let’s move on. While this short narrative may mention some of the above hot topics of the day, I will mainly focus on what 1.4 can deliver as opposed to a 2.8 or 4.

 

First Impressions

First things first and to the point!  Build quality is superb! It really is exceptional. Feel and focus is just perfect. Superfast auto focus plus smooth and tight manual focus yields a wonderful shooting experience. The aperture ring with de-click option is also great. I find myself adjusting the aperture with the ring rather than the dial. I just feel more connected and in control when doing it that way. I know the lens looks large and heavy but it is really well balanced and comfortable to use.  Not that heavy at all. I have absolutely no issues with the size. It bridges the gap between too small or too large.

 

First disappointment

I am disappointed that a lens of this price is manufactured in Thailand. Nothing against the Thai people but one typically expects high priced high quality photographic items to be manufactured in Japan or Germany.  The main reason for manufacturing in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, China or Indonesia is for controlling cost. However, the lower cost of manufacturing in these countries is rarely passed on to the consumer.

 

Color

Color is typical of a Zeiss design, this lens renders beautiful high contrast images with amazing colors. No complaints there whatsoever you are getting exactly what you are expecting to see. Although, converting to B&W is also a fun task when the lens delivers on contrast. It just makes B&W pop.

 

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4

 

Why should I get it

So why spend the extra dollars on this lens instead of just buying the 2.8 FE or the 2.0 Loxia? Three word. Bokeh, Rendering and Pop! Although the other two lenses are beautiful and yield wonderful images, the 1.4 delivers a level of subject separation and bokeh that the other two simply cannot. That 3D look you get with longer lenses really carries over to the 35mm 1.4. If you hit the right aperture, your subject seems to float just right in the frame to render that 3D look. Throw in some extra bright sunny day colors and it becomes magical. You simply cannot get these results with a 2.8 or F4 lens.  Just look at the image of Freya photographed at F1.4 which clearly shows what 1.4 can deliver.

She was kind enough to let me take her photo before she licked the lens.

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4. You cannot get this shallow DOF with a 2.8 or F4 lens

 

This particular photo has a little blur due to movement and shutter speed. But it illustrates the wonderful colors and contrast can be achieved with this lens.

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
DSC01262
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II

 

Is it Sharp

Sharpness on focus point when shooting the lens wide open is stunning. Actually it is ridiculously sharp. I have not seen any other 35 with razor sharp high contrast like this new Distagon. No ghosting, blooming, bleeding or any kind of visible image degradation is seen. The detail is simply amazing considering you are shooting at the weakest point of the lens.

Find the focus point on the can and see what I mean.

 

DSC01206

 

My daughter with a horrible cold always willing to let me take a picture with a new lens. Shot wide open at F1.4
100% Crop of the eyes which is where the camera focused.

 

The Bar Tender was kind enough to let me photograph her as I sat down for a drink tonight.

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4

 

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4

 

Summary

Forget about the stealthy approach on your subject if you are into street photography. No can do with this beast. It is simply too large to hide under your vest or pass by as a casual tourist snapping pictures. The lens will bring attention to you without a doubt. If you seek the stealth approach, I recommend the Loxia or the 2.8 FE. Those two lenses are much more suited for street photography. However, if you can engage with your subject directly or simply want the sharpest 35mm image at 1.4 with the most beautiful color, bokeh and contrast, then the 1.4 is what you need.

I do not consider the size to be a problem and the image result are very pleasing to the eye. As mentioned before, I am disappointed that this high priced lens is manufactured in Thailand instead of Japan. But this is just a personal feeling which does not reflect on the quality of the lens. If a month from now it starts falling apart then I can say I told you so.

 

And some where just alone ….

Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 ZA on Sony A7II @ F1.4

 

Earl morning light

 

 

DSC01248-2
100% Crop from above

 

Zeiss 35mm F.14 ZA ( Sony FE mount )

10 Comments on A day with the Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 ZA

  1. A great LowCost Alternative to this 35/1.4 ZA Zeiss, but not into native eMount: Samyang 35/1.4 AS UMC, useable also at F/1.4, but MF only, also one would need a Nikon F or Canon EF to eMount Adapter (I highly recommand K&F Concept Adapters, way cheap, and Quality comparable to our german Novoflex, for a fraction of the price, well made)

    Also, the Samyang 35/1.4 doesn’t feature AF, and it’s also a beast, especially with the supplied Hood, from it’s appearance. Not metal build for this low price, but good plastics, and a well damped zoom ring, too.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Marc

  2. Your evaluation is right on with me. Stealthy? Impossible! Being 35 mm wo my favorite shootin length, I am very much used to shooting the Voigtlander f/1.2 Aspherical in VM mount; Zeiss 35mm f/1.9Tevidon and Leica R 35 Summilux in indoor quarters and all manual focusing. All very different and each qualities of their own. I am keeping this lens with af and characteristics of its own; very smooth; and I live in Thailand, no complains on manufacturing

  3. I spotted this blog out of serendipity as I googled for some samples of photos, taken by this lens as I am going to pick it up sometime next week. You made my decision much easier now.

    What beautiful photos you made.

    I am from Thailand and Sony makes cameras and lenses there.

    The prices of many items especially lenses went up after big flooding in 2011, i.e. SEL18200 became 33,000 from 25,000 Thai baht.

    Reliability-wise, I’ve never had problems owning an array of items.

    • It isn’t very corresponding, especially ff you’re shooting Sony because the comparison isn’t particularly fair for a few reasons:

      1) The summilux and the now we know better 35mm 1.4 ZM are not good performers on Sony bodies. Look around for samples.

      2) If you were to make a comparison on each in their native bodies (Leica vs Sony – say M240 vs A7 for same pixel resolution) then you will find, from my research, that the ZM is the overall better lens of the 3, with the Sony coming up second and the Summilux 3rd. Summilux is last, at least for me, not because of sharpness, but because of the wavy depth of field which makes it hard to have focused off-centred subjects at the larger apertures – especially if you can only focus in the centre (on a Leica)

      3) if you were to take the better 35mm, say the ZM, the comparison would end up leaving you with a decision that to make that 35mm work at its best you need to budget at least for an M9, which would leave you with less than leading ISO and DR performance from the sensor. Or, if you can push it to an M240, you would just need to watch out for the banding issues and the green cast on shadows.

      So, while “35mm 1.4 vs 35mm 1.4 vs 35mm 1.4” sounds like a logical comparison, it isn’t because you cannot make the best out of the M mount lenses (these ones, especially) on Sony A7 series cameras.

      • For many, however, the decision must be weighed against use on multiple cameras as opposed to a lens exclusive to a single system. So what is being evaluated is not just how perfect one lens is over the other, rather how close the more versatile lens may be to the dedicated lens (along with any other noteable or even more outstanding intrinsic qualities). Comparing the ZA to the ZM on Sony bodies is therfore very useful. It should be expected that either lens on native bodies will excel.

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