In September 2014, Zeiss announced their new Loxia line of manual-focus lenses for Sony’s full-frame E-mount cameras. Ever since covering the announcement, I’ve wanted to try out these stylish lenses, namely the Zeiss Loxia 2/35 because of its extended usefulness in landscape photography. I was very much interested in seeing how a modern Zeiss manual-focus lens designed for a technologically-advanced mirrorless camera would fare, and in the end I was left blown away by the results.
When the lens arrived, the first thing I couldn’t help but notice was the smooth white box it came in. Its rigid construction, tight fitting protective sleeve, and minimalistic stance on text and graphics immediately brings to mind “luxury.” It’s within the same realm of comprehensive product experiences you find companies like Apple providing. Opening the box I found the lens and lens hood fitted snuggly into “Zeiss blue” colored foam. It tempts one to fall in love with the lens before it even mounts a camera. OK, enough box talk.
First picking up the Loxia 2/35, you are greeted with a little unsuspected weight. The fairly small lens, only 2.44 inches long without the hood, is certainly packing some special glass goodies inside. While quite a bit shorter than the Sony Alpha series fan favorite, the Sony 55mm f/1.8, it is about two ounces heavier.
The all-metal lens construction looks gorgeous. The low-profile, tight ribbing on the focus and aperture rings are very eye-pleasing. The whole outer shell feels notably unified due to the flushness between its pieces. The laser-etched, debossed white markings found across the sides and front of the lens continue to carry the impression of quality. There is an attractive, blue-accented lens mount gasket on the rear to provide some weather resistance, however the rest of the lens is not weather-sealed.
Using the focus ring on the Loxia 2/35 is an experience you wish for when dealing with a manual-focusing lens. It takes a liberal 180 degrees of rotation to get from the minimum focusing distance of 11.81 inches all the way to infinity. From the minimum focus distance to two feet, the focus ring is slightly stiffer than the 2 foot to infinity range. This is great because it allows for very precise focusing in the ranges where proper focusing is going to be most apparent.
The aperture ring is shipped to have 1/2-stop clicks between f/2 and f/22, its smallest aperture. This is likely what most of us are used to that shoot photography every day, but if video work is also up your sleeve then you will be delighted to learn that the aperture ring can also be de-clicked. Sold separately is a de-clicker key you can purchase, but truth be told a 2mm flathead worked without issue for me. The de-click key would likely be far more travel-friendly however.
Am I really about to talk about the lens hood? Yes, I am. This lens hood is the real deal. Much like the all-metal design of the lens, the lens hood itself is metal. It sports laser etched lettering on top and debossed/stamped Zeiss logos on the sides. The inner wall is lined with black felt like any worthy lens hood should have to prevent bounced light. Perhaps it’s not as outlandishly priced as other lens hoods, but at $84.00 to replace it, you won’t want to lose track of this guy.
As a prime lens without an autofocus system and providing a wide but sensible f/2.0 maximum aperture, it makes for a fantastically small, portable package. It very much looks right at home on the svelte Sony Alpha full-frame cameras.
With such a display of craftsmanship between first opening the box and inspecting the build of the lens, it’s only natural to assume that the image quality will fall on a par with the high-caliber experience thus far. And of course, you would be correct in your assumption. The Zeiss Loxia 2/35 is outstandingly sharp, even when generously cropped in on the high-resolution 36.4-megapixel Sony a7R. The contrast and color rendition also hold up to the Zeiss standard in excellence.
Barrel distortion is so incredibly minimal. In most shooting scenarios, you might as well save every drop of sharpness and not push pixels with a barely noticeable barrel distortion adjustment in post-processing.
Just as it is with any other lens, vignetting occurs until you stop down a bit. With the Loxia 2/35, I found that f/4.5 is the magic number for completely vignette-free photos. At the neighboring f/4.0 aperture, chromatic aberrations entirely vanish without software intervention.
The lens isn’t perfect though. At its widest aperture of f/2.0, there is a hefty amount of coma and spherical aberrations for highlights within your frame. Stopping down to f/2.8 will clear things right up (with f/2.2 and f/2.5 incrementally better than f/2.0). Check the gallery below to see what a difference there is between just f/2.0 and f/2.8. Personally, I’m not too broken up about it since it’s very obvious f/4.0–f/4.5 is prime time for this lens. You may feel differently, so beware that you might not like what you find upon close inspection after shooting wide open.
The image gallery below displays 100 percent crops. Haloing from coma and spherical aberrations that is very much present at f/2.0 is eliminated at f/2.8, and all signs of chromatic aberrations vanish at f/4.0. Loss of image quality due to diffraction becomes more apparent in the higher aperture numbers as one would expect. Click on any of the images below to open the gallery so you can cycle through.
What I Liked
- In-focus objects are tack sharp and bokeh is silky smooth.
- Looks awesome and feels great to work with. Solid construction.
- Very minimal barrel distortion, even in the far corners.
- Compact, portable, and matches perfectly with the Sony Alpha full-frame cameras.
What Could Be Improved
- Shooting wide open at f/2.0 will have issues in coma and spherical aberrations for highlights.
- The rear lens cap sits very flush with the lens, and while it looks sleek, I prefer the Sony ones that are notched out at the edge and easier to twist off while holding the lens in one hand. Is it weird to have a lens cap listed as a con? Yes, it probably is. I think you know when a lens is a winner when you have to go after its lens caps as something to challenge it with.
For a camera system that has a limited number of available native lens options, it’s almost peculiar that there are now at least four options to get your full-frame E-mount 35mm fix between the Sony Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8, Sony Distagon FE 35mm f/1.4, Sony Vario-Tessar FE 16–35mm f/4, and this Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2. Priced at a serious $1,299, it is still the second least expensive lens out of those four options. Depending on what your top priorities are in a lens — aperture, focusing, zoom, price, portability, durability — I do see different people coming to each of these four conclusions as a final purchasing decision. In this case, the Zeiss 2/35 is a compact, awesomely sharp, finely-crafted solid lens made for those who can spare the extra moments to manually focus full-time. It rewards the customer with a luxurious and intimate shooting experience from the moment the lens is delivered in its pretty white box.