#283. Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2.0 first review

#283. Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2.0 first review

DearSusan readers are in for a treat: this is, to my knowledge, the first published review of the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f:2.0.

UPDATE : A second look at this lens and a comparison with the Sony / Zeiss FE 55/1.8 and Leica Summicron 50/2 has been published here.

Now, before I begin, I have a confession to make. I am a sucker for 50mm lenses. I remember walking away from my long-time favorite Zeiss 50mm ZE Planar f:1.4 with a guilt feeling, like I’d left my loyal dog behind at the Animal Pet Rescue shelter. While that lens had weaknesses, it just felt so “right”, both in terms of physical package and in terms of focal length that I used it almost without thinking. I would go out with just this lens mounted on my Canon 5DII and never feel like I was missing something. Until now, I could not find its successor on my Sony A7R.

No point in beating about the bush. I have found it it! The Loxia 50 is everything I hoped for in this respect. I am officially in love!

A study in green using the new zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens with the Sony A7r camera

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1. The physical package

First the good news. The Loxia is (for me), just the right compromise in size and weight to balance perfectly on the A7. It is close to the length of the Sony-Zeiss FE 55 f:1.8, but, because its diameter is smaller, it looks and feels more compact. Second good news: a triumph of German engineering and Japanese precision manufacturing means that the lens cap actually stays on the lens when it is meant to, unlike previous Zeiss designs.

Two weaknesses though. One is that the lens cap (included in the price, unlike what was circulated at the time of the launch), is finicky. And when it is resting on the lens barrel, meaning not in use, it obscures the focusing ring, meaning one can’t use the lens…:-( The other one is that the aperture ring is thin, and located very close to the camera body, making it a bit tricky, especially for people with big hands and fat fingers.

Otherwise, the lens is very pleasant indeed to use. The all-metal construction feels very solid, the focusing ring is smooth, the aperture ring, with 1/3-click increments, works fine, and the focusing throw is, in my opinion, just perfect. That makes it a very easy lens to focus. It is also a rarity in that it is, so to speak, semi-electronic. Its operation is manual, but it does have electronic contacts, so it gives out EXIF data, a plus in my book, and when focusing, it moves straight to magnification, another plus.

So, overall, a very good package indeed. I would grade it a significantly classier than the Sony-Zeiss FE55, itself a premium lens, one small notch above the Touit, another great range of Zeiss lenses, but maybe just a small notch less than the Zeiss ZM, that have, in my opinion, a look and feel which is even a bit more refined. On the subject of look, the Loxia have a purple-blue-fuschia ring resting on the camera mount, the same colour as the background of the Zeiss logo. That ring, when the lens is mounted, offers a strange and unpleasant clash of colours with the copper ring on the Sony mount. Details, details…

A couple of examples wide open. On the scooter shot, focus is on the speedometer

A study in red : zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens & Sony A7r A study in blue : new zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens on the Sony A7r

 

2. Performance

The Loxia is largely based on the Zeiss ZM 50 Planar f:2.0, an older (developped in film times) but very well liked lens. It is noted for beautiful colours, sharpness, and great transparency.

The basic design itself, the Planar construction, or double-Gauss, is noted for its simplicity (light, not over-expensive, letting lots of information through, but not totally perfectly corrected). Those familiar with the ZM 50 Planar will be neither surprised nor disappointed by the Loxia. It is not a spectacular lens, like a Makro when it comes to detail, or the FE55 when it comes to sharpness, but it just does everything so well. Colours are first rate. Detail is excellent, including at infinity. Sharpness is excellent.

Basically, it just disappeers, in that it never calls attention to itself. Rather than eliciting a “Whew, what a lens!”, it generates a “Nice shot!” comment. That, to me, is high praise indeed. Others may thing otherwise.

It does have some weaknesses, though. I noted 2, with one question mark. One is more CA (colour aberration, the purple fringing type) than I would like. Of course it is easy to remove in PP, and cleans up well, but we’d all rather it weren’t there.

The other one answers the dreaded question: how well does it mate to the demanding A7R? The answer is that, at infinity and wide open (the most demanding condition), the corners aren’t totally sharp, and you get a hint of mush. Now what lens is really perfect under these conditions, short of the Otus, especially with a 36Mp camera? And how often does one shoot wide open at infinity? But we’d also prefer if this weren’t the case, wouldn’t we?

Whereas the Loxia has some areas in which it really shines (its “3D” rendering is first-class, as befits a Zeiss lens, and is much better than the FE55 in this respect), its colours are smashing, it also has a couple which without being weaknesses are not strengths either.

  • Bokeh is typical of double-Gauss in that it is not the smoothest. Not objectionable, but just a bit nervous with lights in the OOF background.
  • And flare resistance is also not necessarily as high as I would have wanted.

Its sweet spot is between f:2.8 and f:4.0. Wide open, sharpness drop-off is not that severe, not more than the FE55, which is well respected in this area. Performance improves at f:2.8, a bit more by f:3.2, and just a shade more by f:4.0. At f:5.6 it tends to get just a bit less warm and a bit more clinical. That is fine for a 50mm lens, often used at short-to-medium range and fairly open.

Here are two shots to show bokeh, both in front and behind. One shot is focused ont he closest right-hand seat, the other on the third-row one.

Cafรฉ tables with the new zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens on the Sony A7r.Bokeh study 1 Cafe tables with the new zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens on the Sony A7r, bokeh study 2

3. Summary

From a classic construction, and a classic predecessor, the ZM 50 Planar, Zeiss have released what will undoubtedly in my mind become a mainstay for A7 owners who are into MF.

A good physical package, easy to use, with a classy feel, delivering superb IQ at a price which, while premium, is not a luxury. Zeiss have done it again! If I had to find a lens to which it relates, it would have to be the Leica 75mm M APO Summicron. It also has a way of “getting out of the way”. Slightly sharper than the Zeiss, but with less punchy colours, and a more clinical rendering. Calling the Loxia a “mini-APO Summicron” is in my view a big compliment, particularly in view of the price difference, and one which will IMHO annoy both Leica and Zeiss.

Now, if only we could have more Loxia announced, included a much awaited wide angle. My money is that we will get a Loxia version of the great ZM 18mm Distagon f:4.0. Boy that would/will be some lens! Until then, my 50 will be my go-to take-anywhere shoot-anything lens, and my FE55 needs a new home.

One shot wide open with distant background, and another that shows close up performance

zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens on the Sony A7r photograph of a statue near Paris, France A study in yellow flowers photographed with the new zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens on the Sony A7r

Finally, here is to my new Baby, the Loxia 50!

A statue photographed with the new zeiss loxia 50mm f/2 lens on the Sony A7r


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27 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Tan October 04, 2014

    Thanks for the honest review!

    I’m still trying to decide if I would prefer a 35mm or a 50mm. Both has their pros and cons but I can’t seem to put my head into it. Help!!

    • Avatar
      philberphoto October 04, 2014

      Tan,
      Just keep in mind, the Loxia 35 is a Biogon, like its forebearer the ZM 35 f:2.0. This is quite a different lens, in terms of rendering style, from the Planar 50 twins. So, as far as I am concerned, it is not just a choice of focal lengths. It would be too simple…:-(

      • Avatar
        Tan October 04, 2014

        Hmm…I’m pretty sure in terms of rendering style both would do quite well? Since the ZM lenses do have a classic look to it.

        I just can’t decide between a 35mm or a 50mm. :/

        I used to really like 35mm but then nowadays I feel it’s quite a boring focal length? whereas the 50mm is slightly on the narrow side

        • Avatar
          Duckery October 04, 2014

          IMHO I don’t feel 35mm to be boring. It’s more certainly for more advanced photographers than the 50mm. Because it’s so common, being close to what mobile phone cameras offer, it’s so much easier to take banal photos with a 35mm.

          • Avatar
            philberphoto October 04, 2014

            Saying that the 35mm is for more advanced photgraphers doesn’t exactly reflect everybody’s opinion. Henri-Cartier-Bresson, for example, “only” used a 50mm. Does that disqualify him from being “advanced”? In my opinion, it is a personal matter. There are times when 35mm is my favorite, and then I go back to 50 for a while, and then over again…
            And yes, early indications are that the Loxia 35 will do well. But not the same balance of strengths and weaknesses, if I judge based on my experience with both ZMs.

          • Avatar
            Joel October 14, 2014

            Perhaps what Duckery meant is that it wide angles are typically more challenging for new photographers. Everybody wants one. Few people use them well. I hope he didn’t mean that advanced/good photographers don’t use a 50mm because that’s just silly.

  2. Avatar
    Krifka October 04, 2014

    Hi,
    From the first moment we could see picture samples it was clear that the Loxia 50mm was going to be a exceptional beautiful Zeiss Planar. Reading your posts it was only a question of time until you would fall in love. But it looks like that you are going to kick out the 55mm. Don’t. You are going to regret it.
    While the Loxia is a beautiful and special Zeiss Planar for which we love them, the 55mm 1.8 is a futuristic Zeiss Planar. Both exist in a parallel universe and I think that there is no better or worse between them. 55mm 1.8 is a lens which did reinvent the Planar for our times. I don’t know how to describe this otherwise. I’m not talking resolution or so here, just the feel of the picture. You can take pictures with it you cannot take with the Loxia 50mm or any Leica lens as an example. It pretty much stands alone. “A lens you cannot take a bad picture with.”
    Having said this if you love the traditional Planar 50mm Look than this Loxia is perfect, so much that I’m tempted to get one in addition to the 55mm.
    Keep them both. ๐Ÿ™‚ I know, that you know, what I’m writing. Why do I write it? To keep the dog shelter empty and to brake a lance for unique lenses.

    Cheers

    • Avatar
      philberphoto October 04, 2014

      Krifka, Thank you for your long and articulated plea for the FE55. Fortunately, that lens doesn’t need my vote to be recognised as a great lens. And I know what you mean when you write that the two lenses exist in a paralel universe, and thus are not incompatible with one another. My only problem is that I am more sensitive than most to what is one of the stregnths of the Loxia, and not of the FE, and less sensitive to the area where the FE shines brightest. That means that the FE can no longer justifiy taking up a spot in my bag, where, day in and day out, I try to take no more than 3 lenses.

  3. Avatar
    Paul October 09, 2014

    Thank you for the review. Does the lens provide any AF focus confirmation or just the zoom in function?

  4. Avatar
    Philberphoto October 09, 2014

    The lens does not provide focus confirmation, Paul. But, with the automatic switch to magnification, it is much faster and smoother than manual focusing with a legacy lens. By now, Pascal has a Loxia as well. Let’s see if he chimes in to let you know how he feels about it.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy October 10, 2014

      Thanks Philippe.

      Paul, as Philippe explains, focusing is very direct and easy. We spent a day together testing our 2 lenses, comparing them to 2 competitors (review online this week-end) and shot hundreds of frames in all sorts of conditions. 1 is slightly out of focus. The rest is pin-sharp. I use focus peaking systematically, but Philippe doesn’t and his shots are also perfectly in focus. No worries there, it’s a dream to use.

      • Avatar
        Tan October 14, 2014

        Hi,
        Can you please elaborate what are the subjects you shot with, the aperture and if you use peaking or magnify or both to ensure sharp images?

        My only issue with A7 series is the peaking tend to be off the mark, so it’s not reliable, the only way is to magnify, but that doesn’t work too well with moving subjects.

        Thanks

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy October 14, 2014

          Hi Tan,

          I always use magnification and peaking to focus, just turning off peaking with wide angle lenses because peaking invades the whole picture. I’ve found that to be very accurate and easy to use, and wasn’t aware that some models were off the mark. Thanks for pointing that out, I’ll double check mine.

          I don’t use B&W because I prefer to convert in post-processing and see the colours through the EVF.

          And RAW is the only format for me.

          What do you mean by “the subjects you shot with” ? We didn’t have any specific subjects durng the review. We were actually working on completing one of the photo walks for the upcoming “InSight: Paris” guide, so it was mainly street photography. This week-end, I’ll try to use the lens on landscapes, although this is not a natural focal length for me ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Cheers,
          Pascal

          • Avatar
            Tan October 16, 2014

            Thanks for the reply, usually what peaking level you prefer? Low or mid?

            And I notice based on your picture profile setting, it’ll affect the peaking, I’ve played around sharpness and contrast sliders and noticed the changes. I wasn’t referring to peaking being inaccurate for some models, the problem I face is especially when the subject is not close enough (50mm is fine but with a 35mm where the subject tends to be smaller) peaking might show the subject is in focus but after taking the shot, only to realize that it’s actually out of focus.

            Subjects as in still subjects or moving subjects where nailing manual focus is much harder.

          • Avatar
            pascaljappy October 17, 2014

            I think my level is usually mid. It’s worked for me up to now, though there is no doubt that in some situations, alternate settings are better. 35mm usually isn’t an issue for me, but with my 18mm, it is true that manual focusing can be off the mark much more frequently than with other lenses. There’s so much more that’s “almost sharp” thant finding the exact spot is more difficult than with longer foca lengths. Ah well … ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Avatar
        Tan October 14, 2014

        Oh and one last thing, do you work in color or B&W mode? I know some people work in B&W as it allows seeing the peaking easier but this forces you to work in RAW only unless you plan to shoot in B&W which JPEG will be ok.

  5. Avatar
    Matthew Chu October 18, 2014

    Thanks for the review. I use a M9 with a pre-ASPH summilux, a 35 cron, WATE, and a 90 cron. About six months ago, I bought an A7 and has been very happy about. It’s my go to camera. I use the 50 and WATE mostly on the A7 and leave the 35 cron on the M9 since the 35 cron does not perform well on the A7. I found that I can use MF with the M lenses without focusing peaking, always with a magnified view. One thing that slowly me down is that everytime I focus, I have to open the aperture to full, focus and then close it to the right aperture. My question to you ( without me going into a Sony Store to try it out) is that would the Loxia allows you to focus automatically at full open aperture, and that the camera would “stopped it down to the aperture you set” when you press the shutter.

    Would you also consider a review on the 35mm, it would also be nice to comparison the new ZM 35 1.4 too. This is important as the M 35 cron does not perform well on the A7. Thanks.

  6. Avatar
    Mike November 07, 2014

    Hi, I came to your site while looking for reviews of the loxia. I will be buying an a7 in the next three months and researching which standard lens to go with the a7. I have a very basic question for you. As the loxia is a fully manual lens, Does the loxia work in stopped down (I think this is the term) mode? Or does the aperture close when you press the shutter. I just recently bought my first Zeiss lens, a touit 32 for my nex 6 and love it. And it is fueling my interest in Zeiss.

    I really enjoy your site. Love the way you convey the joy of photography, and the everyday language you use. Keep up the great work.

    • Avatar
      philberphoto November 08, 2014

      Mike, basically the Loxia is a manual lens. Aperture is not controlled by the camera, but set on the lens. Whichever aperture you set on the lens will be the one you view, and shoot. This not the same as the Touit, the aperture of which is controlled by the camera body, as is the focus (AF). There are “only” 2 electronic functions with this lens. One is EXIF data, the other one is the fact that, when you turn the focusing ring, the camera goes into magnified view, a feature which Pascal finds most helpful and useful.
      And thanks for the kind words, they are much appreciated!

      • Avatar
        Mike November 09, 2014

        Thank you very much! Exactly the information I was looking for! i do use the magnified view. The A7 will be “serious” camera and will be used in aperture priority or manual exposure mode and this so this lens will fit right in with the way I intend to use the camera.

  7. Avatar
    Eastwestphoto December 25, 2014

    Since i use the A7r, I noticed that I need a shutter speed faster than 1/160th sec when using the zeiss Loxia 50mm F:2 lens. Otherwise at 14.4x playback mode the image blurrs a little? I use A,P,S, at ISO 100 and Auto – ISO Auto. Since I have a Tiffen cir-Polarizer on the filter thread , I may be losing speed, but OH the image quality! I also use HDR3 continous mode. Anyone have a suggestion? for improving image quality? Regards, Don@eastwestphoto

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 25, 2014

      Hi Don, I find that lower speeds are OK with the Loxia. But that depends on temperature and many other factors, I guess.
      I’ve never used a polarizing filter with it, but it does sound like a great combination. Can’t help with the HDR, but there’s a nice article here that could be of interest : http://alikgriffin.com/blog/dec/08/how-shoot-hdr-sony-a7-a7r

      Happy Christmas, Pascal

  8. Avatar
    Sergey Landesman February 02, 2015

    Well, the perfect lens on A7r would be Leica M 50mm f.2 Apo-Summicron Asph.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy February 02, 2015

      It certainly would be an interesting lens to try ! It’s unclear how much the filter stack difference between M cameras and the A7r would degrade the performance of the 50 Apo Summicron Asph. Probably not that much, but enough to negate any theoretical advantage over the Loxia ? Quite possibly. “Luckily”, the price rules that out for me ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Avatar
        Sergey Landesman February 13, 2015

        What did you mean by filter stack difference?! I own Leica 50 mm Apo-Summicron and have tried numerous times on A7r. Didn’t notice any problem, works just great!

        Thank you for very good review!

        • Avatar
          philberphoto February 15, 2015

          Sergey, the filter stack, also known as sensor cover glass, is a bit more than twice as thick on the A7 camera family as it is on the Leica M family. Interposing a glass element in the optical chain is not neutral, and thus the Sony sensor stack is responsible for some M lenses not working as well as they might on the A7 cameras. Such is the case, for example, with my beloved Summilux M 50 or Elmar M 24. Proof of the validity of this analysis was delivered when Kolarivision produced A7 cameras with a modified (thinner) sensor stack. The pictures are, indeed, improved where there were problems previously, essentially the corners and edges. You can find an example on of such a lens review on DearSusan in Pascal’s definitive analysis of the formidable Zeiss ZM 35 f:1.4. Now, does the Kolari modification benefit a M lens where there are no problems to beging with, or the perfect part of an imperfect image (usually the centre is perfect with any M lens)? Roger Cicala’s excellent analysis on the LensRentals blog shows that, no, things don’t get better when they are already trouble-free.
          So, and I could have written this in 2 simple lines instead of this lengthy explanation, if your M 50 APO Summicron (gorgeous lens BTW. Any way DearSusan could review it?) is already trouble-free (and the way to verify that is looking at corners on an infinity shot wide open), then relax and enjoy!

  9. Avatar
    Leonard March 15, 2015

    Hello Philippe,

    I discovered your website only recently when I began to explore reviews of the Loxia (both the 50 and 35 mm). I have disinvested myself of Canon and Sigma DP Merrill gear and will very likely settle on whatever Sony comes up with next to replace the A7r. Since I am starting from scratch to build a new camera/lens system, the OCD in me was delighted with the idea of obtaining Loxia lenses for all my purposes (I shoot mostly between 21-85mm focal lengths), expecting to buy them as they come out over the next year or to so. But then I read one of your replies above that stopped me dead in my tracks,. So I could use some clarification. You wrote: “basically the Loxia is a manual lens. Aperture is not controlled by the camera, but set on the lens. Whichever aperture you set on the lens will be the one you view, and shoot.” Since I am likely to set exposure first and frame & focus second, doesn’t this mean that if I were to use smaller apertures there would be less light passing through to the EVF to focus with – in the manner of the DOF button on SLR film cameras? And doesn’t this sort of defeat the easy purpose of manual focus?

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