#512a. New Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 : the full review

#512a. New Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 : the full review

Meet George. Small, unassuming, George is (our codename for) the newly introduced Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 lens.

It was sent to me in July, shortly before my departure for Western Australia, with the usual instructions of telling it like I feel it. Well, at the time, I admit to thinking the good wizards of Oberkochen were ever so slightly … off-course. Owning an Zeiss Otus 85 and a Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8, arguably two of the best lenses ever made in that focal range, and having being really quite smitten with the fantastic Milvus 85, I seemed hardly the right person to appreciate a compromise newcomer.

In fact, the marketer in me cringed at the very idea of such a middle-of-the road positioning. With a max aperture of “only 2.4”, it may have a hard time convincing the specification-oriented photographer of its merits and soon fall into a grey middle-ground of un-memorability.

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Happily, none of my fears were vindicated and the 2.4/85mm not only completes the Loxia range in a very consistent manner, it also embodies in metal and glass Zeiss’ talent for segmenting and strategic thinking. The Loxia 85 is a lens with a mission, a mission it fulfills better than any other lens I know! It’s a truly brilliant achievement, yet another from House Carl.

To illustrate this point and prove we are not just sellouts to Zeiss we’ll present our findings, collected over a 5-week test period in Paris, Marseilles, La Ciotat, Doha, Perth, Kalgoorlie and more, in three sections:

  • First of all, I’ll address the technical aspects of the review, with occasional comparisons to the brilliant Otus 85 and the ever-lovely Elmarit-M 90.
  • Then, I’ll dive into more subjective rendering and handling considerations which make the lens the gem it is. This is undeniably the section I prefer and want to focus on.
  • If that’s not enough, co-author Philippe will then addresses the lens’ importance in the Zeiss line-up, who it is for and its (many) real-life uses.

As usual, I’ll mutter a bit to justify calling myself a reviewer, but will mostly let the photographs, plenty of photographs, do the talking, hopefully enabling the reader to find something to relate to visually. All photographs made with a Sony A7rII camera. Onwards!

 

Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 Sonnar: a technical review

To sum things up, this new Loxia is mostly a stellar performer, from a technical point of view.

Though the f/2.4 max aperture might not turn heads at the pub, it is at least a fully usable f/2.4 in which aperture is used purely as a means of light gathering and depth of field control, not to control aberrations. And the Sonnar design certainly lives up to its sweet-bokeh reputation.

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The Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 Sonnar

 

Sharpness

The MTF curves below address this from a measured point of view:

loxia85-mtf

 

As you can tell,aperture has very little impact on detail rendering in MTF measurements. And the aperture sequence should convince you how well these spectacular lab results are born out in real life:

Ze test scene

Ze test scene

Please note the images below are screen captures and the quality they show is lower than reality. The point is not to show the lens is sharp (it is) but to show it gains very little by closing down. Plus, life’s too short to crop all of these by hand and export 😉

f/2.4 (right, left, center)

24-right 24-left 24-center

f/4 (right, left, center)

4-rigght 4-left 4-center

f/5.6 (right, left, center)

56-right 56-left 56-center

f/8 (right, left, center)

8-right 8-left 8-center

f/11 (right, left, center)

11-right 11-left 11-center

At f/11, the early signs of diffraction become visible.

I’m not entirely sure of this, but it seems the left may have a slightly curved focal surface with edges focusing slightly closer than the center. Lab-equipped reviewers will be more accurate about this.

At this point in reviewing purgatory, let me now introduce the sort of nonsense metric that makes reading (and writing 😉 ) a tech report bearable: moire-quantification ! (patent not really pending, have a day). Here’s a photograph of a standard ISO-test-yacht made with the Loxia 85 at f/8.

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You can see moire on the window louvres that easily scores 6/10.  Is a similar shot made with my Otus 85, the moire here scores an 7/10. It exhibits more colour and contrast and is therefore more problematic. Which makes the Otus very slightly better. Oh wait …  No

So , I don’t know how to interpret that exactly, but let’s just say that the Loxia 85 significantly outresolves my 42Mpix sensor and should be future-proofed for the next couple of generations of megapixel lunacy that manufacturers will inevitably inflict upon us in place of better handling 😉

And, to give you a better comparison with other lenses, here are 3 100% files from the Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85, the Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8 and the Zeiss Otus 1.4/85, all taken at f/4. As you will see, the Leica is stupidly sharp in the center and degrades in the edges (it is a 30 year-old design, after all). The Loxia and Otus are more homogeneous throughout the frame. That the Loxia is as good as these two legends should quiet all sharpness-related worries once and for all 😉

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Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8

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Zeiss Otus 1.4/85

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Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85

Distortion

Distortion is also a very strong point for the lens. Again, the brochure graph illustrates this with an almost linear progression to just over 1%:

loxia85-distortion

And this tricky and epically interesting shot gives you an idea of what a worst-case scenario looks like in real life:

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Here are other uncorrected architectural photographs slightly more worthy of eyeball time :

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Vignetting

Once again, lab results are superb, with just one stop lost in the very corners of the frame.

loxia85-vignetting

In real life, this level of vignetting is barely detectable, which – combined with the low distortion – also means the lens is almost perfect for creating panoramas in simple software that cannot correct for aberrations. Yippeeee !

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Flare and glare

Again, a picture is better than a thousand words. Below is a typical summer scene in sea-side resorts such as La Ciotat. These swimming costumes are photographed at f/2.4. To my eyes, this looks like a scene out of a modern movie. Videographers will likely be all over that lens (I forgot to test for focus breathing, sorry guys).

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Below are more photographs with the sun in or just outside of the frame. Flare is very well controlled. A small amount of veiling glare is visible around the sun and reflections, but nothing really objectionable.

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And finally, here is a 100% enlargement of an extreme situation, closed down.

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Chromatic aberration

Let’s use the photo above to illustrate the performance of this lens in terms of chromatic aberration as well. Slight purple halos are clearly visible, but are easily cleaned up in PP. So this isn’t a strict APO lens (not that any claims are made about this) but it handles itself well.

For a worst-case scenario, turn to the photograph below, and following enlargements:

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Full test scene at f/2.4

chroma-f24

100% enlargement, uncorrected. f/2.4.

chroma-f24-corrected Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85

100% enlargement, corrected in LightRoom. f/2.4

chroma-f4 Zeiss Loxia 85 chromatic aberration testing

100% enlargement, f/4, uncorrected. Boat in focus. (see specular highlights on metal at top center)

chroma-f8 Zeiss Loxia 85 chromatic aberration at f/8

Performance at 100%, f/8, uncorrected. Bride out of focus.

Of all the technical performance envelope variables available to them, it feels like Zeiss have let chroma drift the furthest from theoretical ideal. A wise idea since I’ve not found a single picture ruined by that aberration and relaxing tolerances here probably made it easier to correct more problematic bugaboos within the budget and size constraints available to them.

 

Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 Sonnar: A subjective evaluation of a photo-reporting pocket-rocket

You could worry that a lens that focuses on detail might end up looking clinical. And nothing could be further from the truth.

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The best way I can put words on what this lens inspires me is this: the Loxia 85 has been designed following a process of elimination. It reduces vignetting, it reduces glare, it reduces distortion, it reduces colour casts. It eliminates unwanted filters to let through the natural essence of the subject in all its purity and simplicity. No added salsa.

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Soulless ? Nope, quite the contrary.  Illumination comes from removing egotic gunge from your perception of the world. In this sense, this is one enlightened lens!

In a recent article, I discussed how phone manufacturers are slowly but surely eating the marketshare lunch of camera manufacturers. My guess is that the algorithmic witchcraft that enables this inevitable conquest will come with a visual signature. Much like DSPs messed up the purity of sound. In acceptable measures for most but too much so for the audiophile raised on Lynn and Boenicke milk.   In this respect, the only possible countermeasure for traditional digital photography (yes, it makes me feel old to type these words) is to produce something so pure and elated that it leaves the willing photographer fully in control. The Loxia 85 is one such product. And I love it to bits for that.  dsc04465

In initial use, I found this lack of bravado a little disconcerting and (to be frank) quite disappointing. The lack of pungent hues hinted at hours of post-processing and most attempts at boosting saturation ended up looking really uninspiring and visibly forced.  This was until I realized a simple little boost of overall contrast (the Sony A7rII does have quite a large dynamic range) instantly brought out tints and tonal separation in a most natural way. In more extreme cases, larger boost of the contrast resulted in dark shadows and burned highlights but local work on the corresponding sliders soon brought those back to life and produced a very colourful image without ever resorting to the saturation slider. With this simple process the original atmosphere is superbly preserved. dsc04617 dsc04662-pano dsc04668-pano dsc04696 dsc04867 dsc04926-pano dsc05017 dsc05021 dsc05058-pano dsc05142 dsc05203-pano dsc05207-pano dsc06733-pano dsc06774-pano

 

Loxia 85 in Colour

Perhaps the best illustration of this is how well the little Loxia renders varying ambiences, from the gloomy to the joyful to the dull. The much-loved Sony-Zeiss FE 55 will etch the finest details in a remote pine cone with super convincing sharpness. The Loxia 85 will let you feel the thin pollen moving in the breeze around the cone at sunset. It is all about atmosphere, like the very best transducers from Boenicke or Soudkaos recreate the air around members of an orchestra and the ambiance of a recording hall.

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The Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 excels at letting visual cues through, at letting the season, location, heat, time of day and ambient humidity all create a very different mood from photograph to photograph. Some will look gentle and pastel, others brooding and stark. This is definitely no single-trick pony.

 

Loxia 85 in Black &White

Predictably, this great transparency and elegance make it an exquisite lens for classy black and white photography, where great tonal subtlety is available at all times.

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Bokeh

This image pretty much sums it up.

dsc06291-2Bokeh, in a f/2.4 85mm lens, is never going to get very intense. Nonetheless, what much is there is very Gaussian and clean. The bokeh from the Loxia 85 also has quite a bit of contrast to it, letting the background play an active role in the composition. This unlike the cappuccino machines that dip everything into a strong haze (both approaches have their merits, you just need to know what you prefer).

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But contrasty doesn’t mean intrusive or harsh. As a true Sonnar, the Loxia 85 has very high quality bokeh, simply in small measures. More Rhabarbergrütze than Austrian Strudel.

Given this lens’ stitch-friendly aberration control and its close-up focusing abilities, you can easily emulate the shallow-depth of field  found on vastly more expensive wider-angle lenses (see bleeding tree, below). That’s really cool.

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Below are a few more samples of Loxia 85 bokeh at various apertures.dsc06871 dsc06553 dsc06554

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A word on ergonomics

Perfect !

 

OK, a few more words on ergonomics 😉

Almost perfect. The lens cap isn’t the best. The lens shade has to be mounted upside down for transport. The rest of the lens is essentially perfect. Focusing is firm enough to feel tight but buttery smooth. The aperture ring is such a delight that it makes you wonder why these things are becoming extinct. The build is modern and snazzy yet reassuringly robust. A truly lovely lens to own.

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Those who have used other Loxia lenses before will feel right at home. The build and size is the same, and the focusing similarly damped. All very very good here. The aperture ring has a longer than usual rotation and feels perfect. The sunshade mechanism is the usual: inserted over the lens during transport, and clipped onto the front when in use. Not the most elegant system (which still goes to the retracting shades on some of Leica’s M & R series lenses) but convenient enough (and probably far cheaper for the customer).

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Equally noteworthy, though not a flaw of the lens itself : as all Loxias do, this 2.4/85mm automatically gets the Sony A7 cameras to x5 focus mode when you rotate the focusing ring, which is nice. But my experience is that the best focusing accuracy really requires you to switch to x12.5 mode. x5 is often not enough to extract best results from the lens. On this lens, a tiny difference in focusing is visible in the final image, which is good, but requires a little attention on close-up subjects.dsc07133 dsc07184

 

Compared to other Loxias

Remember, this is subjective. But, to me, this lens sits somewhere in between the 21 and the 50.

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As mentioned above, aperture has almost no bearing on performance (in this, it compares favourably to most f/1.8 lenses that need to get to f/2.8 before they start delivering their best). But aperture does have a very slight effect on the impression of micro-contrast of this lens: wide open, it feels like the Loxia 50. Closed down to f/8, it’s a lot closer to the Loxia 21. Of the 3, I feel the 85 is, by a tiny margin, the most free-breathing and natural. A 21 – 85 duo is a very desirable setup indeed. Two world-class lenses in a small and affordable package, that will handle the megapixel race for years to come.

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The 35 sits a little bit off-center from this trio, with a contrast that can easily push into harsh territory. In the right hands, under the right conditions, it’s also an excellent lens. But the 85 needs no such qualification. It tells it as it is, with great elegance whatever the conditions, and lets you handle PP however you want.

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Conclusion

In closing, let me just say that great lenses come in two categories:

  • those with a strong character. My C-Sonnar 50/1.5ZM is one such example. Others will look to the old Noctilux. These add a strong signature to your images. One that’s really hard to replicate in post-processing and that you either love or don’t (swirly bokeh, yuck).
  • those with a level of neutrality and purity that lets the light shine through untouched and transmits the temperature, haze and other conditions in a way that puts the photographer in total control. Those are less immediately impressive and ultimately more rewarding (for most people).

The Loxia 85 is a stunning example of the second category of lenses and has provided me with hour upon hour of photographic joy. My photographs tend to be made at the infantile end of the aperture range (f/1.4 all day long) but this was a lens I really loved using at f/8, where it’s naturalness and elegance are most evident.

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Who is It for ? Picture yourself on a small piazza in Vicensa. The friendly waiter lays in front of you a simple dish of home-made pasta with small mushrooms and truffle, peppered with crumbly Parmigiano cheese. He pours you a glass of carefully aged Nebbiolo or Arneis and hands you a napkin full of warm, swirly grissini. If you’re already reaching for the ketchup, this lens is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are weeping before your very first taste, well, are you in for a treat! dsc06305

Some photographers will be happier with an AF kit zoom. This lens does nothing spectacular and costs a healthy amount of money. You’ll love it if you appreciate the white flower in the bouquet of Viré-Clessé, the crackling of an exhaust on upshift or the subtleties of Fischer’s best endgames. It’s definitely more Tea Ceremony than rodeo. For atmospheric landscapes, it’s a really lovely lens.

dsc06556 So, after all this emotional mumbo-jumbo, let me end with a slightly more Manichaean conclusion.

Positives

  • Great transparency and subtlety, which lead to lovely textures, colours and atmospheres
  • Resolution for the crazy megapixel years to come
  • Lovely ergonomics
  • Consistent with other Loxia lenses

Negatives

  • Lens cap
  • A lens for the thinking photographer (is that a negative?)
  • Not super-fast (if that’s what you need, there are plenty of options)

Of the  negatives, only the lens cap really counts for me. It’s a minor item but can mess with your nerves. This aside, the Zeiss Loxia 2.4/85 comes with my highest recommendation. And that might be its greatest negative for some 😀 😀 😀

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I’ll now leave you in a capable hands of Philippe, who will add his take on the Loxia 85 and its raison d’être. Before you move on, please leave a comment to tell me what you think about the lens and the pics it produced in my custody !dsc06740


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58 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron September 15, 2016

    You’ve done nothing to hose down my addiction to Zeiss glass – it’s worse than ever now!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 15, 2016

      Ha ha. Good, he says in an evil tone. T’is a really lovely lens.

  2. Avatar
    MiR September 15, 2016

    Portrait lens with no portraits?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 15, 2016

      Ah well, Zeiss have some on their Flickr page (and we have a cute little dog). I feel this is more about reportage than portrait. But it can do both.

  3. Avatar
    Yeahhh September 15, 2016

    Although this review is very good, I think the lens renders quite flat. Everything seems to be on the same plane although it’s not. And 600g+ seems also a bit heavy. I think there’re better options for a small tele lens.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 15, 2016

      You think so ? Take the 2nd picture (beach test scene) or the port in Marseilles, further down. Or the cows in the field. Do you think those are flat? It is a telephoto and compresses a bit, so that’s probably what you’re seeing. But whenever there’s real separation between planes, I think it’s very well respected.

      Thanks for the kind work about the review 🙂

      • Avatar
        aaa September 16, 2016

        I also found its rendering pretty flat. It comes from Zeiss so I was hoping for some really high level of “pop” or micro-contrast, like the leica summilux 75. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

        The bokeh is very creamy though.

    • Avatar
      c.t. September 16, 2016

      I too find the lens’ rendering very flat. None of the photos here show the “3D pop” that Zeiss lenses are famous for.
      Nice write up though.

      • Avatar
        pascaljappy September 16, 2016

        Thanks, ct. Strange that a few of you find it flat. Does it seem flatter than the other two lenses in the 3-way comparison?

  4. Avatar
    Stephen William Foyle September 15, 2016

    The picture of the red road through the Bush brought back so many nostalgic memories from my childhood and here I am stuck in Canada at the end of summer. Loved your pictures and my Zeiss Lenses

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 15, 2016

      Thanks Stephen. I sure wish I was still back there too … Canada can’t be too bad, though, surely ? Sounds like a wonderful place.

  5. Avatar
    Omar Tan September 15, 2016

    Nice balanced write up, to me being a manual glass, as nice as a f2 or 1.4 is, it’ll make nailing manual focus a nightmare and with A7SII and RII having IBIS + very good High ISO, I feel the “slowness” of this lens is well compensated, given its design size goals.

    Looking at the images, it looks like to be an excellent lens if one were to stitch landscape photographs often and it’s bokeh is what I called the drawing type (similar to the Loxia 50) which I love as it is able to tell the story vs creamy bokeh type where everything just meshes together and the story tend to get lost(personal opinion)

    Btw, in taking these images, I guess you had MF Assist turned on?

    My only wish is for Gen 3 bodies is that Sony will improve the manual focusing experience, especially in regards to accuracy. Would love if peaking works on area that’s actually in focus instead of contrast based.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 15, 2016

      Thanks Omar. Yes, MF assist was turned on. You need to increase magnification to the max to get the most out of the lens, it is so sharp. “Drawing bokeh” is a nice expression ! That’s exactly it, it contributes to the story rather than isolate the main subject. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s good to know what you’re getting 😉 My hopes are also high for the next generation of bodies. We probably all want something different, but something like the “little ” Hasselblad would be lovely: great build quality, better ergonomics, sensible resolution … Ah well 😉

  6. Avatar
    Rainer September 15, 2016

    I am pretty sure, that this is an “Gourmet Lens”, but not for every one, but for real special photographers, who can appreciate the optical qualities of this superb glass!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 16, 2016

      Hi Rainer, “gourmet lens” is really appropriate 🙂 !

      I would say that any photographer will see the qualities of this lens. Apart from being careful with focusing to get the best out of it (AF would never be accurate enough) the only thing to keep in mind is post-processing. A heavy hand would probably kill all the subtlety. If you take a look at my photo of a lonely whale on a blue sea, it looks a bit more flat than other photographs on this page. That’s mainly excessive PP on my part. I requires delicacy to keep the finesse intact. Or you can go bold, like I did with the whale and get a different look.

      That’s what makes the lens special. You can choose your style rather than let the lens choose it for you.

  7. Avatar
    Thomas Aime September 15, 2016

    HI Pascal, very interesting review, as usual 🙂
    I’ve gone for the Planar Loxia 50mm after reading your review.
    About the new sonnar, even if it feel very nice, i’m very pleased with my Contax G Sonnar 90mm and TA GA3 with PD AF on my beloved A7II… Would be nice to try to make a comparison… Let me know if you travel to South western France…
    Best regards, Thomas near Castres in Tarn (part of Occitanie region now:) )

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 16, 2016

      Hi Thomas,

      I love Tarn. We can maybe meet up there one day.

      Philippe, my co-author, used to own an Contax G90 and lent it to me on a couple occasions. From memory, it was really very sharp, with a strong presence and the occasional slight “aggressiveness”. The Loxia is even sharper but feels slightly more relaxed. The sharpness difference really doesn’t matter much, except for the added ability to incorporate tiny details that recreate the subtle shadings, the ambience … Ironically, the lens with more detail often looks softer.

      It’s really a question of personal taste. Coatings are probably a little better on the more modern lens (?) You can find the Contax tech sheet here: https://www.zeiss.com/content/dam/Photography/new/pdf/en/downloadcenter/contax_g/sonnar2-8_90mm_e.pdf That might help you a little.

      Kind regards, Pascal

  8. Avatar
    fws September 15, 2016

    Very nice review. Thanks.
    I was interested when the lens was announced, but I am disappointed by the lack of close focusing.
    Would you care to compare its performance to the Sony 90 macro?
    Best,
    Fritz

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 16, 2016

      Hi Fritz, thanks for the kind words. You’re right, it’s not a macro and (from memory) only goes to about 80 cm. Maybe we can ask Zeiss to work on extension rings. I regularly use them with their ZE.2 lenses and that works beautifully.

      The Sony 90 is slightly more dreamy, very sharp but softer in its rendering. The Loxia is more natural. You’ll get a more systematic look with the Sony and more of the light and atmosphere with the Loxia.

      The Sony is significantly larger and has AF (which worked well during my time with it, but wasn’t pleasant in manual focus). Either may matter to you or not.

      Cheers, Pascal

  9. Avatar
    Tony September 16, 2016

    Great review and really helped shape my opinion on buying this lens. Any sense of how this lens would compare to the Batis 85 in a similar scene to the one with the Leica 90mm and 85mm OTUS? I was initially skeptical of this lens until I saw those pictures at full resolution – the difference is noticeable even without pixel peeping between the Elmarit and the Zeiss lenses.

    Thanks,
    Tony

  10. Avatar
    Kay E Moeckel September 16, 2016

    Ah, both an illuminating review and a literary masterpiece. Bravo! A good time was had reading this article. May I ask however, since I will not ever own either the Leitz/Leica lens or the mighty ‘spencif Otus, how you would rate a comparison to the Batis 85mm?
    Thank you, Kay

    PS: I currently own the Loxia 21 and am very pleased with it, though it will take some time to really get the hang of the manual focus.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 16, 2016

      Thank you very much, Kay. Your words are appreciated !

      Unfortunately, I’ve never used the Batis 85, because AF doesn’t really suit me. The Batis 25 was a pleasant lens during my very brief test (available on this site). The Batis 85 seems to have a slightly less neutral image with a stronger signature in the Bokeh and a tiny bit less tonal subtlety than the Loxia. But that’s judging from photographs made by others online. It seems like a very good choice if AF and a more “classic” personality is important to you. But my preference would go to the Loxia. It’s all very personal, but if you like the 21, you’ll be really at home with this 85.

      All the best, Pascal

  11. Avatar
    thinkinginpictures September 16, 2016

    Cat pictures please. Where are the cat pictures!!!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 16, 2016

      Ha ha, see the following article 512b 😉 It has a picture of my cat made by Philippe.

  12. Avatar
    Rohan September 16, 2016

    Read your review of the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM, and the sonnar 50 mm 1.5 ZM lenses. I really liked what you said about these lenses. While technically not perfect they have rendering that can be described as artistic. Isn’t that what photography is about? You also lamented that current lenses tended to be too sterile due to their almost perfect optical designs.

    This Loxia 85 2.4 seems to be one of those. Sterile with an widest aperture that does not help get separation. Just flat, soulless. I guess there is place in photography for such a lens that does not have a signature, but most of the lengendary lenses of past do. I’m a little uncertain what Zeiss was trying to do here.

    By the way, I do own the 2 ZM lenses that I mentioned (35 mm, 1.4 and the 50 mm 1.5) along with the loxia 21 mm. I am really delighted with theses lenses. I was hoping that Zeiss would come out with an 85 mm that was less neutral (no signature or wide aperture). I am not certain the asking price justifies this lens.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 16, 2016

      Thanks Rohan. 21 Loxia, 35 ZM & C-Sonnar 50, now that’s quite a lineup !! All lovely lenses.

      Do you find the 21 sterile ? The 85 has a very similar personality, but with slightly gentler rendering. It’s very natural, rather than sterile. It doesn’t add a distinct personality to the photograph. What it’s really great at is letting the atmosphere shine through. So if you travel and like to capture the local light & textures, it’s fantastic. On the other hand, if you want a strong ‘something’ consistently added to your photographs, and don’t want to add that in PP, it may not be the ideal lens for the situation.

      If you take a look at the beach test scene, the bleeding tree, the shooting cowboy (at the top of the bokeh section) you’ll see there is quite a bit of separation. But it doesn’t provide an almost infinite amount of depth like the 1.4/35 ZM (which is not as neutral or realistic and is a wide angle). It’s really a matter of taste. Hope this helps.

      • Avatar
        Rohan September 17, 2016

        Pascal thanks for your quick and kind response.
        I actually do find the Loxia 21mm sterile as compared to the Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 and the Zeiss ZM 50 1.5 C Sonnar.

        What I do appreciate is the almost edge to edge sharpness that is really useful in Landscape photography.
        I do have you to blame when I talked to my wife after I purchased the 2 ZM lenses. Your reviews were pragmatic and seductive. And my experience with them is similar to yours.

        Lately, my personal philosophy has be to avoid too much post processing and that’s why finding lenses like the above have been important to me. And having opinions of independent thinking photographers like you helps show the way.

        I do like to travel and travel light with my A7R II. That’s why these very high quality Loxia and Zeiss ZM lenses fit the bill perfectly.
        I am now using the techart adapter to make these ZM lenses auto focus which is astonishing. I can use the 35 mm and 50 mm lens for street photography faster than I can focus manually. Hopefully you will try the techart adapter. Unfortunately they have a waiting list.

        I was really hoping that the Loxia 85 mm would compliment my trio, that would provide an additional level of subject isolation while being small and light. I guess that would be difficult to design. I already have a canon 85 1.2 II and a Sony 135 1.8 that are really good at this but are just too big.

        I do not want to make an expensive mistake, but would have to try it out myself when it is freely available to decide if this is the way to go.

        • Avatar
          Mark Muse December 20, 2016

          Rohan, consider the 90mm Sonnar G. Inexpensive, small, light, sharp as the dickens. You can even get an autofocus adapter for it if that is your preference.

          .

  13. Avatar
    Tim Ball September 16, 2016

    I really appreciate this review, beautifully done.
    Love the toning and 3D in the B&W fishing nets near the end. I agree, all the B&W tonality looks to be very elegant.
    The one thing that slightly disappoints,(apart from the high starting RRP), is the not especially close, close focus distance of 80cm, though your flower shots don’t cry out, “make me bigger”. ;o)
    Thanks

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 16, 2016

      Interesting. Without being a macro, the lens would be even more interesting with a closer min focus distance. Maybe Zeiss will release a native macro and/or extension rings. 14mm would work wonders on this lens. Cheers, Pascal

  14. Avatar
    beobird September 16, 2016

    This review is a treat to read, and the pictures are telling examples of the quality of this apparently great lens. I’m the happy owner of the 21 as well as the 50 Loxia. Manual focussing on the Sony A7s is a joy and the haptic quality of the Loxia lenses make me smile everytime I use them. If I didn’t already own the fabulous Sony 90mm 2.8, I’d buy the Loxia 85mm.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 20, 2016

      Hi beobird. You’re in good hands with the Sony 90. I really liked it as well. The Loxia is a different animal. Bokeh is less present and the lens is more neutral. Both lovely. Most will prefer the AF-equipped 90, but my inclination goes the other way. There’s a real satisfaction in focusing manually through a great viewfinder 🙂

  15. Avatar
    Thomas September 17, 2016

    Hi,
    thank you for this nice review. How would you describe the difference to the Elmarit 90/2.8? Would you sell it to get the Loxia?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 18, 2016

      Hi Thomas, the Elmarit is flatter and a bit more painterly. The Loxia more natual and subtle. Also a bit better from a purely technical point of view. Both lovely lenses but this might be the first time I’m actually considering selling the Elmarit …

  16. Avatar
    Bo W September 18, 2016

    Dear Pascal!

    A deal breaker for me, having owned the Loxia 21 and thoroughly tested both the 35 and 50, was the bad ergonomics of the aperture ring. It is simply way to small and narrow.

    Of course you can twist it with your finger tips, but even for me, with small and healthy hands, it is more troublesome than should be needed. And this problem has been pointed out on several reviews, like from (the late) Michael Reichman.

    So why on earth doesn’t Zeiss listen? A 5+mm wider aparture ring would do wonders for the ergonomics, but sacrifice absolutely nothing for focusing.

    BR//Bo

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 18, 2016

      That’s a good point. It’s never bothered me in the past but may be too small with people wearing gloves, for instance. As for listening, no idea. Has anyone ever actually told Zeiss about this ? 😉

  17. Avatar
    Danny Burk September 19, 2016

    Hi Pascal – thanks for your nice review! Since you have extensive experience with an Otus 85, you’re the right person for my question. 🙂 I also have an Otus 85, and while it’s my all-time favorite lens, I can’t say that it’s ideal for hiking with a variety of other lenses. I’m therefore making plans for a more light and compact hiking lens set. I’d planned to get the Loxia 85 (85 is my favorite focal length), but now I’m torn between it and a ZM 85/4 with adapter (for A7RII).

    The ZM is half the weight and less expensive, yet has great reviews. Looking at your Loxia photos, the rendering seems quite similar to Otus. Do you agree, or do you see differences (other than maximum aperture, of course, and minor CA in the Loxia)? It would be nice if the lens that I choose has a different rendering style from the Otus. I have no experience with the ZM – do you? I have a strong preference for manual lenses, so I’m not considering the Batis 85.

    Thoughts will be much appreciated – thank you!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 19, 2016

      Hi Danny, you’re right, the rendering of the two lenses is very similar in their common range. There are minimal differences, very slightly less structured bokeh in the Otus being one. And the fewer lenses in the Loxia show also by a very slightly well corrected lens that also feels a tiny bit “airier” that the Otus. Subtle differences but there if you look.

      I don’t know the 85/4ZM personally but there is a Loxia 85 thread on Fred Miranda where Fred mentions he will compare the two lenses when he receives his Loxia 85. If you can wait a little longer, you can find first hand information there. Hope this helps.

      Pascal

  18. Avatar
    Danny Burk September 19, 2016

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, I’ve seen the thread at Fred Miranda….that’s what made me think twice about the Loxia! I’ll wait to see what others think after comparing the two.

  19. Avatar
    Colin Johnson September 24, 2016

    Oh Christ,

    It had to happen.
    The inevitable audiophile to camera gear review superlatives 🙁

    Audio gear took me a lifetime to be able to discern what is good vs. run of the mill and to stop the endless upgrade cycle.
    I guess a lot of us did make the bridge between the two?
    I just need to learn to be satisfied with camera gear before I spend myself out of house and home…

    I love the muted rendering of the Loxia’s.
    The 35 especially is a moody and somewhat bland lens at first look, but over time it shows it’s strengths…
    I guess I’ll be picking one of these 85s up when they become available.

    As for Linn, never liked their gear that much.
    I was a Pink Triangle man back in the 80s.
    Audio has it’s fan boys too 🙂

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 27, 2016

      Hi Colin, yes it looks like many photographers are HiFi nuts as well. And it certainly looks like taste variations are plenty in the audio world as well 😉 It took me two days to recover from that fact that you do not like Linn (I’m talking turntable and have never heard the rest). Shock, horror. The 85 plays nicer in harsh light than the 35. It took me a while to get used to the 35 whereas the 85 felt right at home quite quickly. Lovely lens. I hope you enjoy yours.

  20. Avatar
    Leonard September 24, 2016

    Lovely and useful range of photo examples, save only the absence of Catwoman portraits. A nice review and a delightful read, Pascal.

    I have the 21, 35 and 50mm Loxia lenses, which work just as I need on my A7rii. By coincidence, however, I am selling my 21mm – not for any performance liabilities, but because the opportunities to use it for me are more forced than natural. I thought I liked super-wide; turns out, not. So I must wait for a 24, 25 or 28 mm Loxia, and then I’ll have a nice wide-angle smile to go with it. . . which brings me to. . . the 85.

    I have been waiting impatiently for an 85 Loxia – and here it is. At first I was concerned about it’s being “only” a 2.4 but when I ask myself honestly if I require less DOF, the answer is “no.” My earliest experience with serious large apertures at this length was the first Canon 85 f/1.2L. Scared the piss out of candid opportunities, I can tell you that. But after the honeymoon, I found that I rarely used anything faster than f/2.8 . . . so a lens with knockout performance wide-open at f/2.4 sounds like just the ticket, except. . .

    It’s an odd-looking duck, nothing like any of the other Loxia, which is a disappointment for OCD folks like me. Heavier than I expected – for an f/2.4 no less. I thought it would be lighter and no larger than the Batis 85. Seems not. All the same, I am ordering one stateside from B&H this evening.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 27, 2016

      Catwoman ? Is she Australian ? 😉

      A 24mm Loxia would be nice indeed. 21 is on the wide side for most of us. I sold my 19mm Leica-R and thought the 21 would replace but, thus far, the urge hasn’t really materialised. A shame as it’s a great lens.

      In use, the 85 felt just like the other Loxias. I’m not sure what you find different but the feel is very similar and the rendering is just lovely. f/2.4 is never limited by performance issues, it just has a very slightly different look to it. Let me know what you think when you receive it !

  21. Avatar
    Steve O. October 06, 2016

    Lovely review. Some excellent images–I especially liked the field with the cows as it tells me this lens would be very fine indeed for landscape images. I am torn, however, having a Leica 90/2 AA in that while I suspect this lens to be as good or perhaps even slightly better, I also expect any improvement would be small, I would lose a bit of speed, and lose the techart autofocus. It is a strange time where non native manual lenses can now autofocus (with limitations) versus native manual lenses, which cannot. Your review has made the decision difficult. I do like both Leica and Zeiss lenses and have a mixture of each. I like both the Loxia 21 and 50 and sharing filter threads also makes this lens tempting. First world problems, but still difficult. Surprised it is not a bit lighter and wish in general that Zeiss would emulate Leica in the lens cap and lens shade departments, but so far it is not to be….

  22. Avatar
    Andrew October 24, 2016

    I own an a7 with the Sony/Zeiss 55mm 1.8 and Loxia 21. One thing I love about the Loxia 21 is it’s ability to render colors beautifully. Something about it makes shades of all colors pop, I notice it every time against the 55mm. This 85 does look very flexible, if it could render true colors like the 21 I might be interested. I do wish it was a little faster though.

  23. Avatar
    William October 25, 2016

    Thanks for the great review. I have the 21 and 50 Loxias…wondering if I should spring for the 85. What do you think the difference would be between the 50mm in APS-C mode (at 72.5) versus the 85 (besides difference in focal length)? Is it worth adding the 85? I shoot mostly video on the Sony A7Sll.

  24. Avatar
    Micah October 26, 2016

    I have been waiting for this lens to come out for about a year… and now that it’s here i have really mixed feelings. Wish it was f2 instead of f2.4… or even better a 75 f1.4. I am also concerned about flatness and ability to seperate. I do have loxia 50 and it is my favorite lens because everything is just so intuitive.

    Wish there were portraits. I know zeiss published a handful, but those look kind of flat too (in comparison to milvus 85). What I don’t know if that apprent flatness is from the lens, or from lighting/style of the portraits.

    Looks awesome for landscapes. Thanks for the review

  25. Avatar
    Kinson Cheng October 28, 2016

    Great preview.

    Just wondering if you have any experience with the ZM 85 Tessar? If so how does it compare to the Loxia?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy October 30, 2016

      Unfortunately, I do not. The Loxia probably has better coatings and more uniform performance. But from the aesthetic point of view, I can’t say. Sorry …

  26. Avatar
    Bernie Ess December 11, 2016

    Thank you for your well made review – such nice images. I will have to have a second, third and fourth look in order to not be fooled by your choice of images. But one thing that strikes me indeed is the purity of colors. Now wooooowwwww! factor, but a subtle drawing style.
    I haven’t bought a 85mm for my a7rII yet, so obviously the Batis is a choice, too, how would you describe (if you know the Batis) the difference between the 2?
    There is also the highly regarded Contax Zeiss 85/2,8 – a clearly cheaper second hand solution…
    My favorites in your many nice pictures are – besides the 2 fisher nets – the lakeshore panorama (above the boat house with bride) + 1 or 2 more of the forest panos. So nice hues….

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 11, 2016

      Thank you Bernie. The Batis has a stronger signature to it. The Loxia is super neutral. It’s also a very nice lens, but the plastic + AF makes it a different type of tool in the hand. I think the Contax-Zeiss is a superb vintage lens. Ming Thein loves his. Of the 3, I would have the Loxia because of the neutral quality, exif, auto-magnification for focus. But that’s a very personal decision, obviously. Hope this helps 🙂

    • Avatar
      Mark Muse December 21, 2016

      Bernie, if you go the CY route be aware that there is reported to be a big difference between the older AE version and the MM version. I have the MM which at least has superior coatings, but I think it is probably a newer optical design as well. Some like the flairing that occurs readily with the AE (not me). And ignore where it is made, there is no difference on that basis.

  27. Avatar
    Y Soliman January 24, 2017

    People who say this lens renders flat images need to have their eyes checked. I think the color and contrast that this lens produces are suburp. I wish it was f2. For that reason only I’m keeping the Batis 85 along with loxia 21 and 35mm.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 24, 2017

      Thanks Yassir. Subtlety is the lens’s greatest asset. It colours are sublime and the 3D rendering is natural, rather than etched like with some Sony Zeiss lenses (55/1.8 in particular). So, at first brush, people discard it as uninteresting. I think it’s one of Zeiss’s best lenses ever, which is saying a lot.

  28. Avatar
    Sam January 24, 2017

    no autofocus, F2.4, silly skinny design, no stabilization, high price. .. this is probably the most lane lens i have ever seen released. if you want an 85mm there are better faster options. if you dont care about fast F no. you can get a zoom F2.8 with autofocus and stabilization and have loads more range. only a complete idiot would buy this loxia 85.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 24, 2017

      Sam, I’ve tried more 85-90mm than most people out there. I own several of the most respected designs ever. The Loxia is the one I’d go for, if starting from scratch.

      Many (myself included) consider manual focus a bonus, not a negative.
      The camera is stabilised so the lens doesn’t have to be.
      Zeiss have faster options, this is a small lens, not a huge f1/.4.

      Complete idiot? Sorry, I won’t feed the troll, this is a blog for photography lovers. No room for you here. But you have yourself a nice day.

  29. Avatar
    j.a. April 01, 2018

    Very nice article, very well written and loved the use of so many metaphors to illustrate the results you found while using this lens. Photos are beautiful and an inspiration for city and bush walk downs.

    Yes, I’m one of those “idiots” who got this lens and also the 50mm. A very happy “idiot” I must say because these lenses render like no other. I’ve been taking photos since a long time ago, before most of internet trolls were born, most of them perhaps never used a real manual camera like the Olympus OM-1 or Pentax K1000 or don’t know that a prime has far better IQ than a zoom. Using these Loxias brings back these nostalgic feelings where you have an absolute control of the image you are creating.

    In these days everything is about sharpness, wide apertures and cheap, cheap, cheap but a good photo must have beautiful tonalities, lots of micro contrast covering the dynamic range and great definition, this is what this lens delivers same as others in the Loxia family.

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