#285. Zeiss Loxia 50/2, Sony FE55/1.8 and Leica Summicron 50/2, the Great Normal Lens Shootout

By pascaljappy | Review

Oct 10

So there we are, admiring the city of Paris from above on a cold and wet wet wet autumn morning to give the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 a second look (Philippe’s world first public review is here) and compare it to its natural rivals : the Sony / Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar T* and the Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 (in its latest design). I reviewed the former here and declared my love for the Summicron on multiple occasions, most notably here.




We’re up at sparrow to catch the rising sun shine its glory on the alabaster-white walls of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre and infuse its golden goodness into the glass towers, medieval streets, leafy parks and river bends that make this proud capital one of the most desirable places to photograph on the globe.

And, as you can tell from this first image, it ain’t really happening.

But worry not. Over the course of an exhausting, 12 miles and 300 frames day putting the final touches to the upcoming InSight: Paris guide, we face a wide variety of weather / lighting conditions ranging from belting rain to glorious sunlight to open shadow.

OK, this is a long review. Onwards!


Build & Ergonomics

There’s little point in rephrasing Philippe’s original words. Let me just say that the auto-zooming as you rotate the focus ring combined with focus peaking make this the easiest lens to focus I have ever used. On static or slow-moving targets, I find this far preferable to any AF available today.

The Zeiss-blue bottom ring adjacent to the A7r’s orange mount makes a strong case for colour-blindness.

Build is classy and modern, the focus ring is positive and well damped with absolutely zero play or backlash.




Though Zeiss make no claims for water-resistance, the lens’s first day in my keep was veeeery rainy and it seemed to fare much better under the conditions than the poor A7r, whose rear screen activation was the first to go awol (ditto on Philippe’s A7r), soon followed by the selector wheel and worrying battery drainage.

In a 3 way battle with it’s previously mentioned competitors, the Loxia 50 ranks second for sunshade design, behind the sheer retractable brilliance of the Summicron 50 but neatly ahead of the FE’s more cumbersome and less sexy design.

And I’d stick to this order of merit in terms of build and feel.

But the focusing yumminess of the Loxia, it’s adapter-free nature and Exif data make it the global winner for me. An aperture ring in 1/3 stops is also smile-inducing.

The Loxia 50 wins this round.



We were all led to believe Steve McCurry is a genius, but the reality is he simply had a Loxia before the others 😉

Unless otherwise noted, all the pictures on this page are straight out of camera except for auto white balance in LightRoom (in camera AWB is a joke on the A7r). And, as you can see, colours are bold yet realistic.





Even in a scene where natural colours are less berzonkers and more subdued, the Loxia 50/2 transfers hues cleanly and truthfully.





A telling sign of how well this lens performs is that I have not yet resorted to my usual “willful” post processing. I will, obviously, because that’s the look that appeals to me. But I have been so amazed by the out-of-the-box colours of my 300+ images so far that I’ve just corrected white balance to let colours sing naturally.


Skin tones

After Philippe’s world-first review was published we were asked to evaluate how well the Loxia deals with skin tones.

Sadly for us all, the foul weather conditions meant that tourists of all climes were indeed present but few were showing any skin at all. However, let it not be said DearSusan gives up easily. We rang a model agency (or maybe, we were just lucky …) and soon had 4 pretty ladies walking up and down the Ponts des Arts.



What do you think ? Below is a photo of hair, which is just as important as skin rendition for portraits. Click for a full-size file showing tremendous detail and lifelike rendering.






As before, the first word that comes to my mind is natural. Colours are strong (see green bottle and red label above) but also very realistic (the rest of the scene above, and the scene below, with the sun finally out).




To use the adequate ISO9001 colour measurement terminology, I’d rank the Loxia 50/2’s colour rendition as : bloody marvelous. Reds, blues, greens, faded colours, strong colours, you name it. The separation between close hues is clean and full of subtlety. And the lens shows great transparency and clarity. This could be expected of the lens’s design, and also of the reviews of its ancestor, the Zeiss ZM Planar 50/2.

Another strong point is the absence of colour shift as you change the aperture. As you can read in my Leica Summicron-R 50 review, even the best lenses can be afflicted by this. But I didn’t notice the problem at any point with the Loxia 50/2.

Micro contrast is not very high, though, so rendition appears smooth and transparent but natural and never aggressive. As you can see below, this translates well into B&W.








All in all, I think the general aesthetics of this lens are slightly out-of-time. Something in the way it draws is classic, but the absence of vignetting, great purity and transparency feel very modern. It’s a great lens for reportage or traveling, transmitting exotic photons with a neutrality that is welcome when there is no chance to retake a picture.

So, the Loxia 50/2’s handling of colour and tone shines in isolation, but you can see how it fares compared to 2 adversaries mentioned in the title, below. Differences are subtle, but they are there.


In the field, showdown time

“All very well”, you murmur, “but how it stacks up against the competition is what we want to know”

My thanks go to Philippe, who is selling his FE 55 (leave a comment to grab it now, I’ll keep it private), for holding on to it long enough for this side-by-side comparison to take place.

We set up our tripods on the lovely Pont des Arts for aperture series close up and at infinity. Boredom alert …


Close up comparison

Zeiss Loxia 50 Zeiss/Sony FE55
f/2 f/2 f/8
f/4 f/4 f/8
f/8 f/8 f/8
f/16 f/8


The main difference I’m seeing at f/2 is seemingly identical detail in both lenses, but higher accuance in the FE55. And a hint of veil in the out of focus zones on the Loxia 50/2.

At f/4, my verdict would be reversed, with a tiny advantage to the Loxa 50/2 over the FE55.

At f/8, I think the Loxia maintains or increases its advantage.

In terms of sharpness, there’s actually very little in it. Given that the FE55’s MTF curves rank among the best the human race has ever created and the Loxia’s border on the oh-hum at all apertures in comparison, it’s probably fair to say that Sony hires separate designers for the lenses and their brochures 😉 At any rate, the Loxia holds its ground well in this, lofty, baby OTUS company (please note that, at the moment of writing, Lightroom has no profile for the Loxia. We may see even better result from the lens in the near future).


Infinity comparison

Zeiss Loxia 50 Zeiss/Sony FE55 Summicron-R 50
f/2 f/2 f/8 f/8
f/4 f/4 f/8 f/8
f/8 f/8 f/8 f/8


Again, there’s so little in it that most differences are hidden in the ugly jpeg compression (files look a lot nicer at 100% in LightRoom). But forced to make a choice, I would say the following :

At f/2, my winner is the Summicron in the center, then the Loxia (very marginally), then the FE55. In the right edge (buildings on the right of the bridge), the same order applies, with a greater edge for the Summicron, in spite of an obvious veil. The cleanest, and best, image probably comes from the Loxia.

At f/4, I’ll put the FE55 in front of the other 2, tied, in the center zone. On the right-edge buildings, the Summicron seems to have the most detail, followed by the FE55, then the Loxia 55. But the Loxia 50 and the FE55 give the cleaner image. The FE55 wins this one.

At f/8, detail level seems identical, but the Loxia and FE55 give the most pleasing image.

My conclusion is that sharpness is really not what you should go by to separate these lenses as all 3 perform on a very similar level. Ergonomics, AF and rendering are much more important here.

Strangely enough, it appears the A7r exposes much better with the Loxia than with the others, particularly the Summicron, with which underexposure seems to be a given (Summicron 50 frames were given a +0.4 exposure boost here and still look underexposed). Based on these examples, I’d have a hard time choosing between the Zeiss Loxia 50 and Zeiss/Sony FE55.


Focus : shift, breathing and plane

The following day, looking for focusing oddities, I took pictures of a straight lines on the streets by the port of Marseilles and found no trace of curved focus “plane” or of focus shift. Both are good news, and the latter particularly welcome in a manual focus lens.  To confirm this informally, I focused (using focus peaking) on a range of targets and checked that focus peaking stayed in place while I changed the aperture. It did.

On the other hand, the Loxia 50/2 seems to exhibit some focus breathing. Not being a videographer, I’ve no idea how severe that is compared to other lenses, but download the two images below and switch rapidly from one to the other and you’ll see that focal length appears longer at close focus than at longer distances.





Flare, no glare

As previously described by Philippe, the lens can be made to flare.

So far, I’ve never found flare to to be an inconvenience, but the photographs below are proof of its existence. Nothing overly objectionable in most situations, but flare actually becomes more visible (concentrated in a smaller area) at small apertures. First image at f/5.6, second at f/2. Caveat photor.





Glare, on the other hand is almost totally absent. The photograph below demonstrates the very high global contrast that can be dealt with. This is at f/4, the aperture which I consider the best balance between technical excellence and “organic” drawing (more below, on this). Click the image for a full-size image and see how sharp and clean the lens is at this aperture.




Bokeh & that Zeiss 3D pop

Far from being a bokeh-king, the Loxia 50/2 uses out of focus areas more to articulate planes in a very natural fashion rather than to bathe us in creamy custard. In most situations encountered so far, it’s pretty classy and elegant. I lack the patience and lab-rat inclination to run more aperture series for bokeh, but here are a few examples at various apertures. UPDATE: I was asked for Bokeh samples at f/2.2 to f/2.8 in various scenarios. You can find them here Loxia 50/2. Bokeh Series.

In distinct near-far relationships, the 3D rendering is really very good (next 5 images at f/2).








You can click the final image for a full-size image that will give you an indication of far-edge sharpness at close range, f/2 in a dark area (focus is on the eye at the bottom). Not bad!

In more “continuous depth” settings, the progressive change from sharp to unsharp also contributes to the sensation of 3D (below, f/5.6).




But when the background has strong texture, the lens is obviously not at its best and gives us agitated bokeh. This is evident, for instance, in the photo of the gentleman facing Marseilles, at the top of this section (click to enlarge), where out of focus buildings are slightly “gritty” rather than perfectly smooth. Also in the stained glass of the last-but-one photo below.

Specular highlights do not attract undue attention to themselves.  And I see none of the swirling nasties associated with some (relatively) ancient designs.

All in all, this lens is all about subtle 3D cues and natural looks. The 10 blade diaphragm keeps the aperture almost perfectly circular at all settings and is probably no stranger to the pleasing results.


Chromatic aberration

The Loxia 50 is not an APO lens and chromatic aberration can appear on high contrast edges. It’s a little more than expected, but rarely bothersome in real life and usually very easy to correct in post-processing.

Click the image below to zoom into the offending zone for a real life example at f/2.

Minor traces of Longitudinal CA (I think) can be found in several of my photographs. It becomes evident on some out-of-focus highlights that are not bright enough to blow the flaw to pure white. In the photograph below, the effect is also quite evident as you follow the string of rivets from below the Airstream4u sight to the left. As rivets become more and more out of focus, they become colourful onion rings rather than blurred rivets. It’s obvious at full-size, invisible at web-size, does not bother me at all and shouldn’t bother many others either.




What’s not to like ?

Not much, actually.

Corner performance is not that brilliant at wide apertures. The lens sings from f/2.8 to f/5.6, after which it seems to trade a little bit of it elegance for a more clinical character (see below, click for full-size picture).




My greatest worry is this : performance is just fine for an A7r. But, as mentioned in my preview, how well it will fare on 50 Mpix sensors of the likely near-future is not so certain. So is this lens future proof? Most of my shots of the day were made at f/2. If that aperture became a low-light convenience setting rather than an artistic choice, the lens would lose 50% of its appeal to me.

Philippe reported a tendency for flare and a little chromatic aberration, which I can see as well, but is a very minor issue.

The sunshade is a tad finicky to set up at first, so leave it on permanently if you can spare the room in your bag. And the front cover doesn’t fall off anymore, depriving me of the pleasure of ranting about it.

That’s about it.




Just to nitpick, I might voice a tiny complaint against the placid nature of the lens. Comparing my photos with Paul Perton’s at the end of the Paris day, I did miss some of the strong drawing character and bold colouring of his early Leica jewels. Neutrality is good in politics, but art needs a drop of hooliganism here and there. If I owned a Porsche Cayman (the uber-poised, unflappable mid-engine treat from Stutgart that the Loxia evokes in my mind), I’d probably occasionally paw through the Jaguar catalog with envious looks at the F-Type bad boy.
I’m just sayin’ …


In clonclusion

So, there you have it. The thorough examination of this new lens that was needed for me to replace my beloved Summicron-R 50/2.  It’s no hard for me to admit I wasn’t expecting it to be this good and considered it to be a half-ass effort by Zeiss to cash in on an old design, much like the 7 re-editions of Star-Wars, for instance. The truth is Zeiss seem to have produced a gem. And I wish them well on the cashing-in.

This update of a 30 year-old design turns out to be an extremely well though out compromise between the conflicting criteria of redesign costs, size, price and performance.

Balance and natural class are the words that come to my mind to describe the result. Plus it looks damn good on the A7 and feels really nice in hand.


In car terms, the FE 55 would be the Nissan GTR, that seemingly soulless technological monster that beats the rest in pure performance terms and does so many things (highlight contrast, in particular) so well. The Loxia 50, as suggested above, would be the supremely competent Porsche Cayman, with it unshakable poise, balance and elegance. And the Summicron, well, I like to think of it as an e-type on steroids (Eagle, anyone ?) that can oversteer any sadness out of your soul with little regard for driving efficiency, yet perform rigorously (and oh-so beautifully), depending on your needs and mood. I did my best to rent an OTUS 55 to make the comparison complete, but it was not to be. No Nikon-mount OTUSes (OTI ?) can be rented in Paris, incredibly enough. And none of the DearSusan crew own Canon adapters or wish to do so 😉 But I’m pretty sure the OTUS 55/1.4 would have been every bit the Bugatti Veyron. Sharper still, more contrasty and so flipping fat and expensive you’d never take it out of the studio.

There will always be a place in my heart for a tuned e-type. But it has to be said that for every day driving, the Cayman is my pick (he wishes!). My beloved Leica Summicron-R 50/2 and assorted Leica Elmarit-R 90/2.8, both on Nikon mount, are now both for sale. (leave a comment to grab either or both now, the comment will not be published).

The Loxia range is off to a great start : the 50/2 is definitely a keeper!




So, now, a thank you and a plea to Zeiss : the ZM range contained several gems (the 25/2.8 Biogon being my favourite) but the individual lenses displayed very different personalities. Since the Loxia range will allow us to share ergonomics, filter sizes and A7r compatibility, can you please, please, homogenize the rendering of the various future constituents to make this a consistent range? Please!



Bleu, Blanc, Rouge (c) Caroline Dache


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  • benoit says:

    Great in-depth review of the lens. It’s most interesting and pushed me towards getting one.
    I wonder however where you were able to get one. It does not seem to be available anywhere in France yet.

    Many thanks for the wealth of information.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Benoit. If you do get one, please tell us what you think of it ! My co-author Philippe managed to secure to from Shop Photo in Saint Germain en Laye. It was an order placed a few weeks ago.

  • Mark says:

    Great review thanks. It would have been really interesting if you had compared the Loxia 50 with its father- the Planar 50mm f2 ZM!
    I own that lens & love it’s natural ‘glassy’ transparent drawing- it feels organic & optical rather than clinically digital.

    Do you think it would be worth the ‘upgrade’ to the Loxia for drawing & sharpness? (forget ergonomics for the moment)

  • Tan says:

    Yup, one of the attractive features of the Loxia lineup is the promise of same filter thread and focus ring distance. Though I’m curious how they’ll keep it this way when it comes to wider lenses.

    I can accept the Loxia range to be “slower” f/2 fastest, but I really hope all the lenses in the Loxia lineup will be sharp wide open and if needs to be slower (f4 perhaps?) for wider lenses, as long as it keeps the promises it made regarding the lineup.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Me too. The main feature for me is consistency, which wasn’t really the case with the ZM range. It would be surprising to see wide-angles opening at f/2. A pleasant surprise, but unlikely. The Biogon 25 was already a handful at f/2.8, not sure they’ll want to try an f/2 version. And I sure hope to be wrong 😉

  • Alexander says:

    I like the last shot a lot! You don’t need an expensive lens to make it though, do you?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks 🙂 I’ll tell Caroline.

      To be honest, it’s doubtful you need an expensive lens for any of these shots. The Loxia has that easy natural look to it that some very strange lenses would mask, but there is no magic to it that would be 100% missed if you used a cheaper lens. But the price for the Loxia seems right, in this segment.

  • Eric says:

    Another lens that might be worth to compare as well is the Contax G Planar 45/2.
    Mine is very pleasant with the large Metabones adapter.

  • Ulfie says:

    Fine review. Thanks! I especially like the Loxia’s “smooth sharpness,” if you will. More “classic” than “clinical” is another way to subjectify its resolution. But one thing disturbed me, and that may actually be in the Sony’s sensor and not due to the Loxia. In image #4, the blue door and the orange-jacketed man, his hair and scalp (at least on my uncalibrated monitor) have a rather ill bluish tinge, as if the hues from the door are infusing into his scalp. Does anyone else notice this? It could be the White Balance is a bit off, or it could be Sony’s sensor rendition of blue hues, or my monitor. Who knows … I see that sometimes in other Sony images too, especially OOC jpegs. It’s not a deal breaker but it does look a bit weird to me. If I were to go full-frame (I was there once with film. Remember film?) again, after winning the lottery first, this combination would be very tempting, i.e. the A7 and Loxia 50. I don’t really need the A7r’s uber-resolution and larger files. Instead, I’m now going to get an Olympus 25/1.8 for my lowly but actually quite competent Oly E-PL1 m4/3’s body. Less is more for me, at least right now.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Ulfie, thanks for the kind words. The photo you are referring to was shot in the shadow under a bridge early on an overcast day. The light was very blue and the photo looses much of its character (orange-blue colour contrast) when I correct this. This is why the hair looks blue. I don’t think it has anything to do with the lens or sensor. Olys are great. I used to own one and loved it every second 🙂

  • Phillip Angstrom says:

    The comparative pics between the 50 Lox and the 55 Sony do not appear to be of the same size. Open them out. go to the extremes using the scroll bar. Of course u may have moved your camera, but the sizes of the identical locks were not the same size.

    The advantages for the Loxia could be its 180 degree focus ring. Clearly using an a7 with the 55 in MF and using peaking will not result in the same clarity as with AF and I suppose that is due in part to the short distance in refocusing though I am not a long time user of MF.

    It would be a more powerful sell if the Lox would it’s mechanical advantages – on board rings – were indeed optionally AF but pricing would be prohibitive and it would crowd an already SRO function for lenses.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the unique and creative review.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Philip, thanks for the comment. My guess is the 10% difference in focal length between the 2 lenses is what you are seeing. The tripod didn’t move, although the camera probably did a little. On a camera with better AF, I might miss the feature. But on the A7r, I must say manual focusing with the Loxia beats anything else I’ve used in the past. It’s just lovely. Since the lens has a flat field, I simply focus wherever the point of interest is and recompose. There’s no need to mess around with the magnified area at all. It’s really really fast and easy. And satisfying 🙂

  • E.J. Peiker says:

    If you get even the smallest spot of water on the eye sensor ujst above the viewfinder of the a7 bodies, it detects that as your eye and the rear LCD doesn’t come on. Simply putting the corner of a lens cloth in that narrow window to dab the drop will return the rear LCD to normal operation. I have experienced this many times in my photography with the a7R in wet conditions. It’s not a malfunction, just that the eye sensor has water on it.

    Thanks for the reviews 🙂

  • Andrew says:

    Two questions. I have both the 50mm Summicron-R and 90 2.8 Elmarit (second version) and from the review above I can’t see why you would be putting the Summicron up for sale. Is it the underexposure (I do find that annoying as well) or the colour shift. Secondly why the 90mm, Zeiss hasn’t made anything in that focal length in fact neither has Sony or any other mirrorless manufacturer (save Samsung and its superb 85mm but that’s on crop sensor)?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Actually, my selling the lenses has very little to do with their optical merit. I own 2 90/2.8 Elmarits, one in M-mount and one in R-mount. Since there are more M-mout adapters lying around the house and they are smaller, I’m keeping the M version. I don’t think I’ll ever sell that lens, it is so good. But I don’t need two 😉

      As for the Summicron-R 50/2, well, it’s still a glorious lens, but I don’t use it much, mainly because the focusing on the Loxia is so fabulous. But I can’t get myself to part with the Summicron because it does things so differently. More thinking is needed, I guess, but I like to travel light and keep my gear to a minimum. Redundant lenses don’t lie around long around here.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascaljappy,

    What a terrific article. I like how you provide the details weaved within an interesting story line.

    I have the A7 and a few of the super optic Zeiss ZM’s which I used recently on a trip to Paris and Burgundy. I left the Sony/Zeiss 55/1,8 at home – it’s a good in auto focus but a complete frustration when used as a manual focus lens, and I much prefer to manually focus my lenses.

    The A7 also plays very well with the Canon FD SSC ASPH 55/1,2 using an adaptor.

    I’ve looked and pondered on what you have to say, above, and I now have the Zeiss Loxia 50/2 firmly stationed on the A7. I’m taking the pair for a walk later on today about Sydney. At first blush, the Loxia sings quality, and how so easy is it to manually focus. It’s a quietly confident lens.

    If this is OK with you: my A7 Loxia 50/2 images will be posted on Hewlbane/Fli**r

    Regards Sean

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Sean,
      great to hear from you. Thanks for the kind comment. Very happy that you found the article useful and that you are enjoying the Loxia. I’d love to see your photos of Sidney ! Please send a link when they’re online. Yes, the AF lenses are great in themselves but a huge nuisance to focus manually, when needed. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the canon lenses, but have never had the opportunity to try them I must say, I’ve always been drawn to adapted leses, but now that the Loxia offers such comfort and quality … eh, not so sure anymore 😉
      Cheers, Pascal

  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,

    Another very and quietly competent image processor is Iridient Developer. This info is provided as informative only, not as advertising.



    • pascaljappy says:

      I’ll take a look at Iridient, thanks!

      • Sean says:

        Hi Pascal,
        Just as an informative (not advertising) all of the following images designated as FYA Sat 27 Dec 000001 to 000026 (Loxia Album on Flickr, as given above previously) have been processed with the Iridient Developer v3 beta 4. I applied various settings onto the A7 raw file, ending with a B&W image … I’m pleased, because together the Iridient Developer and A7 are a duet that, on all accounts, work quite well together … regards Sean

  • Michael Herring says:

    Wonderful images and an excellent review!

    I am very keen on many Zeiss lenses. I have the 35mm Biogon f2 in ZM mount.
    Do you think this lens will work on the Sony A7R sensor?
    I would like to use it , if it is a good performer.

    I also enjoy using Hasselblad Zeiss lenses such as the 50mm f2.8 Distagon FLE and 150mm f4 Sonnar on my Pentax 645Z. They provide a beautiful 3D rendering with superb sharpness.

    Thank you for your excellent information,

    • pascaljappy says:

      Mike, thanks

      As far as I know, the Loxia 35mm is a 35mm f/2 Biogon in disguise, so your lens should work very well on the A7r. As for the Hasselblad lenses, you can use them with adapters, in particular interesting Tilt-Shift adapters such as the Mirex (review coming soon).


    • Tan says:

      whoops, I just saw your msg, sadly no the Biogon ZM will not work fine on the A7r, that’s what the Loxia 35 is for, a Biogon design to work on modern day sensor.

  • ge0kas says:

    I just read both reviews #283 and #285 about Loxia 50mm.

    Well, I have my zeiss 50mm f/2 ZM on my a7s and I am very very excited.
    My question is if it’s worth an upgrade to Loxia.
    My main concerns are:
    – Close Focus to 50cm instead of 70cm (I need this, but there exists a close focus adapter)
    – similar weight, similar length (M-NEX adapter included), truly unobtrusive
    – exif data, thus color/lens corrections
    – better performance at f/2 ?
    – Long-travel Focus Ring with easy one finger operation ? (ZM has it)
    – No silver color 🙁

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi, the first advantage of the Loxia is ergonomics. The focusing being coupled with the scene magnification, it is really great to use and quite fast. Small thing, but you get used to it. And yes, there’s EXIF, if that matters to your workflow. Having said that, at 50mm, it’s unlikely the performance will be significantly better. I’ve never used the ZM but my gut feeling is that if you are happy with it, there really is no valid reason to switch to the Loxia. Can’t help with the silver colour 😉 But the Loxia’s design is modern and discrete. It’s good to blend in and go unnoticed. Have fun !

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