#451. A high-contrast hillwalk with the Zeiss Loxia 35/2

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jan 31

With a major shootout between the Milvus 85/1.4 and the Otus 85/1.4 in preparation at casa DS, a Zeiss Loxia 35/2 turned up a couple of days ago to throw a lovely spanner in the works. Now, I have to find competitors to compare to the Loxia. My Distagon 1.4/35 ZM is an obvious candidate, but not one that has received much love or interest in the community (baffling, as this, to me is by a safe margin the best 35mm lens ever created, bar none). So I’m looking for other interesting 35mm lenses. The Rx1-R2 is an obvious choice here, but so difficult to lay hands on … Sony’s own 35/1.4 is also interesting, but Sony never once replied my emails so I stopped trying. Huh …
Provence hills panorama through a Sony A7r2& Zeiss Loxia 35/2

Anyway, instead of whining about the lack of shootout buddies, let’s take this puppy out for a stroll by itself to get familiarised with its look. The hills at the back of my house are perfect for this as the colours of the plants are slightly muted and the sun, even in the winter time can be very harsh. So all sorts of lighting conditions are possible in a short walk.

Provence scenery through barred windows. Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35/2

A short walk provides way too little time to form a definitive opinion but some traits become rapidly obvious. And the main one is that this is a lens that shines in low-contrast situations but can become a bit too much in the opposite conditions. Like the Sony-Zeiss FE 55/1.8, the Loxia 35 is capable of admirable things in the right light but I wouldn’t consider it a universal lens.Barred window and shadow. Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35/2

Bob Hamilton has repeatedly sent me superb photographs of the Scottish hills made with this lens and swears by it. In my hands, in another country, it was a bit of a handful, even for the high dynamic range Sony A7rII. The photograph below is typical of this, with great restitution of the low-contrast fog on the distant hills but an altogether very harsh rendering for the scene (90 minutes after sunrise). And the pic above just shows how hard the highlights can be. To be fair, this is an exposure miscalculation from the Sony, but that’s not an issue I’ve encountered with any other lens before on that camera.Rolling hills in the Provence verte area of the Sainte Beaume. Sony A7r2 and Zeiss Loxia 35/2

This is a lens that warrants getting up early to beat the first rays of direct sunlight.A historic cedar seen through the window of a Provence refuge. Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35

Indoors, it is superb. Coupled to the incredible A7rII sensor, it digs out detail in the deep shadows  and creates photographs that are full of punch and interesting.Window and door. High contrast scene photographed with a Zeiss Loxia 35

Far from the look of a retro lens, this Loxia loves crisp contrasts and details while maintaining good tonality. It wouldn’t be my first choice for soft portrait or laid back ambiences.   The old kitchen in a remote Provence convent. Sony A7r & Zeiss Loxia 35Anyone after the aesthetics of a pre-asph Summilux or of an LTM lens will inevitably look away but those who enjoy a more modern look and impeccable performance will find this small and ergonomic jewel much more to their taste.Christ on the Cross on the wall of a Provence chapel, Sony A7r & Zeiss Loxia 35

Me? For now, I still prefer the Distagon 1.4/35ZM, in spite of it’s relative incompatibility with the Sony’s sensor design. I find it more subtle, less harsh and with better colour. But it’s still early days and I really want to like this Loxia (Exif, easy focus, great performance on the Sony …).

And its performance in B&W is a good place to start a love affair …

Three statues of the Holy Mary inside a tiny Provence chapel. Sony A7r2 and Zeiss Loxia 35/2Obviously, this is not to say that the lens won’t produce lovely colours. Only, you’ll need a reasonably contrasted scene to produce the most pleasing results. Again, indoors, the Zeiss Loxia 35 shines and presents a very vibrant image from what was a slightly dull scene.

A flower pot on an old table photographed with a Zeiss Loxia 35/2

Outdoors too, it is possible to get great results, as I’ll discuss in future articles. It (probably) just requires a little more caution than its less lively alternatives.


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  • Graham Harris says:

    Good morning Pascal, could you expand a bit on the comments about the Sony-Zeiss FE 1.8/55 a little please? As a comparative amateur trying to cope with the light of the Sydney region (and using a SZ 1.8/55) – the light here is very harsh and not unlike the south of France in my limited experience – I can see the difference between here and summer in northern Europe, or even Tasmania further south, but I don’t know enough to find a the best strategy to cope. The other lens I love in UK, say, is the Sigma 1.4/50 Art which seems to render excellent micro contrast when the light is softer. So it has something to do with the way these newer lenses are designed? Please keep up the good work – loved the series on lens testing, taught me a lot. GH

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Graham,

      the Sony-Zeiss FE 1.8/55 is a lens designed to give an impression of high sharpness. It shines in low-light or low-contrast situations with bold colours and high accutance. In your light, you may want to under-expose a little to give yourself a little room to tone down brittle highlights and bring the shadows back up in post-processing. I’ve been using the Loxia this way with some success over the week-end and will post an uptdate soon. Let me know whether that works for you. Cheers, Pascal

      • Graham Harris says:

        Thanks muchly Pascal, I am in the midst of a switch over from Canon to Sony mirrorless so I have some decisions to make re new lenses. V useful advice which gives me something to work on. Looking forward to you posting on this. Thanks again GH

        • pascaljappy says:

          Thanks Graham, much appreciated. We’ll be receinving qquite a few lenses in the coming months and I’ll do my best to write about all of them. Cheers, Pascal

  • Jim H says:

    Pascal you have nailed it. I live in Australia, a land of bright harsh light. For the past year I have grappled with the colours and temperature of my shots with the Loxia. I thought there must be something wrong with me or the lens especially after reading the Bob Hamilton article and Steve Huff’s reviews. In the end I sold the lens and now use a Leica 35 Summicron which almost underexposes compared to the Loxia. Thank you I feel much more confident about my decision.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Jim. The Summicron does seem like an easier lens to live with in your (lovely) part of the world. I’ll be comparing the Loxia with my Summicron soon and will let you know hwo that comes out. I used Leica-R lenses when during my 3 visits to Australia (WA) and foudn them to be very nice there. There was also a Zeiss Biogon 25, which has more ‘temper’ and that was brilliant in the evenings. Cheers, Pascal

  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,

    Again your approach to lens critique is excellent. Both you and Jim H allude to what I have also experienced in OZ because of how the Loxia 35/2 and OZ light dance together. It’s a different dance when used indoors, though.

    Having said that, the Loxia 35/2 excels in its contribution to the crafting of a black and white image.

    By way of example here is my link to an album of images that you and others may find informative, interesting and helpful: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hewlbane/albums/72157650496805298



    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks a lot Sean. I really like your flickr set. There is a clarity in the photographs that gives a lot of tonal information to work with in B&W. Some will prefer a more vintage look, but for a modern approach to monchrome, the Loxia is sweet indeed. Cheers, Pascal

  • Niklaus Daeuber says:

    Hi Pascal
    thanks for these reviews. I was wondering if it is possible to illustrate these subtle differences between lenses. I cannot remember having seen this i.e. for color rendition, micro contrast etc. I read your text and find it thrilling but sometimes do not have a clear understanding of what you mean.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Nick,

      thanks for the suggestion. I’ll try to publish more side-by-side photographs. It isn’t always possible because most of the lens reviewed are loaners which I do not keep, but I do have 2 35mm lenses at home to compate the Loxia to, so it will definitley be possible in this instance. The differences are often subtle and only matter if they occur in an aspect you care about. For instance, some are super sensitive to colour fildelity, others prefer clartity, others 3D … But watch this space ๐Ÿ˜‰ More Loxia 35 coming next week. All the best, Pascal

  • Peter Z says:

    Hi, i have it as well for a couple months and still, it’s a bit of a struggle to know when to use it – and ye, high contrast situation pretty much make the lens unusable wide open:

    2 pictures : http://imgur.com/a/suaH9
    – first one with the sign looks quite soft, as if mis-focused – but it isn’t, the high contrasts make quite a halo around things
    – the second one – check the edges coma

    It is a bit unfortunate, i was hoping for the 35 1.4 distagon in a small package experience, and i am still holding a little hope they release a 35 f1.8 batis eventually, which, if it would have the same parameters as the 25 and 85, would be ideal for me, but for the time being, i will keep it and use it within limitations

    • pascaljappy says:

      Yes, the halo at wide apertures is quite pronounced. It’s charming in some circumstances but bothersome in others. But you can always use smaller aprtures to get rid of it, thankfully. It would be surprising if the BATIS range didn’t get a 35mm some day. It won’t be as good as the Distagon 1.4/35 ZM, though. It can’t be, nothing can ๐Ÿ˜‰ Cheers

  • Norman says:

    Hi Pascal,

    I’ve owned and used the Loxia 35mm extensively, and contrary to your opinion, for me it’s an outstanding lens for outdoors. I used it on my recent trip to Spain, and it produced vibrant colours, great contrast and excellent sharpness. The pictures need very little adjustment in post-processing and it’s very seldom that I have to pull back the exposure or highlights as well.

    Just my 2 cents.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Norman,

      maybe it’s a question of exposure. I find that by underexposing, the highlight contrast issues more or less vanish. But take a look at the other comments. I am not alone in finding this les really harsh in the wrong conditions. And you are not alone in finding it exceptional (Bob Hamilton in Scotland never ceases to amaze us with his pics made with that lens). It’s just much more sensitive to lighting conditions than others. Cheers, Pascal

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