#458. The Zeiss Loxia 35 in colour

By pascaljappy | Review

Feb 25

Quick update. A few days ago, using the Zess Loxia 35 in bright winter sunlight in black & white, I was impressed by resolution but somewhat miffed at the hardly manageable contrast. Inside, things took a definite turn for the better, leading me to think that this lens is better suited to interior scenes or overcast weather.

Several comments from readers in similarly bright areas of the world, mainly Australia in this case, suggested a shared experience. Others were displeased that I didn’t share their love of the Loxia outdoors.

DSC09093Phase 2 of this ongoing review is devoted to colour photographs. Can this hard-contrast B&W mean-machine …

DSC09050… be turned into a pleasant colour shot tool? (monochrome can work in high-contrast but colour is much more difficult).

It looks like three factors help significantly.

First of all, close-ups are rather nice because bokeh is pleasing and soft in those conditions.

Close up portrait with a Zeiss Loxia 35 Secondly, underexposure protects against harsh highlights. So I very often dial in -0.7EV (instead of my usual +0.7EV) and post-process if the image feels too dark. The example below isn’t the best photograph I’ve made of that scene by a long shot, but highlights are kept in check. Provence village house ad tree, Zeiss Loxia 35 on Sony A7r2Not all of the photographs on this page have been made in that way but every photograph thus exposed/developed seems far more pleasant than what my early results suggested (although harshness is never a long distance away).Small building in Provence, photographed with Zeiss Loxia 35 lensHighlights retain some punch but don’t overwhelm the whole photograph and mid-tones are a bit more colourful and rich.

Walls in the narrwo streets of a village in Provence, Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35 A dry fountain in Provence. Sony Aรจr2 & Zeiss Loxia 35Yet, even with some care, it’s easier to blow highlights with this lens than many others I’ve used in the past.Graffiti under a bridge and sinuous road in Provence. Zeiss Loxia 35 on Sony A7r2For those wishing for a tamer style, a third ‘trick’ comes in handy : not only does exposure control minimize the harshness issue, at least partly, but wide apertures on the Loxia 35 produce a softer image due a thin veil that is not unlike the one seen on the Leica Summicron-R 50/2.

Not everyone will like the effect, which can appear to blur fine details, but I find it quite pleasing and gives the Loxia a second personality.  Green and orange leaves. Sony A7r2, Zeiss Loxia 35 Mossy oaks - Sony A7r2, Loxia 35Oak trees at ful aperture. Sony A7r2 and Zeiss Loxia 35Oak trees and brook at full aperture with a Zeiss Loxia 35 on a Sony A7r2But, after a couple of weeks with the lens, I’m sticking to my original opinion: this lens absolutely shines in conditions that are enhanced by it natural high-contrast.

The series of photographs below were made during a storm in Catalunya, near Perpignan. This is where I grew up and is a sort of triangular rift valley with Pyrenean mountains on two sides and the Mediterranean on the third. The topology of the area can serve up fierce thunder storms with little in the way of warning and the light gets otherworldly within minutes.

Backlit branches. Loxia 35 on A7r2 Catalan cacti. Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35/2When the sun finds a crack in the almost black sky cover, the landscape is bathed by a very directional and warm light that the Loxia 35 picked up quite well, in this instance (mostly at f/5.6).

Mimosa tree and palette of greens in stormy light. Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35/2 Storm clouds and sunlight in a catalan garden. Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35/2

Closer to (my current) home, in the undergrowth of the Calanques regional park, the combination of the lens’ contrast and soft-ish full-aperture produces this sort of result. Wild flowers and dark oak trees potographed with a Zeiss Loxia 35 on a Sony A7r2 in the Calanques near Marseilles, FranceGone is the brute, some artistic sensitivity can be made to surface in these circumstances. This is very different from what an OTUS lens we do (less reliance on 3D and bokeh, less crisp focus plane, but still clearly separated in a softer manner).

So the Loxia 35 does appear to need a restricted dynamic range in the scene to show it’s best performance. Underexposure goes a long way towards mitigating the effect of harsh light otherwise. And some softness can be dialed in using wider apertures if that’s what your photograph needs.

Side lighting anc clouds on a rural catalan house potographed with a Zeiss Loxia 35 on a Sony A7r2All in all, I’m more positive about the lens now than when it first arrived on my doorstep. What appeared to be a slightly brutal single trick pony can in fact be used to create very different aesthetics. It remains a niche performer that will shine more easily in Denmark than in Death Valley, for most users, but an interesting one.

More formal tests and a comparison to my Distagon 1.4/35 ZM to come. Here’s a first glimpse into this, with my now-familiar office window scene imaged on the Sony A7r2 with the Distagon 1.4/35 ZM (top) and the Loxia 35/2 (below), both frames made within seconds of one another.

Provence test scene - Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

Provence test scene – Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

Provence test scene - Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35 2

Provence test scene – Sony A7r2 & Zeiss Loxia 35/2

In the mean time, let me leave you with what the Loxia does best: livening-up a dark, dull scene.


Eurodisney’s 61 C1 ‘vette


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Does it help if you make use of the histogram, to push the highlights in from the right edge? Zeiss lenses are often “brighter”, and I’ve generally found that taking more notice of the histogram is the answer to this one.

    Then I relax & enjoy all the other qualities of their lenses. LOL – I’m an unashamed Zeiss “junkie”, I’ve had 8 of their cameras and only God knows how many of their lenses, over the years since I discarded the second hand box Brownie I was given at the start of my photography.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Pete,

      I think this one is brighter than the rest ๐Ÿ˜‰ If you look at the two similar imigaes at the bottom of the post, you’ll see how much more detail the ZM retains in the sky. I could post process the Loxia’s file easilyn there’s enough headroom, but the contrast is still a bit stronger than on the ZM, which I prefer as an all rounder lens. I do try to expose to the right, but less so with the Loxia than with others and find that a little backing off often saves the day, in my light.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Oh dear – what to say, what to say? Pascal, I’ve been a Zeiss “junkie” pretty much all my life. Since I discarded the second hand box Brownie that was given to me to launch my photography, I’ve had at least 8 of their cameras and only God know how many of their lenses I’ve had.

    If it was me, I’d use the histogram to push the highlights away from the right hand side of the image. Then sit back and enjoy all the other qualities that Zeiss lenses bring to the table.

    But of course I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how you handled it. You’re probably miles in front of me. Feel free to ignore this.

  • Leonard says:


    Your Provence office window comparison with the ZM is interesting, not least in that the exposures are different. So, first question is: how did you end up with two different exposures, the more overexposed one being the Loxia – overexposure being your complaint to start with. The ZM is shot at 1/250, the Loxia is 1/200, both at f/5.6.

    So I took a look at both shots in ACR – the histograms are way different, which is to be expected. I then brought the exposure slider for the Loxia down .20 (roughly the difference between the two shutter speeds, I think) and the Loxia is much better behaved. Bring it down to .40 and it’s just about perfect. I’m not advocating fixing in post so much as wondering how your exposure was set “wrong” to start with. If the Loxia was exposed at 1/250 you’d have been within a hair of controlling those pesky highs.

    N’est-ce pas?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hey Leonard, my wayward framing is probably responsible for the slight exposure variation between the two shots (the bright canes on the right probably would justify the 0.3 stop underexposure). And yes, bringing back the Loxia image helps, particularly is the difficult highlights. But if you take a look a the lower part of the image, you’ll see how much more contrasty the Loxia is compared to the Distagon. Not necessarily a bad thing, it really is a matter of taste. It’s just that, for me, the more mysterious image of the ZM is more pleasing than the ultra revealing X-ray of the Loxia ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,

    This lens, when used outside, if it were paired with a high quality polariser (e.g., Zeiss T* or B+W) might help the photographer to better manage the issues that you allude to – contrast and highlights – to allow the lens to ‘draw a better image’.

    Yes I know it’s another layer of glass added to the front of the lens, but in this case, for the specific purpose aimed at benefiting both the lens and the photographer.

    Any thought’s on this idea?


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Sean, you are probably right!! A polariser would keep the ‘upper end’ (highlights) in check and the great dybnamism of thelens would shine through without the occasional agressivity. Have you ever tried that combo ? Look very promising. Cheers, Pascal

  • Sean says:

    Hi Pascal,

    By way of example and as an informative I have posted ten (10) images on Flickr utilising the Carl Zeiss Loxia T* 35mm F2 + circular polariser, on a Sony A7R II.

    First image is – FYA Thu 3 Mar 2016 000001, then there are nine other images that follow.

    Link (first image only):

    Hope this is both of interest and assistance, to one and all.

  • Luis Moreno says:

    Hi Pascal,

    I love your reviews. They are quiet practical. I use quiet a bit the Loxia 35, and I agree that sometimes it gets wild exposing. In fact I have to use a lot the manual compensation. But it has a strong character which I like a lot.

    Please find the link to some pictures taken some weeks ago in Madrid. Half of them are taken with the Loxia 35 and half with Leica 50 summicron. An older R version.


    Hope you find it interesting,



    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Luis,

      thanks for the kind words. We try to think the reviews in a helpful way.

      How interesting that you should mix a Loxia 35 with a Summicron-R 50. Both superb lenses in their own right and both with a similar wide-open romantic veil that some love and others fear.

      Thanks for sharing the photographs of Madrid. I used to travel there on occasion for work but always had to stay in business areas that were not as interesting or fun as where your photographs depict. They make me want to jump on a plane ๐Ÿ™‚


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