When Zeiss sent me the Distagon 1.4/35 ZM, it was love at first sight. The lens’ size, ergonomics, aesthetics and performance simply matched my likes to a T.
When Zeiss sent me the Biogon Loxia 35/2, it was … a little bit different. Trying to keep strong words such as ‘hate’, ‘puke’ and similar idioms out my review, I simply explained how the high contrast of the lens wreaked havoc with the highlights in my photographs. A little later, I realized that the Loxia’s personality softens up as you open up the aperture and that underexposure helps with blown highlights (duh).
The guys at Zeiss being a patient bunch, I kept the lens with me long enough to feel really happy with the images and share a few significant findings about its performance.
And great that performance often is. So let’s jump right in.
Essentially none whatsoever. Combined with the strong contrast, this lens will appeal to architects.
I can’t think of a single photograph I made with this lens that required any editing-out of distorted lines. The spec sheet confirms this quality with a -0.1% value, as close to perfect as any other lens out there. Impressive.
It’s a Loxia. So, here again, things are essentially perfect. Compact, same filter size throughout the range, grippy but smooth focus ring, an aperture ring (the main reason for preferring it over a Batis).
The whole Loxia range brings a modern feel to the traditional manual-focus lens. The shape is clean and wouldn’t be out of place in an Apple catalog. The feels of both rings is great and the focus ring automatically brings up an enlargement of the view in the EVF. Brilliant and so much more satisfying than an oh-hum AF.
At full aperture, vignetting is quite visible and becomes negligible around f/4. However, the progressive nature of vignetting from center to edge makes it far less objectionable than on lenses such as the Distagon 15/2.8 tested recently, which displays ugly dark corners.
Performance is mostly good. The close the sun gets to the edge/corner of the frame, the more pronounced its reflections (flare) are.
The effect is visible even at smaller apertures, such as f/8, below.
Or even at f/16, below.
In fact, closing down only makes matters worse by giving reflections more defined and less rounded shapes. With the sun closer to the center of the frame, all is well again.
Resistance to glare is excellent (that dreaded contrast does have some positives 😉 ).The mailbox above is the worst I have been able to produce so far (note: contrast has been increased in PP).
On the topic of reflections, this lens seems to create unwanted interactions with the sensor surface, much like the Sony FE 35/2.8 with the Sony A7r. This is a first for me on this camera. See Starlit Castle, above.
The very fact that I’m comparing this Loxia to one of the greatest (the greatest ?) 35mm lenses ever made should tell you have well it performs. But don’t take my word for it. Here is an aperture series made on the target below with both lenses. I carefully refocused on every frame (though may have missed *slightly* on the Distagon at f/2).
At f/2, the Loxia has that (spherical aberration ?) veil covering the whole scene but still exhibits a wealth of details. Both are on par. Neither edge shots is particularly sexy, but the Loxia is less dark and murky, while not really showing any more detail.
At f/5.6, the Distagon seems slightly sharper and more alive than the Loxia.
From f/8 onwards, the Distagon seems hit a little harder by diffraction than the Loxia.
More importantly, the flaws on at wide apertures are meaningless in real life as no-one would shoot landscape at infinity as a setting below f/5.6, where both leses are essentially perfect. Below this, the tradeoff is a matter of persona preferences. Some cannot live with the sharpness fall-off of the Distagon (on Sony cameras only!) others will find the Loxia’s veil distasteful. Think about how you really want to use the lens before making a decision.
More importantly still, none of this really matters as you’d struggle to see differences with a loupe on a 16″ print and the differences in character far outweigh those in sharpness.
The very close focusing distance of the Loxia is very useful. At very close range, I found that holding the camera steady enough to maintain focus accuracy soon gets a challenge (that has nothing to do with the lens), but results seem rather good, if not as excellent as at further distances. See below.
At 100%, this f/4 scene has a lot of detail on offer, too. See below
As you can see, bokeh is also pretty nice in these conditions.
Here is a second aperture series at a slightly longer distance (around 60 cm). I clearly misfocused at f/5.6, so those results are omitted.
f/2 is rather oh-hum, but from there on, all is very good. And, bokeh is again very pleasing at all apertures. Which leads us to …
As hinted at in previous instalments of this review, the Loxia 35 has a softer personality wide open and offers really nice bokeh. Particularly so at close range.
Unlike an OTUS, bokeh doesn’t play weird (and wonderful) 3D tricks. It’s a different style but the Loxia maintains very good structure and depth in out of focus zones and can produce results which I find absolutely wonderful, as above, at f/2. At f/4, below, things don’t look bad either. Highlights aren’t overly distracting and the separation between foreground and background is superb.
For a lens than can be so frickin’ harsh and brutal, the Loxia 35 actually produces very gentle bokeh. Kudos.
Bold, for sure. Subtle ? Errr. Since we name all the lenses we review, Philippe suggested we call the Loxia Bart, in honour of the subtlety of Bart Simpson 😀 Having recently been to Disneyland Paris with Audrey (Distagon 1.4/35 ZM) and Max (Milvus 1.4/85), I returned with Bart (Loxia 2/35) to compare notes. Although the time of day (and PP) was different, the photographs below still show a slightly different management of colours between the Loxia and the Distagon.
My preference goes to the (more expensive and less convenient) Distagon 1.4/35, colourwise. And this preference is further increased when dealing with B&W.
But the Loxia produces bold results and is fantastic in dark, gloomy situations.
This is particularly obvious on these photographs of the 62 vette on display at Disneyland Paris. These were made on a super wet, super drab evening and the car just pops out of the screen (kudos to the sensor, too).
In my mind, the photo industry should have stopped wasting its time designing 35mm lenses when Audrey (Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM) was released. I’ve yet to try anything that comes vaguely close. That lens makes you wonder why you should have to make allowances for idiosyncracies such as the harsh highlights of the Loxia 35.
But the Loxia 35 appeals to many photographers and, after a while of adapting akin to the pupil adjustment you experience when walking out of a dark room and into the summer sun, it’s easy to understand why. To put it bluntly, Bart is a bloody good lens.
Distortion, while not that distracting on the ZM Distagon, is totally absent from the Loxia and that gets addictive for architectural photography. What little distortion is present in the frame below is due to the vertical pano process, not to the lens.
Colour, while not as painterly as on my reference gem, inspire giggles when so many other lenses feel dead inside and soul-less.
Bokeh, while not of the creamy cappuccino type, is really, really lovely in most situation.
Resistance to flare is good enough for most situations and you can always use your free hand to block out the sun when it is out of the frame.
All said and done, the Distagon matches my usual lighting conditions and tastes better. But, if you live in a place where the atmosphere is more often veiled (think the glorious light of Northern Italy, the glorious rain of a San Francisco summer or a tropical island under a glorious sunset), your tastes will probably swing towards the Loxia. Night photographers, concert photographers, and many others will also love the Loxia.
Go Bart ! We met on angry terms, we part as seriously good friends.
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I am now totally confused as to which I would prefer – is that where you ended up, Pascal? I rather think I like them both, but having both would be absurd in my case.
Looking at the photos, I felt the differences you found could be turned to advantage, and used as features of the Loxia. Just my impression, but it seems to me from the aperture comparison series that the Loxia is far better at the edge – brighter & clearer – and perhaps this explains why you found more flare or glare when the sun was near the edges of the frame.
Your comments excited my curiosity – I’ve been back through other articles, looking at shots you’ve taken with the Distagon, and apart from those remarks in my previous paragraph I have ended up completely bewildered, because I like the shots from BOTH lenses.
So I think I’ll spend the rest of the day photographing geckos in the garden, with my Zeiss Makro-Planar. (Which seems to have been “re-badged”, but not upgraded, recently – it’s now a Milvus 100mm f/2M, but the differences are mostly external, apart from some lens coating changes). Yes it’s not a “proper macro” (with a 0.50X reproduction ratio), but it’s such a high quality lens that I really don’t care about that!
Hi Pete, you’re right. I think choosing between the two is entirely a matter of personal preference. The Distagon doesn’t like the Sony sensor (it was designed for a thinner stack, a la Leica) and this shows even more on the A7r than on the A7r2. But it’s never bothered me because I’d never shoot a landscape below 5.6 or 8. As for the Loxia, it’s main drawbacks are the 1-stop loss and colours that don’t quite match the Distagon, to my tastes. At the end of the day, it really narrows down to what your photography looks like. If you like rock concerts or live in low-contrast areas, the Loxia is probably the better choice. For B&W in my lighting conditions, the Distagon is nicer. But they are both great and both can be post-processed to look more like the other.
The MP 100/2 is indeed very lovely. Hang on to that one. The Milvus version repeatedly crashed my Sony when I first tried it (it was a pre-series and that wouldn’t happen in a lens) so I was unable to really test it. But there is no reason to believe it would be any different from your current version. Not sure the coatings are better. My impression is that they give the whole Milvus rnge more of a common family look. More consistent to one another, not necessarily better than the previous iterations.
Have fun with the geckos. Send us some pics you are happy with 🙂
Merci, Pascal, for your patience and endurance; they paid off: this report is truly illuminating.
The beaukeh is très beau, I love the contrast (…runs for cover…), the Northern skies under which I live would seem to agree with Loxia’s character, and, well, one can’t have everything: not that special silken spatial rendering of the Distagon in a package the size and price of a Loxia.
But: you promised to keep curse words out of your review. Well, you should have heard mine after I simultaneously spilled my tea and otherwise nearly wet myself upon hitting the “Soft kitty, warm kitty…” caption. The phantom of Sheldon Cooper floated over the churchyard, and I choked with laughter.
Ha ha, now you have me giggling again. I’d forgotten that caption 😀
Thanks for the kind words. With the exposure/contrast caveat, I can’t see many being disappointed by the lens. It definitely requires getting used to but sings in so many situations …
In addition to capturing the subtle French countryside, the Loxia 35 handles the bright light of the American desert well.
Another well written, intelligent and insightful critique/overview of this terrific lens. It certainly makes one feel comfortable in partnering with this lens for use on the A7RII.
Thanks a lot Sean 🙂
Great review. if i may point out small typo in second paragraph, loxia is a biogon.
Oops !! Thanks, well spotted. Corrected in the text. Cheers, Pascal.
How does the Sony 35mm f/1.4 FE compares with your favorite, the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZM?
Good question Abe. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for it as Sony never sent me the 35/1.4 FE. Most photographers who have used the Sony found it extremely pleasing. It should be better in the corners than the Zeiss Distagon, too. But it is AF and more cumbersome, two pitfalls for me. I don’t think you can go very wrong with either.
Thanks for the review, and beautiful photos!*
That veil at f/2 is sublimely beautiful; almost makes me wanna ditch my summicron-r 35. I don’t find the colours vulgar at all, but very natural and realistic—the summilux-r and summicron-r 35 are more “abstract”, nonetheless beautiful. Biogon and sonnar designs are generally pleasing. Hovewer, I can’t think of a n y distagon that I adore; e.g., neither the loxia 21 nor the FE 35 1.4. drawing is IMHO particulary appealing. While the colours of the loxia 50mm are nice, the more clinical look of the planar design can’t match the loxia 35, which is the real gem of the family.
* Many of the links lead to the wrong jpg 🙁 I would really like to see them.
Hello! I have the Loxia 35 and it has really marked flare, really horrible actually. Could I send you some pictures? I wrote to Zeiss but they told me its normal, but its worse than the flare in the mail box picture.
Thank you a lot!
Hi Sofia, I’m no expert on the Loxia 35, having returned my sample after the review. But it’s very unlikely Zeiss would lie about the lens’ performance. It’s an old design with some quirks and flare is part of those. But if you feel your sample is really bad, yes, please send some photographs along (just start a conversation via the contact page and I’ll reply privately). All the best, Pascal