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.
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.
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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