“Only a Few Lenses Give Us That Tonic” — Zeiss Loxia 35mm F2 for Sony α7 Review and Samples

Karel van Wolferen
Karel van Wolferen
By KAREL VAN WOLFEREN

Ever since Sony offered us a way to get traditional medium format quality photographs with the small and lightweight α7R, sharpness aficionados like me have been been made aware that most of our film era lenses are not quite a match for those wonderful small tools. What was still good and sometimes excellent on 24 megapixels will not impress the Sony α7R with its 36 megapixels sensor anymore. It has resulted in a small mountain of not-in-service adapters on one of my shelves.

Zeiss Loxia 35mm F2 Biogon T* Lens for Sony E Mount
Zeiss Loxia 35mm F2 Biogon T* Lens for Sony E Mount
Fortunately Zeiss and Sony together came up with the 55mm F1.8 Sonnar FE soon enough, but it has been an impatient wait for quite a few photographers who have switched to Sony’s mirrorless system for lenses of comparable quality at different lengths. The Zeiss Loxia lineup is a major and laudable third party effort in this direction. There is no question that the name Zeiss has gained new and unchallenged magic in connection with the advanced Sony sensors, vindicated also by how a variety of legacy lenses have performed on my α7R.

A word first about the often neglected character of a lens. Talking about the image characteristics produced by lenses is like describing visual experiences we get from looking at paintings or like putting what we feel about music into words; intruding in one area of experience with the medium of another one. It soon sounds trite and conveys little meaning. Just have a look at the text of an average art exhibition catalog. Any skill I may have is not quite up to it, and perhaps the best way to talk about the character of a lens is to go on about roughly when and for what reason we would like to have it on our camera.

Click image for a full-size sample download. Images below are slightly downsized for better viewing experience.
Click image for a full-size Zeiss Loxia 35mm F2 sample. Images below are slightly downsized for better viewing experience. (Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 40th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen)
When I saw the very first picture I took with the Loxia 35/2 emerge from the RAW developer, I thought that I could already tell. The lens arrived at my apartment, courtesy of the friendly Zeiss people in Tokyo (it is not yet on sale here), an hour and a half before dark and just about at the moment when it stopped raining.

I went around the corner of my apartment and chose a spot where I had stood many times before to test lenses.

It shows the world’s tallest tower (possibly Dubai has beaten the Japanese to it by now) looming behind a typical narrow street of Tokyo’s Shitamachi with enough things like water meters close by to check details. The sky was only just clearing and the tower was of a pale silvery gold.

Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 200th -- ISO 500 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 200th — ISO 500 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F6.3 -- 200th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F6.3 — 200th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 55mm @ F8 -- 100th -- ISO 500 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 55/1.8 @ F8 — 100th — ISO 500 | Karel van Wolferen

A RAW developer cannot extract such a thing from a file unless a lens has first put it in there. When looking at the first results I knew that I most likely would enjoy his lens for the anticipation while working with it of its special qualities that I would soon see on screen and later in a print. Only a few lenses give us that tonic. I always experience it when using the Zeiss T* 45mm Planar for Contax G, the famous Zeiss Distagon 21mm, and the Sigmas DP2 and DP3 Merrill, and indeed the Zeiss 55/1.8. Let me include an example of this last one. I do not think that I would have taken that picture if I’d had any other lens on the camera.

Sharpness is an important part of it, of course, but there is much more to it than what shows up in test statistics. I do not for example think that the paper cutout cats taken through a shop window would have turned out the way they do as shown here with the use of just any other lens. The Loxia draws them very well. The Distagon 21mm does that kind of thing also in an enticing way. It has to do with the measure of micro contrast that the Zeiss optical engineers have put into these lenses, just not too much but certainly not too little. Those engineers must love feathers and windblown hair on girls with cosmetics-free faces.

You see it when looking at the trees and shrubs around the Buddha statue, and comparing them with those in the photograph taken with the 35mm Sonnar F2.8, which was the first lens that came with the α7R. That lightweight little lens with its funny inverted lens hood (which you always have to dig out of the bottom of your camera bag because it won’t stay on) is not a bad lens at all, as some other comparisons in this post can show.

Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 60th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 60th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F2 -- 800th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F2 — 800th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 60th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 60th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 35mm @ F8 -- 125th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 35/2 @ F8 — 125th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 35mm @ F2.8 -- 1,000th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 35/2.8 @ F2.8 — 1,000th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen

But when you look at the frames taken from one of my favorite Brueghel positions (lots going on among numerous people) at the Sensoji temple in Asakusa, comparing how facial expressions make it on the Loxia and on the Sonnar. Compare those also with the lettering on the far lantern in a frame, taken a year ago from the same position, with one of the best Zeiss lenses ever made, the Zeiss T* 45mm Planar for Contax.

Loxia 35mm @ F4 -- 500th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F4 — 500th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F4 -- 4,000th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F4 — 4,000th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 500th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 500th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 50th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 50th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 125th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 125th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Contax Planar 45mm @ F8 -- 160th -- ISO 200 | Karel van Wolferen
Contax Planar 45mm @ F8 — 160th — ISO 200 | Karel van Wolferen

While you are at it, look at a similar photograph and lettering on the lantern taken a year ago with the Minolta 35mm F2, and lament with me the swallowing up of Minolta by Sony. Compare the turning Gingko leaves taken with the Loxia with similar leaves as captured by the great Planar 45.

Contax Planar 45mm @ F8 -- 250th -- ISO 2,000 | Karel van Wolferen
Contax Planar 45/2 @ F8 — 250th — ISO 2,000 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 100th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 100th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 40th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 40th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen

The four images (at F8 and wide open) of the Buddha statue surrounded by trees and shrubs give the best idea of the difference between the two 35s made for the Sony α7 models. Again, this is not a matter of sharpness per se. I actually had trouble choosing between the close-ups of the yellow sweet peas. For a moment I thought that the Sonnar was winning the comparison, although there is a certain harshness about it that the Loxia appears to avoid. Still, I may have accidentally discovered a heretofore unknown strength of the small Sonnar as a closeup lens.

We may also, here, be dealing with a diffraction problem of the Loxia. This is just guessing, but it could be that the Zeiss engineers have been aiming for what is nowadays referred to as the “sweet spot” to be at F5.6. I thought that I had noticed that with the results of the various street scenes shown here. I would rather have it between F8 and F11, for greater depth of field. It is one example of where the bokeh fad has great influence not only on the size and weight of lenses that most manufacturers come up with today, but also as a limiting factor on a the much desired greater depth of field that traditional photographers always hoped they could count on.

For those with an absorbing interest in bokeh, I asked my friend Willem to pose for a F2 portrait with proper out of focus background.

Loxia 35mm @ F2 -- 125th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F2 — 125th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen

But at F8 and F11 the Loxia is wonderful. Check the ambience of the young couple worshipping at the Sensoji (Kannon) temple. Or the white jerry cans on the side of the fried octopus stand, and the details of the watercolors being painted by the two ladies. Check how it renders the goodies in the frame of the inside-out shop, one of my favorite lens testing subjects, and the wood texture of the highly unusual door to what must be the dwelling of a great wine lover.

Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 60th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 60th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 20th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 20th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 6th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 6th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen

The three photographs of wilted lotus plant leaves also give a good idea of the gentleness with which this lens reveals detail. I have had not noticed before what sadness the Shinobazu lotus pond can convey in late autumn.

Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 250th -- ISO 1,250 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 250th — ISO 1,250 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 250th -- ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 250th — ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 250th -- ISO 1,250 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 250th — ISO 1,250 | Karel van Wolferen

The Loxia looks good on the α7R, as if it was specially made for the camera, which of course it was. It excudes Zeiss solidity. Lens data are electronically transmitted to the camera, which is very useful. What disappoints me is the way that even a slight inadvertent touch of the focusing ring will change where you have put it. It is not loose — remember it is a Zeiss, but I had hoped for more stiffness. This is crucial for a manual focus system that you do not constantly want to adjust. And working with only a left hand, which I’m forced to do, now requires a dexterity of acrobatic-like precision just to avoid the slightest change of focus.

I’m interested in this lens, but I will probably mostly use it on a tripod.

Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 40th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 40th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F5.6 -- 125th -- ISO 3,200 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F5.6 — 125th — ISO 3,200 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F5.6 -- 250th -- ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F5.6 — 250th — ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F6.3 -- 250th -- ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F6.3 — 250th — ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F7.1 -- 250th -- ISO 400 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F7.1 — 250th — ISO 400 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 15th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 15th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 60th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 60th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 125th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 125th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 125th -- ISO 800 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 125th — ISO 800 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 160th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 160th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 160th -- ISO 500 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 160th — ISO 500 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 160th -- ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 160th — ISO 640 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 200th -- ISO 3,200 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 200th — ISO 3,200 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 200th -- ISO 6,400 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 200th — ISO 6,400 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 250th -- ISO 800 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 250th — ISO 800 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 40th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 40th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 250th -- ISO 1,600
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 250th — ISO 1,600
Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 250th -- ISO 2,000 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 250th — ISO 2,000 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 250th -- ISO 2,500 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 250th — ISO 2,500 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F16 -- 13th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F16 — 13th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 35mm @ F16 -- 13th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Sonnar 35/2 @ F16 — 13th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F4 -- 125th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F4 — 125th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F8 -- 30th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F8 — 30th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35mm @ F11 -- 15th -- ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen
Loxia 35/2 @ F11 — 15th — ISO 100 | Karel van Wolferen

+++ You can order the Zeiss Loxia 35mm F2 Biogon T* for Sony E mount from Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama, eBay and DigitalRev. Thank you for supporting this site!

Karel van Wolferen is a writer, but photography has been his second life since he was 11 years old, now 61 years ago. He built his first darkroom at the age of 14. His passion is for high resolution. He used to work with 8×10 and now tries to achieve 8×10 by other means through stitching. Until the Sony A7R came along.

Karel left the Netherlands in 1960 at the age of 19, with one hundred dollars, with the idea to hitchhike to India (before there were hippies). He lived in Turkey, India and SouthEast Asia before arriving in Japan two years later. He worked as a newspaper correspondent covering a large chunk of Asia for 16 years before it became possible to live on income from writing books.

The University of Amsterdam asked him to become professor of comparative political and economic institutions, a position he held until retirement seven years ago. Karel still write books, many for Japanese readership. His second life in photography, which saw the building of three 8×10 darkrooms in Tokyo, has continued with all manner of digital experimenting in which I mix techniques to achieve super realistic images.



  • Bengt Nyman

    Thanks Karel,
    Since I rarely work in 55mm I have long been looking for a justification to own an α7R.
    I am glad there is finally a worthy 35mm.
    P.S. Thanks for posting samples in true resolution.

    • Had to downsize the massive files about a third, not to mention compression. They still look fine on the screen, just be assured there’s much more information than meets the eye stored in these files.

      • Bengt Nyman

        I would recommend always posting at least one uncompressed 1:1 crop when it comes to articles about outstanding lenses.

        • Done, please find a full-size image sample right below the top of the post.

          Re: manual focusing, couldn’t be happier with my manual 28mm Zeiss, never thought I’d had missed a shot. On the contrary, I rather think there’s need to polish up on my skills…

          • Bengt Nyman

            Thanks for the image. It’s hard to tell where he focused. If he used center focus, the crop appears to be a bit is off focus. Sorry to be a pest.
            I shoot a bit with a manual Samyang, it’s a good lens. But when working as a press photographer, manual focus is obviously out of the question.

          • Damir Čolak

            shutter vibration is the culprit

          • Your Face

            I don’t think manual focus is a deal breaker for street photography, it just takes some practice! Remember AF was only possibly recently in comparison to how long photography has been around. However, seeing that you are a press photographer, I can definitely understand why it is a deal breaker for you.

          • Karel van Wolferen

            I focused on the handlebars of the delivery motor cycle, to see what the Loxia would do to the stars. In fact that is why I chose that particular neighborhood corner to begin with. Most other images were taken to try out the potential of the lens with various combinations. I much agree with Bengt about autofocus and street photography. The Loxia does have a great depth of field scale and, most importantly, an infinity stop that is accurate. But I have to keep checking whether or not the focusing ring is still at the place I had put it. The Loxia is actually not as bad as some other MF lenses, but perhaps we should all put in a plea with MF lens manufacturers either to make their focusing rings stiffer or to give us a choice.

    • appliance5000

      The sony 35mm f2.8 is very sharp. Fall off is pronounced, but resolution is remarkable. Certainly worth consideration.

      • Bengt Nyman

        The Zeiss-Sony 35mm f2.8 has a DxO score of 33/22.
        If it had scored 42/29, like the 55mm f1.4, I would have bought a Sony A7R and a 35mm f2.8.
        I am presently filling my 35 mm needs with a Nikon 800E and a Sigma 35mm f1.4 (43/30).
        I know that I am leaving myself wide open for anti-score arguments and mumble jumble about what makes a good photo.
        Personally, I like to start with the best technology and add the rest to the best of my ability.
        I am listening with interest to 48 and 52 MP rumors on the web.

  • Trackback

    First Loxia 35mm reviews by VeryBigLobo, The.me and BackGroundBlur! | sonyalpharumors

    […] The.me (Click here) like the lens but also metnioned one limit of the lens: […]

    http://www.sonyalpharumors.com/first-loxia-35mm-reviews-by-verybiglobo-the-me-and-backgroundblur/

  • Your Face

    Thank you for the review Karel.

    By any chance have you, or ‘DanTHEME’, ever used the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2? If so, how would you say it compares to the Loxia?

    • The Voigtländer is certainly an exceptional piece of metal and glass. While about a third heavier than the Zeiss (plus the adapter you’ll need), the Voigtländer offers a more classic rendering than the cleaner, more straightforward Zeiss. The Voigtländer is more about bokeh and these extra stops while the Zeiss certainly offers better corner to corner sharpness at mid-aperture levels. Personally, with a 35mm, I blur backgrounds very rarely, and if so only modestly. The Voigtländer is a cream machine, not something I’m looking for in a wide angle, but if you’re not too much concerned about absolute corner sharpness the Voigtländer is certainly a great choice with a more classic feel to it. But then again, the Loxia is designed specifically for Sony E mount. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that overall performance will be more reliable and predictible. Last but not least, I do not really like how the wider Zeiss render bokeh. Still, my absolutely preferred darling of a lens is the Distagon 28/2. Couldn’t be without her!

      • Your Face

        Awesome, thanks for you input!

  • OneCut

    How is it that the awesome G Planar 45 continues to outperform its siblings? Is there an aspect that is hard to replicate?

  • Sean O’Brien

    Hi Karel,

    I often wander past this site of yours and take delight in savouring the intelligent commentary and content; thus my delight in reading what you have posted about the Zeiss Loxia 35mm F2.

    I’m convinced now I should own one of these lenses, too. That being said, I have owned the Zeiss Loxia 50mm F2 for a brief time and use it on my Sony A7 and, you may be interested what I have achieved so far with this lens & camera combo.

    Here is a link to my Flickr Loxia 50mm F2 Album:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/hewlbane/sets/72157649428964227/

    I provide this link as informative dialogue, and most definitely not as a shameless self promotion.

  • Dear Karel. Love your blog.
    I have returned from a 15 year hiatus from photography, to awaken to a new digital world. I purchased a Sony A7R with the thought in mind that I could use my Leica R lenses. Not too concerned about 50MM and longer. But wide angles seem to be the challenge with Full Frame Sony’s.
    Based on your review there’s no doubt that the Loxia 35/2 should be on my short list of lenses to acquire. I am intrigued by the Zeiss 25mm ZM and confused by some of the negative comments regarding Biogon lenses not being compatible with digital bodies. First of all, the Loxia 35/2 is a nearly symetrIcal Biogon design. Second, ac cording to Diglloyd’s review, the Zeiss 25mm ZM is an outstanding lens which works well on the M9, especially when stopped down to f5.6. I believe that’s a 18MP body.

    I looked at the 2 images with the Biogon 24mm ZM in the Nov 27, 2013 blog “Japan Autumn Leaf Viewing, Mount Fuji, the Sony A7R and Lots of Legacy Lenses. One is shot at f2.8 the other at f5.6. There seems to be little vignetting or color aberrations. Maybe soft in the corners. I would like to see more images from the Biogon 25mm ZM on the A7R, especially in well lit and detailed scenery.
    Also could the performance of this lens be improved by using one the Voigtlander adapters? Seems that the adapter may be the critical component in getting the best results from this lens.

  • Hello again. Upon doing further research on the diglloyd site, I have found some answers. There it discusses the chief ray angle and its impact on image sharpness. Diglloyd states than an angle greater than 35 degs is problematic for color shading and sharpness at the corners. The Zeiss Biogon 25mm ZM has a chief ray angle of 40.8 (/37.3 – a 2nd figure must depend on aperture), which would indicate loss of performance and soft corners. From the chart provided by Diglloyd all Biogon lenses over 35mm will have chief ray angles exceeding 35 degs, as will also the Distagon ultra wides.The Biogon 28mm ZM falls right around 35 degs. My search for Wide Angles continues..
    http:[email protected]uto.html

  • Sean O’Brien

    Hi Karel,

    I am ow a proud owner a Loxia 35mm F2, and Oh the quality !!!

    So far I’ve only taken and posted one, but important, initial image representative of the ‘up-and-out’ journey that this lens will allow; see https://www.flickr.com/photos/hewlbane/sets/72157650496805298/

    Regards
    Sean

  • We’d like to share with you a comparison we did of the Loxia 35mm f/2 vs. the Sonnar 35mm f/2.8. http://ilovehatephoto.com/2015/03/03/zeiss-loxia-35mm-f2-0-vs-zeiss-sonnar-35mm-f2-8-lens-review-comparison/

  • Muizen

    Harry Briels

  • Harry Briels

    Dear Karel,
    I have read your professional review of the Zeiss Loxia 35 mm with great interest.

    I am 81 years of age and have a problem of unstable hands, which forced me to replace my RX1 with the Sony A7RII (next week!) hoping that its IB system will help to solve instability problem.

    I am considering the purchase of the Zeiss Loxia 35 mm, but doubt whether I will be able to use its MF without some problems?

    I like the idea of being moved back many years ago when AF didn’t yet exist! and MF was the only way to focus.

    I tried hard to use MF on my RX1 and its MF assist, but noticed that unwanted hand movements made it difficult to reach optimum MF.
    I hope that the MF system on the A7RII will be much better and that I will manage to use MF.
    An easy solution would be to buy a AF lens like e.g. the Zeiss Batis 25 mm, but I don’t like giving up!

    I would very much appreciate learning from you whether it is easier on the A7RII to MF and that it will be worthwhile trying to do so.

    Thank you very mucht in advance for your advise.

    Best regards,
    Harry Briels
    Mechelen
    Belgium