Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 Review: Sweet Colossus

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A few days ago Carl Zeiss announced the second lens in its Otus series, the 85mm f/1.4 companion to the 2013 1.4/55 Otus. The first Otus got raving reviews, including on this site. The company introduced the Otus line with the aim to build lenses without compromise, in quality, construction, size, weight and cost.

The 85mm follows the same pattern. It’s large (10 cm wide), it’s heavy (1000+ grams), it’s solid and it’s costly ($4,500).

The question is if that combo once again delivers pure goodness.

Here’s the quick summary:

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Updated: Zeiss Introduces Loxia Lenses for Sony Full Frame

Updated with Zeiss’ answer as to why the first lenses are a 35mm and a 50mm.

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Carl Zeiss today announced two lenses in its new Loxia line of full-frame, manual lenses for the Sony E-mount, most notably the Sony A7, A7r and A7s: the Loxia 2/35 and the Loxia 2/50, a 35mm/f2 Biogon and a 50mm/f2 Planar.

The lenses closely match the two existing FE primes for the Sony A7-series, the 35mm/f2.8 and the 55mm/f1.8, which also carry the Zeiss logo but which offer autofocus but lack the aperture ring, the metal body and the weather sealing that the Loxia line offers. The Loxia lenses also have an aperture de-click feature for video production.

Still, it’s somewhat of a mystery why Zeiss chose to introduce two lenses with identical reach as the two Sony Zeiss lenses, both of which are highly regarded in their own right. Surely, Zeiss would have immediate success if they instead offered prime wide angle lenses for the A7 series.

Update: I couldn’t leave the mystery alone, so I asked Richard Schleuning, Senior Director, Americas for Zeiss’ Camera Lens Division for a clarification. This is what he replied:

“The goal with the new Loxia family was to develop a new lens line that can be used for both still photography and for video. We will not compete with the existing Sony/Zeiss branded AF lenses for the FE mount, since they are already well received for still photography. However, there are limitations to using an AF lens when focus pulling and in this regard, the Loxia lenses will provide better control. We’ve incorporated a manual iris on the lens (which is unique to E mount lenses) and the user has the option of ‘de-clicking’ the f/stop detents to allow for continuous aperture control.”

“We started with the 2/35 and 2/50 first, since these are the most popular focal lengths for video. The 35mm focal length is also the most popular among rangefinder shooters – especially street shooters, who we will target with this new lens line as well. Zone focusing will be a snap when using the focus and DOF scales on the lens – also unique to E mount lenses.”

“Of course, there are customers who will adapt their M mount lenses to use with the A7 series, but these do not offer any direct communication with the camera and have to be used 100% manually. The price of the Loxia lenses (which includes a lens shade) is less than the cost of a M mount lens + adapter + shade. So there is both convenience and a cost savings to the customer.”

“We’ll add to the family in the future with wide-angles and short telephotos. The challenge with these mirrorless cameras is designing an ultra wide angle lens that does not exhibit vignetting, lens shading and the ‘smearing’ effect common when using adapted wide-angle M mount lenses.”

In summary, Zeiss is clearly aiming these lenses at video shooters and the Leica M plus adapter crowd. Mystery solved.

The new lenses will be featured at the upcoming Photokina trade show in Cologne, Germany.

That bird above this post is a Loxia, by the way. Zeiss has made it a habit to name its lens lines after bird species.

These are the lenses:

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B&H has the lenses available for pre-order (afilliate links):

Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* Lens for Sony E Mount  $1,299

Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* Lens for Sony E Mount  $949

De-Click Key for Loxia Lenses (5-Piece Set)  $28

Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 User Experience – A Review, Sort Of

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It’s not often that a humble – ahum – journalist like myself gets to enjoy the top gear. Yet, it’s like I’ve been driving a Ferrari for the past few weeks with the photographic equivalent – the Zeiss Otus 55m f/1.4 in Canon mount – sitting in my camera bag or lying around on my desk. Oh, and mounted on a camera.

The Otus is in an interesting position in the world of gear. It’s not a Leica. It’s not part of a medium format setup, where stratospheric prices and top quality are almost a given. It’s not a specialty lens, such as a 500mm tele at the price of a small – a very small – car. No, it’s a luxury version of a household normal lens for a pretty pedestrian series of cameras. Good cameras, but not rarified in any way. Just the Canon and Nikon workhorses that get sold by the tens of thousands to people like you and me.

It’s also a sign of things to come.

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My Final Word on the Sony A7r

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The last few weeks have been filled with dashes out of the house – sometimes just into the garden – to try lenses and to finally do some shooting after the endless winter. I’ll report on those lenses in a bit, but first I want to wrap up my long story of love and hate with the Sony A7r.

I’ve written about that camera a few times before (here, here and here), without ever reaching a final conclusion. Final, as in: I’m going to keep it or sell it.

As is my habit, I’ll make a longer story short: I’ll keep the camera for now, while I eagerly await a camera with a similar sensor and size that’s actually fun to use, whatever the brand. The moment the first rumors emerge of a valid competitor to this camera, up for sale it will be.

Now, if I sound so down on the thing, why do I still keep it? Because I find myself using it and because I do like being able to use old glass again.

Here are some key experiences.

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That Road Trip, Photographer’s Block and Mixing Camera & Lens Brands

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Lake Erie

So, we’re back home. Drove about 1700 miles in a few days in weather ranging from summery to snow and sleet. Walked over college campuses, dined in small diners and enormous Italian eateries and saw parts of the United States much unlike our suburban New York neighborhood.

Actually, my teenage son and I have been back for a while now.

But I was hit with photographer’s block, if such a thing exists. Strange thing, that. I usually don’t suffer from that more common affliction called writer’s block, although I do write more than I end up posting.

But I do sometimes encounter an inability to open images in Lightroom and start editing them down. Wonder if others have this as well.

With me, it usually goes like this: I find a great place to shoot, take dozens of pictures, I’m excited about the shoot and what I see on the back of my camera, I put the images on my computer, I get less excited as I see flaws when I blow up the images. I end up being disappointed with the contrast between the fun and excitement of the shoot and the end result. I dither… [Read more…]