Of course, the reason you would spend $1,300 for a manual focus lens boils down to a handful of things: smaller size than an AF lens, improved manual focus feel, and, of course, image quality. I have very mixed feelings overall on the Loxia 35mm with regards to image quality, so you’ll notice a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde reaction here. Let’s dive in.
The Loxia 35mm f/2 is generally a very sharp lens. At f/2, the lens produces images with good (though not great) central image sharpness and decent borders. The edges and corners do have some smearing of detail and a general hazy look to them, but it’s not bad at all. Stopping down brings the edge quality up quickly, but the corners take to around f/4-f/5.6 to sharpen up. At these smaller apertures, the Loxia 35mm is capable of very high levels of detail across the image frame.
I do have to say, that given the price of the lens, however, I expected more. For $1,300, I expected very sharp images right from f/2, and you don’t get that with this lens. In fact, after shooting with the lens for a while, it reminded me a LOT of my Canon FD 35mm f/2 in terms of sharpness. I even did a tripod mounted comparison which confirmed my findings: The Loxia and Canon FD were similar at wide apertures, with the Loxia holding a very slight lead at the edges, especially at closer focusing distances. However, the FD is actually sharper on the edges and corners when stopped down to smaller apertures. A bit disappointing that a lens $1,000 cheaper and 30 years old more or less matches the Loxia in this department.
The Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 has a very split personality when it comes to bokeh. Like all fast lenses, focusing close up at wide apertures will yield smooth backgrounds simply due to the amount of blurring that occurs. However, focus a bit further out and the true nature of the lens starts to be revealed.
At f/2 and other wide apertures, the bokeh on the Loxia 35mm is frankly terrible. It’s got severe bright ring outlining, can produce nervous double line behavior that is very unappealing and can easily display longitudinal CA on specular highlights. Towards the edges of the frame at f/2, specular highlights take on a rather ugly gumdrop shape with a bright outline on the curved portion that fades on the straighter edge. In some cases, this look adds a bit of character. In other situations, it can be downright offensively ugly, as seen in the shot below.
Thankfully, stopping the lens down starts to soften out these issues, and the 10-bladed aperture maintains a circular aperture shape all the way to f/22. By f/4, the bokeh is actually quite pleasing, and if you’re focusing closer up and stopping down to get more of the subject in focus, it can yield very smooth and beautiful backgrounds with round and evenly illuminated specular highlights, as seen in this photo, taken at around 0.4m and f/8.
Again, the bokeh follows a similar pattern to that of the Canon FD 35mm f/2, which is also harsher at f/2 than it is at f/4 and beyond, though that lens is a bit more nervous wide open, but lacks the gumdrop shape of specular highlights.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
Zeiss continues its tradition of creating lenses that have excellent color and contrast with the Loxia 35mm. Wide open, contrast is good, but quickly ticks up as you stop down a bit. Color saturation remains high throughout the aperture range, with a tendency to render tones a bit on the warm side. This looks great for portraits, though you may want to cool the white balance a bit for a more accurate green rendering. Overall, the color and contrast are what the make the lens and give it that Zeiss look to the images. You will want to watch out near minimum focus distance, however, as some spherical aberration can cause some gauzy blooming and reduction in contrast when focused at wide apertures up close.
The Loxia displays some minor lateral chromatic aberrations as well as some visible longitudinal CA that shows up as a magenta or green fringe in front of and behind the focus point. Overall, these aberrations are fairly well controlled and don’t have a major effect on overall image quality.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
The Loxia 35mm controls distortion very well. For all intents and purposes, you can consider it negligible in the field. This makes it a good choice for shooting moderate wide-angle shots of architecture or other subjects with straight lines.
Vignetting is also relatively well controlled, though it’s still present. Wide open, there’s some visible shading at the edges of the frame that improve upon stopping down, though it doesn’t completely disappear, even by f/5.6. As I often add slight additional darkening at the edges of my images, this doesn’t bother me at all.
The Loxia does OK against flare. the lens is able to resist most major ghosting artifacts, except in cases where a bright light source is in the very corner of the frame, but even then it’s predominantly white. The biggest impact is a green smear that goes away from the light source. With the sun, it tends to show up as a general green tint. Smaller lights will produce more pronounced green blobs outside of the light source, so watch it when shooting at night.
17 thoughts on “Review: Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*”
Any plans to review the Loxia 50mm?
I may eventually review the Loxia 50, though at the moment, I have a big backlog of items I’d like to review prior to the new stuff that comes out at PhotoPlus Expo.
Hi Jordan, which Canon 35mm f2.0 lens do you have exactly? If I’m not mistaken, there are several Canon 35mm f2.0 lenses for Canon’s FD mount.
I have the new FD mount version.
Thanks for the review but as a happy Loxia 35 owner thought you might’ve been unfair on a few points:
1. Price: Would you rather buy a $800 35mm f2.8 lens or a $1300 35 f2 lens for the Sony system? Seems like being stuck between a rock and hard place on this one. The used market prices for both lenses maintain the same relative differential. Not sure of the right answer here but I chose the Loxia. Truth of the matter is that all Zeiss and Leica lenses are overpriced to a certain degree.
2. Electronic aperture control: I’m assuming you’re referring to in-body control of the aperture? I’m not sure that’s a fair point of criticism given the technical implementation of adding a motor to move the aperture ring in sync with whatever is in the camera would likely add substantial cost/weight/volume. I think this is actually one of the selling points of the lens – the manual aperture control. I also personally really enjoy the manual aperture control so this sounds like a personal taste issue more than anything else.
3. Lens hood design. The lens hood is reversible and if you mount it while extending the hood out, it clears the focus ring with more than enough space. I think you had it in the “storage” position.
4. Wide open performance: Agree that this is probably the weakest point with the lens but don’t think it’s a real issue if you’re looking to take close up shots and blurring the backgrounds. At infinity, it certainly is noticeable but that’s when I step down! I will add one negative – there’s heavy coma at f2 for night photography to the point that I find most pictures unusable unless I step it to f2.8. This is the one area I find most disappointing since I was hoping to use it for some night photography.
5. Comparison with Canon FD 35mm f2. I’m also not sure this is a strong point broadly. It might be a good lens and may even have 80% of the performance but there’s a lot of subjectivity here when you start comparing non-native options without a direct test on how they perform. I find vintage lenses to be good for some applications and poor for others – it’s not something I would want to deal with on a daily basis without good exif data. Wouldn’t consider this a mainstream choice.
I also don’t think at the end of the day it’s fair to compare this to the 35mm Distagon 1.4. That lens is amazing but a beast and really makes the whole point of a mirrorless camera redundant. Really comes down to a question of do you want an autofocus 35mm 2.8 for $800 or a manual focus 35mm f2 for $1300. The pros/cons have been extensively covered but I don’t think it’s necessarily a clear cut choice.
Anyways, overall thought your review was thorough but wanted to highlight a few points.
1) I’d rather have the 35/2.8.
2) no, I mean that I’d like it to work so that when setting the aperture with the ring, the lens will not actually stop down until the photo is taken. We have a $1,300 lens that has electronic communication with the camera, but you still have to focus, then stop down after focusing to get the most critical focus, like any manual adapted lens.
3) the hood was not in storage position (you can see the pic of the lens with hood). When mounted, as you focus towards infinity, the edge of the hood starts creeping slightly over the focus ring. It’s not much, but it’s enough to push on my fingers sometimes during focusing. This is the only lens I’ve used that has ever done that.
4) we agree here with different interpretations
5) I did do a direct test. The FD had almost identical sharpness wide open and was actually sharper at f5.6 in the corners. Bokeh is very similar between the two as well. The only major difference was that the Zeiss has a bit more saturation and contrast at wide apertures and has less vignetting. For 95% of the performance at 1/5 the price, with the same stop down mechanics as the Loxia, I think it’s a very valid comparison. I can give up EXIF data for $1,000 in my pocket.
There’s nothing wrong with liking this lens, though. It’s a very good lens. But in my opinion, it’s overpriced for what it gives you and there are better options to consider for your dollar.
Excellent reply Jordan!
You are the second person I have seen testing the FD 30m and showing this amazing resolution performance. I cannot believe someone will argue about your results based on freakin EXIF data….seriously now LOL
Keep up the great work!
I’d have to agree. As much as I would enjoy having the EXIF data, the price differences between modern and old lenses tend to be really huge and that doesn’t translate into IQ (most of the time). And most of those who shoot with manual lenses are precisely the ones who could deal with the loss of EXIF data.
I think with regard to #2, the original commenter meant that in order to separate the aperture stop down from the aperture ring – i.e. don’t stop down until you are ready to expose. To do that the lens would need a motor, which it doesn’t if the aperture blades just move mechanically with the aperture ring.
Great review. I was on the fence about this lens as I have the FE 2.8, might have a look at the Canon nFD 35 for a fun manual focusing alternative.
Great review though, thank you!
“2. Electronic aperture control: I’m assuming you’re referring to in-body control of the aperture? I’m not sure that’s a fair point of criticism given the technical implementation of adding a motor to move the aperture ring in sync with whatever is in the camera would likely add substantial cost/weight/volume. I think this is actually one of the selling points of the lens – the manual aperture control. I also personally really enjoy the manual aperture control so this sounds like a personal taste issue more than anything else.”
In my opinion a manual focusing lens shouldn’t have electronic aperture. It’s annoying, because a lens that might last you 50 years shouldn’t have an aperture motor crap on you, yes I’m looking at you Canon mount Zeiss Otus. As for electronic aperture adding cost? That’s not the case, a proper brass helicoid based aperture mechanism costs 5 times as much as electronic aperture, because the manufacturing tolerances need to be tight on that one..
I’ve actually come around on this one since the review was written several years ago.
I would like the two ring set up like on the Helios 58mm lens…..I forget what that is called….but yeah, focus wide open and then click-less stop down to pre-set aperture. My Loxia 50mm makes it feel like the second step slows down the whole process. Hope this makes sense because I agree with you on this point. Cheers!
I for one purchased this lens because of the manual functions and if it had autofocus (or at least no manual option with real close / infinity hard stops – not focus by wire) or electronic aperture (or without an on-lens aperture control), would not have purchased. In fact even if it had electronic features, I wouldn’t have used them so the fact that it is optimized for manual use is perfect for me. I would not like the camera making automatic decisions for me that pertain to composition, like the change of depth of field. I adamantly require that to be under my control. I am disappointed with the changing length through the focus range, wish it had been designed with internal focus. I also don’t like the focus breathing, not only for video use, but the fact that it drastically changes the composition as you focus. I do admire the neutral character of the lens, more clinical and accurate, but do admit I have some envy with the 35mm f/1.4 Distagon. There is some rumor of a new Zeiss FE lineup coming in the fall. I hope that it is a more cine focussed lineup that aims at high end versions with compact street photographer sensibilities of the CP.2 Super Speeds, for example.
Well, if there’s one thing you begin to realise as you climb up the ladder, “perfect” lenses seem to be either too expensive, too big or too downright nonexistent. I just finished reading an article about using Leica lenses on the A7 and vignetting was casually mentioned as a feature of the lens. As to the comparison with the Canon 35/2; that is one of the highest-rated lenses by the biggest camera manufacturer on earth. To complain that the rerelease of an extremely traditional lens design should in some way be far better than another successful implementation of an extremely traditional lens design seems…churlish. It is a new lens release. That means it is expensive. The 55 is now much cheaper tham it was THREE years ago. Three.
Your idea for changing aperture electronically once you have set it manually is rather too ambitous to be reasonable. If you plan to shoot running children with a manual focus lens at f/2, this is the least of your worries.
All in all, the only surprise in your review is the bizarre bokeh issue, which I do agree is very unsightly.
Some more on the causes and avoidance strategies would be helpful
I, too, miss automatic diaphragms in mirrorless systems. They allow focussing and metering with wide open aperture. This becomes critical in specific circumstances. Example, when using flash with small aperture for macros of wildflowers, when you’ll shoot at f/16, but at f/16 you have a dark EVF and insensitive focusing whether trying manually with peaking or automatically with spot metering.
My work around is that on both my a7iii and a6500 I’ve set programmable rear buttons for peaking on/off, peaking level, and for focus magnifier.
Interestingly, when I mount my 1986 Minolta Maxxum 100mm f2.8 macro through an LA-EA4, it gives me an automatic diaphragm. Key difference is that the adapter is doing the metering, via it’s mirror, and metering wide open as if lens were on the Minolta SLR for which it was designed, or on a later Sony DSLR.
One month ago I purchased a pristine Loxia 2/35 used for $750, and enjoy using it. I am waiting for the new Batis 2/40, which answers my holy grail, a quality walk around lens with close focus.
Thanks for the Loxia 2/35 review and discussion.