First of all, the picture above was incredible difficult to do alone as even the smallest movement of me, the lens or the camera did cause my eye not be there where it should at the center of the lens pupil – forgive me the crude output. With this post I continue to share my impressions of the lenses I’ve used for this year long project. In previous posts I’ve already dealt with the Loxia 2/50, the Touit 2.8/12, the Batis 1.8/85 and the Touit 2.8/50M, please check them out if you haven’t already. This post is about the Loxia 2/35 – the reformer. Follow the post to hear more about it.
Before I started this project I had an opportunity to test drive the Loxia 2/35 shortly about a week. After that particular week, I was – to be honest – flabbergasted by this lens as it surely didn’t follow my expectations that I had with modern lens design. In case you haven’t noticed almost all new lenses that get released nowadays by different manufacturers are pretty much great already from wide open and differentiation between these lenses only happen where the optical perfection and performance starts to cost in gold. That’s computer aided modern lens design getting integrated to lens manufacturing which keeps on delivering better and better lenses for us. Well, the Loxia 2/35 is different: wide open f/2 it is sharp (at the center), but unlike many other lenses it loses quite a bit contrast as the maximum aperture introduces a distinct veil of haze to the picture. Doesn’t look too modern, eh? What about the edges then? Wide open they are mush and I would avoid placing subjects near edges at that maximum aperture. Closed down a bit it is a different story, but surely the Loxia 2/35 was something that I didn’t expect from Zeiss: obviously a different kind of lens that doesn’t play so well with its modern peers like Sigma Art series and such. I was disappointed to find this out and to be brutally honest, it made me wonder why on earth would Zeiss release such a mediocre or even weak lens as they could surely design something better for the Sony E-mount cameras – after all Zeiss was the company that came up with the Otus-lenses. Maybe Zeiss just screw up this one?
So when I eventually started this project I had a presumption that the Loxia 2/35 would be the lens in my setup that I would use less often. And at the beginning it was, but I kept on wondering why did they release this lens when they could have design it to perform very differently. Maybe it was just a bit effortless experimentation by adapting the Loxia 2/35 from the Zeiss’s ZM-series just to see if it would sell, like someone wrote at the online forums. But I knew Zeiss and also knew that every move they did was very premeditated and thoughtful; for some reason they had to believe in this odd ball Biogon-design. In fact I had some discussions with Christophe Casenave, who is a product manager for the Loxia family, and I was very surprised to found out that Loxia 2/35 was his favourite of the Loxia family at that time. ‘Loxia 2/35 is probably the lens that represents the ZEISS look the best […] very sharp, but not too sharp, very contrasty, but not too contrasty […]stopped down a bit, it will give you a nice 3D pop up effect for the objects in the near field’, he said. Now, that made me curious for sure.
So I kept on experimenting with this lens and I believe that I found out what Christophe was talking about. Stopping down to f/2.8 the lens becomes very sharp (no haze whatsoever) and although the corners aren’t the best in the industry it gives you that 3D pop up with objects that are in appropriate near distance. I know that all this ‘3D-pop talk’ is somewhat contested topic with all sort of wise guys playing their game, but in its simplicity it’s a question of perception: some lenses just make it easier to achieve such an effect and this isn’t limited to Zeiss only. The Loxia 2/35 has it (as well as the Loxia 2/50), but quite surprisingly the Batis 1.8/85 doesn’t have it while the Batis 2/25 again has it - though it’s most intense with the Loxia 2/35. Though as nice as it is, I wouldn’t emphasize it too much and I think this three dimensional perception is harder to transfer to paper than to computer screen. But it made me interested in Loxia 2/35 and also to appreciate it a lot more than I did at the beginning.
But Loxia 2/35 also has another character that reveals itself once it is stopped down a bit. Just like the Loxia 2/50 the 2/35 also delivers outstanding contrast which I’ve grown to like (recovering best contrast from around f/4). Stop it down to f/8 and so the lens delivers very nice images that have something more in them than just the better performance. In fact, I’ve noticed that although the Loxia 2/35 doesn’t fulfil the modern expectations many photographers seem to like its character – but it seems it’s difficult to describe in technical terms, and I’m not sure if one even should. Ever since I photographed the local kids playing with flying ants with the Loxia 2/35 I’ve started really to love this lens. Maybe there’s a certain ‘presence’ in pictures that I like, I don’t know. But I do know it took me quite a while to admit that I actually love this lens even though it doesn’t behave like modern 35mm lenses. The Zeiss MTFs doesn’t look too special and technical measurements doesn’t backup this feeling, so I felt a bit uncertain about it until I finally understood that this lens has an aesthetic character beyond the technical attributes and it’s me alone who can decide if I like this or not. So I need to tell it to you straight that if you like your lenses with a modern performance and expectations this might not be what you are looking for. In fact, I feel that the Loxia lenses are dividing the Sony Alpha crowd to Loxia-fans and those who just don’t see the buzz because the Loxia lenses don’t follow the usual expectations. In short, I believe that Zeiss knew they were going against the current with the Loxia 2/35 (and with the Loxia 2/50 to some extent as well), but they had reason to do so because they believed in its character (which is a lot more difficult to put on a paper with just technical terms).
In the end, in my setup the Loxia 2/35 became a lens that reformed my views and opinions of what makes a lens great. Sure it has it weaknesses, but I accept those as I think that having a character is much more interesting than having a lens that performs evenly great on all situations. Wide open it’s sometimes a bit mess, but stopping it down to f/2.8 is usually enough to clear things up a bit and having a great bokeh. The contrast is excellent and the colors are good too. For the colors and contrast I would rate the Loxia 2/35 a bit above the Loxia 2/50, but if it is the sharpness and corners you want the Loxia 2/50 is better. But all in all they fit very nicely together and I have special appreciation for them in my heart as both of them have succeeded to reform my views on manual focusing and lens characteristics in general.