Since the last month of my project has started I've decided to wrote a short blog post on each lens that I've used during this year and share my impressions of them. I will not be writing technical reviews as I'd rather like to try to describe them from a personal point of view: how have I used them, what I like about them, what cons there might be and what are their functions in my photographic endeavors. I really hope these kind of small posts serve those of you who have been following my project with an interest to get insight to some of Zeiss lenses – after all, the Sony/Zeiss setup I've been using entire the year is one leading line of the whole project. So here we go, let's start with the Loxia 2/50.
By its 50mm focal length the Loxia 2/50 is 'a bread and butter lens' fitting conveniently to many kind of scenarios. If I could only use one lens for the rest of my life, I could imagine myself using either 50mm or 35mm lens – after all they were was chosen focal lengths for many classic photographers, so I guess they would eventually fit for me too. However, this kind of general adaptability comes with a commonly know side effect in a bigger setups where there are other close focal lengths as well: instead the bread and butter 50mm it's sometimes more tempting to grab either 35mm or 85mm lens as they offer different characteristics for the story telling or subject isolation, and the 50mm often feels like a 'too standard', if know what I mean. I can also verify this effect myself as I feel the Loxia 2/50 doesn't get used as much as it should. I like the lens a lot and many of my pictures could be taken with a 50mm lens, it's just that often some other lens comes out first out of my bag.
How about the image quality then? If I would have to describe it with technical terms, I'd say it's great. The lens is plenty sharp at the center from wide open at f/2 and though the corners are a bit weaker they are still quite good - being a Planar design the Loxia 2/50 doesn't have too much of field curvature. Closing down to f/4 the sharpness hits close the maximum at the center and the corners look very good also. At f/4 the lens also recovers full contrast which is important part of the Loxia-look in my opinion. Regarding the chromatic aberrations, you can see some at wide open but closing down they disappear and I haven't really spotted any lateral chromatic aberrations as the lens is very well optically corrected. Distortion is also quite negligible, which again, which speaks for the optical quality and the fact that it's a Planar design.
That's technical talk. In practice the Loxia 2/50 has a special rendition in my eyes and it relates to outstanding contrast the lens delivers. Strong contrast with plenty of sharpness gives this lens a character that translates to pictures with a certain kind of weight in them: the traditional Carl Zeiss look. The Loxia 2/50 can of course do shallow depth of field stuff, but I find myself using it more with aperture closed down to f/8 or even f/13 as I just love the look of pictures where strong contrast and sharpness is distributed over the whole image field. In this kind of use the Loxia 2/50 simply rocks and I need to add that this has somewhat changed the way I photograph since with the Loxia 2/50 I've really grown to like the use of small apertures in photography. In my eyes this character is very suitable for landscapes and other sceneries like cityscapes and such. When doing shallow of depth of field stuff the bokeh of the Loxia 2/50 is usually a bit structured, and not super smooth which tends to be the current demand, but I've grown to like it as background often looks like the light is actually passing through some optics rather than just melting away – in my opinion this gives lens a bit character. Colors are good but obviously different than in the Touit or Batis lens families. I would describe the Loxia colors with a term 'strong' (maybe due the strong contrast) and the Touit and the Batis families with a term 'vibrant'. Again, regarding the colors the Loxia 2/50 is aligning with the traditional Carl Zeiss look and if this is the look you want, look no further.
The build quality of the lens is as good as it gets, as I'm sure you already know. It's a full metal lens with a very smooth focusing ring, and to be honest, I'm not sure if know any other product today which build quality breaths such a 'made to last' feeling. What I really like with this lens is that size-wise it fits perfectly to the Sony A7 making it a pretty compact high quality setup. Almost like a some range finder camera which in itself can be a source of inspiration. The high build quality also has an interesting effect on me as it seems to bring a lot of happiness to even though the build quality is somewhat external matter to photography. Some might say that the build quality doesn't matter as long as the lens delivers the pictures, but I beg to differ as I haven't yet met a photographer that wouldn't eventually be fascinated by the Loxia build quality. Christophe Casenave, the Product Manager of the Loxia family, once said to me that it's special, and after using the Loxia 2/50 for almost a year I have to say that I do agree. One will eventually love it.
However, the most essential aspect of the Loxia 2/50, for me, is that it is manual focus lens. I know there many photographers out there who, quite legitimately, prefer to use autofocus in their photography – and that's fine. I remember quite vividly when I read about the Zeiss's new Loxia lens family for the first time and thought that Zeiss had made a huge mistake by introducing a lens family for the Sony A7 system that required photographer to focus by manually. I remember thinking that maybe Zeiss was getting old and maybe didn't have resources to put out the 'right kind of autofocus lenses' which the Sony A7 users were waiting for so badly. I didn't knew it then but the Batis-family that was coming shortly after and I made a fundamental mistake by not understanding that manual focus was actually an essential feature of the Loxia family rather than 'a design limitation'.
To be honest, my preconceptions originated from my own limited understanding of photographic practices rather than the Loxias themselves. I thought that manual focus lenses are only for the 'old fogeys' that started their photography somewhere at the film days – or hipsters that needed something new just for the sake of it. I also believed that using manual focus lenses would inevitably lead me to situations where I would lose important photo opportunities and which would made me frustrated. I got to try the Loxia 2/50 and Loxia 2/35 very shortly after that (before this project) and was surprised that focusing manually was actually a lot easier than what I had initially thought – but I was still a bit skeptical and saw them a bit limited.
Now that I've shot with the Loxias almost a year I've really learned to cherish the limitations that come with manual focusing. By forcing me to shoot manually the Loxia 2/50 has changed the way I do my photography and it gives me this special feeling of concentration when I'm using it. With the Loxia 2/50 I find myself shooting more at small apertures which naturally affects my aesthetics as well. I feel that by leaning to the tradition of photograhy the Loxia 2/50 challenges modern interpretation of photography which is obsessed by technological performance. It brings me as a human back to the center of photography and gives it a bit of yesterdays humanism as I need to be more thoughtful rather than just poke around with autofocus, eye-AF, tracking, maximum fps and such. Do I miss some events because of manual focus? Absolutely, but I've also learned that in the end of the day I usually have what I want and don't feel that I have had to give up something. Quite the opposite, I feel that before I was shooting too much – 'taking it all' just because I could, but was actually working without a guiding vision. When everything is automated there is less space for the vision, I feel.
In short, I think there is a lot of interesting aesthetic thinking intertwined with the Loxia concept which makes the lens family different from anything else out there and also a very brave move from Zeiss. What I appreciate the most, not only with the Loxia 2/50, but with the Loxia concept in general, is that it has changed the way I photograph and given me a mirror to which I can use observe myself as a photographer. Not sure if there is more than one could ask for a successful product. Highly recommended for the open minded photographer!