The 3D “Pop” of the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8, plus the Color Rendition and Exposure of the Sony A7

Zeiss SEL55F18Z @ F/1.8, Iso 160, 1/200s

Halfway through my shoot on Acorn St., I switched over from the Summaron to the Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8 and followed up on my first impressions of this lens. The familiar “beep-beep” came ringing in again as I once again had autofocus. The available light on Acorn St. was challenging, a lot of contrast between harsh sunlight and shadows, but the A7’s AF had managed pretty well the whole afternoon. I missed one shot of a lady sweeping the floor from about 50 meters away because the camera had focused on a gas street lamp instead. Otherwise, the A7 held its own.

Zeiss Popcorn

Again, the “pop” of the Sonnar lens amazes me (the word “Sonnar” is derived from the German word “sonne” which means sun). The abrupt transition from the focused to unfocused really makes the subject jump out from the background, even though the depth of field (DOF) is not very narrow at f/1.8. I came across a paper related to this when I was researching why Leica lenses looked and behaved so differently. Leica M-Lenses: Their Soul and Secrets. (It is a very technical paper, but if you scroll down to page 10, it talks about the “unsharpness and sharpness transition” that I mentioned). The above shot was taken at f/1.8. The background is not particularly out of focus (a Canon 85mm f/1.2 would have blurred the heck out of the background), but it is pleasing and smooth. But the important bit is how the model seem to “jump” out of the frame. Below is a crop of the same image.

Zeiss SEL55F18Z @ 55mm, f/1.8, Iso 160, 1/200s

If you pay attention to her hairline, it forms a sharp border from the background. This is different from any Canon or Pentax lens I have used. Even on a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L or my Pentax K-mount MC Porst Color Reflex 55mm f/1.2 that I franken-ed to the Canon, the subject in focus only seems to melt into the background. It is a different effect, I’m not saying one is necessarily better than the other, but I prefer this dimensionality.

Zeiss SEL55F18Z @ 55mm, f/1.8, Iso 100, 1/200s

Bokeh from the Zeiss is smooth and creamy. There aren’t any distracting halos and the bokeh balls are rounded. Again, I used to believe bokeh is solely related to aperture size and DOF, but I’ve seen larger aperture lenses with less DOF produce less pleasing bokeh. This Zeiss is a fantastic lens.

Zeiss SEL55F18Z @ 55mm, f/2.5, Iso 100, 1/200s

What the Hue?

While processing these images, I learned how this Sony A7 renders color. Canon DSLR images always has this yellowish-green hue that I have always despised. It’s not a white balance issue, it’s just how Canon has set up its algorithms in its CPU and the sensor. Sonys, in general from the few cameras I’ve used, have a blueish-magenta hue. Again, this is not really a white balance issue, but the image processor and just how Sony calibrated the electronics. So when I’m processing these photos, I find myself adding about 1000-2000k of yellow under white-balance to get the desired effect I want. Again, this is a preference and I don’t think there is a right or wrong. Pentax colors are naturally the most pleasing for me with little adjustment, so are Nikons.

Zeiss SEL55F18Z @ 55mm, f/1.8, Iso 125, 1/200s

Indecent Exposures

Finally, I noticed from the Acorn St. shoot that I am unable to “recover” from the overexposed areas of the image as much as I could recover from my Canon files. Now, I had issues with exposure all afternoon because I mistakenly left the camera on spot-metering for half the shoot. So undoubtedly, part of it was due to user error. But at the same time, I feel that with Sony’s image file, I am constantly increasing the darkness of the blacks and raising contrast, whereas with the Canon 5D mark II, I was brightening the shadows to get more detail. More shooting is needed.