For the past year, iLHP has been collaborating with some of the industry’s best brands and manufacturers in order to bring you the newest and latest in photography. We’ve had early sneak previews and exclusive interviews. This past month, we attended the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City and met with ZEISS. We had the fortune of speaking with Nicole (Marketing Manager), Christoph (Brand and Product Communications), and Christophe (Senior Product Manager).
What is Zeiss Up To?
They were very enthusiast in answering your and our questions. Many projects are being developed and as you can imagine the partnership with Sony is their main point of focus, so to speak. There are obviously some secrets that they have to keep as the industrial competition is always ongoing but they could let us know that we can expect about 5 new Full-Frame E-mount lenses, including 2 to 3 new ones in 2016.
The Full Frame system is now clearly what the engineering and R&D teams in Germany are asked to develop. The A5100 and the A6000 are amazing cameras but are not the primary targets they want to address. They admitted being surprised by how popular and successful the A7 series is.
Sony believes in the full frame format and wants to make it affordable to most photographers and so does Zeiss, but in the perspective of excellence that the brand is dedicated to. One other thing that Zeiss took the measure of, is that with the Wifi and NFC capabilities of the A7 series and some other cameras, there is a new tendency for event photographers to work instantaneously and send immediately their pictures to editorialists and social networks. They need to do the fewest post-processing as possible to publish them the quickest as possible (Why the Sony A7II is Great for Event Photography).
This means that, besides knowing extremely well their equipment and what they are doing, the lenses must be as perfect as possible, in terms of vigneting, distortions, glare, chromatic aberration and of course color rendition. They do not have time to fine tune these potential defaults. Zeiss is well aware of this new tendency and wants to release the best image quality for professional photographers. This is of course reflected in the price of the lenses.
We Deliver Your Questions
Before we met with Zeiss at the conference, we asked for your best questions for Zeiss. Here are some of your questions and their answers.
Omar asks: “Will ZEISS have plans for specialty lenses, like Macro or Tilt-shift?”
Zeiss: This is a question that is asked regularly. We are well aware of the lack of specialty lenses in the FE-mount system and we are working on developing some for this system. Right now, we do not wish to publish any further details about our future developments.
Cvan asks: “With the popularity of the Batis and Loxia lenses, are there plans in place to expand the range to perhaps 135mm? or 50mm?”
Zeiss: The lens families will grow. Additional focal lengths will follow.
Dave asks: How will you address the backorder issue with the current Batis lenses? (Dave tried to ordered the Batis twice but was unavailable due to stock issues. This question was asked multiple times by people from across the world).
Zeiss Managers: First we would like to apologize for this situation. We are well aware of the problem and it goes without saying that we are not happy with the situation. We have to admit that we have been surprised by how popular the A7 markII series (A7II, A7rII and now the A7sII) has become over the past few months. The demand for the Batis lenses have been a lot higher than expected. We are working on this to reduce the waiting time as quickly as possible.
Heiko asks: “In one particular interview with Dr. Hubert Nasse, he mentioned that it was possible for zoom lenses to match and even exceed the image quality of prime lenses. So why is it that, these days, practically all primes are much better in image quality than zooms of even much higher costs?”
Zeiss: We reached out to Dr. Nasse directly and below is a verbatim quote of what he said:
“Above statement is a bit too simplified and in many examples simply not true.
For instance the range of super wide lenses in many systems is today dominated by zoom lenses, and that is not only because of convenience. Look what the market leaders in 35mm SLR, Canon and Nikon, offer around 14 to 16 mm focal length: they have both primes and zooms – but the zooms are better with respect to field curvature. That is not surprising for optics experts since the length of a retrofocus design helps a lot to correct for the field curvature. And this length is accepted by the users if this design adds the convenience of a fast flexible variation of the viewing angle.
Sometimes we receive complaints because an image from a wide angle lens needs software correction against color fringes, which in comparison the customers did not see in a zoom lens of equivalent focal length. They forgot that in all zooms the sign of lateral chromatic aberration changes over the zoom range and that this causes a range of neutral behavior without any fringe in the middle of the zoom range. And here the zoom is very often superior to a small prime. Usually at the ends of the zoom range the comparison leads to a reversed result.
In general the term “a lens is better than another” should always be used with care, because image quality is a complex thing which consists of many parameters. In addition the built quality may interfere with the principal performance possibilities – and here of course the risk of deviation is often higher in the more complex zoom.”
Michael from the U.S. asks: “Do you see the short flange distance between the lens mount and the sensor in mirrorless lenses an obstacle to lens design? If so, how? If not, why is there a shortage of ultra-wide angle AF lenses for the Sony FE mount?”
Zeiss: The short flange distance between the sensor and the rear element is a engineering challenge for ultra wide angle lenses. It is of course manageable and under development. This short flange distance make it difficult when developing the lenses as the sharpness on the edges and the vignetting tend to be too important. One solution would be to accept a lot of distortions (which some other brands do). But this is not ZEISS’ conception of a lens. ZEISS will release a lens when this issue is correctly treated with the least vignetting and distortion as possible and of course the best sharpness from corner to corner.
Ian asks: “Does Zeiss intend to produce more lenses in the Touit family for APS-C Sony E mount and Fuji X mount CSCs, and if so what sort?”
Zeiss Managers: ZEISS considers the Sony APS-C sensors and the Fujifilm X-mount as remarkable cameras and that is why ZEISS offers already high quality lenses for these systems. However, the Full Frame E-mount is now being the first and main projects that are being developed due to its lack of of lenses available and because of its popularity.
These are the main questions that iLHP had selected to ask Zeiss. Do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have more questions or want details, by either commenting at the end of the article or sending us a message on the contact us page.
The Zeiss managers also gave us the opportunity to do a quick test of 4 different lenses that I would like to share with you. The images shown here are converted A7II RAWs to Jpeg and compressed to 1600 pixels on the larger side. No edits have been applied. The purpose here is to give you an idea. It is not yet a full review of these lenses. The shot were manually focused with focus peaking and always wide open!
The pictures above are from the Sonnar APO 135mm f2 (about $1700). I used it with the fotodiox Canon to E-mount adapter. Marvellous lens. I’ve always had a preference for long focal lenght. What can I say? It’s sharp, the color rendition seems very nice and as usual with Zeiss lenses the bokeh is very smooth. What I also love with this lens is that I find again the 3D pop effect that we have with the 55mm f/1.8 for instance.
The images above are from the Milvus 85mm f/1.4 (about $1800). Very sharp from corner to corner even wide open. Long focal lenght generally don’t have a lot of distortion which is the case here. The color rendition is good. A little “cold” to my test but that is also Sony’s image treatment. This is really being nitpicky though. The skin tone is very good. Canon is always in the warmer colors in comparison. The depth of field is quite shallow. If you look at the image cropped at 100% you can see that only one eye is actually perfectly in focus.
The pictures above have been taken with the Otus 85mm f/1.4 ($4200). I think it is very difficult to see a difference between this lens and the Milvus one. It is probably slightly sharper. It would deserve to be tested in extreme light conditions. Of course I am sure the distortion and the chromatic aberration are even better but I find difficult to justify such a huge price difference with the new Milvus lens.
Yes, the image above has been taken with the Loxia 21mm f/2.8 ($1500). Right at that moment it was a little difficult to find something interesting to shoot and available. I apologize for this poor picture but the sharpness is just like the other lenses, extremely good. The distortions seems to be well handled and sharpness remains good in the corners. The first impression when you hold this lens is a very high quality finish, very small but heavy for its size which is a surprise at first. The focus ring and the aperture ring are hard to find and hard to distinguish from one another. Making the lens not so convenient to focus quickly since it is a manual focus lens only. That being said, I only used it for a couple minutes.
More lenses will be tested (real reviews of course) in the next months so stay tuned.
As a side note and as Sigma fans as well, we also met with a Sigma representative during the exhibition to ask what were their plan with Sony cameras.
Since Sigma has 3 APS-C lenses for the E-mount system (19mm f/2.8, 30mm f2.8 and 60mm f2.8), we were eager to know the answer to ” Will Sigma offer FE-mount lenses for the A7 series in the near future?” The answer from this representative has been quite vague but to give you a sense of what to expect, they are being asked regularly to develop lenses for the A7 series as they acknowledge its success now but unfortunately it seems like no FE lens is being tested as of now. It seemed to be pretty frustrating for this representative not to be able to address this demand. Hopefully things will change quickly and Sigma will offer the ART series for Sony shooters as well!