Tag Archives: lens review

A Portrait Shoot with the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8

A fast 85mm has long been a favorite among the portrait photographer’s toolbox. Slightly telephoto, this particular focal length lightly compresses the image so that models are comfortably nestled within the background. From a design perspective, large apertures like f/1.8 or even f/1.2 remain cost effective and practical because at longer focal lengths, glass elements necessarily become prohibitively expensive and oversized. Lastly, the 85mm’s working distance lets you stay close enough to the model yet provide a lot more depth-of-field (and bokeh) than your fast 50mm or 35mm.

ilovehatephoto.com_websize_DSC01740-5
15 y/o Mikaila Storrs (left) and 19 y/o Peyton Lake (right) at Newport Beach. Makeup and hair by Jordan Takeda.

So what do we look for when choosing a 85mm portrait lens? Three things spring to mind. First, it has to be easy to handle because the last thing you’d want is a lens encumbering you after the models are made up and the studio is paid for. Try shooting with an EF 85mm f/1.2 all day and you’ll see what I mean.

Next, of course, is image quality but that is often a broad and nebulous term, and 85mms, in general, have been great performers. More specifically, a defining feature of the 85mm is its ability to throw the background out of focus, isolating the subject in a cocoon of soft blurriness. So a good portrait lens should have its own character.

ilovehatephoto.com_websize_DSC01541
The girls riding and looking back in a Surrey, a four wheeled bicycle contraption available for rent all along the sunny coast of California.

Finally, since for large aperture primes we’ll be working with a narrow depth-of-field, fast and accurate autofocus is absolutely essential, much more so than for shorter focal lengths. I defy you to eye-focus with a manual lens, on a non-split prism focusing screen, at variable light and working distances. You just can’t do it, consistently, so professionals rely on quality AF at longer focal lengths.

So for this hands-on review, we are using the latest and greatest from Zeiss, their Batis 85mm f/1.8. We briefly looked at its technical specs when we first laid our hands on it, so rather than doing that again here, we’re going to jump straight into the good stuff. We called up Peyton and Mikaila, they drove to Newport Beach from Hollywood and San Diego respectively, and we rented a few bikes along the beach boardwalk. A fun Sunday afternoon in California.

Continue reading A Portrait Shoot with the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8

The $15 Holga 25mm f/8 Plastic Fantastic Lens

Its images feel like old movies, childhood toys, or fond ex girlfriends. It is riddled with optical flaws and its image circle can’t even cover a cropped sensor, but it takes us back to the roots of photography and camera obscura. It is $15, utterly uncomplicated, and, without a doubt, the funnest lens I’ve used in a very very long time.

Processed in Lightroom with the “Holga Cool Sides Warm Center” preset, available below.
Processed in Lightroom with the “Holga Cool Sides Warm Center” preset, available below.

The lens is the Holga 25mm f/8. The Holga brand name is synonymous with the plastic fantastic 120 medium format film camera you can purchase in every Urban Outfitters across America. At the core of Lomography’s lo-fidelity philosophy is the idea that photography is meant to be impulsive, spontaneous, and fun. And now, for the first time, it is digital.

wwDSC01094
Processed in Lightroom with the “Holga Cool Sides Warm Center” preset, available below.

We explore the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in downtown LA and then take a short road trip to Pasadena, California. We mount the Holga on our Sony A7 and Sony A5000. No more expensive 120 film and waiting for the it to develop. No more fiddling with plastic cameras without any preview.

Continue reading The $15 Holga 25mm f/8 Plastic Fantastic Lens

The Street Shooters – Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.0 vs. Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.8

We don’t always do gear tests at iLHP but when we do, we go all out. This lens shootout will feature a Blackbird spy plane, two beautiful models on Melrose Ave., and the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Space Shuttle Endeavor
Come on. Who else gives you a space shuttle in a lens review??

The 35mm is an ideal focal length for street photographers. Wide enough to capture subject within close proximity, not so wide that distortion becomes an issue or too many distractions are in the frame. Leica has long had their famous range of 35mm Summiluxes and Summicrons for street photogs. However, the 35mm is also a secret weapon for fashion/portrait photographers like Terry Richardson or Annie Leibovitz.

This comparo will be broken into 5 rounds:

  1. Build quality
  2. Sharpness
  3. Vignetting and Flare
  4. Bokeh and 3D Pop
  5. Real World Handling

The Contenders & Their Specs

Zeiss Sonnar 35mm Loxia 35mm Sonnar 55mm
All of these lenses are made from metal. Though similar in size, the Loxia feels much heavier than the Sonnar 35mm. Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.8 (left); Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon (center); Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8 (right).

On the left, weighing in at a featherweight 120g with a $798 price tag, is the Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.8. In the middle, weighing in at a hefty 340g with a $1,299 price tag, is the brand new Zeiss Loxia T* 35mm f/2 Biogon. And for reference, we have the spectacular Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8 on the right.

Continue reading The Street Shooters – Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.0 vs. Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.8

Lens Shootout – Leica Summaron 35mm f/2.8 v. Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8

The biggest and oldest names in the photography industry has got to be Leica and Zeiss. Carl Zeiss AG was founded in 1846 in Jena, Germany as a optical systems manufacturer and Leitz Camera GmbH (now Leica) was founded in 1849  in Wetzlar, Germany. Both companies have seen their market share tumble since the Japanese combined high quality optics and manufacturing along with reliability, innovation, and affordability. But Leica and Zeiss are survivors, and within the last few years there seem to a strong resurgence with these two old storied brands.

Summaron v Sonnar

In my stable of lenses, I have the Leica Summaron 35mm f/2.8 and the Zeiss Sonnar *T 55mm f/1.8. Both 35mm and 50mm lenses are considered “normal primes,” great for street photography and general purpose photography. I’ve had the pleasure of using these over the last few months now, so I thought I’d do a brief comparison review.

Continue reading Lens Shootout – Leica Summaron 35mm f/2.8 v. Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8

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

DSC00405
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.

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