First Impressions of the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 Lens

By | 2015-11-19T10:35:59+00:00 Nov 18th, 2015|

[x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 2px 0px 2px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”2/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]I first spotted her at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City in late October. At first, I wasn’t sure if my eyes were playing games with me but upon further inspection, sitting in a display case next to her other siblings and cousins—the Zeiss Loxia and Batis lenses—was the fabled Loxia 21mm f.2.8 lens equipped with the Sony E-mount. A truly ultra-wide and fast prime lens forged from the highest end optical grade glass and built in a housing that is so small and light, you almost forget that you’re carrying it. Initially, my good friend and photographer/filmmaker, Ben Moon, advanced to make his claim on this beauty, but fate had different plans.[/x_text][/x_column][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]12045464_10153675019011737_3500044385429736138_o[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]To bring us back to a more serious note, I did have the good fortune of getting access to one of two or three samples of the Loxia 21mm f/2.8 lens in existence. As a member of Zeiss’ Ambassadors program, this is one of the greatest benefits and I was sure to put it to good use for my upcoming two week trip to Italy. At the time of writing this post, we’re still about a month off before production units ship to customers, so it was important to give this lens its proper due.[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_custom_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]What this post is and isn’t.[/x_custom_headline][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 5px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]12194915_10153684384951737_7440541744668952382_o

Before I dive into my experience using this lens, I’d to preface my goal for this post. In the coming weeks, there will undoubtedly be a barrage of in-depth reviews of this lens covering everything from MTF Chart specs to bokeh characteristics to chroma analysis. These people are far more capable at conducting such thorough reviews, so I’m going to leave that task to them. This post is—first and foremost—about my first impressions with using this lens extensively for two weeks. It is not meant to be a clinical review. Rather, it’s my opportunity to share thoughts and images created with this beautiful glass. It goes without saying that I’d love to field any questions you may have, so please leave them in the comments section below. With that out of the way, let’s begin![/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_custom_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Build Quality and Notable Features[/x_custom_headline][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 5px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]

Sony α7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 100

Sony α7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 100

[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]IMG_0453[/x_text][/x_column][x_column bg_color=”” type=”2/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]In a word, using the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 lens is exquisite. Everything about the lens feels precise and luxe. Despite its diminutive size, the lens is weighted and balanced beautifully, which is important when pairing it with the Sony α7R II—the camera used to take all the edited photos in this post. When paired together, the camera and lens combo feels fantastic in my hands. It was not front or back heavy at all. It was simply balanced beautifully. Existing owners of the Loxia 35mm f/2 or Loxia 50mm f/2 know exactly what I mean here.[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”2/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]My admiration for Zeiss lenses stems from the thoughtfulness infused with usability. For example, Zeiss’ Batis line has an industry-first built in OLED display, making manual focus in the dark and determining hyperfocal distance a breeze. With Loxia, another innovation can be found that filmmakers will undoubtedly love. With a simple twist of an adjustment screw on the bayonet, you can activate a “de-click” feature, allowing you to smoothly—and silently—adjust the lens aperture. This feature can instantly classify the Loxia as a cine-style lens. It’s brilliant.[/x_text][/x_column][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]usp_declick[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]I took four lenses with me on my two week trip to Italy: the Batis 85mm f/1.8, Loxia 50mm f/2, Loxia 35mm f/2, and Loxia 21mm f/2.8. It should be of no surprise that the bulk of my photos were taken with the Loxia 21mm f/2.8—to properly test its capabilities—and the remaining ones were taken with the Batis 85mm f/1.8.

Like its Loxia siblings, the 21mm f/2.8 has a 52mm threading on the front of the lens, which was important to know because I intended on using some screw on ND and Circular Polarizer filters on the trip (although it was a rarity in retrospect). Fortunately, I had a 52mm – 77mm step up ring handy, allowing me to easily use one set of filters.

Loxia-2.8-21mm0488_4c-1075x605

Also like its Loxia siblings, the 21mm f/2.8 is a purely manual focus lens. While I’ll cover the experience of manually focusing with this lens later in this post, it is important to highlight the precision engraving of both the distance and depth of focus scale. It’s with this precision that photographers can ensure sharp photos using zone focusing—something I heavily relied on for a majority of my photographs.[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_custom_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Using the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8[/x_custom_headline][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/125 sec. at f/14; ISO 64

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/125 sec. at f/14; ISO 64

[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”2/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]When thinking about the usability of a lens, several questions come to mind—Is the lens sturdy? Does it wobble when mounted? How smooth is its focus ring?—to name a few. All of these things add up to form your opinion of the lens and will ultimately fuel your decision to continue using it or leave it sitting on the shelf back home. Fortunately, the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 upholds the highest quality. Mounting the lens to my α7R II felt solid, thanks in part to its distinctive blue sealing on the bayonet.[/x_text][/x_column][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/3″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]usp_sealing_ring[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/8 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 125

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/8 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 125

While I did bring a lightweight travel tripod on this trip, I only used it for a handful of frames. The majority of my time making photos in Italy was by handholding the camera. I highlight this because if the size/weight of your camera and lens is too heavy or uncomfortable, it can make this experience of capturing the fleeting moments of life a drag. Fortunately, as I stated earlier, this camera and lens pairing is wonderful, even after handholding it for hours on end.

Like the two existing Loxia lenses, the 21mm f/2.8 is purely manual focus—something that I used to be very fearful of, especially in my dSLR days. Despite having perfect vision, I never trusted my eyes to ensure sharp focus when using an optical viewfinder. Fortunately, those fears have all been eliminated thanks to the brilliant electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the Sony α7 line. As soon as I engage the focus ring of my lens, the EVF magnifies to a pre-determined focus point, allowing me to instantly ensure sharp focusing. And this is where the quality of the focus ring gets my praise. With a lot of lenses, the “throw” of the focus ring often feels loose and imprecise, making micro-adjustments nearly impossible. This is a huge frustration for me, especially as I dive deeper into solely using manual focus with my photography. Fortunately, the Loxia 21mm f/2.8 has a wonderfully taught and responsive focus ring. When you combine that with the technologies of Sony’s EVF, you find that manual focus is not only acceptable, it is the preferred way of photographing.[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_custom_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Final Thoughts[/x_custom_headline][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 5px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/5.0; ISO 800

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/5.0; ISO 800

Ultimately, the availability of this lens will raise questions for a variety of photographers out there, most notably being whether it will be worth investing $1500 for it. The answer—obviously—is completely subjective and rests on your needs, photography preferences, and budget. It also begs the question to non-Sony photographers as to whether this lens adds to an already long list of reasons why migrating to Sony’s α7 mirrorless system could be worthwhile. With each passing month, the lens lineup for Sony’s full frame E-Mount cameras becomes more mature and impressive. And it’s great to see a prestigious company like Zeiss dedicate resources to further advance it with its Batis and Loxia lines—as well as its Touit line, which works great in APS-C mode.

Now, the Loxia 21mm f/2.8 is not the widest lens available for the α7 line. In addition to other 3rd party lenses by Rokinon, etc., Sony also has their Zeiss co-branded FE 16-35mm f/4 zoom lens, which is great it its own right. Still, all affiliations and partnerships aside, investing in the Loxia 21mm f/2.8 is a no-brainer for me. In my extensive usage with this lens, there was only one time when I wished I could go wider in focal length but I was able to easily work around that by grabbing several vertical panels and stitching together a panoramic photo in post. The challenges of hardware don’t interest me as much as finding ways to work around them.

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 5 panel pano stitch | 30 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 250

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 5 panel pano stitch | 30 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 250

Simply put, what you get with the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 is a compact precision lens with a fixed ultra-wide focal length and a fast aperture. It is a lens that pairs beautiful with the Sony α7 line and has the right amount of heft to feel balanced in your hands without causing strain or fatigue. On top of that, I have to admit to getting slightly giddy over the way the supplied metal lens hood snaps into place when twisted on.

Loxia-2.8-21mm0402_4c-1075x680

I hope this First Impressions post of the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 gives you a better idea of its capabilities. There are only a few short weeks before it will start shipping to customers and, as far as I’m concerned, this is a must-have lens for Sony α7 owners. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below!

[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_custom_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Preorder the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8![/x_custom_headline][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 5px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]BH-Photo-Video-Logo[/x_text][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 1px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_custom_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”]Sample Photos[/x_custom_headline][/x_column][/x_row][/x_section][x_section style=”margin: 0px 0px 0px 0px; padding: 5px 0px 1px 0px; “][x_row inner_container=”true” marginless_columns=”false” bg_color=”” style=”margin: 0px auto 0px auto; padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_column bg_color=”” type=”1/1″ style=”padding: 0px 0px 0px 0px; “][x_text]

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/100 sec. at f/4.5; ISO 200

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/100 sec. at f/4.5; ISO 200

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/80 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 125

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/80 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 125

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/4000 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 640

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/4000 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 640

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/10; ISO 200

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/10; ISO 200

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 20 sec. at f/22; ISO 100

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 20 sec. at f/22; ISO 100

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/30 sec. at f/13; ISO 160

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/30 sec. at f/13; ISO 160

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/8000 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 160

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/8000 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 160

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/5.0; ISO 100

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/5.0; ISO 100

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/10; ISO 250

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 30 sec. at f/10; ISO 250

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/160 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 160

Sony a7R II and Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 | 1/160 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 160

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8 Comments

  1. Colby Brown November 18, 2015 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Looks like really nice sun stars out of this bad boy. Happy to have mine on order…

  2. Snikt November 18, 2015 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Anyone know how it is coma controlled wide open? Curious if it would work for astro/milky way

  3. MikeElfner November 20, 2015 at 12:59 am - Reply

    Thanks for the nice pictures and your words. As a Fuji switcher (to A7RII) a question to a long time and highly experienced Pro: what to you suggest for landscape photography – the 16-35 or the Loxia 21 (I heard that there will come a 15/16 also somewhere in the future).
    Thanks a lot and always the right light, Mike

  4. Charlie Webster November 28, 2015 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    Beautiful shots, but not a single one where we can judge the performance across the frame. Something long with a distant foreground and at least one corner would not have been hard in these locations at a few apertures, with links to fulls, and would be the equal of many words :)

    • Brian Matiash November 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Charlie. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. However, I was clear in the opening of this post that I hadn’t intended on fashioning it to be a clinical review… simply a “First Impression” write up about using the lens with some illustrative photos. I’m certain that there will be an abundance of more review-centric posts chock full of high resolution photos where you can judge the edge to edge sharpness, etc.

      • Charlie Webster November 29, 2015 at 12:08 am - Reply

        You are a great photographer and it’s pleasant review. But good technical shots at infinity are easy, and sad to say, nobody bothers. Your harbor vantage in daylight would have been perfect :) Steve Huff gives the same excuse as you LOL. Oh well. But five shots over that cove would have increased the hit count on your review 100 times.

        • Robert October 12, 2016 at 3:15 am - Reply

          Dear Charly, I’m very happy there are still reviewers online that love taking real, beautiful pictures and don’t bother about the nerds wanting dull test shots. You can go elswhere for those, luckely not all reviews are the same.
          Also if you are really serious about purchasing this lens hire or buy it yourself so you can see and use it with your own eyes. If you don’t like it, return it. Also, as a Zeiss lens this day and age at this pricepoint, how bad can it be?
          And how often do you shot wide angle landscapes wide open during daytime? Shooting a lens wide open often means your corners are either dark, or out of focus anyway. Especially with a wide angle lens. You can see this it the real life photo’s above.

  5. Maurice January 24, 2016 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Your pictures are beautiful, Brian. They show the colourfulness of Venice very brilliantly. Totally different to the great photos by Alex Majoli he took years ago with the M9-P by showing lots of dynamic range. Did you use any curve-presets?

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