Holiday Sale! Secret Bundle + 30% Off

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
Gear Reviews

Sony Zeiss FE 55mm F/1.8 ZA | An F/1.8 Worth Every Penny?

By Anthony Thurston on March 22nd 2015

I must admit, trying to find some good native fast primes for my new Sony A7 II has been a bit of a pain. One of the best options available currently, in the native FE mount, is the Zeiss 55mm F/1.8 ZA lens, but running at $1,000, I was pretty skeptical.

sony-fe-55mm-ZA

But, being a curious guy, I figured I would give the lens a shot. I just received the lens a couple of days ago, so I wanted to jump on and share some of my thoughts on it. For more details, keep reading, but in short – THIS LENS IS BLOWING MY MIND.

[RELATED: A7 II In Vegas, Jay Cassario’s Epic Red Rock Photoshoot]

Initial Thoughts On Sony’s Zeiss 55mm F/1.8 ZA

First off, not only does this lens look incredibly sexy on the Sony A7 II, but it is super light weight and feels wonderful. The focus ring has a great look, and it has to be one of the best feeling mirrorless lenses I have used when we are talking about manual focus.

20150321-_DSC0059

I was honestly not expecting to like this lens as much as I do. Most 50mm F/1.8 lenses on the market are entry level lenses, in the $100-$200 range, with decent to good image quality depending on your use.

Coming in at around $1000 depending on where you buy, the Zeiss is not only one of the most expensive F/1.8 primes on the market, but it is also one of the most expensive 50mm lenses on the market. So the question comes down to this, does the lens back up that price tag with image quality that you  would expect from a $1000 lens?

The answer to that, at least in my preliminary testing, is a resounding yes.

sony-fe-55mm-ZA-2

I tested the 55mm Zeiss against my amazing vintage 50mm F/1.2L, a comparison that I was not expecting would go well for the Zeiss. Despite being older than I am, I absolutely love my Canon FD 50mm F/1.2L and the images/image quality I can get out of it.

Canon

Canon

Zeiss

Zeiss

In my preliminary test, I shot both lenses at F/2 (an advantage for the Canon stopping down multiple clicks vs. being virtually wide open on the Zeiss), 1/250th, and ISO 800. In the center of the frame, the lenses were nearly identical in their performance, with maybe a very slight edge to the Canon FD Lens.

50mm-comp

The edge though, is where this test got very interesting for me. Let me first say that I am not a huge pixel peeper. I could honestly care less how a lens performs in the very far corner/edge of my frame, I am rarely going to have anything important in that area.

That said, the performance of this Zeiss has me really thinking about ditching my vintage lenses, and picking up this brilliant performer. As you can see in the screen cap from my Lightroom below, despite the lenses being very similar at the center, in the corner, it is really no contest.

50mm-comp-corner

The Canon looks blurry, out of focus almost, while the Zeiss is still clear and it’s easy to read the filter packaging and price tag. A clear win for the Zeiss, though I am still rather impressed with how well this 30+ year old Canon FD lens holds up to modern glass.

One other area that caught my attention was the difference in the contrast of the two lenses. This was another area where the Zeiss (in my opinion) had an advantage over the vintage Canon glass.

zeiss-contrast

As you can see in the image of the shirt above, both lenses are very sharp, allowing you to see the fibers of the shirt. But in the Zeiss, the blacks are deeper, and the grey is darker. The Canon’s blacks are a little more subdued and the grey not quite as dark.

Clearly, the Zeiss has an advantage in the contrast. Which, in addition to the corner performance and having an AF motor, makes this lens a very tempting treat for me and my kit.

sony-fe-55mm-ZA-3

Back to my initial question, does the performance of this lens back up its high price tag? In my opinion, yes, it does. I noticed two things while comparing the two lenses: one was how little difference there really is between F/1.8 and F/1.2 in terms of exposure, and the other was how little difference there was in the bokeh.

In my preliminary testing, which I’ll admit is quite limited so far, I can honestly say I would be every bit as happy with this Zeiss lens at F/1.8 that I have been with my Canon at F/1.2. Plus I get the advantage of being able to auto-focus when I want to, and am not stuck with manual focus.

I will be weighing my options heavily over the next month or so that I have with this lens. So stay tuned for more content about the Zeiss 55mm F/1.8, and if you are interested in grabbing one for yourself, head on over to B&H and check out their latest specials!

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Louis Meluso

    Yes you pay for that Zeiss blue tag. Zeiss design, Zeiss coatings, Zeiss QC. Near Zeiss Otus optical quality. Is that worth it to you? Zeiss is a premium brand. THAT is what you are paying for. Discussion about if it’s worth it compared to any other lens is really irrelevant. If you want it and can afford it, you get it. If not, you use something else.

    | |
  2. Pancho Villa

    Hello!
    I have a Canon FD 50mm 1.4 which I have tested against others like SEL5018, Rokkors, Hexanon, etc and this has been the sharpest (center) and better overall image so far.
    I have though been thinking about getting one of those wild Mitakon .95 lenses or the FD 50mm 1.2 L (just because the whole L lens thing I cant just resist it lol).
    In any case, I would really like to see how your 1.2L Bokeh compares to the 1.8 because I expect it to be different enough and is one of the reasons I feel wrong about paying so much for such a slow lens (slow in the 50mm lens world that is). 1.8 are normally the entry level lenses and 1.4 are more pro etc at least with other brands.
    Hope you get to post those soon.
    Thanks!

    | |
  3. Tim Buerck

    I have had the sony/zeiss 55 f1.8 and it is one solid lens. The best 55 f1.8 I have used. Canon and Nikon can’t compete. However, I went the other way and I have the Loxia 50 f2 which in my eyes is amazing and worth every penny.

    | |
  4. Jeffrey Kenerly

    Why pay for over priced so called Prime Lens? Quality is improving and too many different mounts, only a way to milk us

    | |
  5. Matthew Saville

    With the likes of the Nikon 50 1.8 G, ($200) and Sigma 50 1.4 Art, ($950) I’m having a hard time justifying $1000 for an f/1.8 50mm lens. I suppose it would be worth it if I actually cared to spend that much money on a 50mm, and if it had zero coma as well, for astro. But dang, if their “affordable” 50mm costs this much, I hate to think what their affordable 85 1.8 or other lenses will cost. Sony was smart to pair with Zeiss for the pursuit of cornering the market on pixel peepers with more money than they know what to do with, but for now a D610 and a Nikon 50 1.8 G sure make a whole lot more sense to the casual photographer looking to hit full-frame on a budget…

    Of course I say this while eagerly anticipating an A7R mk2 and an A6000 mk2 that I can test with as many E / FE lenses as I can get my hands on. ;-)

    | |
    • Anthony Thurston

      I think this is the issue Matt, Sony/Zeiss doesn’t view this lens as an “affordable” option. They view it as a high quality option.

      Your comment highlights the major difference in thinking that is throwing so many people off. People are so trained to think of F/1.8 primes as an inexpensive, entry level lenses, that they can’t look at this lens as anything but that. When in reality, this lens’s build and performance is more on par with the flagship 50mm lenses of other manufacturers – thus the higher price, despite the F/1.8 aperture.

      | |
    • Matthew Saville

      Anthony, in my opinion that is exactly what Nikon has already been doing for years with their new f/1.8 G lineup: Chart-topping sharpness, (on DXO and all other review sites) and yet incredibly affordable, well-built lenses that don’t break your back.

      I’m sure this Zeiss is even better than Nikon’s own “high-end f/1.8’s”, but is it 400% better? That’s extremely hard to quantify, and if you have any sort of budget concerns, the answer immediately becomes “no”.

      So I guess that, while I totally understand this is not your grandpa’s nifty fifty, I’m puzzled as to how it will fit into the market. To justify the price, you have to be extremely concerned about wide-open sharpness / image quality, …and yet somehow not that concerned about bokeh and speed. Yes, high ISOs have eliminated most worries about the difference between 1.8 and 1.4 for image quality reasons, however plenty of shooters still consider the difference to be a deal-breaker.

      Obviously, I’m just whining because Sony isn’t catering exactly to my own needs, which is highly unfair of me. I know that, I’m just playing devils’ advocate because I like to. But when a Nikon D750 and 50 1.8 G cost $200 less and only weigh 2 oz more, I’m definitely not about to jump ship.

      | |
    • Matthew Saville

      I guess I just think Sony should be approaching the market differently: Instead of more lenses like the 35mm FE that is “only” f/2.8 and yet $800, I’d love to see more lenses like the newest 28mm FE that is just $450, and f/2.

      If Sony can make a $450 28mm f/2 lens, they should be able to crank out a $200-300 50mm f/2 FE pretty easily. And such a lens would sell far better than a $1K lens, IMO, making Sony more money in the long run. Same thing with 85mm. Give us a killer f/1.4 option and an affordable f/1.8 option! There is a reason that Canon and Nikon have both been doing this for decades: it’s a very good business model that satisfies the entire market.

      | |
  6. Uncle Bob

    How can you, in all honesty, come to a conclusion on whether or not this lens is worth the price tag based on taking a few pictures with it at the counter of a camera store?

    | |
    • Anthony Thurston

      Bob, I have the lens in my possession, I took those pictures as examples while working at the store in question. Also, because I have seen the performance of the lens, worked with the files.

      What does the subject of the image have to do with the quality of the lens? Surely, if I am shooting a flat wall with items on it (to make it easy to see edge to edge performance) or shooting a boudoir client, the quality of the image produced would be the same, would it not? Surely the boudoir client image would be prettier to look at, but as far as how the lens is performing, there would be no difference.

      I based my opinion on experience with other 50mm lenses over years of shooting. I don’t have to have every single lens to compare it to in person to know that this lens is the real deal.

      Thanks for the comment.

      | |
    • Uncle Bob

      Anthony, thanks for the response. Since you have the lens in your possession, why not put together a more useful review with real world examples of subjects in a variety of settings? Portraits, landscapes, etc? Talk about AF performance in low light, color fringing when shooting into bright light, you know, useful things.

      I don’t think you have to have every single 50mm lens to compare it to, I just think if an article is going to be filed under ‘gear review’ it should have some substance before you can conclude the lens is “blowing your mind!”

      I expect more than that from an SLR Lounge review.

      | |
    • Anthony Thurston

      This is not a full review Bob, just some initial thoughts. I think this is where the issues lies, maybe that was not made clear.

      | |
    • Uncle Bob

      Thanks for the clarification. I don’t really get the value of having reviews that aren’t full reviews but then again, I’m not running a blog that demands constant content.

      | |
  7. Stephen Jennings

    One of my dream lenses is the 55mm Otus for Nikon (I’d take the 85 too if any of you want to buy it for me! :P )

    With the Zeiss/Sony relationship though.. I don’t see Zeiss really pushing the boundaries with their quality? A Zeiss lens under $1k is pretty impressive in it’s own right .. but it just seems to me that Zeiss already has a line of amazing lenses, if they just added the autofocus and Sony mount, the Sony dslr lineup would instantly kick ass. Instead they are developing a budget lineup by Zeiss’s standards.

    | |
    • Anthony Thurston

      I see what you are saying, and while you are not wrong, I think the way they are doing it is the better – though longer – way to go. Could you imagine an Otus on a Sony E or FE mount camera? That would be so front heavy it would be nuts.

      By developing lenses specifically for the Sony system, they are able to take advantage of all the benefits of the Sony system. Its a slow process, yes, but as Fuji has shown, all it takes is one or two good years of lens production and you can have a decent lineup.

      | |
  8. Dave Smith

    The only “REAL” difference you showed was the example of the filter. Which could be you just missed focus a bit or you lens wasn’t fine tuned, which of course most people don’t fine tune their lenses. Worth a $1000? Hardly, as only a pixel peeper will see the minute difference.

    | |
    • Anthony Thurston

      Dave, both of the comparison shots are from the same image. The first being a 100% crop of the center of the frame, and the second being a 100% crop of the top left corner of the frame.

      As for missing focus, they are both clearly in focus at the center 100% crop.

      | |
    • Dave Smith

      If you think a little difference in the far left corner is worth a $1000 then have at it. More often then not that part is going to get cropped out in post when you fine tune your crop/straighten etc. . Then again most people are not looking at the far left corner @ 100%, other then pixel peepers. If the lens was $500 then it might be worth it. But , $1k for the far left corner small difference, I think not and clearly not a “resounding yes”.

      | |
    • Anthony Thurston

      Dave, What makes the Sigma 50mm Art or Canon 50mm L lenses worth their $1,000 (or $1,000+ in Canon’s case). This lens performs as well, or better than either of those, and the difference in aperture is negligible at best. Tell me, is there any 50mm lens ‘worth it’ in your opinion?

      | |
    • Dave Smith

      Anthony , there are plenty of 50mm lenses that are worth it. Then again “worth” is a personal thing. In your test your vintage lens, to you, was a bit sharper in the middle. Which in my opinion is more important. And less sharp in the corners. Then of course results will differ across different bodies. I would guess that a little more sharpness in the corners may not be worth it for many, myself included. There is a reason you see so many walking around with vintage lenses and Nikon still makes a vintage lens. It’s because it’s well worth it.

      | |
  9. Jerry Jackson

    The Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 is an AMAZING lens, and of course the price is justified … if you want the best 55mm prime that is native to the FE mount. That being said, in the last week I’ve been having a bit of a “come to the mirrorless Jesus” talk with myself and my work. Since switching to E-mount and FE-mount cameras I’ve realized that I keep using the Sony A-mount lenses with the LA-EA4 adapter because the AF lenses that I really want to use with my Sony bodies are currently only available for the A-mount. I’ve been trying the A77II and A99 for the last week and although the bodies are heavier and the SLT system loses 1/3 a stop of light, the Sony SLT cameras have all the other advantages of the A7 series but NONE of the problems that I’ve been complaining about since using E-mount and FE-mount bodies. We will probably find out in a month or less what Sony plans for the future, but if they don’t kill the A-mount then I might switch to shooting native A-mount Sony SLT cameras. Speaking of which, the Sony SAL50F14 and Sony Zeiss Planar SAL85F14Z are AMAZING on both the A7 with LA-EA4 and the A77 and A99.

    | |
    • Anthony Thurston

      The lenses will come. Luckily for me personally, the few that are available work well for what I like to do. I fully realize that is not the case for everyone though.

      | |
  10. Kim Farrelly

    I always hear/read great things about this lens, now if Mr. S just did a few more to go along with it…

    | |