Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135mm 1:1.8 ZA Review

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The SAL135f18z is an marvel of a lens, which gives spectacular results and features AF with some minor drawbacks. In this review I share my experience with it from a personal point of view.

The ZA135 is a high end lens with Sony A-mount: it is big, it is expensive and it is one of the best lenses I ever used.

I used it on my Sony a7 with a Sony LA-EA4 adapter for this review, both the lens and the adapter were loaned to me from Sony.

Specifications

Size: (diameter x length): 88mm x 114,5mm
Filter Thread: 77mm
Weight: 995g
Close Focusing Distance / max. Reproduction Ratio: 0.72 m / 1:4
Number of Aperture Blades: 9
Price:  $ 1798 at B&H photo | 1699€ at Amazon.de

 

Handling

Initially I was worried about using this big lens on my rather small a7 but I found handling to be fine. Sure it is a big and heavy lens but the small size of my camera was not an issue.

I support the LA-EA4 with the ball of my hand which carries all the weight so the fingers of my left hand are free to focus the lens which works well.

The lens hood is enormous and almost doubles the volume of the lens so I left it at home most of the time because the lens is quite flare resistant.

Build quality

The lens is made mostly of metal and feels really solid, I have never used a  AF lens which felt more reliable.

The lens hood is heavy and locks reliably.

The focusing ring has some play, see manual focusing.

This lens isn’t sealed against dust or moisture.

There are several reports of the filter ring coming loose, this is usually repaired by Sony at no charge, because it is a known issue but I would watch out for it if you want to buy a used copy.

Eis im Licht II

 

AF

My experience is based on the use of the Sony a7 and LA-EA4 adapter, the lens might behave differently on other cameras.

I found the AF to be quite fast and reliable. The Sony 4-5.6/70-400 is even faster but this lens is far from slow.

The AF is screw driven, and quite audible.

Because the AF-Module of the LA-EA4 covers less than 10% of the image, I focused the lens manually most of the time but I don’t need speedy focus for most of my images.

Manual Focusing

One of the few issues with the lens is, that the focusing ring has some play.

The focusing ring is quite wide and offers the right amount of resistance, despite the play I found it really easy to focus this lens manually because of the great contrast from f/1.8 it is really easy to see were the point of focus.

AF has to be decoupled, to use the focusing ring, which can be done with the push of one button on the camera or by using DMF mode.

Optical performance

Flare resistance

I didn’t notice any problems but I didn’t force it to shoot directly into the sun.
Frühlingsboten

Distortion

Distortion isn’t noticeable.

Vignetting

Noticeable at f/1.8, gone at f/2.8.

Bokeh

The bokeh of this lens is fabulous, I couldn’t get bad bokeh with this lens, no matter how hard I tried.

LoCA

This is, besides the play in the focusing rin the only weaknesses of this lens, spherochromatism is quite noticeable, even stopped down.

MTF-Graph

lenses_detail_img_3_modal

 

This is Sony’s official MTF-Graph which can’t be compared to real MTF graphs from Zeiss which are measure, but at least it gives us an idea that this isn’t a bad lens and it can help to compare this lens to other Sony lenses.

Infinity test

CarlZeiss_135mm_f1p8

f/1.8

This lens is sharp from corner to corner.
Very little corner fall of can be seen, this is an exceptional performance. My Minolta MD 2.8/135 isn’t that good at f/8.

No lateral CA can be seen.

f/2.8

I think I made a mistake at this aperture and the point of focus has changed at little.

f/4

I think I see a small improvement for the whole image.

f/5.6

I can’t detect any difference to f/4

f/8

I see a small drop in sharpness because of diffraction.

f/11

Diffraction is quite noticeable now and this aperture should be avoided if maximal sharpness is desired.

Conclusion

This is an extraordinary lens which comes quite close to optical perfection.

Handling on the a7 is fine, only the a little play in the focusing ring is objectionable.

The price you have to pay for this lens is quite high, but if you are looking for the best 135mm lens with AF support it is worth it.

Alternatives

The main rival for this lens in my eyes is the Zeiss APO 2/135, which overcomes the LoCA issue and offers a nicer focusing experience, but it doesn’t offer AF which will be a deal stopper for many portrait photographers and some have reported worse bokeh.

Another rival is Canons 2/135 L which is a tad less sharp at f/2 but $600 cheaper and lighter. On the a7 it will have really slow AF with a Metabones III so the ZA135 retains its AF advantage.

Affiliate Links

If you found this review helpful please support me by using one of the following affiliate links if you buy anything at Amazon or B&H.

Sony 135mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar – Amazon.com

Sony 135mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar – Amazon.de

 Image Samples

just click on them to see them in full resolution on flickr.

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8

Zeiss 135mm f/1.8

 

Other Articles

Minolta MC Rokkor 1.2/58 Review
Tokina 2.5/90 Macro Review
Canon FD 4/300 L Review
Zeiss 4/24-70 Review

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

32 thoughts on “Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135mm 1:1.8 ZA Review”

  1. These pictures, just wow. But damn this is expensive… I’m already planning to buy the 70-200, so for this lens plus the LEA4, I’ll wait for Christmas I think… Thanks for the work and knowledge you share.

  2. Dear Phillip,
    Thank you very much for the nice lens reviews your’ re doing One after another. So meanwhile you must have necessarily changed lenses several times. Have you ever encountered the phenomenon that they kind of “wobble” around the E-mount, not only axially but also sagitally a bit…? I also own de A7 and all my original lenses (all which are out for the 7/7r) wobble a bit. That does not do much right now but I am worried a bit that Heavy lenses could wear out the semi plastic phantastic E mount in a while. What is your opinion/ experience on that?

  3. Thanks for your comment. I will have an eye on that and ask Sony for assistance in Case it gets worse.
    By the way, do you have any Information on when they’re going to issue the 70-200mm lens? My Dealer told me that it could be November this Year…?

  4. Hi

    If most of the time manual focus is needed, why not go for the zeiss 135 apo f2?
    The apo will work better on manual mode, and will save market value better.
    Didn’t you use at all autofocus?

    thanks,
    ady

  5. Phillip

    Great page, great pictures, lot of useful hints and valuable information – congratulations !

    Did you ever try the Minolta MD 135 f2.0 on the A7 and if yes – how would you rate it against the Zeiss ? This lens was the reason for me to get an A7, because I found it a very good working combination, especially with the very precise Novoflex adapter.

    Cheers

    lui

    1. Hey Lui,

      the MD 2/135 is a rare lens and I have never had the chance to use one. From what I have hear others write it is a good lens but it won’t give you the same sharpness and contrast at f/2 as the Zeiss would.

      Phillip

  6. I have only been shooting film since last summer when my grandpa gave me an old minolta. After drooling over the Rokkor files amassed a collection in the last year and found a md 135/2 in dec. I just got an a7r a couple weeks ago and I am so in love with this lens. I’m a newbie to photography but when I shoot this lens I feel like a pro. Thanks for your reviews! I love drooling over the cool stuff you review.

  7. Helo guy. I am some what considering this lens. I currently have a7r with fe 55mm 1.8 sinnat native lens. I really like it for not portrait type pictures. But im getting into more portrait fotography and im not clear if this 135mm will have automatic focus on a7r. Money in not an an objection. Im looking into eather the 135mm az vs 85 mm otus. Any suggestions? Would 85mm focal length be enought for chose up portraits or should i stick to 135mm ? Thanks.

    1. I think both are great lenses and both will autofocus with the LA-EA4.
      Which one is better for portraits depends on your shooting style.
      Personaly I would pick the 135 because it ist more versatile in my eyes and probably a little bit better.

  8. I just purchased the combo 135+lae4 after reading your review. It seems like my copies has flaws. Is the focusing ring smooth? Mine seems a little loose. Does the lae4 sometimes makes all the buttons from the a7 from working?

    1. The focusing ring should have a bit of play in it. It’s part of the design and to be expected. Longer focal lengths using screw drive often have this due to the mechanical coupling. Sony plans on updating this lens (probably next year according to rumors) with SSM along with teh 85mm 1.4.

  9. How good is the LAEA4 at low light autofocus? I am finding this a substantial problem with the Sony mirrorless cameras despite learning all the tricks in the system and updating the firmware. (Otherwise the cameras are amazing, just amazing. )

  10. I love your reviews. So many reviews seem to be much longer, but less useful. You really know how to sum up the lens as a whole, the gestalt, and describe how it is to work with the lens in real, practical ways. thanks!

  11. Hi Phillip. Thanks for all the great work!
    I’ve read extensively your site. I have been shooting manual lens on some nex system for some while and keeping my Canon 550d for fast shooting including surfing photos. I shoot all kind of photos: portrait, street photos, surf, landscape

    I wanted to go to the next step with A7 to replace both my nex and canon. I wonder if I should get:
    1) A7 manual & kit lens + keep 550d for fast action on 55-250 (apsc)
    2) A7 manual + Sony LA-EA4 and minolta AF tele
    3) A7II manual and kit lens + SE55-210 (crop 10million pixel for surf)

    My budget is limited (30years old and baby on the way) so this is what I can afford.
    On you site it s seems you re not very happy with Sony LA-EA4 focus capacities as only 10% plus it s heavy with big minolta and sony. Also the A7II seems only good for the stablilization as AF is not there yet….
    AHHH sometimes I just think about getting the A6000 as it will tick all the box, but as you say the quality on manual lens on A7 is awesome (dof, sensor etc…).
    I have a good collection of old lens: Takumar 28/3.5 50/1.4 Zeiss Jena 135/3.5 Helios 55…which I will upgread with your recommendations!
    So they would be good on the A7

    What are your thoughts? And thanks for your help

    1. I think I would keep the Canon and just get a a7. You won’t get much money for it and any AF soludtion from Sony would be more expensive and probably not better for that application.

      You existing lenses are very nice and will be a good basis

      1. Thanks a lot for your help! I will follow your advise and if I found a a7II on sale, I will get that one . The stablization might be worth it just as you said!
        Keep up the good work, a few adds wouldn’t be a bother if this means you post more content.

  12. Good work, Phillip. I enjoy reading it. I have a Sony A7II and a LA-EA4 adapter. I am buying this lens. Did you notice any focus shift problems with this lens?

    With the LA-EA4 adapter, I plan to do focus micro adjustment at F1.8. You stated that you had some focus problems at F2.8. Hopefully, it is not a focus shift issue.

    Thanks.

    David

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