Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* (C/Y) 35-70mm f3.4: A review

The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* (C/Y) 35-70mm f3.4 was a standard zoom lens designed for the Yashica and Contax series of film SLR cameras. It was, perhaps, the first standard zoom of truly decent quality throughout its range. You could use it an any focal length and not really have any compromise relative the prime lenses of the time. That cliché “a tube full of primes” was (for once) true of it: at least in its day.

It’s since acquired a kind of cult reputation. Some think it remains the finest standard zoom you can get. But how much of this reputation is due to it being so amazing by the standards of when it was designed in 1982, and how much because it still deserves a place in the kits of some modern photographers? Read on to find out!

Specifications

Diameter 70mm
Length 80.5 mm
Filter Thread 67 mm
Weight (w/o adapter) 475 g
Minimum Focusing Distance 0.7m
Maximum Magnification 1:2.5
Number of aperture blades 8
Elements/ Groups 10/10
The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* (C/Y) 35-70mm f3.4 can be purchased used on eBay.com here.

Image Samples

Build quality and handling

This is a trombone zoom lens; sometimes called a “one touch”. A single mechanism when pushed and pulled zooms, and when turned focusses. It’s no longer fashionable, and indeed for precision I prefer separate zoom and focus rings. It may have made things faster in the field, but these days people looking for speed in the field are using AF lenses: anyone using this lens is likely looking for precision.

As you can see in this image, there is relatively little difference in overall length between 40mm (where it is close to  longest) and tele. This is because the zoom mechanism does not extend the lens for as you zoom from 70mm out to about 50mm, and only then starts extending slightly.

But if you can live with that the lens is very solidly built from metal and rubber. The fact that most samples are still working now is testament to that.

Focusing Ring

Nicely damped with a rubberised grip that works well. Tnly issue is that focussing without making small changes to focal length takes a bit of practice. It focusses from the standard close focus distance of 70cm to infinity in about 240 degrees.

Aperture

The aperture ring is a nice metal ring at the back of the lens and it stops down from f3.4 to f22. There is a first click that takes you from f3.4 to f4, and then its one stop clicks to f22. Intermediate positions are fairly easy to set.

Hood

The official Zeiss hood is the CONTAX metal Hood 1 combined with the CONTAX 67/86 ring. You can often find these on eBay. I have one for the fun of it: it’s a lovely solid kit, though very large and not that cheap. Frankly, though, these Contax hoods were a bit too big. They do give about the best shading you can get from a fixed circular hood because of that, but realistically a folding rubber hood for almost nothing from eBay in a 67mm mount is a more practical option.

Adapting the lens to Sony

I use the Rayqual adapter, which is in my opinion the best dumb adapter you can get when the exact length of the adapter matters. It also has better baffling than any others I know. Exact length probably does with this lens because of the complex zoom movements. With unit focussing lenses Novoflex is just as good (they tend to be a bit short, but that doesn’t matter in that case.) Of course you can try your luck with a cheaper adapter. The second generation K&F adapters are my choice for cheaper ones. Have a look  at our article here. You can get one via our affiliate link at B&H

Size and Weight

This lens is neither small nor light. With adapter it extends 12cm, and weighs more than a half kilo. But that’s still less than three primes, and less than one modern f1.4 35mm or 50mm fast prime. As a single lens landscape hiking option, it still makes sense.

Optical performance

These results are based on use with a Sony Alpha A7rIII.

Infinity Resolution

The resolution section is here a little bit different from how we have usually done things at PhillipReeve. Rather than sections from a single diagonal image I have moved the camera and taken separate aperture sequences in each position (corner, rule of thirds intersection, centre). This is slightly more work, but means that because it is the same infinity subject in the different positions, it is easier to compare.

As this is likely to be used for landscape, I show the crops with the focus on centre: thus the corners are showing the effect of a very small amount of field curvature. Very slightly better corner results could be achieved by focussing on the corner or midfield.

The results are remarkable for a zoom lens of this vintage. The centre and midfield results are outstanding at every focal length and aperture. The extreme corner is a little worse, especially at wide aperture and 35mm (as Zeiss own MTF shows) but at most apertures and focal lengths remains very good, and as good or better than decent primes of the era. The extreme corner shows a bit of contrast drop off as well. There is a touch of primary LoCA (Purple fringing) but much less than many fine primes of the era.

Flare Resistance

Flare resistance was amazing for a zoom  by 1982 standards. But by contemporary standards it is a mixed bag. On the one hand it’s remarkably free of distracting coloured artefacts and distracting flare effects: more so than many beloved modern lenses, and comparable with the very best. On the other hand with the sun in the frame there’s a fair bit of overall glare and loss of contrast. With the sun outside the frame judicious use of a hood and hand shading can deal with it really well, and its’ good enough that you should never get much trouble if you are good at shading. But of course there’s nothing you can do if the sun is in the frame.

The following aperture series are all taken with the maximum shadow lifting, and exposure boosted by a stop in post, so they represent a worst case for the overall glare.

This is not bad performance; but it is performance that the best modern lenses will easily exceed. On the other hand, this lack of fancy modern methods of predicting where non image-forming light will go is  also the probably the cause of the slightly lower overall contrast which many like about a good classic lens.

70mm. Sun in centre

50mm Sun in Centre

35mm Sun in Centre

I tried all positions of the sun to see if it made a difference. Remarkably it didn’t , except when the sun is exactly on the rule of thirds corner, where you get slightly worse results for artefacts at the widest focal length (shown next) but not at others. This is still not bad, given the degree of shadow lifting.

35mm Sun in Rule of Thirds intersection

Sunstars

The lens does not produce pronounced sunstars, despite its eight bladed iris mechanism, which often make crisp stars with eight rays.

One interesting feature is that you can see almost as much star wide open as stopped down a little, at every focal length, which suggests that the iris mechanism never retracts completely from the optical path.

You can see above in the flare series that you never get much of a sunstar from direct sun, due probably to glare around the sunstar area washing it out. You do get some sunstar when there is a dark object near the sun to emphasise it, as in the following series:

Sunstars at 35mm (very similar at other apertures)

 

Bokeh

Bokeh is not a central feature of a slowish zoom lens. But the bokeh here is not distracting, and you can get decent portraits at the long end and f3.4. And there are natural subjects where having the subject shot with a wide angle close up with an OOF background is desirable. So these are the two cases I’ll illustrate both at about a meter. A lens this slow has not much blur beyond that (though what there is is fairly smooth). And any lens will produce reasonable bokeh very close up, so I won’t illustrate anything in the macro range. There are of course no aspherical elements, so no danger of onion skin bokeh.

First case: 70mm with subject at 1m and background starting 2m behind subject:

Case 2: 35mm subject 1m, background from 2 m behind subject.

 

Chromatic Aberrations

Axial Chromatic Aberrations

You do not exepect a great deal of secondary LoCA (the nasty green and magenta fringing either side of the plane of focus) on a slower lens, but this lens is impressively free of it, even for a slower lens. You can see only a trace wide open, and it is completely gone a stop or so down. Here’s a sample at 70mm: other focal lengths perform the same.

Lateral CA

Lateral CA (magenta and green fringing in the plane of focus, generally in the corners of an image) is very low at most focal lengths, though a little (still remarkably little for a zoom of any era) is visible in the extreme corners, especially at the wide-angle setting. It does not vary with stopping down, of course, unlike axial CA.

It however corrects with no cost in IQ with a simple tickbox (unlike axial CA which is hard to correct without undesirable effects)

Here is the 35mm corner, and the corrected version:

 

Again, really impressive performance.

Vignetting

At 35mm I measure just over two stops in the extreme corner wide open, falling to under a third of a stop at f8.

At 50mm I measure just one stop in the extreme corner wide open, falling to negligible at f8.

At 70mm I measure about the same as at 50mmm – just one stop in the extreme corner wide open, falling to negligible at f8.

If using the close focus mechanism, vignetting appears to increase somewhat, but this is partly greater sensitivity to filters/hoods.

Distortion

At 35mm I measure about 2.5 % barrel distortion. It is not complex and can be corrected in LR or other software fairly easily, and is small enough that this ca be done without much cost in IQ

At 50mm distortion seems almost undetectable; perhaps a negligible hint of pincushion.

At 70mm there is about 1% pincushion distortion: a very low amount which can be generally ignored, though is easy to correct.

Close Focus Resolution

The lens has a close focus distance in it’s regular mode of .7 metres. This is pretty normal for a 70mm lens, and a little far for a 50mm prime but good for a zoom. At 35mm there is a ‘macro’ mode which gets you a fair bit closer which can be very useful: this is the amount of the field a US $100 note covers.

Here is the comparison wide open at f1.5:

Here are 1:1 crops wide open and f5.6. It’s excellent wide open, and a touch better at f5.6. This performance extends almost to the edge of the frame

The same great performance is available at other focal lengths at the “normal” 70cm focussing distance, albeit obviously at lower magnification. Here is the long end, 70mm, at the 70cm focussing distance:

 

Alternatives

Sony G 24-105 This is a very good standard zoom, which goes both wider and longer than the Zeiss. It’s a bit heavier than the Zeiss and many times more expensive. It’s at least as sharp, despite its wider range (though there is a fair bit of copy variability). If that’s your preference you can by one via my affiliate link at B&H for no added cost to you, and a tiny tip to me, or else new or used on eBay

Sony Zeiss ZA 24-70 This This lens is much maligned; certainly it’s not as good as the Zeiss at 24mm or 28mm. But the Zeiss doesn’t go to those wider angles, and it really is just as good as the Zeiss at 35mm which is the sweet spot of this lens! The Zeiss on the other hand is quite a bit better than the Sony Zeiss across the field at 70mm (at least on the copy I had of the ZA and many other copies I’ve seem samples from – it does vary a bit). I guess if you think worse performance at 70 is paid for by OK performance at 28mm and an emergency 24 setting you might prefer the Sony Zeiss, especially if you would like AF.

Tamron 2.8/28-75 Di III RXD  You might think this is an obvious comparison, and in many ways it is, but in fact I think these two lenses serve very different functions. If you want a lens for event coverage or portrait work the Tamron is an easy choice over the current lens. It’s a bit contrastier, has AF, and is a little faster. But for landscape use or architecture it’s less clear cut. At 28mm – a focal length the Zeiss doesn’t have – I think the Tamron is at least as good across the field (I’m going here on Jannick’s review on this site)But by 35mm the Zeiss is noticeably better in the corners than the Tamron, despite this being the weakest focal length of the Zeiss. This remains true at all other focal lengths. So if you love 28mm landscapes and want a faster AF lens for other purposes, the Tamron makes sense. But if considered landscape type work in the 35-70 range is your preference, I’d still go with the Zeiss.

A kit of small modern  primes  One way to try to cover this length manually without it being altogether too large is with Loxia primes, ZM primes CV primes or certain Leica primes  at 25mm 35mm, 50 mm 75mm or 85mm. Pick any three. There’s not doubt that these lenses will give a bit of a contrast boost as well as be sharper across the field at wider apertures, and handle flare better. But such a kit is much more expensive and a bit less convenient for landscape – and not be all that much better.

A kit of smaller classic primes: You could also put together a kit of legacy primes – OM, C/Y, Canon Nikon or Minolta. Have a look at the reviews on this site. But if you want decent wide lenses and a good tele, it won’t cost less, and it will be at best about the same in overall IQ and at worst not as good. I’d pick this lens for a relatively low cost landscape solution over a kit of legacy primes, unless I were unhappy with the focal lengths.

Other Lenses These are the lenses I have direct access to and which I consider rivals, or which are such direct rivals it was worth commenting for you to find more information. These include various Leica zooms which I have not tried,  though reliable sources say they are no better and cost more. No doubt there are also other lenses I could use to compare with this lens, but I don’t have copies of them, so when you write in the comments “please compare this with lens X” the answer is “Sorry, No”.

Conclusion

pros

  • Resolution generally high, and stopped down quality good enough for demanding landscape at all usual landscape apertures
  • Mechanical construction very robust
  • A good single lens package for a landscaper which is smaller and cheaper than other options.
  • Flare artefacts very low
average

  • Contrast is only average by modern standards
  • LaCA is noticeable, but can easily be corrected without loss
  • Veiling flare great for its day, only OK now.
cons

  • Sunstars are not great if you care
  • One touch design not to everyone’s taste.

So is this lens a piece of dark art, the like of which cannot be made by soulless modern lens makers? Of course not. But it is remarkably good and useful. If you want a zoom lens, and don’t mind paying four to five times as much, and putting up with a lens almost double the weight, the Sony G 24-105 has more range, is at least as sharp, and has a bit more contrast.

But not everyone either cares about or even wants that slightly more saturated look. And if you you do you might be prepared to trade it off for saved money and the fun (if it’s your thing) of using a vintage lens. This is a consistently crisp vintage lens, that can give results  you can be proud of, and not have to explain away by talking about its classic look.

If I were a landscaper on a budget who wanted the convenience of a single zoom, didn’t have a taste for more extreme focal lengths and regarded brilliant sunstars as a bit of an effect, I’d pair this lens with a more affordable A7 body in a heartbeat. And many other categories of user might find it great too. It’s often my all in one hiking kit: a decent sharp 35, 50 and 70 all in 475 grams. What’s not to like.

The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* (C/Y) 35-70mm f3.4 can be purchased used on eBay.com here. Used prices vary a bit; be  patient and you should be able to save quite a lot.

If this review was helpful to you, please consider using one of my affiliate links or sharing the review with others. Thanks 🙂

Some more image samples

 

 

 

 

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David Braddon-Mitchell

David Braddon-Mitchell is a keen landscape and environmental portrait photographer. In the last decade of film he was a darkroom practitioner and worked with Olympus OM SLRs and various medium format cameras. He switched to Canon DSLRs when digital imaging improved, and made a move to Sony bodies as soon as the A7 series was born. He enjoys using a mixture of legacy manual lenses, modern manual lenses, and E mount AF lenses.

38 thoughts on “Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* (C/Y) 35-70mm f3.4: A review”

  1. Very good review, fits very well with how mine performed.

    Just sold mine 3 days ago: now the price will probably double because of the reivew! 🙂

    Imagery was very nice, and did have a touch more magic than many other lenses, IMO.
    What I didn’t like about it was the (relatively) large size & weight combined with the limited range. I prefer other zooms or two (25/28/35 + 85, not 3) primes instead.

    1. I think if you don’t like ‘normal’ focal lengths then a two lens kit with ZM85 or some other light tele, and a decent wide makes a lot of sense (though not cheap). But if you want a 40-50 as well you ar looking at 3 lenses and that’s when the convenience of the zoom comes in. What’s the other zoom you prefer? All the really good ones cost a fair bit more.

      1. The ZM 85 is one of the 85/90mm lenses I usually have with me.
        My favorite zoom at the moment is the Leica R 21-35, which, paired with an 85/90, makes a quite complete kit (I’m quite happy to skip FLs around 50mm). Yes, it does cost a lot more.

  2. Well to be honest at these aperture values I wonder if the image quality of this particular lens is somewhat extraordinary compared to any kit lens or other alternatives with ~3,5f numbers.. Flare resistance looks good, other than that it is hard to say that this particular lens is a head high over the others.

    Although vintage zoom lenses were trashy most of the times, this lens might be exception on the other hand we can not denny that the sample variation is a real issue with most of the vintage glass. When we compare resolution sharpness and all the small things we need to take in to the consideration that the lens is nearly 40 years old and I am more than sure that it was dropped bumped or shaken hard at least once through out those years, and this has really huge effects on image quality if we compare small things wide open..

    Another thing to take in to consideration – adapters.. Looking at this bad corner quality compared to the rest of the image I think it might have to do something with adapter rather than the lens itself. We are looking at 35mm here and the corners look like they barely cover the sensor. After trying out many vintage lenses and adapters I must say that most of the bad image quality such as flares, CA LoCa and similar aberations of the lens is a responsibility of adapter.. Even 0,3mm of intolerance is enough to make a huge quality degradation to the images. Even Sony sensor and filters in front of it does a huge impact to image quality ant CA in particular. Most of the vintage lenses put on DSLR cameras tend to have better CA control compared to the same lens on Sony mirrorless. On DSLR some of those CA just disappear completely.

    1. The corner quality at 35mm as shown in my test is pretty much what I’d expect from Zeiss’ published MTF. So I don’t think it’s an adapter artefact (in any case I used a precision Rayqual which we find to be very accurate in length). The 35mm corners are certainly the weakest feature of the lens, though they are reasonable stopped down and not worse than many primes of the era.

    2. Totally agree with this. To find a good adapter is trial & error process. I bought this lens four years a go for my canon 6d and it’s really hard to get one that can focus to infinity. Also the protruding rear element and aperture lever sometimes make the camera mirror couldn’t turning back.

      Now with K&F adapter on my sony a7ii I have to cover the inside with black velvet to reduce the flare, but still problem with focus to infinity.

      1. It’s trial end error with cheaper ones, but some but not all of the premium ones are precise and accurate. It depends whether you have more time or money!

  3. I love this lens and pretty much agree with what you mentioned. The one problem that I have is the barrel of this lens rotates thereby making the use of polarizer tough.
    One day I will get my hands on the 100-300 as well to pair with this lens as classic non hiking LS lens setup.

    1. Yes that’s a problem for polariser users, though it can be worked around. I use polarisers less than most. I don’t like th look they give skies – I think careful masking and treatment in post looks better. Of course they can sowmetimes be handy for glare on water and foliage, but even there it can give a ‘polariser’ look I don’t like. YMMV!

  4. Zeiss seem to have a couple of similar focal range zooms

    Contax Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* 28-85mm F3.3-4
    Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T 28-70mm F3.5-4.5

    How far behind are these in quality?

    1. I had the 28-85 for a short time.
      Quality was very good. Ergonomics were awful.
      The front end uses 82mm filters and the lens shade makes it even wider.
      Basically, it was a pain to put into (& especially remove from) any compact camera bag, pack or or pouch.

    2. The other C/Y standard zooms sacrifice a bit of quality, especially in the other field, for more range. They are bulkier too. There is now a CONTAX N adapter, so those later N standard zooms could be tried. They may be very good – Inhavent tried – nut wont be cheap especially as the adapter is expensive, so you might be better off with native zooms.

    3. Neither is as consistently good although I’ve only used the first. Which is huge and heavy: I’d prefer 3 primes. And it’s not quite as good as the 35-70.

      The 28-70 was a sort of low end kit lens, rather than a no-compromise variable FL lens. I haven’t used it myself, but the general consensus is that it’s nothing special, even by the standards of its time.

  5. In general I do not like Zeiss lenses, 2 that I have owned in the past practically fell apart on my camera. A definite wobble occurred and the whole back element was loose. I tightened it several times but kept occurring. I learned a lesson stay with Leica lenses, I have lenses over 40 years old and never a problem, buy junk get junl.

    1. I do not know on average whether Zeiss or Leica is more reliable. My own experience is no problem with dozens of Zeiss, whereas my tri-Elmer completely disintegrated, and the helicoid of a lux 2/75 seized. Which is 2 out of three for me. But of course we shouldn’t extrapolate from small samples like ours.

  6. I also had the Contax N 24-85, several samples (yes, I’ve gone through a lot of lenses).
    The first I had was outstanding: sharp all across the range and into the corners if stopped down just a bit (1/2-1 stop).
    Unfortunately the zoom mechanism broke, while removing the lens shade(!!!). Three further samples weren’t as good, mostly being very good at the wide end, but weaker at the long end. Also a rather thick lens (82mm filters), but at least more streamlined than the CY 28-85.
    Curiously, my CY 28-85 was weakest at 28mm and best at 85mm.

  7. I’ve been waiting for this review and agree. I will forget to use it for a while and then look back at images I took with it and suddenly bask in the forgotten quality. I have since purchased and used the 28-85 (don’t like as much … an indescribable (but very subtle “grainy mushy quality” to my eyes compared to the 35-70 and 35-135 lenses in the two copies I’ve had. Note, the 35-135 is fantastic and the match of the 35-75 in sharpness, contrast, and color, but also much bigger. Also, the 100-300 is in a league of it’s own. I hope you guys can review the 100-300 or 35-135 some day . . . but I guess I’ve already made up my mind:)

  8. Can you compare it to the Minolta MD 35-70mm 1:3.5?
    – just kidding 😉
    Does anyone have experiences with both lenses?
    The Minolta MD 35-70mm 1:3.5 seems to have the better price/performance ratio and has a zoomring.

    1. Thanks Goodness you are kidding!
      The more trustworthy folk on the web seem to mostly think the C/Y is better than that Minolta, but that’s far from proof.
      Phillip review the third version here: https://phillipreeve.net/blog/minolta-md-zoom-35-70mm-3-5-review/
      But it’s hard to get a comparative sense from different reviews.
      I think its fame comes from the first version that was optically the same as the Leica-R zoom of the era. But it’s also the worst, so if you do get one, get the later one.
      One reason I suspect the Zeiss is likely better is that it first came out, designed from scratch, in 1985 (the Minoltas date back to the late seventies, and this was an era of rapid improvements in design). But that’s not a strong argument!

  9. You should edit this in your conclusions, it doesn’t make sense: ‘…stopped down quality good enough for demanding landscape at all apertures.’
    Except that, very interesting review, thanks you.

    1. Thanks Yves! I sort of mean that (i.e. at all the usual landscape apertures, which are stopped down ones) but I absolutely agree it wasn’t well put. Fixed.
      cheers
      d

  10. I just bought the Contax-Zeiss.

    Now I have both the Minolta 35-70 (the third version with Macro, of course) and this lens here.

    It’s immediately apparent that the sharpness and resolution at the short end are MUCH better with the Zeiss. On the Minolta, sharpness at 35mm is just OK, but…”zoomlens-ish”. On the Zeiss, prime level.

    Will test further. I have a K&F Concept adapter (on Sony A7III), and I’m not entirely sure whether I’m already at infinity when hitting the stop at shorter focal lengths; at the longer end, I can focus a bit beyond infinity.

  11. I have both the C/Y and Minolta MD zooms and I don’t think there’s a lot between them. I haven’t done any rigorous testing however I suspect the C/Y edges it based on impressions.

  12. The difference at 35mm is VERY clear. Much more resolution and sharpness at 35mm.
    Of course having 70mm macro, being smaller and lighter and – for some people – having a zoom ring can be deciding factors pro the Minolta. But optically, one needs no extensive testing to see immediately that, although the Minolta is already very fine for the most part, the Zeiss is superior.

    1. That’s pretty much what I would have expected. And personally I wouldn’t want something less good than the Zeiss as my primary landscape hiking lens. While it’s very good, it’s not up to what would be possible with modern design if anyone chose to make something with these parameters, so less good is undesirable (unless constrained by cost).

      1. I don’t doubt that there would be possible “more” with modern designs. BUT: it would be significantly bigger and heavier (especially if Sigma produced it 😀 ) and cost something in the $2000 realm. And that would mean it would not be a “hiking lens” anymore.

  13. others have asked about the CY 28-85mm. I have a copy and have mixed opinions on it.

    The zoom on my copy is quite loose and if the camera is tilted down will slide on its own. At 28mm the edges are quite soft but higher up the lens is quite good.

    The zoom creep is annoying but not a deal breaker, my one complaint is the speed, I guess I’ve come to be a fast aperture junkie which allows me to shoot indoors at night in poor light without a flash. The 28-85mm requires high ISOs and I don’t like the results

    This photo was cropped to get rid of the soft edges
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/DQgVqSmeaBugLRw2A

  14. Do its big brother (100-300) next!

    I’d sent you mine, but it’s in perfect shape and doesn’t have the balsam separation… too scared to let it out of my sight!

    1. If you search on FM forums you should find info about a Korean guy who separates the rear elements, cleans and re-glues them for a reasonable fee. Depending on where you are located it can be cheaper to get one with separation and send it to hi. For a complete CLA including reglueing than pay extra for a good one (which may develop separation in time anyway)

  15. Thanks for the detailed review, much appreciated!

    I recently found a beautiful copy of the Vario-Sonnar 35-70mm, and I concurr with your breakdown and findings.

    I had been looking for a decent pair of primes in the 40-60mm range, and although they are rather abundant, I could not find anything with the level of performance at the size and weight of the C/Y 35-70mm, let alone the price. If one also considers Zeiss build quality, and the “macro” feature that allows for 25cm MFD and 1.2.5 magnification ratio, it certainly is an appealing lens.

    Looking at MTF charts, the performance at 35mm stopped down (f/8) is very decent and even, and not that far behind some of Zeiss’ better 35mm manual focus primes. Shooting the lens at 35mm, has yet not produced any frames where I could appreciate or lament the rather high distortion value specified. I have also not come across particularly soft corners and am quite impressed with the edge-to-edge performance of this Vario-Sonnar at 35mm and wide open.

    Stopped down at 50mm, the performance – on paper – is very impressive, and suggests it is even better than the 50mm loxia at its optimal aperture (5.6), and certainly comes notably ahead of other decent and well regarded primes.

    Stopped down at 70mm, the performance is still good and very even across the frame, yet not as tight as at 50mm. A few other Contax Yashica zooms that include the 70mm focal length, have better listed performance at 70mm.

    My suspicion is that the performance is at its best in the range immediately before and after 50mm, which is the range I am interested in, so quite a satisfying purchase.

    The push-pull focus mechanism takes a little getting used to, as does the “macro” feature that kicks in once you turn beyond the 0,7m mark, because the lens keeps zooming in as it focuses. You will be the one moving in and out for your closer shots.

    I have only shot the lens hand-held, and focussing is quite easy thanks to the generous focus throw – another personally much appreciated feature – although the damping could be a bit tighter. The aperture ring is well out of the way for any accidents, so that’s a plus too.
    I have abstained from manually dialing in focal length for IBIS coverage once I have my composition or focal length, as this is too cumbersome, and i have not come to the situation where I have urgently needed Steady Shot so far. Some images require critical sharpness, but sharpness is an attribute of images, not a condition they necessarily have to fulfill.

    The contrast can’t compete with more recent lenses, but there’s something interesting to this in monochrome, as the lesser contrast can also in some cases contribute to the perception of nuanced detail, that can otherwise gets lost in a typical high contrast “Leica look”. On the other hand, there’s numerous strategies to accentuate contrast in post if needed, and there’s enough resolution at hand with this lens on Sony’s 42,2 megapixel bodies sensor for some editing.

    The color rendition is both interesting and challenging in post, as it is warmer – and yellower – than the more blueish colors produced by current Zeiss lens line-ups, and will shift the way you are used to editing in post. Nothing dramatic nor deal-breaking to me at least; all lenses involve a learning curve and adaptation.

    Sunstars are not stellar (no pun intended), and they take quite some contrast to appear, but they are not absent. They are not beautiful Loxia or CV sunstars, but I have managed to produce a few. This might the only factor that could disuade some landscape shooters who like the sun in their composition. On the other hand, decent flare resistance comes as a compensation for the stars. Shot at larger apertures it can turn the sun into an indistinct mush, though, and this will not easily be fixed in post. Best to get to know the Vario-Sonnar well in this respect, to know when and how to include the sun in your frames, I believe.

    My copy was delivered with the wrong hood, but I have the right one (No.1) with the 67-86mm ring for it coming my way, so I have yet to see how well it shades. I had written a comment on Phillip’s review of the 3.5/100 C/Y, believing my Novoflex adapter was causing a strong vignette between 35-40mm, but later realized it was the lens hood I got with my copy.

    I am definitely keeping this lens, and I hope it keeps working flawlessly for years to come.

    I only joined flickr a couple of days ago, and made an album with a few shots I have taken with the 35-70 Vario-Sonnar in the couple of weeks that I’ve had it. Pictures have been processed, though: https://www.flickr.com/photos/163901053@N06/albums/72157676292570067

    Cheers!

  16. Although I expect very few people will be interested in using this lens to take infrared photos, I am one of them.

    To my surprise, my sample, at least, works well with a Hoya R72 filter and mounted on my DIY, full-spectrum modified Samsung NX500.

  17. Hi David, and thanks for the review. I was recently given this lens to use on my Fuji X series camera and have found it a delight to use. The crop sensor turns it into about 50-100, which is not as versatile, but fine in the right circumstances. It’s beautifully built and smooth to use – a tactile treat. Colour rendering is excellent, and only it’s relative bulk detracts from its appeal. However, I have just received a slightly battered A7R (same donor!) and will probably keep the two attached in the way you describe for a wandering landscape kit. Also looking forward to trying my Voigtlander 58/1.4 with the Sony – could be a good lens/camera combination. Love using legacy lenses!

  18. Hi,

    I would like to see a comparison with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-80mm f/2.8. This lens is one of the latest one from OM Zuiko line and has also a very good reputation.

    1. If you have on you might be able to persuade one of the Europe based reviewers on the site to review it if you lend it to them.

      But the thing is this is very rare and very expensive. So it would be hard to borrow a copy to review. But also it’s not a priority to review because it’s unlikely to be good value. It would not surprise me if it was even better than the Zeiss I review here (the very last OM lenses were terrific) but it is unlikely to be competitive with the best modern ones, is not very light at 650g and not cheaper than modern zooms. So it won’t have the advantage of price or size that is often attractive about vintage glass. Still, I’d certainly review it if I could borrow a copy, though I know I won’t find one in Australia and shipping overseas for borrowed copies doesn’t make sense for customs reasons.

      1. The points you mentioned make the Tamron 28-75/2.8 look a whole lot more attractive than the Olympus sonce it is smaller, more affordable and covers a wider focal range. I am sure the Olympus certainly has different optical charactestics but I would be surprised if it was sharper.

        1. Absolutely! The Olympus would be fun to test and play with as it’s a rare legend, and those late OM lenses are so remarkable for their era (Oly came from making compact lenses about as good as the competition, to being the class leader of the day for their last lenses – the super teles, and the 2/50 2/90 2/100 and 2.8/35-80). But that’s history, and fun for the enthusiast, collector or historian though they may be, I’d also be surprised if the latest Tamron was’t optically as good or likely better overall, with fast AF, for less money.

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