Before the newest entry of the Loxia line was introduced we were guessing what combination of focal length and maximum aperture it might feature: 90mm 2.0? 100mm 2.0? 85mm 2.8? 100mm 3.5? We were all wrong as none of us had an 85mm 2.4 on his list. When the first pictures and the technical data appeared many were put down by the maximum aperture and especially size and weight. The mtf-graphs on the other hand look very promising with hardly any sharpness falloff towards the borders, putting this lens in the territory of the Leica APO-Summicron 90mm 2.0 or even the Zeiss Otus 85mm 1.4 on paper, which both cost two to three times as much. So let’s find out what Zeiss’ newest lens has to offer!
Last Update: 09/25/17: long time experiences after ~1 year of usage added
Specifications / Version History
The Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4 is the newest offering in the Loxia lineup following the 21mm 2.8, 35mm 2.0 and 50mm 2.0 and is to my knowledge the first 85mm with a maximum aperture of 2.4 made by Zeiss. It has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 62.5 mm
- Field of view: 28.63° (diagonally)
- Length: 94.8 mm
- Weight: 594g
- Filter Diameter: 52 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 10 (straight)
- Elements/Groups: 7/7
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.8 m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:7.2
- Mount: E-mount
You may also have a look at Zeiss’ official page.
Handling / Build Quality
The build quality of the Loxia is very nice and the most part of the lens is made of metal, but with nearly 600g it is also much heavier than the other Loxia lenses. There is also a blue rubber gasket at the rear of the lens, albeit there is no E-mount camera body with true weather/dust resistance available to date.
The focus ring has just the right resistance and it takes ~220° from infinity to 0.8 m. The aperture ring has third-of-a-stop click-stops and turns about 120° which is a little more than I prefer as it takes quite some time to go from f/2.4 to f/11. One can also “de-click” the aperture ring to make it stepless which I think is mostly interesting for filming purposes. Unlike my Loxia 21mm 2.8 my sample of this lens does not feature a hard infinity stop, infinity is a bit before the mark.
There is also another feature: when turning the focus ring the camera automatically zooms in but to be honest I found this behaviour to be slowing down my shooting (as I prefer to move the box first and then zoom in), so I turned it off in the camera menu.
The included hood is also mostly made of metal and quite large.
Wide open there is visible vignetting of roughly 1.9 EV, stopped down to f/4.0 it is merely ~0.8 EV and from f/5.6 (~0.4 EV) onwards negligible. There is also Lightroom profile for correcting this.
You can also download the full resolution shots here.
By f/11 you start loosing details to diffraction, otherwise it doesn’t really matter which aperture you use between f/2.4 and f/8.0 for center and midframe, the differences are pretty much negligible in my book. The corners are best at f/5.6 and f/8.0, but already very good at f/4.0 and usable to good at f/2.4. The houses in the corner crops already look quite good wide open, but the fine detail in the trees is lost. Also be aware I have increased the exposure on the corner crops for f/2.4 and f/2.8 in post to match the others.
The performance near the minimum focus distance is excellent as well, even wide open with the 42mp A7rII and looking at 100% crops. In the center I can hardly see any improvements on stopping down further.
In the meantime I also used this lens with Kenko extension tubes up to 26mm and the performance holds up very well. You can find more sample images in this article.
Most of the time flare resistance is very good, as in the shot above. Nevertheless, with a low winter sun this is the worst I have seen from this lens so far (I haven’t used the hood for this shot):
I have taken many shots straight into the sun without any problems, contrast also stays on a very high level.
Sonnar lenses are known for their very smooth bokeh and this seems to be also true for the Loxia 85mm. But with a maximum aperture of 2.4 it just isn’t as easy throwing backgrounds out of focus as it is with faster lenses (see comparisons below), especially when not being super close to your subject.
Probably because of the small diameter of the lens the cat’s eye effect – describing light discs becoming ovals towards the borders and corners – is quite pronounced.
Comparison Loxia 85mm email@example.com <-> Loxia 85mm firstname.lastname@example.org:
Before: Loxia 85mm 2.4 @ 2.4 | After: Loxia 85mm 2.4 @ 4.0
Comparison Loxia 85mm email@example.com <-> Leica Summicron pre-Asph 90mm firstname.lastname@example.org (same distance to subject):
Before: Loxia 85mm 2.4 @ 2.4 | After: Leica Summicron pre-Asph 90mm 2.0 @ 2.0 (shot from same position)
Comparison Loxia 85mm email@example.com <-> Leica Summicron pre-Asph 90mm firstname.lastname@example.org (same size of subject):
Before: Loxia 85mm 2.4 @ 2.4 | After: Leica Summicron pre-Asph 90mm 2.0 @ 2.0 (shot from different positions for same subject size)
Comparison Loxia 85mm email@example.com <-> Jupiter-9 85mm firstname.lastname@example.org (same distance to subject):
Before: Loxia 85mm 2.4 @ 2.4 | After: Jupiter-9 85mm 2.0 @ 2.0 (shot from same position)
For head and shoulder portraits the subject isolation is absolutely sufficient and I really like that I don’t have to cope with artifacts like onion rings and disturbing loCA.
Wide open and stopped down to f/2.8 point light sources towards the borders are visibly deteoriated. Stop down to f/4.0 and the problem mostly goes away.
From a Loxia lens you expect well defined 10-stroke sunstars and the 85mm definetly delivers here. From f/4.0 onwards the sunstars are as beautiful as on the other Loxia lenses. Of course this comes down to what rendering you prefer, so decide for yourself!
There is only a small amount of pincushion distortion. A Lightroom profile for correcting this is also available.
The correction of longitudinal CA (loCA) is pretty good, only slight traces of magenta and green outlinings are visible. Below is a real world stress test.
Sonnar designs are known for a few characteristics and one of the more unfavourable ones is the tendency to show some focus shift issues. Focus shift means that on stopping down the plane of optimal focus shifts, so to get best possible results at f/4.0 with an f/2.0 lens it might be necessary to stop down to f/4.0 first and then focus. On the Loxia 85 the focus plane might shift a little bit towards the camera on stopping down if you are splitting hairs, but it is in fact nothing to worry about with this lens.
Leica Summicron M 90mm 2.0 pre-Asph
I have been using this lens for quite some time now and I really like it. It is small, it is fast, bokeh wide open is nice, sharpness and contrast are very good stopped down. But it also features a whacky aperture diaphragm (see review) which produces not-as-nice-as-Loxia sunstars, sharpness at closer distances is not really good wide open and the work against bright light certainly isn’t something to write home about. Corner to corner sharpness is not as good as the Loxia either. It is a tough call between these two. If you are merely looking for a portrait lens that might stir you towards the Leica, if you are looking for a very high resolving landscape and architecture lens you are probably better of with the Loxia.
Zeiss Batis 85mm 1.8
I haven’t used this one myself but I know you will be asking for it anyway 🙂 Despite the same focal length these lenses are very different and in case you need AF you have your answer already. Regarding the optics the Batis is no slouch either, but because of the use of aspherical elements you might spot some onion rings in the bokeh and from the first comparisons I have seen the Batis is not as high resolving as the Loxia. I still think to a majority of customers the Batis will look more appealing as it is faster, lighter, cheaper and offers AF.
Sony GM 85mm 1.4
Currently I own both as they serve different needs. It is 1 1/2 stops faster which is a lot, it is also about 203g heavier and for the price of a new Loxia you might even find a used GM. This really comes down to what you want to shoot, if you need f/1.4 you know it and you will be way more interested in this lens than the Loxia.
Canon EF 135mm 2.0L
Even with a decent adapter this lens is cheaper than the Loxia and offers great across the frame sharpness as well. But it also allows for a much shallower depth of field at the same time. It is of course way bigger and a bit heavier, but if traveling light and small, flare resistance and rendering of sunstars are not your main concerns, this is seriously worth a look.
Other 85mm lenses:
There are some more interesting 85mm lenses which we didn’t lay our hands on yet: the Leica APO Aspherical Summicron 90mm 2.0, all the Leica Elmarit (90mm 2.8) and Summarit (90mm 2.4/2.5) lenses, the Zeiss ZM 85mm 4.0, which is said to be a very good performer stopped down, and of course the many legacy lenses. From the mtf graphs I have seen I doubt any of them will beat the Loxia when it comes to resolving fine details, but if that really matters (to you) is a completely different question.
There are 4 native E-mount 85mm lenses available now and I think this one will have a hard time appealing to potential buyers as it won’t win any numbers games: Maximum aperture? Too slow. Weight? Too high. AF? Nah. Price? Too high. Size? Too big.
I think the average customer will pick the Sony FE 85mm 1.8 while the bokeh lovers will pick the GM 85mm 1.4 anyway (with the release of the cheaper Sony alternative the Batis will also have a hard time).
So, who is this lens aimed at? I think people looking for maximum image quality who don’t need a faster aperture and therefore do not want to pay the size, weight and price penalties that come with the Otus lenses. This lens is quite similar to the Loxia 21mm 2.8 in terms of contrast and corner to corner sharpness, in case of the latter I tend to say even better. And sharpness is great across the whole distance scale, at infinity and at the minimum focus distance.
The quality of the bokeh wide open is also very natural as the lens features many special glass elements with anomalous partial dispersion but not a single aspherical lens element, so you won’t encounter any onion rings making it actually a nice “allround” lens.
There is hardly any real flaw, flare resistance is not perfect, coma performance wide open isn’t great, but for an 85mm lens the latter is not of real importance to me.
All in all a very well behaved lens that won’t appeal to too many people because of the moderate maximum aperture and of course the price.
Update: I have now used this lens for almost a year and I still really like it. It is a wonderful complement to the Loxia 21mm 2.8 and a lens that never got in the way of my shooting. It is great for architecture and landscape because of the very high contrast and resolution, for people photography beacuse of the smooth rendition of out of focus areas and even works as a macro with extension tubes. Highly recommended!