Sony FE landscape lenses – Part 1: Only the best is good enough

Introduction

Sony A7rII | Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/8.0 |

In this series we will explore sets of landscape lenses for different user types and at different price points. We are starting with the best performing FE lenses money can buy. The other parts will be released soon.

  1. Only the best is good enough
  2. The light traveler and hiker 
  3. The casual landscape photographer  
  4. The poor student 

What is a good landscape lens?

Our take on the topic:

Resolution and maybe even more importantly contrast have to be on a very high level. Wide open performance is not the highest priority, but it can offer some additional creative freedom which is a welcome addition.

Flare resistance is especially important, as it can make shooting against the sun or during blue hour with point light sources in the frame quite difficult.

Sunstar rendering can also be important. Of course which type of rendering you prefer is a matter of taste, have a look at this article for further reference. We really like the ones produced by 10 straight aperture blades.

Size and weight can also be an important factor, smaller and lighter are better.

Especially when using high resolution sensors it can be easier to achieve best focus with manual lenses. If you also want to use your lenses for other tasks you might prefer the ones with AF.

Part 1: Only the best is good enough

User Characterization: You are always looking for the best image quality for your landscape shots: Sharpness, contrast, color correction. You want it all and you know such performance comes at a price. Still, you choose that E-mount camera for a reason: You don’t want lenses as big and heavy as Zeiss Otus or Sigma Art and you don’t always need the fastest maximum aperture.

Ultra Wide Angle Lens

Top pick: Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE
laowa 15mm 2.0 fe venus optics review
Sony A7rII with Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D

This lens is unique to the FE system, offering a very fast f/2.0 maximum aperture at 15mm. Yet it’s weight is very manageable. It is a full stop faster than the fastest zoom available. The fast maximum aperture is also not a marketing gag: I wouldn’t hesitate to use this lens wide open and it makes single shot landscape astro photography quite an easy task.
On top of that you get a very short minimum focus distance and surprisingly smooth bokeh which allows for dramatic framing. These features make this one of the most versatile ultra wide angle lenses available and a very portable one as well.
Despite being a native lens this one does not feature electronic contacts unfortunately.

laowa 15mm 2.0 fe venus optics review coma astro astrophotography milkyway milky way
Sony A7s | Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D | f/2.0
laowa 15mm 2.0 fe venus optics review flare close up macro
Sony A7rII | Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D | f/2.0

520g | 849$ | full review |  sample images

buy from Laowa directlyAmazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

Alternatives: Voigtlander 15mmm 4.5 III | Sony 16-35mm 2.8 GM | Sony 12-24mm 4.0

Wide Angle Lens

Top pick: Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8

Of all the lenses I have tested so far this is my favourite. It is quite a task finding anything wrong with this lens. Resolution, contrast, flare resistance, build quality, size and weight, pretty much the best you can find in any category. If you want to find fault with his lens maybe the above average vignetting is to name, but this is a small trade off considering all the benefits.

loxia 21mm 2.8 review bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/8.0
loxia 21mm 2.8 review bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/8.0

394g | 1.499$ | full review |  sample images

buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

Alternatives: Tokina Firin 20mm 2.0 | Sony 16-35mm 2.8 GM | Sony 12-24mm 4.0

Midrange Lens

Top pick 1: Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 + 5m PCX Filter
zeiss distagon 35mm 1.5 zm t* adapter leica m a7rII a7r a7s a7 sony review
Sony A7rII with Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter and T* Distagon

The 35mm focal length makes for a tough pick. You really need a 5m PCX filter for the Zeiss ZM 1.4/35, which will unfortunately make the midzone dip more obvious. Still, resolution is very good at f/2.8, best in class from f/4.0 onwards. Very high contrast and edge acuity across the whole frame when stopped down a bit.
Personally I settled for the VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX filter and traded in some corner resolution and contrast for better wide open performance with less midzone dip at large apertures.

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 Distagon | f/11
sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 Distagon | f/11

381g + adapter | 1.999$ | full review |  sample images

buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

Alternatives: Zeiss Loxia 35mm 2.0 | Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.7 + 5m PCX | Sony FE 35mm 2.8 ZA (good copy only!)

Top pick 2: Voigtlander 65mm 2.0 Macro Apo-Lanthar

This lens came as quite the surprise: True apochromatic design with flawlessly corrected longitudinal CA, fast maximum aperture of f/2.0, extraordinarily high resolution at all distances. No matter whether you are using this lens for macro, portraiture or landscape, it most certainly won’t disappoint you. A bit bulky due to the long helicoid but still one of the finest lenses – if not the finest – available for the system.

635g | $1059 | full review |  sample images

buy from Amazon.com | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

Alternatives: Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4 | Zeiss ZM 85mm 4.0

Tele Lens

Top pick: Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8

There are many great lenses with a focal length of 135mm, but the Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8 is not only your native option, but might also be the best corrected around. Personally I am not the greatest fan of focus by wire lenses for landscape shooting, so if you can tolerate some more weight and bulk it might be worthwhile taking a closer look at the bigger brother Zeiss 135mm 2.0 APO-Sonnar Milvus/Classic or even the Samyang 135mm 2.0.

614g | 1.999$ | full review |  sample images

buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.de | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

Alternatives: Zeiss 135mm 2.0 APO-Sonnar / Milvus | Samyang 135mm 2.0

Other Articles

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My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses. My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time.

58 thoughts on “Sony FE landscape lenses – Part 1: Only the best is good enough”

  1. My pick would be:

    Voigtländer Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5 for sony e (but it would bee better with tilt shift functions)

    Loxia 21mm f2.8

    Batis 25mm f2

    SMC Pentax k 28mm f3.5

    Sony FE 35mm f1.4

    Sony FE 55mm f1.8

    Sony FE 90mm f2.8 g macro

    Leica elmar m 135mm f4

    Leica apo telyt r 180mm f3.4

    1. The Voigtlander 15/4.5 is really fun to shoot with due to its small size, and is extraordinarily well corrected for distortion, but it has rather strong lateral chromatic aberrations. So I wouldn’t keep it in the same list with “only the best is good enough.”

      The SMC Pentax 28/3.5 was great when it first came out but, unfortunately, like other older wide angle lenses, it does not approach the image quality of modern lenses. The FE 28/2 is much sharper.

      Both the Sony FE 55/1.8 and 90/2.8 are excellent, but most reviewers who have tried the Voigtlander 65/2 Apo Lanthar will agree that the Voigtlander is slightly better optically than both (e.g. http://blog.kasson.com/the-last-word/652-apo-lanthar-551-8-zony/ and http://blog.kasson.com/the-last-word/voigtlander-602-apo-lanthar-loca-focus-shift/) Of course, if you need autofocus, 1:1 macro, and optical image stabilization, the 90/2.8 is a much better fit; if you need a lightweight autofocus lens, the 55/1.8 is much lighter.

      The Leica Elmar 135mm f/4 is an interesting choice as well. Again, it is a reasonably good lens, but I don’t think it is the best. The Samyang 135mm f/2, for example, is sharper and much better corrected for longitudinal chromatic aberrations. https://phillipreeve.net/blog/review-samyang/

  2. Hey BastianK,

    This is very good article.
    I have a question for you:
    If you want to suggest someone to buy an ultra wide lens for the landscape and astro purposes and as we know for astro there is always tripod and maybe star tracker.
    So, Based on these, do you recommend Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE or sony 12-24mm 4?

    1. Thank you!
      I tried using a tracker but I wasn’t overly happy with it, to say the least,
      if you are curious you can have a closer look at this article to find out why.
      Two stops are an awful lot, taking the shot at f/2 means ISO 1600 compared to ISO 6400 at f/4, I would definetly go with the Laowa 15mm 2.0 for that purpose.

  3. i noticed that you prefer 85 2.4 over the GM 85 1.4 why, do you actually think is better, would not the new 7ar111 or A9 with the newest autofocus bested autofocus make the 85 1.4 or 35 ZA 1.4 better?

    do you prefer manual lens over autofocus lens?

    do you find easy to manual focus with the A7, i do remember using those all cameras which were so easier to manual focus , rather than the zooming system they have now.

    i have read several guys complain with the 65mm 2 impossible to focus or hard ?

  4. Why did you change the approach of this site, and instead of promoting qualities of the old optics, you’re insinuating optics, which are off-budget to most visitors?

    1. Did you read the introduction to the article? This is a four part series which will also include one part dedicated to very affordable lenses.

      From the beginning I have reviewed affordable lenses as well as expensive lenses.

      I have removed an insult from your post. If you want to insult people you need to find another platform.

      1. I deleted the follow up comment by minoltista.

        Unlike many other blogs we don’t accept any sponsoring by manufacturers. We don’t fly at any manufacturers expense to exotic locations for new releases. We don’t get early access to products in exchange for positive reporting (which gets lots of clicks).

        Instead we review the gear we are interested in and pay for most of of the lenses we review with our own money. We keep advertising to unobnoxious affiliate links.

        So if someone asks me if we changed our approach because we are paid by manufacturers I take that as an insult and deny that person the right to post on my blog.

        1. awesome philosophy of your blog, I think most people in the “right” mind set LOVES YOU guys already and this statement reinforces our support to this blog.
          my best and warmest wishes for your blog, is not easy to come across a blog that is honest, kind and generous. lots of blogs are not longer believers of good human kindness and love.
          I hope that a few people that make the mistake of insulting you do not change your perspective. I was watching a football game with my buddies and they were so excited about their players and teams. they were screaming non sense stuff, made me realized that we photographers do the same about Photographic equipment, LOL.
          I was not able to sleep last night after I read this post, I think I need professional mental help LOL

        2. Regardless, if you accept or not the sponsorship of manufacturers, the fact that you do not accept the slightest criticism is a sign, which does not give me any desire to follow your blog.

  5. Well done review. Probably expensive reading as it seems I might have to buy the Laowa.

    One lens I am definitely missing and which is a constant part of my Landscape kit is the Loxia 85. one may argue that it is pretty close to the excellent Voigtlander in focal length but still it is very close in performance and also an nearly flawless lens for landscape.

      1. That is not true, plenty of tests showing Irix to be significantly sharper than the Laowa from center to edges .

  6. I am a big fan of this site since I purchased my A7II almost one year ago. Your reviews helped me a lot to find a set of cheap or reasonable lenses. For exemple I began with an only lens which is so versatile : the rokkor MC 55mm f1.7.
    But now I raised my attempts because of the travel of my life next summer where I aim to achieve great landscapes shots. That is why after having found a quite cheap Loxia 50mm I plan to invest in the highly praised Loxia 21mm.
    And I am totally sure of that choice thanks to your trusted opinions on this site.
    Thank you very much Phillip for your long term investment and for having found such perfects reviewers as Bastian, Jannick and David !

    1. I did ask if he Phillip if he liked Manual over AF and he did say yes. obvious that is a personal preference, but what I meant to ask if he actually thought the lens he recommended were technically better than the AF ones, or he is just focusing on Manual lens?

      1. This article was written by Bastian who is more of a no compromise guy than I.

        Regarding AF-lenses: The 1.4/85 is huge, heavy and not quite as sharp as the Loxia 85.

        The Batis 18 and Lox 21 are pretty close in performance. The Loxia has nicer sunstars though.

        The GM 16-35 and G 12-24 are both excellent lenses which rival the manual primes mentioned here in sharpness but we wouldn’t consider them the best landscape lenses because of their inferior glare resistance.

        So manual focus played a role in the selection but it was not a big factor.

        1. Sony 16-35 f2.8 GM + A7r2
          It was only after reading reviews that i decided to purchase this lens. Happy to see my love for landscapes combined with the f2.8 for my astrophotography.
          Byebye Samyang 14mmf2.8
          Lastly I’ve taken quit a lot of sunrises and sunsets and I can say that “flare” is rather a rare event. Encountered it once and I’m not sure that the origin wasn’t due to the combination of “reversed grad + ND +lens”.
          Overal IQ: Before I used the F4 16-35 and must say the f2.8 is much better in the corners regarding IQ. The sharpness is quit amazing and on par with most of my other lenses (Loxia 21mm,…).
          Regarding flare see also: https://www.colbybrownphotography.com/review-sony-16-35-f28-gm-wide-angle-lens/
          He mentioned: “Sony’s Nano AR Coating on this lens seems to almost completely cut out any lens flare”
          And
          http://www.imaging-resource.com/lenses/sony/fe-16-35mm-f2.8-gm-sel1635gm/review/
          He mentioned: “On two of my shoots, I made some fairly intensive efforts to get the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 to flare. It’s not easy — this lens is really resistant to visible flare”
          Curious to see the test, to see if it confirms my findings.
          would be nice to see an F4 versus F2.8 review
          Must say that I love your website. like very much the reviews made here and the discussions between you all.
          Inspires me a lot, thanks a lot

    1. On the 42mp A7rII you can unfortunately see the different digital steps in that the AF motor reacts. In near infinity situations I wasn’t able to set optimal focus with this lens as there wasn’t a step programmed. That was quite the show stopper for me. On the 12mp A7s I could not notice that, maybe one also doesn’t notice it on 20 or 24mp cameras.

        1. So does the 85 f1.8 which was listed as an alternative. I’ve personally never had an issue with it after LR correction, but then I am not a pixel peeper so your mileage may vary.

      1. I found focussing on the Loxia 21mm for dimly lit environments (I take a lot of long exposures) extremely difficult, if not almost impossible. The infinity focus marking on the lens was grossly inaccurate and the scene was two dark for focus peaking to be of use first time. I tried two copies and both were the same. Very frustrating for a manual only lens at this price.

        I applaud this site for its informative articles and reviews….but somewhere along the line you guys have become obsessed with this lens and with sunstars. Each to their own I guess….but for my money there is more to photography and far better and more suitable options for many photographers than this lens. I tried to like the Loxia21 I really did…but for the reason I’ve mentioned and for other reasons the price and the hype weren’t justified. The images the lens produced weren’t anything special or that other lenses from the Batis line couldn’t produce.

        I can’t comment on the Laowa but I’ve read many accounts of sample variation issues. To be honest unless I was desperate to try Astro photography I wouldn’t give this lens a second thought.

          1. Yes of course. But in these circumstances in low light it only enlarges a pixelated noise filled section of the overall blurry image. It took me many attempts using the very inaccurate focus markings I had on two copies of this lens I used on separate occassions to find the right focus. Add to this that with long exposures of between 30 seconds to several minutes and you can image how frustrating this was.

            I‘ve often used manual focus on other lenses and the infinity focus point was never as far away from the actual markings on the lens as with the Loxia.

            Add to this that I just didn’t experience the wow factor everyone mentions about this lens. Yes the results are sharp (assuming you nail the focus of course ….and in decent light that’s far easier) and the sunstars are pleasing to some….but this lens just didn’t do it for me.

            You‘re entitled to your own opinions (and we wouldn’t have it any other way) but I have the feeling you no longer have an objective view about this lens and it’s short comings…..but then perhaps you all have copies with far more accurate focus markings and a greater disposable income than me….:-)

          2. Now I am curious: What do you photograph where there is no light source you could focus on in an image? And have you tried working without focus peaking? In my experience it makes precise focusing harder and is only useful for action.

            I think Jannik made it clear in his in-depth review that the focus throw is a bit short: “The focus throw from from 2m until infinity is around 7mm which is a bit too short. Critical focusing can be a little tricky with this lens. It can focus slightly past infinity.” but if that was as big an issue for as as it seems to be for you you would have heard about it. Jannik, Bastian and David own it and I plan on purchasing one rather soon because we enjoy using it so much and because the results are excellent. We don’t take manufacturer rebates so we are investing our own money here and for me that means many months savings because of the Loxia’s qualities. Also I haven’t seen any serious complaints from other users who successfully use it for astro.

            So I can only recommend to review your focusing technique and if your focus is on such shots the Firin 2/20 will be a better option since it is a stop faster and it’s weaknesses won’t come into play here. Or the Batis 2.8/18 which’s focus scale isn’t well calibrated either but it once you have figured out the correct distance you can reproduce it with the electronic scale.

        1. “The infinity focus marking on the lens was grossly inaccurate and the scene was two dark for focus peaking to be of use first time. I tried two copies and both were the same.”

          That’s because all of them are the same 🙂 The problem here is one that Zeiss can’t solve: the variation is not on the lens but on the camera side. The flange distance of the Sony A7 cameras if officially given as 18mm, but there seems to be quite a large accepted latitude in manufacturing, and lens and adapter manufacturers have to leave some room so the lens will focus to infinity even when the flange distance is a bit too high (that was the case on my first A7 – certain adapter/lens combos would not reach infinity. The Same combo on my A7R2: slightly beyond infinity). That’s the reason that most manufacturers, even high-quality ones like Novoflex, intentionally make their adapters a bit short. And why even nice mechanical 3rd party lenses for Sony E _must_ allow focusing beyond infinity.

          The one thing that would help would be an adjustable infinity stop, which you could set individually for your camera body. Or, for adapted lenses, shimming your adapter.

          1. Addendum: what I don’t understand is why Sony does not specify tighter standards for the mount. That should not be that difficult – other manufacturers have been doing it for almost 100 years. And apart from the problems with the infinity stop it limits the effectiveness of CRC and floating elements in general. Even for native AF lenses. Probably a cost-saving measure, but still…

          2. I am sure that it is not a lack of skill but that it was a cost cutting measure in the early days which has fallen on their feet as they moved away from very cheap cameras where hardly anyone cared to the much more highend cameras of today. If they control things like floating elements electronically they should be able to correct for it. in theory at least.

          3. I was trying to photograph a castle ruin with no light or street lights at night. I tried with and without focus peaking but with such low light the screen image was too noisy. Add to that the next to useless infinity markings using the Loxia.

            Nothing I could do would improve the focussing technique in those circumstances with this lens. I did eventually get some in focus images but it was very frustrating and very hit and miss.

            I tried the Batis 18 already and was impressed.

  7. Bastian,

    I purchased the Laowa largely in part due to your very in-depth testing, so thank you!

    I realize that the 65 is a near perfect lens, and just about the best all-arounder you can buy. However, for the upcoming parts in this series, could you consider “bang-for-buck landscape 50s” in your results? I have a Minolta 50 f/2 and I love it, but I’d love to find something with the same sharpness but better contrast. I’ve been looking at the Contax G 45, Contax 50 1.7, Contax 50 1.4, and Olympus Zuiko 50 1.2.

    My worry is that only a slight step up won’t result in an appreciable difference (specifically in contrast), forcing me into buying something more expensive like the Loxia. Basically, I’m considering all Planar 50s, regardless of mount or MF/AF, for hopefully under $400.

    Thanks for all of your hard work, us gear heads appreciate it.

      1. Phillip,

        Thanks for the reply! I’ve seen some (not a lot) of info regarding the 1.7 vs the 1.4, but it has never been definitive. with regards to corner-to-corner sharpness stopped down. I suspect your upcoming entry will solve that, once and for all.

        I have an unfortunate suspicion that in order to get what I’m looking for I’ll need to pony up for the Loxia 50 or better yet the CV65…

  8. I have compromised for way too long on lens and always hoping to get “the one”. I come to realized that I like primes.
    I just read and re read your article and I missed the part that says “for landscapes” i guess I was so focus on what I wanted to “hear” that I missed that. I love shooting street photography, and portraits with landscapes, or with out landscapes, I am not a landscape photographer, yet love taking pictures of architecture.
    I know that 85 loxia 65 voigthlander and 85 1.4 are excellent lens, in your eyes which would help me best to cover my needs for street photography and portraits, would it be the 65 since is a 2 stop, the 85 loxia since is awesome or the 1.4 because of the nice bokeh, I just to have a 10d and love the results with the canon 85 1.8 I think on the 10d wold have been a 135 or close to that range ?

      1. From pure geometry, the Loxia will allow a bit more background blur, but the difference is not large (2/65 is roughly equivalent to 2.6/85). If you want more background blur, go for a faster longer lens, or tighter crop.

        It really depends on the kind of portraits you have in mind. Headshots: longer lens. Head and upper body: shorter. Very tight headshots: Lanthar, because the Loxia does not focus close enough. I think the Lanthar is more versatile, but if you also carry a shorter lens for “environmental portraits”, the Loxia might be preferable.

  9. What about a Samyang Premium XP 14/2.4 in Canon mount with Sigma MC-11 adapter? It retains EXIF data, looks like a very sharp-till-corners one, quite fast (not a f/2.0 but a respectable f/2.4), a bit wider than Laowa, maybe less flare-resistant, but I found very very nice in my opinion.

    Very little coma even at 2.4.

    1. thank you Chris,

      the most experience i have had was with a canon 10D which gave me a 1.6 crop factor. i still have the 17-40, 24-70 and 85 1.8 canon. the 85 1.8 would be so amazing detail, color and blur background that were just amazing. my 10D died and read so many good reviews on the sony thinking that was like the poor man’s leica and bought it to fit in Leica lens then perhaps get me a leica once a had a good collection of lens, but come to realized that is not going to happen since leica lens are way way too expensive and only for the 1% population.
      any way just trying to build some bad ass prime for my new system.
      any way the 85mm 1.8 would be the equivalent of the 135 so perhaps I just buy the 135 2,8 for the meant time and wait to see if Zeiss, Voightlander, or anyone else comes up with some large aperture

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