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 casual landscape photographer (coming soon)
  3. The light traveler and hiker (coming soon)
  4. The poor student (coming soon)

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.

42 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.

  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. 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.

  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 ?

  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.

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