Prime Lenses for Sony E Mount Cameras? ZEISS Loxia Prime Lens Review
Finding lenses that not only suit your shooting style, are affordable and versatile is often a challenge, especially for those that have switched from one camera system to another. Myself included, I switched from Canon to Sony, and have a majority of EF lenses in my arsenal.
To make the conversion to the E mount system and avoid using bulkier EF lenses, I borrowed a set of ZEISS Loxia prime lenses from Park Cameras to test their capabilities in a range of filming scenarios. This included a number of live events, both on a static camera and on a Zhiyun Crane gimbal.
Park Camera loaned me the 2.8/21, 2/50 and 2.4/85 Loxia primes, unfortunately the 2/35 was in use at a trade show. Straight out of the box I noticed the weight and construction of the lenses. With a full metal construction, the lenses feel comfortable and smooth to handle. The 85mm is the largest and heaviest of the 3, which is expected. However, without an adapter, the overall size and weight of the Sony a7S and lens combo was considerably less than an a7S, EF-E mount adapter and the Tamron 24-70mm (which is my usual run and gun setup).
I was very pleased with the smoothness of the focusing, again the construction of the lens helped greatly with this; there isn’t any rubber grip on the focus, purely part of the metal build. Pulling focus was wonderfully smooth, but the grooves on the focus barrel are very small (in comparison to a cine lens or Samyang VDLSR for example). On the 85mm, the rotation from minimum focus to infinity was so, so long, I had to use two hands to turn the barrel, which is quite a disadvantage when filming moving subjects. Even on static subjects, with a wide open aperture, it was a good 135 degree rotation from the background to foreground subjects.
That aside, the visual quality of the lenses are impeccable. They are wonderfully sharp wide open, a bonus to shooting video in low light conditions or with an ND filter applied. For the review videos I shot with these lenses, I visited Brighton on a cloudy day, which doesn’t do the lens true justice. In sunny and well lit circumstances, the images are clean and contrasty, with little flare or ghosting. There was some visible chromatic aberration wide open in bright light, but only noticeable on the edges of the image.
Versatility of both cameras and lenses is paramount for myself, especially because I film lots of events, that’s why the APS-C crop and clear image zoom functions are so handy, for quickly zooming in with a prime lens. I noticed that the Loxias get slightly softer in APS-C crop and at 2 x clear image zoom, when compared to the Canon 100mm L for example, which is pleasingly sharp throughout. I doubt this is noticeable to regular viewers or once uploaded online, but pixel peepers would notice.
I was impressed with the performance of the 21mm lens on the Zhiyun Crane gimbal. Despite being a fully manual lens, setting the focus point before making the shot worked perfectly well, even at F/5.6. I experimented with this while filming at Headley Clay Pigeon Club. The Sony a7S doesn’t have sensor stabilization, so all the pressure of capturing a smooth and steady image was on the gimbal. However, when comparing to other wide angle prime lenses like the Canon 24mm L or Sigma 20mm ART, the Loxia 21mm is much smaller and lighter, which meant flying the camera and lens combo much easier. I think with the a7S II or FS5 with a stabilized sensor, the results would be much smoother, but this is more to do with the gimbal than the lens.
Shooting shallow around the F/4 mark was perfect for a set of interviews that accompanied the ‘behind the scenes’ film of OSTRICH. The setup was with the a7S hooked up to the Atomos Shogun in 4K, which held up wonderfully in UHD.
Now, the important stuff.
I really enjoyed filming with the 3 Loxia lenses I had, in low light, bright light, on a gimbal and on a variety of shoots. They are much smaller than EF mount equivalent, and the construction is robust and smooth.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, versatility is paramount, and without the option of using auto focus (whether it’s for stills or video) or more importantly being able to adjust the aperture in camera for fast shooting is a slight downside. However, knowing that these lenses are fully manual, you would work around this. The lens aperture has the option to be de-clicked, for smoother transitions between apertures, much like cine lenses with no hard stops. The auto focusing feature (for myself in this case) would be used more for filming with a gimbal at wide apertures, but as I wrote above, setting the focus pre-filming is a work around. The long focus throw is desirable for video and filming, allowing for smooth and accurate focus pulls. On the 85mm, it was a challenge to pull focus from close up to infinity, and would be much more suited to photography, or used with a follow focus system.
If you compare the Loxia primes to the Sigma ART primes, a constant aperture across all lenses would be desired, but the trade off for this would be that the lenses are much larger. Certainly for run and gun filming, or photography, the practical size of the lenses is perfect, but incorporating an aperture of F/1.4 across the lens range would make the lenses considerably heavier and larger, especially because of the metal construction. Considering this, the bokeh is pleasing and the resulting images are top notch.
Overall, if you’re looking for lenses that have a great crossover between photography and video, and enjoy the method of shooting with precise manual control, the Loxia’s are for you.