The holidays are just around the corner, and if you are still looking for something to get yourself, the Zeiss Loxia 85mm f/2.4 may have arrived at just the right time. We received the lens just as the festivities have begun, and since B&H is situated quite close to Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center, it seemed obvious that we had to take this new lens down the street—and use it—to get in the holiday spirit. So, if you aren’t yet in the mood, or just refuse to accept that winter and freezing weather is around the corner, hopefully some of these photos will warm you up enough to get in the holiday spirit.
First and foremost, how is the image quality? Spectacular. Obviously as a premium Zeiss optic, outstanding performance is not surprising, but it is a relief for a lens that doesn’t have the broad appeal of its faster brethren. The best news is that when I shot wide open, the Loxia 85 was tack sharp, especially considering the demanding nature of the a7R II’s 42MP sensor. It also has the characteristic crisp Zeiss look that matches the existing Loxia lenses, if you are serious about keeping a uniform appearance throughout your work.
While quite good, the image isn’t perfect—the lens does have some minor chromatic aberration on high-contrast edges, which became evident to me as I tried to focus on the small light strings hung up all around the city. This is easily corrected in editing, and Capture One managed to wipe it from my images automatically without me having to do a thing. Another point of contention is noticeable vignetting. However, depending on your subject matter, it may actually be beneficial because it can help lead the eye toward your subject. Almost all of these issues are only present when shooting wide open, which is a little unfortunate, considering the relative slowness of the lens. But, the problems are practically nonexistent around f/4, and disappear if you head up to f/5.6-8.
The construction and physical design of the lens itself is a thing of beauty. It is compact, yet feels extremely sturdy. A solid metal barrel, along with a large and exceptionally smooth manual focus ring with a long 220° throw, makes using the lens a joy. Once you get used to it you probably won’t even need to double-check your photos and, thanks to electronic communication, you can still use many automatic settings on the camera, including automatic magnification, as you turn the focusing ring.
When you attach the lens hood it becomes quite long but, thankfully, it is still quite useable with the hood reversed. And, it is incredibly difficult to get the lens to flare anyway, thanks to the T* coating. Even shooting directly into a light source, I didn’t see anything, so you might not even need the hood. This brings me to another point about the Loxia design that I noticed first with the 21mm, which is the ability to create starbursts with ease. The following image is a great example, and it was shot at only f/4.
Now for some of the more pressing questions, like what place does the Loxia fill when we already have the wonderful Batis 85mm f/1.8 and FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. Well, if you shoot video, you likely already know why this lens is good for you, especially if you are a fan of the previous Loxia releases. The uniform barrel diameter is a great feature if you want to swap lenses without rearranging your kit. Users can share filters with all of the Loxias, thanks to a consistent 52mm filter thread, which is also quite small. And, by using a small screwdriver or the included key, you can de-click the aperture ring, perfect for making adjustments mid-take.
Another question for potential buyers has to do with the f/2.4 aperture and whether it is fast enough. Well, that depends. For most of these types of street shots, I generally wouldn’t be shooting at f/1.4 anyway—it’s too shallow for most day-to-day work. Portraiture would make me hesitate to choose this lens over faster options, but that depends on your personal style, as well. Personally, I think f/2.4 is just fine, as long as you are satisfied with all the other features. Sure, the bokeh could be a little smoother and rounder but, overall, this is a great lens. Just see for yourself.
The Zeiss Loxia 85mm f/2.4 is not for everyone, that is obvious, but if any of its unique features appeal to you, or you just want to complete your Loxia set, you can’t go wrong with this lens. My recommendations would be for video shooters due to the de-clickable aperture and uniformity with the rest of the series, street photographers because of the smooth and fully mechanical focusing ring and relatively small size, and anyone else willing to sacrifice AF and speed for a premium compact optic.
Is this lens for you? Why? Why not? Tell us in the Comments section.