Sony FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* Lens - First Impressions.

I was really trying to avoid buying this lens. It's not cheap, it's not a focal length I use a lot with a prime (though that might change!) but there were three things that convinced me. 

Firstly DxO tested it and wrote this about it's performance on the A7r :-
'We were impressed with Zeiss Distagon T* Otus 1,4/55 recently and although it’s a retrofocus design for DSLRs it’s the best performing model we’ve tested to date. The new Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f1.8 comes very close to the IQ of the Otus.'
They have in fact described it as the best AF lens they have ever tested. And yes I've been rude about DxO in the past but only on their sensor testing. Lens testing has a much more established methodology and I have no issues with them on that score. If you look at some of their test scores for this lens and you can see they regard it as very good indeed.

The second reason I bought it was Amazon are selling it with the 7 as the first number in the price. As opposed the £900+ most dealers are selling it for in the UK. OK the next two numbers are 99 but it is cheaper than when it first came out plus I've just had a good couple of weeks and a nice tax rebate.

The third was that I wanted a light native e-mount lens for the A7 and A7r. The LA-EA4 adapter is all very well, but I really liked the idea of a good fast simple AF lens option for my Sonys. So it arrived this morning and I took it with me on a shopping / shooting trip fitted to the A7r.

Now I've had some less than positive experiences with Zeiss lenses in the past and there certainly seem to be issues with both the 35mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/4 zoom, but credit where it's due, this lens is an absolute belter. Really very good indeed. Pin sharp and virtually flawless. None of those Sony trademarks of vignetting and soft corners and edges here. This thing is absolutely superb. There is a lens profile for it in Photoshop ACR and I presume Lightroom, but there are only very marginal 'corrections'. A very slight barrel distortion correction and again a very slight lightening of the edges and corners. You really wouldn't notice much difference if you didn't apply them. CA and fringing is virtually non-existent, f/1.8 is sharp and clean and I can't see any distortion whatsoever. OK Carl Zeiss should be able to make a decent 'standard' lens, but how much Zeiss input there is in these badged and branded Sony lenses we can only guess at. However in this case who did what doesn't matter that much because the collaboration has been very successful. Almost makes me forgive Zeiss for the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/3.5 ZF.2 with CPU (For Nikon) that I wasted around £1000 on. (Almost!!)

On the design / handling side it's also very nice. It's pretty light, though with the hood its quite large. Plenty to get hold of. My kind of lens!! It's very sleek and has that lovely cold metallic feel that us lens junkies love so much. It does seem very well made, which is something that Sony e-mount lenses do have in their favour. No matter how mediocre they might be optically they always seem to be well put together.

So there it is. Very positive first impressions. It does mean of course that with this and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 my Nikon primes are in imminent danger of being ebayed. But today was a terrific example of where AF works. The sun was very fleeting and in and out very quickly. Plus there were a lot of people on the pavements out shopping. I would have struggled with MF lenses and it was useful to work quickly. Tomorrow is apparently going to be a very nice day and we are due a respite from the semi-hurricanes that have been battering the UK for what seems like months, so I'm planning to go out with the 55mm only and give it a good workout. I'll conclude this article with another quote from DxO.

'If you wanted an Otus 55mm f1.4 and Nikon D800 but couldn’t stretch to it, you could do a lot worse than buying an A7R and the Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f1.8 ZA.'

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