As I wrote in my last Iceland blog post, I’m changing my photography equipment again. This time from a Nikon D800E DSLR kit to a Sony A7RII mirrorless kit. My main motivation for this switch is to reduce size and weight while maintaining the high image quality of the Nikon D800E.
In addition, I expect that manual focus will be much easier and more precise with the Sony due to the electronic viewfinder and functions like focus peaking and magnification of the viewfinder image. The A7RII has also IBIS (in-body image stabilization), which helps a lot if you shoot handheld. Most of my shots are from a tripod, but sometimes I shoot handheld, and then IBIS is really helpful to get sharp images.
There was nothing wrong with the Nikon D800E. It’s is a fantastic camera with great image quality and it has always been extremely reliable. I never had any problems. The same can be said about the Zeiss ZF.2 lenses which I used with the D800E.
There was a certain moment end of last year that finally led to my decision. I had already preordered the Zeiss Otus 28mm lens and was waiting for the shipment of the first lenses in Germany.
Then nearly at the same time, the detailed size and weight specifications of the Outs 28 were revealed together with the announcement of the Loxia 21mm, a very small and lightweight Zeiss high-performance MF lens for Sony e-mount.
I was asking myself: do I really want to travel with 4-5 lenses of Otus size and weight or wouldn’t it be much more enjoyable to travel with 4-5 Loxia size lenses with similar performance (stopped down).
Especially since I already had this positive experience with small high-performance MF lenses in the past with the Leica M9. When I switched from Leica to Nikon I really enjoyed the much higher dynamic range of the D800E sensor and also the possibility of LV for precise MF. But carrying around my photo bag was much more pleasant with the Leica.
My hope is that an A7RII-Loxia-kit will combine the best of the two worlds: Small size and reduced weight combined with good MF support through LV and a sensor with high DR and high resolution.
I travel a lot and often do longer hikes with my equipment. Therefore size and weight really matter to me.
Here is a comparison between the two systems (I know it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges because the lenses have different maximum apertures, but for me, the IQ stopped down at f/5.6 or f/8 is most important for my shooting and in that regard these lenses should be mostly comparable):
2 x Nikon D800E: 1800 g
Zeiss 2.8/15mm Distagon ZF.2: 730 g
Zeiss 2.8/21mm Distagon ZF.2: 620 g
Zeiss 1.4/28mm Otus ZF.2 (preordered): 1350 g
Zeiss 1.4/55mm Outs ZF.2: 970 g
Zeiss 2.0/135 Apo Sonnar ZF.2: 920 g
total: 6390 g
2x Sony A7RII: 1164 g
Voigtländer 4.5/15mm E (preordered): 294 g
Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21mm: 394 g
Zeiss Loxia 2.0/35mm: 340 g
Zeiss Loxia 2.0/50mm: 320 g
Leica Apo-Telyt-M 3.4/135mm: 450 g
total: 2962 g
In addition, I can now use a smaller ball head and a smaller tripod due to the lower camera and lens weight and EFC function of the A7RII as well as smaller and lighter filters (52mm + 58mm instead of 95mm + 82mm + 77mm) which further reduces my equipment weight.
Here is an image which shows the size difference of both 21mm and 135mm lenses:
I already got two A7RII bodies and all the lenses besides the not yet released Voigtländer 15mm (in e-mount). And most of my Nikon stuff is already sold.
At the moment I still prefer the interface and usability of Nikon, but getting used to a new system always takes some time. At least the A7RII is highly customizable, which really helps. Getting used to the electronic viewfinder was easy for me, getting used to the different menu structure is much more difficult. There are too many functions that I will never use and other important functions like the switch for the EFC are hidden deep in the menu and can’t be assigned to a custom function button. But I’m pretty sure that I will get used to this camera.
I also started to do some testing with the new lenses. So far the performance of the Loxia 21 and Loxia 50 looks very promising. Wide-open the corners are not very sharp (especially with the Loxia 50), but stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8 resolution and contrast of both lenses are very high.
The Loxia 50 is stopped down at least as good as the 50mm Planar ZF.2 and in my opinion even slightly better. The difference to the Otus 55 is (at f/5.6 or f/8) very small. The Otus has a slightly better resolution of very fine details (if you pixel peep at 100%). Of course at f/1.4 to f/2.8 the Otus is in a completely different league. Stopped down the Loxia 50 has a very high IQ at all distances combined with some lovely color rendering. Therefore I expect it to be a very good standard lens for landscape photography and for this use case to be nearly as good as the Otus.
Here are some brick wall test images of the Loxia 50, shot at a medium distance of about 5m. The following settings were used for the test: Gitzo tripod with RRS BH-55 head, EFC, self-timer, ISO 100, IBIS=off, in-camera-lens-corrections=off, LR lens-profile=on, LR sharpening 50/0.7/100/0, LR contrast +30.
Loxia 50mm @ f/2:
Loxia 50mm @f/2, corner crop @ 100%:
Loxia 50mm @f/2, center crop @ 100%:
Loxia 50mm @f/8:
Loxia 50mm @f/8, corner crop @ 100%:
Loxia 50mm @ f/8, center crop @ 100%:
Here are links to full-size images on Flickr to do your own evaluation:
Test images of the Loxia 50 at infinity show the same performance.
According to my tests, the 21mm Loxia is as good as the 21mm Distagon regarding resolution/sharpness, but it shows less CA and slightly lower distortion. If you like the classic 21mm Distagon, chances are very high that you will also like the Loxia 21mm.
Here are some brick wall test images of the Loxia 21 (same settings as with the Loxia 50).
Loxia 21mm @ f/2.8:
Loxia 21mm @f/2.8, corner crop @ 100%:
Loxia 21mm @f/2.8, center crop @ 100%:
Loxia 21mm @f/8:
Loxia 21mm @f/8, corner crop @ 100%:
Loxia 21mm @ f/8, center crop @ 100%:
Again some links to full-size images on Flickr:
For me, the Loxia 21mm is a real game-changer (or in this case system changer). 21mm is by far my most used focal length and with the Loxia, I can get now an extremely small, well built, 21mm, high performance, MF lens, perfectly suitable for landscape photography. Which has, in addition, a very small standard filter size of 52mm, an all-metal construction, and a weather seal at the bayonet. What more could you wish for as a landscape photographer?
A surprise for me was the Leica Apo-Telyt 135. I bought this lens used for 1700€ on eBay last week. I wanted something smaller than my beloved Zeiss 135 Apo for my Sony kit and there are not many small high-performance choices at that focal length available. Since the Zeiss 135 Apo is, in my opinion, the technically most perfect lens I’ve ever owned and tested I was a bit skeptical whether I should really give up the Zeiss 135 Apo. But in my opinion, it feels unbalanced on the small A7RII.
I will post a detailed comparison between these two 135mm lenses on the A7RII in another blog post soon. Stay tuned, the results were not what I had expected.
Another surprise was the Loxia 35mm. Both center and corner sharpness wide open and stopped down were clearly not on the level of the Loxia 50. I’m suspecting that something could be wrong with this particular lens. Therefore I did send it to Zeiss to have it checked. When I get the lens back from Zeiss I will do some further testing.
My first serious landscape test with my new kit will be a short trip to the Lofoten end of May.
Update (30 Apr 2016): I got my Loxia 35mm back from Zeiss. It was adjusted. Center sharpness is now very good, at f/5.6 even slightly better than the Loxia 50. The extreme corners are still not 100% sharp even stopped down to f/8, but this was expected. The Biogon design with its extreme ray angles is not a perfect match for digital cameras with normal to thick cover glass in front of the sensor. Only the Leica M models have a very thin cover glass. Therefore the 35 Biogon shows great corner performance only on theses cameras. But stopped to f/8 the corners are good enough on the A7RII to use this lens as a small high-performance 35mm lens for landscape photography. I will keep the Loxia 35.