Leica 3.4/135mm vs. Zeiss 2.0/135mm on A7RII

I really like the Zeiss 2.0/135mm Apo Sonnar. It’s the technically most perfect lens I’ve ever owned and tested. And last year in Namibia I’ve learned that 135mm can be a great landscape lens. The Zeiss 135 has just one disadvantage: it’s rather big and heavy. Especially on the small Sony A7RII, it feels unbalanced in my opinion.

Since I wanted something smaller than the Zeiss 135 Apo Sonnar for my A7RII I decided to buy a used Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm from eBay and give it a try. There are not many small high-performance choices at that focal length available and the Leica seems to be the most interesting one.

Size and weight differences between the two lenses are quite significant, especially if you take into account the additional size and weight of the necessary adapters.

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm ZF.2 with Novoflex adapter: 1320g

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm with Novoflex adapter: 486 g

Here is a size comparison between the two lenses with adapters:

135mm lenses

If you need a tele lens with a maximum aperture of f/2 there is no real alternative to the Zeiss 135. But for landscape shooting, which I mainly do, you could, and often have to, stop down to f/5.6 or f/8. The question for me was, whether there is any real advantage of the Zeiss over the Leica at these apertures to justify the big weight difference.

There isn’t much to say about the mechanical construction and haptics of these two lenses. They are both top-notch. Manual focus is perfectly smooth and the all-metal constructions of both lenses look extremely robust and reliable. The focus throw of the Zeiss could be a bit larger, but I think it’s sufficient for precise manual focus with the A7RII.

Since the Zeiss 135 is quite heavy I prefer to mount this lens directly on the tripod and not via the camera. This is possible with the Novoflex adapter in combination with the optional tripod adapter ASTAT-NEX. But this leads to some useability problems with the A7RII: every time you want to mount or demount the lens you have to turn the tripod mount to the side. Otherwise, you can’t push the locking button on the camera. Not a huge problem, but annoying.

The image quality of the Zeiss is already nearly perfect wide open at f/2.  Stopped down to f/3.4 it’s clearly better in the corners as the wide-open Leica Apo-Telyt at f/3.4, which is no surprise. The remaining question is: is there any difference between the two lenses at f/5.6 or f/8?

Let’s start with some infinity tests, shot from a tripod. The following configuration was used for these tests: Gitzo tripod with Burzynski head, EFC, self-timer, ISO 100, IBIS=off, WB=daylight, in-camera-lens-corrections=off, LR lens-profile=off, LR sharpening 50/0.7/70/15, LR contrast +30, all other LR settings = default.

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/8:

Leica 135mm f/8 test 1

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm @ f/8:

Zeiss 135mm f/8 test 1

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/8, 100% crop:

Leica 135, f/8, test 1, 100% crop

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135 @ f/8, 100% crop:

Zeiss 135, f/8, test 1, 100% crop

On the first images, the light changed between the two shots due to moving clouds. Therefore colors and contrast should not be evaluated with these images. On the following images, the light was rather constant.

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/5.6:

Leica 135mm f/5.6 test 2

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm @ f/5.6:

Zeiss 135mm f/5.6 test 2

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/5.6, 100% crop:

Leica 135, f/5.6, test 2, 100% crop

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135 @ f/5.6, 100% crop:

Zeiss 135, f/5.6, test 2, 100% crop

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/5.6:

Leica 135mm f/5.6 test 3

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm @ f/5.6:

Zeiss 135mm f/5.6 test 3

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/5.6, 100% crop:

Leica 135, f/5.6, test 3, 100% crop

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135 @ f/5.6, 100% crop:

Zeiss 135, f/5.6, test 3, 100% crop

At f/5.6 the Leica Apo-Telyt shows at all distances a slightly better resolution of very fine details, while the Zeiss Apo Sonnar shows higher contrast. In this regards the Leica Apo-Telyt behaves very similar to the Zeiss Outs 55, and my guess is that the high-frequency resolution of the Otus and the Apo-Telyt are very similar.

A disadvantage of both lenses is, that you already loose resolution if you stop down to f/8 due to diffraction. At f/11 all the magic of these ultra-high-performance lenses is gone and the images look similar to the ones shot with cheap kit zoom lenses at f/11. Especially for landscape photography, it’s often not easy to limit yourself to f/5.6 or f/8 and still get a nice composition with a sharp foreground and sharp background with a 135mm tele lens with its limited DOF.

The third test image (also shot from a tripod with the above settings) reveals something about the resolution at closer distances and the color rendering of the two lenses:

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/5.6:

Leica 135mm f/5.6 test 4

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm @ f/5.6:

Zeiss 135mm f/5.6 test 4

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm @ f/5.6, 100% crop:

Leica 135, f/5.6, test 4, 100% crop

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135 @ f/5.6, 100% crop:

Zeiss 135, f/5.6, test 4, 100% crop

Here are some images shot handheld on the A7RII to give you an impression of the bokeh and rendering of both lenses (all shot with IBIS=on at f/5.6, all other settings and PP as above):

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm:

Leica 135mm, f/5.6

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm:

Zeiss 135mm, f/5.6

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm:

Leica 135mm, f/5.6

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm:

Zeiss 135mm, f/5.6

Leica Apo-Telyt 3.4/135mm:

Leica 135mm, f/5.6

Zeiss Apo Sonnar 2.0/135mm:

Zeiss 135mm, f/5.6

The bokeh of both lenses is very smooth and beautiful in my opinion, even in harsh midday light. And there is not much difference between the two lenses.

The color rendering of both lenses is also very good. The Zeiss draws a little warmer, while the Leica is more neutral. I slightly prefer the colors of the Leica Apo-Telyt. To me, they appear more lively and differentiated.

Altogether I’m very happy with the Leica Apo-Telyt. Performance, size, weight, and mechanical construction are nearly perfect. I think it’s a great lightweight alternative to the Zeiss 135 Apo and a perfect match for the A7RII, at least for landscape photography. But if you can live with the weight of the Zeiss 135 Apo there is no need to get the Leica. Both lenses are top performer and the IQ difference between the two is very small.

At least for the next months, I will keep both.

8 thoughts

  1. I wonder how the Zeiss Batis 2,8/135 would compare. It appears to be another lightweight alternative with the additional advantage of autofocus. Are there any disadvantages tobthe Zeiss Batis?

    1. The 2.0/135 is slightly better than the Batis and it has f/2.0. But the difference in sharpness is so small that in can be neglected. If you need AF take the Batis if not take the 2.0/135. I switched to the Batis and have not regretted it.

      1. I imagine that closing the aperture will bring both lenses closer. Till what aperture do you consider the 2.0 Zeiss superior?

      2. If I remember correctly at f/5.6 there was no visible difference in sharpness anymore. But even at f/2.8 or f/4 the difference was extremely small. If you prefer AF take the Batis. It‘s a great lens.

  2. Hello Boris, thank you for interesting 135 mm lenses Leica v Zeiss comparision. I was making very same comparison ‘on paper’ which 135 mm lens to get for my Leica M (240) some month ago. As the lens is mainly use for landscape and nature due to the weight and no real need for f 2.0 I have discounted Zeiss. I have a Nikkor Ais 2.8/135 that I purchased many years ago, but never used very much at all. So, using adapter I run some test with this setup mounted on tripod. When I look at the images at 100 % in Light room I was pleasantly surprised how well this lens performed. I would have liked to get a Leica 135 but could not justify the cost for only an occasional use of 135 mm focal length lens. Time will tell if the Nikkor prove itself in the field.

    1. Thanks Vladimir! I’ve no personal epxerience with the Nikkor 135, but I know that many people are really happy with this lens.

  3. It would be interesting to include the inexpensive but quite remarkable Samyang 135/2 (native FE mount) in this comparison. Build quality is by inferior by comparison with these stellar lenses and it is a large and heavy beast but the IQ is outstanding.

    1. From what I’ve read the IQ of the Samyang seems to be very good. But I already own the Zeiss and wanted to have something smaller for the A7RII. Since the Samyang is not really a small lens this comparison must be done by someone else. But I agree this comparison would probably be interesting for a lot of people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.