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The overlooked 50

By Jorge Torralba

The Overlooked 50.

Over the past year, there has been resurgence in the market for 50mm lenses from a wide variety of manufacturers. Needless to say, they all claim their 50, 55 or 58 are the best in their class. If it’s not the Nikon 58, then it must be the Sigma ART, Leica APO, Zeiss Otus or Lens X from Sylvester McMonkey McBean. Let’s face it, we have seen them, praised them and condemned them all without even owning them. It’s too big. It’s too expensive. It produces beautiful bokeh. It’s sharp. It’s dull. It is full of CA. It’s manual focus. It focuses too slow. It’s not weather sealed. And so on … But, we talk about them. Either in a positive or negative way, they get our attention and become the topic of discussion for the day, week or however long that thread on a forum lives for.

I am here to tell you of a not so talked about or popular lens that gets overlooked way too often. Rarely gets mentioned as a super lens or a must have. I am talking about the Sony Zeiss ZA 50mm 1.4 Planar. A lens made for the A mount Sony cameras like the A900, A77, A99 etc … When paired with an A99, A6000 or A7 it produces amazing images with such contrast and detail that it’s hard to imagine even considering a third party lens for your Alpha camera. Granted, it is a little expensive but you can find deals now and then. When compared to some other high priced 50’s, it starts to look even more attractive and worth considering. It is less expensive than the new Nikon 58, Zeiss Otus or Leica APO. However, It’s is worth every penny and when you start using it you will know why. Simply put, this lens is result oriented and it delivers without question.

For years I have been a fan boy of the Zeiss family of lenses. I have owned the Otus, and several other great Zeiss lenses for my Nikon cameras. Over the years, the Nikon/Zeiss or Canon/Zeiss combos have developed a reputation which has made them coveted by many. However, not long ago I decided it was time to move on and catch up with technology. I wanted autofocus Zeiss glass and a good full frame camera to use them on. Due to licensing restrictions, I was not going to find what I was looking for in either Canon or Nikon mount. According to Zeiss, they do not produce auto focus lenses for these cameras because of licensing issues. The only modern solution which met my requirements was to switch to the Sony Alpha system and use the ZA lenses with a native Sony A mount and auto focus. Boy. You have heard the saying, never say never. Let me tell you, after the switch and seeing results that clearly show why the Zeiss glass is so coveted, I find it hard to imagine ever going go back. The 50 ZA is weather sealed gem which focuses extremely fast, renders beautiful bokeh and is built like a tank. The 50 ZA sits nicely in your hand when attached to a DSLR or a small mirror less camera with the Sony LA-EA4 adapter. It is comfortable to hold and easy to focus when switching to manual focus. It is a true example of getting what you paid for. It has become my most used lens and it has yet to let me down. It is wonderful for street photography, snap shots landscapes and just about anything else you can think of. It even makes a great paper weight when it sits on my desk.

You have to ask yourself why this lens is overlooked by so many. Is it because it is for a Sony? Is it big or small? Is it too expensive? There are many thing s to bring up about this lens in conversation but you rarely read or hear about it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that only Nikon and Canon are at the top. Sony is on a steam roller squashing the competition with innovation and advances in sensor technology that is defining the photography of tomorrow. Their alliance with Zeiss was a brilliant strategy that was successful in converting me from Nikon to Sony and the 50 ZA is just one of the reasons I have not even thought of turning back.

You can see much more from the 50 and other great Zeiss or Sony lenses on www.ZeissImages.com or www.SonyAlphaImages.com . But, to give you a sampling of its capabilities, here are just a few examples from this wonderful lens used on my A99 and A6000


The Annex Bar in downtown Portland. Hand held A99 and 50 ZA at f4 and ISO 800

http://zeissimages.com/gallery/4/med_U4I1395985868.SEQ.0.jpg
For a larger version, click on zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1395985868.SEQ.0.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]



I met this gent outside of the rescue center near Burnside in Portland. He was very friendly, polite and did not mind me snapping a few pictures. For the most part, It looked like an average photo to me. However, when I started processing in Light Room and magnifying certain sections for a bit of pixel peeping is when I started seeing the detail and was taken by surprise by what I saw. Here is a full frame capture again at f4.

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/med_U4I1402098872.SEQ.0.jpg

What you really need to look at now is a tighter crop of the face and the detail. The amount of detail in the lips and eyes is amazing. Follow the link below and see what this lens can do.
To see what I am talking about, click on www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1402098920.SEQ.0.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]



This was just outside of Escape from New York Pizza in the NW District of Portland. A little roughed up from a street fight the night before, a gracious pose was in order. This was shot at f3.5 and ISO 400 with the A99.

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/med_U4I1395280407.SEQ.1.jpg
For a larger version click on www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1395280407.SEQ.1.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]



My son staring at a computer monitor in low lighting conditions. ISO 200 at f2 1/15th of a second.

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/med_U4I1394212795.SEQ.0.jpg
For a larger version, click on www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1394212795.SEQ.0.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]


Here are a couple of those typical boring shots that you do just because you had nothing better to do. But it does show the lovely bokeh from this lens.

http://zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1398028751.SEQ.4.jpg
For a larger version, click on zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1398028751.SEQ.4.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]

http://sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/med_U4I1393566453.SEQ.2.jpg
For a larger version, click on sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1393566453.SEQ.2.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]

http://zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1401936662.SEQ.3.jpg
This was taken with the A6000.
For a larger version, click on zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1401936662.SEQ.3.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]

http://zeissimages.com/gallery/4/med_U4I1401936664.SEQ.4.jpg
This was taken with the A6000.
For a larger version, click on zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1401936664.SEQ.4.jpg][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]






To aee many other photos ffro this wonderful lens, visit zeissimages.com/standardgallery.php?lenstype=554&showall][color=red]THIS LINK[/color]

Replies

Reply from Jerry Scoby on 08-3-14 7:46 PM
I have a Zeiss Planar 1.4/50 ZF on my Nikon D3200. This lens produces images that have a smoothness, a gradation of tone that I cannot get with most of my other lenses. This lens was not recommended for this camera, but I get very good results despite that info. I also have a Zeiss Planar 80/2.8, off of a SL66 2 1/4 that I have converted to mount on my D3200. It also produces the same "look". Both are manual focus!
My 50mm pretty much stays on my D3200. I also use it on the Nikon N90s once in a while. It's a great tool.
Use it, find out for yourself. But I also use a Nikon 55/1.2 that comes close to the 50ZF.
P
Reply from Andrew Paquette on 07-14-14 5:44 AM
I've been curious about the ZA 135mm. I have the Otus, so that's it for the 50ish range, but don't have anything above my 100mm MP. The 135 focuses very accurately and fast on an A7R (with giant Alpha adapter) plus it has all the qualities of good Zeiss glass. I haven't bought it yet, though my wife said she wouldn't object if I did, because I'm hoping for a native A7r mount 135 from Zeiss.

AP
Reply from Jorge Torralba on 07-13-14 8:26 PM
Just shot a video clip with the A6000 and the 50 ZA. Don't know why it was in B&W. But, I like it :)

Make sure you watch it in 1080 resolution.

Reply from Wojciech Zielinski on 07-7-14 10:30 AM
Thanks Jorge for Your few words about Planar 1.4/50 ZA :) I wondered why this lens is so rarely reviewed? I like to read as much as it is posted about lenses and I was always curious why there are almost none of reviews with measured results to evaluate this lens. I read one review, which was based on few test photos (which is still more than impression about using lens for eg. two days and few Sony site based information), it hadn't shown much more of good sides of this lens (much of coma, worse performance at middle section than at extreme border of image, even across full range of aperture). I believe You that You like this lens and it is exceptional lens. It's a pity (for me) it is lowly treated by press, Zeiss and even Sony. I am content much with my ZA primes up till now and I considered to buy SAL50Z14Z few times. It is very difficult to spend money to lens, which hasn't been fully equated to others lenses, which are also available to acquire simultaneously. As much there are more information about certain lens, it would be quicker and more intentionally chosen by photographers.
Reply from Adele Buttolph on 07-6-14 5:43 PM
Thanks. It is interesting that the lens seems to be that much better, especially in terms of image quality across the entire aperture range. Seems that Sony and Zeiss have an incredible compatibility, obviously in part by design. Good for them and for the folks who choose to use this set of equipment. Thanks for the discussion and sample images.
Reply from Jorge Torralba on 07-6-14 9:32 AM
[quote]adelemb wrote:

Just out of curiosity, how do you think that the 50 f/1.4 that you have discussed here compares with the 50 f/1.4 zf/e lenses? [/quote]

To be honest, I believe it is far superior. Putting aside the AF advantage, the bokeh is more subtle and pleasant to look at and the contrast and sharpness is more consistent throughout the entire aperture range. I love this lens and it rarely comes off my camera.

Reply from Adele Buttolph on 07-6-14 9:28 AM
These shots have incredible image quality. Other images from Sony cameras using Zeiss lenses that have been posted on this site have also been impressive. If I were starting out with a new system, I would certainly consider the Sony/Zeiss combination. as much as I enjoy manual focus, being able to autofocus the Zeiss lenses on my Nikon cameras would be nice.

Just out of curiosity, how do you think that the 50 f/1.4 that you have discussed here compares with the 50 f/1.4 zf/e lenses?
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