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Zeiss Loxia for Mirrorless Full Frame: Initial Analysis

See the Zeiss Loxia announcement.

To Guide to Mirrorless, I’ve added initial analysis and discussion on the MTF, distortion and vignetting behaviors of the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon and Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar.

I’ll be testing the Loxia lineup later this fall when press samples become available. Because these are for mirrorless, review coverage will be in Guide to Mirrorless. Zeiss DSLR lenses for Canon and Nikon are covered in Guide to Zeiss, and Zeiss ZM rangefinder lenses are covered in Guide to Leica.

  Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*

Zeiss Loxia: Manual Focus All Metal Build Lenses for Mirrorless Full Frame

  Sony Alpha A7R
Zeiss Loxia mounts on
Sony Alpha A7S / A7 / A7R
(and others)

The two new Zeiss Loxia lenses incorporate proven Zeiss designs into all-metal manual focusing lens bodies for the full-frame Sony Alpha A7/A7R system.

These are the lenses I would choose as a Sony A7s/A7/A7R shooter for most of my purposes (particularly the A7s, for video focusing). Why? Because I like the solidity and long-lasting build quality along with the precision of manual focus (180° focus throw). A good manual focus feel/throw is a wonderful thing, and the EVF on the Sony bodies makes pinpoint focus easy and fast.

Note that it is possible to choose on the fly a clicked or declicked aperture feature, a first AFAIK (declicked is ideal for video shooters).

Other appealing points include weather sealing and the all-metal barrel, though it’s not clear to me what prevents ingress of water at the front end, since the inner barrel presumably has to move in out with focusing.

ZEISS Loxia lenses are designed for use in normal conditions. The Loxia lenses are not fully protected against splash water, nor are they water-proof. However, the lens mount features dust and weather proofing. Additional protection against extraordinary environmental influences is not provided. They do not feature protection in accordance with the ISO IP standard. These lenses are designed for use at temperatures ranging from -20°C to +55°C.

I’ll be testing the Loxia lineup later this fall when press samples become available. Because these are for mirrorless, review coverage will be in Guide to Mirrorless. Zeiss DSLR lenses for Canon and Nikon are covered in Guide to Zeiss, and Zeiss ZM rangefinder lenses are covered in Guide to Leica.

With both lenses, bear in mind that actual performance on a digital sensor depends not just on the lens by itself, but the lens design as optimized (or not) for the sensor cover glass thickness and ray angle. The sensor cover glass and ray angle issue is why Leica M lenses often fare poorly on Sony mirrorless. And its why performance of the Loxia line has to be evaluated with real images, not via comparison with other MTF charts. Zeiss has surely accounted for these factors so as to ensure that the designs will perform well on Sony mirrorless, by tweaking the optics slightly. That this is so is easily seen in the outstanding results with the 35/2 Biogon on the Sony RX1R, which compares favorably and maybe even outperforms the famed Leica Summilux 35/1.4.

Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon

Both lens designs are classics, and are presumably tweaked to be optimal for ray angle issues and sensor cover glass on the Sony A mirrorless lineup (support for other brands presumably will follow, when other brands like Fujifilm offer a full frame camera).

The 35mm f/2 Biogon originates as rangefinder lens design (Zeiss ZM 35mm f/2 Biogon for use on Leica M). This is the superb lens design used in the Sony RX1 / RX1R (lovely performer there), though it could incorporate modifications for A7s/A7/A7R system.

  Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*

The front element of the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon of a special glass type (presumably to control various color aberrations), but it’s unclear if this differs from the RX1R or ZM designs. My guess is that it is new to the Loxia design versus the ZM lens, at least.

  Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* design
Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T* design

Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar

The 50mm f/2 Planar is another classic Zeiss design, presumably based on the Zeiss ZM 50mm f/2 Planar for Leica M. It is a very strong performer when stopped down slightly, and has gorgeous bokeh from its symmetric design.

  Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*
Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*

Marketplace positioning

The main question that arises in my mind is the strategic approach: it’s a courageous move to go manual focus and high quality build in today’s market, and that will attract a certain group of customers on its own.

The marketplace risk as I see it relates to optical performance and pricing relatively close to alternatives. These designs are excellent, but for many users autofocus exerts a strong pull. So some icing on the cake would add appeal: I would like to see something more on the optical front, meaning aggressive efforts towards wide open image quality. Certainly Zeiss Otus quality is out of the question (size/weight/price), but heading strongly in that direction. A higher price point (double) would be needed to meet that goal, but many of the potential customers would find that an appealing tradeoff, and it would establish a clearly separate category. As it stands the Loxia pricing at around $1000 seems to me as a customer to carry the same risks as the Touit line.

Zeiss Loxia Press release

Manual focusing, manual aperture and maximal image quality

With the new Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 lenses, ZEISS combines maximum image quality with classic ease of use for E-mount full-frame cameras.

OBERKOCHEN, September 2, 2014

The ZEISS lenses Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are the first members of a new family of manual focus lenses for the E-mount full frame. They are optimized for digital sensors and electronic viewfinders and feature a mechanical aperture setting and the mechanical deactivation of the click stop (de-click) for ambitious videography. But these are just a few of the highlights. The lenses will be presented to the public for the first time at ZEISS’s booth at photokina in Cologne from September 16 to 21, 2014.

“Ever since the Sony Alpha 7/7r/7s helped compact system cameras break through to the full frame, there has been a growing desire for a ‘digital manual focus‘ experience that combines the best of both worlds. The Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are the first members of a new family of manual focus lenses for the E-mount full frame. By entering this field, ZEISS not only wants to meet this desire, but exceed it,” said Christophe Casenave, Product Manager with ZEISS Camera Lenses.

Freedom of composition in photography was the guiding principle in developing the ZEISS Loxia 2/35 and ZEISS Loxia 2/50. An electronic interface transmits lens data (EXIF), but it also recognizes focus movements and, if desired, activates the camera’s magnifier function. This supports the possibilities of modern compact camera systems with an electronic viewfinder. Furthermore, the Loxia lenses allow for precise manual focusing as well as a mechanical setting of the aperture (aperture priority). This traditional way of working expresses one’s personal photo lifestyle, opening up surprising creative possibilities to compose the image that go beyond all automation.  

It is not for nothing that compact camera systems are one of the most interesting developments on the photography market today. Many photographers also appreciate the combination of traditional principles of handling and operation with the most modern technology.

Yet another highlight – the mechanical deactivation of aperture click stops (de-click), thus creating progressive and noiseless aperture settings– makes this new lens family a tool that provides a high degree of creative potential, not only for photographers but also for ambitious videographers. Thanks to their precise manual focusing, the Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are also suitable for professional video productions.

The Loxia lens family has been specially optimized for digital sensors. The optical design of the Loxia 2/35 is based on a Biogon and consists of nine lens elements in six groups. With a full-frame focal length of a moderate wide angle, this lens is particularly well suited for nature, landscape and architectural photography. Its creative potential also comes to the fore thanks to its low minimum object distance of 0.3 meters, which allows close-ups with an unusual perspective.

The design of the Loxia 2/50 is based on a Planar and has six lens elements in four groups.  As a ‘classic’ normal lens with a full-frame focal length of 50 millimeters, it offers photographers a field of view that corresponds to natural eyesight. The Loxia 2/50 is ideally suited for a wide range of situations, from travel photography, family photography and photojournalism to portraiture  –  and with a minimum working distance of 0.37 meters it is suitable for close-ups, too. The Loxia 2/50 is an uncomplicated but at the same time high-quality standard lens that photographers can keep on their camera continuously, therefore allowing them to react flexibly to a wide range of everyday situations.

Both Loxia lenses have a high speed of f/2, which expands the creative possibilities even more. Two examples are the effective isolation of motifs with a low depth of field or free-handed photography, even with poor lighting conditions.

The Loxia lens range intentionally eschews autofocus. This makes them compact and ideal for travel and street photography. Photographers who work in these fields often do not like to be recognized right away as professionals. The Loxia lenses offer a high resolution across the entire image field and a harmonious bokeh in the background, especially at the maximal aperture opening of f/2. The Loxia family stands out for its superb mechanical quality. The smooth focus operation with a large focus rotation angle of approximately 180 degrees allows for the finest variations in focusing. The filter diameter is a consistent M52 across the entire lens family. The robust barrel is made completely of metal so that it can withstand the rough everyday situations that professional photographers face and ensuring a long product life. In addition, the lenses have a special weather sealing at the lens mount to prevent spray water from getting between the camera and the lens.

The Loxia 2/50 will be available worldwide starting October 2014 and the Loxia 2/35 from the end of the fourth quarter of 2014. The recommended retail price of the Loxia 2/35 will be EUR 965.55* (US$ 1,299.00)* and that of the Loxia 2/50 will be EUR 713.45* (US$ 949.00)*.

For more information, visit www.zeiss.com/photo.

Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon Aperture Series 'Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior' (D800E)

  Nikon D800E
Nikon D800E

The Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon offers an ultra wide angle view with high contrast.

This particular aperture series works well for its slight peripheral forward field curvature, as discussed.

In Guide to Zeiss:

Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon: 'Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior' (D800E)

Includes HD and UltraHD images in both color and black and white as well as large crops from wide open through ƒ/16.

  Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior Nikon D810 + Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon @ ƒ/8
Wyman Canyon Lower Cabin Interior
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon @ ƒ/8

Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon on Nikon D810: Aperture Series 'Twisted Aspen'

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

The Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon offers imaging qualities that make it especially suitable for environmental portraiture, reportage, etc. It’s a compact gem of a lens. It offers very high overall contrast and a vignetting suitable for many subjects.

The 28/2 Distagon is particularly suitable for environmental portraiture—a subject in its natural environment.

In Guide to Zeiss:

Aperture Series: Twisted Aspen (D810)

Includes HD and UltraHD images in both color and black and white as well as large crops from wide open through ƒ/16.

  Twisted Aspen Nikon D810 + Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon @ ƒ/16
Twisted Aspen
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon @ ƒ/16

Fujifilm X100: Can’t Charge the Battery

Fujifilm X100
Fujifilm X100

I still have the Fujifilm X100 that I bought several years ago. Its good looks don’t go out of style and its images are still excellent (see my 2011 Fujifilm X100 review).

The battery died or so it seemed: it would not charge; the charger light lights up, but after 24 hours, no charging and a battery so dead that licking its contacts (a simple but effective test) hardly provides any electric tingle at all. The camera gets no power whatsoever from the battery.

So I bought a brand-new Fujifilm NP-95 battery back in May, which at first charged up fine. By mid July it too has failed, meaning the same charger problem: the light goes on, but the battery does not charge.

I’ve seen “smart” batteries lose their brains (so to speak), and it could be that alone. The cause being unclear.

So I’m in a quandary: were both batteries bad, is the charger bad, and/or is the camera killing the battery somehow? I hate to go dump more money into a new battery and charger if the camera is damaging the batteries somehow. But it’s a nice camera, and I’d like to see it working again. So I think I’ll just order the $19.95 Watson charger and see if it works.

Perhaps a reader out there has some ideas.

The Fujifilm support page (if you can call it that) consists of some Q&A one can search on—it’s absurd to call this support. I cannot find any place to call or send an email on this question, which is quite frustrating. That ought to be front and center on that page.

Merlin E writes saying Fujifilm tech support is 1-800-800-3854.

Ragna V writes:

I have experienced this twice - first with the charger on my X100, later on with my X100s. Very annoying, especially when I'm travelling. I understand that this is a well known problem with these chargers. My batteries behave ok and work fine in a new charger.

My solution? Never trust a Fuji charger. I bought a Hahnel UniPal Plus charger instead http://www.hahnel.ie/index.cfm?page=universalchargers&pId=133 It will charge almost anything, and is always with me on my travels as a backup. And it even works on a 12 V power supply in your car or boat.

DIGLLOYD: I ordered that inexpensive $19.95 Watson charger. If it works, good enough.

Cliff L writes:

The problem with batteries failing to charge is not unique to Fuji batteries or chargers - I’ve had the same thing happen with a Canon LP-E6 battery too. I’ve often thought one can never have too many spare batteries, but on one occasion I was unable to revive a nearly new battery that hd sat in a drawer for several months. N ow I keep fewer spares and try to rotate all the batteries through the cameras periodically to keep them functioning properly. I wonder why this doesn’t seem to happen to batteries that sit on store shelves for prolonged periods of time?

DIGLLOYD: All LiIon batteries can degrade steadily over time, and high heat can damage them quickly. But I don’t find the comparison appropriate this this case, it was a steadily/regularly used battery. Nor have I had other brand camera batteries fail in this way, and that’s over 10 years or so, starting with the ~1 megapixel Olympus whatever it was.

Adobe Camera Raw: 'CameraStandard' Camera Profile Produces Horrific Tonal Transitions for D810 NEF

diglloyd image
Avoid 'CameraStandard'
  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

There is a serious flaw in the 'Camera Standard' profile for the Nikon D810 when using Adobe Camera Raw (and presumably Adobe Lightroom also).

In DAP:

Adobe Camera Raw: Harsh Tonal Transitions with 'Camera Standard' Profile

Looks like several days of intensive work are now “redo” candidates, or at least I now have to go reassess to see what stuff has to be redone, time I can ill afford.

It had been nagging at me that something seemed wrong with ACR and the Nikon D810, but tonight the problem showed itself clearly with a particular image.

I don’t know if this issue affects other cameras, but it might, so exercise care in your own images. I also don’t know if it is a profile bug (seems most likely), or some flaw in ACR itself.

Reader Roy P emailed some images from Adobe Lightroom 5.6 (a variety of camera profiles), and the problem is prominent posterization in facial skin. Much worse than what I had observed in my landscape images—unusably awful.

Thanks to the reader who wrote me pointing me at the Adobe’s tech note.

John G writes:

Read your blog post this morning re: image quality problems in LR5.6 (and Adobe ACR 8.6) when using Nikon’s profiles found in the Camera Control section. I, too, noticed these problems. When selecting the Camera Standard, Landscape, Vivid, and Monochrome profiles, Image-killing posterization and stark banding is introduced in the some areas of the photograph.

This is especially evident where there are subtle tonal transitions, such as in the cloud-filled skies, etc. I contacted Adobe, and they indicated that they were aware of the problem and would fix it in the next iteration of LR and ACR. In the interim, they are providing beta profiles for the D810 The new beta profiles can be downloaded here: http://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/camera-standard-profile-displays-posterized.html I have used the beta profiles for the past week now, and can report they fix the problems you are seeing, and improve image quality in other ways as well.

Thanks for doing what do. I read your site everyday. As a professional photographer, by necessity, I do huge amounts of research before purchasing any new piece of gear. Your insights and hard work cut down on the amount of research I have to do, and have made my process of selecting new equipment much more efficient. Thanks again.

DIGLLOYD: Well, I’m glad that Adobe has issues a fix, because I’ve liked the tonal curve of CameraStandard for some images much more than AdobeStandard: more appealing contrast (sometimes too strong though) and with less harsh highlight areas.

Where does one go or proactively watch to find out about critical flaws like this? For example, Adobe’e Tranberry is mum on the topic. Blogs.adobe.com is not helpful, and surely such a damaging issue deserves a front and center warning there. Hours of work destroyed (redo) and I am under tight deadline working 14 hours a day so I am very grumpy about this flaw.

From Adobe:

When you apply the camera profiles in Lightroom 5.6 and Camera Raw 8.6 for the Nikon D810 to your image, some of the areas and colors are posterized.

Camera Raw 8.6 and Lightroom 5.6 introduce raw support for the Nikon D810, including Camera Matching color profiles. Unfortunately, four of these profiles for the Nikon D810 can result in banding artifacts. The affected profiles are:

Camera Standard
Camera Vivid
Camera Landscape
Camera Monochrome

We have identified the cause of this issue and have developed a new complete set of Camera Matching color profiles that fixes the banding issues. Furthermore, the new profiles have slightly improved overall color response and smoother gradations. These profiles are included in the next release of Camera Raw and Lightroom.

In the meantime, we have included a release candidate or beta version of these profiles for users to try.

These beta profiles appear in the user interface (Camera Calibration panel, Profile pop-up menu) as:

Camera Flat v2 beta
Camera Landscape v2 beta
Camera Monochrome v2 beta
Camera Neutral v2 beta
Camera Portrait v2 beta
Camera Standard v2 beta
Camera Vivid v2 beta

diglloyd image
High Sierra Plant
Nikon D810

Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon: Brilliant

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810
  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

The Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon offers high brilliance, luscious color saturation and superb flare control. These are the reasons to select it over all others for this kind of shooting.

In sharpness terms it is a strong as anything, but has its limits and behaviors, and these too are shown and discussed, including here in this aperture series a particularly demonstrative crop showing the point spread function behavior.

In Guide to Zeiss:

Aperture Series: Pine Creek Stormy Light (Nikon D810)

Include HD and Ultra HD images and large crops from ƒ/2.8 through ƒ/16 along with both color and black and white images and how converted.

Toggle the image below to see the black and white rendition.

  Sun Peeks Through Thunderclouds Nikon D810 + Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon
Sun Peeks Through Thunderclouds
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon @ ƒ/11

Andrew P writes:

I just wanted to thank you for your recent coverage of the 15mm Distagon. I have seven very nice lenses that I regularly use now, but I keep on going back to the 15mm for those special qualities it has. For a while I avoided it because I felt I had to be very close to a subject to get anything useful, but then those photos were always very interesting to look at.

I recently shot a basketball championship with it and then used it for a model shoot a couple weeks ago. For both shoots I also used my Otus, a 35 mm Summilux ASPH, the ZA 135mm 1.8 and a Nikkor 85mm 1.4G, but the best shots were all made with either the 15mm or the Otus.

DIGLLOYD: a 15mm is hard to use well, but used well it sings.

Working Hard on a 'Project'

Labor Day weekend here in the USA generally means beach and grilling or some such thing for many. But for me it means labor day—lots of work, especially this year. Not that I mind—I like what I do, especially the particular project I’m on right now.

Oh, I might grill myself a steak or two (extra lean grass fed beef, quite tasty and far less expensive than the buffalo ribeyes I’d go for but for the price). But I’ve sworn off wine of any color as I press hard to lean-out for my late September cycling race. That’s the discipline part, as I do really enjoy red wine, also having made it a necessary game to figure out what’s a good red for not much green. There are some very good reds at low prices out there (and some not very good reds at low prices and high prices).

Anyway, I am hard at work dawn to dusk on a project that will see the light in less than two weeks. Accordingly, I might “submerge” for a few days at a time, popping up for a few new Nikon D810 pieces, but staying intensely focused on the key project.

Nikon D810: Sensor Cover Glass Quality?

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

Jorn O writes:

I just received 2 new Nikon D810 cameras( August 25, 2014) and sent them to my local repair technician to evaluate. One of the things I always have him check is the sensor and low pass filter for defects, inclusions, and etc. The 2 new D810 cameras were both supposedly corrected for the long exposure/white spot issue.

However, it appears that the low pass filters (or protective glass) on both cameras have a significant number of dark specks of some kind in the surface coating or embedded in the sensor glass. He observed (30 power microscope) 18 of these specks on one sensor and 24 on the other. The size and quantity of these specks indicates to me a significant quality control problem and I am going to return both cameras. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that Nikon’s solution to this problem was to just map out all of the photosites affected by the specks and consider the problem solved.

I have had similar problems with the D3x and D800E sensors – my records indicate returning and replacing 4 new cameras over a 3 year period due to significant inclusions in the low pass filter glass. I guess Nikon doesn’t think anybody is really looking hard at the sensor systems they are putting out.

It is interesting to note that the first D810 I purchased from B&H in July was also inspected and cleaned by my repair technician, and did not have the problem with the specks on the sensor glass even though the serial number indicates that it is on the recall list that Nikon has.

I also have 5 D800E cameras and they do not exhibit the speck on sensor glass issue. I was going to upgrade 3 of them to D810's, but not sure if I will now. With regards to the D3x sensors and imbedded inclusions - I did not keep them so I do not know if they would have had an impact on image quality. However, when you pay 8000.00 for a camera body I think it is reasonable to expect first class quality in a sensor, especially when your technician tells you he does not see this issue on most other vendors cameras that he works on (Canon, Sony, Pentax,etc).

DIGLLOYD: I can’t say much more than “seems concerning”. But given Nikon’s financial performance (~27% drop in sales YOY), could there be cost-cutting or lowered standards going on that might compromise quality? A hunker-down retrenchment rather than moving ahead with innovations like supporting an EVF option on a DSLR?

Taken together though, inclusions in sensor cover glass and white spots requiring a camera recall out of the gate do not speak well to Nikon’s release of the D810. Coming on top of the D600 dust/oil issue, it might shake one’s confidence, if only a little. The D810 is a flagship camera after all.

Still, I doubt that the white spots service advisory has anything to do with the sensor glass 'specks'; the white spots seem to be a hot pixel type long exposure issue (Nikon has been obtuse on the cause of the issue, or why some but not other cameras are affected). Sensor quality is not a fixed thing; sensors come in grades too (number of defects and similar). What grade sensors are used in the D810 (what yield/quality cutoff?). Are camera bodies now like lenses where one has to worry about “good sample” or “bad sample”?

Tom H writes:

I’ve noticed the same problem with my Canons over the years. You can send your camera in for repair and get a new glass that looks just like the one you had. The last time I sent back a body to Canon for this problem i took a shot of the glass surface using a dissecting microscope and included a print with the body. It didn’t make any difference. The new one had fewer pits.

DIGLLOYD: I’m not sure it matters in any case. More than likely any usage over would accumulate more crud by an order of magnitude, even with sensor cleaning.

Nikon D810: Recommended Picture Control Settings for Magnified Live View Focusing

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

I spent some time with various combinations of Nikon Picture Control settings to arrive at what seemed to be the most helpful and decisive sharpness and contrast for accurate magnified Live View focusing.

These Picture Control files are now available for download in my review of the Nikon D810, with instructions for loading them. They load in addition to any existing choices so there is no downside to trying them to see if they help your own workflow.

Recommended Picture Control Settings for Live View Focusing

Picture Control settings ready to load on camera card
Picture Control settings ready to load on camera card

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