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Reader Question: Sony A7R II with Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar

Zeiss ZF.2 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar
(best 135mm available, by far)

See my review of the Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar in Guide to Zeiss.

Peter G writes:

I'd love to see your thoughts on the Zeiss 135mm APO lens (and possibly other ZE/ZF.2 lenses) on the A7rII platform.

I am very close to purchasing the 135mm APO for my A7rII and would love to hear your input. Would you recommend the ZE or ZF.2 for use on an E-Mount camera?

DIGLLOYD: the Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar should perform brilliantly—no reason it would not. The main concern is the weight; it’s a heavy lens and when extended by a lens adapter off the mount, that is quite a torque on the mount. So support that weight at all times by supporting the lens when handholding, and by using the Novoflex with ASTAT adapter when on a tripod (Metabones has an adapter too, but it cannot rotate vertical/portrait, or so I am told). Do not let that lens mount carry the torque on its own.

You'll have to manually open/close the aperture to focus and shoot, so this is not a fast operating lens for portraits and such. But I see that as a plus given the brain dead behavior of the A7R II when magnified: the Sony A7 series have no way to change exposure when in magnified view; the dials that ought to control shutter and aperture instead scroll the magnified image*. The Setting Effect = On/Off is useless because the camera stops down the lens if it’s bright, regardless of that setting, so it is flaky/unreliable. But with a manual aperture ring, all that disappears as a headache. Well, not the shutter speed, but it’s half a fix. So I would strongly recommend the ZF.2 version, which can be shot on Nikon (natively) or Canon (with adapter), and other platforms.

Get the Zeiss ZF.2 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar for $300 off and 4% reward at B&H Photo (effective price = $1749 = a raging bargain). Ditto for Zeiss ZE 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar for Canon (but no aperture ring on the ZE version).

Note: Zeiss lenses have attractive rebates at present.

* One of numerous reasons I have said that the Sony does not understand photography and that the design feels like a gadget, not a camera.

BUY Novoflex Adapter for Nikon Lens to Sony NEX Camera
BUY Novoflex ASTAT-NEX Tripod Collar for Sony NEX Lens Adapters

Dierk T writes:

If you don't have Nikon DSLR (I sold my D3 2 years ago) the better choice is the ZE version. I ordered the Otus 85mm and the Zeiss Macro-Planar 2/100 in ZE mount and use it on a Metabones adapter.

You have full control of the aperture and shooting portraits is great with open aperture as it has been with DSLR before.

Using a high speed lens with manual aperture for studio portraits with f/8 for example is just useless with a manual aperture!

DIGLLOYD: it is not this simple as there are a variety of considerations, though I make no claim the may priorities or preferences are the best for any purposes but my own.

I have not as yet been successful in getting Metabones to respond to my request for an adapter to test. So I’m flying a little blind on exactly how the Metabones adapter behaves under all the combination of conditions and models: I have not tested it.

First, “don’t have” can change over time.

Second, the Nikon F-mount is by far the most versatile mount: F-mount lenses (Zeiss ZF.2) can be used on Canon, Leica M, all mirrorless variants, various specialty gear, etc. Without an aperture ring, a Canon-mount lens is restricted to only those systems which have electronic adapters, and some of those suck. So the choices are more narrow (and generally more expensive).

The issue for my use with manual focus is that the A7R II (and its siblings) stop down the lens when the light gets bright, even with Setting Effect = OFF (see also my recommended settings for the A7R II and recommended customization for the Sony A7R II). I have tested and confirmed this problematic behavior using native lenses which I wished to focus manually at full aperture—not possible in bright light due to this stop-down behavior.

Update: reader Samuli V tells me that the Metabones adapter has some way to control the diaphragm behavior. I have inquired at Metabaones via their web form, but I did not get any response from them. This concerns me: if there is no sales response, how does support go?

The Metabones adapter does not have a vertical (portrait) option for tripod use as shipped. There are some solutions to this issue, such as a mini L-bracket or some kind of rail apparently, but I’d have to see them to say if I’d find them tolerable.

It is not possible (and never will be) to use the ZE version on Nikon (or any other DSLR) because of its flange distance (2mm longer than Nikon). So if one ever shoots or might shoot Nikon, those ZE and EF lenses are useless. But the Nikon version can be used on Canon and any mirrorless and Leica M and so on, as noted above, and with relatively inexpensive mechanical adapters. And I *prefer* manual aperture control (as might video shooters) for many purposes.

But to Dierk T’s valid albeit restricted use case: *if* you are shooting handheld and *if* the light is moderate and *if* tripod use is not the goal (portrait orientation) and *if* you have no intention of ever shooting Nikon, then the ZE version with Metabones adapter is indeed a fine choice.

Finally, there is no technical reason that a Nikon adapter could not work electronically like the ZE version: the Zeiss ZF.2 lenses use an electronic aperture control after all (I never use the aperture ring on my Nikon DSLR). So I maintain that the ZF.2 version is the best long term investment, particularly if/when the adapter allows it to act with electronic aperture controlled by the camera (maybe this already exists).

f/2.8 @ 1/40 sec handheld, ISO 800
Nikon D800E + Zeiss 135/2 APO-Sonnar
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