Caught in no-man’s land: the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens

September 08, 2015

I was very surprised a while back when Jordan Steele reviewed the Loxia 35mm f/2 lens over at Admiring Light. Jordan’s take was pretty underwhelming for a lens that, at $1,300, is priced as a decidedly-premium offering. He even went so far as to call the 35mm’s bokeh “frankly terrible”, which just seemed crazy. I hold Jordan’s opinion in extremely high esteem so naturally, my interest in the Loxia line kind of vanished after reading that review.

However, for fairness’ sake, I looked for other reviews trying to see if Jordan’s was a fluke or part of an overall trend. Bad copies of lenses have been known to get into many a reviewer’s hands from time to time, so it was always possible that Jordan had a defective copy, after all.

For those looking for a second opinion, I recently came across SonyAlphaLab’s amazing review of the lens. Jay’s review is just as well researched and it definitely has a more positive tone to it than Jordan’s. Check out his video review below for more information:

I haven’t personally used the lens, so I can’t speak from first-hand experience, but judging from Jay’s excellent pictures, it’s hard to call the image quality out of the Loxia anything other than great.1 That being said, I frankly don’t see the point of spending $1,300 on a manual focus lens, especially when you could spend about $150 on something like a Canon FD 35mm f/2 plus an adapter on eBay and call it a day.

Something like this Canon FDn 35mm f/2 lens plus an inexpensive adapter would be a great — and much cheaper — alternative to the Loxia.

Also, as far as native FE-mount alternatives go, don’t forget Zeiss’ own FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar lens, which is a stop slower but comes in at half the price of the Loxia, or even the impressive FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon, which is faster and much better optically and only costs a couple hundred dollars more.

Indeed, there are plenty of alternatives to the Loxia 35mm lens for Sony A7-series owners. Some of them are optically better, some of them aren’t. Similarly, some of them are more expensive, and some are much cheaper. However, nearly all of those seem to have been designed and optimized with a very specific purpose in mind, be it image quality, price or a sensible combination of the two.

As such, if you want the fastest lens or the best possible image quality, you’ll be better off with the f/1.4 Distagon. If you just want a good manual 35mm f/2 lens, nothing will ever beat an adapted lens like the Canon in price, and I’m willing to bet the image quality won’t be that different. If what you want is a good compromise between image quality and price, it’s hard to overlook the f/2.8 Sonnar. And if you just want something extravagant, well, there’s always Leica.

The bottom point is the Loxia, as good as it is, seems to be caught squarely in no-man’s land, unable to provide an obvious answer to the all-important question: “why should I buy this lens instead of one of the others?”.2

Every now and then, a lens just sings to you. This has been known to happen to the best of us. If that’s the case for you with the 35mm Loxia, by all means, go for it. It is, after all, a pretty damn fine lens. But if we’re trying to be rational about our purchases,3 there appears to be no compelling reason to justify its high cost, and that is what ultimately kills it for me.

  1. Still, based on Jay’s review, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Jordan definitely had a defective copy of the lens. The images in both reviews are close enough in terms of image quality that their different takes may have simply been a matter of personal preference.

  2. It’s important to note that this problem also affects the other Loxia lens, the 50mm f/2, which comes in at a hair under $1,000.

  3. Crazy, I know. Never mind.

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September 05, 2015

I hope you’re not superstitious, because this is the 13th issue of Morning Coffee. Don’t worry, we can call it 12+1 if you want.

Luckily, it still comes jam-packed with some incredible pieces of writing, so let’s get to it.

Issue #13: On the upcoming Apple event, street art in Hong Kong, and playing the long game in life

This week, the Internet machine woke up from its summer-long slumber in the blink of an eye, with rumor pieces popping up everywhere in anticipation of next week’s Apple event, where some pundits expect to see a few surprises beyond the widely expected iPhone refresh. The Apple TV is a frequent favorite in the rumor mill this time around, and as such it’s featured quite prominently in some of today’s pieces.

Whatever your technological inclination, dear reader, fear not; there’s more to this edition than Apple rumors, after all. Enjoy.

Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ Event Roundup | Mark Gurman →

For a while now, Mark Gurman has been one of the most accurate writers when it comes to predicting Apple’s product announcements. This comprehensive piece covers everything Gurman expects to see announced next week, and if he’s right once again, it’s going to be a blast:

Apple’s Wednesday, September 9th event is shaping up to be one of the largest in the company’s history. The Cupertino-based company is planning to unveil several major new products on stage, including a pair of new iPhones with revamped internals, a sequel to the Apple TV, a larger version of the iPad Air, a refreshed iPad mini, and new Apple Watch accessories. The company is also likely to discuss at least two of its latest software platforms: iOS 9 and watchOS 2.

Not bad.

As a side note, compare Gurman’s excellent reporting in the above piece with this sorry excuse for an article by Katie Benner and Brian Chen for The New York Times. Not only do they fail to add any insight whatsoever to what had been previously reported by Gurman himself and others like John Paczkowski of Buzzfeed, but they also fail to properly credit those who did the actual reporting. They may get more pageviews, but this piece is certainly not up to the Times’ usual standards.

Your brain, your disease, your self | Nina Strohminger and Shaun Nichols →

This is a fantastic piece on the effects of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s in relation to the loss of a person’s identity:

As monstrous as neurodegenerative disease is, its powers of identity theft have been greatly exaggerated. Remarkably, a person can undergo significant cognitive change and still come across as fundamentally the same person.

What makes us recognizable to others resides almost entirely within a relatively narrow band of cognitive functioning. It is only when our grip on the moral universe loosens that our identity slips away with it.

Now, this is the sort of piece that belongs in The New York Times.

Every thing you own is a relationship you’re in | David Cain →

Your obligatory weekly dose of David Cain’s brilliance. Great stuff, as usual.

The Stock Market, playing the long game, and the importance of setting long term goals | Patrick Rhone →

I loved this piece by Patrick Rhone. Life, much like stocks, yields the most benefits when you play the long game:

If not, you are basically playing the short game with your life. And, frankly, like a Day Trader your success and failure is at the whims of your daily to-do list. Get a lot done today and your life is a bull market. Get little done and it’s a bear market. And, like the Day Trader, your life will feel rich one day and bankrupt the next, more than partially due to forces beyond your control. A boss who dumps a project in your lap or a colleague who interrupts you or the person that pulls you into a last minute meeting or the kid who gets sick or the car that breaks down. All of these can sweep in and kill the action of those without goals. Just like China screwing with their currency can send the whole world of short players into a tizzy, so can just about anything wreak havoc on the short player’s task list.


Usain Bolt’s final turn | Louisa Thomas →

Yet another great piece on the Jamaican star over at Grantland:

In February, Bolt announced that he will retire after the 2017 world championships. In less than a year, he’ll run in his last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He is hoping to become the first person to win three consecutive 100- and 200-meter Olympic gold medals (and the 4×100 for good measure); he is already the first to win them twice. His fans, and many within track, are hoping he’ll ease gloriously through the finish — and perhaps he will. Bolt has always performed his best at major competitions, and he’s set and smashed his own world records at the big races, when people are watching. But last summer, Bolt struggled with injuries, had surgery on his left foot, and shut his season down after only three races in order to focus on this year. The results coming into the race in New York were disappointing. Bolt holds the world record in the 100, having run a 9.58 in 2009, but his fastest 100-meter time of 2015 is only the year’s sixth fastest. He’s also the world record holder in the 200, and his best this year is only the 19th fastest.

It’s worth noting that this was published on August 20, only days before Bolt went on to successfully defend his 100m, 200m and 4x100m World Championship titles in Beijing.

The rise of Hong Kong street art – signs of a new creative awakening? | C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia →

As anyone who’s ever seen a DigitalRev TV video can tell you, Hong Kong is a city of unparalleled creative potential for street artists, and it looks like they’re finally starting to realize some of it.

Frank Gehry’s gigantic new $300 million LA project will transform Sunset Boulevard | Christie Chu →

I love big architecture projects, and this one looks like a huge one:

Frank Gehry has big plans for Sunset Boulevard.

Renderings of his proposed $300 million LA project have been released, and images reveal a group of five distinct buildings to be used for residential, retail, and entertainment purposes, according to Curbed. They will be linked by an open public space, which will serve pedestrians and cyclists.

Review: Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar T* | Jordan Steele →

Jordan’s fantastic review dropped last weekend, but I didn’t have enough time to include it in the previous issue, so here it goes. He seems to like it:

The lens is simply spectacularly sharp, and starts that crazy sharpness right from f/1.8. Wide open shots display exceptional clarity and gorgeous background blur while providing a flattering contrast profile for portraits. I simply love the look of the images from this lens. It’s an absolutely top-tier optic and one that I’m already saving my pennies to purchase for myself.

So am I.

The Sony A7RII Camera Review. A Real world look. | Steve Huff →

I always wait for Steve Huff’s reviews with great anticipation, and this time around he didn’t disappoint. If you’re on the fence about the new A7R II, check out the many image samples in Steve’s review to get a good idea of its capabilities.


As regular readers will know, this week I had my own piece of exotic glass to play with, the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8. I’ve only had enough time with it to get a few initial impressions, but so far I’m really, really impressed with the lens.

The Zeiss 55mm is considerably smaller and lighter than the Sony Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 zoom I bought with the camera, and its image quality is probably the best I’ve ever seen in a lens.

Sharpness is impressive in the center even wide open, and the corners are nothing to sneeze at, either. What’s more, stop it down even a little bit and the entire frame becomes pin sharp. It’s incredible.

The bokeh is simply gorgeous, melting away from the subject into a blurry background that almost seems too good, especially considering this is “only” an f/1.8 lens.

Flare and chromatic aberration are exceptionally well controlled, even when shooting against the light and with high-contrast areas in the image. Besides, the built-in Lightroom profile for this lens will take care of any remaining fringes with just a click.

Similarly, vignetting and distortion seem to also be well controlled in most situations, and the Lightroom profile does an great job of correcting them, so neither are a problem in actual shooting, at least not that I’ve seen.

After reading so many excellent reviews I had extremely high hopes for this lens, and I’m happy to say it’s lived up to my expectations, and then some. I can definitely see it being up there with any lens from any system as far as optical quality is concerned, even the legendary Otus lenses from Zeiss.

In any case, and MTF charts aside, one thing is clear: I could not have hoped for a better standard lens for my A7 II.

In the coming days and weeks I’m going to be busier than ever with my photography work, which means more pictures and more in-depth thoughts on this phenomenal piece of glass are sure to follow shortly.

Until then, have an amazing weekend and, of course, thank you for reading.

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Sony announces new Xperia Z5 phone with a 5.5-inch, 4K display →

September 02, 2015 |

From Jonathan Bray’s hands-on review:

Think about that for a minute. That’s 2,160 x 3,840 pixels crammed into a space not much larger than a four-fingered KitKat. It delivers a ridiculously high pixel density of 806ppi and, needless to say, delivers images that are pinprick sharp. For the first time in a long time, Sony can boast that it’s ahead of the smartphone game.

Do you need it, though? Lord no. I’d hazard a guess that even the Bionic Man would struggle to tell the difference between this and even an iPhone 6 Plus, which “only” has a 1080p screen and the same screen dimensions. Even if you could spy all the details, the question of content rears its ugly head: there still isn’t that much available to make a 4K screen on a TV, let alone a smartphone, a compelling reason for purchase.

Fuck everything, we’re doing five blades.”

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Amazon Prime Video now includes offline viewing on Android and iOS →

September 02, 2015 |

Nice addition to the service, which is now called simply Amazon Video. Sam Machkovech has more information over at Ars Technica:

Once you start watching a downloaded video offline—which can be downloaded in one of three quality settings—the app will pop up a warning that the video will stop working 72 hours after the viewing first began. Simply reloading the app once you’ve returned to an Internet connection will restart any such timers. In a neat twist, offline videos also come with Amazon’s IMDB-fueled “X-Ray” blurbs that can be tapped at any time, meaning you don’t have to get online to answer pesky “who is that actor” questions. However, the app doesn’t include any way to parse how much space you’ve used by downloading videos, nor does it warn you how much space remains. You’ll have to go through your iOS or Android device’s space menus to sort that stuff out.

While it may have originated as a perk bundled with Amazon Prime, Amazon continues to slowly improve their on-demand video service.

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Introducing →

September 01, 2015 |

Jaclyn Ginter, my friend Josh’s lovely wife, is launching a new fashion and lifestyle site today. With her impeccable taste and his great photographic skills, Beauttype is sure to delight all kinds of readers.

Check out her “Back to Burgundy” post to get a taste for what’s coming. Really cool stuff.

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Google changes its logo →

September 01, 2015 |

Google’s official blog:

Google has changed a lot over the past 17 years—from the range of our products to the evolution of their look and feel. And today we’re changing things up once again:

I like it. Also, check out this excellent piece by Alex Cook, Jonathan Jarvis and Jonathan Lee on the design theory behind the new logo. Fascinating stuff and 100% Google-y, and I mean that in the best possible way.

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Chrome kills Flash ads →

September 01, 2015 |

Good news from the official Google AdWords Google+ account (sigh):

In June, we announced ( that Chrome will begin pausing many Flash ads by default to improve performance for users. This change is scheduled to start rolling out on September 1, 2015.

Most Flash ads uploaded to AdWords are automatically converted to HTML5.

They also offer a converter for those ads that can’t be automatically rendered in HTML5. This should nicely improve loading performance for many big sites.

Via TechCrunch.

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Android Wear now works on iOS →

August 31, 2015 |

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

That’s right: beginning today, a select set of Android Wear smartwatches (and all future watches) will work with the iPhone. The app should be rolling out worldwide soon. It’s been a long time coming — and it means that Google will be challenging the Apple Watch on its home turf. Those Android Wear watches will be both cheaper and more varied than the Apple Watch — just like Android itself.

Sounds like huge news. Maybe even doom-bringing news for the Apple Watch.

But wait, here’s the “but” you were waiting for:

There’s an important caveat, though: when paired to an iPhone, Android Wear watches can’t do as much as the Apple Watch. Nor can they do as much as they can when paired to an Android phone.

So, by and large, the case remains: if you own an Android phone, go with an Android Wear smartwatch; if you own an iPhone, the Apple Watch remains the natural choice. At the end of the day, all this seems to be much ado about nothing.

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A time traveler’s guide to Amsterdam →

August 31, 2015 |

Wonderfully interesting article by Inge Oosterhoff for Messy Nessy Chic:

Amsterdam’s historic city center houses many old buildings – most of which have been around for many centuries – rebuilt and repurposed to fit the needs and preferences of each new generation. And as the epicenter of everything cool and new in the Netherlands, Amsterdam is constantly evolving.

This little Time Traveler’s Guide to Amsterdam lists some of the best places where history meets hip, so you can enjoy both simultaneously on your next trip to the Dutch canal town…

I love seeing old pictures of places that remain in use. The Time Travel moniker seems absolutely spot-on for the type of emotions they evoke.

Note: I originally meant to include this piece on last Saturday’s issue of Morning Coffee, but the Messy Nessy Chic site was going through some domain name issues at the time and I decided not to risk it. Those issues seem to have been resolved since then, so here it goes.

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