Sony Zeiss Alpha E-Mount 35mm (Equivalent) Shootout - Distagon, Biogon, and Two Sonnars Compared

Discussion in 'Sony Alpha E-Mount Lenses' started by Amin Sabet, Aug 6, 2015.

  1. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    The Sony E-mount system now offers quite a few native lenses at the 35mm focal length. In this "shootout", I'll present full-resolution images from the following four Zeiss-branded E-mount lenses at the 35mm equivalent focal length:


    Technical details:

    • I haven't yet received my A7RII, so for the sake of this comparison, I used the A7II and A6000.
    • All images were taken using a sturdy tripod and self-timer.
    • Weather was slightly breezy and partly cloudy, so I can't rule out some minor blurred foliage due to wind, nor could I keep exposure and white balance entirely fixed.
    • All images processed using Capture One v8.3 with auto adjust and otherwise default settings. I attempted to match depth of field

    Suggested method for viewing comparison photos: Click the photo of interest to open the full-resolution version on a new browser tab. Then toggle between tabs to compare full-resolution shots.

    Scene 1: Warren Building at f/8 (A7II), f/5 (A6000)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2.8 Sonnar:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    24/1.8 Sonnar:

    Scene 1 discussion:
    • While all four lenses show a strong performance, none put together a perfectly sharp entire frame.
    • To my eye, the 35/2 Biogon comes closest, putting in a very strong performance in all but the extreme corners of the foreground.
    • The Biogon also shows the least distortion of the four lenses. Essentially zero. Very impressive performance in this regard.
    • The 35/1.4 Distagon has a relatively weak central foreground, while the 24/1.8 Sonnar is slightly weaker at the edges.
    • The two Sonnars have a slightly less wide angle of view at this subject distance.

    Scene 2: Monkey bars at f/2

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    Scene 2 discussion:
    • The 35/1.4 Distagon has smoother bokeh at f/2.
    • The Distagon is also sharper at the point of focus, though I can't rule out minor misfocus for the 35/2 Biogon in this case.

    Scene 3: Tire swing at f/2.8 (A7II), f/1.8 (A6000)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2.8 Sonnar:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    24/1.8 Sonnar:

    Scene 3 discussion:
    • The 35/1.4 Distagon leads the pack in subject sharpness and also offers the smoothest bokeh when the image is viewed large.
    • The Distagon is also noticeably wider than the others here.
    • Somehow the 35/2 Biogon has the most 3D effect.
    • Once again, very strong performance from all four lenses.

    Scene 4: Tree bark at f/2.8 (A7II), f/1.8 (A6000)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2.8 Sonnar:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    24/1.8 Sonnar:

    Scene 4 discussion:
    • All lenses show very sharp detail at the point of focus.
    • Differences in bokeh character are apparent.

    Scene 5: Warren Building detail at f/5.6 (A7II), f/3.5 (A6000)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2.8 Sonnar:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    Scene 5 discussion:
    • The 35/2.8 Sonnar shines here, putting in the strongest overall performance.
    • The 35/1.4 Distagon again lacks in the central foreground, while the 35/2 Biogon has some weakness in the foreground corners.

    Scene 6: Playground at f/11 (A7II), f/7.1 (A6000)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2.8 Sonnar:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    24/1.8 Sonnar:

    Scene 6 discussion:
    • To my eye, the 35/2 Biogon puts in the strongest overall performance, followed by the 35/2.8 Sonnar.
    • The 35/1.4 again shows some foreground weakness.
    • All lenses show some longitudinal CA (purple fringing), the two Sonnars (35/2.8 and 24/1.8) seemingly more so than the 35/1.4 Distagon and 35/2 Biogon.

    Scene 7A: Swing chain with bokeh at f/2.8 (A7II), f/1.8 (A6000)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2.8 Sonnar:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    24/1.8 Sonnar:

    Scene 7A discussion:
    • Prominent "onion skin" bokeh noted with the 35/1.4 Distagon and 35/2.8 Sonnar.
    • The two Sonnars (35/2.8 and 24/1.8) show a bit more longitudinal CA (green bokeh color finging) than the others.
    • Purely subjective here, my preference is for the 24/1.8 Sonnar rendering.

    Scene 7B: Swing chain with bokeh at f/2 (A7II)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    35/2 Biogon (Loxia):

    Scene 7B discussion:
    • Here the Biogon shows harsh bokeh. I kinda like it.

    Scene 7C: Swing chain with bokeh at f/1.4 (A7II)

    35/1.4 Distagon:

    Scene 7C discussion:
    • The Distagon stands alone at this depth of field.

    • The 35/2 Biogon (Loxia) is to me the strongest performer for landscape/architecture, showing great sharpness across the frame and 3D effect in a virtually distortion-free image. This surprised me given some recent reports by other reviewers. Color fringing was also minimal with this lens.
    • The 35/1.4 Distagon is obviously the fastest of these lenses, and by a slight amount, it is also the widest. It offers the greatest sharpness at wide apertures (f/2.8 and larger) and the smoothest bokeh but has some weaknesses as a landscape lens.
    • The 35/2.8 Sonnar is the most light and compact of the four lenses and offers excellent performance in all categories if f/2 speed is not required.
    • The 24/1.8 Sonnar is another excellent performer and renders with a character that I find very appealing.
    All four lenses are top notch 35mm-equivalent optics. I went into this shootout thinking that I might like to buy one of the two Sonnars, but it was the Loxia that won me over. It's not the sharpest wide open, and the bokeh certainly isn't the smoothest, but stopped down I feel it has more of the Zeiss magic than any of the rest. It's the perfect complement to my 35/1.4 Distagon for the days when I want to travel small, slow down, and really enjoy the process.

    Link to download all the RAW files:
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2016
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  2. dornblaser

    dornblaser New to TalkEmount

    Jan 29, 2015
    Thanks. I have been thinking about which 35mm lens to order. Now to pick a 24 or 28 and 50mm.
  3. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    Hmm... I was expecting you to have come to a similar conclusion on this lens other reviewers. We appear to share an addiction for beautiful 35mm lenses! Your findings with the 35 Loxia are quite a bit different to mine... I still think the 35 2.8 is the better walk about lens for street, travel, wide angle portrait for it's size, AF, weight and punchy colour output. Certainly as a compliment to the Distagon I feel it works better. That being said my favourite thing about the loxia other than handling was that it does render particularly nice skin tones.

    I definitely don't dispute your findings on central sharpness in the first image. Off-center the bricks near the first window on the right look to have a lot more bite to them on the loxia. I shot a similar scene with my 35mm Loxia and came to a different opinion however. Uniformity across the frame is great no doubt, but at no particular place did it ever look sharper than the Distagon or Sonnar. For that matter, I'm not really noticing or seeing any foreground sharpness on the Distagon when stopped down - if anything it's quite a bit sharper than the 35 2.8 when shot stopped down past 2.8 and definitely sharper across the frame than the Loxia.

    In the remainder of your shots the Distagon looks to have put out the nicer image to my eyes, in terms of colour and pop. Comparing the 35 2.8 and 35/2 there is indeed noticeably less field of curvature when opened up that makes portrait subjects pop a little more with the Loxia than the one stop difference would imply vis a vis the 35 2.8. Ilovehatephoto did a similar comparison and reached a similar conclusion. Maybe for the focus distances that you were using on the architecture shots the Loxia just performs better?

    It's interesting to note the colour difference too... the 'green's in the park scene look more natural to me on the two Sonnars and Distagon. The Distagon looks to have the smoothest and quickest fall off to out of focus on the bark shot and again the colours. Gorgeous!
    I've also mounted the ZM Distagon and found the color rendering of that 35/1.4 variant to be very similar to the FE in terms of rendering characteristics, perhaps a little less sharp.

    Out of interest, did you enable/leave enabled the software lens distortion correction on all lenses?

    This review has me stumped... possibly there is sample variance with the loxia line and you have gotten a really nice copy and the initial batch were not as hot?! You have me thinking about renting/trying another copy....

    Nice review and thanks for all the hard work by the way.
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  4. NickCyprus

    NickCyprus Super Moderator

    Oct 11, 2012
    Great comparison/review!!! Thanks for taking the time to do this :thumbsup:
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  5. MrT-Man

    MrT-Man New to TalkEmount

    Oct 16, 2013
    Thanks so much for posting these! I'm a little surprised that the foreground weakness of the 35/1.4 is apparent at even f/8 and f/11. I wonder if it's possible that this has something to do with your specific copy. But then again it's clear that a lens like this would be optimized for environmental portraits rather than for landscapes. It's a little disappointing to see. Aside for the foreground weakness, the 35/1.4 certainly seems to have great sharpness and pop otherwise.
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  6. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    I left the C1 Pro 8.3 distortion settings at their default, so any automatic corrections should be applied here.

    Could be. Copy variance is always an issue. That said, I've noticed in other people's photos with this lens that the proximal center of images has some softness. For example, these ones I found on Flickr:

    Also, one can mitigate this issue by focusing on a nearer target within the landscape, finding the best compromise for a given image.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2015
  7. jai

    jai TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 4, 2013
    First of all, this post is super awesome. More like this please! Thanks.

    For me the Distagon walks away with the prize just for that Bokeh and rendering.

    I really like manual lenses, and one with modern coatings and native mount seems great. But the Loxia Bokeh really bugs me, it is super distracting and gross. Am I the only one? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

    But I think the conclusion is, all these pictures came out great. Which means the A6000 wins.
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  8. LoFi

    LoFi TalkEmount Regular

    Nov 16, 2013
    this is so weird
    i remember when i was using my rx1, and the a7 came out with the 2.8, thinking "ugh.. that 2.8 is terrible compared to my precious! isn't that right, precious?? who's daddy's little angel? yes, YOU are!" and nuzzling my nose into its cold heavy metal lens cap... but now i think its my favorite look out of all of these lenses! I'm mailing you my rx1 so you can redo this test. ;D hehehehehehe
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  9. christilou

    christilou TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Nov 26, 2012
    Surrey, UK
    Eliot, I have that same feeling but I've had to p/ex my RX1 & A7R for the A7RII so now I am bereft without that lens...... which one do you think comes closest to the 35 2 Sonnar on the rX1?
  10. ggibson

    ggibson TalkEmount Regular

    Sep 1, 2011
    Very interesting comparison! Thanks!

    I think Tom nailed it with why the Loxia looks so good at f2--there is very little field curvature wide open compared to the other lenses. The field curvature of the other lenses sort of brings the background closer to the subject on the edges, whereas the Loxia's bokeh appears to stretch outwards and away. Creates a strong look of subject isolation. That said, the Distagon at f2 has a similar look with cleaner bokeh, so I'd prefer it over the Loxia all things equal.

    The 35/2.8 and the 24/1.8 look like twins separated at birth here, haha. Very similar look to the bokeh. I'd say the FE lens barely edges out the win in resolution terms, but it's a tight race for sure. Seems like the A6000 would be the budget winner here, but these days the street prices on an A7+35/2.8 are pretty reasonable, maybe only $200-300 more than an A6000+24/1.8.

    Personally, the 35/2.8 would be my pick since I'm on an A7 already. The 35/1.4 is just too big and expensive for me, and the Loxia 35 is MF-only. I haven't picked one up yet though, since my 16-35/4 already covers 35 and my 55/1.8 currently covers my casual shooting needs.
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  11. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    In terms of performance and rendering, I think the 35/1.4 Distagon comes closest. Too bad they can't give us a 35/2 just like that RX1 lens!
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  12. MrT-Man

    MrT-Man New to TalkEmount

    Oct 16, 2013
    Thanks again for your help Amin, I bit the bullet and picked up a 35/1.4 today. I haven't had a chance to use it much but it's already clear, from the small number of shots that I've taken, that this is a special lens.
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  13. christilou

    christilou TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Nov 26, 2012
    Surrey, UK
    Thank you Amin. I'm selling the M240 as well before the prices well and truly drop like a stone. With a new Leica system rumoured and the advent of the Sony A7 series I can see that only die hard fans are going to be using the M's. I've only got the M240 at the moment at home and feel no compulsion to use it, hence my decision. I can still use the lenses and mf much more easily on the A7.
  14. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    @christilou@christilou - I'm thinking along the same lines - sell the M240, use that to pay for the A7RII, keep the Leica lenses. I also have a nice film MP for the days when I want that rangefinder experience :).
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  15. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
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  16. Jefenator

    Jefenator TalkEmount Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Nov 23, 2012
    Oregon, USA
    Thanks for sharing! I know these kinds of tests can be very tedious - to shoot and to analyze. (That's why I value one's overall impressions the most - any number of tiny technical mistakes can skew pixel peeping but after repeated usage, trends do emerge...)

    I agree the 24mm Sonnar has some great character, though A/Bing my copy against legacy 35mm on full-frame was not a close contest at least in terms of detail rendering (full frame won).

    I did miss that character a lot, though, and finally got most of it back with the 35/2.8 Sonnar on my A7. One thing about this lens that I appreciate a great deal is the flare resistance, contrast & sun-in-frame behavior. (HUGE improvement over my older Leica & Minolta primes in those departments...)


    I also love the size, weight and the uniquely unobtrusive hood. (The Loxia does continue to beckon to me, both for the manual focus feel and the speed. Though for most of my 35mm needs, the Sonnar which I got for $400 used should hold me over...)
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  17. darrellc

    darrellc TalkEmount Rookie

    Aug 15, 2015
    I have the FE 35/1.4, FE 35/2.8, Loxia 35/2 and RX1. Used to have 24/1.8 on Nex 5n/7.

    This was very useful (thanks for doing the test Amin) as I'm trying to pair down the number of 35's I have.

    Likewise, I've been surprised at the negative reviews for the Loxia. I've been very impressed by mine. I find the bokeh and other aspects of the lens a little unpleasant at f/2, but stopped down a bit it improves a lot by f/2.8. I've been surprised to find I really, really like the bokeh and more so the pronounced 3D rendering in the f/3.2-4 range. I also like the color rendition of the Loxia, really gorgeous sometimes.

    I really like the FE 35/1.4 stopped down to F/2.

    I think the RX1 is going - the body and user experience is getting a bit long in the tooth and with reading glasses in my near future, having the EVF on 100% of the time diminishes the advantage over the A7x/35 combos.

    So it comes down to two out of three of the 35/1.4, 35/2.8 and Loxia. I am leaning towards 35/1.4 and 35/2.8 and selling the Loxia, but am finding it hard to let go.
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  18. DDaugherty

    DDaugherty New to TalkEmount

    Sep 23, 2015
    Daniel C. Daugherty
    Thanks for all the hard work you put into this. It wasn't that long ago that FE mount users only had a single native 35mm choice...

    I like the Loxia 35mm a lot but it does seem to have real coma issues that really show themselves in light-points near the edge.

    It would be great if you had a couple of series of these images shot wide open in low light to see how each handle those conditions.

    Thanks again for the post and the work.
  19. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Aug 6, 2011
    Thanks for your comments! Unfortunately I don't have some of the lenses anymore - they were on loan for review. I do have the Sony FE 35/1.4 and will try to add some photos taken under the requested conditions to this thread soon.
  20. DDaugherty

    DDaugherty New to TalkEmount

    Sep 23, 2015
    Daniel C. Daugherty
    That would be great! When it comes down to it, it's basically the one I'm most interested in. I also have a Voigt 35mm f/1.2 in M along with the Loxia. I'm slightly tempted by the Sigma 35mm in Alpha as I already own the adapter but if I'm carrying that much weight, I would probably just go for the Sony f/1.4. On a side-note, I did speak to a Sigma rep who basically confirmed that FE mount versions will show up sooner or later. A native Sigma 35mm ART in FE at about 1/2 the price might change my mind...
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