Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E24mm f1.8 ZA

6/14/2012 11:37:24 AM

We look at this new Zeiis wide-angle prime as an ideal option for top-quality ILCs.

Carl Zeiss lenses are renowned for their outstanding optical and mechanical qualities and Sony has several AF versions in their range for the Alpha DSLRs, but this one is the first for their NEX interchangeable lens cameras. Not surprisingly, they’re more expensive than the regular Sony lenses, this one is a shade under $1,275 but there’s nothing really to compare it with in Sony’s current E-series line up. It’s the equivalent to a 35mm f1.8 on a full-frame camera, and closer to a moderately fast f2.0 than a fast f1.4 maximum aperture. Externally, the Carl Zeiss follows Sony’s minimalist cosmetic appearance with the aluminium alloy barrel lacking any focus distance or depth of field markings but standing out from the rest by its black anodised finish. It’s a big lens, absolutely dwarfing the tiny 24mm f2 equivalent Olympus (also reviewed), and around three times the length of Sony’s own 16mm f2.8 pancake lens. But a 225g it balances well, even on the tiny NEX-5N body.

Description: Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E24mm f1.8 ZA

The lack of distance scale and depth of field marking is a surprise at this level, especially on a lens that’s designed with both photojournalism and video capture in mind. However, the autofocus is smooth and practically silent, except for a slight low-volume rasp, while the electronically controlled manual focus has a satisfyingly long and precise travel. That, in combination with the outstanding colour peaking option of the current NEX models, allows pinpoint focus accuracy with relative ease. And that’s especially true for stills when used in conjunction with the magnified AF assist option and would be for video capture if that same option was available. But, that’s a shortcoming of the camera body not the lens, as manual adjustment during video capture is still possible with the colour peaking option. Autofocus using a linear motor is fast for a large lens and so can still be relied upon for spontaneous shots. There’s no faulting the optical quality either, well, not seriously at least.

Description:  Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA + NEX-5N

Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA + NEX-5N

It has the characteristic imaging aesthetic of Zeiss lenses imparted through the Zeiss T* coatings and attractive differential focus, or bokeh. Out-of-focus highlights are rendered as visually attractive circular blobs, these are often seen clipped on lesser lenses. But some fringing on high-contrast edges is visible when viewed at 100 percent actual pixels, and while low, this lens exhibits some slight lateral chromatic aberration as well. Current Sony NEX bodies can reduce the effects of chromatic aberration for in-camera JPEGs as they can for distortion and shading. Turn those options off in the menu and you can see the effects on-screen. From our tests, the Zeiss has heavy corner shading, or light fall-off. Wide open it’s a fraction over three stops to the extreme corners and, somewhat unusually, in a lens such as this one, there is some slight pincushion distortion.

Peak resolution occurs at f8, topping out at a shade over 1800 line widths per picture height, and somewhat lower than we might hope for considering the sensor. It’s sharp wide-open in the centre but, like just about every lens, softens out to the edges, though this improves considerably just one stop down from the maximum. Stopping down improves resolution across the field but the integrity of the image at the edges is outstanding, even at maximum aperture.

The 24mm f1.8 Zeiss is an exceptionally fine lens. The lack of distance scales and depth of field markings is a disappointment but, while certainly pricey, it’s still good to see Sony offering the Zeiss as an option with the NEX bodies.

Description: Test results - Tested on a Sony NEX-5N, mounted on a tripod, shooting max-quality JPEGs at ISO 100

Test results - Tested on a Sony NEX-5N, mounted on a tripod, shooting max-quality JPEGs at ISO 100


Score: 9/10


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This is the first Zeiss-designed lens for the Sony NEX bodies, and while costly, optical quality like this rarely comes cheap

Technical data

Model: Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm f1.8 ZA

Price: $1,275


Elements/construction: 8/7

Angel of view: 61 degrees (diagonal)

Max aperture: f1.8

Min aperture: f22

Min focus distance: 0.16m

Mount: E-mount (NEX)

Filter size: 49mm

Length: 66.5mm

Diameter: 63mm (max)

Weight: 225g

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