Heavy, expensive, and very very good – a classic Zeiss zoom, but missing greatness by a little

Started Dec 30, 2016 | User reviews thread
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Douglas F Watt Veteran Member • Posts: 3,784
Heavy, expensive, and very very good – a classic Zeiss zoom, but missing greatness by a little

This is a classic Zeiss lens – big, heavy, expensive, and with great build quality, and with a very smooth and substantial feeling zoom mechanism.  It’s been very recently updated, perhaps in anticipation of the release of the new Sony A99II, and its predecessor, version 1 was a classic with good reason.

So why only four stars? Well, if I could give 4.5/5 that would be the more accurate rating in my opinion, but it loses a half star only because of its cost and the fact that it is not the best 24-70 2.8 on the market – that honor belongs to the Canon 24-70 L2. It does have some minor issues, and there is actually some evidence on DxO that it may not be quite as sharp as the prior edition, from which it differs only in terms of an updated SSM motor that is a bit quicker and autofocus, and some revision in optical coatings. The difference between what DxO measured on V1 versus V2 of the Zeiss 24-70 2.8 probably isn’t worth worrying about (the lens optical formulas are identical, and the acutance maps almost identical so what DxO measured from V1 to V2 might even just be basic sample variation - or perhaps the impact of different coatings on resolution).

But the lens (just like its predecessor) has some modest issues keeping it from being consistently superb, where, for example, at 35 mm it never gets critically sharp in the corners, even stopped down, and wide-open at 50mm, it’s even worse in terms of corner sharpness, and with somewhat reduced central sharpness as well. At 50mm, by f4, things dramatically sharpen up, and at 70 mm (where a lot of 3x zooms are starting to fall apart) the lens is a bit soft wide open but sharpens up nicely by f4. At f4-5.6, the lens is pretty close to critically sharp corner to corner at all focal lengths, except at 35mm where the corners never quite get tack sharp.

Is this lens your best overall walk-around zoom option for full frame in Alpha Mount? Yes – and it’s hard to argue that there is a better lens for Alpha mount in this highly popular zoom range. Is it your best value option in that range? Probably not, as I believe the best value is probably the Tamron 24-70 2.8, unless you’re all bent out of shape about losing hybrid autofocus on the A99II (hybrid autofocus not supported outside of Sony lenses). As an even cheaper great value option, I might even suggest the Minolta legend – the Secret Handshake – 28-135 f4-4.5. It's got some funky features (like a crazy MFD of almost 5 feet), is not a sharp particularly at the wide end as either the Tamron or the Zeiss, doesn't go to the highly useful 24mm at the wide end, but . . it's got a lot more reach, and at middle and long focal lengths can be very sharp if stopped down to f5.6-8. It's also got a neat manual focus macro feature of the wide end and, you can get one of those for ~$200.

So that's the spectrum of walk around zoom options – at the top of the food chain and by far the priciest, there's the Zeiss, then the Tamron, then the Secret Handshake along with perhaps some other legacy zooms (but none with the range of the SH). In terms of colors, and more qualitative/subjective issues, the SH might be as good as anything.

If the Zeiss 24-70 V2 were slightly lighter, somewhat less expensive, or if it was fully the equal of the Canon L2 in terms of optical performance, then I think it would be a five star lens. It’s close to a home run, but just not quite. Very good, and still a classic with good reason.

Anything with that blue badge is likely to be – at worst – very good, but this lens doesn’t quite get to the “best in class” status of some other Zeiss Alpha lenses, such as their stellar primes, the ZA 85 1.4, and especially the ZA 135 1.8, which is simply and unquestionably the best lens of its type. In that sense this lens is a little bit like the ZA 16-35 2.8 – another expensive and heavy Zeiss zoom lens. Very, very good, but falling just shy of great. Perhaps version 3 will be the homerun.

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Sony A99ii-A77ii-RX10III-RX100III
Sigma: 8-16 f4.5-5.6, 500 F4.5 EX DG APO
Tamron: 70-200 f2.8 USD
Sony: 16-50 f2.8, CZ 24 f2 , CZ 24-70 2.8 II, 100 f2.8M, 70-400 f4-5.6 G2,
Minolta: 600 f4, 70-210 f4 ('Beercan'), 28-135 f4-4.5 ('SH')

 Douglas F Watt's gear list:Douglas F Watt's gear list
Sony RX100 III Sony RX10 III Sony RX100 V Sony a77 II Sony a99 II +16 more
Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM II
Telephoto zoom lens • Sony/Minolta Alpha • SAL2470Z2
Announced: Apr 23, 2015
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Sony 24-70mm F2.8 II
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