Learning to love the Venerable 55mm F1.8 Zeiss - 4/5 Stars

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BrentSchumer Senior Member • Posts: 3,885
Learning to love the Venerable 55mm F1.8 Zeiss - 4/5 Stars

Note: This is posted as a discussion instead of a thread, as reviews of the 55mm Zeiss are automatically posted to the APSC/NEX forum with no recourse.

The Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Lens was always an option that photographers would write highly of online, with sentences like "the lens the lives on my camera" or "if I could only choose one lens, I would pick this one." So when I picked up my a FE body, I jumped on the chance to buy a mint used copy from a DPReview seller.

My initial impressions were unfavorable. I originally planned to start off with the 28-200mm lens on my A7RIII and previously gravitated towards a few APSC zooms; focal length flexibility is really important to me. I found myself kicking myself for not grabbing that Tamron 28-200mm. The Zony crops in fantastically well with 42MP, but that doesn't replace 4x more reach. This was exacerbated by a pandemic style of photography that involved shooting subjects from afar and not always being able to separate them properly.

I made plans to sell my 55mm and pick up the 28-200mm. Spying a deal on the 28-200mm, I decided to grab that first and sell the Zony afterwards.

But then something strange happened.

Now that I didn't need the 55mm to be my "do it all" lens - the 28-200mm is insanely versatile - I could choose to employ the Zeiss-badged option when I wanted it's look and wide aperture. I started taking pictures of people more. And this lens started to click.

When I'm using the Zony as a 55mm lens and not a 55mm-lens-in-the-place-of-a-200mm-lens, it's rather charming. Small, light, and sharp, it's capable of producing images that pop without overstaying its welcome on a long day. Autofocus is snappy. Oh, and it's SHARP. And 55mm - while awkward for distant or huge subjects - is great for showing people in an environment.

Some photos:

Now there are some trade-offs for having such a sharp lens in a diminutive footprint. LoCA is unavoidable (see the statue and building in the last image above), and the minimum focus distance is rather disappointing.

IQ aside, the lens does suffer a bit from being an early Zeiss-badged design. Sony inexplicably left off a weather-sealing gasket on the mount, and this lens is priced head-and-shoulders above its more recent competitors from Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic. The Nikon Z 50mm F1.8 S is a particularly difficult comparison, being almost half the price, at least as sharp, and better corrected for LoCA. And third-party lenses on E Mount have caught up on sharpness at a cheaper price point. The Zony at $900 commands a hefty premium when pitted against lenses released 5+ years later. I'm glad that I purchased a used copy and would never pay the full $900.

Overall, I'm finding myself enjoying this lens more now that I'm using it for a purpose instead of fitting a round peg into a square hole. That said, the large price premium, lack of complete weather sealing, and LoCA caps my rating at 4 stars. If Sony dropped the price to say $750 or even $650, then I would rated this lens higher.

 BrentSchumer's gear list:BrentSchumer's gear list
Sony RX100 VI Sony a7R III Sony FE 55mm F1.8 Venus Laowa 100mm F2.8 Macro Tamron 20mm F2.8 Di III OSD +1 more
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