Here it is! My first zeiss lens! ( and also autofocus lens )
I've had my little 35mm Sonnar for about 2 months now as I've been testing it on and off for this very unscientific review that you're all reading. First off I didn't think I would have strayed away from my adapted manual leica M lenses on my Sony A7 but I couldn't seem to ignore it's exceptional performance to cost factor ( I buy all my camera gear used so I factor that value in for my ratio comparison ). As many of you already know I'm coming from a Leica M rangefinder body so I really value compact size among all else second to of course the image quality. My theory behind bulky and heavy cameras is that the more expensive and heavy they seem the better they'll seem to look at home collecting dust. I firmly stand for that as I took the leap to treat my precious ( to me ) Leica M8.2 as my daily every day go to camera bearing all the potential scratches and blemishes one would expect for a camera seeing lots of daily action. I had realized that doing so forced me to take more risks in terms of shots and gave me more situations where I would be able to get a shot that I would have never gotten if my camera was at home safe in its carrying case. This little compact sonnar had fit the bill with its streamlined and integrated lens hood. When mounted to my A7 it was no bigger and even lighter than my Leica 35mm summicron. On a full frame camera many photographers seek to go to the 35mm focal length as their "general" lens; something that would be flexible for both wide angle and medium telephoto focal range. I wanted that same flexibility so I decided to pick one up. After browsing the fred miranda forums for a couple weeks I stumbled upon a clean and very market cheap example ( I mean like 40% off msrp cheap...yea doesn't say much for resale value but at least its a low price of entry to start shooting a sony a7) that I pulled the trigger on hours later after it had been posted. And there it was in my mailbox a couple days later!
At first glance the packaging is super compact and efficient as most japanese things are. Upon taking out the lens out of the box the lens felt light ( almost too light to the point where I thought the seller sent me an empty box ) but the construction is all metal with exception to the lens hood and its very well built; all the gap tolerances and manual focus ring were exceptionally smooth and solid. I really like the funky shaped lens hood it looks like a space helmet and its a simple twist / click / lock operation feels quite sturdy once mounted to the lens ( I know on forums there's been issues with the mounting of the lens hood as people have complained that it was known to fall off as its just be adhered with a super glue but I've yet to encounter any sort of wobble or play on my example ). Most importantly its a sealed lens so some minor moisture and most importantly dust can't get inside the lens elements ( that's pretty important to me since I'm extra OCD to dust and dust blobs randomly appearing in all my pictures ). The autofocus speed is almost unreal of how fast and accurate it is, oh and did I mention the operation is near close to silent! And again its super compact!....I can't say it enough, I can have this lens with the A7 around my neck all day and it didn't once feel heavy and not once did I smash the lens into anything or anyone. But what about image quality? All I can say is...DAMN its sharp! I mean really really tack sharp at any lighting condition any f stop any iso any focus mode! I'll let the pictures do it justice ( Sorry for the food porn from over the holidays ).
I'm not a pixel peeper nor am I technical in the way I review gear but if I would have to describe the color rendition and sharpness it would be on par with my Leica glass and that's saying a lot, well it is a Zeiss after all. Small things I have noticed is that the color would be on the slightly warmer side which I have heard from others that is the case with most Zeiss glass. With warmer color tone I've noticed comes deeper and darker contrast which is nice in my option it gives the images that distinct level of planar separation ( most efficient when shooting monochrome).
Most reviews I've read on this lens always comment on the fact that its only a F/2.8 and oh how if it only was F/2.0 it would be much more desirable and competitive with blah blah blah...the depth of field would have been so much nicer at F/2.0 blah blah blah etc....you get the point. From my experience F/2.8 on this lens produces just as good bokeh as a F/2.0 would on my Leica summicron which could be thanks to sony's 24.3MP FF sensor. Reports from Sony Zeiss engineers are that they optimized the aperture at F/2.8 for compactness of the lens elements to the lens housing and body meanwhile taking advantage on this aperture size for optimum image sharpness from center to edge. That being said I'm willing to sacrifice that 0.8mm of aperture for the compact form and the sharpness end of the performance aspect. I'm super impressed with the corner to corner sharpness as if I haven't expressed this enough.
Now that I've mentioned depth of field, lets talk about depth of field. It's no king of bokeh but you get most of the depth when you're doing close scale photography which for my application I use 35mm a lot for those purposes. I've seen a lot of Zeiss lenses which were described to be harsh and sharp especially when dealing with shallow depths of field but in my image samples its smooth and quite pleasant particularly in color separation.
Overall I'm very happy with my purchase and I'll continue to test it's capabilities. It's quite amazing that something as low budget ( relatively to all you GAS junkies out there ) as this lens has so many high performing qualities, that being said I wish Sony Zeiss would create an equally compact super wide angle. And yes I know the 25mm Zeiss Batis exists but at that massive form factor I might as well be shooting a DSLR and that's something I wouldn't prefer doing. I'm guilty in admitting this lens has been on my a7 longer than any adapted leica lens has been since I got the camera and wouldn't hate it if it stayed that way.