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Sony "Zeiss" 24-70mm f/4 OSS FE

I generally like to use a lens six months to a year to get a balanced opinion of it, but this lens is a hot item of curiosity for Sony A7 and A7R users. The Sony Japan store is selling the brand new lens with a free three year accidental water damage warranty. Is Sony that confident in the weather sealing or do they feel the need to give sales of this brand new lens a little goose?  Either way I was impatient and had a good friend in Japan pick it up for me.

Scroll down to the bottom to download a few raw images .

From the start my feelings are lukewarm. My first disappointment is that it's made in Thailand despite having a $1,200 price tag and the "Zeiss" label on it. Then again Sigma makes all their lenses in Japan and are notorious for poor quality control. The build is just ok, it feels a lot like a large version of the Sony 18-55mm NEX kit lens, except on top the focal length numbers are engraved. That seems to be as far as the money goes for build quality. Zooming on my copy is quite light with a slight catch (physical and audible) in the middle. Focusing, while fly by the wire, is better than the 18-55 kit lens, it seems like it has a longer "focus throw". I understand that light weight and built like a tank don't go hand in hand, but I expect smooth zooming in this price range. Outside the small catch in the zoom it feels very similar to the Panasonic's 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8.

The Sony Zeiss team have quite a sensor of humor. In the viewfinder during manual focusing is a distance estimation. Anywhere from 4-14 meters is actually focused on infinity while the "infinity" indicator puts focus clearly beyond. I thought it was Samyang's job to have incorrect focus markings.

Setting build quality aside, it's a nice clear day to look at what really counts; optics. I didn't bother getting the Sony 28-70 FE kit lens, so it's going up against the well regarded but much older Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-S, new Samyang 35mm f/1.4 and the far from perfect optically but with character Nikon 5.8cm f/1.4, which should do ok at f/4-f/8. Of course there are preconceived expectations. I'm expecting that famed Zeiss micro-contrast in the zoom. At 28mm I'm looking for things to be very similar but for the modern Sony zoom to pull ahead at 5.6 and 8. At 35mm the huge Samyang prime should smoke the Sony until f/8. The single coated 58mm should simply get beaten by the Zeiss until f/8. I was hoping to do crops from the center and each side today but work came up and I found my metabones adapter seems to be a far cry from parallel.

Most reading this will know that an f/stop is just theoretical and not a true transmission stop, and it's always interesting to see how close a lens comes to theoretics. Wide open the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 FE is half a stop darker than the three other lenses, and narrows to 1/3 stop behind at all apertures. 

These are all shot on a tripod with the same white balance and exposure, OSS off. In the crops I've adjusted the Sony images .30 or .50 brighter to help them match exposure. For sharpening I did the real world; ACR default sharpening. It's a nice cold day so no heat waves, all shots are manually focused at f/4 on the white buildings on the bottom left. I didn't refocus
at other apertures for focus shift. I'd hope it wouldn't show at f/4 infinity and smaller.

First up is the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 vs Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-S. In the center they are almost identical, but what happens at the corners is interesting, at f/4 the Sony has less CA and has a graceful decline into the corners, while the Nikon goes to literal mush in the extreme corners but kind of snaps out of the softness and sharpens up faster. At 5.6 I have to double check the EXIF, did I use the wrong Sony 24-70 image? Nothing changes while the thirty year old Nikon sharpens up more but retains CA. At f/8 I am really confused. Is the Sony somehow worse? I reshoot again at f/8, scroll down to form your own opinion.

Sony A7, Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 @ 1/1250 f/4 ISO 100

Is it me or did the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm FE not sharpen up at f/8? I assume a big gust of wind must have come through, but a few hours of work come up and I reshoot later.

Focused at f/8 to rule out extreme focus shift.

Well the $1,200 lens doesn't go to hell in the last 200 pixels of the extreme corner, but inside those far corners the Nikon 28mm is clearly sharper with a bit of easy to remove CA. On the positive side of things you don't need to worry about stopping down the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm at 28mm.

Now against the Samyang 35mm f/1.4, which is either decenterd or suffers from pronounced field curvature, or the metabones adapter is way off. The joy of third party adapted lenses.

bottom left corner

Now with the 50 plus year old Nikon 5.8cm f/1.4

It's apparent the Sony zoom has some field curvature going on too as the Nikon outperforms in the center at f/5.6 and f/8 while focused on the buildings in the corner, note how the foreground bush is sharper on the Sony.

More to come tomorrow, for now some raw files for download. Click on the image for the original.

Manually focused on the closed eyes at 1/40

AF with face detection on, slightly front focused.

MFD at 70mm f/4

Hand held above the head with AF-C

Nice clear day, AF on infinity at 24mm f/4

Same with the other corners

This is tough for any lens, 30" at 70mm f/5.6 ISO 800. I love how it already has stars at f/5.6 unlike most rounded aperture lenses.

Landscape at 24mm 1/125 f11

On to see the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 at 70mm against the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC and Nikon Series E 75-150mm f/3.5