News: Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 APO-Distagon, 2.8/21 Loxia, RX1RII, 19 October

Image courtesy Zeiss

The cover was lifted on the new Otus yesterday – a 28mm f1.4, as expected, and a 21mm f2.8 Loxia a couple of days earlier. The Otus is a 16/13 Distagon design and uses quite a large array of exotic glass and aspherical elements; it’s also quite large (95mm front thread) and has significant weight – but then again, what do you expect from an APO-designated f1.4 wide? From my experience with it so far, it is once again proving to be the reference lens in this focal length. Delivery is expected to be in 2Q 2016.

Image courtesy Zeiss

The second lens is quite an interesting twist: in a body not much larger than the other two Loxias, Zeiss have squeezed a new 11/9 optical formula. Like the other Loxias, it is native Sony E mount with manual focus and hard infinity stop, but chipped to trigger auto magnification in the EVF. Auto-stop down is still missing however; the lens will show the shooting aperture (100% mechanical diaphragm only). It also has weather sealing and selectable detented/smooth aperture. I’ve been testing one of these too, and come away very impressed with optical performance. Zeiss are promising December delivery at a retail price of $1,499. Given this is quite possibly the highest performing ~21mm lens I’ve tested to date for any system – that includes the Nikon 20/1.8G, Zeiss’ own 2.8/21 Distagon ZE/ZF.2, 2.8/21 Biogon ZM and Leica’s 21/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, the price is actually quite reasonable. It’s a shame it cannot be ported to any other mounts because of the very short rear flange distance though.

I’ve been testing prototypes of both of these lenses for several months now and will have reviews up soon – starting tomorrow with the 28 Otus. MT

In other news, Sony has announced the RX1RII, and a date for the uncompressed firmware update to the A7RII – 19 October. The RX1RII uses the 42MP sensor from the A7RII and adds the RX100III/IV’s pop-up EVF; this is a very welcome change because the camera is now much more pocketable in a practical shooting configuration and more stable since you can brace it against your face. However, the lack of any sort of stabilisation may prove challenging to extract maximum performance from the sensor. Interestingly, the camera also boasts a switchable OLPF – though I’m not sure how useful this will be in practice since the target use seems to be run-and-gun which typically does not afford time for a second attempt to remove moire (nor are you likely to frequently see moire since any sort of motion blur will negate it in practice). The price is stiff but sticks one to Leica – I suppose there is no red dot tax. Whether it is as fluid to shoot in practice as the Q remains to be seen, of course – though they are claiming faster AF using the same system as the A7RII. Owning an A7RII and a Q, I can say that ‘responsive’ is not the first word I would use for the former…

On to the firmware update date: at least we now have a firm commitment from Sony, which is to be applauded if we really see the improvements expected. DPR’s preliminary analysis suggests that a lot of the ‘gritty’ artefacts around sharp edges are gone with the higher data firmware, which is good; what I have not conclusively seen is whether there are any improvements to tonality or posterisation at the extreme highlight/shadow ends. I sincerely hope there are, as it turns out the A7RII is a much better tripod camera than the D810 – since it’s 100% live view all the time, setting changes and checking focus are just a lot more fluid. I have no doubt that truly uncompressed 14-bit RAW (not just compressed in a larger file format) will visibly boost image quality under those circumstances. Look out for an update from me once I’ve had a chance to shoot with it under a representative range of conditions. MT

Pre order links from B&H hare here for the Loxia 2.8/21 Distagon and the Otus 1.4/28 APO-Distagon respectively.


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  1. Michael Bearman says:

    Bung shoulders in my dotage – I can no longer tote kilos. This has made my photographic life go full circle. I started with a Ricoh 500 in 1977. I now use a RX1 – with a trio of Sigma Merrills for special occasions. I happily shoot the RX1 with an OVF. My miss rate with autofocus – even with an estimated autofocus point – is a lot lower than with rangefinder focussed film cameras. I rarely print bigger than about A2 so 24 mp is fine without much upressing, and I have got so used to Sony foibles that changes would now bother me even if they were for the better. I didn’t bother upgrading to RX1R – incremental improvements only, however desireable. But I might try the Mk II. It seems to me that the only question is whether 42 mp can be readily hand-held to per pixel sharpness without some sort of stabilisation . I suppose with a 500 odd gram camera and lens, it might be possible. Or maybe the high ISO performance is good enough to allow multiples of a 1/2 x focal length shutter speeds. (How spoiled we all are not to be maxed out with 400 ISO (or ASA as it was) tri-x.) All those mp would be nice if they prove usable. For A2 prints, I could print and native resolution, or crop, a lot – almost a zoom lens. Although it has been amazingly liberating to be mostly limited to 35 mm. I miss some pics I would have had with more lenses, sure. But I’ve become a whole lot more creative with what I have.

    Thanks Ming, as always for your blog. I’ll get around to one of your classes eventually. With a fixed lens camera, or two.

  2. A firmware update for the current RX1 would help me to consider the RX1 II. Pity a good camera is frozen tin time.

  3. Loxia 21/2.8 better then Super Elmar 21/3.4? Wow!

    • Having shot both, I’d say yes with caveats. It’s directly compare the Super Elmar because there is no easy way to focus it into the corners on a native mount body (and we know Leica uses the M’s microlenses as part of the optical formula). You could mount it on a Sony body but then it’s already at an unfair disadvantage. From what I can see, the Loxia is a little sharper wide open and 3/4 stop faster. It is of course larger, but it’s also about half the price 🙂

  4. Dirk De Paepe says:

    Well Ming, having been a believer of the first hour in the Sony FE mount (even though there was a lot to wish for at the start, but I was sure of the potential and the evolution to come), when I see how hard Sony is working on continuously improving this system, I ‘m more sure than ever that I made the right choise – for me, that is, wanting a pretty compact high quality system.
    You, writing that it’s pretty much impossible to carry all the Oti lenses, are as a matter of fact underlining the need for a more compact system (like FR-mount) for “on the road”. Also from the start, I was sure that Loxia was going to be very important. And with this 21mm, it shows more than ever. Zeiss is almost doing miracles here: putting what you call the best 21mm available in this compact package. It proved that Zeiss is a 200% believer in FE-mount. And I believe that the A7(RII) body with Loxia is a perfect marriage. To me this feels right in any way. I’m really thrilled and of course ordered the 21 Distagon the first minute it was announced. At this moment, I wonder what the next Loxia will be. Most likely a tele. But since so far Zeiss has come up with complementary focus lenghts in Loxia and Batis combined, it might be something else than an 85. Maybe a 100 Makro Planar… Just dreaming. 🙂

    • Zeiss is missing a short tele in every mount right now – and they are aware of this. The one downside of the Loxias is they lack auto-aperture, and are still manual stop down – that’s a bit of a pain if working quickly.

      I don’t think Zeiss put the best 21mm in FE mount because it was FE mount; it’s because they don’t really know how to do compromise 🙂

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        I really don’t mind those downsides. But that’s personal. I’ve always worked like that and I don’t have your job. 🙂

        IMO, Zeiss’s decision to go for a totally new Distagon design instead of a reworked and improved ZM Biogon (which we all expected and would be happy with) is because FE-mount proves to be so successful that it has become very important for them. The choice for Distagon lifts the lens to the next level, so IMO the importance of FE-mount has absolutely to do with it, next to that unique Zeiss philosophy, of course, that you are refererring to.

  5. The Zeiss glass looks to be able to produce amazing shots (which I’ll freely admit isn’t a surprise)

    The Zeiss/Sony FE mechanical lens partnership is interesting..

    With the most recent Leica (and allegedly the next release, the SL) being EVF only cameras, I wonder how long before Sony go with something that’s FF / FE and more the form factor (but not the size obv) of the A6000

    If they did…. Well to quote you from the above article Ming, “the price will be steep, but it will really stick one to Leica” (and Fuji for that matter)

    Anyway… I’m way off topic here, and clogging up the comments!

    I’ll pop back tomorrow for the lens review!

    • Until Sony get the user experience right, there will still be a place for Leica. I don’t see that changing anytime soon – they’ve had many generations to refine it now, and it changes but does not improve. If anything, worsens because there are more (not always necessary) features competing for less button real estate.

      • Yes of course. Sony could never replace the big, bad L… Not while their menu is so dire and the cachet of the Messaucher lives and breathes. But the more high tech, nee modern tech, EVF only products Leica releases (eg Q, SL) the more the gap between their cameras and the Japanese products diminishes. I think that Sony is only a small form factor, FF, top left hand corner mounted EVF away from really reducing this gap. Of course there’s no shortage of this form factor in the market, it’s been around for ages, but Sony are well placed with the Zeiss glass (+ their own glass) and their FF sensor to make such a product.

        • They’re not even that far away: just listen to some photographer input on the firmware, make the thing a bit more responsive, and we’re there.

  6. I know you have commented on this before, but is there any advantage to 42mp if you aren’t able to get pixel level sharpness as you say handheld? I find the I can kind of use the Nikon A handheld and am able to get pixel level sharpness if I pay attention to shutter speed, I had similar results from the GR. I feel that 42 with no IS is just to much.

    • There isn’t any – I agree with you. You’ll get the full 42 if you have enough light, but otherwise just frustration.

      • Can you explain what you mean by pixel level sharpness (pls). What are people looking at when they say I have or do not have pls? I can’t imagine it’s IMA test results. Is it used colloquial? Thank you.

      • I can see that would be the case. Perhaps I meant to say is there a disadvantage. If all things being equal, If I am able to handhold a 16mp for a pixel sharp image with a 16mp senso, at a given shutter speed, but get a slight pixel shift with a 42mp sensor, can I just down res to 16mp and get the same sharpness?

        • Tough question to answer, and depends on both the subject matter and downsizing method. I’ve found that sometimes you can, and sometimes you can’t; I have no explanation for this other than perhaps 42 doesn’t divide into 16 cleanly, and sometimes that fractional pixel shift is enough to kill perceptual sharpness.

  7. Ming, I’d always wanted a Zeiss lens, and recently I got one. They say the best camera is the one you always have with you, and for this lens it’s really true, as it’s a Zeiss intra-occular implant (IOL) – what you get following cataract surgery. And wow, it’s like having HD vision in one eye. And gosh, I can see blues and violets again.. Astonishing that it’s sharp from infinity down to about 4-5ft. Looking forward to getting my second Zeiss lens in a couple of weeks time 😉

    • Hope the surgery goes well. I’ve got two that are always with me, but they’re suspended in an ear-and-nose mount 🙂

      • Lol! Mine are Nikon lenses…with extremely good coatings, better than my photo lenses 😉
        Still waiting for middle age presbyopia to settle before LASIK. 🙂

  8. Look forward to seeing your Otus 28 images tomorrow!
    Doesn’t look like you can preorder it yet on B&H website?
    I guess since it does not have a price yet?

    • Nope, no price yet. I do have some images on Flickr already 😉

      • Wowwwww! Killed it!! Lots of incredible images with the new Otus in Chicago and KL! Thanks for the fix!
        Several new favorites in that set!
        I really now want to preorder it! 🙂
        Interesting in “cinematic mode” too.
        Ah, now comes the hard part of waiting till mid next yr for availability. 😦
        Thanks again for the flickr lens review preview!

  9. Yesterday I dared to write (on SonyAlphaRumors) that I’m more than happy with my Q. 🙂 I’ve been called troll and so on. Honestly I’m not so interested in this new RX1, at least after having read its specs.
    It would be interesting to read a comparision and review t.

    • I think you may be guilty of bear baiting there!

      Honestly: 35mm is not my thing, nor is a camera that is again going to depreciate like a falling brick. I already have one of those, and it has so far been a disappointment in every way. Given Sony completely ignoring me – meaning I have to buy one to review it – I’m not going to bother. It’s a waste of time and money and will only make more trolls migrate here.

      • Agreed. Typical Sony move to almost get it right. I would take IBIS over variable OLPF any day, especially with the macro mode. I mean who the heck is gonna stop on the street and say; “oh wait there’s some tightly woven fabric on that umbrella, better stop and switch on the low pass filter” -how asinine is that? And silent shooting with EFCS at 8000 needs to be incorporated into a $3,300 camera always. I’m going to also speculate that as good as that Sonnar 2/35 is -it may be outpaced by the 42MP sensor and lose some or a good bit of the IQ magic the original possessed. The sample photos on Sony’s site are awful.

        • Well, at least we can’t blame raw compression this time 🙂

          In practice, no EFCS is actually not a big deal if you have a leaf shutter. Better, actually, since you have full speed flash sync all the way to the limit of the shutter. But better yet if they followed the Q and offered an automatic transition: leaf shutter to 2k, then electronic to 16k.

        • One more thing; slap a 20mm pany on the EM5II and you’ve pocket-able streets all day with IBIS for 1200US.

      • Let’s say that I hoped to find a fair discussion, but all I had was : “if you eat a sandwich then you won’t eat any other sandwich?” I replied that after a sandwich I’m usually done, until I’m hungry again. I don’t need to eat hundreds of sandwiches. Then I was told that I can’t say that I am more than happy with a Q if I haven’t tried the RX1m2 🙂 As if I need to meet all women in the world before saying that I’m more than happy to live with my beloved wife 🙂 You’re right, I dared to touch a wasp nest.. 😁

        • A good analogy – and perhaps one of the reasons why it does not pay to be a malcontent!

        • Well… SAR is filled with trolls so commenting there isn’t exactly a wise thing to do. That being said, I did cancel my Leica Q order to wait for this one because it’s more pocketable and the specs just clicks with me. I guess I’m just accustomed to the slow Sony speed since I started with a NEX-7(which has a far inferior system)

          That being said, I think RX1R II is a great camera and it’s sad that Ming is not likely to review it. This site is of the rare breed of photography blogs that actually cares about photography and not biased…

          • It’s a double edged sword: not being biased means I have to buy my own gear, which means only review stuff that actually fits my needs. I don’t have the funds or time to do otherwise, unfortunately.

            • Quick question: Would you buy the RX1R II if there was no Leica Q?

              Well… I guess the 35mm is a major turn-off for those who don’t like the FOV. But still, for the compactness?

              • No, because I didn’t buy the original one, either. 35mm doesn’t work for me. There’s no point buying something just because it is small or cheap or some other property that isn’t that important.

  10. Looking forward to the magic you will be making with the 28mm Otus 🙂

    Unfortunate that it had to come with that size and weight. I can imagine the nightmares you must have travelling with it :/ Especially if you are packing the other Otus(es) (Otii?)

  11. By tomorrow you will have a lot of comments to reply to! 😉

    Well done Zeiss getting a 1.4/28 into the Otus family.

    Curious that the RX1 update doesn’t have stabilisation, but the EVF update seems very practical.

    Interesting about the Loxia exceeding the performance of all other 21s. I had thought this line was really just borrowed formulae from the old ZM range of lenses, updated for E-mount. But I guess not, at least in this case. A really high performing 21 for E-mount is a significant addition.

    But of all the reviews from this news, the opinion I most highly anticipate is your view on the result from the firmware update allowed 14-bit uncompressed files.

    Meanwhile, in 5 days’ time Leica make some announcements….

    Not a bad tail end to 2015. I think though what those Otus lenses need is a body to match – native-mount matched bodies (therefore Canon or Nikon), mirrorless, very hi res EVF, IBIS, and Sony’s 42MP sensor, 14-bit uncompressed raw.

    • I’m not sure about that – judging by the internet crowd, DPR managed about 35 comments on the Otus announcement, and a whopping 500+ on the RX1RII…but I’m not complaining.

      I suspect they couldn’t fit stabilisation into the RX1RII – either the lens would have to be larger, or the body significantly larger. The moving platter the A7RII’s sensor fits on could not be shoehorned into a smaller body – I’ve seen it, the longest dimension almost needs the entire width minus the battery.

      It’s a very good tail end to 2015; we’ll have to wait and see whether the Leica news is true or not. I haven’t even shot the 21 Loxia properly yet, and preliminary tests indicate that one is also something special.

  12. Once upon a time with a Sony nex-c3 I felt that the camera was really just a sensor in a small plastic box attached to the end of a big lens (I was coming from the compact world). With the new Otus and A7R2 the proportions should be about the same. The lens should come with a built-in tripod mount, handles and a shutter button.

  13. The Loxia sounds very nice. Looking forward to tomorrow’s post.

    • Tomorrow’s post is the Otus – Loxia will be in the future, just haven’t had time to shoot with it comprehensively enough to write a defensible opinion yet…

  14. A super fast 28/1.4 Otus and a high end 21/2.8? Prestige glass!

    • Indeed – though the 2.8/21 is very, very reasonably priced considering the level of performance it reaches.

      • For those who’s got the 2.8/21 ZF.2, is it worth flipping? Migrating to A7R2 so even if I keep the ZF.2, I’ll be using adapters anyway.
        Or, the Sigma 20/1.4 sounds intriguing too… As for that Otus, we peons can’t afford it.

        • Short answer: yes.

          Like the other Otii, I don’t think this one is a lens for everybody – they have a massively wide performance envelope but require a lot of care to fully extract it.

  15. ” RX1RII”

    Sony: good with technology, bad with naming things!

    It might be a Japanese thing: in America and some other areas they actually give names to their typhoons and hurricanes, but over here it’s just “Typhoon number 16”.

    I guess all the creativity went into designing and making the camera, and the name was an afterthought 🙂

    • It’s a bit of a mouthful (and not so easy to Google). Personality vs technology, I guess…

      • Peter Boender says:

        We can just call it the R2…

        • And the A7R2? R2D2? You see the problem, right.

          • Peter Boender says:

            Ha! Of course! It’s one giant mess the various brands have gotten themselves into. I wonder if these people even understand marketing. NIkon’s camera numbering scheme only makes sense for the single digit unibodies, and I’ve stopped long ago to try to understand Canon’s practice of different labeling per market. Why name the same camera either EOS 760D, EOS Rebel T6s or EOS 8000D? Stuff for dissertations…

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