In the age where technology is becoming more and more apart of our lives, we sometimes forget about how things were before much of it existed. What do I mean? Take travel for instance. Many rely on their mobile phones GPS as opposed to a physical atlas to navigate.
I feel that same can be said about photography, where digital imagery has seen automatic functions become the norm for accomplishing photography vs that of film photography and the manual operation.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar | ISO 250, f/2, 1/200th secs
Over the last few months I decided to take my new Sony α7R III on a new excursion, utilizing two ZEISS lenses and sharing my experience of them with the α7R III. Here’s the catch, one was an automatic lens, the ZEISS Batis 2/25mm Distagon and the other a manual lens, the ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar.
I wanted to highlight these two lenses, as the 25mm lens is a lens I typically wouldn’t use for street photography, due to how wide of a range it is and the need to get up close to your subject (keep reading for an interesting part to this experience), but wanted to take the challenge to see what I could do with it. The 50mm lens being a manual lens is one that I feel many overlook, because it’s a manual lens. Just recently a friend of mine was stunned by my usage of a manual 50mm lens over the years, especially for fast action imagery. Yes, it does take mastering a manual lens, but it’s far from impossible, especially with these Sony cameras and having the ability to utilize focus peaking.
Both of these lenses are native lenses designed specifically for the Sony Alpha E-Mount mirrorless system for the full frame cameras, with usage possible on the APS-C line of cameras as well. ZEISS has been a partner of Sony’s for over 20 years and have worked to produce these two lines that compliment the systems high performing image sensors. Yes, it’s great in knowing you can utilize adapters to adapt any lens you set your heart out to utilize, but native glass brings forth 100% performance from the Sony E-Mount cameras that adapted glass can’t achieve. Having native options that compliment Sony’s own line of lenses, like the G and G Master lenses only expands the capabilities of these cameras and what you can achieve with them.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar | ISO 1,600, f/2, 1/320th secs
ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar + Sony α7R III
For my trip to Washington, D.C. I decided to select this lens. I wanted my project to present both a challenge for myself and also give a real outlook on my use of the Sony α7R III with two lenses in areas that take me out of my comfort zone.
The ZEISS Loxia line of lenses are designed specifically for the full frame Sony E-mount system and are entirely manual, all have 52mm diameter threads and a useful DeClick feature on the lenses, which gives smooth aperture adjustment (great for cinematographers).
In being a manual lens my camera was set with focus peaking on, to allow for me to make sure the areas I wanted in focus were focused perfectly. I used the mid or high peaking levels with red color selection. I prefer the red for allowing me to see more visibly my focused areas and I alternate between the mid and high, depending on what I’m photographing. Sometimes high is a bit too intense to fully see beyond the color of what’s in focus and I do still like to see what I’m photographing as clearly as possibly, with the peaking to be overlaid for the guidance as calmly as possible.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar | ISO 3,200, f/2, 1/400th secs
A great feature with the Sony α7R III that I utilized was the tap to magnify on the rear LCD touch screen of the camera. If there was an area I specifically wanted to make sure was in focus I simply double tapped the area of the screen I wanted to make sure was in focus.
The ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar’s focusing ring is the smoothest operating I’ve ever used. It’s designed to provide precise focusing, while also eliminating any play in the focusing of the lens. Wherever you have the focus set on this lens will be where it stays until you change it. It’s hard to describe in writing the feel of it and it’s simply something you have to experience personally.
The images captured were a combination of street, architecture and portraits, with a little bit of some other genre’s mixed in here and there. Regardless of what was being captured it was quite effortless with the Sony α7R III.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar | ISO 1,000, f/4, 1/160th secs
Manual usage and why choose such a lens?
Many might wonder why would anyone want to use a manual lens today, when there are so many auto focus lenses available. Manual lenses give you the feeling that the images you’re capturing you’re physically apart of capturing that image. What auto focus lenses take away is that feeling of success in knowing that to capture your image it was in your own ability of setting your camera and lens to capture that image. With auto focus you’re relying on the camera to determine where it thinks you want the focus to be. You’re ruling that out by being the focusing system for your camera/lens.
I’ve photographed for years with a variety of manual lenses, ranging from those of the ZEISS Classic to Loxia lines as well as manual ones from Rokinon and vintage manual lenses from the Minolta film cameras. I feel a greater appreciation in a photo when they come out perfect with these lenses, as they can be more challenging to obtain that perfect image from them, but that’s the rewarding aspect of them. They’re lenses I feel aren’t to replace lenses you may have in your lineup today, but give an opportunity to explore photography through a different approach. What do I mean? Sony offers many 50mm range lenses for instance, with their Sonnar 1.8/55mm ZA auto focus lens being a lens I own, but I own a manual 2/50mm in the ZEISS Classic line, 2/50mm, 1.4/50mm and 1.4/58mm in the old Minolta film lenses. All of these lenses have unique characteristics to them and honestly I think that word really explains manual lenses, character.
I feel with a manual lens it’s not always about doing what’s right, but what feels right to that individual photographer; creator. Is the image a bit soft? Slightly blurred? Possibly! These are things I don’t think about the same way as I would with auto focusing lenses. Think about images you may have viewed that were from 75, 100+ years ago. Many of those images were exactly those things with many other characteristics that would be frowned upon if a photographer had them in their images, but the overall feeling or story being told is what I’m seeking. You might say, well I can still do that with auto-focusing lenses and yes you still can bring out those things but I don’t feel it would be the same, as manual involves an aspect that auto-focus removes and that’s the creators full personal connection from start to finish without allowing the technology to dictate that in the process.
The ZEISS Loxia 50mm compliments any auto focus 50mm Sony lens you may have. Many I’ve encounter just fear the notion of a manual lens, but in using them I feel it improves the creativity a photographer possesses and increases ones knowledge and ability to have a greater connection with their equipment and attention to details for any given photographic situation.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Loxia 2/50mm Planar | ISO 100, f/2, 1/500th secs
ZEISS Batis 2/25mm Distagon + Sony α7R III
My following trip was back to my second home of New York City and I chose to take the ZEISS Batis 25mm on this excursion. Typically I’m not a wide angle prime lens shooter for Street photography, but I thought if I was going to do something that was uncomfortable for me, why not do it in a place where people around you don’t care what you’re doing and will ignore you if you look completely lost in the sauce, ha!
The ZEISS Batis line of lenses are designed specifically for the full frame Sony E-Mount system as well. Yes, that means no adapters of any sort are needed to use this lens, just as you don’t need an adapter for the Loxia lenses also. These lenses are entirely auto focusing lenses and all have a 67mm diameter thread (with the exception being the ZEISS Batis 2.8/18mm with a 77mm thread). They have a very modern look to them and include a neat OLED focus distance read out display as well.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Batis 2/25mm Distagon | ISO 1,000, f/5.6, 1/15th secs
This lens is the more common territory, being that it’s an auto focusing lens. With this lens in the city my key settings for my Sony α7R III was in terms of the focusing. I utilized either AF-S or AF-C, Flexible Spot (M or S) or Expand Flexible Spot.
AF-S/AF-C: Depending on what I’m photographing I will utilize one of these AF settings. I mostly use AF-S and switch to AF-C if I’m really on the move with my Street images and I’m taking photos as I’m walking or if I’m capturing fast moving subjects and I’m wanting to track them.
Flexible Spot M/S: This is my go to focusing selection on any of my cameras. I switch between the Medium or Small point, depending on my composition and how big or small my subject is that I’m capturing. Sometimes the Medium may hunt during a specific composition and I’d have to switch to Small to give it a more fine tuned focus point so it’s not searching in such a large area. In case anyone is interested in knowing about my use of the L (Large) option, it’s not often that I’ll utilize this one compared to the others, but on occasion I’ll mix that one in as well.
Expand Flexible Spot: I really love this focusing option and will utilize this for times I want a bit more flexibility in my selected focus area. This option will focus like the standard Flexible Spot, but you obtain this outer box where the camera will search for focusing as well, giving a bit more opportunity for me to make sure I’m able to nail my focus on every frame, as I’m wanting to be quick with my captures and sometimes the Flexible Spot might not be able to focus just within that area and needs a bit of breathing room and this gives me that when I’m photographing.
Performance on the Sony α7R III with the ZEISS Batis 25mm was very responsive.
For any lens you use with these cameras I always recommend trying the various focusing options these cameras have, as certain shooting conditions can greatly improve precision and speed.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Batis 2/25mm Distagon | ISO 1,250, f/2, 1/80th secs
Why choose such a lens as the 25mm?
The experience of using this lens was one that opened me to the usage of a wide angle prime for street imagery. It wasn’t that I was against it, I just didn’t think I would be into it as much or had a need for it. Why would anyone consider such a lens? It’s simply a fun, lightweight, fast prime that’s a great compliment to Sony’s lenses and I believe it allows for an avenue that brings more creative thinking to compositions.
My frequent focal length lately has been 85mm and my creativity with a 25mm can’t be the same between those two focal lengths. It also involves more of you; the photographer in each composition as your field of view is wider, which means for many compositions it may require moving your body to obtain a closer image of your subject. Many people who’ve taken workshops with me have found it challenging using a prime lens (or any prime for that matter), as most have been accustomed to zoom lenses and are even more amazed with how much moving I do for my compositions because of my prime lens usage, especially with the 25mm lens.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Batis 2/25mm Distagon | ISO 1,000, f/5.6, 1/250th secs
Earlier in this article I mentioned something interesting I wanted to share. At the time of obtaining content for this article, the ZEISS Batis 25mm was a lens I didn’t own and I wasn’t a wide angle prime street shooter at all. After doing this project I had a love for the 25mm focal length and decided to purchase this lens and I’ve actually used it more than many of my other lenses. It added another level in my creative thinking that’s helped expand that to my other focal lengths as well. That’s the single best thing the 25mm allowed and why I think such a range would be something beneficial for others.
This lens offers additional native auto focus options for your Sony Alpha camera in this range, like the new and amazing Sony 1.4/24mm G Master lens. If you require a faster aperture wide angle prime or love the G Master aperture ring you do have that available. If your requirements aren’t those then the ZEISS Batis 25mm is a native alternative that compliments the Sony E-Mount mirrorless cameras quite well.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Batis 2/25mm Distagon | ISO 800, f/2, 1/320th secs
The Sony α7R III with any ZEISS lens is a winning combination and the ZEISS Batis 25mm and Loxia 50mm are two stellar lenses that I think many photographers would find rewarding for their masterpieces. They’re incredible lenses that compliment an amazing lineup of lenses that Sony offers for their Alpha cameras, whether you’re a novice or professional. That’s what I enjoy about the Sony system, in having so many native options available for whatever application I’m in need of equipment for.
Don’t be afraid of manual lenses. I hope that in sharing about the ZEISS Loxia 50mm opens up many photographers to trying manual glass. Having total control over your image is one of the many beauties of utilizing manual lenses. You really feel apart of your photos, as you have to put the work in yourself for every capture and that’s what really puts more of you as the photographer into the art that you create, to allow the viewers to hopefully obtain that sense when viewing your images. The same can be said for the 25mm. It may be a wide angle lens, but putting yourself in every capture determines the outcome and feel of every image.
Sony α7R III + ZEISS Batis 2/25mm Distagon | ISO 1,000, f/2, 1/160th secs