For several months I had been wondering on what would be my first owned FE lens for first full frame camera, Alanna (Sony a7)? The choice finally came down to the ZEISS 55mm.
This lens has been a great addition to my collection, for mainly my people and street work, but many other things as well. What really makes this great for is the exceptional quality of this glass, especially for it’s Sonnar lens design. It’s one of the sharpest lenses available for the Sony E-Mount cameras as well.
I recently had many firsts for this lens in such a short period of time, photographing a wedding, lifestyle session, worship and in New York City for cityscape and street work With all of that happening I really had a great chance to test out this lens in so many situations and see just how good it is.
ZEISS 55mm Specs & Images
Sony E-Mount (FE - Full Frame lens)
SONNAR Optical Lens Design
Aperture Range: f/1.8-f/22
ZEISS T* Anti-Reflective Coating
49mm Diameter Filter Thread
Metal Construction with Dust & Weather Seals
43 degrees - Angle of View
1.64′ inches (50cm) Minimum Focus Distance
0.62lb (281g) - Weight
Lenses of a certain range are usually classified into a category, such as a landscape lens or a portrait lens. This is mostly seen in the portrait genre, but just as in my review of the ZEISS Batis FE 1.8/85mm Sonnar this lens is far more useful beyond just portraits.
What I think about the 55mm
This is one of the best lenses for Sony you can own. The quality and range makes this a lens you’d use quite often for a variety of situations. Of the other ZEISS lenses I’ve used it certainly ties with the A-Mount 24mm f/2 lens, which remains a favorite!
For my shooting style, especially as a Street & Fashion photographer this lens is one of the best for those. Why? Because of the f/1.8 aperture and the 55mm focal length. It makes for a good low light option too.
When I get the chance to try out new gear or add new stuff to my collection I love to share with you guys about what I think of it. This could very well be a short review but I’m going to share as much as I can about this lens with you, in case you’re one who’s considering this lens.
If you’re new to my blog and you’re looking for a technical review of this lens then you won’t find that here. I share things to my community in a way that everyone can understand and know the important things, with out too much unnecessary info.
This lens is a Full Frame (FE) lens for Sony’s Mirrorless E-Mount cameras, but it can be used on the cropped APS-C cameras, which will give you a 35mm equivalent focal length of 82.5mm.
What is the ZEISS 55mm good for capturing?
55mm is a very versatile choice among prime lenses. It’s not too tight like an 85mm or wide like the 35mm and can be used as a standalone for many scenarios. I began this with my 85mm lens review in putting together some of the areas I photograph in and listing why that lens was well suited for that, so I’m doing the same for this lens also.
Weddings - The wide f/1.8 aperture gives you the low light capability as well as beautiful bokeh. It’s a general lens that I find to be one that will be a primary for wedding photography. It’s not as strong of a lens like the ZEISS Batis FE 1.8/85mm, but together they make a very important pairing for weddings. When this lens is used with newer Sony Alpha cameras you can expect focusing performance to be far improved with this lens vs the older generation models like the a7 or a7s.
Street - I consider this the street lens that doesn’t take any thought. It’s quite perfect in being a lens that’s able to capture any street situation, be it a far away subject or one close up. When I’m indecisive about what lens to choose between a 35 or 85 I’ll go for the 55 as I can have a mixture of both of those lenses and know if needed I can crop in the image and get the framing on want from the images of the Sony a7r II.
Landscapes/Cityscapes - This lens can be the perfect framing you need for an image more times than you think. The New York City, Chicago and Atlanta skyline images you see here are perfect examples of showing first hand out perfect of a framing you can get.
Fashion/Lifestyle Portraits - My first photo-shoot with this lens was a mother daughter shoot and I was amazed by how sharp the images were and how vibrant the colors were. It’s a solid choice for people images and even wide open you still have excellent image quality throughout the entire frame. The lens has a nature vignette to it, which I actually love as I add this in post anyways.
Worship - Just as with weddings in low light this is especially great for worship. Many don’t fully understanding photographing wide open at events or large venue spaces and think it’s only meant for depth of field but that happens based on your distance to a subject with the specific lens you’re using. I’m usually photographing wide places and I’m using wide open apertures for light and not DoF, as at further distances everyone is pretty much going to be in focus. Only when I get closer to my subject with DoF become a factor.
These are most of what I photograph, but i do other various areas also. This gives you an idea as to what you can photograph with this lens, along with seeing examples of various genres shot with it as well.
What makes the 55mm great?
Image Quality - Talk about some sharp, bomb glass! That’s expected with a lens with the ZEISS badge on it. Not much to add to that, but the fact that’s it’s just impressive!
Build - You're getting an all metal design lens that’s weather sealed, making this a great lens to have out in the elements.
Aperture - With this being an f/1.8 lens you’re going to have great use with this in low light situations. It’s also going to be great for obtaining some beautiful bokeh (ya know, that blurry effect to the background). At just f/1.8 it’s actually really good too! For those use to an f/1.4 you may not be too disappointed to use this lens, it’s just that good! In the event you may want an f/1.4 option, check out the Carl ZEISS FE 50mm f/1.4 Planar.
Size/Weight - For it’s build it’s a relatively light lens and very short length when mounted to your camera. It comes with a lens hood that doesn’t add much weight to the lens either and feels very balanced on any of the Sony E-mount cameras.
Focus - The speed of the focusing on this lens is VERY snappy! My a7 doesn’t have nearly the speed of the a7r II, but this lens performs just as good as on that camera! It’s usually spot on, but when using this it’s HIGHLY recommended you take advantage of your different focus point options in the camera. At f/1.8 you can slip up and focus on the wrong thing and not even notice it until you import the images to your computer. That’s just how sensitive this lens is, but precision is key and using spot focusing (flexible spot) can really show you how incredible at focusing this lens is.
Color - I don’t know what it is but you just obtain the best colored images with ZEISS glass that just looks so soothing/dreamy like.
T* Coating - ZEISS lenses are popular for this coating, which reduces lens flare drastically and enhances overall performance of the lens. Whether it’s a filter or lens with this coating you’ll notice the difference from having it vs a lens or filter that doesn’t.
Why the ZEISS 1.8/55mm over ZEISS 1.4/50mm?
The only reason was the size. Optically and image quality wise I do feel the 50mm 1.4 is a far stronger lens, especially in focusing. I switched to mirrorless for the smaller form factor so that’s a bit more important to me vs that of faster glass that’s often much larger and heavier.
Grant it I do own the Carl ZEISS FE 1.4/35mm Distagon lens, which is far bigger and heavier than the smaller Carl ZEISS FE 2.8/35mm Sonnar that I use to own. In that case the 1.4 to 2.8 is just a drastic gap and the 35mm 1.4 is so much better to have, especially for my Fashion photos, but 1.8 to 1.4 isn’t that huge of a difference for it to really bother me. The ZEISS 55 is a solid lens that I’m not disappointed in at all. If you just have to have a 1.4 then you will have an incredible experience with that lens, but if you choose the 1.8 just know that you’re not going to ever feel limited.
What makes the 55mm not so great?
Optical Steady Shot - I was quite surprised this lens didn’t have this feature built in. It’s not an issue for those with the latest Sony a7 cameras, but those without those may find this displeasing. I managed without it on my a7, but there can be situations where having it would be helpful to eliminate the possibility of blur even more. With the newer bodies it improves the stabilization even more also.
Focusing - This lens doesn’t have the most perfect focusing, as the other lenses I own do. It’s not terrible but you can notice easily when it’s struggling. I’ve found that using flexible spot focusing will help this a lot and also photographing with the newer Sony cameras. Unlike lenses like the ZEISS 50mm 1.4 or ZEISS Batis 85mm 1.8 that focus perfectly each time this one will slip a bit wide open. If you know how to use this lens properly to avoid mis-focusing then you shouldn’t have any issues.
Conclusion: Who is/isn’t this for?
If you’re looking for a perfect prime lens for your Sony, you can’t go wrong here. It’s a very versatile lens, capable of being used for epic landscapes, street, weddings, events and so much more. It’s not a relatively cheap lens, but it’s by no means ultra expensive either, compared to other high quality Sony G and ZEISS lenses and is an investment well worth it.
If money and weight of a lens isn’t a priority for you and you want an even better lens than this already great lens then the Carl ZEISS FE 1.4/50mm Planar will be more suited for you, for it’s wider aperture.