While high tech plastics and manufacturing techniques are enabling wonders to be achieved in modern lens design, there’s still something hugely appealing about the classic all metal, all glass construction with manual focus and a proper aperture collar, Isn’t there?
And, amazingly, deep into the digital era retro manual lenses are cool again.
This is partially because the video pros like using old photography lenses manual control of focusing and the diaphragm are desirable on their DSLR and partially because retro-styles camera bodies, especially in the mirror less world, are all the fashion at the moment.
For Zeiss, of course, this is the stars aligning manual focus lenses and it has a solid reputation built on the classic Hasselblad and Contax film camera systems so all it has to do is remix a few ingredients.
The truly classic ZE and ZF mount lenses have established loyal followings among canon and Nikon DSLR users as have the ZM lenses for M mount rangefinder cameras. But now the mirrorless cameras are on the march, Zeiss is looking beyond the reflex.
Logically, it’s concentrating on the Fujifilm X mount and Sony’s Emount for which Zeiss now offers three different line-ups. There is of course many best compact camera under 300 UK, but it’s a very long way off what Zeiss is offering with the Loxia 25mm, particularly in terms of the build quality. The Sony compact camera is also distinctly new age so it’s an autofocus model, lacks an aperture collar and plastic is the predominant material used in its construction. There’s also the new Zeiss designed 25mm f1.4 distagon which is obviously faster but is at least twice as bulky and weighs 630 grams.
The Loxia 35mm compact camera has a nine element optical design which includes one made from glass with anomalous partial dispersion characteristics, primarily to assist with the minimizing of chromatic aberrations.
This camera is as much about its visual characteristics as its technical performance so it’s not quite flat field at least not at apertures larger than f5.6 and there is some brightness fall off or vignetting when shooting wide open.
The center to corner focus fall off from field curvature is most evident when using the closer focusing distances and significantly reduces the closer you get to infinity, but in real world terms, the slight softening towards the corners of the frame is unlikely to be an issue and besides, as just noted, it’s gone by f5.6 in some situations spherical aberration is noticeable in the highlights at f2.0.
Basically, the correction for distortion is excellent and likewise for chromatic aberrations which are, subsequently, both negligible. Beautiful contrast adds to the perception of exceptional sharpness, but there’s also a creamy smoothness in the tonality which compliments the overall clarity, giving a quite distinctive look.
This is partially the look of a premium-quality all glass optical construction, but its also about the visual characteristics achieved via a particular combination of resolution, contract and colors balance.
The precision of the manual focusing collar allows for exceptionally fine control, but this is where the compact camera assist facilities particularly the focus peaking display proved to be extremely helpful.
That both the peaking display and a magnified image appear immediately you turn the focusing collar is another benefit of having the electronic lens to camera interface.