The ZEISS Planar design, according to the company, is one of the most influential, borrowed – or to be polite – inspirational optical arrangements of all time. This is a system that just simply works and with the close link between Sony and ZEISS, the ZEISS Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA is one of those high-quality standard view lenses which can’t be ignored.
The proven template should mean the highest of image quality, with this lens on paper being a one-stop shop at the 50mm focal length. But the 50mm lens in itself is a classic and a standard, which means the T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA still has to deliver in all departments to make it a worthwhile option.
Firstly, the ZEISS Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA isn’t exactly a small and compact lens, weighing in at 778g and a length of 10.8cm. When the lens is attached to the likes of the Sony a7R II, it feels quite front-heavy, but with enough hand cradling, you soon learn to live with its large dimensions. The lens is also extremely useful on APS-C cameras, providing a 75mm focal length and a 32-degree angle of view.
In terms of specifications, it has the tried and tested ZEISS Planar optical layout, with 12 elements arranged in nine groups. Included in the optical mix is one advanced Aspherical, one extra-low dispersion, and one regular aspherical element. Plus it has the ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating applied to each element to improve overall contrast and color definition.
Although full-time manual focus override isn’t included, the lens has the usually convenient AF/MF switch. This is accompanied by a manual aperture ring, which has been divided into thirds stop increments and also includes an auto mode. If smooth rotation of the aperture ring is needed for the likes of video work, it can be easily de-clicked via a dedicated switch.
Lastly, the rock-solid lens barrel has been fully weather-sealed, which makes the lens a robust option for all types of environments.
The ZEISS Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA In Use
Most of the real estate on the lens is taken up by the focusing ring, which will please individuals who come from the usual crop of ZEISS manually focusing primes. The focusing ring doesn’t have any hard stops at either end, which makes it hard to set focus at infinity. But the ring is very smooth and tactile in use when you need to deliberate over the manual focusing side of things.
When the lens is set into autofocus mode, it’s quick and precise, locking onto the majority of subjects in good light conditions. With the lens only exhibiting the odd occasion of focus hunting in very low light.
The 50mm f/1.4 also benefits from low amounts of lens anomalies such as chromatic aberration. Usually displayed as blue or purple fringing, the lens only displays CA in very high contrast areas when the aperture is wide open. The lens does show light falloff in the corners at f/1.4, but when the aperture is stopped down to f/5.6, the corners clean up very nicely.
Where the ZEISS Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA lens should stand out is in providing professional level background blur, with its f/1.4 aperture and higher than normal 11-blade rounded diaphragm. Because of these two factors, highlight balls are nicely rounded, with extremely smooth transitions of color in all out of focus areas. If bokeh quality is your primary consideration with a 50mm lens, the ZEISS performs very well in this department.
In terms of overall sharpness levels, the center of the frame is very good at f/1.4, with the best results coming in at f/2.8. Diffraction starts to take its toll by f/16, but this is almost a given with this type of lens. The edges of the frame work just as well, with the sharpest range coming in from f/2.8-f/11, with the overall best results hitting their zenith at f/4.
How Does It Compare?
A similar option 50mm lens that also sports an f/1.4 aperture, is in the same price bracket, and is also a huge bulk of a lens is the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. The Sigma has a better-than-expected quick and precise auto focus system and is also very capable in manual mode. There are no complaints about the optics, as it’s just as sharp as the ZEISS throughout the aperture range.
However, overall sharpness is not the only factor when choosing a lens. The Sigma displays more neutral tones in the final image rendition, while the ZEISS has its own specific look, which is a large part of why you would buy this lens in the first place. As far as overall definition is concerned, both lenses are highly capable at this price point.
|ZEISS Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA||Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art|
|Angle of View||47 Degrees||46.8 Degrees|
There is no denying that the ZEISS is a very capable 50mm, with good sharpness levels even at f/1.4. The most definition comes in from f/2.8, from which you won’t be disappointed with the definition of the final results. Contrast and color are excellent throughout the aperture range, with very little signs of chromatic aberration or distortion. The only downside is vignetting at the widest apertures, but this in itself is not too distracting.
The autofocus system is also respectably fast and although it doesn’t have manual override, this doesn’t act as too much of a deficiency. For this quality of glass, you will have to deal with a large and heavy lens, but this is generally the case when you’re dealing with this level of optics.
There are obviously cheaper alternatives, such as the Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 FE, which are not far behind in terms of overall optics. But if you want to sample ZEISS quality without diving into the very highly-priced ZEISS OTUS range which is all manual focusing, then the 50mm f/1.4 ZA is a great option for the Sony platform.