I was flicking through some frames in Lightroom, bored, frustrated because I have not taken a photo for a few weeks now (you understand) when I saw a few frames from my current Sony Zeiss 35mm (review) and 55mm FE (review) lenses. It occurred to me that, with so many awful in-camera JPEGs online (and Sony JPEGs are not good IMO), and some sample variation with these lenses, some of you might not know what these lenses can really do. I thought having some ‘good copy’ reference files would be helpful.
The point that leapt out at me is that some people regard the 35mm f2.8 FE as being far inferior to the 55mm and this is simply not true. Yes, the 55mm is better in every respect in a laboratory, but in the field, the difference in real world performance is not all that significant by middle apertures. Yes, the 35mm has a little field curvature that can see the plane of focus peel back a little at the edges, but all in all, it is one damn sharp lens. The 55mm f1.8 is as close as you can get to a Zeiss Otus, this side of $3,500. Both will make 30″ prints that are all but indistinguishable from one another. You’ll need to push beyond this to start noting the slight edge in the very finest high frequency detail with the 55mm and the better edge performance.
To help those who may not realise what the dinky Sony A7R can do with these lenses, here are some examples I shot on holiday with my boys. These are not great images, but the fine grit and texture is a serious challenge for any lens to render well, especially when you consider the distance of said grit from the camera.
Here’s the (hand-held) full-size A7R – 55mm shot. 1/320, f8, ISO 100 can be found here. Please note that both were saved as JPEGs at 80% quality to keep file size manageable. Both have been given sharpening in LR, but are otherwise out of camera. There’s a bit more detail and crispness when viewed in LR, but you can at least see how little fall off in resolution there is across the frame.
Another, perhaps better 55mm example is here – 1/400, f5.6, ISO 100. Not too shabby at distance is it? That little bit more shutter speed helps for sure and I cannot really see any loss of resolution moving off centre at all. What about at f2.8? How about this sample (bearing in mind depth of field, so look at the left and right edges).
And the (hand-held) full-size A7R – 35mm Shot. 1/250, f7.1, ISO 100 can be found here. Focus was a little in front of boys so falls off a little in the distant top left. The grit was quite a bit finer and lighter in colour so it shows with less contrast then in the 35mm frame.
I’ll see if I have some Sony G 70-200 f4 OSS (review) shots that I can put up…