I've heard that Zeiss's quality is very good/great but I'm also curious if it has anything to do with the "manual focus only".

I have read this question but it only partly addresses my question. Is it a company policy or what?


2 Answers 2


It is one of the lens design compromises they have chosen to make. While I don't think anyone can know for sure the reasons behind that decision, I can think of several likely ones:

  • Zeiss's own most successful cameras are rangefinders, which do not auto focus. These are the only cameras they still make today.
  • MF lenses avoid any complication from integration with an AF system, keeping the lenses smaller.
  • Major SLR companies do not license their lens mounts. Companies like Sigma and Tamron reverse engineer the electronic communication protocols. Making an all-manual lens avoids this need — although recent Zeiss lenses do feature electronic coupling for aperture.
  • It makes a niche, since lenses designed for MF are usually better for that purpose than those designed for AF. Good MF lenses have a long "focus throw" — you turn the focus ring a large amount to make a difference, allowing fine adjustments. AF lenses, on the other hand, are designed for smaller movements to optimize AF speed.

It probably has as much to do with the fact that they're an OEM lens maker for Sony as anything else. Yes, Zeiss does make autofocus lenses for DSLRs, but they're co-branded for the Sony (Minolta/Konica Minolta) system (which is why I cringe every time somebody says there are no "professional" lenses in the Sony lineup).

All of the following are made in Sony α (Minolta A) mounts:

  • 24mm/2.0 Distagon T*
  • 85mm/1.4 Planar T*
  • 135mm/1.8 Sonnar T*
  • 16-35mm/2.8 Vario-Sonnar T*
  • 16-80mm/3.5-4.5 DT Vario-Sonnar T*
  • 24-70mm/2.8 Vario-Sonnar T*

(The 16-80mm lens is designated "DT" and is for APS-C sensors.)

You may see OEM manufacturers making gear for other systems occasionally (notably Tokina, whose agreement with Pentax allows their co-creations to be marketed for other mounts), but there's a pretty good chance that the agreement between Sony and Zeiss doesn't allow them to sell autofocus lenses for competing mounts.

  • \$\begingroup\$ OEM? Hmm, I was always under the impression that Zeiss licensed their name to Sony, but did not manufacture. Surely they do not make all those tiny camcorder and P&S lenses? \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Dec 2, 2011 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ The designs are licensed for the all-in-ones, but take a look at the lenses for the α. It's not just the lens design, or even the lens elements -- the barrels and collars are also pure Carl Zeiss. They're made in a satellite factory in Japan, but by Zeiss. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Dec 2, 2011 at 18:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think they're all actually made by Cosina. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 2, 2011 at 20:33

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