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I currently have a Zeiss 16-35mm f4 lens for ultra-wide shooting. I think this lens is a good all-rounder, hence why I bought it. However, there are two areas that I need to address: 1) the f4 aperture is not ideal for night photography (such as statues in very dim light and astrophotography, even with longer exposures) and 2) while the bokeh is nice, it is not as abundant as with a faster lens.

So for my second lens, I am considering either a) Sony 28mm f2 (~$450 usd), or b) Zeiss Distagon 35mm f1.4 (~$1,600 usd).

I've read many reviews of both and keep being told that the quality and sharpness are extremely similar, with the only difference being high distortion and more chromatic aberration on the 28mm lens. I honestly don't see what the big deal is about those issues. Distortion can be easily corrected in Lightroom and chromatic aberration has never stole my attention in any photo I've looked at, ever and on any lens.

So, what would you suggest? Obviously there is the price factor to consider, given the Zeiss is 4x as expensive. But when I decided that when I buy lenses, I prefer to buy once and never wonder what "could have been". But, is this thinking still worthwhile when it comes to these two specific lenses?

Greatly would appreciate experience and suggestions and thoughts.

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+50

My Short Answer

Despite the merits of Zeiss lenses, you should probably get the Sony 28mm f/2 FE. The cost is better ($449 2017 MSRP versus $1599 2017 MSRP), the weight is lighter (7.1oz / 200g versus 1.39lbs / 630g), and the adjacent Sony lens lineup is broader (Sony E-Mount G Series vs Zeiss for Sony E-Mount / Zeiss E-Mount Lenses).

Note that the Zeiss lineup for the E-mount is concentrated in the 16mm to 70mm focal length range, and there is no macro lens (2:1 magnification ratio or better), no short-telephoto portrait lens (85mm+), and no telephoto lens (200mm+). These are key pieces in an advanced kit, and not having these offerings means you will pay a penalty in editing in the future if you have integrate lenses outside of the Zeiss T* coated family, as the color and rendition from lenses made by other manufacturers will deviate from images shot on Zeiss lenses. While much of this can be mitigated in post-processing, it's both a testament to Zeiss and an annoyance when editing images that their T* coated lenses have a particular look that is not matched by other lens manufacturers (due to Micro-Contrast, Citations: Ming Thein, Yannick Khong, Reference: Thom Hogan). Some additional Zeiss lenses are available with an A-Mount to E-Mount adapter, but you will lose autofocus capability on these lenses (See: Zeiss A-Mount Lenses).

Even with your intent to shoot at night and engage in astrophotography, some of the shortcomings of shooting at f/2 versus f/1.4 can be made up by investing in better supports (Barn Door Tracker for extended exposure times in astrophotography) and better camera bodies (better ISO performance on full frame bodies vs APS-C bodies). Plus, there are plenty of reviews that suggest that the 28mm is a very competitive offering by Sony (See: Sony FE 28mm F2 @ DxOMark vs Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 @ DxOMark, Steve Huff, Fred Miranda, Lonely Speck Photography).

Extended Answer

However, if you are serious about not making compromises on performance, the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 has two key advantages in low light:

  • Better light collection: The 35mm f/1.4 has a front diameter of 25mm, and the 24mm f/2 has a front diameter of 12mm. The 35mm will collect more than four times as many photons (25/12)^2 = 4.34, resulting in better images in low light extremes. See: Low Light Photography and f/ratios @ Clarkvision. The 35mm can even be stopped down to f/2.8 (effective front diameter of 12.5mm) without sacrificing overall low light image quality

  • Better f/ratio: As mentioned in other answers, when wide open on both lenses, your exposure times will be half as much on the 35mm as they would be on the 24mm. A common exposure scenario at night is 1/100s at f/2 at ISO 1600. On the 35mm, you can expose at 1/200s at f/1.4, or improve your ISO to 800. This still applies on a tripod. Given an exposure of 4 versus 2 seconds, the 2 second exposure has less chance of scene movement (also mentioned in another answer, Ex: star-trails).

Anecdotally, Vignetting is supposedly better on the 35mm f/1.4, and Coma (when shot at f/2 or smaller aperture). However, I couldn't find any citations or obvious factors that would rule in favor of one lens or the other. It is unlikely you will be framing subjects in the extreme corners of a shot, and outside of the photon/light gathering capability, both lenses exhibit far less of these anomalies at f/2.8 or smaller apertures.

The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 also has a better T-Stop rating (T/1.5 vs T/2, see Sony FE 28mm F2 @ DxOMark vs Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 @ DxOMark), but this is more a concern for filmmakers than photographers. You would have to shoot in very specific scenarios for this to matter for stills, as you will be shooting most shots based upon the light-metering measurements of your camera body, which will often vary scene-to-scene even more than the T-Stop to F-Stop difference of these lenses.

On Price

Zeiss lenses are expensive across all camera systems because Zeiss needs to make more money on each lens to justify offering a product (due to lower sales volume), because the build quality is better (all-metal housings), and because Zeiss offers features that others don't (integrated reversible lens hood mounts, aperture rings, aperture de-clicking on some lenses). Also, there's a little bit of strategy tax flexibility that Zeiss has due to having lens synergy and a broad lineup with consistent rendering in their T* coating ecosystem.

Last, if price is only a small concern, there is no reason you couldn't get both lenses. If you need to travel or walk a lot to get your shots, you can use the Sony 28mm for its weight and size advantage; and for most everything else you can use the Zeiss 35mm.

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Well, just for starter, Zeiss is Zeiss and you pay for brand. Zeiss was making lenses when Sony wasn't even about to start.

Second: Pushing limits is expensive and difference between f2 and f1.4 is not that high for a user, but expensive to acomplish for a manufacturer.

Third: You say that Sony suffers from higher distortion and aberration. Suppressing it costs money too (R&D, manufacturing).

0

The difference between f/1.4 and f/2 is quite massive when it comes to optical demands. A 1.4 lens requires much more glass, and you will find the price difference of f2 vs f1.4 is similar for all manufacturers: Canon (550$ vs 1650$), Nikon (200$ vs 1650$) & Fuji (350$ vs 850$)

The question here is, do you need the extra stop? Your maximum setting for astrophotography at 30mm~ is 20 seconds due to star trails. With with the Zeiss lens, you will be able to do f/1.4, 20s, this is equivalent to f/2, 40s with the Sony lens. This can make a large difference in visibility of stars on a dark night.

Similarly, if you take photos of people at night, the Zeiss will allow you to use a shutter speed of 1/60 while you will have to go down to 1/30 with the Sony.

If you do not think either of the above cases will apply to you, and your main reason for getting the lens is sharpness and well-lit photography, there is no reason to pick the f/1.4 option.

-1

Well the Sony might be sharp for a few years, but the Zeiss will be great for many more years to come after that. Plus the Zeiss will be sharper and clearer in real life too. They are a really tough lens. Way more resilient than even Leica lenses, in my experience.

If you can handle the extra weight, you should buy the Zeiss. A couple of Zeiss lenses will do more for your career than a whole bagful of cheaper lenses.

So you can correct distortion later on??? Well do you wanna be a photographer or a computer user ? :)

  • 'Well the Sony might be sharp for a few years, but the Zeiss will be great for many more years to come after that.' This implies that lenses deteriorate in quality over time... ' Plus the Zeiss will be sharper and clearer in real life too' the OP stated that reading multiple review they're very similar. – Crazy Dino May 13 '17 at 12:09
  • @CrazyDino Some lenses do deteriorate over time because they can't stand up to the wear and tear of hard usage as well as other lenses can. – Michael C Jun 20 '17 at 17:12
  • @MichaelClark whilst I agree that is true and all depends on use, for the sake of argument if you had these two lenses being used moderatly, not being dropped or handled by a gorilla would you expect a lens to lose sharpness after a 'few years'? The post just read like zeiss zealous, especially as the Sony has only been available a couple of years so I expect may not be possible to even tell at this point. – Crazy Dino Jun 21 '17 at 9:12
  • @CrazyDino If you've ever held a Zeiss lens in one hand and a Sony lens in the other you would understand. One is designed to be more robust then built by hand to be more durable using stronger (and more expensive) materials and held to higher manufacturing standards. The other is mass produced using less expensive materials and, based on copy to copy variation, more lax manufacturing tolerances. Some users do need lenses that can stand up to daily punishment. Most don't. That's why Sony probably sells more lenses than Zeiss. – Michael C Jun 21 '17 at 11:33

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