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Zeiss 55mm 1.8 FE vs 50mm 1.4 ZA

By Jorge Torralba

I have been slowly migrating all my gear from Nikon to Sony while attempting to retain the advantages of using Zeiss glass. I have noticed that with old age comes a problem. As I have gotten older, I am having a difficult time focusing manually. Having the luxury of auto focus Zeiss lenses on a digital camera is what motivated me to make the switch.

For now, I have decided on the A7 while I build up an inventory of Zeiss glass for the alpha cameras. Since I mainly do street work, I thought the A7 would be the best choice for my needs. However, I am leaving the door open for the A99 or it's successor. Leaving that door open has presented me with a dilemma. Do I get the highly coveted 55mm 1.8 FE, the 50mm 1.4 ZA or do I get both? Since the A7 can accommodate the ZA lens with the LA-EA4 adapter it seemed like a no brainer to go with the 50mm 1.4 ZA. This way the lens can be used on both bodies. However, I heard so many good things about the 55 FE that I wanted that one as well. But is it that much better than the 50 to justify owning both? Well, I will let you decide for yourself. This little comparison of the two was done to see if one is really that much better than the other and help you decide which lens to buy.

So here we go. These are tripod mounted using autofous on the A7.

The first scene here is what was photographed. It shows both lenses delivering beautiful bokeh wide open which would make any Canon or Nikon user jealous.

[color=red]Clicking on images will open a new window with full size version of the images[/color]

50mm 1.4 ZA

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941016.SEQ.0.jpg

55mm 1.8 FE
http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941103.SEQ.2.jpg


Now lets just start looking at the 100% crops at the center where I focused on the watch.

50mm 1.4 at 1.4

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941018.SEQ.1.jpg

55mm 1.8 at 1.8

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941106.SEQ.3.jpg

50mm 1.4 at 2

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941022.SEQ.3.jpg

55mm 1.8 at 2

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941153.SEQ.1.jpg

50mm 1.4 at 2.8

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941102.SEQ.1.jpg

55mm 1.8 at 2.8

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392941156.SEQ.3.jpg


Based on the above samples, I wil probably end up selling the 55 1.8 to have the 50 serve as a lens for both A7 and A99 bodies. I find the differences between the two marginal with a slight advantage to the 55. However, not enough to justify both lenses

Here is a low light shot with the 50mm 1.4 at f2

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1392959941.SEQ.2.jpg

Replies

Reply from Daniel Ortego on 06-15-14 5:05 PM
I opted for the ZA 50/1,4 and I absolutely love it! I just returned from more than two months in Italy and this was my go to lens for the street. I purchased the metal lens hood from the ZA 85 and it was a perfect match. I'm still tweaking my files but frankly, there isn't much that's needed with the ZA 50.
Reply from Jorge Torralba on 03-28-14 9:39 AM
Philippe,

My take on the Otus vs the ZA is as follows. The Otus is a superior lens. It is just as sharp at 1.4 as it is at 5.6 and so on. It yields a bokeh to simply die for. In the right hands this lens is unmatched. Have a look at some samples at www.zeissotus.com

Having said all this, there is a fine balance between the benefits of the Otus and the ZA and vice verse. The ZA is a superb lens. It yields beautiful bokeh, contrast, color and sharpness. It is weather sealed, much much lighter than the Otus and much much easier to handle plus the obvious auto focus. Not just that it will focus on an object but it will focus on a moving object. Doing this with the Otus is extremely difficult. I think The Otus is more of a studio/landscape lens than anything else. The ZA does exhibit fringing which the Otus does not. But a simple dial adjustment in Lightroom corrects that.

For me, at this point the benefits of the auto focus ZA outweigh the advantage in image quality from the Otus. Learn to shoot with the ZA, find it's strength and yu will be a happy camper.

The ZA at f1.7 and and above is great. The street scene of the Annex bar is at f4 and I have a few at 3.2 which look just as sharp. For portraits, it is amazing. This picture

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1395280407.SEQ.1.jpg

was taken at 3.5 and it is simply full of detail. I tend to shoot at f2 most of the time with my 50's for the separation of subject from background. But that really depends on the subject matter. Wide open, the lens works very well and much better than any of the others I have seen. Have a look at this

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1393566453.SEQ.2.jpg

where the focus was the red stitching on the steering wheel. And while you look, take in that bokeh and really appreciate it :)
Forget about the Nikon or Canon 1.4 auto focus lenses. They are simply garbage and only a die hard fan boy will tell you otherwise. Granted you will get great pictures with just about any 50. Even the garbage ones but the colors , micro contrast and sharpness of the ZA really puts it ahead f the others. I had the 1.8 FE and that was stellar. Close to Otus performance. But, it would not work on my A99 and I prefer the larger bodies. Here are some comparisons between the ZA and FE http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/showreplies.php?qid=1069
Reply from Philippe Berend on 03-22-14 11:36 PM
Jorge, this is very interesting, as are the sample shots with the ZA 50. But you write "this is no Otus". The one way that I see in which it is no Otus is sharpness and freedom from CA wide open. Are there other areas in which Otus is superior?
Reply from Jorge Torralba on 03-17-14 9:37 AM
Philippe,

I find the 50 1.4 ZA to be quite desirable. It is no Otus but offers auto focus which works remarkably well. Not to mention, it is weather sealed as well. I found that at f2 this lens is exceptional. By f4 it is amazingly sharp ond contrasty and at 1.4 the bokeh and transition from in focus to out of focus is simply beautiful.

Have a look at this at 1.7. Focus was on the top right corner of the vent. This is just to show how the focus transition renders.

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/med_U4I1394761037.SEQ.0.jpg

The thing I noticed is that you require a descent shutter speed to make sure there is no blurriness from motion. As you can see with the samples above, it appears very sharp and offers good contrast. The above photo of my boy in a yellow shirt was shot at f2.

If there is anything in particular you would like me to photograph just ley me know, I will try to accommodate your request.
Reply from Philippe Berend on 03-17-14 1:02 AM
Jorge, this is very interesting. Now I have a question. I haven't yet found my 50mm lens for my A7R. I tried the FE 55 and didn't like it. Colour differentiation was too low (I tried 2 copies). I love the Otus pictures, but the weight is holding me back. Is the ZA 50 + Sony adapter a good alternative? Because, with the adapter, neither weight nor cost are that compelling, so IQ needs to be right up there IMHO, unlike the ZE/ZF Planar 50 f:1.4, where performanc eis only top notch at f:5.6 and up.
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