Zeiss T* FE 55mm f/1.8
Sony Zeiss T* FE 55mm f/1.8 (Full-frame and crop-sensor coverage, 49mm filters, 9.9 oz./282g, 1.64'/0.5m close focus, about $900). enlarge. I got mine at Adorama; I'd also get it at Amazon or at B&H. It's also available gray-market for just $699.
This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Sony's Zeiss boxes are not sealed in any way, so never buy at retail or any source not on my personally approved list since you'll have no way of knowing if you're missing accessories, getting a defective, store demo, damaged, returned or used product. My approved sources ship from remote automated warehouses where no salespeople or lookie-loos can ever get their greasy fingers on your new lens or drop it before you do. Buy only from the approved sources I use myself for the best prices, service, return policies and selection. Thanks for helping me help you! Ken.
Sample Images top
This is shot wide-open in broad daylight, and it's sharp right out to the edges. Most lenses need to be stopped down to be this sharp, and of course it gets sharper stopped down.
This Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 is sharper than any 50mm f/1.8 lens for an SLR or DSLR. Its concave front element is the first tip that this isn't your father's 50mm f/1.8.
While most other 50mm f/1.8 lenses have used the same 6-element, 4-group double-Gauss optical design since the 1960s, this new satellite-grade lens uses an insane three aspheric elements in a completely new optical design.
This lens takes full advantage of the lack of an SLR mirror, putting its rear elements much closer to the image plane than an SLR (double-Gauss) lens can.
This works on all full-frame and crop-sensor Sony E-mount cameras, which are the NEX and A7 series, among others.
It will not work on any Minolta MAXXUM or Sony A-mount SLRs or DSLRs.
This is a full-frame lens and is reviewed as such.
You may make the usual inferences for use with crop-sensor cameras.
Stellar optical quality.
Such high resolution at high speed that it's not legal to sell it in some countries.
Fast, silent auto and manual focus.
Not priced like your father's 50mm f/1.8.
Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 T*. enlarge.
Sony calls this the Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 1,8/55 ZA.
Carl Zeiss: Name of a German lens design company.
Sonnar: Zeiss' trademarked brand name for some of their lenses back in 1932. Means nothing today, but since it's registered as a trademark, no one else may use it today. Back in 1932 the Sonnar wasn't as good as the Planar normal lens, but used fewer lens groups for more contrast back before lens coatings were invented.
T*: Zeiss' trademark for its multi coating.
FE: Full-frame coverage lens for Sony E mount.
ZA: Solidarity with South Africa.
Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 internal construction. Aspherical.
7 elements in 5 groups.
3 aspherical elements.
Linear stepper motor internal focus; nothing moves externally as focussed.
No Fluorine coatings on outer surfaces, no extra ability to repel water, dirt or fingerprints.
Claimed dust and moisture resistant housing.
Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 T*. enlarge.
9 rounded blades.
Stops down to f/22.
Close Focus top
1.5 feet (0.5 m).
Maximum Reproduction Ratio top
1:7.1 (0.14x), rated.
Focal Length top
Angles of View top
43º diagonal on full frame.
29º diagonal on APS-C.
ALC-SH131 plastic bayonet hood included.
Included sack, Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8.
Sony includes a crummy unpaved cloth-lined vinyl drawstring sack.
It will protect the lens from dust, but not shock.
2.54" (64.4 mm) diameter x 2.78" (70.5 mm).
9.940 oz. (281.8g).
Sony specifies 10 oz. (281g).
Sony Part Numbers top
SEL55F18Z (complete lens kit).
ALC-SH131 (replacement hood).
ALC-SH131 plastic bayonet hood.
Price, USA top
September 2015: $900.
$1,000 at introduction in January 2014.
Box, Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8. enlarge.
The Sony Zeiss FE 1,8/55mm is an optically superb gem.
Focus is via a linear stepper motor, the same thing as Canon's STM lenses.
AF is fast, silent and accurate.
Autofocus is very fast on an A7R II.
Just grab the focus ring anytime for instant manual-focus override — but only if you've set your camera to DMF focus mode.
Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus, is superb.
Backgrounds get very soft and never distract.
Here's a full-frame sample shot wide open from headshot distance. Click for the original © file:
The Sony Zeiss 55 1.8 has no visible distortion as shot on the Sony A7R II, which is probably correcting it.
For more critical photogrammetric, reconnaissance, mapping and surveying, use a value of +0.30 Photoshop's Lens Distortion tool to remove any residual distortion shot either at 3m (10') or infinity. These aren't facts or specifications, they are the results of my research that requires hours of photography and calculations on the resulting data.
Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 T*.
It's a metal shell covering plastic guts.
The focus ring isn't connected to anything; it's just an encoder which hopefully will be interpreted properly by your camera to drive the electronic focus motors.
On my A7R II manual-focus is mediocre. It works, but it feels disconnected because it is.
Falloff is completely invisible as shot on the A7R II, which I presume is correcting much of it.
I've greatly exaggerated the falloff by shooting a flat gray target and presenting it against a gray background:
There's no problem with vignetting even with a stack of several filters.
There's no need for thin filters; regular thick and rotating filters work great.
Focus breathing (the image changing size as focused) is mostly of interest to cinematographers who don't want the image changing size ("breathing") as the lens is focused among different subjects.
The image gets larger as focussed more closely.
Flare is poor by modern standards. Broad, bright areas of light inside the picture can invoke apparitions on the opposite side of the picture:
Bright light on right, ectoplasm on left and right.
Thankfully few of us make silly pictures like this, but if you do, the blobs you are seeing are real.
There are no lateral color fringes, at least as shot on the A7R II.
You'll have to look at the full image on a desktop computer; iOS devices won't show all the detail. It's stunning.
Macro gets as close as every other normal lens. Here's what you get on full-frame:
Mondaine A1323034811SBB at close-focus distance at f/8 on full frame.
Crop from above at 100%. If this is about 6" (15cm) on your screen, printing the complete image at this same high magnification would result in a 80 x 55" (6.5 x 4.5 feet or 2.1 x 1.4 meter) print!
This is super-sharp. At f/1.8 you usually will get some color fringes due to slight defocus and spherochromatism.
Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8. enlarge.
Yes, the mount really is pink.
The Sony Zeiss 55/1.8 is mostly metal on the outside and mostly plastic on the inside. It feels nice compared to plastic, but not as nice as an all-metal lens
Moisture seal at mount
Sticker glued on bottom of barrel.
Mine was already half coming off, it's simply stuck on the flat of the barrel; there is no indentation.
— also —
Engraved and filled with paint on front of lens.
Yes, the mount really is pink!
Noises When Shaken
Rear Light Baffle
Made in Thailand. Shamefully hidden in invisibly small black-on-black text on the rear baffle.
Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens, and lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers. It's the least skilled hobbyists who waste the most time blaming fuzzy pictures on their lenses, while real shooters know that few photos ever use all the sharpness of which their lenses are capable due to subject motion and the fact that real subjects are rarely perfectly flat.
This Zeiss 55mm is extremely sharp throughout all of the full frame image at every setting. If you're not getting sharp images, you're doing something wrong.
It's super-sharp wide open, and diffraction will dull the image at the smallest apertures.
Sony's Zeiss MTF curves:
Zeiss, who has been making spy optics since before Man invented airplanes, makes this lens so sharp that even wide-open hand-held at 1/30 I can excite moiré in a 43 MP Sony A7R II:
The moiré is the yellow and magenta pattern overlaid on the gray background. There is no way to remove this later in software.
Spherochromatism is unusually obvious shooting wide-open.
Out-of-focus highlights just behind the plane of focus will have green fringes, and out-of-focus highlights a little closer than the plane of focus will have magenta fringes.
If you have a grille like this, you'll see it merge into what looks like a green tint behind and a magenta tint in front of the plane of focus.
This makes for very smooth background bokeh when plants are behind your subject, but also often visible color fringes near the plane of perfect focus if you have sharp white/black transitions.
I wasn't looking for it in this image of a sunset shot through an outdoor screen, but boy did spherochromatism screw up my image by adding the weird magenta and green colors fore and aft of the plane of focus:
Spherochromatism at f/2.5. bigger.
Sunstar, f/5.6. bigger.
Sunstar, f/11. bigger.
Sunstar, f/22. bigger.
With its 9-bladed rounded diaphragm, this Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 makes crummy sunstars, if any at all.
This is a unique lens.
No other 50mm or 50mm f/1.8 lens has anywhere near the optical technology of this lens. It is significantly sharper wide-open than anything from Canon or Nikon.
Of course the other lenses sell for $125, not $900, and once stopped down, all are as super-sharp.
While sharper wide-open and having great bokeh, this lens has worse spherochromatism and flare than the other lenses.
If you value sharpness and resolution, get this lens, but overall, the others probably make better pictures once you stand back and actually look at the picture, not the pixels.
This 55/1.8 is significantly sharper than any zoom for Sony, so it you really want to get all the pixels for which you paid with Sony's latest cameras, you need this lens.
Like taking a foreign-language class for a language in which you are already fluent, this lens gets an easy A+ for anyone shooting with the Sony system.
There are very few lenses native to Sony's unique E mount, whose short flange focal distance lets lens designers design superior lenses like this that cannot be made for SLRs. Because there is no flipping reflex mirror to clear, this lens has all the sharpness advantages of rangefinder lenses.
If shooting a Sony E-mount camera, you need one of these, and there are no real substitutes. Attempting to adapt a Sony or Alpha or MAXXUM lens will work, but be bigger, clunkier, and lack the optical performance.
If you're reading this, just get one. Like a Porsche, there is no substitute.
This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you get yours via these links to it at Adorama; I'd also get it at Amazon or at B&H. When you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live, it helps me keep adding to this free website — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you take the chance of buying elsewhere. Unlike a bottle of milk or a CD, Sony and Zeiss don't seal their boxes at all, so you have no idea if you're getting a used, returned, incomplete or damaged product if you risk buying at retail. Never buy at retail. I use the sources I do because they have the best prices, service, return policies and selection— and they ship from secure remote warehouses where no customers or salesmen can get their sticky hands on your new camera before you do.
Thanks for helping me help you!
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