Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* SAL-85F14Z
Lab Test Results
June 1, 2010
by Andrew Alexander
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss has been available for several years now, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Minolta 85mm ƒ/1.4 (Sony took over Minolta's designs in 2006). Internally, the lens adds an additional element, but otherwise, the two lenses share a similar design.
The 85mm ƒ/1.4 Z lens is compatible with full-frame camera sensors, and will provide an effective field of view of 128mm when used on a sub-frame sensor camera such as the a700. The lens features a nine-bladed aperture in order to provide smooth bokeh, and takes 72mm filters.
The lens ships with a circular-style hood and is available now for approximately $1,250.
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss is one of the sharpest lenses we've tested, and competes strongly with the best glass Canon and Nikon has to offer.
Let's start with the lens mounted on the sub-frame a700. Wide open at ƒ/1.4 the lens is just slightly soft at 2 blur units across the frame, and our test sample shows very slight de-centering. Stopping down to ƒ/2 increases sharpness dramatically, to well under 1.5 blur units; at ƒ/2.8, the lens is almost tack-sharp, hovering just over one blur unit. Stopping the aperture down further to ƒ/4 offers the best result, with results about as sharp as our test can measure. It's the same story until about ƒ/11, where we see the first practical impact of diffraction limiting. There's an overall decrease in sharpness by ƒ/16, but it isn't until the lens is fully stopped-down at ƒ/22 that we hit 2 blur units across the frame.
Mounting the lens on the full-frame a900, again we note impressive performance. It's a very similar story to what we noted on the a700 - slightly soft wide open at ƒ/1.4, but getting very sharp indeed at ƒ/2.8. There's only a minute increase in sharpness at ƒ/4, where it's tack sharp until ƒ/11 as diffraction limiting sets in. Fully stopped down at ƒ/22, we note less than two blur units.
Results for CA testing were essentially the same regardless of the body used - very good. There's a marginal amount at ƒ/1.4, both in the corners and the center, in the form of a magenta shift. Outside of that aperture, it's less of a concern.
Corner shading isn't an issue to speak of with the 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss mounted on the sub-frame a700. On the full-frame a900, there is a slight amount of light falloff at ƒ/1.4, where the extreme corners will be a third of a stop darker than the center.
Similarly, distortion isn't a factor with the lens mounted on the a700. On the full-frame a900, we note some slight barrel distortion in the corners, but not enough to get really excited about - just +0.2%.
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss uses an older mechanical focusing system, no doubt inherited from the Minolta design. The result is a fairly fast focus, largely dependent on the strength of the camera focusing motor - on the a900, it took about a second to go from close focusing to infinity. Short focus throws happen much faster. There is a slight amount of lens extension during focus operations, but the front element doesn't rotate.
The 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss makes a poor macro lens, with just 0.13x magnification, and a relatively long close focusing distance of 2.8 feet.
Build Quality and Handling
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss is quite a handful. Weighing in at just under twenty ounces, when mounted on the a900 it balances well but makes a heavy package overall. The lens has the typical Zeiss quality feel without a ton of features - it's a good, sharp lens. In Sony fashion the lens is lustrous black on black. The lens uses 72mm filters.
As manual focus is selected on the camera body, there isn't much to speak of in terms of lens switches. The lens has a focus lock button on the left side where its easy to use - pressing the button overrides the camera's autofocus as long as the button is pressed, which is handy in certain circumstances. There is a good sized distance scale, measured in feet and meters underneath a clear window, with usable markings for depth of field at f8, 16 and 22.
The lens has a very smooth manual focus ring, made of a polycarbonate material with raised ribs making it easy to grip. The focusing ring is 5/8 of an inch wide, and takes about 120 degrees of turning action before ending in hard stops on either end. The lens will not focus past infinity.
The SH0002 lens hood is a circular hood with interior flocking which uses a bayonet mount to attach to the lens. The hood reverses for storage on the lens, and when attached for use, adds 1 5/8 inches to the overall length of the lens.
Unfortunately your options here are currently limited to the rare, the used, and the soon to come.
Konica Minolta 85mm ƒ/1.4 G D AF ~$~1,000
If you can find one, a Minolta 85mm ƒ/1.4 may likely provide you with similar performance to the Sony, but from what I can see on the usual used sources, won't cost you much less than a brand new Sony.
Sigma 85mm ƒ/1.4 EX DG HSM ~$~900
At the time of writing (June 2010) Sigma has just announced this lens, and the pricing thereof, so we haven't had any opportunity to test it. The lens features 3 more elements than the Sony, uses rounded aperture blades, and takes 77mm filters.
Samyang 85mm ƒ/1.4 ~$~350
We haven't tested any Samyang lenses, not for want of asking, but it's turned out to be an inexpensive alternative about which many people have good things to say. You don't get autofocus, but it's a cheap way to get into an 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens. Keep in mind however that your Sony body may not work fully with this lens, and do your research before you buy.
The Sony 85mm ƒ/1.4 Zeiss is an excellent lens, offering excellently sharp images at very wide apertures. It rivals the other major manufacturers in terms of its performance, and offers something they don't - image stabilization, which is built-in to Sony dSLR camera bodies.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* SAL-85F14Z
Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* SAL-85F14Z User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by 3systemuser (19 reviews)good contrast level even at f1.4 , extremely sharp even at wide open , fast AF on the A900, no distortion at all.no SSM.
I think this is the best 85mm I have tested , this lens is better than the Canon 85f1.2Lmk2 , Nikkor 85f1.4G , the Sigma 85f1.4HSM and Zeiss 85f1.4ZF2.reviewed December 29th, 2010 (purchased for $1,400)
it is sharp even at f1.4 , with great level of contrast.
the Canon 85f1.2Lmk2 is also quite sharp at f1.4 but it is not as contrasty as this Sony at f1.4.
and the Canon has more barrel distortion and much more pronnounced CA than this Sony Zeiss lens.
comparing it to the Nikon G , I found this Sony Zeiss much sharper in the center but not as sharp as the Nikon in the corners of the FF.
the Nikon has more distortion , more pronounced CA , worse bokeh but the Nikkor is much more resistant to flare ghosting.
I think this is the best 85 mm and this lens alone can be good enough reason for some people to go Sony, I think this lens and Zeiss 24f2ZA are that good.
All Sony Zeiss line lenses are fantastic , the 135ZA , the 85f1.4ZA and the 24f2ZA are all almost perfect and they can't get any better than they are.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by edwardkaraa (12 reviews)Sharpest lens ever, high contrast and 3D rendering.AF hunting occasionally, some LoCA but nothing serious.
This lens is almost perfect in every way. Stellar at infinity, stellar at medium and short range, high contrast and micro-contrast, pronounced 3D rendering. An exemplary Zeiss lens.reviewed August 20th, 2010 (purchased for $1,500)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by roweraay (2 reviews)Ultra-sharp corner-to-corner, terrific micro-contrast, superior build and Zeiss opticsBeing an SSM would have been better
This lens is ultra-sharp even wide open at f/1.4 ! On an APS-C 12MP (A700), there is absolutely no detectable vignetting and is sharp corner-to-corner with zero degradation as one moves to the borders. There is even resolution throughout the frame (on APS-C - never tested on Full-frame yet).reviewed August 31st, 2008 (purchased for $1,300)
The entire lens is cased in metal, with even the hood being metal and the whole lens has a VERY high precision feel.
The only (minor) point about this lens is that I wish this was an SSM lens than having the AF driven off of the body-based motor, even though the AF itself is fast enough, even for tracking action. The body-based motor obviously is not as silent as an SSM motor could be.
Other than the above minor gripe, I can unequivocally recommend this lens. Paired with its companion, the Carl Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 Sonnar, I think this is a terrific one-two punch from Sony, into the ultra-high-end of dSLR lenses. Remember that due to the body based stabilization of Sony bodies, all of these primes are "stabilized", whereas not a single one of Sony's primary Full-frame competition from Canon/Nikon have stabilized lenses.
Can't wait for their Full-frame model with its 24.6MP sensor, with built-in body-based Stabilization, to be released fast enough !