Gear Referenced In This Article
Note: While I had used the Sony a7R II at the time, I'm linking to the current generation camera (which I currently own), the Sony a7R IV.
I first spotted her at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City in late October 2015. At first, I wasn’t sure if my eyes were playing games with me but upon further inspection, sitting in a display case next to her other siblings and cousins—the Zeiss Loxia and Batis lenses—was the fabled ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 lens equipped with the Sony E-mount. A truly ultra-wide and fast prime lens forged from the highest end optical grade glass and built in a housing that is so small and light, you almost forget that you’re carrying it.
At the time, I had the good fortune of getting access to one of a small handful of samples of the lens in existence. As a member of the ZEISS Global Lens Ambassador Program, this is one of the greatest benefits and I was sure to put it to good use for my upcoming two week trip to Italy.
Before I dive into my experience using this lens, I’d like to preface my goal for this post. There is no shortage of in-depth reviews of this lens covering everything from MTF chart specs to bokeh characteristics to chroma analysis. These people are far more capable of conducting such thorough reviews, so I’m going to leave that task to them. This post is—first and foremost—about my impressions of extensively using this lens during my two-week trip throughout Italy. It is not meant to be a clinical review. Rather, it’s my opportunity to share thoughts and images created with this beautiful glass. It goes without saying that I’d love to field any questions you may have, so please leave them in the comments section below. With that out of the way, let’s begin!
Sony α7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 30 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 100
Build Quality and Notable Features
In a word, using the ZEISS Loxia 21mm f/2.8 lens is exquisite. Everything about the lens feels precise and luxe. Despite its diminutive size, the lens is weighted and balanced beautifully, which is important when pairing it with the Sony α7R II—the camera used to take all the edited photos in this post. When paired together, the camera and lens combo feels fantastic in my hands. It was not front or back heavy at all. It was simply balanced beautifully. Owners of the ZEISS Loxia 2/35 or ZEISS Loxia 2/50 know exactly what I mean.
My admiration for ZEISS lenses stems from the thoughtfulness infused with usability. For example, the ZEISS Batis line has an industry-first built-in OLED display, making manual focus in the dark and determining the hyperfocal distance a breeze. With Loxia, another innovation can be found that filmmakers will undoubtedly love. With a simple twist of an adjustment screw on the bayonet, you can activate a “de-click” feature, allowing you to smoothly—and silently—adjust the lens aperture. This feature instantly places the Loxia in the cine-style lens camp. It’s brilliant.
I took four lenses with me on my two week trip to Italy: the ZEISS Batis 1.8/85, ZEISS Loxia 2/50, ZEISS Loxia 2/35, and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21. It should be of no surprise that the bulk of my photos were taken with the Loxia 21mm f/2.8—to properly test its capabilities—while the remaining ones were taken with the Batis 85mm f/1.8.
Like its siblings, the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 has a 52mm threading on the front of the lens, which was important to know because I intended on using some screw-on ND and Circular Polarizer filters on the trip (although it was a rarity in retrospect). Fortunately, I had a 52mm – 77mm step-up ring handy, allowing me to easily use one set of filters.
Also like its siblings, the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 is a purely manual focus lens. While I’ll cover the experience of manually focusing with this lens later in this post, it is important to highlight the precision engraving of both the distance and depth of focus scale. It’s with this precision that photographers can ensure sharp photos using zone focusing—something I heavily relied on for a majority of my photographs.
Using the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21
When thinking about the usability of a lens, several questions come to mind—Is the lens sturdy? Does it wobble when mounted? How smooth is its focus ring?—to name a few. All of these things add up to form your opinion of the lens and will ultimately fuel your decision to continue using it or leave it sitting on the shelf back home. Fortunately, the ZEISS Loxia 2.821 upholds the highest quality. Mounting the lens to my α7R II felt solid, thanks in part to its distinctive blue sealing on the bayonet.
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 1/100 sec. at f/4.5; ISO 200
While I did bring a lightweight travel tripod on this trip, I only used it for a handful of frames. The majority of my time taking photos in Italy was by handholding the camera. I highlight this because if the size/weight of your camera and lens is too heavy or uncomfortable, it can make this experience of capturing the fleeting moments of life a drag. Fortunately, as I stated earlier, this camera and lens pairing is wonderful, even after handholding it for hours on end.
Like the other Loxia lenses, the 2.8/21 is manual focus only, something that I used to be very fearful of, especially in my DSLR days. Despite having perfect vision, I never trusted my eyes to ensure sharp focus when using an optical viewfinder. Fortunately, those fears have all been allayed thanks to the brilliant electronic viewfinder (EVF) in the Sony α7 line. As soon as I engage the focus ring of my lens, the EVF magnifies to a pre-determined focus point, allowing me to instantly ensure sharp focusing. And this is where the quality of the focus ring gets my praise. With a lot of lenses, the “throw” of the focus ring often feels loose and imprecise, making micro-adjustments nearly impossible. This is a huge frustration for me, especially as I dive deeper into solely using manual focus with my photography. Fortunately, the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 has a taut and responsive focus ring. When you combine that with the technologies of Sony’s EVF, you find that manual focus is not only acceptable, it is the preferred way of photographing.
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 30 sec. at f/5.0; ISO 800
Ultimately, the availability of this lens may raise questions for a variety of photographers out there, most notably being whether it will be worth investing ~$1300 USD for it. The answer—obviously—is completely subjective and rests on your needs, photography preferences, and budget. It also begs the question to non-Sony photographers as to whether this lens adds to an already long list of reasons why migrating to Sony’s α7 mirrorless system could be worthwhile. With each passing year, the lens lineup for Sony’s full-frame E-mount cameras becomes more mature and impressive. And it’s great to see a prestigious company like ZEISS dedicate resources to further advance it with its Batis and Loxia lines.
The Loxia 2.8/21 is not the widest lens available for the α7 line. In addition to other 3rd party lenses, Sony also has several ultra-wide prime and zoom lenses. Still, all affiliations and partnerships aside, investing in the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 would be a no-brainer for me. In my extensive usage with this lens, there was only one time when I wished I could go wider in focal length but I was able to easily work around that by grabbing several vertical panels and stitching together a panoramic photo in post. The challenges of hardware don’t interest me as much as finding ways to work around them.
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 5-panel pano stitch | 30 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 250
Simply put, what you get with the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 is a compact precision lens with a fixed ultra-wide focal length and a large aperture. It is a lens that pairs beautiful with the Sony α7 line and has the right amount of heft to feel balanced in your hands without causing strain or fatigue. On top of that, I have to admit to getting slightly giddy over the way the supplied metal lens hood snaps into place when twisted on.
I hope this post gives you a better idea of the capabilities of the ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21. As far as I’m concerned, this is a must-have lens for Sony α7 owners. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below!
ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21: Additional Sample Photos
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 1/8 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 125
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 1/80 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 125
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 1/4000 sec. at f/9.0; ISO 640
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 30 sec. at f/10; ISO 200
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 20 sec. at f/22; ISO 100
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21| 1/30 sec. at f/13; ISO 160
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 1/8000 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 160
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 30 sec. at f/5.0; ISO 100
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 30 sec. at f/10; ISO 250
Sony a7R II and ZEISS Loxia 2.8/21 | 1/160 sec. at f/8.0; ISO 160
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