Zeiss Loxia 21 Review

This spring, I picked up another E-mount Zeiss for my personal collection, the Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21 fully manual wide-angle lens. The only other E-mounts I have reviewed from Zeiss so far have been the Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 and Zeiss Batis 2.8/135. I have to say, this one is a completely different beast; and not only because it is fully manual.

The 21mm length has always been an interesting one for me. I've owned the Zeiss 21mm in both Leica M-mount (Biogon) as well as Nikon F-mount (Distagon), so you know I've had a long history with it. It's perfect for landscape, architecture, and even getting some close-up subjects with smooth bokeh backgrounds.

Per usual, a little of the nerdy with the tech specs, then I will move on to some of my initial impressions.

Zeiss Loxia 21mm + Sony A7R II

Zeiss Loxia 21 Tech Specs

Here is a quick run-down of the listed specs of the lens. Again, this is one designed to fit like a glove with the A7R II. This is an all mechanical lens. If you were to put this on an ASP-C body, the equivalent is 31.5 mm.

  • Developed specifically for the Sony E-Mount mirrorless system
  • Lens Design: Distagon
  • Length: 21 mm
  • Aperture: f/2.8-f/22
  • Minimum Focus: 0.25 m 
  • Elements / Groups: 11/9
  • Angular Field (diag. | horiz. | vert.): 91° / 81° / 59°
  • Length: 72 mm (85 mm with cap)
  • Filter: 52 mm
  • Weight: 394 g
  • Cost: ~$1424 US

Full Size Raw Sample

Below is a 100% zoomable raw file, taken wide open at f/2.8 and ISO 200 from the Zeiss Loxia 21 taken on the Sony A7R II. Click the image to peek around at pixels and the amount of detail in the distance. Also, check the edges and see that this lens is truly (nearly) distortion-free. The image to the right of the interactive one is after a Rebecca Lily Preset (one-click action) on how I like my images to look.

Edited version

BUILD AND DESIGN

I am going to sound like a broken record here, but this is another Zeiss lens built like a tank. Much more solid than the Batis line, these are all metal construction. If you're familiar with M mount Zeiss or Leica glass, you have an idea of the build.  The focus barrel is buttery smooth with a long 90° throw and has nice ribbing for easy grip whether bare handed or gloved. The aperture ring is solid and clicks nice into place with a range of f/2-8 - 22. The ring can also be "de-clicked" for silent use with video.

Zeiss Loxia 21

The water-resistant lens was designed with four anomalous partial dispersion elements and one aspherical element to control chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) and also has the legendary Zeiss T* coating to reduce ghosting and flare as well as increasing overall contrast in your images.

At 394g, this is much lighter than the Batis 135 (614g) & 85 (452g). If you've held a Leica Summilux-M, it's about the same weight and about 20mm longer. It makes for a great walk-around lens without adding much to the overall weight of your kit.

I am really happy with going to f/2.8 on a 21mm. This allows for handheld use in crappy light. I realize many prefer this length for landscape / tripod use, but I find I get away with handheld most of the time.

Focusing on the A7R II is really spectacular. The manual focus engages the "zoom focus assist" feature of the camera making sharp focus a snap. There's no play in the focus ring, and it's tight enough to hold it's place.

THE RESULTS

Below are a few more images from my walking around with the lens over the past few months. I shot a variety of scenes so you can look for fringing, distortion, color, sharpness, and so forth. I am really happy with what this lens is producing, even if it isn't a daily lens. When I have situations to use it, I am so glad I have it. Honestly, I like it a bit more than the Leica and Nikon mount versions from Zeiss.

This week, I picked up some ND filters to use with it and will update this post in the future with some long exposure work I am planning.

OK, on to some details on what I like.

COLOR

The colors out of this lens are so good for me. Sure, I still use my presets to get the final look, but I really like how neutral the colors are coming off this lens. I didn't really shoot any portraits with this so I won't comment on skin tones. But for nature, the blue sky looks like how I see it with the naked eye, the green lives are accurate, and the subtle tones of the ocean are all there. Below are a few early fall foliage shots, with one straight into the sun. Click to see them full sized.

BOKEH

Bokeh is not usually something I look for in a 21mm. But from the image below of the Morgan you can see that it really adds a nice subtle touch to up-close work.

Sharpness

I like a lens that's sharp, but doesn't need to be clinically sharp. This one has the right balance for me. Viewing the images just above and below, I feel it has what I desire and my style shooting. And that's edge to edge. At f/2.8, it's very pleasing. Hitting f/4, you're talking clinical. Can't complain here.

Summary

The Zeiss Loxia 21mm is an excellent piece of glass. Not only beautiful to look at and a gem to hold, but also gives some outstanding results.  If you're in the market for a great 21mm for your A7, give this a look. Don't let the manual focus scare you off - it's a piece of cake to use and as reliable at nailing focus (in my book) as the Batis AF line.

I've always been a fan of the 21mm length and what Zeiss does with them.  No let downs here and it's become a permanent part of my collection. 

All (edited) images in this set edited with Rebecca Lily's Pro Set IV.

Mississippi Delta and Beyond

Last week, I had the extreme pleasure of traveling to Mississippi for a photo-walk (SEWLK 1.0) I co-hosted with the über-talented Ashleigh Coleman. After NEWLK 5.0 on Nantucket Island last spring, Ashleigh and I talked about bringing a version of the walk to the south. An October photo-walk in the picturesque Mississippi Delta was decided upon and we set things into motion over the summer. Ashleigh really did an amazing job picking out this location and route for the participants, so a big thank you to her for taking us through Greenwood and Baptist Town, MS for her inaugural photo walk. I have to say, this walk was spectacular, not only due to an outstanding location, but to the folks that joined in with us, as well as the over-flowing supply of friendly and hospitable residents of Mississippi. The tenderhearted demeanor of the people down there easily made this the most memorable photo-walk of my life.

Read More

Zeiss Batis 135 Review

So, I got my hands on the tasty Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 lens last month. I've been so lucky to have an extraordinary relationship with Zeiss over the past 7 years, allowing me to receive review copies of everything in the Zeiss line-up for my Leica (ZM) and Nikon (ZF/ZF.2) mounts. Sadly, I hadn't grabbed any review lenses from them since moving away from the Leica and Nikon digital a couple years ago. But now that I am on a new mount once again, I decided it's time to run through everything in this Sony E-mount line, so a big shout out to Zeiss for letting me resume this relationship and getting this Batis 135 out to me so fast.

Read More

365 No Peek

Next month kicks off a project cooked up on the Against the Grain podcast this month. The project stemmed from a discussion, which was inspired by Lauren Keim, about letting film sit before you look at it. During our discussion, we challenged each other to go a year without peaking/developing roll(s) and see what happens. We all have our own spin on how we want to do this, and here's mine.

Read More

The Journey

Were I forced to put words to driving force behind my photography’s narrative, I might be inclined to go with “conscientious impudence.” I write “conscientious” because I want there to be purpose behind every choice I make—whether behind the camera or in the darkroom. And, I use “impudence” because it seems that I’m constantly making choices based on things which people have expressly told me I shouldn’t do. (Please read no arrogance in this—they are often correct; and, as it turns out, I have a masochistic tendency for learning things the hard way.) 

Read More

The Three Best Cameras I Ever Used

I shoot a lot of cameras. A lot. I have been through a bunch of (primary) systems over the years, from the full Nikon system (2006) to the Leica system (2013) and onto the Sony system (2017) to name a few. While shooting these complete systems I also shoot a lot of others on the side (non-primary: think Hasselblad 500c, Plaubel-Makina 670, Chamonix 45n2, etc.). I love to buy/borrow various cameras, give em a spin, then decide if they stay or go. I'd guess I have tried an average of six "side" cameras a year for the past 10+ years. I purchase a couple of these each year, and only a few ever stick around more than a couple years.

I'd say over the years that there are three primary formats that I tend to gravitate to: 35mm film, medium format film, and 35mm digital. So, I began thinking, what are the best (most enjoyable all around) cameras I have used in each format? This is my analysis.

Read More