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Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM Lens Review

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM Lens Review - Gary Wolstenholme reviews the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM lens, a standard prime lens for use with Sony A-mount cameras which sports a fast f/1.4 maximum aperture and silent focusing.

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Category : Interchangeable Lenses
Product : Sony SAL Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM
Price : £1,290
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Handling and features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

SAL Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM
This standard prime lens for use with Sony A-mount cameras and adapters sports a fast f/1.4 maximum aperture and silent focusing. As this is one of Sony's premium lenses, it carries Carl Zeiss branding and sports their T* anti-reflective coatings as a result. Another by-product of the Carl Zeiss brand is the price, which is around £1290 for this lens. In this review, we'll take a look at how this lens performs and whether the premium price is worth it.

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM Handling and features

Sony Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm F14 SSM Lens (3)

As you may expect, this lens' build quality is worthy of the Carl Zeiss name. The lens barrel is constructed from aluminium, which also helps to keep the overall weight of the lens reasonable at just over five hundred grams. The lens is sealed against dust and moisture, in the same way as Sony's high-end SLT cameras are. The size and weight are a good match for the Sony Alpha A99 body used for testing. It is worth noting that the light weight will make this lens feel equally at home on more compact SLR and SLT bodies also.

Autofocus is powered by a Super Sonic wave motor, which moves lens elements quickly, resulting in fast autofocus. Manual focus adjustments can be made at any time by presing a button located in the centre of the AF/MF switch. The focusing ring has a smooth, well damped action so fine manual focus adjustments are a pleasure to apply.

As focusing is performed by shifting the rear group of elements, the 72mm filter ring doesn't rotate. This is ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters. Closest focus is 45cm, which is typical for a lens of this focal length and aperture.

Sony Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm F14 SSM Lens (6)

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM Performance

At maximum aperture, sharpness in the centre of the frame is good, but the clarity recorded towards the edges of the frame is fairly poor. Stopping down the aperture improves performance across the frame with clarity reaching good levels by f/2.8. Peak sharpness across the frame is achieved at f/5.6, where sharpness is outstanding in the centre and excellent towards the edges of the frame.

Resolution at 50mm
Resolution at 50mm

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A99 using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are higher than you might expect from a lens bearing the Carl Zeiss name. Fringing at maximum aperture exceed one and a half pixel widths, and will be quite easy to spot along high contrast edges towards the edges of the frame.

Chromatic aberration @ 50mm
Chromatic aberration @ 50mm

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A99 using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is fairly typical for a lens with such a fast maximum aperture. At f/1.4 the corners are 2.61 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination isn't achieved until the aperture is stopped down to f/4 or beyond.

Typical of standard lenses with a fast maximum aperture there is barrel distortion, more than you may expect for a prime lens to present. Imatest detected 2.27% barrel distortion, which may become visible in images with straight lines parallel to the edges of the frame. At least the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, so this should be realtively easy to correct in image editing software afterwards.

The anti-reflective T* coatings applied to this lens do a sterling job of controlling flare and retaining contrast when shooting into the light. The front element is deeply recessed within the lens barrel also, so there's barely any need for an external hood. A little flare can appear in extreme circumstances when shooting into the light, but contrast is still retained well.

Carl Zeiss SAL Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM Sample Photos


Value for Money

There is no doubting that this lens performs well enough to justify the Carl Zeiss blue badge on the lens barrel, but whether it performs well enough to justify such a price will be debatable for many users.
For example, Sony's non-Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 only costs £300, which is a around a quarter of the price of this Carl Zeiss optic. This is a huge difference to pay, even if the standard Sony lens doesn't have a silent focusing motor. Sigma also offer a 50mm f/1.4 lens to fit Sony A-mount camera, which costs around £320 and has a silent focusing motor with full time manual override.

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM Verdict

Lenses bearing the Carl Zeiss name tend to be luxury items and carry a luxury price tag as a result. Although this lens performs well in many areas, the high CA levels at fast apertures and fairly poor sharpness towards the edges of the frame at maximum aperture isn't typically what you'd expect of Carl Zeiss.

Even with the excellent weather resistant build, £1290 still seems very expensive for a 50mm f/1.4. There will be those who find this good value for their needs, but only a niche group of people will be be able to justify such an outlay for this lens.

   
  The Sony SAL Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM lens is fantastically sharp when stopped down.

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA Pros

Superb build
Fantastically sharp when stopped down
Quick to focus
Reasonably lightweight ofr its size and build

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA Cons

High CA at fast apertures
Fairly poor sharpness towards the edges of the frame at f1.4

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
OVERALL  

Carl Zeiss SAL Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA SSM Specifications

General
Lens Mounts
  • Sony A
Lens
Focal Length50mm
Angle of View47
Max Aperturef/1.4
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size72mm
35mm equivalent75mm
Internal focusingYes
Focusing
Min Focus45cm
StabilisedNo
Construction
Blades9
Elements8
Groups5
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight518g
Height71.5mm

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    Comments


    Is it possible you can do a comparison with this and the sigma 50mm hsm?

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