Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Re: photozone review of the Zeiss ZA Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/2.8 SSM (off-topic?)

You know what is the difference between Leica and Zeiss, right (besides the price difference, that is)? Leica is for bokeh, Zeiss is for sharpness. Really simple wisdom, but it is interesting to see it being proven. The recent photozone review of the Zeiss ZA Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/2.8 SSM shows that this lens, aimed at future users off the 35mm sensor Sony cameras, joins the string of evidences. It is shown to be very sharp, showing low levels distrortions, but a kind of ugly bokeh. The out of focus areas do not fade nicely to the background, but decompose into sharp little circles. There is also secondary CA visible - see the shirt of the cyclist. Despite the low distortion, almost no vignetting and great sharpness (at least on APS-C), this can be a great problem, as the reviewer points out rightly.

So how do we come here? Well, the four-thirds member of the league is the 14-35mm f2.0 SWD, a lens that was delayed for a long time, was criticised by many. Most of the critiques related to zoom range, size and price. Well, looking at the Zeiss, or the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 USM L or the Nikon AF-S Zoom- NIKKOR 28-70mm f/2.8DG IF-ED 24-70mm f2.8G, criticising the Zuiko for the zoom range seems to be ridiculous well placed. Designing lenses with the same short field of view might be a sign of of collusion in the industry, but I'd rather think of it as a technological necessity. Already with the 2.5x almost 3x zoom range, we see signs of weaknesses with these bright zooms. Olympus might argue that not going that wide is a price we have to pay for better image quality, but the argument has to be really-really strong. imagine results if they were wider/longer! Because of this, I think it is better to drop the "range" case. Size-wise the Zuiko is indeed the fattest of all lenses and can also be the priciest, too (along with the Nikon). But compared to what? [Notice the editing! I was stupid enough not only to insert the reference to an older Nikkor, but also build part of the argument here on a trivial misunderstanding. Corrections are indicated with strike-through, as the realistic conclusion does have to change.]

Well, you can compare it to the Canon, selling at around $1200 at B&H. Why would you do so? Because Canon is the staple of photojournalists. Are there any other ways to compare? Surely there are. If you look at the nice little review from digitalcamerareview.com, you can see that the Zuiko makes compromises that are different from the Canon or the Zeiss. It insists on weather sealing and f2 brightness - I think the former is a must for a pro-grade lens, while the latter is a a) must for four-thirds because sensor size, b) unique selling point that has the power of differentiate on the market, c) nice touch many were waiting for. Along with this, is has almost zero CA, extremely nice bokeh, and remarkable sharpness, at the price of some vignetting. Well, what lens comes into your mind? Yes, a Leica, but a big, zoom version of that, which - in contrast to many Leicas - can bring together sharpness and fastness while keeping a superb bokeh.

I do not want to say it is better or worse than others. I do not want to say that Leica or Olympus is right to price its lenses the way it does. The point is only that if you see a lens which projects images in a way similar to the best lenses ever made (insert counter-argument here at will), you might find ways to rationalise size and cost that is larger than the competition in some dimension (especially considering field of view), but way smaller than the competition in other dimension (like bokeh and image quality in general).

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