10.03.14 -> Zeiss C/Y 50mm vs FE 55mm Thoughts

One of the more cool things about the A7/A7r is the opportunity to use adapted glass on these bodies. As well as the Zeiss 35 & 55 FE I have a decent set of glass in C/Y mount, which I am working my way through, to find out what’s good and what’s not so good. The most obvious thing to do was to pit the Zeiss FE 55/1.8 Sonnar against my Contax fit 50/1.4 Planar. Typically Sonnar designs are sharper but slightly slower than equivalent Planars. The FE lens has been Rated as the sharps AF lens available and not far short of the monster Zeiss 55/1.4 Otus, so it would be interesting to see just how good it is against, arguably the sharpest of the classic 50/1.4 lenses from the 35mm film days. Having made a few shots with the Sonnar on my NEX-6 before the A7 arrived I had been stunned by the sharpness and therefore expected the Sonnar to trash it’s older Zeiss stable-mate.

I’m not hugely scientific bout lens testing, but I think that shooting a lens in the real world very quickly tells you if you are going to like it. Personally, I’ve always liked the 50mm Planars I’ve owned over the last few years. I also knew from the first shot that the new 55mm Sonnar was a bit special. I don’t really have a preference in terms of build, though the need to adapt the C/Y lens does introduce the potential for misalignment but I think I’ve been quite lucky with my (cheap Chinese) NEX-C/Y adapter as I’ve not noticed any major quality issues on the lenses I’ve tried.

In the end I was pleasantly surprised by how close the Planar came to the Sonnar. It’s clearly not quite as sharp at pixel peeping levels but by f/4 it’s really not far behind at all, it also has slightly lower contrast and a warmer colour rendition – which could have it’s uses.

I had to buy some glass as my trade in massively exceeded the body only value of the A7r but if I hadn’t been able to get the FE 55mm lens then the Planar would have given about 95% of the IQ for no further outlay. Obviously as I do have the FE it will be the mainstay of my prime lens kit from here on in.

50mm f/1.4 Planar (left) | 55mm f/1.8 FE (right)
50mm f/1.4 Planar (left) | 55mm f/1.8 FE (right)

3 thoughts on “10.03.14 -> Zeiss C/Y 50mm vs FE 55mm Thoughts”

  1. Hi, thanks for sharing this. Been wondering myself how these two compare, and they both look incredible on the A7r. The Sonnar seems to win this one overall. On the other hand the c/y definitely has that softer, less digital look akin to the film days.

    May I ask how you do you work an accurate exposure on the A7r with the adapted c/y Planar? Can you meter/shoot in Manual accurately even without a chip on the adapter?

    I currently use an adapted Planar (with a chip) on a Canon 5DmkII, and shooting manual flawlessly. Unfortunately I can’t seem to do the same with a chipless adapter. Planning to explore a similar c/y setup with a new Sony soon, appreciate any advice you can offer. Many thanks!

    1. Hi there,

      I find accurate exposure with adapted lenses much easier on the A7r (and my NEX-6 before that) than with the Canon DSLRs I used until March this year. The great thing about Mirrorless is the EVF simulates the actual exposure and allows you to see a histogram as you shoot. On the A7 series you can also set Zebras to show areas of overexposure, which IMO is critical with my A7r as the highlight recovery from RAW files simply doesn’t match up to what you can achieve with a 5DII in Capture 1. With the benefit of these aids when the metering does get flaky you can take control immediately. I normally shoot in aperture priority mode so the fact my thumb falls easily to the exposure compensation dial is my best friend…

      The down side is that I do find it slower to focus with the A7r compared to the finder on my Canons. because of the 36mp resolution it’s much more critical than with the 16-21Mp I’ve been used to. Focus peaking helps but really only gets you into the ballpark, you then have to enlarge the centre for critical focusing, I’m guessing this would be easier on the A7 as the resolution is lower. Incidentally that focusing on the Canon’s was with unchipped adapters. I tried a chipped one which locked the camera so off came the chip and I never tried it again!

      On the two lenses, yeah, if I could only keep one it would probably be the modern Sonnar. AF is an advantage and it’s sharpness is properly stunning at times. Using the planar means giving up some sharpness but the tonal graduations become smoother, which works better at times.

      1. Thanks for the feedback!

        Sorry I totally forgot the part the Sony is mirrorless! I always use the Canon in Live View with exposure simulation (still involves flipping the mirror tho) plus the occasional peep while focusing manually using magnify/zoom. I never focus using just the viewfinder, using Live View always instead. The chip is only useful for locking the aperture to a correct wide open setting (i.e. f1.4) as a base for correct manual exposure, plus giving basic lens info on the exif.

        Love the flexibility on the Sony’s exposure aids. I feel more confident now even with just shooting Aperture Priority.

        I agree the resolution may play a part on getting DOF right. Focus peaking rocks even just on my Fuji so I suppose this would be pretty exciting on a Sony + Zeiss.

        And that Sonnar looks pretty awesome. I love Planar bokeh more, but AF is indeed hard to ignore when the going gets tough to capture.

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