If you are looking to upgrade your E-mount APS-C camera with a better lens there are several options. Sony has got some Sony-branded E-mount prime lenses, with a low price and small size. Those lenses offer a upgraded image quality but may not bring you the quality you need. If you are looking for the highest quality on offer you’ll have to switch over to the Sony Zeiss- branded lenses, like the Sony Zeiss Sonnar E 24mm f1.8 ZA. An expensive, high quality premium lens. In this review I’ll tell you more about this lens, and if its worth the premium price.
I used the Zeiss 24 mm on my Sony Alpha 6000. I bought this camera in the summer of 2014 together with the Sony 16-50 mm kit lens as a replacement for my Nikon D7000 DSLR. After using the A6000 with the kit lens for some time I found the kit lens couldn’t live up to my expectations. The kit lens is very compact and with the built in image correction it does deliver quite acceptable results when shooting in JPEG. But I kept missing the ‘Wow-factor’, and the kit lens seems to hold back the fantastic 24 megapixel sensor of the A6000. Looking for a replacement I considered several options. My demands where a larger maximum aperture for more control over the depth of field, and at least a little sharper than the kit lens. Zoom was optional so a wide prime lens was an option. I read tons of reviews about almost every native E-mount lens, weighing my options and budget I decided to buy the Sony Zeiss Sonnar 24 mm f1.8 ZA prime lens. A 24 mm lens corrected with the 1.5x crop factor of the APS-C sized sensors in the A6000 gives you the same field of view as an 36 mm lens on a full frame camera when. Which makes it a standard wide angle lens.
I bought my Zeiss 24 mm second hand. This way I was able to compensate the hefty price tag of this lens. If you buy it new, this lens costs about 950 euros or dollar. Not quite a bargain, especially when you realise it doesn’t zoom and it doesn’t even have optical stabilisation. My second hand lens was in mint condition, but I didn’t have the original sun shade.
Size and weight
This lens balances nicely on the A6000, it isn’t too big and the weight is surprisingly low. Of course it is a lot bigger than the Sony 16-50 mm kit lens. The A6000 was never going to fit in your pants pocket, but with the Zeiss 24 mm it’s not even going to fit in your coat pocket (with the exception of some really oversized pockets). Because of the low weight you can easily carry the A6000 with this lens using a wrist strap. That’s why I mostly carry my A6000 with my DSPTCH wristband attached.
I love the looks of this lens. It’s got a simple and understated design with a smooth black metal finish. The focus ring is covered with a ribbed rubberized finish with good grip. This lens feels like a premium, well-built product (like most Sony E-mount lenses). On the left side (seen from the camera) you’ll find the small blue Zeiss logo. There are no other switches on the lens, so switching from AF to MF has to be done in the camera.
Focus and daily use
This lens supports the advanced focus system of the A6000. So the camera can use both the fast PDAF (Phase Detection Auto Focus, with 179 AF-points) and the slower but more accurate CDAF (Contrast Detection Auto Focus, with 25 AF-points). This means focus is fast and accurate, helped by the relative wide angle focussing is even faster than with the kit lens.
For manual focusing the lens has got a buttery smooth wide focus ring. Like the other E-mount lenses, the focus ring isn’t connected to the focusing mechanism directly so focusing is done ‘by-wire’. This works quite well, and after some practise I don’t mind the difference with a mechanical system anymore. Being a native Sony E-mount lens it supports all the focusing tricks built in to the Sony cameras. So the camera enlarges the image on your LCD screen of in your EVF when you rotate the focus ring if you are in manual focus mode. This makes for an enjoyable focusing experience.
This lens doesn’t have OSS (image stabilisation). You have to keep that in mind when using this lens. Because of the large maximum aperture you can gather enough light to keep the shutter speeds high enough to take sharp photos. But the Auto-ISO setting of the Sony camera’s doesn’t let you set your own minimal shutter speed (shame on you Sony, please fix this a.s.a.p), so it does let the shutter speed go down to as slow as 1/60s before cranking up the ISO-setting. In most situations this is fast enough to get a sharp photo with a wide lens if your subject is still, but it does mean you have to stabilise the camera before taking the photo. When you are used to lenses with stabilisation you might be a little more sloppy and get some misses you wouldn’t have anticipated.
The Zeiss 24 mm focuses as close as 16 cm (measured from the sensor, not the front of the lens). This means you can almost put the lens on top of your subject and get a sort of macro effect with a 1:4 enlargement ratio. Cropping the image in post processing will give you a macro-like effect.
In the following gallery you’ll find a selection of the photo’s I have taken with this lens. Most of the photos are shot in RAW and processed to taste and converted to JPEG using Lightroom 5. As you can see the photos are incredibly sharp. Zeiss lenses are known for their deep colours and great contrast sometimes called the Zeiss-pop. I must agree with this, the colours and (micro-) contrast of this lens are great! The image is sharpest in the centre, but is very acceptable across the whole frame. This is where a prime lens shines, and separates itself from a zoom lens. CA (purple fringing) is almost absent. If it does show in the most extreme situation with very high contrast it is easily corrected in post processing.
The bokeh (rendering of the out of focus areas) of this lens is very good, especially for such a wide lens. In most situations it is quite soft and doesn’t distract from the subject too much. With the large maximum aperture of f1.8 you are able to create nice subject separation. The difference in image quality with the 16-50 mm kit lens is very clear.
Is this the best lens for your Sony E-mount camera? For me a 24 mm prime lens is the only prime I could use as an walk around lens. It’s wide enough for landscapes or architecture and still usable for a portait (when you take some care, a wide will never be ideal for portaits). Sharpness, colours and contrast of this lens is fantastic, coming from a kit lens you’ll be blow away by the difference. The large maximum aperture gives you a wide range of creative options, with a lot of control over your depth of field. That being said, a prime lens isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t get a prime lens as an single lens. As an addition to other primes or one or more zooms this lens is great, and certainly the best native Sony E-mount prime (a lot of) money can buy.
Are there no drawback? Unfortunately there are some. Without OSS you do have to take some extra care to create sharp photos with less light. And of course the high price is a serious drawback. This lens is far from cheap.
Sony does have some nice affordable prime lenses with built in OSS and those lenses get great reviews. The focal length of those lenses (being 35 and 50 mm) makes them less suitable as walk around lenses (for my shooting style that is). So if 24 mm is the desired focal length this is the only native E-mount option.
I switched my Zeiss 24 mm for a Zeiss 16-70 mm (read my English review of the Sony Zeiss Vario Tessar T*E 16-70 mm f4 here) because a zoom lens is more versatile than a prime as an ‘go-to’ lens. But given the chance (and budget) I don’t have to think twice about buying this Zeiss 24 mm again! This is a fantastic lens, which is a joy to use.