Sony Cyber-shot RX1 / Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 2/35 review: Is this the ultimate moderate wide-angle lens?

By Kevin Carter - Friday February 22 2013

Lens Review
Introduction | Sony RX1 lens performance | Sony RX1 lens versus competition | Conclusion

The high-end Sony RX1 was one of the most eagerly awaited cameras in our labs and while we assessed the camera’s full-frame sensor early in January, we’ve decided to publish the results of the Zeiss-branded Sonnar 2/35 T* lens. Readers will already be aware that it’s fixed, and can’t be purchased separately, but we can test it just as we would any other, albeit on one camera body only. Is this “fast”, moderately wide-angle lens an outstanding performer worthy of the Carl Zeiss name? Read on to find out.

When Sony announced the pro-level Cybershot RX1 at Photokina in September, the combination of full-frame 24-MPix CMOS sensor and high-quality Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.0 in a metal-bodied compact with manual controls sounded promising. Yet, while unique, with a hefty $2,800 price tag it’s not going to appeal to everyone.

There are for instance other rival offerings. The $1999 Leica X1/X2 and the $1299 Fuji X100 / X100s, both have fixed high-quality lenses offering the same field of view. The Fuji even offers the same f/2.0 maximum aperture (the Leica Elmarit lens used by the X1/X2 is f/2.8), although both cameras sport smaller APS-C sized sensors.

Besides those cameras, there are a number of new full-frame 35mm lens designs optimized for DSLRs. Nikon introduced their first AF 35mm f1.4G type lens 18-months ago while Canon has recently updated the EF 35mm f/2.0 to include IS. Third-party makers have also responded to the increased popularity of the 35mm lens. The ultra-fast and relatively accessibly priced $899 Sigma AF 35mm f/1.4 is an outstanding performer and even Carl Zeiss has two modern manual focus designs, both Distagon T* types, one at f/2.0 the other at f/1.4.

With a short back focus, the Sonnar design of wide-angle lenses like this one is particularly suited to mirrorless cameras, and was in the past reserved for rangefinders. This Sony made Zeiss designed prime is a complex design consisting of 8 elements in 7 groups. Information is sparse but it has three elements with aspherical surfaces, one being an “Advanced Aspherical” (AA) type, although what that means precisely isn’t clear. Unusual for this kind of lens is a dedicated macro mode, which allows focusing down to just 14cm. Also of note is the circular iris consisting of 9 aperture blades to help produce smooth gradients to out-of-focus areas.

Sony RX1 lens performance

Sony RX1 lens versus competition