All in a Name? The Official Zeiss Blog Explains the Differences Between Sony/Zeiss and Zeiss

Originally published on Bokeh on 30 July 2015

Carl Zeiss lenses have long been quite polarising. Most people are either devout believers or raging skeptics.

What makes these lenses so treasured? Is their bokeh actually anything special? Why do such seemingly simple lens designs cost so much?

Irrespective of any personal opinions, there is something about the word ‘Zeiss’ that makes normally reasonable people dole out thousands of dollars for a manual focus lens in this day and age (I plead guilty to this).

Sony/Zeiss lenses can get especially confusing because we don’t know how involved Zeiss actually is. To deal with this, the official Zeiss blog just released a post regarding their relationship with Sony.

It’s kind of a very thinly disguised PR job, but the post does contain some answers for a few important questions that many Zeiss-lovers have long pondered. We’ll try to sum up their blog post here.

1) Zeiss and Sony Make a Happy Couple

The Handycam® CCD-TR555 (1996)

What made this marriage possible? Nobody knew Carl Zeiss anymore except Hasselblad and Contax users, and no one appreciated Sony glass except dads on holiday.

Kudos to whoever did the matchmaking, as this partnership has been thriving for almost 20 years.

2) 185 Million Sony/Zeiss Lenses

Sony do make some very sexy exteriors

Yet they still managed to screw up the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24–70mm f/4 ZA OSS, which seems to have mostly negative reviews. That being said, I’m sure it’s not an awful lens — just perhaps not what people expect seeing as it has the Zeiss logo stamped on it.

Aside from this blip, Sony has done a pretty good job bringing Zeiss into the wider photography community. According to the blog, “having ‘ZEISS’ in the brand is one of the top five sales arguments for purchasing Sony/ZEISS products,” although the new Sony cameras are making the mount attractive on their own merit.

3) Zeiss Does [Kinda?] Help Design Sony/Zeiss Lenses

B-E-A-utiful

Regarding Zeiss:

ZEISS lenses are developed exclusively by ZEISS. ZEISS also determines the features of the lenses, such as their focal length and internal construction.”

Regarding Sony:

Sony/ZEISS lenses are jointly developed by ZEISS and Sony. ZEISS supports Sony throughout the optical design and development process and then tests and approves the prototypes.”

Basically, Zeiss lenses like the Batis and Loxia are legit, 100% Zeiss lenses. Sony probably helped them with autofocus though, since Zeiss seem unable to do that themselves.

On the other hand, Sony/Zeiss lenses seem to be mainly done by Sony with approval from Zeiss, although nobody knows honestly how much involvement Zeiss engineers have.

4) Yes, Zeiss Does Still Make Some Lenses In Germany

Zeiss Cine lenses are still made in Oberkochen, Germany

But only their Cine lenses.

Everything else is made in Japan, which I hear isn’t a bad place either.

5) Zeiss Can Still Do Whatever They Want

An autofocus Batis or the manual focus only Loxia?

“Sony and ZEISS each follow their own product strategies depending on market and quality needs.”

My most commonly used lens is the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/2 ZF.2 for the Nikon F-mount, and while I love it, the chromatic aberration and lack of autofocus always make me wonder why I don’t jump ship to Sony E or Fuji X for their Batis and Touit lenses.

This could be the result of some deal between Sony and Zeiss.

Everyone gets a small slice of Zeiss — Fuji only gets the Touit, Canon/Nikon only get the MF lenses — but Sony gets the whole pie.

On a final note of Zeiss’s independence…the Loxia? Not so keen. It’s the kind of traditionalist Zeiss thinking that continues to baffle me. I’m sure it is amazing — and I’m definitely used to working in manual focus only — but why not just make them all have the option of autofocus?

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