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cz-variosonnar-24-70mm-f28za

Introduction

With the acquisition of Minolta's camera business, Sony faced a major problem of tilting the user base away from the incumbent players like Canon and Nikon. After all, Minolta's of the DSLR percentage market share has been steadily declining from in 1990s, dwindling to low single digits. Besides introducing a wide range of aggressively priced, well marketed and more importantly competitively featured cameras, Sony also pursued an aggressive strategy of expanding the lens lineup for its fledgling alpha lineup. The company struck a number of partnerships to rebadge several lenses from Tamron in addition to rebadging the most popular Minolta lenses, and in late 2006 announced a partnership with Carl Zeiss to manufacture lenses designed by this venerable optics manufacturer. This certainly caught attention of many users and Sony managed to outpace all of its competitors, rapidly expanding and capturing ~13% of the total DSLR market share by 2010. The roll-out of Carl Zeiss lenses was rumored to be pretty aggressive, with 1 to 2 new lenses planned to be released every year.

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Vario-Sonnar 24-70/2.8 is a full frame lens, but can be used on any alpha mount camera, full frame or APS-C. It can also be used on NEX cameras with a special electronic adapter (manufactured by Sony), which allows retaining all electronic functions of the lens, including proper EXIF transmission and aperture control. On 1.5x crop APS-C/NEX cameras, the lens will have EFOV of 36-105mm.

 

Summary

Lens Composition 17 elements in 13 groups
Angular Field 84-34 degrees
Minimum Focus 34cm/12.7in
Focusing Action AF/MF
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, electronic
Filter Size 77mm
Lens Hood Metal (included)
Weight 985g/34.74oz
Dimensions 80x111mm/3.25x4.4"
Lens Case Soft lens pouch (included)
Retail Price $1,799 (2012), $1,799 (2009)
Depreciation -$500 (2012)

 

Handling

The so called 'universal' zoom lenses have always been fairly popular among users who want to have a one lens combo for example for travel. Lens makes understand that quite well and have answered demand with a reasonable selection. However, for whatever reason, the 24-70mm zoom range has always been considered to be premium - if you look at the lens lineup from Canon or Nikon in this range, you would only see the so called 'professional' grade lenses. It is as if only 'professionals' want a 24-70/25-105 zoom and everybody else will settle for a super zoom, i.e. something like 18-200mm. Market segmentation at work... But when Sony entered the SLR market, it had to offer something respectable (read 'professional' grade) in order to be able to compete with the likes of Nikon 24-70/2.8G and Canon 24-70/2.8L. Carl Zeiss to the rescue! Who else but Zeiss can instill the image of professionalism?

To the best of my knowledge, the Vario-Sonnar 24-70/2.8 is a new design - never in its history Zeiss has had a 24-70 zoom. The closest predecessor from the past seems to be the 35-70/3.5 Vario-Sonnar. I never owned that lens myself, but from various online reviews, it seems like a fairly solid performer. But a new design does not surprise me - it has always been rumored that Sony struck some kind of an exclusivity clause in its licensign deal with Zeiss. And so we may never see 24-70/2.8 outside of the Alpha mount. It's a pity... Carl Zeiss so far has introduced only manual focus lenses in all other SLR mounts - I am not complaining as the lineup has been quite strong so far, but I will squeal like a little girl when the company decides to bring back the venerable Apo-Teletessar N 400/4 with fully electronic focusing in Canon or Nikon mount! Ok, I will squeal even if Zeiss decides to license it to Sony. But I am digressing...

The Vario-Sonnar 24-70 is a fairly bulky and heavy lens, slightly heavier than its direct competitors in Canon and Nikon mounts. When mounted on a larger a850, the combo becomes heavy enough to warrant using both hands for stabilization when shooting. The center of the weight is shifted slightly towards the tip of the lens, particularly with the inner lens tube extended when zoomed at 70mm. The lens does not have a lens collar, so when mounting on a tripod, use a quality ball-head to prevent the camea/lens combo from drifting downwards. But, with the bulk and weight also comes ruggedness - the build of the lens is quite solid. I lugged this lens across Japan and China with all the usual bumps, dings and occasional drops along the way and it withstood all of this abuse without any problems. While in Kyoto, I took a trip to Fushimi Inari Shrine one of the days, but when I got out of the JR train station, it started to rain. Not willing a light drizzle stop me, I hiked to the entrance, but by that time the drizzle turned into a pretty heavy rain. I still decided to hike through the area since I had a waterproof jacket - well my a850 and Vario-Sonnar did not and got completely drenched in water. Still, pictures came out just fine and after wiping the moisture off the camera and lens they were ready for the next adventure. My only wish here is that the lens had inner focusing and zoom so that the barrel length remained constant at all positions instead of extending towards longer end of the zoom range. But at least the tube is made of hardened plastic (or metal, I can't really tell), so it seems to be able to withstand some amount of abuse..

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The lens sports all the usual features of an Alpha mount lens - you will find an AF/MF switch on the side of the barrel along with the focus lock button. The distance scale window is also present with markings in meters and feet (and unlike with the NEX lenses, where the lack of the distance scale is an endless cause of my frustrations during testing). The Vario-Sonnar supports manual focusing as well as manual focus overdrive - basically after the lens auto-focuses on something, you can nudge the focusing ring to adjust the focus position without refocusing the lens anew. But the manual focusing is kind of an afterthought on this lens (like pretty much on all modern AF lenses these days) - the focusing ring travels ~90 degreed from the MFD to infinity and thus does not leave enough precision on the longer end of the zoom range. But the AF is quite good - it's pretty fast and reasonably accurate. It does tend to hunt quite extensively at the MFD and longer end of the zoom as well as in dim or low contrast environments, but this is not unique to Sony lenses. Both focusing and zoom rings are nicely damped and have tight tolerances. The focusing ring is decoupled and does not rotate during AF operation. The lens does not have a zoom lock but there is no creep even when the lens is pointed down.

One area where Sony holds a dubious lead over its main competitors is in nickeling and diming poor users who need to replace lens accessories. For example, if you lost or broke your petal shaped lens hood, it's gonna cost you a whopping $130 to buy a new one. Canon's costs $70, while Nikon's costs $41. Yea... that's for the piece of plastic that costs 10c to manufacture (fine, Sony's aluminium hood costs 20c to manufacture).