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Introduction

Sony, which took over the Minolta camera business in mid 2000s, has been diligently expanding its camera business, adding to its low as well as high end lines and slowly encroaching into the Canon's and Nikon's traditional territory. The company chose rapid innovation and partnership development to rapidly gain market-share, bypassing the long time players like Pentax and Olympus. With the introduction of Carl Zeiss designed Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA, Sony adds to the already impressive Carl Zeiss lineup of lenses in the Alphas mount. And if we believe all the rumors floating around the internet, that is only a beginning and Sony plans to be even more aggressive and bring to market more Carl Zeiss lenses in a very near future.

Distagon ZA was first announced in late 2009 and officially released in mid-2010. The lens was in very short supply until November 2010 and apparently has been extremely popular among Sony users. At ~US$1,200, the lens is keeping true to the premium image of Carl Zeiss lenses and is at about the same level as any other Carl Zeiss lens in Sony Alpha mount, but is also  a few hundred dollars more expensive then the alternative 25mm Distagon available for Canon, Nikon and Pentax mounts.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 9 elements in 7 groups, including 2 aspherical and 2 ELD glass elements. The build quality of the lens is superb as has been the case withall other Sony Carl Zeiss lenses. The lens weighs 555g (1.22lb) and measures 78 x 76mm (3.07 x 2.99in). The lens implements rear focusing mechanism and hence the barrel remains of fixed length throughout the focusing range. Sony has incorporated a Super Sonic Wave Motor, which improves the focusing speed. The minimum focusing is 19cm (0.62ft) and the minimum supported aperture is f/22.

 

The factory box includes Sony Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA, front/rear caps, leather pouch and the lens hood. Sony Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA is a traditional full frame lens and can be used with any Sony Alpha camera, including full frame, APS-C as well as NEX systems. On APS-C type bodies, the EFOV of the lens is going to be 36mm. Within the scope of this review, the lens was tested on a full frame Sony a850 camera.


Summary
Lens Composition 9 elements in 7 groups
Angular Field 84 degrees
Minimum Focus 19cm/0.62ft
Focusing Action AF/MF
f-stop Scale f/2-f/22, electronic
Filter Size 72mm
Lens Hood Metal (included)
Weight 555g/1.22lb
Dimensions 78x76mm/3.07x2.99"
Lens Case Soft leather pouch

 

 

Handling

Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA is a fairly interesting lens from a number of perspectives. Firstly, never in its history, has Carl Zeiss manufactured a 24mm lens. More-over, never has the company manufactured a lens faster then f/2.8 in focal ranges wider than 28mm. The company has been offering a 25mm f/2.8 variant since the Rollei days, which later was re-badged for Contax cameras (with minor improvements in coating) and most recently for Nikon, Pentax and M42 mounts (it is also rumored that Carl Zeiss is now redesigning the 25mm Distagon lens for Canon mount). Another interesting difference is the auto-focusing capabilities in the new Sony Distagon lens. Unlike all other Carl Zeiss lenses for other mounts, Sony, which actually manufactures all ZA lenses from Carl Zeiss designs, included an auto-focusing capabilities, making the lens much more attractive to many users. But unlike the two other fixed focal Zeiss primes Sony released previously, the Planar T* 85/1.4 and Sonnar T* 135/1,8, Distagon includes a SSM motor built into the lens, giving it a noticeable advantage in focusing speeds and accuracy. The lens focuses with confidence in all but the most extreme conditions, i.e. low contrast scenes and even then seems to hunt less than the venerable Planar.

ISO 640, 1/160, f/2, 24mm

The 24mm Distagon is a short lens, making it look somewhat bulky, although in reality it is not particularly heavy and balances on larger cameras like Sony a850 quite well. On smaller bodies, particularly Sony NEX, the lens looks even bulkier. The lens has a DOF scale, with markings at f/8, f/16 and f/22. The markings are located fairly close to each other, leaving some room to error for those planning to using the lens in a preset mode, but basically, by presetting the lens to f/22, you would get a working focusing range between 0.5m to infinity, Manual focusing is also possible - you would need to switch the camera into the manual mode, or turn the dial on the lens itself into the MF position. The focusing ring rotates for ~100 degrees, which is slightly better then with most AF type wide angle primes, but more interestingly, ~90 degrees out of the total ~100 degrees of rotation actually happens in the 19cm to 50cm range. This is fairly convenient to those interested in closeup photography - at 19cm MFD, Distagon focuses closer then most dedicated macros out there. And because the focusing ring on the lens does not lock in AF mode, you can actually tap the ring to micro-adjust the focusing in case the AF misfocused.

Interestingly, the MFD of the Sony Distagon 24mm is 2cm longer then the MFD of the ZF/ZK/ZS Distagon 25mm. There are other differences between the two designs, most notably, the optical construction, with the Sony version employing fewer elements in fewer groups. It would be interesting to compare how the two lenses stack up against each other, but unfortunately I did not have the 25mm Distagon on hands at the time of writing this review. Then there's also the question of adapting the 25mm lens to Sony mount - currently only ZS (M42 mount) version can be mounted on Alpha cameras using an M42 to Sony adapters. Unfortunately. ZS versions of the 25mm Distagon are quite scarce as relatively few people actively using them, and the idea of buying a brand new lens just for the purpose of comparing the two lenses did not really excite me enough.

One issue I complained about in my recent review of Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZA, is the price of the replacement lens hood, which in the case of Planar will set you back a whopping $130. At the moment of this writing, Sony has not yet listed the prices for the accessories compatible with the Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA, but I am hoping that the price for the replacement lens hood would be more reasonable - after all, the Distagon lens hood is plastic rather than metal.