Let's cut to the chase here. Sony makes brilliant sensors. They understand video at a level not found in many other places. While the company struggles in other lines of business, Sony's photo business continues to do well. Despite false starts like the failed smart phone clip on lens/camera, Sony gets Compact System Cameras (CSC) Continued evolution of their lines has produced a series of winners. Recently they released the A7 Mk II, a mirrorless with high megapixels and superb dynamic range. So why isn't the world going to Sony?
Not to be rude, but it's about the glass. Sony is not exactly inundated with a large lens selection. Mirrorless competitor Fujifilm has kicked Sony to the curb when it comes to the release of useful and high quality glass. This is not a surprise to those with knowledge of history. Back in the day, Fuji was one of the very few lens makers who actually made their own glass, and Fujinon lenses have always been excellent. Sony on the other hand is known for their sensors and their processing. Never for their lenses. There's a reason why Sony Pro video gear has mounts for other manufacturers, Sony has never kicked butt in the glass department.
Which is sad, because the cameras are amazing. I know that you can buy adapters such as the Metabones line to use your existing glass on Sony cameras and for the most part they work ok. My friend Joseph is a DSLR filmmaker and he uses these adapters with a variety of high end glass to make his films, but he really dislikes the Sony glass itself Me too. In every evaluation I have done, I have been impressed with the cameras if not the layout and the software. Sony, like most camera manufacturers desparately needs to hire a professional software company that understands User Interface such as Frog Design, because their own software both sucks and blows simultaneously. Sony is also arrogant when it comes to software and no one should every forget that this is the same company that installed rootkitting code on Sony BMI CDs that compromised every computer that played a Sony BMI CD. There is a word for companies like that. It start with mother and ends with uckers. That frustration aside, these folks do know how to make sensors, so Sony sensors are found in lots of different cameras, from vendors other than Sony.
So if one likes Sony cameras, what does one do for glass? Certainly there are some inexpensive third party lenses to fit Sony E Mount and A mount bodies, and if you are willing to forego some automation, there is a lot of superb Minolta glass in the world for your A mount bodies.
But, what if you want all the automation, but with the sharpness, contrast and overall image quality that the Sony sensor can deliver in a Sony frame, that Sony glass just cannot handle?
Enter Zeiss. There are a small number of Sony lenses built by Zeiss, but when we look at CSC bodies, there is a lot more Zeiss glass available, under the Zeiss brand. The naming and variance can be confusing but the image quality is killer. There are four Zeiss lines that will mount to Sony E mount cameras. There are Batis, Touit, Loxia and ZA. Loxia is manual focus only, built for users who WANT manual focus and long cut focus helicoids for the level of focus precision that no AF lens can deliver in manual focus mode. All the other lines provide full and fast autofocus directly without speed or function sapping adapters. Zeiss glass is not cheap, but you wouldn't want to put crappy glass on a great sensor otherwise you'd use Sony's own lenses.
The Batis lineup brings a 25mm f/2 and an 85mm f/1.8 to the game. They communicate distance and depth of field to the OLED display on the lens itself. Batis lenses are E mount but built to provide the image circle needed by Sony's full frame mirrorless cameras. So on a full frame, those focal lengths are the real thing. Availability is July 2015.
The Touit lineup is available in both Sony and Fujifilm mounts. They are designed for E mount crop sensor cameras. The lineup consists of a 12mm f/2.8, a 32mm f/1.8 and a 50mm f/2.8 Makro Planar that delivers 1x lifesize. Since these lenses are designed for crop sensors, use the crop factor of 1.5x to determine full frame equivalency. While you can mount them to E mount full frame Sony, the image circle is designed for APS-C sized sensors so you will need to work in crop mode where such thing exists on the full frame cameras.
The ZA lineup has the largest collection of lenses. These are mostly built to deliver the image circle for an APS-C sensor, but those designated FE are designed for full frame sensors. The lineup includes the 24mm f/1.8, the 16-70mm f/4 Vario Tessar, the 35mm f/1.4 full frame, the 35mm f/2.8 full frame, the 55mm f/1.8 full frame, the 16-35mm f/4 full frame and the 24-70mm f/4 full frame. ZA lenses are also available from Sony reseller and through Sony's own online web store.
Both Batis lenses and many of the ZA line up are weather sealed. There is also a ZA lineup for A mount bodies.
Let's not be kidding ourselves. None of these lenses are cheap. They are also not likely to be found on the shelf in your local photo store. However, if you are seeking the best glass for your Sony cameras, particularly E mount mirrorless, you need look no further than Zeiss. Better photographic stores will be Zeiss dealers and will be able to order the lens you want in a reasonable time. For more information and detailed specifications head over to the Zeiss website for CSC lenses here. There are a large assortment of lenses available direct from Sony, under the Sony brand. It's my opinion that they don't live up to the cameras that they can mount to. Go with a Sony CSC body, and mate it to Zeiss glass for an incredible photographic experience.