What’s the difference between Sony Zeiss lenses and Zeiss-marketed lenses?

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September 28, 2015 at 12:30 pm  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  0 Comments

I noticed that some of the lenses on the Sony.ca website are Zeiss lenses, but I found a news item indicating that Zeiss is also marketing its own lenses. Some of the latter are for Sony cameras, but some are for Canon, Nikon and Fuji digital cameras. Can you explain the difference between the Sony Zeiss lenses and the lenses that Zeiss is marketing?
—Larry R.

Lenses in series such as the Milvus (shown here), Otus, Batis, Loxia and Touit are manufactured and distributed exclusively by ZEISS. Courtesy of ZEISS United States

Lenses in series such as the Milvus (shown here), Otus, Batis, Loxia and Touit are manufactured and distributed exclusively by ZEISS. Courtesy of ZEISS United States

The Carl Zeiss company, started in Jena, Germany, in 1856 and now known as ZEISS, has been renowned for many decades as a manufacturer of premium-grade lenses as discussed briefly on their blog in the article “125 Years of ZEISS Camera Lenses with the Future in Focus.” The company continues to design and manufacture lenses, in both Japan and Germany, for various brands and types of cameras, including DSLRs and mirrorless models. These are marketed exclusively by ZEISS. You can find a great deal of information about the current series and models on the company’s LENSPIRE blog.

However, as you have indicated, Larry, the high-grade lenses in Sony’s DSLR and mirrorless categories are also labeled as Zeiss or Carl Zeiss. Here’s a brief explanation from the Zeiss website: “In 1996, Sony came out with its first camcorder with a Carl Zeiss lens. Since then, Carl Zeiss and Sony’s cooperation has expanded to include compact digital cameras and camcorders, high-quality bridge cameras and interchangeable lenses for the Sony Alpha DSLR camera. Sony and Carl Zeiss develop lenses for Sony’s digital cameras together. Then the manufacturing takes place in Sony facilities according to Carl Zeiss specifications.”

The Zeiss and Carl Zeiss labeled lenses marketed by Sony for their DSLR and mirrorless cameras are manufactured by Sony with assistance from ZEISS who provides support "throughout the optical design and development process and then tests and approves the prototypes." Courtesy of Sony Canada

The Zeiss and Carl Zeiss labeled lenses marketed by Sony for their DSLR and mirrorless cameras are manufactured by Sony with assistance from ZEISS who provides support “throughout the optical design and development process and then tests and approves the prototypes.” Courtesy of Sony Canada

Specifics as to the difference between the Sony/Zeiss lenses (manufactured in Asia and marketed by Sony) and ZEISS’ own lenses are provided in a July 2015 article, “What photographers should know,” an excerpt from an original ZEISS publication that is now difficult to find. “The lenses of the two lines are different, but optimized for the corresponding system. Because ZEISS’s know-how goes into every lens, both versions are highly sophisticated from a technical standpoint. Differences can be found in the focusing mechanism: for example, whereas Sony/ZEISS lenses always have autofocus, ZEISS offers a mix of autofocus lenses (e.g. ZEISS Batis) and manual focusing lenses (e.g. ZEISS Loxia). For the lenses of camera systems from other manufacturers, ZEISS relies mainly on manual focusing (ZE, ZF.2). Lenses that have the same focal length differ in their internal construction.”

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