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Zeiss 35-70mm F3.4 (Contax mount) review

Review

Often considered as one of the cult Zeiss Contax lenses, this little zoom is not the most versatile zoom you can find, with its limited range, speed and handling. It’s fully manual of course, and comes with a push & pull design. Some are complaining about the zoom creep problem, as well about the average speed (F3.5 only). The long focus throw makes it also difficult to focus fast on a moving target. Just like most manual lenses, this little zoom isn’t meant for sport photos or anything requiring to be fast.

But once you have accepted these limitations, it’s a terrific value for the money. On a full frame camera, the 35mm wide end isn’t that bad, and the long end allows to do some portraits. The push & pull design is really fun to use, especially when you never tried one. The build quality is impressive, the lens is a bit heavy, the focus / zoom feels quite smooth, and I didn’t notice any problem of zoom creep as I didn’t keep it in vertical position much to take photos. It just feels like a beautiful object. And the images it gives are really good for a zoom. Don’t expect a crazy subject isolation, the sharpness isn’t astonishing wide open (but still VERY good), it’s a bit slow to be used indoors, but used as a landscape / street lens, it delivers very very sharp and contrasty images from F5.6, corner to corner. At F8, it’s simply very very impressive, corner to corner, any focal length.

Typical example, on a Sony A7RII :

Les monts du Cantal depuis le Redondet

So as a landscape lens, it’s VERY capable if you don’t need a very wide end.

Then as an all-arounder, the bokeh is not the most creamy one, as expected, but it still have a decent isolation power. Of course, there is a bit of distortion, it’s not immune to flare, but it’s really hard to beat, even with primes. You can look at flagrant defaults all over the frame, you won’t find any. Quite expected with a prime, but from a zoom, it’s really rare.

The macro option at 35mm is nice : it’s not a 1:1 macro lens of course, but it’s nice to have this option at this unusual focal length. A nice bonus feature.

I used it as my all-around lens during a recent trip, I missed a wider angle (so the perfect complement is often said to be the Loxia 21mm, small and lightweight) and to have a bit more reach, but it’s still a terrific solution for the price. The Zeiss 24-70mm can’t compete on the same range, the 24-70mm F2.8 GM offers autofocus, bigger aperture and more range, but also a big hole in your bank account, a bigger size and weight, and not a better image quality at equivalent apertures from some tests I read. Quite impressive for this old little zoom, and definitely deserving its reputation. I was almost NEVER shooting with zooms, for years. This lens made me change my mind.

Competitors

Compared to the Zeiss Contax 35mm primes, it’s as sharp if not sharper around F5.6 / F8. It probably beats the other Contax zooms (like the 28-70mm or 40-80mm), and must give a hard run for the money to any modern prime or zoom. So honestly, if you are shooting landscapes around F8, it’s a 3 primes in one lens, more or less (35, 50, 70mm). On an A7RII, you can consider having a 35-100mm if you accept to crop a bit ;).

The Minolta equivalent is an interesting lens: it’s as good around F8, it’s a big weaker at 35mm wide open, but better at 50 and 70mm. The macro option is at the 70mm end on the Minolta though, and the build quality is nothing similar. But the price is often crazy cheap. So it’s really a great cheaper solution for a quality extremely similar.

Samples

https://www.flickr.com/search/?user_id=134592270%40N04&sort=date-taken-desc&text=Zeiss%2035-70mm%20F3.4&view_all=1

Zeiss 35-70mm F3.4

9

Build quality / handling

9.5/10

Optical quality / character

9.0/10

Versatility / functionnalities

8.0/10

Value for the price

9.5/10

Pros

  • Terrific image quality when stopped down
  • Affordable & small
  • Beats or equals a lot of primes
  • Push & Pull design feels cool
  • Nice macro option

Cons

  • Fully manual
  • Range is a bit limited
  • Not the fastest zoom

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