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on December 30, 2011
I'm one of those people who go "all-in" but I was a little sceptical to jump in head first on buying a lens that exceeded the price of the camera body. I got a A77 body and I had a few decent lenses (35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, Minolta Beercan 70-210 f/4) but I never felt like I had the shots I was looking for. I also wanted to stop buying DT lenses in favor of Full Frame lenses for the upcoming A9x release. So I was torn between getting the 85mm f/1.4 and the 135mm f/1.8 for around the same price. I decided to go with the 85mm lens and I will not look back. I have left the other lenses in my bag to gather dust, maybe to make a cameo appearance when I need something wider. Now, I'd almost rather just back up and get the shot with the 85mm f/1.4, even if I have to open a window or walk into traffic.

This lens is the real deal. I can't wait to see this lens in action on a Full Frame body. I was able to shoot a ballet with apertures of f/1.4 to f/2.0 in ISO 200 or ISO 400 and get sharpness corner-to-corner and freeze the jumps with brilliant color. I get amazing portraits.

My biggest knock on this lens is the autofocus is a bit jumpy, but if you get used to the freeze button on the side, you get good results.

This lens has paid for itself. I won't go to Canon or Nikon or any other manufacturer because I doubt I will get results like I do with this lens. The lens makes the camera, period. I don't use a flash with this lens, ever. I don't need to. It grabs every last bit of color and light it can find and reproduces it better than your eyes can see.

Also, you have to come into this purchase knowing this thing is built like a tank. It weighs as much as the A77 body, or at least it feels like it does. It comes with a hood with a rubber rim you can use to stand the body and lens up on.
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on February 4, 2013
I purchased this lens together with the Sony a99; I'm upgrading from the a65 with a Minolta 58 f/1.2 as my primary lens. It was important for me to keep at the 85mm perspective for the type of shooting I do (street fashion). As such, my review is primarily a comparative appraisal to other lenses in its class and of its type as opposed to what it is or isn't, as that ground has already been thoughtfully covered by other Amazon reviewers. Also, I did not test out the lens on my crop sensor; Kurt Munger has a definitive review on that. In my field of photography I need a good street lens.

My Minolta glass is all metal and is very heavy for a 58mm. My DT 16-105 lens doesn't feel like a pro-lens per-se, but it feels substantial nevertheless and is the easily the best "handling" lens in my collection. I also have a Sony 50 1.4, a Minolta 50 1.4, and a Sony 35 1.8. Of all of my lenses including the Minolta 58, the Zeiss 85 is the only lens that I have that feels like a pro lens. It's aesthetically beautiful. Weight-wise, it's hefty but doesn't feel end-heavy like my 16-105; I mention this because it's my unscientific opinion that the better the weight is balanced from camera to lens, the less arm fatige one feels. That said, I'm sure on the a65 it would be end-heavy.

A lot of people snuff about the AF system on this lens but I have to say, for normal everyday movements the Zeiss 85 is *not* too slow, as many have expressed. I can surmise based on my shooting experience with this lens that it would be too sloow trying to autofocus athletes playing a sport, or a dog running. That said, I had very little issues capturing people crossing the street, walking, or gesturing in some direction. Let's call this "causual speed", and for this the lens does just fine. On the other hand, my copy back-focuses, and I haven't had time to micro-adjust it yet. Maybe this is a tangent complaint, but when I spend over $1000 on a lens I should expect it to not have this problem. Perhaps you disagree; I consider this a modest expectation.

While I will micro-adjust my lenses when necessary, I am primarily a manual-focus shooter. In terms of snapping to the appropriate distance-to-subject by turning the ring, my opinion of the Sony 50 f/1.4 having the best combination of turning radius/ease/accuracy has not been threatened. This is no knock against the Zeiss; in fact I found the dampening to be pleasantly easy. In testing with some models (walking toward and away from me) at f/4, the wider turning radius made following my subjects more of a challenge. So for glass of its size, the effort to turn the focus ring isn't at all difficult, but the radius itself is a little long for my taste. Also, I don't know if this is the Zeiss glass or the a99 body, but with this combination, it's much easier to see the depth of field under working conditions, forcing me to take more time in focusing when I'm up close for portraits. The wide turning radius factors in and make the process a little more lengthy, because I'm very sure (now) when what I want is in focus and when the DOF is thin it's very easy to miss. With glass of this calibre, one should always take care.

I love my Minolta 58. When debating between purchasing this Zeiss and the Minolta 85, I've read a lot or negative reviews that the Zeiss is "cold" compared to the Minolta. I can attest that the Zeiss tone tends to go more neutral/cold than the Minolta. That said, in none of the images of people that I photographed (about 60 in three days) did I feel that the Zeiss was either "too" cold or unflattering to women in particular. I can attest that the Minolta likes human skin tones better, but this perceptions should be taken in a vacuum; one should conclude that the Zeiss is bad in this area just because the Minolta excels. It simply means that the Minolta has a slightly different character, and part of its skillset is its warmth to complexions. I have found that rendering eyes, for example, is a much more satisfying experience via the Zeiss.

This is what you need to know:
1. It's decidedly sharper than the Minolta in the centre of the frame
2. It's way sharper (on balance) than the Minolta in all corners
3. It's WAY sharper than the Sigma on balance in the corners
4. It's comparable to the Sigma in the centre of the frame
5. It's comparable to the Canon and Nikon copies in all aspects of the frame
6. It is the easily the most contrasty glass that I own.
7. Of the Sony/Minolta glass that I own, only the 16-105mm compares in terms of contrast, but the Zeiss is "noticeably" better at best.

If you care about bokeh as much as I do, you've probably spent a lot of time on the internet reading forums and comparing photos between the Zeiss, Canon, Nikon and Minolta versions of the 85. I like to think that there are two types of great bokeh: the "painter" style (Canon f/1.2, Minolta f/1.4, Minolta 58mm f/1.2), and the "traditional" style (Nikon f/1.4G, Sigma f/1.4, Canon f/1.8 and the Samyang f/1.4). If the painter style is your thing, grab a Minolta (the 58 in particular for me is on par with the Canon f/1.2 as the best ever under 100mm). If you prefer the way that Nikon renders bokeh, the Zeiss is closer to and slightly exceeds that. Wide open it's not fussy like the Sigma, and that's a bonus if you're considering those two in particular and are trying to weigh value over expense. $700 better? Not quite, but $350 better, yes. The Zeiss doesn't render backgrounds into dreamyscapes per se, but it will deliver technically sublime ambiance, which, unless you're doing hardcore comparative critiques, is basically the same thing to 95% of the people who will see the photos.

The Zeiss is notorious for heavy CA wide open, everybody who pixel-peeps has reported it, and I can't counter any of the claims I've ever read. This is what you should know:
1. Yes, CA is heavy wide open.
2. No, CA is not much of a problem past f/2.8
3. The latest version of Adobe Lightroom has a CA removal tool that WORKS WONDERFULLY.
What I'm trying to say is, if you're thinking about not getting the Zeiss specifically because of the CA issue and are instead opting for the Minolta/Sony/Sigma version, and cost is NOT an issue, you're not doing yourself any favours. At all.
My advice? Get Lightroom 4+, check the little CA removal box for your wide open shots, and get the Zeiss :)

A last word on the CA; if cost really isn't your thing, the aspherical Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 lens is really what you want, especially if you shoot on a full frame. People rave that it is essentially the perfect lens in this regard.

Hopefully this review will help some of you out, especially if like to geek out like me. I bought the Zeiss 85 understanding that it was not the perfect lens. A lot of people prefer the 135mm. If you mainly do headshots and extremely closeups on subjects, or are after the fine details, the 135mm is better suited for you. If you like subjects that pop in front of backgrounds that are interesting and nicely defocused (half or full body subjects), you will not do better than the Zeiss 85. In terms of that painter-type bokeh that I explained earlier, the characteristics that the Canon/Minolta produce compared to the Zeiss in this regard is more of a lateral move; it's not better or worse, just different. It is not a warm lens, but it is extremely fair, totally sharp, and the focusing capabilities both manual and automatic are acceptable for anything you'd suitably shoot at this focal length. Outside of the Zeiss 135mm (and only the 135mm), you will not buy this lens and wonder if you'd be better served by some other 85mm glass.
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on November 20, 2007
The sharpness creamy bokeh are unmatched by any other alpha mount lens. The auto clutch is a fine addition, since this lens has some heft to it, so you'll find yourself balancing the camera by the lens with your left hand. When it is in AF, the focusing ring doesnt turn. Nice. The colors are reproduced as true as any glass on the market. My only issue is minor, I wish the lens hood had a filter window, similar to the 70200SSM.
Very fast focusing even in low light, but to really get the most out of it, mount it on the A700. It does tend to lag a tad in low light when mounted on the KM 7D.

You'll forget the hit to your pocketbook as soon as you print your first shot!
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on March 24, 2011
While rather pricey this lens justifies its cost. Making a telephoto lens that clocks in at 1.4 is no mean feat. At a 85mm focal length this was a perfect portrait lens in the glory days of 35mm. At a 127mm digital equivalence this lens still dose that job. Once you adjust to the focal length, and the head-and-shoulders cropping it offers, you will never go back to a "normal" lens again. It is a great lens for candids, especially in low light or night light.

Back in the days of 1600 ASA film, this lens was my mainstay when shooting available light. It really opens up to allow every last bit of light. Focusing could not be easier because the lens was super-sharp and snapped in and out of focus with little drama. Distortion was non-existent.

Wide open the depth of field is minimal, but with modern auto-focus electronics this is much less of an issue than back in the day. The minimal depth of field really brings out your subject while eliminating visual clutter.

In the bright light of the day, the lens again performed with aplomb. Flare was minimal and images were tack sharp. Again, once you adjust to the images a medium telephoto lens provides, horizons really open up. It is a superb candid shooter, especially for quick moving subjects like children. The lens also allows you some distance from your subject. That allows for less posed, more natural images.

Even in a more formal setting, like wedding photography photography, the lens is a stand out. It is after all a "portrait lens." Couple it with a small flash or perhaps a old-school "potato masher" flash rig and fire away. The crisp, brilliant images will not disappoint.

The only real down-side to Carl Zeiss lenses is their cost. Planar T lenses always carry a premium. Thus, the lenses are best for Advanced Amateurs, or what is called the Pro-Sumer customer. More casual users, or people with limited means should look at products by Tonkina or Tamron. The "two T's " are a good bet, and a good buy, for the more casual shooter. But for people who demand the best, and are willing to pay the freight, there is no substitute for Carl Zeiss lenses. It is one of the reasons a person would choose the Sony Product over offerings by Nikon, Canon, and Olympus. For some it is the only reason to go with the Sony Offerings.
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on September 26, 2011
Putting this lens on my a55 was a revelation. All of a sudden I'm shooting pro-quality portraits with unbelievable sharpness of focus, rich bokeh and beautiful colors. The effective focal length for APS-C is about 128mm. Translated into practical usage, with a 128mm lens, you've got to have some room to shoot. The minimum distance to get a head-shot is around 10 feet, and for full body, you need around 30. But what you lose in versatility in this fixed-focal-length lens, you more than make up for in the beauty of the images. Wide open at 1.4, the bokeh is delightful, popping the subject out heroically. The depth-of-field is very narrow, but still quite workable. I've noticed no vignetting. Landscape shots are super-clear and vivid. I recommend using a filter when outdoors because under bright conditions, using large-apertures, the shutter speed sometimes goes off the charts. Enough words, I'm posting some sample pictures taken with the lens.
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on February 7, 2008
I am astonished by this lens, as well as its sibling the 135mm f/1.8 lens Sony SAL-135F18Z 135mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T Telephoto Lens for Sony Alpha Digital SLR Camera. Each lens is razor sharp at its widest aperture. A discussion of this lens, as well as of the Minolta 85mm f1.4 lens, may be found at the Photozone site. Compared to the Minolta lens, this lens is sharper and exhibits less vignetting, although it does exhibit slightly more chromatic aberration but to no serious extent.
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on February 3, 2012
This is one of those items that you are afraid to buy used, a used Carl Zeiss lens is rare, retails for $1500 new at Amazon and everywhere else... KEH had ONE, for the lowest used price out there - and I took a chance.
KEH contacted me immediately following my purchase to double-check where to send it - thanks!
The lens arrived 6 days earlier than the estimate, in perfect condition. Being used, there was no box, manual or fluff - but the lens was secure in a thick plastic bag, dust-free. The bag was hand wrapped in many layers of bubble wrap, thick paper around that, and all packed in a good thick cardboard box. Yay!
This thing is as represented, not a scratch or ding - and shoots like a dream! The first set of images I got were all beautiful. This lens is much clearer than the Sigma 18-250 I was using on my Sony a55, and makes me want to take pics I had only dreamed about... and the Sigma is not a slouch...

I wish to add this, for those new to shooting with a Sony alpha digitals... always multiply whatever the lens is by 1.5 - which makes this lens 127.5mm instead of 85mm...

I have shot for a week, and am just beginning to get a feel for what can be done (or not) with the lens. My pictures of kids are stunning, colors are brilliant and faces look like you can touch them. My outdoors shots have clarity and details my other cameras cannot touch. I shoot many landscapes, and this is where the lens stops killing the other cameras and lenses. This lens will pull details from landscapes like you can't believe - but it demands to be used in more intimate situations. It will not leave my camera for a while, as the bulk of my photos can use the light gathered by the Zeiss glass. The a55 has the Hand-Held Nightshot technology, and the Zeiss lens makes you sit up and take notice, with how well the lens works in conjunction with the software. My late evening shots taken with this feature were daylight-bright and crisp - outstanding! More later, it's ok to spend money on something you will use the heck out of...

Months later - I shoot this lens the most now, the Zeiss 24mm is second favorite and my 18-250mm Sigma is third choice... The 85mm is my favorite people lens ever. The Sigma is a great lens, but just cannot capture light the way the Zeiss lenses do. The 24mm is good when grabbing up-close groups of people - same light-gathering abilities but with the 85mm, I can sit far away enough for intimate portrait shots with wonderful skin/eyes details. The 85mm also grabs animals too, just did some shots of horses and wow!

18 months later - I still love this lens. 3 pounds of the finest glass, a wide-open telephoto pleasure when shooting people and animals. You rarely need a strobe with this lens on your camera, the thing gulps light and provides detail and clarity other lenses wish they could provide. Guess you can tell I like it.

1.5 years later - update:
My A55 just stopped working, the shutter won't click... I am appalled at that - but with all the Sony hardware I own, I chose to purchase a used Sony A77 body to replace it - which cost less than a full repair to the A55.
What a difference the A77 made, I am amazed at the difference in quality, a huge departure from the cheaper A55. All Sony lenses and strobe work perfectly on the A77, but my 18-250mm Sigma zoom would not work with the A77, until I sent it in for a firmware update! The update was FREE! Sigma rules! All is well now.

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on February 10, 2015
The Good:
It's a Zeiss lens with autofocus for Sony. Us Alpha shooters take this for granted, but having autofocus with Zeiss optics is a rare treat. The lens has a very nice look, feel, and weight to it. It feels more like a Carl Zeiss product and less like a Sony. The glass is recessed enough that the front element is not as exposed, leaving you feeling protected from accidental damage. The focus ring feels nice in hand and overall it's a very professional quality product.

The Bad:
I was actually less blown away by this lens than I hoped to be when it first arrived. I tested it indoors with no additional light and was underwhelmed. The color contrast felt too strong and my shots seemed unnatural. As many other reviewers have mentioned, the CA is fairly strong, but correctable in DxO/Photoshop/pick your software. However my biggest two gripes are the autofocus and lack of weather sealing. The autofocus motor is somewhat loud, and no I would not want it hunting during a wedding in a church. The digital focus limiter on the A99 helps to counteract this, and the autofocus is fairly quick when your subject is not moving and there is plenty of light. However, I have been very unsuccessful in capturing my moving toddler with this lens either in AF-C or AF-D on my A99, a feat I had no trouble with on any other lens in my arsenal. (Side note, my limited experience with my new A99 has been that my trusty A77 is faster focusing and much better for action shots). Additionally, once there is not great light (think indoors on an overcast day), the autofocus is quite poor. When this lens focuses the extended barrel leaves a lot of room for precipitation to enter the lens, which makes me nervous. I realized that almost all of my other lenses are either weather sealed or at least internally focusing. So why the 5 star review?

The Awesome:
After realizing what this lens is not, I've come to appreciate it for what it is. When used with a cooperative/stationary subject in plenty of natural light, the results are superb. The razor thin focus plane at F/2 and below is unforgiving, but when nailed properly rewards you for your patience. This will be on my camera for at least part of every newborn session, senior portrait session, and wedding (during posed work only). One thing I don't see a lot of reviewers commenting on is the quality of the colors that Zeiss glass has. It's like when I first got the Zeiss DT 16-80 for my A77 and was blown away by the warmth and beauty coming straight into my JPGs. This lens has that kind of effect on your photos.

Bottom line - if you use it for portraiture or still life work, you won't be disappointed. Just don't expect to use this lens in a quiet environment or on a moving subject.
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on May 6, 2009
This lens is phenomenal. I was a bit hesitant about purchasing it simply due to price tag, but with a daughter on the way and with the sale of some other equipment, I was able to make it happen. This lens is amazing. My daughter is 3 months old now and I have taken 100s of professional quality photos.

- Razor sharp.
- Fantastic colors.
- Amazing bokeh.

- Heavy (which I consider a pro, due to the excellent build quality)

I highly recommend this lens. I also have the zeiss 16-80mm, and the sony 100mm 2.8. While both are great lenses, the 85mm zeiss rarely leaves my camera anymore.
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on June 13, 2010
The Minolta heritage and Zeiss branding on this medium telephoto lens raised my expectations pretty high, and I have not been disappointed. Its build quality and heft communicated quality right out of the box, and Sony's inclusion of a soft case and velvet-lined lens hood were small touches that reinforced the feeling.

I bought the lens as an existing-light portrait lens, and the 85mm focal length gives just enough room to stand back and capture candids from an innocuous distance. (Up close, the combination of this lens and a solid KM/Sony camera body will not fade as easily into the background.) Even in very challenging indoor scenes, the lens's f/1.4 maximum aperture combines with on-board anti-shake to capture photos I would not have been able to imagine getting before I got this lens.

Even wide open, shots from this lens are consistently sharp. A couple of stops down and it is nothing short of amazing. I'm looking forward to putting this on an a900 to see just how far we can go.

Bottom line? It's an expensive purchase for a hobbyist, but if you're in the market for professional-quality glass this one should be near the top of your list.
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