Sony and ZEISS: What photographers should know about the partnership
Sony and ZEISS have had a very successful partnership for 20 years. Photographers regularly ask us about our collaboration and the products that have been the fruit of our partnership. So in this article we answer the most frequently-asked questions and provide deeper insight into our cooperation.
In the mid-1990s Sony was at a turning point. While Sony was a powerful name in consumer electronics, it was less well-known among professionals for optics and photography, and wanted to rectify this situation. The company therefore sought a strong and reputable partner in the high-end market and an expert in optics that could help them improve quality in the booming camcorder segment. For ZEISS – which can look back on more than 165 years of experience in optics and lens manufacturing – the situation was the exact opposite. Although its lenses enjoyed an excellent reputation among professional photographers, ZEISS was virtually unknown in the wider consumer market.
So the two companies joined up their core competencies — electronics from Sony and optics from ZEISS. In 1995 Sony and ZEISS entered into a partnership that continues to be rewarding to this day. By bringing optics’ experts on board who already had an excellent reputation in the market, Sony strengthened its own reputation among professional photographers. And thanks to Sony’s expertise and know-how in consumer electronics, ZEISS gained access to the much broader market of ambitious amateur photographers and cinematographers.
The first joint product, in 1996, was the Handycam® CCD-TR555. Norio Ohga, Sony’s President at the time, was convinced that better optical features were the key to increasing the Handycam’s appeal. Dr. Winfried Scherle – then head of the Camera Lenses division and today head of the Consumer Optics business group at ZEISS – praises the benefits of the partnership for both partners.
“Combining Sony‘s technical expertise in consumer electronics and its access to the end-consumer market with ZEISS’s expertise in optics and lens development has made us a very strong team.”
Other jointly developed products followed: the Distagon for the DSC-F55K Cyber-Shot® (1999), the first interchangeable lenses with A-mount for the α DSLR cameras (2006) and the first interchangeable lenses with E-mount for α mirrorless cameras (2011) are just a few of the milestones.
In total, more than 185 million products carrying a common Sony/ZEISS brand have been sold since the partnership began 20 years ago. Having “ZEISS” in the brand is one of the top five sales arguments for purchasing Sony/ZEISS products, and therefore an important distinguishing feature compared to competitors. According to Shigeki Ishizuka, Executive Vice President and Head of Imaging Products and Solution Sector at Sony, it is only natural that Sony will continue this close partnership.
“We’ve learned a lot during 20 years of joint development with ZEISS. The knowledge we’ve gained has contributed significantly to developing Sony’s know-how in optical design and lens manufacturing. Together with ZEISS, we want to give our customers the ultimate photography experience, both now and in the future.”
In short, the partnership is a clear success. Nevertheless, photographers regularly ask what the differences and similarities are between ZEISS and Sony/ZEISS lenses. Here we answer some of the most frequent questions:
Are lenses from ZEISS or Sony/ZEISS identical?
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.
Who develops the lenses?
ZEISS lenses are developed exclusively by ZEISS. ZEISS also determines the features of the lenses, such as their focal length and internal construction, in line with the company’s product strategy.
Sony/ZEISS lenses are jointly developed by ZEISS and Sony. ZEISS supports Sony throughout the optical design and development process and then tests and approves the prototypes. Finally, ZEISS determines the test specifications for serial production.
Where are the lenses manufactured?
ZEISS still picture lenses are manufactured in Japan and ZEISS cine lenses in ZEISS’s factory in Oberkochen/Germany. It is still economical for ZEISS to produce its cine lenses in Germany due to the more sophisticated skills required to manufacture these special lenses for the film industry. In order to satisfy the much higher global demand for still picture lenses, ZEISS has established a partner network in the optics industry. During the entire development and production processes, ZEISS experts ensure that the high quality standards for which ZEISS has been famous for over 165 years are met.
Sony/ZEISS lenses are manufactured by Sony in factories across Asia. In these factories Sony uses lens testing equipment that has been developed and manufactured by ZEISS. An example is the MTF-tester K8, a versatile and compact instrument used to measure the modulation transfer function of photographic lenses, or similar systems, at an infinite object distance.
Who is responsible for customer service?
Owners of ZEISS lenses can rely on an established worldwide service network where they can send their ZEISS lenses for inspection and repairs. ZEISS also offers an online and telephone central support desk. ZEISS places great emphasis on providing customers with a personalized service, delivered by qualified experts in the company. The inspection and repairs of Sony/ZEISS lenses are managed by the Sony Service Centers directly.
Is the quality of both lines identical?
In all its brand partnerships, ZEISS sets the technical and quality standards to which partners, such as Sony, must adhere. ZEISS regularly audits the production process of Sony/ZEISS lenses in Sony’s factories. ZEISS experts examine the production processes, management systems and measuring installations. ZEISS certifies the suppliers and provides all the equipment that is needed to ensure product quality, including the equipment of third-party suppliers.
Who sells the lenses?
Sony/ZEISS lenses are sold exclusively through Sony’s distribution channels. ZEISS lenses are sold exclusively through ZEISS’s own sales channels in all German-speaking regions and internationally. ZEISS also ensures that its local dealers have the required professional qualifications. Dealers who sell the company’s products are regularly trained by ZEISS experts.
Local ZEISS dealers can be found here: www.zeiss.com/photo/dealer
Sony and ZEISS each follow their own product strategies depending on market and quality needs. With their outstanding image quality, fast autofocus and innovative features, the new ZEISS Batis lenses are in a class of their own. The ZEISS Batis 2/25 and ZEISS Batis 1.8/85 are the first full-frame autofocus lenses for Sony’s E-mount cameras. The Batis 2/25 and ZEISS Batis 1.8/85 lenses have an OLED display which shows the distance and depth-of-field range – a true innovation. As a result, a photographer can also compose creative images in the dark. For more information about ZEISS Batis lenses, please visit www.zeiss.com/batis
Freedom of composition in photography was the guiding principle in developing the ZEISS Loxia lenses – a family of manual focus lenses for the E-mount full frame. They are optimized for digital sensors and electronic viewfinders as they are used in Sony’s α 7 mirrorless cameras and feature a mechanical aperture setting and the mechanical deactivation of the click stop (de-click) for ambitious videography.
Various other ZEISS lenses, for example those from the ZEISS Touit family for cameras with APS-C sensor and E-mount, compete with Sony/ZEISS lenses. Both companies will continue to develop their respective product portfolios, and in doing so offer customers even more choice.
This puts photographers in a comfortable position: they can choose their desired lenses from a broad portfolio provided by both brands in order to meet their specific requirements.
Photographers using ZEISS and Sony/ZEISS lenses
Many professional photographers swear by the lenses from the Sony/ZEISS cooperation, such as landscape photographer Paul James, whose work is presented here in this Camera Lens Blog. “Without my Vario-Sonnar T* 2,8/16-35 ZA I would be lost. This lens makes everything razor-sharp from the foreground of the image to the background. I couldn’t live without the outstanding quality from ZEISS.“
But also ambitious amateurs loves Sony/ZEISS lenses. “Photography is my vocation, but not my profession,” says Thierry Hennet whose work is presented here in this Camera Lens Blog. In ‘real’ life, the 50-year old from Switzerland is a professor for human biology at the University of Zürich, where he does research and teaches. Ten years ago Hennet began photographing according to professional standards. Today he goes to places where it hurts. For example to the Dallol, a volcano in the Danakil desert in northern Ethiopia where the ground is 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) and the air full of acid. Or to northern Lapland where the temperature can easily reach minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit), making it difficult to even take a few snapshots because your eyelids immediately stick to the viewfinder and the batteries stop working.
Photographer and Berlin resident Christian Dandyk is at home in the fields of architectural, product, street and landscape photography. Christian Dandyk has been taking photos with Sony digital cameras since 1999 and was one of the first professional photographers to switch to the Sony E-mount system. He has been trying out new Sony cameras and lenses and ZEISS lenses for the last number of years, posting the example photos on flickr and Facebook. He was one of the first photographers worldwide exclusively testing the ZEISS Touit, ZEISS Loxia and ZEISS Batis lenses.
Brand partnerships with other companies
In addition to its collaboration with Sony, ZEISS has brand partnership models with other companies. For example, when in 2005 Nokia launched the first mobile phone with a 2-megapixel camera, it was equipped with a ZEISS lens. This partnership continues to exist with Microsoft, who have since bought Nokia’s smartphone business. To date Nokia/Microsoft have sold 130 million mobile phones and smartphones with ZEISS optics. Microsoft provides the specifications for upcoming smartphone cameras. Engineers from ZEISS and Microsoft then develop the appropriate lenses and camera modules, which are manufactured under Microsoft’s direction. A similar partnership exists with Logitech, which has sold 7 million webcams with the ZEISS brand since 2007. The most recent partnership relates to accessory lenses for smartphones. ExoLens® and ZEISS announced the partnership in January 2016 by introducing a wide-angle, telephoto and macro-zoom lens which allow the mobile photographer to enter a new era of smartphone photography.