Lens alternatives for the Sony A7r, the worlds preeminent full frame camera!

There are so many soothing lens options for the A7/A7s/A7r until additional FE lenses come out.  I do enjoy playing the villain a bit with the FE lineup.  Yes,  I’ve complained pertinaciously(see definition, fits perfectly), but I do have faith that Sony, Zeiss, perhaps Sigma, or others like Rokinon, Samyang etc. will drop in another hole in one (like the FE 55mm 1.8.),  specifically tailored for the FE Mount.  I’ve composed a pretty good list, which is always subject to debate and taste, of the lenses I use and other standouts.  Most have to take screw in filters.  I photo a lot of water and need polarisers.   I won’t deal with back filters or Lee systems etc.  I’ve seen guys tape tinted glass on their cameras….  not for me.   All lenses on the list have a DXO mark rating of 27 or higher.  27 seems to be the cut off from ordinary.  Finally, full frame capable.  Going to cropped for some extra range is nice at times, but basically want all the picture you can get.

The boys II-6751
Left to right, FE 55mm, “G’ Sony FE 70-200mm, Sigma 85mm 1.4, Sigma 35mm Art, 1.4, Zeiss Distagon 15mm Zf.2, Zeiss Makro Planar 100mm, Zf.2 Adapters, Metabones IV, Zykkor EF to NEX, NIkon to NEX Tilt shift, Novoflex Nikon to Nex

First the wide angles.

The Zeiss Distagon, 15mm 2.8 Cost, $2950…  is considered by many, the best wide angle ever made.  See Ken Rockwell, the Digital Picture, 3d-Kraft.  There is even a M mount version $3900+/-, that’s slightly smaller than the Canon ZE, or Nikon ZF.2.  I believe at this time, only the Canon version, with Metabones or RJcamera smart adapters($269-$399), will show all data in the camera and are full frame compatible.  The filters, $200-$300 ea.  It’s the best, what can you say?

Since the A7’s have come out many people like to throw the 14mm f/2.8 Rokinon/Samyang/Bower, etc  into the mix.   It’s a low price alternative, around $400.  It takes no filters and has high distortion(can be alleviated fairly well in post processing).  Image quality and resolution seem very good.  It weighs less than the Zeiss and looks like a fun lens.  There is a Canon version that will transfer data through the adapter.

If you’re a Leica fan, and I’d love to try this lens, the Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super Elmar M Lens $2995.    It does take filters(46mm), it’s the most lightweight of the three.  You will need an M to Sony NEX adapter.  Manual focus only.

 The 3 DXO wide angel lens specs.

The 35mm range

The Sigma, Art 35mm 1.4 DG, So far,  in limited use this lens is crisp.   In larger landscapes you sacrifice some DOF by topping out at F16, as the Cape Flattery shot illustrates.  I’ve seen some incredible shallow DOF shots in the forums.  The three following shots at our new restaurant, highlight the lens capabilities wide open.

sigma 35 f16-01253
Cape Flattery WA, Sigma 35mm A F/1.4 DG @ f16
Planter box 35mm 1.4-01460
Sigma 35mm A 1.4, shot @ 1.4 1/400 sec, hand held. The detail in the middle of the planter is fantastic. That’s not distortion, the board is very warped.
Sigma 35mm 1.4 A  90% crop
Andy 35mm 1.4-01465
Andy, our contractors Golden, resting, Sigma 35mm @ 1.4

 

It’s not a light lens @ 665 grams.  Cost $900, takes 67mm filters.  It has a very good price to quality value.  You can buy any Sigma lens with a Sony A mount, which when coupled with the La-e4 adapter has excellent AF.

Next on the list has to be the Native, Zeiss Sony 35mm, FE Sonnar T*, 2.8 ZA.  This lens would have been a slam dunk choice if it had the quality of the Sonnar 55mm.  It rates significantly lower than the Sigma, 33 to 43, although it is a very high quality performer.  It’s still a moderately fast lens, and weighs next to nothing @ 4.23 ounces.  Only…$800

Several manual focus gems are out there and if anyone would like to loan one to me…. the Voigtlander 35mm F1.2 Nokton Leica, Leica Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH or the Leica-Summicron M 35mm f/2 Asph. Read the Gear Patrol review on 35mm lenses for additional info.

I can’t drive 55…mm

Thanks Sammy Hagar.  The 55mm, FE Sonnar T* 1.8 ZA pretty much ends this conversation about 55mm lenses for the A7’s.  Best auto focus 55mm ever tested according to DXO, SonyAlphaRumors.  Shoots outstanding video with all three cameras.  The only lens better is the OTUS, 55mm.  The Otus is a tank(3 1/2 times the size of the FE), has close to perfect optics and is manual focus.  In four Sony Facebook Groups, only 55 talked about… is the FE.

 Macro lenses….  oh soo close…up

There’s too much territory to cover in great detail in this class, but here are some awesome choices!

Flash Macro 100mm-00840
Wonderful transitions in focus on the Zeiss, 100mm Makro Planar T*, ZF.2. Flash, our Black Lab sitting on the bed….

Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2 ZF2  $1850

Carl Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 2/135 ZE  $1600

Sigma 85mm 1.4 EX DG Canon  $970

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L USM   $970

Minolta Maxxum 100mm f/2.8 Macro $400 used,  See Ken Rockwell review.

Leica TS-APO-ELMAR-S 120 mm f/5.6 ASPH$7300++

I’m lucky enough to own three of these lenses.  My backup camera is a 5D mk III and two of them fit that camera too.  Today on a budget I’d track down a Minolta.  It was produced in a Sony E mount and should be a rock star on the A7r with a Le-a4 adapter.

Can we get some Zoomage please!

This is by far the hardest category and the most controversial.   Forum wars with comments near a 100 per thread, are common.  This series started out over disappointment in the Native 28-70 FE kit lens, and the Zeiss Sony 24-70 Vario Tessar T* FE F4.  The 24-70 Tessar is damn good in the center, comparable with any of the lenses.  It just loses clarity on the edges, which is really bad for a landscape photographer!

Hope springs eternal on the about to be released FE 16-35mm F4.  Sony did well in their “G” 70-200 FE lens(see DXO comparison of these native FE lenses).  It’s good edge to edge, has excellent resolution, and AF on the A7s & A7 is fast.  It’s certainly worthy of leaving the other macro lenses at home and getting great shots if you want to go light.  For now I’ve put my money into a Sony Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm F2.8 ZA SSM, $1600, plus the La-e4 adapter.   The Sonnar T* design really shines edge to edge.  It will arrive Thursday and hopefully I will report nothing but rave reviews!

Several other zooms have to be considered.  The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM  $1400
which I’ve used extensively on the 5D Mk III, is a wonderful lens.  It looks like the most popular lens in the Sony Forums as well.  Price to value is very good.  

Another choice that is more budget friendly is the Sigma 17-35mm F2.8-4 EX DG Aspherical HSM, $350

Conclusions and final thoughts!

There are many other lens options that work very well on this system.  One forum going pointed out that the old Canon FD lens with adapter are another wonderful choice.  They are expensive in the open market, but if you run into one, grab it and get the Canon FD to Nex adapter(there are several inexpensive alternatives).   The optics from what I’ve researched are outstanding and there is a variety of focal lengths.

I don’t talk much about Nikon glass.  Until someone puts out a Nikon “smart” adapter, they remain manual focus with no information transferred to the camera.  Nikon’s best lenses are well known, ez to research and are great choices in many cases.

Right as I was winding down this post, a couple sources said that 5 of the  ZM mount, manual focus, Zeiss lenses are going to be re-released with the FE mount.   Hopefully so!

 

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Lens lineup for the A7r, Is this what we’re facing… go prime or go home?

Can Sony hit a home run with any future Zoom (Vario) lenses?  Is Sony neglecting part of their audience(A7r) and catering to the A7, and A7s?   Where does the FE lens Road map lead to…  A little town called Undistinguished?  Doesn’t the worlds best full frame sensor deserve the technology in lens design that compliments, not hinders?  I know I wonder….. and are Sony & Zeiss people listening…

roadmap_img_03
Most current and believed to be authentic FE lens roll out schedule. Courtesy of Sony.Net

Many A7 owners have poured over the Sony FE Lens, Road map.   The first two releases after the mundane 28-70 kit lens, the FE 35mm 2.8, and 55mm 1.8 showed us they can make small, light compact lenses for the system.  The extremely fast 55mm is an exemplary  Sonnar T* design that performs and gets great ratings.  The 35mm, also of Sonnar design, a bit slower, and ratings were down. It’s still a damn good lens.   This is where Sony starts to waver a bit on commitment in my opinion.  The FE 24-70 Vario Tessar was really designed for video it seems.  It’s very light, extremely sharp in the center, and survives well in most situations.  It’s had many bad reviews and doesn’t rate well.  Clearly isn’t designed for a 36.4 sensor however.  There are more than a few of us out there who thought Sony should of delivered more.  The latest release I’m still very un-decided on, the FE 70-200 G F4.  It shows good ratings for a lens in it’s class, and in the few pictures I’ve taken with it, does really well.  Sony’s “G” designation out performed the Tessar lens.

The next lens, due in August, that has everyone holding their breath for, is the FE 16-35mm, F4 ZA OSS, Vario Tessar.   With it carrying the “Tessar” designation, I’m afraid it will be another lightweight, under performing lens, similar in quality to the 24-70 FE(probably expensive too!).  I was really hoping for the “Vario Sonnar” designation.  They have better build quality, are faster and they’ve designed them already for the A mount cameras.  I’m told that in the mirrorless system, with the lens distance not being as far from the sensor as a traditional DSLR, benefits compact design.  The technology is here to make a compact “Vario Sonnar” lens.  It may be slightly larger, under 700g perhaps(two current A mount “Vario Sonnar” lenses weigh in around 900g), but we’d have the versatility and high quality.  Following the debut of the 16-35 is the “G” 28-135mm F4 OSS which I’m very excited about!  If Sony and Sony/Zeiss would use this build quality as the “entry level” lenses for the A7 system, everyone would be better off.

This quest for better lenses and shout out to Sony Executives and Zeiss R & D Department takes me to…  what do the high end users of the A7 line really want?  The Market segment that wants nothing but compact, light design and ease of use, could be the majority.  These lenses aren’t inexpensive and if you’ll give $5 for a $2 wrench…  well…  That’s kool…

Pinacle-01385 copyright
Shi Shi Beach, WA FE 55 Sonnar T*, @F22 1/5 sec, ISO 64 Circular Polarizer, Grad ND Filter

There is a multitude of Sony A7 users who want to push the quality up and are willing to pay for it!   They get to use their legacy glass and want a native lens or two that performs!!!

The Everyday Lens… Is it the FE Zeiss/Sony 24-70mm on the A7r?

At the top end of the full frame camera market, two distinguish themselves.  Both employ the same Sony  35.9 x 24.0mm sensor.  I’ve been fortunate to shoot each, the D800e & most recently the Sony A7r.  Is there an everyday lens for the Sony A7r?  (Is there really a non prime lens that is worth shooting at all? I wonder sometimes…)

There are many zooms, (15-35mm range, 24-70mm +/-) that perform well on the D800e.  Ratings from 28-33 on DXOmark).  It’s been my experience that any lens around 30 and higher is extremely good.  Over 40 is crazy good and is generally limited to primes.

When we get to the 18-24 megapixel market, it gets overwhelming.  Canon 5D mk III, Sony A7, Nikon D600, Sony A99 are some of the leaders in that arena.  There are many others.  The type of photography you do usually defines which camera is best.  There are plenty of the same lenses that perform well for these cameras, (high 20’s on DXOmark.)  Primes again are remarkable, some in the high 30’s.

Lens decisions are based largely on budget and needs.  Most people don’t utilize the kind of information the larger sensors produce.

There are a few snapshot aficionados who strive for exceptional reproductions that not only capture a moment, a mood, they invoke memories and fill us with exuberance. Beauty is paramount and we want every detail as insanely good as possible!

24-70-00861
Zeiss Sony 24-70mm, Sony A7r, F11 @70mm
zeiss 100 makro plannar-00862
Zeiss 100 Makro Plannar, ZF.2 Novoflex adapter, Sony A7r, F11
sigma 85 mkIII-6548
Canon 5D mk III, sigma 85mm 1.4, F11
70-200 sony-00863
Sony A7r, FE Sony 70-200mm, F11 @70mm

Is the new Zeiss-Sony FE 24-70mm acceptable for an everyday lens on A7r….   sadly no.  I don’t know if it even cuts it on the A7.

This little lens is lightweight and feels wonderful mounted on the 14.23oz camera.  AF is as good as it’s gonna get on the mirrorless camera(people have said that Sony lenses designed for other models, with the Lae4 adapter, compare). Dead center this lens performs well, nice image quality.  Quickly though, moving towards the edges it gets worse.  The 100mm keeps crispness throughout, as does the Sigma 85mm 1.4 (on the Canon), which you’d expect.  A bit surprisingly, the Sony 70-200m in the last shot keeps outstanding corners.

The Sony 28-70mm, which I’ve never shot, gets even lower ratings than the Zeiss/Sony cousin.    Only one of the FE lenses, the Zeiss 55mm Sonnar T* is a superstar.  The 35mm FE & 70-200mm FE are suitable for the large sensor.   A7r owners have purchased the best sensor made, short of a medium or large format camera.  I don’t know if a lightweight zoom lens with a rating of close to 30 is even possible?  To take advantage of all those megapixels it’s going to take a heavier lens.  Canon’s 24-70 2.8 USM II  weighs double the Zeiss/Sony.  The Nikon 24-70 even more.   I’m saving considerable weight on the camera.  I hope the rumored 16-35 FE weighs about 2 lbs…

FE 55, f20 @ iso50 Pretty much the best picture I could take short of a Leica or Zeiss Otus lens.
FE 55, f20 @ iso50 Pretty much the best picture I could take short of a Leica or Zeiss Otus lens.

Lens Fatigue

I’m sure this just applies to me… I can be a terribly impatient photographer!   Always in a hurry, for God knows what reason. How many times have I gotten home and kicked myself for not switching to another lens.  Often it’s just laziness or what I’m starting to call lens fatigue!

The lens collection, check the ratings & buy the best glass you can afford.

Sometimes there is some rationality behind being anxious. The light fading or increasing, a cloud passes creating some great shadow, the tide’s or inclement weather.    Here are some of the reasons I hear clanging around in my head!

  • Changing lenses in challenging weather.  Wind blowing water and sand.  Not good especially with a mirrorless camera…
  • Tired of taking off backpack again…
  • No place to set the backpack down…
  • I can edit it in Lightroom…
  • I’ll adjust my vantage point to use the lens I have on…
  • I feel like an idiot when I change my lens in front of other people…

As experience is gained I become more aware of what lens initially to walk into a scene with. Due to a myriad of issues, that plan has to be altered to capture the object.  Why do I resist this?

Garden of Eden-1258 fb
Shot with 15mm Zeiss Distagon and cropped. Better choice would have been 55mm or larger.

Some of the explanation can be found in familiarity.  I’ve had success with the 100mm and 15mm. I know what they do and image quality is crazy good.  Why change right?

Water and wind can be a real hazard.  I’ve missed some great shots only because I didn’t wipe the lens off enough.  The same shoot this Garden of Eden picture is from, another image I must of removed 20-30 water spots from.   Fortunately it was salvageable.   Still better to make sure I’m in a protected place, make the switch and get the shot properly.

No confidence or unfamiliar with a lens can be a fatigue issue.  I have to shoot a lens a bunch before I know it’s strengths and effective range.    Eddie Soloway suggested in his Natural Eye Seminar, to go out and just shoot one lens all day, no matter what, to learn it.  Pretty good advice that I need to take every time I get a new lens.  I think he also said, or I read it somewhere, to develop patience in your shooting, and increase your awareness in a scene, try taking one picture a  hour!  That’s extremely difficult!  I want to approach a shot as a film photographer does, precise and well thought out(I have a long way to go here).

Ultimately taking less pictures with the right focal length is the answer.  Taking my relative time (in the middle of a thunder storm hurry your ass up!)  in shot composition, saves a bunch of post processing time.  I’ve gotten down to around 100 pictures a day doing variable locations and even less if no moving water is involved.  That’s a tremendous leap from the 300-400 I used to snap!   Four or five in a individual scene, a lens switch and another couple, move on,  is the goal.

It’s official, Sony A7r is incredible!

Pair
Second Beach, Olympic National Park.

Fresh back from Art Wolfe’s Olympic Peninsula workshop last weekend, I’m still buzzing about the terrific A7r. After just two weeks the Sony has crushed both of myformer camera’s, the 5D Mk III and the D800e. So, I’m not one of the people standing in line waiting to argue about Canon versus Nikon.  Having shot both for a couple years, I feel no real brand loyalty or superiority.  Both had strengths.  I simply want the best camera for my needs… Seems simple enough right?

My little world doesn’t really care about AF, which the most documented drawback of the 36.3 MP A7r.  Almost never use it, except on the rare occasion I photograph another human! Maybe some wildlife for which I’m pretty woeful at anyways. My two favorite lenses are both manual focus and I tend to manually focus the others. All that said, the AF on the Sony is very crisp and fast on the Vario Tessar 24-70mm. It’s quieter than my other lenses for the Canon or the Nikon. When I say quieter I mean it’s much less of an event for the camera. To be fair to Nikon I only had one AF lens, and it sucked, a 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Zoom. Let’s talk about focus!  Anthony Hayward, one of the instructors of the workshop, and I, were talking about critical focus, pre-shot zooming.  I didn’t know the capabilities of the new Sony.   He called a colleague of his from the middle of the Sol Duc rainforest to get the answer!  The Sony performs right behind the Canon 5D mk III.     Using this feature  takes some practice because it turns off after 5 seconds. (choices are 2 sec, 5 sec or no limit).  It also does well in both using the viewfinder(electronic) or the screen which tilts by the way.  No appreciable difference in battery life by turning off live view and using the viewfinder exclusively.  Battery life was pretty good.  I shot about 100 pictures a day and got into a second battery twice.  Plugging camera into mirco usb in car while switching locations kept me charged.  Maybe it was the Red Bull.

Flower
Sony A7r testing in my backyard.
Shadow Maple
Back lit maple leaves casting shadows in the Sol Duc Valley, Olympic National Park.

With a limited sample size of only two weeks there is little to complain about with the A7r.  It isn’t touch screen.  Probably not a videography 1st choice(A7s). If Auto Focus is a priority, then maybe an A7 with only 24MP… If you’re not into hefty…  price or weight, and you can get over the fear of switching camera brands, then this camera will be at your side for a long time!

Death of a D800e

This death, is really about evolution in two areas, equipment and my own.  The D800e was a no brainer for it’s capabilities.  Nothing short of a medium format camera came even close.  I even test drove an Aptus 80 for a week and really struggled with it.  Even at 10-15k less than the Phase version, it was too high. Plus I knew I had to learn more to get all I could out of a Med Format.  It was going to have to wait!   So I Settled for all those lovely megapixels, 36.3….  in the D800e which came with a reasonable price tag.   Still a bit wet behind the ears, the 5D mkIII went into the closet and I took the Nikon out of the box, excited…  Took me two days to take a picture!  Everything is reversed from the Canon!  Ahhh!  After a few thousand shots to get used to the functions on the Nikon, I started producing some really great shots.    Focusing Arches Eden-1258 at distance which is the Canon’s strength, is the 800e’s Achilles heel.  A certain point 10-20 miles away, you could live view zoom in on the 5D, crisply focus, then back out so to not burn up battery and click.   The frickin Nikon will zoom, but at distance it’s so grainy, critical focus was impossible.  I added a 2x eyepiece magnifier which did help tremendously.   Bamboo-3283 low res  I did learn to shoot well with this camera in spite of it not really built for what I do generally, large format landscape work.

  Along came Mr. Wonderful!   He’s still an infant, Sony has only a few lenses as of this printing.  It plays well with others for several third party adapters are out there for Leica, Minolta, Hasselblad, Nikon and Canon.  Check your brand for the intelligence of these adapters.  Metabones Canon adapter will recognize all the features of the lens, while Nikon adapter is “dumb” to this point.

  • Both cameras were rated highest by DxoMark, 96 for the Nikon and 95 for A7r.
  • A7r, $2298 body only, D800e, $3297 body.
  • Nikon body,   2.2 lbs…..
  • A7r Body, 14.36 oz.   Whaaat!

After three days of testing, the learning curve isn’t nearly as hard as the Nikon.   I haven’t had it out in a big scene yet, but it’s performed great around our little property!

I’m still waiting for Canon to put out the 40 to 50 mp camera, but I’m not sure I’ll go back to the lead ball….Sony A7r-6473

Got the Moon by it’s tail

moonageI’ve not made a dime doing it,  photography.

I’ve got a pretty good eye for it.  Artistic genes!  Really…   I’m creative too, can feel and see the moods, frame scenes well.  I’ll hike miles to get a photo, chased a moose once (not a good habit to get into), stopped with 20 other cars on Moose Wilson Rd in Wyoming in an apparent moose jam….  wandered up to the crowd and excitedly asked “what is it?”  a moose?  an Elk?   Deer?   It was a frickin Beaver….  two actually…Bullwinkle IIIThere was a guy with a 12,000 dollar 800mm lens, shooting that damn beaver.

Who hasn’t spent a entire afternoon shooting and realized some setting was off, forgot to change the ISO, left the image stabilizer on using a tripod… that one pisses me off!   Forgot your polarizer…. Twice scouted full moons and left with clouds in the screen(albeit some really bitchin clouds!).  A whole myriad of challenges and frustrations to get the one….    In two years, after hours and hours of shooting and travel, I’ve sold three works…    Crushed about all the hard work and nothing to show for it, I had to get back to the love of the work, remember that sometimes it’s just magical… so in the moment.  Would I trade it back for my hospitality career?   The bird says no…. I’ve learned sooo much about photography and myself.

I just opened my first exhibit and sent  a book to the publisher. The Local Artist's Gallery Exhibit-2890

I may never make money being a photographer…

but I’ve got the moon by the tail…  thanks 🙂