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 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.

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