Noctilux, Canon, and the Mitakon 0.95’s… Holy Crap that’s fast… Part II of the Fast Fifties.

Mitakon-08681
At just under $900, the Mitakon is the only cost effective choice.
Mitakon-08685
Leica Noctilux, 0.95 Leica feel, Leica Price….
Mitakon-08686
The oldest member of the group and maybe the most legendary, Canon 0.95, 50mm, converted to M mount.

The “Noct”, the “Dream”, the “Dark Knight.” These are the fastest full frame lenses available that aren’t limited in some way (fixed focus, gazillion dollars, limited prod) .  I’ve gathered them together and will attempt to get them on a level playing field.  Many will shout the Mitakon Dark Knight is the only reasonable option! It is the only native FE mount. Will that make a difference?  Is $10,000 (6,852,000 Somalians) too much for night vision?  Is the “dream” a nightmare at 5k?

This is part two of my blog about fast 50 lenses.   “All the tests and pictures here are done on the Sony A7r.  It’s 36.4 megapixel sensor is demanding and shakes out anything not worthy.  With the exception of some wide angle M mount lenses mentioned in previous articles, that suffer from severe vignetting and color fringing(that don’t perform on A7r), lenses that work on the 7r, perform great on the other 7 series cameras.  These gems are not exceptions.

The Big Three 0.95's
The Canon, Leica and Zhongyi, from left to right(order of sexiness!)

The Mitakon weighs the most of the three at 720g, followed by the Noctilux (700g) and the Canon (605g).  None of the trio is lightweight.  There is a price for the large aperture.   The Noctilux is the only one of the three that has aspherical elements and a rear floating element.  The Mitakon has 10 elements in 7 groups(extra glass explains +grams), the Noct, 8/5 and the Canon 7/5.  Mitakon contains 4 extra low dispersion elements, the Noctilux has 5 partial dispersion lenses.  The Mitakon will focus in half the distance of the others at 1/2 meter.  The Noctilux does come in Silver.  The Canon originally was in a bayonet mount particular to the Canon 7 camera.  My copy was converted to Leica M mount by KevinCamera

Those of you familiar with the last blog will recognize a similar test studio.  I shot three apertures, 0.95, 2.8 and f/11 in the studio.   Two remote locations, Auburn Regional Park(CA) and Nevada City, CA for real world photos.  All the photos I took will be available on Flickr, but the really important ones will follow.

BOKEH

Dream Lens-08699
The Canon exhibits bell shaped orbs…which are common to Canon lenses of this era.
Mitakon-08700
The most clinical of the three, the “Dark Knight” is still very pleasant.
Noctilux-08698
The Leica has remarkable feel in both shape and presentation.
Noctilux-08711
The Leica just transitions so smoothly and creates feel without taking away from the shot.
Mitakon-08704
The Mitakon is a slam dunk if on a budget. It’s just plain good enough…
Dream-08780-2
There is a reason they call it the “Dream Lens.” Nothing quite like it!

One of the most difficult attributes to test is Bokeh.  Finding the right conditions outside is challenging.  These first shots are all focused on bottom of test chart for basic shape.  Bokeh is such an individual preference, I find the Canon and Leica are both outstanding.

WIDE OPEN RESOLUTION  The two relevant areas here are pretty basic, centers and edges.   Most don’t expect the ultimate sharpness in a fast lens wide open.  None of these broke that tradition.  All three lenses show some mild vignetting.  Nothing that isn’t correctable.  Noctilux shows some purple fringing here.  If there is a knock on the M mount lenses on the A7r…  It’s purple casting.  It’s slight on the 50mm, but present at wider apertures.

The cleanest edges here were on the Mitakon!  While slightly less sharp in the center than the Leica, it beat both others in edge sharpness.  The Canon shows more DOF coverage @ 0.95 than either.  You can read some of the galaxy etchings in the crystal cube on the Canon which is in front of the flat background.  They’re pretty fuzzy on the Noct & Mitakon.  The Canon is the softest of the bunch in all locations of test chart.

Wide Open Dream vs Noct edge
The Leica & Canon show similar edge detail. A bit more contrast on the Leica
Wide Open Mita vs Noct edge
The Mitakon has the edge here…
Wide Open Mita vs dream edge
It’s hard to make out the crystal, but the etching (inside NASA’s known universe cube), is actually readable on the Canon which shows greater depth wide open (I have to allow for the possibility that with the M conversion, this lens may not be exactly at .95)

2.8 REASONS to Dream!

Some of you will no doubt just skip anything but the wide open analysis.  Can’t really blame ya for that.  It’s why you purchase this type of glass.  However, 2.8 works for many scenes that just a touch more depth is needed.  The Canon has this!   Still a bit softer in edge detail, it has a big lead in DOF.  A bit of orange fringing was present on the Canon.  Mitakon stays the edge leader here with the Leica starting to pull away in the center.

BYE BYE BLACK SHEEP, F11

You won’t be dreaming anymore…  the darkness of the Knight will be gone…  The Leica really shows what two aspherical elements can do and that floating thingy…  This is a marvelous lens stopped down.  Sharpness is the league of Otus 55!  Hell it should be for 10k.  Canon shows some blue fringing on the edges.  Mitakon, with the extra elements also pulls away from the Canon in center performance at this aperture.   You shouldn’t give any negative points to the Canon here, it’s still damn sharp for a 54 year old lens and can hold it’s own on the 36mp sensor.

WHAT’S IT LIKE OUT THERE IN THE WORLD MOM?

Noct .95-08798
The Noctilux is the most complete of the three. It should be for the price!
Dream .95-08807
Feel & more feel, certainly sharp enough, it’s dreamy quality is tough to beat!
Mitakon .95-08811
If your type of photography requires subject isolation and background feel, with some post processing, the “Dark Knight” is an alternative worth considering.

It has been my quest to not be boring in these two articles!  Ton’s of test shots and the same scene over and over will be minimized (hard to avoid entirely).

Nevada City is a great place for shooting.  It’s small enough that I can walk around, shoot, change lenses and walk around again.  Being an old mining town, the buildings, streets and people… have character.   My second venue, Auburn Regional Park had a kool little stream with some sun poking through.  As you’ll see, the representation of each lens, and it’s feel/character are explored well.

First, above we look at the stream, each lens has a distinct look to it.  The Mitakon gets squashed like a waterbug here in color rendering and contrast.  It may be sharper on the edges, but it doesn’t have the feel of the other two.  The next scene has more elements to it and some good bokeh opportunities.

The following photos you can judge for yourself which lens you prefer…

Dream-08780-2
The Canon competes with the Noctilux for feel & character for sure. Is it’s lack of sharpness going to be a deal breaker on the new A7rII?
Mitakon-08779-1
The ZY Optics (Zhongyi) lens, with some Lightroom 6 adjustments, looks every bit the others…. maybe
Noctilux-08759
There’s something about a Leica, it’s special, the way it renders, it’s ambiance, how it isolates. There are nothing else like them.
Nocting on the Door-08841
An old rusted shutter on the side of Matteo’s Public in Nevada City shot with the Leica.
Noctilux-08837-1
That Leica feel again in an alleyway.
Dream Lens-08852-3
The Canon shooting up past the windows at Three Forks Bakery and Brewing company.
Dream Lens-08845-1
The Dream capturing some sidewalk dining on Commercial St.
Mita Dog-08826
You’re definitely not screwing the pooch here with the Mitakon… After some tweaks, this lens performs great, although it’s not the natural the other two speed demons are…

CONCLUSIONS:

I thought this would be an easy selection, but I guess I was fooling myself. From a budget standpoint, there is one option, the Mitakon Dark Knight. It’s a tad heavier than the others, has enough glass inside to perform really well for any type of close up photography. I’ve tried it a couple times in larger landscapes, and it doesn’t perform. It takes some post processing to get additional feel from it’s shots. Wide open it’s very sharp edge to edge but starts to lose some of it’s strength as you stop it down. Anything under f 6 it’s dynamite!

The Canon “Dream Lens” is really stuck in the middle here. The softest of the three, it shows a unique perspective that can’t be found in any other lens made.  This antique is marvelous on an A7r. untitled-08929 It’s as distinctive physically as it is in photographs.  I’m not alone saying it’s awesome being seen with this lens on the camera!  With the upcoming A7rii, I’m afraid it’s lack of sharpness will be even more exposed.   The Canon holds it’s own in larger scenes, keeping it’s sharpness as it stops down.  Even at 50 plus years old, this is a better all purpose lens than the modern Mitakon.

Finally the Leica Noctilux…  Sure you can scream that it’s not worth over 9k!  Why would you buy a lens that’s not as sharp wide open as the 900$ Mitakon?  My best analogy is a new Shelby Mustang is a really fast car that looks fantastic, but it’s not a Ferrari.  The refinements that Leica brings are evident in quality, feel and character.   The Noctilux is a complete lens, sharp as hell after f 2, and at smaller apertures, it breathes the rarefied air of Otus…  It’s that good.   When the scene allows I’d shoot it as a landscape lens which isn’t true of the Mitakon or the Canon really(better, but not great).   If price isn’t an object, then this is the clear choice of the three.  You really get what you pay for here.

purple cast on noct-09376
Upper center of frame has purple bands on high contrast areas with bright light behind it…

ADDENDUM to the Leica review.  I didn’t come up in any of the scenes during my review, but further use has showed the Noctilux has purple banding near the center of the frame on darker objects with bright light behind it.   I haven’t tested it enough to know if it’s at all apertures, but wide open, and at 1.1-1.4 this exists and is a huge disappointment on an otherwise wonderful lens.  I am getting a copy of a Kolari Vision thin sensor stack replacement  A7r and will do further tests.

If I have to rank the three based on all criteria….  The Mitakon, Noctilux, then the Canon, in that order.   The Noct just isn’t practical for most, the Canon really is a specialty piece of glass, and unless you need your 50mm to be a primary landscape lens, the Mitakon wins easily.  My personal view…. save your money and buy a used Noct one day!!!!   Look for a Canon & Mitakon on ebay soon…  Til the next time, ET

Fast Fifties, modern 50’s… Normal lenses you want to look at for your A7r (A7/A7ii). What’s right for you? Part I

50mm or thereabouts, is considered the “normal” lens length for a full frame camera. What’s a normal lens? Wikipedia states “a normal lens is a lens that reproduces a field of view that generally looks “natural” to a human observer under normal viewing conditions.” That’s good enough for this forum.  According to many, including sites like DXOmark, the Zeiss Otus 55mm is the ultimate normal lens.  Leica people will throw the Apo Summicron 50mm into that mix, which I’m sure it deserves.   I will be using the Zeiss as the benchmark lens.   It’s fast enough at 1.4 to compare well with these wonderful antique fast 50’s.  If someone wants to lend me the Summicron, I’ll use that too!  Part one will look at 11 of these marvels, saving part two for the three super fast, 0.95’s

For more than 200 photos & comparison shots, see the Bitchinlight Flickr Page.

The lenses

  • Zeiss Otus 55mm 1.4 ZE

    The Zunow-08028 low res
    Incredibly rare Zunow, Telkoku Kogaku 5cm lens
  • Sony/Zeiss FE 55 1.8
  • Canon 50mm 1.2 Rangefinder
  • Canon 50mm 1.5 Rangefinder
  • Canon FD 50mm 1.2 L
  • Konica Hexanon 57mm 1.2
  • Zunow 5cm 1.1 (leica screw mount)
  • MD Rokkor 58mm 1.2 PG
  • Nippon Kogaku S.C. 5cm 1.4 (s mount)
  • Nippon Kogaku S Auto 55mm 1.2 (Nikon F)
  • Pentax SMC 50mm 1.2
  • Mitakon 50mm 0.95 Dark Knight
  • Canon 50mm 0.95 Dream Lens
  • Leica 50mm Noctilux 0.95

The difficulties I faced taking on this project were many.

  1.  how to put all these lenses on a level playing ground
  2.  keep investment in time reasonable
  3.  use what I have available
  4.  how to present the data
  5.  keep it interesting
  6.  not be too frickin long!

This is the criteria used for the basic testing.

  • light enough background to check vignetting
  • Multiple depths within the scene for 3d
  • contrast points on edges
  • flat surface extending to edges to check shallow performance frame wide

    Otus @ f13-08445
    Test Kitchen… All the elements for basic resolution testing
  • different colors, surfaces
  • two different lights to check bokeh detail
  • two test f stops, wide open and f 8.
  • Crops done at 3:1

Perfect right!!!  Probably not, but it works and doesn’t leave too many holes.

Hexanon-07929
Early version of the Hexanon
Hexanon at f4-08462
The Konica is reasonably sharp, easy on the eyes

First up, the Legacy Glass:

Konica Hexanon, 57mm 1.2KR to NEX adapter, 463g, 62mm filter. 1st introduced in the late 1960’s.  There is a mild yellow cast to this copy which isn’t that uncommon inside older lenses.  Some time under a LED light can clear it up in most cases.  This Konica has a warm feel and I liked it instantly.  It shows a bit of vignetting wide open, but nothing that effects image quality.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t have a 62mm filter laying around.  It’s  an odd size.  It’s very consistent across the frame at both test apertures with a dramatic increase in sharpness as it stops down.  Cost, 375-800$.  Don’t confuse this lens with the amazing Hexanon 50mm 1.2.  Well over 3,000$

58mm Cover photo-07095
MC Rokkor-PG, reputation for wonderful Bokeh and subject isolation!
otus vs rokkor58 at f8
The 58mm Minolta has some light fall off & softer at extreme edge at 1.2, but this is still a sharp lens @ f8!

MC Rokkor-PG 1.2 58mm, MD to NEX adapter, 474g, 55mm filter.  Shortly after receiving this lens I had a new favorite!   It was introduced in 1966 and the MC version was produced into 1972.  I thought like many, that this was a specialty lens, great bokeh, really fun for low light photography.  When I tested this lens for sharpness I was blown away!    Fairly typical wide open, touch of vignetting and loses some sharpness on frame edges.  At f8 this lens is tack sharp!  Cost, 375-600$ (Don’t pay more than $425, plenty of great copies in that range available).  This is a must have for legacy collectors!

canon 1.5-08466
Canon chrome 1.5 Beautiful, small and good color rendering

Canon 50mm 1.5 Rangefinder, L39 to NEX adapter, 269g, 40mm filter.  This Leica copy(summarit 1.5) is tiny.  Sharpening up after f2.8, it’s the softest lens here wide open, also the slowest of the bunch.  Color is spectacular and it’s very capable for high quality photos stopped down.  Like most of the smaller 50’s, it can be tough to focus, even at 14.4x(A7r magnifier).  The little Canon is rock solid and beautiful.  Note:   M39 to M plate can be used if you already have a M to NEX adapter.  Cost, 300-400$

FD 1.2L vs Otus f8
The 35 yr old FD lens has modern performance.

Canon FD 50mm 1.2 L, FD to NEX adapter, 376g, 52mm filter.  The distinctive red circle around on the front tells you instantly this is a different lens from other FD 50’s.  It has a floating aspherical element which makes it extremely advanced compared to most any lens then and now.  Introduced in 1980,  Ken Rockwell fawns over this lens, not that he fawns over anything…   The FD does set itself apart from many 1.2’s.  It shows remarkable DOF and sharpness at 1.2.   Stop it down and it’s crisp!  I don’t expect a 35 year old lens to compete with the near perfection of Otus, but comparing the two at f8 will leave many wondering why you’d spend another 3200$   It may be the best of the fast fifties…  Cost, 675-1,300$

Canon 50mm 1.2 Rangefinder, LTM L39 to NEX Adapter, 346g, 55mm filter.   Reasonably sharp with less contrast than the Otus wide open, this lens was first seen in 1956.  My copy was made after 1961.  It does show mild vignetting at 1.2 but like all the early Canon’s, it has great bell shaped bokeh and good color.  At f8 this lens gets much sharper as you’d expect, but loses some clarity towards the extreme edges.  Overall very usable in most any situation except close ups.  Minimum distance at least a meter!   Cost, 450-900$

Otus vs nikon 55 @f8
Edge contrast and sharpness is spectacular on this 50 yr Nikkor Kogaku @ f8

Nippon Kogaku, Nikkor S Auto 55mm 1.2 Nikon F to NEX adapter, 424g, 52mm filter.   Introduced in 1965 in the Nippon Kogaku version, Nikon later dropped the Kogaku designation and continued production until 1978.  Some say this lens doesn’t have the contrast it’s constituents do.  That might be true on the edges @1.2, but this lens ROCKS!  It does show some vignetting.  Bokeh is excellent.  Once I started cranking it down… as sharp as anything here.  I’m thinking we have another front runner for best classic lens….  Cost, 200-450$

Zunow 5cm Telkoku Kogaku 1.1, L39 to NEX adapter, 411g, 54mm filter.  This is the rarest and most expensive lens in my collection.  It is second only to the Leica Noctilux in price.  A chrome beauty, it fetches well over 5,000$ in good condition.  The black models can go upwards of 19k!   Zunow II-08201Early versions were seen in 1953 and it was the fastest lens of its time.  Despite it being a highly valued collectors lens, I’m still trying to find it’s happy place!  Very soft at 1.1 and difficult to focus, the Telkoku does produce spectacular backgrounds and has the fluttery bokeh characteristic of Petzval lenses.  It’s tack sharp in the center at f11 and improves going up from f2.  Cost, 5,000-20,000$

$_57
This copy shows some oil on blades

Nikkor S-C 1.4 5cm, Nikon S to NEX adpater, 171g, 45.4mm filter.  The smallest lens tested, it’s also the coolest looking!  Coupled with two possible adapter options, it weighs a bit more than the Canon 1.5.  Being an internal S mount it requires a focusing helicoid of some type to operate.  At f 1.4, this is the worst lens tested.  Grainy, no contrast and easily the least sharp…  I shot it with both adapter options, gave a bit more light, still horrible.  You’d think at 1.4 it would perform pretty well.  For a small lens, focusing isn’t an issue.  It sharpens up quickly as you bring the aperture tighter for reasonable pictures at f8.  Even with it’s good looks, given the choices out there, pass on this lens.  Don’t pay more than 300$ if interested, Cost, 200-500$

Pentax 1.2 vs kogaku 55 1.2 @ 1.2
Edge detail on Pentax & Kogaku 55, shows vignetting darkness and decent sharpness for 1.2
Pentax 1.2 vs Otus 55 1.4 @ f8
The Otus out resolves the Pentax & shows better depth, however the Pentax is a great value!

SMC Pentax, 50mm 1.2, PK to NEX adapter, 394g, 52mm filter.   People often overlook this speedy Asahi Optical Co. lens.  You shouldn’t!   Every bit the equal of the other 1.2’s for character, this lens has worthy sharpness wide open with slight to moderate vignetting.  Compared here to the Kogaku 55mm, this lens does show edge darkening and softness.  Introduced in 1975 and manufactured to 1984, in the next photo with an Otus close up as a comparison, it does quite well.  Collectors haven’t missed this treasure, prices continue to climb, Cost, 375-800$

 The Modern Contenders

Zeiss Otus Distagon 55mm  1.4, ZE, EF to NEX (smart)adapter, 1030g, 77mm filter.  Bad ass, nothing better made in full frame normal lenses, especially at 1.4.  Cost 3990$

Sony Zeiss Sonnar T*, 55mm 1.8 FE, no adapter….   281g, 49mm filter.  Some call it the “Baby Otus”   Best FE lens made, period.  “best autofocus lens ever” according to DXO.  Cost, 998$

Honorable mention, Loxia 50mm 2.0, Leica Apo Summicron 50mm 2.0.  Don’t have these to test, but they have to be considered in a modern lens search.

Based on size, convenience and cost the “Baby Otus” wins by a landslide.  The differences in IQ are almost negligible as we will see.   Color rendering, feel, bokeh and edge to edge sharpness, personal preference make this a difficult choice.   First look at the DXO ratings, on the equivalent sensor to the A7r (D800e).  Big edge to the Otus in sharpness and this shows in some of the test shots.FE 55 vs Otus 55 1.4 DXO  Wide open the DXO rating seems accurate.

As we stop it down the Otus continues to pull away from the FE.  Again, this isn’t by a large margin.   One thing that really impresses is the focusing ease on the Distagon.  The Otus in the viewfinder or on the LCD is like a fine pair of binoculars.  Clear, like you’re right there.  The FE isn’t bad in this regard but the disparity is noticeable.

FE 55 vs Otus 55 1.4 left edge WO
Edge detail goes to Otus wide open.
FE 55 vs Otus 55 1.4 @ max f stop
At max aperture settings, these lenses are both wonderfully sharp in spite of physics. The FE looses a bit more sharpness on the edges than Sir Otus!

Another thing I find amazing about the Otus line is it’s diffraction characteristics.  Cranked down there is very little clarity loss.  By the laws of physics it has to diffract some, but I can’t see it.  Here’s both lens maxed out.  I won’t bore you here, but the FE softens some at this setting for sure.  Check out the entire F stop side by sides directly here.

Bokeh Comparison
The Otus Distagon & the FE 55 have good feel.

For bokeh, they’re both pretty clinical compared to the older lenses.  The Otus is a bit faster has more character.

Conclusions…..

Wow, a ton of data to mull!  If I had to pick one classic it’s a toss up for first place between the Rokkor 58mm and the FD L, Canon.  They are both super sharp for an old lens.  In side by side testing against the Otus and a 100mm Makro Planar, the 58 held it’s own!  Only in extreme edge detail does the disparity become apparent.  Neither of these lenses will do landscapes like the two modern Zeiss’s, and the color rendering of Distagon & Sonnar are amazing.     Of the non 0.95’s, which will be featured in part II, the Zunow gets the nod for the dreamiest of the bunch.  It’s just unique enough to make it worth the large investment, even if it’s not sharpest tool in the shed….

Best value of the classics is easily the Nikkor Kogaku 55mm 1.2.  Kogaku copies, or just the Nikkor S labels, are cheap, great quality and have comparable characteristics of the others here.  Those of you who’d prefer to grab a 1.4 lens, to save money, can spend a few extra dollars to acquire this sensational light gatherer.

The Konica Hexar, Hexanon 50mm 1.2 should really be here.  It’s pretty expensive and while that’s never stopped me, I have plenty of fast lenses….  I would like it if someone had some shots utilizing this lens.  I’d be happy to put them into a album on flickr for comparison to the others.

I will be adding more photos as I go along.  The baby dream lens, 1.2 Canon LTM, isn’t represented very well.  I really look forward to the 0.95’s!

Eric

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!

 

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…

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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…

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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!

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Zeiss Sony 24-70mm, Sony A7r, F11 @70mm
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Zeiss 100 Makro Plannar, ZF.2 Novoflex adapter, Sony A7r, F11
sigma 85 mkIII-6548
Canon 5D mk III, sigma 85mm 1.4, F11
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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?

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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!

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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!