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

Advertisements

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

Laughing at Time

Laughing at Time Bristlecone Pines are one of my favorite subjects. They thrive above 11,000 ft, often quite a hike from parking lots, and generally 20-30 miles inside of park boundaries, making for long drives. These timeless trees are inspiring, ageless and their beauty is among the greatest natural wonders in the world.
This tree in Great Basin National Park, has taken everything nature has thrown at it for over 4,000 years. It “Laughs at Time.”

High Plains Drifter

Got to spend a unforgettable Labor Day weekend in Laramie Wyoming. Some might say that all weekends in Laramie are unforgettable, especially in winter! This special weekend was actually for my wedding. My son started at UofWyo this fall and couldn’t leave, so we brought the festivities to him!
Unplanned photo shoots can be a tremendous amount of fun. They are very spontaneous and the weather in the High Plains hasn’t disappointed me yet in three overall visits.  “Cowboy Sunset”  was near the #Laramie Airport with

Antelope Sunset-2223Antelope walking purposefully along a ridge with the #sunset behind them.

The same evening, just up the road a piece produced this stunning storm cell with showers and a rainbow cascading down from the clouds.

Healing Light-2209

My lovely bride and I discovered this bull moose (in a moose jam!) hanging out with his buddy who never stood up.

Power Animal-2186

This raindrop covered scene was on the Turtle Rock Trail.

Wild Berries

Turtle Rock area in #MedicineBow National Forrest. Turtle Rock-1805

The scope of all these photos covers vast #Landscapes and #MacroPhotography.  It also includes #wildlifephotography (which I’m improving slightly…) and used three lenses, the Nikor 28-300, Zeiss 100mm Makro Planar and Zeiss 15mm Distagon.   Although I love this free form sort of photography (“there’s always something to shoot.”), one of my developmental goals is planning shoots and more location scouting.  It’s more of a time investment, that when traveling on vacation, is prohibitive.

Don’t put all your moons in one basket!

Super moon fever gripped photographers across the world recently. I too was a victim of its clutches, scouting for a location for two days. It was something like 18,000 miles closer than normal. 14% larger to the naked eye! The southwestern US was one of the prime locations to view it according to weather forecasts! Other photographers I talked with, the sales clerks at B & C photo, here in Las Vegas, were all a buzz. One word describes the super moon here, dud. Supermoon dud-1398
This was the best I could come up with from Red Rock Canyon. An interesting sky for sure, but even when the moon cleared the clouds it was hazy.   The sunset was phenomenal and many people got some great shots waiting for it.  I’ve read scores of articles about planning photo shoots.  Waiting for the perfect time and conditions.  Some wait months or years to get that perfect shot.  I’ve said there’s always something to shoot and stay versatile.   It’s good advice for me anyways.

Here’s to the “SuperMoon Sunset.”Supermoon sunset II-1382