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

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Lens Alternatives for the A7 series, cont’d.. what we’ve learned thus far…

ZE Makro Planar-07832
Carl Zeiss Makro Planar 100mm F2 ZE(Canon mount)

The lens choices are staggering really.  Easily the biggest investment in your camera system is the lenses.  Opinions vary greatly! It’s really not surprising because the cast of characters is grand!  Professionals, amateurs, landscape, wedding, action, wildlife, still, portrait, weekenders, travelers, vacationers, the cost conscious and the vaunted impulse buyer… all have their opinions!!!  With four different A7 models, the performance of a lens can vary on each camera!

35mm summilux 1.4 with helicoid-07930
A7r with Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4, 2nd Gen and Tinray Helicoid adapter

There isn’t a subject about cameras that I have more enthusiasm for and have spent more time on researching and blogging about.  Several months ago now, we created the Un-Official A7r Non Native lens guide.  It’s a practical listing of lenses and their performance to assist in your lens search.  It has become a valuable resource.

While a recapitulation to some, what’s mentioned here is the ample experience of many who, in the last several months, used lenses on all models of the A7.   I do come at this from the A7r perspective.   If you have a flaw in technique it’s highlighted at 36mp.  This will become even more the case in the rumored 46 megapixel “A9.”   This is primarily a manual lens discussion.  It’s not made for sports or action photography and arguments about poor Auto Focus performance are irrelevant.   When used properly it has Medium Format ability.   I also don’t wish to engage in a super scientific, picture laden exposé.

Enough esplaining Lucy, lets get to it.

The Natives are restless…   The FE 55 1.8 has no equal in resolution until one starts talking Otus!   A fantastic AF lens that makes the A7’s sing!   The Zeiss Loxia 35mm and 50mm provide exquisite performance in a pure manual lens.  The Loxia 35 eclipses the performance of the Sony/Zeiss FE 35mm 2.8, because it’s faster and out resolves it.   Have to give credit to Sony/Zeiss on their original 35mm lens though, for the size and money it is still the best, lightest thing going.  It gets a bit dicey after that.  Largely regarded as the best zoom in FE line is the 70-200.  Sharp across the frame, versatile and for it’s size a great lens.  The 24-70 and recently released 16-35 are major disappointments from most peoples standpoints(Brian Smith loves this lens!).   Outstanding in the middle, they both suffer from noticeable edge degradation.  People are starting to complain about distortion on the 16-35.  That should be correctable in post processing.  Both these zooms are more than a match for the A7, A7ii and A7s(particularly video).  The original 28-70 kit lens produces very good pictures and is rated just below the other zooms.  At this writing we wait for the next hopeful zoom, the Sony FE 24-240.  A broader range than any previous releases and the longest lens to date.   Another highly anticipated release are the FE 35mm 1.4  and the FE 90mm 2.8 G, I can’t wait! 

M mounted perfection…   Rangefinder lenses include a few brands, most notably Leica.  Voigtlander & Zeiss  are the other two large players in this market.  A few small companies like Sonnetar also manufacture M mount glass.  98% of these perform with no issues on the A7, 7s and 7ii.  It’s when you get to the A7r that problems arise.  Mostly with wide angle focal lengths, and particularly with the Zeiss & Voigtlander.  Purple fringing and vignetting become evident on many models.  Leica cameras, hence the lenses, are designed to utilize the Leica sensor and in camera processing.  Sony’s BionX processor & sensor were specifically designed to handle the demands of the rangefinder line, but it’s not perfect.  To handle the myriad of other lenses, there is minor trouble converting the edges on the A7r.  Be wary of those who say how great these lenses are if they don’t mention which A7 it’s mounted to!  One of the drawbacks of many rangefinder lenses is a relatively long minimum focus distance.  To solve this issue, many will tout the Voigtlander close focus adapter as the Holy Grail of M to E adapters.   Personally the Tinray-Helicoid has served me well and is less than 1/4th the price of the Voigtlander.   The only “smart” adapter option for Leica 6 bit lenses, is the Phigment Technologies, Leica M to Sony E mount adapter.  It is a programmable adapter that recognizes lens type in camera and EXIF data(you do have to match aperture on lens manually to setting in camera).  This adapter is still a bit quirky and might not work with every Leica lens, but Paul the inventor/manufacturer is quick on support and will even talk you through live!   The Voigtlander line is easily the most cost effective of the bunch, but on the A7r, two stand out, the 35mm and 50mm Nokton’s… they of course are two of the pricy ones.

Loxia on Cart Path-07734
Loxia 35mm, 1/30 ISO 50, F18
Loxia 35mm -07818
The Loxia on the A7r, shot with the worlds best lens, Zeiss Otus 55mm 1.4

The Roaring 50’s…  Fast and furious!   There are several fast fifties out there.  Fast is considered anything @ 1.2 or below.  These lens tend to be old, 1960 to the 80’s.  Price range is between $400 to $5000!  Most have exceptional bokeh and render in a classic film look in one way or another.  The most sought after one of the bunch is the Canon 50mm .95 “Dream Lens”   This beauty in pristine condition costs in excess of 5k.   A good copy can be found for under 4k.  It is pretty sharp in the center and is known for its soft dreamy edges.  There is also a “TV” version of this lens which is equally good to my understanding.  There have been reports of bad mount conversions(usually to M mount).  Make sure it’s a trusted source or that returns are allowed.  Listed below are several other great choices for manual lenses in the 50mm range.

  • Canon FD 50mm 1.2 L

    Hexanon Wine-07853
    Konica Hexanon, 57mm 1.2 Great backgrounds, crisp in the middle.
  • Konica Hexanon 57mm 1.2
  • MC Rokkor 58mm 1.2
  • Pentax SMC 50mm 1.2
  • Mitakon 50mm .95 Dark Knight (2014)
GM truck b&w-07515
The Mitakon “Dark Knight.” Clinical precision and it’s shallowness knows no bounds! 1/10th the price of the Noctilux .95, it’s a great alternative…
Pentax 50 1.2 SMC-07784
Pentax 50mm 1.2, a wonderful lens coming in at about 450$
Rokkor 58mm 1.2 f16-07899
Minolta Rokkor 58mm 1.2 @ f11, not quite the optics of today, but very good!
Rokkor 58mm 1.2-07897
Minolta Rokkor 58mm 1.2 @ f1.2 A dreamy classic feel.
Canon FD 50mm 1.2 L-07902
The Canon FD, 50mm L, shooting the Hexanon. It has a red stripe and optically compares to modern glass.

The FD “L” Canon & Mitakon will dent your wallet, at around $800-900.  The others can be found in great condition anywhere from $400-500.  None of them are lightweight or talk to the camera.  Pure manual gold!     There are others too!  Canon and Nikon make wonderful 1.2  50mm’s in the EF and Ai models.  Nikon’s suffer from lack of a “smart” adapter, and Canon  glass, even with the Metabones, RJcamera, Commlite or King “smart” adapters run slow AF.   The FD “L” version has a cousin, the FD 1.2, and is another outstanding lens, but not quite the “L” and 1/3 the price.

Wide, wide and wider…   This is a fairly short discussion, nothing has changed here really.  The Samyang/Rokinon/Bowers 14mm 2.8 at around $300 is a great alternative.  It has been reported by many to have pretty severe production variances.  Make sure you get a good copy at the store or be prepared to send it back if bought online.  This lens produces great pictures, comes in an E mount and is full frame.  Distortion is correctable in Post Processing.  It’s only drawback really is that it doesn’t take screw in filters.  Can’t put it in the great landscape lens category when it won’t take a circular polarizer.   If you can afford it, the Zeiss Distagon 15mm 2.8 T* has no equal here.  It’s big, expensive, ($2995) and worth every penny. The ZE version is electronic and communicates with the camera.  No autofocus here either.

Famous wildlife and landscape photographer Art Wolfe, when asked which lens he’d choose if given to him….  The Distagon 15mm.

If money is no object, the Leica WATE(wide angle tri elmar)has to be mentioned here although it also belongs in the Super Lens or M mount categories.  It’s a 16-18-21 manual zoom lens that has no ill effects on the A7r.  It’s also about 6k new.   Good copies can be had for $4500 on the used market.  It’s a bit over a third of the weight of the Zeiss, has a bit different feel to it, and damn near as sharp.

Longer options…  Portrait & macro lenses abound as well for these cameras.   Optically the four best are the Zeiss 100mm Makro Planar, the Apo Sonnar 135mm & two Nikon lenses, both 85mm, the 1.4G and 1.8G..  The Zeiss’s are available in Canon or Nikon mounts.  I like that the ZE(Canon), communicates with the camera.  Nikon versions, ZF.2, feature separate aperture control, but no EXIF data.  Much more cost effective are the Canon FD lenses, which all perform very well on the A7’s.  Same is true of the Minolta Rokkor line.  Pentax’s Takumar line has lots of participants, especially in 85 and 135mm.  All three make zooms that function well.  The more modern Minolta lenses have great AF performance using the La-ea4 Sony Adapter.

Otus in Mitakon eyes-07457
The Mitakon 50mm, .95 wide open,capturing the near perfection of Otus!

The Super Lenses…  What’s a super lens?  Costs at least $4000 for starters, has UN-paralleled optics and has a feel or characteristic lesser lenses can’t match.  Zeiss engineers were told to create the perfect lens, no expense spared.  They gave us Otus….  the clouds parted, people sang.  The $3990 55mm 1.4 Otus is nearly perfect, with almost no distortion and CA(chromatic aberration).  Optics are medium format quality or beyond(See my flickr page for several shots with both Otus lenses.)  The 55mm rates at 50 on DXOmark,(on D800e, same sensor as a7r & no low pass filter).  Recently the Otus 85mm, 1.4 was released.  Slightly more expensive than the 55mm at a mere $4500, it rates a 49 on DXO.  Both these lenses are quite large and some would say defeat the purpose of the compact A7 series.  Judge for yourself, I think the quality is un-matched.   The next super lens…  Leica Noctilux, 50mm .95.  Almost $11k…  While none of the Leica lenses are rated on DXO, this masterpiece would rate high!  Clinically sharp at any f stop, it has un-rivaled character wide open with an ability to get soft and dreamy.  The two older versions of this Leica beauty, the 1.0 and 1.2 Noct’s don’t get nearly as much attention, but are both monuments to the camera world as well.  Aldo Nova’s song comes to life here!   Fantasy.

Conclusions, conclusions!…  For wonderful retro moodiness and great optics as well, the Leica 35mm, in a variety of models are superb.  While not quite super lens money, they are pretty superhero’ish…  Another intriguing lens is the Trioplan.  It has a much different bokeh than other retro lenses and many like it’s aura.   Many of the E mount lenses designed for the NEX series and a6000(aps-c) perform very well on the A7’s.  They can be shot at higher res in full frame mode, then cropped in PP or shot without adjustment in aps-c mode with corresponding drop in resolution depending on which model you’re using.    Many people are fans of Sony or Sony/Zeiss A mount lenses.   With the La-ea4 adapter these shoot quite well and are generally more cost friendly.  The downside of this is the adapter weighs an additional 160g and because it has it’s own mirror inside, it affects image.   There is a tremendous increase in AF performance using this adapter with the A mount or Minolta AF glass.

Credits to….  The people who regularly contribute to five Sony forums on Facebook… inspire, anger, teach and are friends.  A7/A7r Shooters, A7-A7r Photographers, Sony Alpha Camera-Talk, Sony A7-Sony A7r-Sony A7s, & Sony A7/A7r.

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…

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.