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

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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.

Shuttershock on the A7r… shhh utter nonsense?

The deadly shutter shock issue on the increasingly popular Sony A7r just won’t go away. The reasoning behind it, is shaky at best….  I would like to dispel some myths and perceptions immediately.  Many people are making way too big a deal of this.

  • Concern is limited to, or prone to, longer focal lengths.  An increased vibration occurs, period…(read further about complexity and severity).
  • The camera doesn’t know how long of a lens is(physically) attached to it.
  • It can’t tell how much it weighs.
  • The 1/100th of a second “problem” area, doesn’t care what’s there taking pictures….
  • The camera mechanism itself, behaves exactly the same, every time, at a constant shutter speed… hmmm
  • Shutter doesn’t try harder because an AF, IS lens has higher electronic requirements.  In fact many of the adapters don’t even have electronic connections.  This logic really baffled me.
  • All A7r’s have this problem?  Nope…  Vast majority of people have no complications…

Some things that do make sense for this issue.

  • Poor tolerances on a myriad of adapters.  Early models had higher incident rate due to faulty mount on camera(light leak too).  They ain’t fittin too good.
  • The 36mp sensor requires near perfect execution to get a good shot.  Person isn’t shooting too good!
  • Communication between lens, adapter, camera, IS, AF, mount balance, or any combination of those, is complicated & can cause problems which are really unrelated.  Margin of error not too good….
  • The A7r has increased internal vibration at some shutter speeds that are easily compensated for.  Camera is good….
  • continued banter… is no good…

People have argued, proved, disproved, tested, complained and gone to great lengths trying to fix or explain this “problem”(see Joseph Holmes/Ferrell McCollough/Ross Hamamura and others).  Personally, I have never experienced anything that even slightly suggests an issue.  I own 2 A7r’s.  Blurring that’s occurred is easily attributable to my own operator error.   I will state that I don’t shoot many lenses over 200mm and am 98% manual settings & focus.  I do have several lenses that weigh over 700g.  When below 1/200th I tend to use a tripod and use a wireless Sony remote.  Varying conditions may require more stability.  This is not news to any high performance camera system.  Throw a 300mm lens on the D800e, it’s going to require more attention(experienced that.)  An IQ 280 on 645DF+ damn near sends out a shock wave!

I’m not sure why people propagate this.

Otus Brothers
Two very weighty lenses. Both top performers at any shutter speed on A7r. Used here with Metabones IV and RJcamera EF to NEx adapters.

Perhaps not crowd pleasing final thoughts.

  • Many really good photographers don’t realize the precision needed to capture perfect clarity on the 7r.  It’s hard…  Suppose to be!
  • It took me over 10,000 captures to get the D800e.  I’m up to around 4,000 on the 7r and have improved my percentage of reasonable photos.
  • Use the right camera to get desired results… BIG ONE!
  • Metaphor for the day…  If your car shimmy’s at 70mph and you continue to drive at 70….  –get tires balanced/aligned– (adapter, stabilize platform, change settings, etc).
  • Don’t write articles about your car shimmy… or post repeatedly in forums.  It is really a specious criticism.
  • The A7r is the ultimate, compact mirrorless camera.  Full Frame 36mp resolution, endless lens choices, developing native lens line, and lightweight. This isn’t a deal breaker, it’s more of a botheration.

Resolution & Megapixels, what actually matters? Can my camera beat up your camera?

In the last couple weeks no category has caused more of a stir than the discussions about megapixels and resolution with the new Sony A7 series.  Most of this controversy starts with lens discussions.  There’s some considerable distinctions between the A7s‘s, 12.2 megapixel sensor, the 24mp on the A7, and the monster 36.3 of the A7r.  The sensors in the three cameras are all considered Full Frame(24×36), each measuring just under the 864 sq. mm. mark.  So what’s the difference between the three, if the sensor is basically the same size?  It’s a great question that confuses lots of people including myself….

Larger sensors tend to have larger pixels, which can translate to lower noise levels, and an increase in dynamic range(Cambridge in Colour article on Sensor size).  More light can be gathered by the larger pixel.  That at least makes sense.  How does this relate to the A7s and why is it the new low light king?   It has 12 really big Megapixels!  The light gathering potential is huge!  It becomes a dream camera for those who want to take low light or fast pictures(action, indoor photography, nights, low lit streets) and astral photography.    Somehow Sony has managed to increase the A7s picture quality by utilizing the unique in-camera processor(Bionz X) combined with the new Exmor CMOS sensor.  Does it have more resolution and capture images as sharp as the higher MP cousins…. no.  What it does do is provide a much sharper picture than the typical 12 megapixel camera (Sony A7s William Brawley’s Shooter report) with much more ISO range.   DXO explains that while the A7s performs better than any other camera tested in low light ISO, it actually looses some Dynamic Range compared to it’s partners(DXO A7 series comparison) after camera applies processing.

FD lens interior-07175
Described by one person as a 36 megapixel digital back, the A7r has few full frame equivalents.

That gets us to the A7 and A7r argument and that megapixels don’t matter.    It’s a complicated process to get an image to the SD card,    As the image zooms through the camera, Sensor size, pixel size, pixel density, processor, sensor type….  range of light/dynamic range… OMG!  –all contribute… Nasim Mansurav,(great articles on sensors etc) and others, refer to segments of this interaction as the “Image Processing Pipeline”(IPP). With the shared Bionz X processor, it’s similar in all three A7 cameras.  Suffice it to say that the largest sensor, with the largest pixels and highest pixel density wins, when the IPP is the same.  It’s starting to make sense why each camera performs the way it does.   Both A7s and A7 have better low light performance in some ranges than the 7r.  The 7r crushes in image quality when used in it’s optimum range.  Some things to ponder when the playground bully says his camera can beat up your camera.

  • About 12,000,000 pixel difference between the A7 resolution, 6024 x 4024,  vs  A7r 7392 x 4920.
  • staggering disparity in pixel density
  • 14 bits of color per pixel vs 12, on A7s and A7.  I think that’s good.
  • NO Anti-Aliasing filter
Lens dust
Ultimate Resolution with the Native FE 55 lens and the A7r.

This information helps resolve why the lens performance on the A7, can seem radically different on the A7r.  Lessor optical quality isn’t realized until placed on the unforgiving 36.3 MP sensor.  On the “R” everything is magnified, good or bad.  It explains why people go to great lengths to defend how good some lenses are!  In the A7 world they are that good.  A bit of a paradox I suppose.

Those of us who live in 7r-ville can hope that the new Loxia lens line, the about to be officially announced FE 16-35 f4 and FE 85 1.8 are capable at 36.3 megapixel levels.

Another good resource for this discussion

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!!!