Sony A7 & A7R Part 3 – Third Party Lenses!
The above image was shot as part of a shoot to help fundraise for a children’s orphanage in Kabul. I used the Sony A7 and A7R and will be writing more about these experiences in due course.
OK, I think its fair to say that Internet discussions went from something like this:
Wow, the Sony A7/R will be able to use Leica M lenses perfectly and will wipe the floor with the M240! People who bought… no, WASTED money on the Leica M9/M240 are going to be green!
It’s all a lie. Leica M lenses are unusable on the A7/R! Please bring me a bottle of vodka and some razorblades. And a rope just to be sure. Oh, and put on some Coldplay while you are at it.
Here’s where I think the reality lies…
In general, expectations have not been met as far as Leica M lenses on the Sony is concerned. Performance with most wide-angle M lenses (<35mm) is quite poor, although there are some exceptions. This area is very important to landscape and scenic photographers and made all the more frustrating by virtue of there being no available lenses wider than 35mm for the A7R and only the 28-70 kit lens (and even then, only in the A7 kit). Sure, the 24-70 F4 OSS is on the way, but what if you want to go wider than that? Most landscapers will want something in the 16-21mm range as a key part of their kit. At present this means using third party lenses, but if Leica wides are weak, the sky must be falling!
The problem is due to the angle with which the light strikes the sensor and so wide angle lenses with protruding rear elements (i.e. close to the sensor) are most affected. This means that some of the very best lenses on the Leica M cameras are weak on the Sonys. Here are comments on the Leica M mount lenses I own and have tested. I have no worried about red edge etc as there are software solutions for this (and vignetting of course).
I should point out that I have only tested thus far with a Kippon adaptor, which I will review later, alongside an as yet unused Photodiox Pro leica M to E mount adaptor.
21mm Zeiss ZM Biogon f2.8
IMO, only go there if you are desperate and, even then, I’d recommend abstinence 😉 Nasty corner/edge smearing right up to f8, with f11 ‘OK’. Personally, I still feel there isn’t the crispness in the corners at any aperture. There’s a hint of ‘vaseline’ which bugs me.
24 Leica Summilux f1.4
Well, well. In a word, excellent. Sharp on centre from the get go and tight on the egdes and corners by f5.6. A touch more perfect at f8 and no better by f11. This lens works very, very well and I would have no hesitation using it professionally. None. If I am shooting scenic, I’d use f8 as the default, f5.6 if I needed more shutter speed, or f4 if I had to without wincing much. At f4 it’s really pretty decent. For documentary type work, where one might be shooting subjects in spaces, all apertures would be just fine.
24 3.8 Leica Elmar
Not tested Yet, but reportedly its not a good option.
28 Biogon Zeiss ZM Biogon f2.8
Not Tested Yet. Reportedly pretty awful, like the 21mm.
35 Summarit-M f 2.5
Its not bad and will see you through until you get something better. By f8, the corners are ‘OK’ but quite ‘decent’ at f11. It never really gives me that ‘YES!’ feeling at any aperture in the outer field if we are talking large critical print making.
35 CV 1.2 II f1.2
Brilliant. Good on the edges at f4 and superb at 5.6, with f8 seeing the corners at their peak. On centre its sharp from wide open. Now, my copy never did focus to infinity on any body, but focus is smack on with all my bodies, so I never bothered to send it back (because I will never focus at infinity with such a lens anyway and if shooting landscapes, DOF will take care of it at normal apertures). I’m gonna write a review of this lens at a later date, but my view on my copy is ‘absolutely, utterly, gob-smackingly spectacular’ on my Monochrom and comparatively it just lags a little behind on the edges on the A7R, until it catches up at middle apertures. Its such a beautiful lens in terms of output that I’m not gonna get all silly about not having perfect edges at f2.8 or f4 for planar subjects extending from edge to edge! This lens is for other things, but when used for landscapes at f8, you can print as big as you want. Its great… its actually better than the Sony 35mm f2.8 FE! The latter is better at f2.8 and f4, but the chunky CV then takes the lead.
50 ZM Planar f2
Great. If you are a landscaper and have a 50mm ZM Planar, you’d be mad as a fish to buy the Sony Zeiss 55 1.8 FE. By f4 the edges are great, by f5.6 its paper cut in the eyeballs time. There is a big jump in performance between f2 and 2.8 on centre (the latter being razor sharp) and a similar jump between f2.8 and f4 for the edges. F5.6 to 8 are both good for landscapes or scenics, with f8 being a hair better in the corners. Great contrast and colour come for free with this Zeiss, which has to rate as one of the absolute killer lenses for M mount AND the Sony FE cameras. If you shoot portraits and/or need AF, the 55 FE sounds like a cracker.
90 Elmarit-M f2.8
Very sharp at all apertures. Sure, stop down a bit for landscapes (as you would anyway), but for portraits, shoot as wide open as you like. Stunning performance on the A7R that really shows what this sensor can do.
**Please keep checking the blog for examples shot with these lenses**
But this is only a tiny fraction of the bigger picture. What about SLR lenses? The good news is that due to the design of SLR lenses, they tend to work brilliantly on the A7 and A7R and there are a vast number of them out there, both new and second hand. Because the Sony’s can be adapted to anything really, we will not see a sudden spike in prices like we would if they only worked well with one or two types. Adaptors are cheap, so you can cherry pick lenses across various brands if you like. Never before has such flexibility existed in combination with such state of the art sensors and this is HUGE. Zeiss FE/ZF lenses a re supposed to perform great, as so some of the Olympus OM wides…. and Nikon wides and, frankly tonnes of other lenses.
Out of the Canon lenses I own, I am going to be very excited to see how the Sonys perform with the 85 1.2L II and 24 TS-E II. The former produces the most beautiful portraits of any lens in the world in my opinion and the latter allows tilt and shift for architectural and landscape use, as well as brilliant shift panoramas. Heck, a three shot stitch will measure 15,000 pixels :O …. and all with the dynamic range these sensors serve up. There are enough users out there who claim the TS-E lenses work perfectly on these cameras, which is great news.
So what’s my conclusion? We’ve found that some M lenses work beautifully, but sadly not too many of the wides. I have heard that the 21 1.4 Summilux asph is pretty good too, as is the 16-21 Tri Elmar, but these are all fearsomely expensive lenses so hardly a good fit for most users. My personal strategy will be to buy to use my 24 Lux until Sony Zeiss brings out a 16-28mm range lens. I just don’t own anything wider than 24mm that will work well on the Sony, so I will be patient! In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy using the beauties I already own on the wonderful A7 and A7R R sensors. We can either dwell on what we can’t do,or embrace what we can. Im thrilled to be able to use some of my strong M lenses on these cameras. I am disappointed that the stunning 24 3.8 Elmar is not likely to be good on the Alphas, but I’ve already moved on….