Now let’s look at 50-55mm at f8. I shot both from the same location and so you will have to make a slight adjustment for the different magnifications.
Here, we do see a difference. The A7R 55 Sonnar combo has pulled ahead with rendering of the finest details, no matter where you look (but the fine twigs make it clear that the extra pixels are helping). If you adjust for the longer focal length, it should still be clear that the Sony is ahead and it would be visible in large prints, but its not a great difference. On centre, they are very close indeed, but the Sony still clinches it. The edges is where the Sony is just dazzling and these samples here reflect real word usage. What this lens does from corner to corner beggars belief and I very much doubt even the APO Summicron can show any advantage once past wide open. It really is the ‘economy Otus’, with a touch less speed. As well as the resolution, its ability to hold definition in fine details against a bright sky is remarkable. This was not a super bright sky (bright blue), but you can see how it has done markedly better than the brilliant Zeiss Planar. This lens set the standard for my 50mm lenses until the 55mm Sonnar came along.
With good quality, typical 35mm lenses, 18MP really does match 36MP and the Monochrom does so with a significantly higher base ISO. Even at ISO 640 the files essentially look unchanged, but the same cannot be said of the A7R at 640. This impacts hand holding by giving higher shutter speeds with the MM and a greater ability to extract optimum detail hand-held. Trust me, if you like to shoot on the hoof, this is golden.
At 50-55mm, the Sony really is second to none in full-frame. The Monochrom Planar combo is certainly a phenomenal pairing, but just behind the Sony combination. I have found the 75mm Summarit-M performs wonderfully on the A7R and so I have no doubt that at 50mm and beyond the A7R is the higher resolution machine. In the same vein, I feel that 35mm is the tipping point, where the two combos are at cross over. I am fairly confident that the Leica paired with a 21 to 24mm prime will appreciably outperform the A7R, at the edges and corners, with its widest current option (the 16-35 f4 OSS zoom). After all, my 24mm Elmar easily matches the perceptual sharpness of the 35mm Summarit in the corners at middle apertures. It really does look effectively perfect from corner to corner, which is not a comment I hear attributed to the (albeit very good) Sony Zeiss 16-35 f4 OSS, but I do not have one on hand to be sure. The 24mm Elmar-M also delivers more high frequency detail than any other wide angle I have used on the Monochrom, even compared to notoriously crisp lenses like the 28mm Elmarit-M asph at middle apertures. With such lenses, you really needs more megapixels to realise their full potential.
Sony A7R vs Leica M Monochrom: Conclusion
Firstly, the Monochrom may sport ‘obsolete 2006 technology’ (as some would claim), but with fine 35mm lens options, it is not bested in resolution terms by one of the highest resolving full-frame cameras around today. While at 55mm (and longer), where the A7R is most comfortable, there is an advantage to the Sony, it’s not enormous. Wider than 35mm, the Monochrom is almost certainly the one to beat, but I am only guessing this from using the MM with my own 21-28mm wides and looking at files from the Sony Zeiss 16-35 f4 OSS: the MM does not even twitch, whereas the A7R struggles, courtesy of that short flange focal distance and thick filter stack. Maybe a D810 with 35mm Sigma ART would just best the Leica at the edges (while weighing twice as much), but whether the same camera with a Nikkor 20mm f1.8G or similar can do any better than a Leica MM with 21mm f3.4 Super-Elmar is open to question. I can’t help but feel differences are going to be trivial, even if the 36MP cameras can come out on top. As the above tests show, the centre frame differences are not that large because the 18MP MM punches waaaaay above its weight i.e. its not just an edge/corner lens thing. I’m going to venture that what we see here is about effective 30MP in the Leica Monochrom paired with exceptional glass, especially in the wide angles.
How do I reconcile this with Ming Thein’s ‘D800E vs. Leica M Monochrom’ and Lloyd Chamber’s results? Well, I think mine are basically in line with what Ming concluded, but more favorable to the Monochrom than Mr. Chambers’ conclusion (I have no idea why). Whatever the reason, I have used very good lenses and having owned both cameras for some time, feel very confident the results are representative. I think it will take 50MP to really show very much better resolution on centre (with the only the best lenses being able to extract it), but the question of wide angle performance won’t be so simple. Can the Canon 5DS-R beat out the Monochrom on centre? Almost certainly. Can it trump it at the edges and corners with 28mm and wider? … maybe, but very possibly not, even with giant lenses like the new 11-24 f4L. I think those who bought the Monochrom for its world-class resolution need not worry about the competition for another generation or so in any weight range (the 5DS and 11-24 weighing in at 2000g). In its weight range it is still the camera to beat for wide angles and may well remain in that position for some time yet.
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