The Voigtlander 40 2.8 Heliar Aspherical Lens for Sony FE Review

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The Voigtlander 40 2.8 Heliar Aspherical Lens for Sony FE Review

*See my full Sony A7s review HERE*

I have had this new Voigtlander 40mm f.2.8 Heliar lens for almost 2 weeks now (Thanks to CameraQuest.com) and it is a unique lens to be sure. On one hand, it looks like an old classic lens and on the other, it is actually a modern-day lens made to modern-day standards by Voigtlander. It is a lens made for the Sony E or FE mount (It is a full frame lens) yet it was made in Leica M mount. Even while being made with a Leica M mount, it can not be used on a Leica M as there would be no way to focus the lens…

Yes, this lens does not have any focusing mechanism built into it. It is not auto focus or manual focus! As it comes out of the box, it is NO FOCUS as you will need an adapter to focus this lens.

If you have not watched my video on this lens, do so below to get an idea of what I am talking about

It all sounds confusing but it really isn’t. What Voigtlander has done is create a lens for the Sony system, cameras such as the A7, A7r and A7s while keeping the lens tiny and jewel like. It’s al metal construction and nickel finish is gorgeous and the lens is collapsible as well making for a very compact lens on any Sony camera. All you need is the Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter, which is the Leica M to Sony E adapter. When using this adapter (which is a must) you use the adapters focusing mechanism to focus the lens. I keep my VM-E Close Focus adapter on the A7s all of the time as most of the lenses I use on it are M mount lenses. So snapping this guy on is no problem at all.

This is a file from RAW, NOT HDR. The DR of the Sony A7s is HUGE and the things you can do with one file is astonishing. Shot at f/5.6 and ISO 100

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and a crop from the above scene

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At $400 or so for the lens itself, it seems VERY inexpensive when you consider it is a small, well made collapsible f/2.8 prime that comes with a metal hood. metal cap, and smaller cap for those who do not want to use the hood. $400 is nothing in the world of lenses like this, and yes, this is very much like a Leica M mount Voigtlander lens. The lens gets more expensive when you add in the $300 Adapter but even so, at $700 it is a lens that after using it for a couple of weeks I wanted to keep. IN fact, I slightly preferred it to a mint+++ Leica 50 ELmar f/2.8 collapsable when it came to IQ, sharpness, and Bokeh.

WOW.

Using this lens on the Sony A7s (my Fave Sony A7 camera) I tested it in high contrast B&W JPEG mode. I love HC B&W and while I feel the Sony delivers TOO much contrast (as I found out when reviewing the images) the lens had no fault. It was sharp even when wide open and provided the typical Voigtlander Bokeh which delivers a classic look reminiscent of rangefinder glass. Click images for larger. Remember, these were in HIGH CONTRAST B&W JPEG mode on the A7s, so this is why they are so dramatic and high contrast!

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When I opened the box the lens was so tiny I was thinking…”this may not be a good lens”. Coming in at $400 or so, it seems like this would be an average lens with average optics. When I put the lens on my Sony A7s with the Voigtlander Adapter I was impressed with the build quality and feel. The collapsible action was easy and smooth, just as easy and smooth as any classic Leica I have used. When I twisted the aperture dial is when I was surprised. It is a clickless design so it is EASY to move. This was the only thing about this lens that I did not care for. There were 2-3 times when I thought the lens was at f2.8 and I later found out the dial slipped to f/22.

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I feel that they could have added clicks or at least made it a little stiffer.

After evaluating the build and feel I started to shoot with it..and I was very surprised by the performance in color and B&W. It was very nice..organic…flowing…and yes, it had some of that rangefinder glass rendering. I also found the lens to be super sharp at the focus point with pleasing Bokeh and contrast/snap.

Just a JPEG here but this was mid day in Phx AZ yet the lens rendered the scene in a non harsh way (think I had the camera set to VIVID)

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Here is an out of camera image set to f/2.8 – click it for larger. One thing I found with this lens wide open is that it will vignette slightly. You can see evidence of this in the photo below..

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The color is fantastic with this lens…

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The more I shot with the combo of A7s and this Voigtlander 40 2.8 the more I really enjoyed it. The color rendering was beautiful, and the bokeh was very pleasing as already stated. It is always nice to slow down and use a beautiful prime lens that is built to OLD standards. Standards that give you that solid and small build, smooth operation and great image quality overall. I could not believe how sharp this lens was, even wide open. It beat my Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 which is larger, built to a lower standard, and is more expensive. The Sony has AF but this Voigtlander was a sinch to manually focus on the A7 series of bodies. I use focus peaking and I nail it 95% of the time. When the situation is more critical, like a portrait I may use magnification as well.

Click on this one to see a larger and better version. I focused on the eyes and having f/2.8 is just right for this type of shot as the eyes, nose and face will be in focus unlike using an f/1.4 aperture for a similar shot. This is right out of camera from RAW and was just a quick snapshot, INSIDE without any lighting or flash. NO problem for the Sony A7s, which is a master of ANY light. 

This lens is very nice for portraits…

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Putting it to the test…

I decided to bring the lens to my Southwest Road Trip which was AMAZING! Almost 30 of us embarked on a FIVE day journey aboard a fully chartered bus as we hit Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon and Sedona AZ. It was my best workshop/road trip EVER and if I ever do another one, this will be the one that all others are based on. It was fantastic. I shot the 40 2.8 for portraits and some scenic shots to give it a test and it never let me down though it did have the slight vignetting and in one case, flare. When points into the sun directly you will get some flare, much like the standard Leica 50 Summicron.

What I loved about this combo is that I could use it in any light with the Sony A7s even though the lens is a “slower” f/2.8 design and not an f/1.4. As I get older I am noticing that I am starting to appreciate slower lenses such as f/2.8 designs because it allows for great shaprness, easier focus and still some fantastic shallow DOF when used on full frame sensors such as the Sony A7 series. Below is a series of portraits I did in JPEG with the camera once again set to high contrast B&W. Again, you can use this setup in ANY light from bright to almost pitch darkness.

Yes, they are contrasty but this is due to the camera setting.

This first image was shot at ISO 8000 inside a somewhat dim restaurant. Shot wide open at f/2.8 and direct from camera. 

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Another in very harsh light but I like it. Wide open once again…

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…and a few more in the same lighting…all JPEG HC B&W on the A7s with 40 at 2.8

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 After using this lens and having so many see it and ask me about it I decided that I enjoyed it so much that I should buy it. I already have the $300 adapter so spending $400 for a gorgeous collapsible lens that gives stellar performance is a no brainer. It is small, it is gorgeous, it is stellar in its  rendering. It has three faults, or things that could have been improved upon…

  • The clicks aperture dial that moves too easy
  • It can flare if shooting direct into sun
  • It will vignette slightly wide open and it is noticeable on a full frame Sony.

Aimed direct to the sun (which was above the frame) the lens flared here…

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Other than that, I really feel that Voigtlander has been upping their game lately with the lenses they have released in the past year or so. This is another one that will go down in history as a beautiful and awesome Voigtlander lens. It gives us that little bit of classic (Vignette and Bokeh), little bit of modern (sharpness and pop) and overall a very nice and pleasing rendering.

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The quick bottom line on the Voigtlander 40 2.8 Heliar for the Sony E mount

If you want an old school looking lens with fabulous performance in color or B&W and you shoot with a Sony A7 series camera or even a Sony NEX or APS-C body, then this one is a cracking lens. The lens claim to fame is that it is VERY compact! When collapsed, it is only 12.6mm and when expanded for use it is only 21.4mm in length. As stated previously, it is usable on full frame or APS-C NEX cameras. The lens has a 37mm filter size and will close focus to .5m. I love the classic Nickel finish. If you do not mind manual focusing and slowing down, all the better. I found it easy to focus on the A7s and it was a pleasure to use. The 40mm focal length is interesting as it is in between the famous and classic 35 and 50 focal lengths. It took a few days of using it to really get where it was but after I got it I loved it 🙂 Many of you know I really only review and recommend gear that I LOVE and would buy myself…and yes, I purchased this one for keeps!

Highly Recommended!

robertduane

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Where To Buy?

Mine came from CameraQuest.com and you can purchase the lens or adapter at the direct links below:

Order the Voigtalander 40mm f/2.8 HERE

Order the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter HERE

Order the Sony A7s (My #1 Camera since its launch) – at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE

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64 Comments

  1. The 40mm f/2.8 Heliar is definitely an interesting lens. The central sharpness is outstanding. However, the field of focus is quite curved, resulting in soft corners for landscape shooters. Note the B&W image, above in this article, of the young lady holding the Hasselblad. Behind her in the center the foliage is very out of focus. At the upper left corner the bush in the background is in focus. For landscapes, nothing wider than f/8 is going to be very useful. But for my normal daytime landscapes, it’s probably a keeper.

    Note that while the VM-E mount will focus this lens “beyond” infinity, the little red lock on the adapter can be used by those who are handy with files and epoxy to make a correct infinity stop that can be disabled when needed.

  2. I did buy this lens and use it with a7rii, it is the best lens i’ve ever have until i bought SL. i Sold the lens. and… recently, i found adapter that do exactly the same with voigtlander close focus adapter but with SL mount. it’s on ebay it called HAWK’S Factory Leica M to Leica SL. Have you tried the lens on SL? if you tried it, i would like to buy the lens for the last time and i’ll never sell it. it is very hard to find this lens in my country. please try the lens on SL, and i would like your comment. thank you

  3. Thank you for this review of the Voightlander 40mm Heliar, I have been looking for a compact lens for my new Sony Alpha 7 mark 2 and was so enamoured by your description that I have now purchased one and am very pleased with it, the image quality is excellent with remarkably little flare – it was not so easy to get one here in the UK but with some internet searching I found a supplier.

    Thank you,

    Stephen

  4. If nothing else, this lens is “neat”. High fun-factor. LOL!
    That photo of the girl with the medium format camera, is she being lit (bounce-lit) from the left at all? Why isn’t the dark side of her face even darker?

  5. Steve, thanks to your blog I have changed my mind and instead of the RX1 I am going to purchase the A7s, so first thank you for your great reviews.
    I want to keep the A7s very small and the 40mm f2.8 is the smaller option and 40mm seems ideal for my needs, but also is small the Voightlander 40mm 1.4 and I would sacrified some of portablility if the 1.4 was a lot better than the 2.8. What do you think about the Nokton 40mm 1.4 compare with the 2.8?.

    • Different lenses. The 40 1.4 will offer you more speed, the 40 2.8 is collapsable for smaller size. The 40 1.4 will have a different Bokeh signature as well as different color. I prefer the bokeh and color from the 2.8 but the speed of the 1.4 of course. The 1.4 is black, 40 is nickel. You would probably enjoy the 1.4 as it will offer you a little more versatility.

  6. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your inspirational site. (I always buy by linking from your site – hope it helps enough!). Meanwhile, I have an A7 and know that there are some issues with non-Sony lens performance (more vignetting, etc.). Have you tried the Voigtllander 40 on the A7 and does it have some of these issues compared to using it on the A7s? Thanks!

  7. Those images are stunning. Thanks for the review. I’m definitely ordering this adapter. If I’m allowed to post a question here, I was wondering if you suggest using NEX lenses with the A7 or A7s.

    When I mounted the Sony F1.8, 50mm for an APS-C sensor to a Sony A7, the images didn’t seem any noisier at ISO 3200 than photos taken with the kit lens. To me this made no sense. My brain says if I shine less light on a sensor, I should get a noisier image. Maybe you can explain it? Help me Steve!

    • Noise is in relation to ISO setting not what lens is being used. Keep your ISO to a reasonable level and noise should be a non issue. With a faster lens you will be able to lower ISO when shooting wide open, say at f/1.8.

  8. Hi Steve, I would like to buy the Voigtländer 15 mm heliar III (will be released in spring 2015). Can I use the adapter which you used for the 40 mm 2.8 also for the new 15mm? I also think of getting the 40 mm. Which other Voigtländerlenses would you recommend for the A7?
    Thanks for the review. Great work btw.

  9. Hi Steve,

    Thanks as always for the informative review. I have the Sony a7 and 55. 1.8– I *love* the 55 except I’ve been shopping for a (much) smaller, wider lens for the a7. I almost bought the Voigtlander 40mm f/2.0 Ultron SL II Aspherical pancake lens for Canon (along with the Metabones adapter for Canon/Sony) until I saw this new Voigtlander lens– I think you’ve shot with both on a Sony a7 camera and I’m wondering what your impressions are as far as how they stack up. (BTW I don’t yet have the Voigtlander close focus adapter, or the Metabones/Canon, if that makes a difference. Honestly although all of my other gear is Canon, I wouldn’t think of using the Metabones adapter for any of my other L lenses on my Sony a7– too big a rig– for what it’s worth– while on the other hand I might very well use the Voigtlander adapter to get and use some other great classic lenses). Looking for small, unobtrusive, lightweight, and the extra stop doesn’t make too much of a difference to me. Thanks in advance for any advice.

  10. This lens has TONS of character, and the performance wide open look really nice.
    Defenetly a charming lens, especially with that special collapsible build.
    If only the adapter cost 100$… Now it is quite expensive.
    On FF this focal length is very useful. On APS-C it is somewhat “in between”.
    It’s on my wish list now. Maybe they will have a sale on the adapter some day… 🙂

  11. Hi Steve,

    The A7’s dynamic range does look amazing – and your pics with this lens have really made me sit up, especially Sedona 1 & 2 and the very first one. A7s + VM-E + M lenses is more tempting than ever. Your workshop must have been great – haven’t been to Zion in nearly 30 years, so it’s time I went back…

    Thanks!

  12. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for a great review – I got interested in this lens when it was announced as I’ve wanted to make my NEX 7 really pocketable for a long time. You’ve almost convinced me (95%), but one quick query please, is there any issues on the NEX 7? Did you try it on aps-c censor?
    Any help appreciated.

  13. Hi Steve, I love your passion about photography and your interest in different lens and camera combinations -even though I am not really a gear head myself ! I was surprised you replied to one of the posters “I think you have vision issues 😉 ” I realize you have a smiley -so I see the joke -but some people?

    Best Wishes

    • Was meant as a joke…light hearted. Just how I am 🙂 🙂 🙂 never want offend anyone, unless they are trolls attacking. Sometimes my sense of humor comes across as harsh, sorry about that.

    • The 40 1.4 Nokton? This lens is different as it is an f/2.8 vs 1.4 lens. So you do not get the fast aperture. Both are fine lenses, this one is sharper.

      • Steve, do you think this is sharper at 2.8 than the Nokton 40mm stopped down to 2.8? I’m waffling between the two. This one here seems to have nicer colour from what I’ve seen but maybe you’d care to comment on any differences you’ve noticed between the two.

  14. Hello Steve
    You have posted a photo of me without asking. I have never given you permission to do that, neither signed a model release. It not at all professional. Please remove it – the faster the better.
    Frank Bach

    • Wow Frank, this was a photo I shot, outside during our workshop. Photos such as these are always posted and I even said when I shot it “I am taking this for a blog post” and you smiled and let me take your photo. A model release is not required but I will happily remove it and say that I have never in my life had anyone say this to me after posting their photo. But permission is not needed to post it, not at all. No need for the threatening tone. Hope you found your 6 + BTW.

      • Not that I agree with frank, and think that would have been better served as a Private message if he had privacy concerns ( of which their may be personal reasons )… It DOES bring up a question that may be of interest to readers. What are the current measures when it comes to using images as ‘editorial’ ( which require no release) when it comes to posting on a blog. On the one hand…a blog post can be seen as news …and on the other this could be considered you are ‘selling something’. Is there a need for full disclosure or? Like…if there is a link for readers to purchase, and you are receiving money, could this not then be a usage for ‘commercial purposes’? Is this an issue you have had to deal with? May I suggest having a checkbox on your workshop registration that would clarify a right you reserve to use images shot during the workshop or somesuch? I teach photography classes, and the issue of rights, privacy etc. is a discussion that comes up a lot, and while I am clear on the laws, charters ( constitution in U.S.) when it comes to this…it does get trickier in the new age of ‘blogs as news’ and ‘news as advertising’ etc. etc.

        • This post – I asked everyone for their portrait and informed them it would be on my blog. Everyone agreed and I shot 27 portraits, very quickly while we were outside waiting for the Jeep tour. Frank is the only one who had the problem and he is also having issues with others it seems in the private FB group for this event. No big deal really, just seems there may have been some must-understanding on Frank’s Part. I will say that Frank was a pleasure on the trip, funny, witty and enjoyable. No hard feelings from me, just do not feel it was appropriate. If I take a photo out in public, even ask for permission and inform it will be here on the blog, then I expect it to be OK to use. I have been doing this for years, and most are happy to have their photo up here. So I took his down, no problem at all.

          • Actually, we all did sign a release to the effect that pictures will be posted. Regardless of this, unless a likeness of someone is being used for commercial purposes and that likeness is of someone recognizable or clearly making a case for facilitating the commercial transaction, there is no release needed. This is here in wild NA, could be different elsewhere.

            Again, I was asked to sign a release which makes all this moot, assume the others did the same.

          • I have a different version – I was asked by Steve if it was ok to take a photo – nothing about publishing etc. We have a closed FB group to publish those things.

            Steves site is commercial, so I would have said yes if:
            1. He had asked me if it was ok to publish – he did not
            2. At least promised to mention my name and a link under the photo – and so it isn’t

            The photo still isn’t deleted – Steves promised to do this.
            This is nok OK
            //Frank Bach
            http://frankixphoto.com

          • I said “I am taking everyones portraits for a blog post” – You smiled, and posed. Never in my life have I seen ANYONE do this or act like this in regards to photos from a workshop, where you did sign a release upon the start of it. I said I would link to your website when YOU SENT IN THREE OF YOUR FAVES THAT YOU SHOT – not one that I SHOT. I made that announcement over the intercom on the BUS and then you asked me privately if I would link to your blog when you submitted your three photos, and I said “YES”, as I would. Problem is, you never sent any photos from the trip, and those that do will have them posted with links to their websites if they desire. You must not have been paying attention Frank. But I removed MY photo of you, clear your cache and you will see that. It was removed two hours ago. What is not OK is your behavior as you were so pleasant on the trip..then it ends and you start attacking me and others on the private group. Very odd, and no, not OK.

            I took the image down from FB as well, two hours ago.

            This was MY photo, I OWN the rights, not you. Just to be clear, I did not have to take it down but I like to make everyone happy, so I did. Most are happy to have their photos up, but no, you do not have the right to tell me to take it down, I own it, it was taken in public with permission. Now you say you did not hear me, but at the time it did not appear this way. As I said, just odd behavior.

            Even so, I enjoyed you on the trip and everyone else. Was fantastic and I do hope you found that 6+ 128, if you are still here in the USA I can tell you where to get one as I bought one last night.

            To be clear one more time, the photo that I shot of you in public with permission was taken down 2 hours ago.

            Thanks Frank

          • Actually, it’s not a commercial site… in any regard. It’s not used to sell something and is a candid street portrait in all intents and purposes. Is he using it to sell a Voigtlander or a7s? No. If you took this to court, you’d lose.

            Why would you care anyhow?

  15. Voigtländer bokeh is just ugly, I´m sorry. It´s harsh. I´ll take any older Canon LTM glass over these Voigtländers anytime. Or just get the real thing (Leica M).

      • Obviously you two have different definitions of “harsh”. But I understand what Lolly means. Maybe it is the A7 but out of focus looks pretty busy above. Canon is also “busy” but less aggressive imo.

        • Bokeh always comes from the lens, never from the camera or sensor. I have seen many lenses with harsh Bokeh, and they look nothing like this one does 🙂 Nothing. There are only 1-2 lenses out there that do not have busy bokeh with foliage..mostly all do, even Canon LTM lenses.

          • I’m by no mean and expert, but I am very interested in the subject, and I’ll have to agree. Not that the bokeh is particular ugly, but it is… well, harsh. Like you’re not sure if it’s actually bokeh, or you’ve got double vision.

    • I have those old Canon, Nikkor, Leica, Zeiss, Jupiter, Minolta Chiyoko, Tanar, and Simlar lenses in Leica mount. The modern Voigtlander 50/1.5 asph and 35/1.7 Asph Ultron have very smooth Bokeh.

      This new lens- an interesting idea, would have made more sense for a 50mm lens to use an add-on focus adapter. That way it could have been offered in RF coupled Leica mount and S-Mount, in addition to the mirrorless mounts.

  16. Looks nice indeed. Bright spots that are OOF are a bit too sharp for a Heliar, but that is probably the price for the aspheric design. Still – a very interesting lens.

  17. Steve, great review! some of the photos of your girl friend just pop! They look like the CCD images I have got from my M9. I routinely visit your webiste, but have seen nothing like this before. Is it the A7s or the little lens that is causing the effect?

  18. That B&W photo of the blonde guy.. I noticed that the metal buckle of the bag strap is right on the top of his shoulder. The worst possible spot. Wild guess, Ona bag?
    Yeah, mine does that too…

    Nice shots, looked like a fun trip.

    • Nope, that is a Billingham bag. BTW, the Ona is easily adjustable, no matter what bag you have from them. You just slide it down. I have three on a bags and none are even close to the shoulder (buckle) – I just adjusted them down. Easy.

  19. Nice review thanks Steve. Interesting lens to be sure but since I don’t have an M-mount collection I think I’ll pass. If it were $400 and a native mount I’d be sorely tempted.

  20. How would you compare to Oly 45mm f/1.8 on either the EM1 OR EM10 to this lens on Sony. PROS AND CONS.
    I have both bodies and the 45mm 1.8.
    I’m going to be reshooting veggie burgers to update website and will use 45mm 1.8 a lot.

    Of course I get to eat the burgers after shooting them as nothing but food is used. Vegan gluten free without wheat will be no new emphasis.

    Check out photos on website:
    Veggiepowerburgers.com

    Bob and cathy

    PS I continue to be impressed with 12 to 50mm f3.5..6.3 Oly kit zoom. Purchased for $299 used in box with warranty and hood and Oly uV filter included!

    • Huge difference. The 45 1.8 acts like a 90mm (Micro 4/3 sensor) and this lens acts like a 40 (full frame) – so one is a 40mm and one is a 90 (in use). Different type of lens 100%.

  21. Steve, your colors off the A7S are so….leica-like! May I ask what colour settings you’ve chosen for your A7S pls? Ps. I have the A7S and its the only camera I just shoot on Manual mode and leave the ISO on auto and not worry about not having enough light.

    • I also use Auto ISO 😉 These are mostly RAW and basically out of camera with maybe a contrast tweak or color boost here and there. Thats about it. Nothing fancy. I may have used an Alien Skin filter on a couple..

  22. The 40mm f/2.8 Heliar is obviously a special-purpose lens. For all of its wonderful optical quality, most shooters would prefer something with AF and auto-aperture control, especially when the combined price for lens and necessary adapter is around $700. That said, it’s not as if there are a lot better options for full-frame E-mount at the moment, even at this price, and especially if you want something super-compact. Thank you for giving this lens such a thoughtful and thorough review. Your photos richly demonstrate your core premise: It’s a great lens for someone willing and able to slow down a bit.

  23. Great looking images, argh now I’m wondering if I should have gotten the 7s instead of the 7. But I was scared of the AF because I shoot moving things…sometimes……..4 times a year. OH WELL!

    Wish that it came in black!!!

    • 1. Steve, thank you for the review! Ordered the lens here in Switzeland. It’s backorder and costs about CHF 410 (USD 425).

      2. I was/am also a bit concerned about the a7 vs a7s issue, owning the first one. But I reckon I will wait for the a7(r/s) II ,-)

  24. Steve,

    Without the close focus adapter the lens is like a beached whale and is useless. The adapter is obligatory. Why not a conventional lens with built-in focusing? So what am I missing here?

    • If the lens had a built in focus mechanism it would come in at $800+. This is to keep the size down, and the adapter is small. It needs this adapter or a Hawks adapter. Most who use Leica M glass on the A7s have one already. When they release more of these in this line the lenses will remain affordable and the adapter is a one time thing. Keeps the lenses small, affordable and M like.

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