Jul 102014
 

Using a Zoomfinder

By Steve Tsai

Hello Steve Huff Photo community, I have stumbled across an invaluable side benefit of a zoomfinder in my photography process and would like to share my experience with it. It is for wide-angle application and architectural interior photography in this report, but hopefully it can be beneficial for other applications as well!

For those unfamiliar with a zoomfinder, it is an external finder with a zooming capability for compositional aid, typically used on a rangefinder or a non mirror-reflex camera. It mounts to the hotshoe and there are a few choices out there. In my case I use the Voigtlander Zoomfinder, Arca Swiss Vario Finder, and to a small extent the Alpa eFinder App on the iPhone.

Framing aid Apps on the smart phone is pretty handy indeed but the requirement of an external wide-angle lens adaptor and the annoyance of dealing with electronic device where multiple button presses, non-instantaneous viewing, and concerns of battery life hinder the speed and usability for me so I am skipping it in this report.

Below are brief descriptions of the zoomfinders in use:

The Arca Swiss Vario Finder

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Along with different masks it simulates framing including rise/fall and shifted lens positions. Users zoom the housing to desired lens focal length marking and put a corresponding metal mask on the front which clips on by the recessed magnets in the front frame. There are 3 masks in total but for my use I only need 2 of them. My finder is an older design, newer finders have guided pin slots which is even cooler for keeping orthogonal movements.

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The mask can be slid in both axis to show movement – each dot simulates 5mm of movement and can be seen through the viewfinder. Here is a view that simulates 10mm of rise and 10mm of left shift.

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The image quality is nice and bright, with apparent barrel distortion, gets much better when zoomed in though. The image appear to be slightly blurry on the periphery if your eye is not in the right position or not square to the eyepiece which acts as a clever visual feedback to put your eye in the right position for accurate framing. The proportion is 4:3 which corresponds to medium format digital back sensor size.

Here is how it looks like when mounted on the technical camera, it has mounting foot for both landscape and portrait orientation.

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Voigtlander 15-35mm Zoomfinder
This a well designed and solidly-built finder which operates similar to a zoom lens. There are notched positions for focal length presets similar to aperture ring on a M rangefinder lens and has a built-in diopter on the eyepiece. Depending on the model it will also indicate equivalent focal lengths for various cropped sensors. In use on a rangefinder it is a bit of a dance as Steve explained in a previous post. Metering and framing are carried out by viewfinder on camera and the Zoomfinder separately. Due to the larger distance it mounts away from the lens, parallax effect is more exaggerated for closer distance subjects with the super wide lenses. Here is how the zoomfinder looks like when mounted to the M9-P.

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The experience is similar to an SLR where views are masked instead of frameline overlay of a rangefinder, there is a dotted line on top to indicate close range frame edge. The images quality is excellent, distortion is very mild and zoom simulation works extremely well. There is slight fringing if you point at bright sources. The proportion is 2:3 which corresponds to small format sensor size. Here is a comparison showing 15mm and 35mm views, note the slight fringing.

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Now to the main point of the article – how the zoomfinder can make our lives easier. For years I have looked for solutions that will help with certain challenges I encounter on a shoot – which the zoomfinder eventually solved for me.

Here are the benefits:

1. Scouting Aid
Prior to the shoot, one can go around the space and preview contemplated scenes using various focal lengths in a very nimble fashion. For architectural interiors, one frequently gets pinned to confined space during framing, it is much easier to handle and preview with such a small and light device.

2. Visualization and Focal length selector.
For those of us sensitive to the compositional impact related to exaggeration of perspective inherent in various wide-angle focal lengths it is sometimes hard to choose the proper prime lens without preview. The zoomfinder shows the effect in combination with the physical distance to the subject. You can quickly decide if you want to stand back and use a 28mm or get closer and use a 24mm along with the look of each lens. It is such a time-saver. The relatively low optical distortion in the viewfinder just makes the preview actually enjoyable and non-distracting compared to lower grade viewfinders.

3. Stitching Preview
For those of us that use shift lens and stitching capture workflow it is hard to see the composition during the shoot. Through my own tests I have worked out equivalent focal length of the stitched focal length. The 24 PC-E becomes 18mm with cropped sides or 21mm safe frame. The 45 PC-E becomes 28mm with cropped sides or 35mm safe frame. Safe frame is for cropping out the corner vignette when maximum shifts are used. You can quickly preview the finished image with the zoomfinder. Here is an image that shows 3 images from capture and the finished stitch.

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4. Camera Position Aid
The effect of camera height is very important in interiors. With the viewfinder I can preview the scene and determine exact camera position very quickly. Once I identify the desired position, I will hold the zoomfinder in place with one hand and then drag the camera + tripod over with the other hand to match the optimal position quicker and then fine tune to suit.

For the benefits above, the zoomfinder has become so invaluable that I carry it on me during the shoot at all times. Previously I used a mini ballhead along with a tripod button and a safety noose.

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Early on in the year I dug into my luthier roots and made a stabilized hardwood handle for it. A belt clip gun holster provides easy reach and secured carry. I often have to move furniture and arrange items in the scene so the belt clip is the best carry as it will not swing around during active motions.

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I know this is a very specific application and a small camera with a wide zoom can achieve the same function. However the small size and simple, convenient use during a physical shoot just makes it so much easier for me. If there is a wish to make it even better… a 15 to 50mm zoomfinder would make it out right amazing although definitely not at the expense of distortion though! The experience is so important and can make your shoot enjoyable when scenes do not appear warpy like a Salvador Dali painting. I have considered a dual hot shoe that mounts both the zoomfinder and a separate 50mm finder but it will make the size much larger and stability would be of concern.

If one can make a custom precision mount that adapts the zoomfinder to a smartphone it can be used as a good quality wide angle zoom adaptor as well. Maybe it will be a project for the DIY crowd with a 3d printer out there!

Maybe in 5 years google glass will have a thought controlled view window that can zoom and crop to simulate a viewfinder – consider this a free idea if anyone wants to take this on with crowd sourcing!

You can find me at:

Website
http://www.stevetsai.photography/

Stevie Rave On blog
http://stevetsaiphotography.com/wp/

Flickr
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevieraveon/

Jul 082014
 

Neko Case

Taming the Nokton 50 1.1

By Manikarnika Kanjilal

My name is Manikarnika Kanjilal. I am a doctoral student and I devote my almost my entire (lately dwindling) free time in pursuit of photography. I was always interested in photography but started being seriously into it for the last couple of years – after I found a Digilux 2 on ebay. It was Steve and Thorsten Overgaard’s reviews that made me acquire the camera and thus start exploring my photographic vision. This post is however not meant to wax poetic about that cult camera but on another “controversial” lens about which the photographic community seems to be divided.

Last summer I acquired a second-hand Nokton 50 1.1 in a moment of insanity and went on to use it in a one-lens-one camera challenge to myself. What was even more insane was that I did this while covering a four-day music festival in my city.

Edmonton Folk Music Festival is quite the religious experience for a huge number of music lovers in this town. People queue up at the gates for a chance to place their tarp as close to the main stage since 3 am or some ghastly time like that. The main stage is at the bottom of a hill and people sit on the hill as a natural amphitheater. For four days tarps and their placements become an extension of the private space and ego for many of the audience members. For someone like me that attends the festival alone and spends most of it standing or walking or crouching to not get in the way of other photographers, tarp politics is fascinating. There are six side stages that hold simultaneous workshops during the day and the main stage performance starts at around 7 in the evening when audience from all these side stages come back to their tarps and settle down for the evening like homing pigeons.

My motivation for choosing a Leica film body and the Nokton f1.1 came from the fact that carrying a backpack full of stuff up and down a hill very soon starts to feel like I am carrying a backpack full of sins from all my past lives. In short, I wanted to travel light and be able to capture decent photos on stage after dark. I did carry my Digilux 2 as a backup but I liked the images from the film set-up way more. It was at times disconcerting because I had no immediate feedback like that in digital. I was being extremely cautious with achieving focus as well as not shooting too much and wasting film. It was quite the lesson in constrained optimization. I had a couple of rolls of Portra 400 in my pocket along with a 4-stop ND filter for when the sun was too strong. This was pretty much it. I ended up using a total of 4 rolls of Portra over four days. I shot everything either wide open or at f1.4. A huge advantage of working with such a constrained/minimalist set up is that this year I had a lot of time to enjoy the music instead of being glued to the camera viewfinder. Often I pre-focused and waited for the musicians to hit the spot instead of trying to track them in their movement. The other advantage of shooting a film rangefinder is that the photographer doesn’t hide behind the camera. With a little practice one shoots with both eyes open and it does wonders when actually connecting with the subject – be it musicians on stage or people on the street.

I ended my nokton-festival challenge with the portrait of a very young music-lover and her mom holding the Forever Folkfest candles in the dark. Nokton 50/1.1 is a beast that needs to be tamed. Using it on a film rangefinder feels almost like writing with a brush pen blindfolded and the challenge could be a source of constant excitement for any photographer.

Cheers!

Manikarnika

Website: http://kanjilalmanikarnika.com/

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chhayanat/

Havana d'Primera

Avett Brothers

Portrait by the candlelight

Neko Case

Neko Case

John Butler Trio

John Butler Trio

John Butler Trio

Forever, Folkfest

Fatoumata Diawara

LP

Delhi to Dublin

Delhi to Dublin

Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires

Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones with Vioux Farka Toure and Amos Garrett

Jun 252014
 

Still enjoying my Leica M8

By Jochen Utecht

Dear Steve,

It has been a while since you published my latest “inspirational” email (http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/01/14/daily-inspiration-494-by-jochen-utecht/). This time I would like to share a few images taken with my Leica M8, which I love and hate at the same time. If I had to decide which camera to keep, it would be the Fujifilm X100s. But the M8 is capable of outstanding quality. It only is a slow and quirky device, which sometimes is a good thing.

You can hardly push the ISO beyond 640. There is too much noise showing up. Focusing often takes too much time for snapshots. But prefocusing can make looking through the viewfinder obsolete. Compared to the X100 it is a heavy piece of metal. But it feels soo good!

I don´t have Leica lenses, because I am by no means rich if money matters. But I could get hold of a few nice lenses second hand:
Voigtländer 21/4, VC 15/4.5, Minolta 28/2.8 and Minolta 40/2.0. The Minolta´s are the same in quality as Leica glass. And the 15/4.5 is fantastic. Very sharp lens. I use the 21 and the 28 most of the time.

Usually I shoot RAW (DNG). The wide-angle lenses from Voigtländer get a treatment with CornerFix first. Then I develop a bit with Photoshop (Camera Raw). After that I go into Picasa and make some adjustments to the jpg´s. (First I try the I´m-feeling-lucky-button) That works well enough for me at least.

VC 21/4, edited in PS (correction of converging lines)

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They don´t earn much money, but are really childloving people.
Minolta 28mm/2.8, prefocused image.

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The forbidden city is always a joy to walk around. I usually hate images taken from behind. They are cowardish and mostly don´t say anything than that the photographer was there and didn´t have the guts to ask for permission. But sometimes you cannot do anything else and the picture still works.
VC 21/4.

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The same goes for this one. This Panorama was also with the 21/4. I stitched it from 6 portait-style images. There is barely any distortion in the VC21/4, so PS didn´t have problems putting it together. I don´t mind that some people appear as doublettes. Next time I might bring a tripod and blur the people.

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First of all I asked for permission to take a picture of these beauties. After a posing picture was taken they immediately went back to watching their smartphones and I could capture the scene I had been seeing before.
Minolta 28/2.8

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Sometimes you get nice results if you hand the M8 to a stranger to have your picture taken. This was on the first of May. I even had to tell that chinese fellow which button to press, but made the settings prior to handing the camera over. It would have been a fun pic if my face had been replacing Mao. I will try that next time. That might not be possible with a rangefinder camera though.
VC 21/4

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I hope you enjoyed the pictures and if you don´t want to show all 6 pictures, feel free to choose three of them.

Thanks, Jochen
5intheworld.de

Jun 202014
 

Quick Test: Sony A7s and the Voigtlander 15 Heliar!

Well guys..I just found my next favorite camera, and one that is now up there with my fave of all times. In the same company for me as the Leica M and Olympus E-M1 and Sony RX1. In fact, the Sony A7s is one hell of a camera. I have been using it non stop since getting it in my hands and loving every moment of it. It is much more than just a video enthusiasts camera. It is much more than a low light shooters dream camera. It is actually both of those but much more because it is an amazingly capable and superb camera for ANY type of shooting. Even with its low 12MP output (same as the legendary Nikon D700) this Sony A7s has it all. Decent Speed, great build, a shutter that sounds quieter to me than the A7 and A7s and now, as I just found out, no real horrible issues with the Voigtlander 15 Heliar VM (Leica mount) lens. The camera also will AF in LOW light without the use of AF ASSIST. It is not blazing when no light is there but it does indeed AF and it does so accurately.

On the A7 and A7r this lens had some issues as it does on the Leica M. Magenta corners and edges. Most use it for B&W only because of this. On the A7s, after just a few quick test JPEG snaps in my backyard, I see no real issues and shooting this lens in color is now possible on a full frame digital without having to worry about colored edges. It is not perfect of course as it is a try 15mm lens. You will get some vignetting wide open and maybe some slight colored edges but nothing like it was on the previous cameras, or Leica M.

I have yet to try other wide angles on the A7s and I am aware that some have more issues than others but this is a good sign. The Voigtlander 15 is one of my all time fave lenses just for the fun factor and low-cost of $600. You can read about it here when I tested it on  a Leica M. My very old review on the M8 is here. Others have tested it on the A7, here is one of those articles. 

The test images below were shot about 10 minutes ago in my backyard and I haven’t yet used the lens anywhere else but plan to all next week in some situations. So far so good! You can buy the 15 Voigtlander from Cameraquest HERE or B&H Photo HERE. It is a fantastic wide-angle that when used on an A7 will give you a true 15mm FOV. It is quite an amazing lens for the $599 retail price.

SO FAR, THE SONY A7S IS THE FULL FRAME MIRRORLESS TO BEAT for what it offers. My pick SO FAR for Camera of the Year 2014. Order it at Amazon or B&H Photo.

Images below with the Voigtlander 15 VM lens..click for larger. ALL OOC JPEGS! I will have some “real” images with this combo in my review coming within 2 weeks.

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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May 192014
 

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The Voigtlander 75 1.8 VM Heliar Classic Lens Quick Review

By Steve Huff

Lens is available to purchase HERE

Hello to all! Today is Saturday, May 17th 2014 (the day I am writing this, not posting it) and I am sitting down at my desk for the 1st time in 10 days to write something new. For the past 10 days I have been away in Southern Illinois visiting family and spending time with my Mother for Mother’s day and the site has been running on auto pilot all week with scheduled posts..not how I like to roll but hey, I need some vacation time too! After that I went to New Orleans with Olympus to test out the new Tough TG-3 (Which was SO cool) and shoot more with the E-M10 (which I reviewed HERE)

While my trip to Illinois was a pleasure, there was also a ton of business/work happening but the good thing is that I find photography and testing new gear to be exciting and a fun experience so while I was working during my vacation I was having a good time with it as I always do. Life is good, so we should enjoy it and I try my best to do just that each and every day.

So today as I sit here I am going to write a short, quick and mostly photo based review of the Voigtlander 75 1.8 Leica mount Heliar Classic. A fast 75mm lens for your Leica M mount camera for under $700. Yes, under $700! Thanks to Stephen Gandy at Cameraquest for sending me this lens to check out for a couple of weeks. He sells the entire Voigtlander line and has the best prices and even free overnight shipping on certain lenses, this one included. You can see it on his site HERE.

Before I get started be sure to check out the recent guest post review of this lens HERE by Johnny Ciotti. Johnny tested this lens on the full frame Sony A7. ;) My test is 100% on the Leica M 240 which after 14 months is still my #1 and all around fave camera today (which is followed by the E-M1, then RX-1)

Using the 75 1.8 was easy as pie, even wide open. On the M 240 it works very well with great color pop and the classic Voigtlander look. This one is of my Nephew shot wide open at 1.8.

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Testing the 75 1.8 in a real world way

For some reason I never did use this 75mm lens on my M and while it has been out for a while I never was really into the 75mm focal length so it kind of slipped under my radar until a reader submitted a guest post review of this lens on a Sony A7. Then I remembered! OH! The 75 1.8 from Voigtlander!!

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At that time I knew I would have to try it on the M 240 as it is a Leica mount and I do know that the 240 loves all glass, even Voigtlander and old classic lenses. In the past I have tested the Leica 75 Summarit, which is their “Budget” lens and the performance is stellar. It is crisp, contrasty and very sharp. With a minimum aperture of f/2.5 the Leica is a little slower than this Voigtlander but I will state right now that the Leica has a much more “modern” look than this Heliar Classic. I think the word “classic” was used for a reason as the images have a softer more rounded look to them over other more modern lenses like the Leica Summarit or Summicron.

I decided to snap on the 75 to my M 240 and use it as my only lens for a week while visiting my Mother. I also had the Leica C and Sony A6000 with me but I was determined to use this 75  to see exactly what it was all about.

Again, wide open the lens is sharp but has a rounded rendering. The Bokeh is nice but not perfect. Still much better than what you see on some $1500 lenses. 

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So away I went, M in hand with the 75 attached for almost the entire week I was on my trip. Being called a “classic” lens I imagined that the 75 would be a little soft, a little cloudy, some duller colors and without the bite and snap of the Leica 75 Summarit.I mean, let’s face it…most classic lenses are just that. Some are amazing, some are average but none are like the modern lenses of today. The cool thing is that sometimes a lens that renders in a classic way is sometimes preferred over a super sharp clinical modern lens to help keep those imperfections away during portrait sessions.

During my 1st tests with the 75mm lens in real world photo conditions I found the color to be vibrant and with tons of pop. In fact, I was surprised at what came out when I shot my Mother on a swing. The greens were very vibrant and her pink shirt popped as much as it could possibly pop.  I found the sharpness wide open to be a little bit soft, especially in the corners. I found it to have classical but pleasant bokeh. In fact, it performed just as I thought it would but the color pop exceeded my expectations. At $700 with free shipping, this lens already started to seem like a bargain. I mean, the Leica 75 Summarit 2.5 is not built better than this lens, is a little slower in Aperture at f/2.5, a SLIGHTLY farther minimum focus distance (The Voigtlander focuses to .9 meters)  and is more expensive..ALMOST triple the price at $1900. Go to the 75 cron and you are looking at nearly $4000. Remember, this lens is $699.

My Mom on the swing in the park. Shot at f/1.8. 

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I was walking around town when this kid just kept staring at my camera. He seemed to be intrigued so I said “Want me to take your picture”? He immediately smiled and posed with his football. Was shot at 1.8. This one is pretty sharp so when I say the lens is a little soft at 1.8, I do not mean it is “SOFT”, just softer than the Leica 75mm lenses.

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The lens was a snap to focus on the M using the rangefinder and was just sharp enough wide open to make me happy. Again, as I walked around and shot with the lens I was happy with the super smooth focus barrel, the solid clicking aperture ring and the build and heft of the all metal lens. At $700 shipped, I kept saying “THIS IS A STEAL”!!

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But I am still not a 75mm guy. I prefer my 28, 35, 50 and sometimes, on rare occasion the 90mm focal length.  With that said, if I were in the market for a 75mm this would be the lens I would buy just due to the massive bang for the buck involved. There is nothing currently made for Leica mount at this cost that will get you this quality.

Just an old mailbox I cam across while doing a 7 mile walk with my Mom and Son. Shot at 1.8. 

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Nice color pop, great Bokeh effect. At mid distances this lens shines for 3D pop.

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The Auctioneer, 20 years later. Voigtlander 75 1.8 at f/2. Here you can see the barrel distortion that is evident in the corners. While this is a crop, the top of the frame shows the distortion. 

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The Build of the lens is solid. Typical Voigtlander. Anyone who has shot with a Voigtlander lens knows what I am talking about. All metal construction, smooth focusing and aperture and an overall feeling of quality. The build is different than Leica but not far off in feel and use. The images have the smoother Voigtlander look and not the snappier Leica look that would come from something like the Summarit or Summicron.  The cool thing is that this lens can also be used on the Sony A7, A6000 or just about any mirror less camera with an adapter.

Trees of green. Click for larger. Shot at f/2.8 I believe.

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ISO 1250 at f/2

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After one full week of daily use I realized that while not perfect, the Voigtlander would be the perfect lens for those who are looking for a lens that will give them that rich 3D pop and nice color in a portrait focal length. While I think the Leica 75 Summarit is a little bit better, it is almost $1900 and going from $700 to $1900 is a HUGE step! The Voigtlander will be a little less contrasty, have a little less pop and have a little barrel distortion. The Leica will be more perfect and crisp and will not have the barrel distortion. The Voigtlander does indeed come with a metal hood while the Leica does not. Bokeh wise, they are both about equal with the Voigtlander having the more creamy Bokeh. So in my eyes, looking at the pros and cons like this leads me to realize that this Voigtlander is a huge winner and a deal for the cost of $700 with free overnight ship, which is what cameraquest is selling it for now.

My Mother on her Graduation day in May 2014.

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My Nephew in the park

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Overall this lens gets a high recommendation for those looking for a great 75mm lens for the Leica mount for a great price while offering fantastic, if not “classic” performance. When I review a lens I do not bother with charts, graphs and numbers as I feel that has NOTHING to do with photography, at all. What matters is how the lens performs when using it to take photos…what it was designed for! Yes, what a concept! Using a lens  to go out ad take real photos to see how it does in real life. I do not care what numbers say, I care about what the results say and to me, this is a fantastic lens with many more positives than negatives. In fact, the only negative I found was the slight barrel distortion which is only evident in some shots with straight lines at the top and bottom edges. It may give you some CA in certain situations but I have not found a Leica lens yet that does not do this (besides for the 50 APO cron at $7400).

So if you have been looking for a nice 75mm lens, take a long look at the Voigtlander 75 1.8. If you like the quality of the shots here, this is what you can expect when using it with a Leica M 240. Just know that is will be a little soft in the corners wide open up until about f/2.8 when it sharpens up quite a bit. If you want the ultimate in performance in the 75mm focal length, check out the Leica 75 Summicron. It is much sharper, more modern in rendering and much more expensive.

As always, thank you for reading this quick review! If you want to see my Leica 75 Summicron review (an oldie) , click HERE.

Steve

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

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May 132014
 

Site Update: I’m traveling but new reviews are on the way!

Hello to all! Just want to update everyone on what is happening here at SteveHuffPhoto.com. For the past eight days I have been on a vacation spending time with my Mother and Sister in Illinois. While I did do work while on the trip (testing the Sony A6000, Leica C and Voigtlander 75 1.8) I had a blast doing so and did not update the site all week. While it DID get updated, it was all on auto pilot and those posts were all scheduled before I left.

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So coming up in the next 7-10 days I will have reviews for the above mentioned cameras and lens. Stay tuned!

I am home today and leave again tomorrow for a 3 day New Orleans trip with Olympus USA to shoot the E-M10 (my review HERE) in style and to test it out in the swamps and in the city so I will also have a new report on the new Olympus stuff and my experience using it in all kinds of cool situations in New Orleans.

Some quick tidbits:

The Sony A6000 is absolutely the best APS-C NEX style camera from Sony yet. NO longer called NEX, the Alpha 6000 is sleek, attractive, quick, feels great in the hand and has superb IQ. Built in EVF and pretty solid for under $800 with lens. I have been shooting it with the kit zoom and the Mitakon 50 0.95.

A6000 OOC JPEG with Kit Zoom

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The Leica C surprised me. While it has a teeny tiny soft EVF, the camera is well made, has a killer design and look and using the B&W mode of the camera gave me some pretty cool B&W images. Easy to use, tiny, EVF, fast and good quality. If I wanted a P&S with style, this would be my choice. Of course the C is the Panasonic LF1 in a new shell but Leica offers software and a better warranty with the super cool style (double the price). B&H Photo has the C in stock.

OOC JPEG from the Leica C in Dynamic B&W

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The Voigtlander 75 1.8 is a Leica mount lens and it works well on the M 240 providing a classic look with big time color pop. Under $700, a no brainer if you want a fast 75mm for your Leica on the cheap. Superb build, feel, easy to focus and while a little soft wide open this is a good thing for portraits! Cameraquest sells the 75 1.8 with free next day shipping for $700!

The Leica M 240 and Voigtlander 75 1.8

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Feb 192014
 

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One Journey Two Cameras

by Jason Howe - See his Website HERE, his Flickr is HERE

I’ve not long been back from a trip which took myself and my family back to the UK via a few other places, this wasn’t a photography trip but I’ve included a few of my favourite images picked up along the way. The are more images along with a more extensive write-up on my blog here – The Reluctant Tourist.

I have no idea how much time I wasted thinking about what gear I should take on this trip, certainly it was too much time. In the end I tried to keep it simple and went with what I’m most comfortable with, the Leica M Monochrom. For lenses I went all Voigtlander – 21/1.835/1.2 and 50/1.5. I also had a cheap PROST adapter which was all I could get hold of initially.

My gear plans went out of the window when the Sony A7R arrived by courier just a couple of hours before departing for the airport, at that point I really had little choice but to take it as leaving it meant I’d not see it again for 2 months. Obviously any new camera monopolises your attention and it also means a bit of a learning curve, it certainly did with the MM and the Sony A7R was the same just for different reasons.

I had a rocky start with the A7R, whilst I immediately fell in love with the OOC JPG’s I found focusing accurately at wide apertures to be almost impossible without magnification. Yes my eyesight is fine…

Image 1 – Sony A7R – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II – OOC JPEG

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Image 2 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 3 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Eventually, I started to get to grips with focusing the A7R utilising the magnifier but for me it’s a little clumsy and I still can’t achieve focus as fast or proficiently as I can with a rangefinder.

Image 4 – Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 5 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.2 Asph Mk II

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Touching on my original gear selection and with the benefit of hindsight it was totally flawed. I may prefer B&W but I still needed a colour option, fortunately the A7R filled this void. My biggest mistakes were in lens selection though, this was not a light bag!!! I allowed my curiosity to get the better of me and selected the recently acquired 35/1.2 over my v.1 Summicron. The 35/1.2 is optically superb but it’s huge and consequently heavy, in contrast the v.1 Summicron is tiny, light and optically superb. The 21/1.8 I just didn’t use, another weighty option. Instead I found myself wishing I’d taken the Summicron 90/2 on lots of occasions, a lens I’d been using quite frequently before I left. Now I didn’t carry all this everywhere, each day I’d select a camera and lens, on odd occasions I’d take two lenses but when you’re away for so long size and weight are big issues. The real winner was the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Asph, I really do love everything about this lens.

Image 6 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 7 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 8 – Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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You’ll notice the next two images were taken with the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, having tried and failed to get my hands on this in NY I managed to get one in the UK. There were a couple of factors that drew me to the Sony A7R initially, one of those was having a FF camera with the ability to autofocus, there are certainly times when I’ve missed this and I’ve missed shots.

Image 9 – Sony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA

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Image 10 – Sony A7R – Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA

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Image 11 – Leica M Monochrom – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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Image 12 – Sony A7R – 50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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I’m still very much committed to working things out with the Sony A7R, Indeed I’ve just added the Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA to the kit and I’ll be endeavouring to become more proficient with the camera on all levels. For now, well the Leica M Monochrom is still my favourite camera, you can get great B&W’s from other cameras but there is just that bit of something special in the files from the MM, to my eye at least.

Cheers, Jason.

Feb 072014
 

The Voigtlander Ultron 40 f/2 SL II

by Julien Hautcoeur

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I’m Julien, one of your readers, thank you for all your work that you share with us on your website. I’m a French engineer living in Canada. I like to travel and take photographs of the places I visit. I would like to share with you my experience with the Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 SL II that I use with my Nikon D700. I thought it could be interesting for your other readers.

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This “review” will be more about the feeling of using this lens than the evaluation of the technical aspects. There are already lots of websites to describe the build and the qualities of this lens, so, I won’t do it here. It took me a while to finally buy it, but I had mainly three reasons to do it:

 

  • The size: this a very small pancake lens which makes my big D700 to look smaller. As lots of DSLR photographers, I was looking for a small camera to complete my D700. Something I could take with me every day, on a walk, instead of the big and heavy 24-70 f2.8. I bought the Olympus Pen E-P1 when it was just released but I discovered how the lack of viewfinder was making it difficult to use for me. I was tempted by the Fuji X100 or X100s but didn’t want to spend another 1k$ for a camera. The Voigtlander 40mm seemed to be a good alternative.

 

  • The manual focus: I wanted to slow down my photography to be more concentrated on the frame and the action. As the Voigtlander 40mm is a manual focus lens, it was a good response to that need. Due to the chip inside the lens, I can use the green dot in the viewfinder of the D700 to focus properly.

 

  • To give a present to myself: it’s important to do it sometimes.

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I couldn’t find the lens to buy in Ottawa, so I ordered it online. When I received the lens 3 weeks ago and I took it in my hands, the feeling of this metallic build directly surprised me, it feels really serious. It is really solid, well made and feel very comfortable. Moving the focus ring is a joy; it is so smooth compared to my plastic Nikkor 50mm AF-D f1.8. With the D700 I have a nice compact combo, still bigger than some cameras such as the Fuji X series or the new Sony ones but already small enough to have it in my bag every day.

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One of my fears was to not like the 40mm focal. I have the cheap 50mm AF-D f1.8, but I don’t use it because it seems to short, I had the 35mm f2 but I sold it because I didn’t use it enough. But surprisingly I feel comfortable with the 40mm for indoor and street photography. I can’t explain why the feeling is that different compared to the 50mm and the 35mm but it’s real. It’s probably a personal feeling, which is different for every one. When I see something interesting and I want to take a picture, the 40mm seems to frame it as I want.

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The other important point is the manual focus, I’m used to the fast AF of my D700 with the 24-70 and 14-24 f2.8 lenses, but the manual focus seems to give me more pleasure to use. I feel more into the process of taking pictures. When I’m traveling or visiting a new place, with the AF, I see something, I frame it, I click, it’s done. With the manual focus I have to take my time, I correct the frame; I pay more attention to what I do. It’s a very good feeling, and even better when the result is a good photograph. I won’t stop using AF lenses but this little Voigtlander will be used a lot this year, perhaps I will also add the Voigtlander 28mm for more possibilities.

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Finally this experience is a success for me. I think it’s important to move from what we know to try something different, to at this end, learn more and more.

I really recommend this experience to photographers who have only used AF lenses.

Thank you

Regards,

Julien Hautcoeur 

http://bustitawayphotography.com

https://www.facebook.com/BustItAwayPhotography

http://bustitaway.tumblr.com/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bustitaway/

Feb 042014
 

The Sony A7 meets the Voigtlander 15mm Heliar – a match made in heaven or hell?

by Steven Norquist

The Voigtlander 15mm Super Wide Heliar is one of the most amazing wide-angle lenses ever created.

Why is this?

  • It has super high contrast.
  • It has super high color saturation.
  • It has super high acutance.
  • It is super, super sharp.
  • It has virtually infinite depth of field.
  • It has no distortion. (truly amazing for a 15mm wide-angle lens!)

And lastly but most importantly, it has an incredibly great dramatic wide-angle look that few lenses can equal. There is only one problem and it is not the Heliar’s fault.

This lens almost never works on digital cameras!

This lens was made in the film era for rangefinder cameras. Why doesn’t this lens work on digital cameras?

This lens is designed to place its rear nodal point almost directly on the film plane. Almost literally in contact with the film, that is how close it gets. This causes the light rays to have a very concentrated and sharp angle unto the film plane. This is also how this lens is so superior and achieves such amazing optical correction and also why it does not work on digital cameras.

This sharp angle of light is so sharp that the outside diameter of the exit pupil, the periphery if you will, is not able to be correctly perceived by a digital sensor. Again, the problem is not with this lens, it is with digital sensors in general.

Digital sensors were not designed to use film camera lenses. Think about that statement for a moment. Why would the industry try to replace film cameras with digital cameras and not design digital sensors to work with all normal film camera lenses already in existence? Duh, you would think this should have been their primary concern, to duplicate the superior light gathering ability of the chemical film plane in a digital sensor.

But alas that has not happened yet, or has it?

I decided to find out.

The Sony A7 is potentially one of the most revolutionary cameras to come out in the last couple of years but it is not potentially revolutionary because it puts a full frame sensor in a small body. It is potentially revolutionary because it is a full frame digital camera that will allow “any film lens” to be used on it!

This is its real selling point for most and why I would want this camera very, very much. You see, we have all these magnificent film lenses that simply will not work very well on any digital cameras to date. Tons of beautiful artistic lenses designed over decades of film photography that may never be replicated in modern designs. Why should these wonderful lenses go to waste?

The hope was Sony had finally “done it” and provided the answer to our dreams.

So since no one has yet done a detailed review on the performance of the Voigtlander 15mm Heliar on the A7 I took it upon myself to do so. I rented an A7, bought an adapter on Amazon and mounted my Heliar on it and began the detailed tests. I have had the Heliar for a couple of years now and know exactly why and how it doesn’t work on digital cameras so my  tests were designed to see if these exact problems were resolved by the Sony A7.

The two main issues are:

1. The outside edge of the frame, especially the corners will have a magenta color shift to the natural fall off/vignetting that the lens produces.

2. The outside edge of the frame, especially the corners will be super blurry and smeared, basically not only not in focus, but weirdly stretched and just not right looking.

Before I present the results let me assure you that when this lens is mounted on a rangefinder film camera the corners are sharp even wide open. Also, on a film camera this lens will have a nice healthy vignetting effect so that the blue color of the sky will become darkened in the corners of the image. This is natural for wide-angle lenses of this type and is used in wide-angle photography as an artistic device for emphasizing a subject.

So on film the corners are sharp and the corners are darkened, but they should not be magenta and they should not be blurred.

Ok here we go.

The Magenta Test

Parameters of test:

· White balance was set for daylight to assure no variation in color hue due to automatic white balance adjustment.

· Pictures were taken in raw on a full sunny day and processed without any fancy tweaks, just plain old conversion from raw to retain what the camera sensor saw.

 

Magenta Corners Test Sample 1

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Magenta Corners Test Sample 2

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Conclusion:

The corners will suffer from Magenta cast in very bright high contrast situations. But of the hundreds of pics I took in the sun, these two pics represented the worst case scenario under sunny conditions. I did not go out of my way to evoke magenta cast. I simply took the pics I wanted to and later found some with this issue. Many pics did not even show any magenta cast. In my opinion this magenta effect is subject specific and will show up only under these types of specific lighting conditions.

The Corner Blur Test

Parameters of test:

· Pictures were taken to test the ability of the lens to focus on both close and far subjects simultaneously (hyperfocal) and of the lens to resolve a flat plane at infinity. (The entire area of the image should have equal focus and sharpness at infinity)

· To prevent subtle shift in the flatness of the focus plane causing false results in the infinity test, I used the classic get on top of a mountain and shoot down technique. This assures that everything the lens sees is of equal distance from it.

· The full image was processed normally and the corner images processed to lighten the corners so that critical focus effects could be more easily seen and not lost in corner darkening.

· All pictures below were taken at F5.6 which on the Heliar is more than sufficient to sharpen the corners in hyperfocal situations. In fact stopping down to F8 will start to put the center of the image into diffraction even on full frame. On film even F4.5 is sharp in the corners.

Hyperfocal Test 1

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Left Corner 100% crop

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Right Corner 100% crop

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Hyperfocal Test 2

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Left corner crop

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Right corner crop

01_Hyperfocal_Right Lower Corner

 

Infinity Test

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Upper Left Corner 100% crop

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Upper Right Corner 100% crop

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Lower Left Corner 100% crop

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Lower Right Corner 100% crop

01_Infinity_Right Lower Corner

 

Conclusion:

The corners do suffer from blur on the A7 even at infinity. This is a product of the A7′s sensor. The blur effect, though present, is not real terrible. The smearing effect I have seen on other cameras was not present in any pics I took. So this is a definite improvement over other cameras.

Also, because of the heavy vignetting, the blur is almost always hidden in the shadows and is not distracting at normal viewing distance.

I also tested the 35mm F2 Biogon and the Contax/Yashica 28mm and these lenses also had corner blur on the A7 even though the Contax/Yashica is a telecentric SLR lens that sits pretty far from the sensor. On the Contax I was able to stop down to F11 and eliminate all blur and not really see any diffraction which was pretty amazing actually.

Final thoughts:

Sadly no digital camera has yet been made that will allow the exquisite Heliar to be used full frame on it without problems.

The A7 was a pleasure to shoot with and tt was so easy and compact to carry all day.  Battery life? I was able to leave the camera on all the time and it took six hours to deplete one battery.

My V1 was dying long before the A7!

Can the Heliar create powerful and rich photos on the A7 despite these flaws?

Here are some final fully processed Heliar/A7 samples for you to decide.

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Jan 152014
 

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USER REPORT: The 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II meets the Leica M8.

By Elie Bescont

Hi Steve,

Opening this review section was a really good idea. I discovered very talented people here lately, like Neil Buchan-Grant who stroke me with his review about the OM-D E-M5 and E-M1. His portraits are amazing. Brett Price, also, delivered fantastic vintage looking images in his review about the M240. Bravo.

A few months back, I read your review about the 35mm Voigtländer Nokton f/1.2 ASPH II lens. You seemed to like it, and you made me want this piece of glass, because it’s a f/1.2 lens which delivers quite good images for a fraction of the price of the 35 Lux 1.4.

So, it’s done. I got it for around six months now, I shot thousands of pictures with it in France, Australia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Japan, and I’m ready to share my thoughts about this lens. I decided to buy it after reading a review about it on this website, so I thought I should debrief about it here. Of course, since this is about the 35 Nokton 1.2 ASPH II and since I shoot it on the M8, all pictures of this review were taken with this combo. Here we go.

First remark, it’s quite a big lens for a rangefinder camera:

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Bigger than the 35 Lux 1.4 Yanidel uses:

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And nothing like my tiny 35 Summaron f/3.5 my girlfriend Marie shots on her M2:

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Still, it’s way smaller than a DSLR lens and its size is not a problem at all. I’ve been carrying it with me everyday for around six months and it was never bothering to do so.

Second remark, the finish is not that good. The paint goes away very easily, and ‘lens made in Japan’ quickly became ‘lens made in apan’. I don’t know that country. The ’1.4′ indication on the aperture ring disappeared after three months of using this lens. But is it that bad? I could just get some white paint and get it fixed quickly, and considering the price of the lens, I prefer it to have a bad finish than a bad image quality or bad ergonomics.

And talking about this… Third remark, this lens feels really good in hands. Focus is smooth and easy, the aperture ring clicks, everything about this lens feels just right. Actually, it feels like having a Leica lens in hands. According to some friends who got the first version, this second one has a way better feeling.

The other important point is image quality. I use it on the M8 without an IR-cut filter and I fix eventual chromatic aberrations on Adobe Lightroom. As you may know, the sensor of this camera doesn’t have any IR-cut filter on it. The M8 sees the infrared spectrum, and this can cause chromatic aberrations. Black synthetic clothes look purple under artificial light, for instance. So, why do I use this camera without any IR-cut filter? As the camera sees infrared, its spectrum is not red + green + blue, but infrared + red + green + blue. As a consequence, the Leica M8 is one of the best digital cameras for black and white photography, because infrared adds dynamics in greys that other cameras can’t possibly get. Well, that’s all about the camera, now let’s talk about the lens. Images at f/1.2 are not razor-sharp, but you have to take in account the fact that this is a f/1.2 lens wide open. So, I think they are sharp enough. And you? This is a portrait of a random guy I don’t know, at f/1.2:

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Marie and the cat, big time, at f/1.2:

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A friend, Stan, at f/1.2 and ISO320, 1/45th:

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At f/1.4, it gets sharper. The portraits of Yanidel and Marie with her M2 above were shot at 1.4. Another one at 1.4, a portrait of Didier Bourdon, a famous French humorist:

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Colors are nice, the contrast is good, sharpness is there, the bokeh is quite nice, for around 1/4th of the price of a 35mm Summilux. I’m very happy with it, and even if it’s big for a rangefinder lens, it’s still small. Remember, rangefinder lenses are tiny. So, it’s a pretty good travel lens.

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But let’s get back to the jazzy city of Paris for the last ones:

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And a final bokehlicious picture:

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Here is what you can get with this lens.

Let’s summarize a little bit. Pros and cons:

+ It’s cheap for a 35mm f/1.2 lens.

+ It feels good and looks solid.

+ Good image quality for such a price.

 

- It’s big and quite heavy compared to other RF lenses.

- The finish is pretty bad, even if the lens looks good.

 

That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this review, and if you got this lens, I hope you agree with me on this. If you liked the pictures, you can follow me:

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DigitalFragrancePhotography

On Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/92813485@N05/

On Tumblr: http://digital–fragrance.tumblr.com/

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElieBescont

Or in the streets, but don’t scare the shit out of me.

Farewell and all the best,

Elie

Jan 072014
 

A quick look at the Voigtlander 28 2.8 and Nokton 58 1.4 on the Nikon Df

So here I am again with another quick report on using the Nikon Df with manual lenses and yes, this is a super quick report as I only had the lenses for a VERY short time so did not get to use them as I had wished. As for the Df,  yes, I still use it and still enjoy it tremendously though I admit, I like the Leica M 240 even better :)  The Df has been my “goto” for the past month and last week I decided to try two new manual lenses for it. Being a huge Voigtlander fan I was curious to see how a couple of their Nikon mounts would work, specifically the 28 2.8 and the 58 1.4. The 58 1.4 was most attractive to me as it is a much less expensive alternative to the HUGE Nikon 58 1.4 monster, which for my tastes was too large for daily use even thought it was a killer lens.

The manual focus Voigtlander 58 1.4 on the Nikon Df

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Voigtlander is quite a bit smaller than the Nikon and comes in at under $500 or 1/3 the cost of the Nikon. It also has a perfect 5 star review over 21 reviews at B&H Photo. You can read those HERE.

The only drawback of course is that these lenses are MANUAL focus only. So, if you are not into manual lenses these lenses will not work for you. While I only had these in my home for a day I can say that they are very good lenses and enjoyable to use. Especially the 58 1.4.  It is funny because I am so used to the high prices of Leica glass that seeing a lens like this for under $500 amazes me a little. In a DSLR frame of mind, the 58 1.4 is small, built very well and easy to focus. The quality is also very very nice. Sharp wide open, a nice creamy and melty bokeh blur and fantastic for B&W work as well.  In fact, this lens is better than the classic Nikon 50 1.2 when it comes to sharpness and distortions BUT does not offer the Nikons super classic rendering (which it gives at 1.2 and 1.4). Even so, I see the Voigtlander as the manual version of the $1700 Nikon 58 1.4.  Maybe not as refined..but at 1/3 the cost and half the size, I’d go Voigtlander any day over the $1600+ Nikon!

You must click images for larger and sharper/non compressed view!! Top two were taken at f/1.4 with the 58mm on the Nikon Df. The third was taken at f/2. This should give you an idea of sharpness and Bokeh characteristics. 

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As for the 28 2.8, it is another fantastic little lens but it seemed to underexpose a but on the Df for me. But as for rendering and sharpness, it is excellent. The 28 2.8 is light, small and looks great on the camera. It is super easy to manually focus and because it is a wide-angle with an f/2.8 aperture, this makes it easier to nail focus than the 58 1.4. Either way, both of these lenses are fantastic, especially for the money.

Hopefully in the future I will be able to use these more long-term, maybe in the upcoming “Valley of the Fire” workshop at the end of February.

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Just three shots using the 28 2.8. If you click the images you will see the larger version and they will be sharper and have no compression.

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28mm

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At under $500 each, these are bargains in the lens world if you are into fast primes. The 28 2.8 goes for $499 and can be purchased at B&H Photo or Cameraquest.com. The 58 1.4 is also under $500 and can be purchased at B&H Photo or Cameraquest.com

Dec 272013
 

Voigtlander close focus M Adapter, 50 Nokton 1.5 and Sony A7r

By Steve Huff

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Hello to all! The new year is almost upon us and last week I received a very cool item to check out. Not thinking it would be anything special I set it to the side for a day or two while I finished my Nikon Df review. When I did get around to mounting it to a Sony A7r I was so happy with this product that I decided to sell my Novoflex Leica M to Sony E adapter immediately! (SOLD)

MtoEclosefocus

The product I am talking about is the Voigtlander Leica M mount to Sony E mount adapter WITH close focus adjustment/ability. This adapter is not only well made, but using the close focus dial allows you to focus MUCH closer than normal with Leica M mount RF glass. How cool is it that we now have a way to focus closer with these gorgeous lenses using a very high quality and well made adapter. Below is a chart showing how much closer you can get with Voigtlander brand M mount lenses:

closefocus

So there ya go. You can now focus closer and I am here to tell you that it is a breeze to use this adapter on the Sony cameras. There is a sort of focus dial you rotate to adjust the close focus. Turn it clockwise all the way over if you want full close focus or turn it counter-clockwise all the way to use the lens with normal focus range. You can also set it anywhere in between to dial in the close focus you need. As I stated before, the dial is smooth and well made. This is a VERY high quality adapter.

But what about in use? Does it work well with M mount lenses? Well, yes it does and my new 50mm favorite on the Sony A7/A7r is the Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton   - the newest version. Easy to focus, amazing sharpness and detail and beautiful Bokeh (imo). For some reason I prefer this lens on the A7/A7r over the Leica 50 Summilux, and this one is less than 1/4 the price (with free next day ship an B+W filter). I also used this lens extensively on the Leica M 240 and the results can be seen HERE but on the A7 the color is so beautiful and rich and the details are sharp and the 3D pop is there if you want it.

The Adapter is now for sale at cameraquest.com and can be seen HERE.  It is a jewel of a setup and the cool thing is that you can focus normally, or you can get up close if you desire. This adapter is built VERY well and feels like a precision tool. In no way does it feel cheaper than the Novoflex. In fact, it feels nicer than my Novoflex. Well worth the cost and this is now my #1 choice for an adapter to use M mount glass on a Sony body. If you do not desire to focus closer with rangefinder M mount glass then you probably do not need this adapter as its main claim to fame is the close focus ability.

Voigtlander 50 1.5, Sony A7r. This one was shot wide open on Christmas morning. No issues with focus or softness.

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Yet another one wide open, and even with a strong backlight. The A7r and 50 Nokton ROCKS.

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Getting up close with the Nokton and Adapter. Wide open Bokeh Blur!

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Insanely sharp results if you want it to be. This was shot at 1.5, wide open on the A7R

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Again, f/1.5! Brandon received many gifts this year but his fave may have been the $2 silly straw. Lol. 

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Using the close focus. This will not turn a 50mm into a macro but will allow you to get closer than the standard .7 meters of most RF glass. This one will go to about .4 meters.

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So all in all I highly recommend not only the Voigtlander Leica M to E mount close focus adapter, but the Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton for use on the new Sony A7 series of camera. You will get the full performance out of this lens on these cameras and it is ahoy to use. I have not had one issue with manually focusing as the viewfinder allows me to nail focus without any focus aids whatsoever. This and the 35 1.2 II along with a few other lenses would be a treat when using this adapter.

You can find all of these items HERE. Thanks to Stephen Gandy at Cameraquest for sending me the Adapter to test out! I think this one stays with me :) $309 is pricey (about $50 more than the trusty Novoflex) but this is the best and most versatile adapter you can buy for your Sony A7 or A7r to use those M mount lenses with. Period.

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Dec 272013
 

Sao Paulo Street Portraits with the Nikon DF

by Alejandro Ilukewitsch

Dear Steve thanks for your wonderful site, to some of us who can’t actually test gear before buying is of an amazing help. I live currently in Brazil, and it’s not possible to go to a store to test all the wonderful equipment that is on the streets right now. I bought the RX1 mostly because of your review. I also recently acquired a DF, whose review came afterwards… J

I love shooting street portraits, specially wondering for hours on the streets and meeting strangers, having a talk with them and then politely asking them for a picture. Sao Paulo is a multicultural city full of a lovely mixture of people. You actually never know into what you might bump. Sadly as many other cities in South America has is toll of insecurity, but well, it’s a risk worth taking.

I have used many cameras, suffer from GAS, but think that with the DF and RX1 I am currently cover and cured for GAS, (don’t know for how long). I also have a D800 but for my enjoyment and street shooting the RX1 and DF are incredible fun! Specially the DF which reminds me so much of the X100, but without the lag.

Here are some of my street portraits in Sao Paulo I recently took with the DF, suing a voigtlander 40mm plus a 28mm 2.8 AIS. Thanks for looking!

If you are interested in seeing more portraits from Sao Paulo street please use the following link:

http://www.ilukewitsch.com/People-from-Sao-Paulo

Also here you can find my tumblr, only Sao Paulo pictures:

http://ailukewitsch.tumblr.com/

And my blog in which I post about everything I shoot.

http://ailukewitsch.wordpress.com/

 Nikon Df, sec (1/125), f/2.8, 28 mm, ISO 250, Exposure Bias 0 EV

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Nikon Df, sec (1/125), f/2.8, 28 mm, ISO 180, Exposure Bias 0 EV

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Nikon Df, sec (1/250), f/4.0, 40 mm, ISO 100, Exposure Bias 0 EV

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Nikon Df, sec (1/500), f/4.0, 40 mm, ISO 100, Exposure Bias -1/3 EV

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Nikon Df, sec (1/250), f/2.2, 40 mm, ISO 500, Exposure Bias -1/3 EV

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Dec 062013
 

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USER REPORT: The Sony A7R and Voigtlander 35 1.2 by Gianmaria Veronese

I spent this weekend in Paris in company of the new Sony A7R and the Voigtlander 35mm 1.2. This article will therefore be a summary of the on-field-test of the new Sony A7R.

Before I get into the review I would like to make an introduction about what you will find in this article and what is not. Well, I tell you now that you will not find photos of walls or pencils to see how sharp the lens is or how much resolution the A7R has.  I can assure you that, with 36MPX and without AA filter, the limit on the size of your prints will be your walls and not the sensor. This article is designed to give you an idea of ​​how the camera behaves on the field and whether if it’s possible to leave your DSLR in favor of this Sony A7R.

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First let’s understand the ergonomic feeling and what are the differences from a traditional digital SLR. Well, the first thing that catches the eye and the touch is the size. It is really small (relative to the size of the sensor of course, FX 24 × 36 remember). The fact that it is small, however, has both the pro and cons.

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The pros are definitely weight, size and discretion. When you travel, you just need nothing except body, lenses and battery charger. Dedicated backpacks are just a distant memory. In addition, the smaller distance from sensor to bayonet, allows you to mount any lens in circulation (with an adapter of course)! I used the excellent Novoflex. Impeccably made, it can be combined with an L-shaped bracket for heavier lenses (in my case the Nikon 14-24 that I didn’t bring to Paris).

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The counter is a small body that in your hand is comfortable, but not as much as a DSLR (especially for those who have bigger hands). In short, after a while you feel a little ‘lack of something more comfortable in your hands, but I did survive without major problems.

In terms of dials, you’ll find the same of a classic DSLR, nothing new a part of the exposure compensation dial. Very comfortable to have it available, but a little ‘less practical to use. Looking through the viewfinder and looking for it with your thumb, it is easily confused with the dial on the back (the one for shutter or f-stop), but location aside, it’s a good thing there is.

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Regarding buttons, in my opinion, there’s too many.  I would have preferred a more essential camera (more like a Leica M than a DSLR), but well, since most of these are customizable, I’d say better to have them and ignore them rather than the reverse. The thing that I do not like instead is the shutter release button. It ‘s too backward on the body and, being upright, your finger stays in an unnatural position. Also, the worst thing is that no threaded hole has been designed on it for an eventual soft release in order to get a more comfortable feeling.

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Let’s come to more interesting part of this camera, the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Let me reassure you by telling that it works very well. The vision is quite natural, and the eye does not get tired as I feared would happen. The possibility to customize it is the real gem. We can preview the final exposure and we can also see the final image with picture style such as Black & White, Sepia, etc. Moreover, the presence of the EVF translates into the possibility of using the focus peaking and live magnification of the image. In practice, we have a chance to see highlighted in red (or yellow or white at your choice) areas of the image that are in focus, helping us in the correct focusing, especially with manual focus lenses. Manual focusing with this feature is very handy and works very well, but it will take a bit of practice (especially with fast lenses). For those who care about pixels, the live magnification will allow you to perfect focusing, good for peace of your monitor magnification. In short, focus is not a problem, as all the instrument, you just need the proper period of training. Unfortunately I cannot say anything about autofocus, because I haven’t any AF lens.

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Let’s come to the battery, the real sore point. It discharges very fast and you cannot stay without a second battery. Especially at the beginning, when you go through all the menus looking for the function you need, the battery consumes impressively fast. The thing is exacerbated by a severe lack: the impossibility of leaving the display turned off and only use the EVF. Or rather, you can use ONLY the EVF, but the main screen becomes completely inhibited even by turning to the menu and viewing images. In practice, we can do everything only through the EVF (i.e. going into the menu and reviewing taken pictures). Not really a good thing. The alternatives are to use ONLY the screen with liveview (completely inhibiting the EVF) or leave it in AUTO mode, where the screen turns off only when eye is approached at the viewfinder. But in this case, every time I walk away the eye from the viewfinder, the screen turns on again showing you all the settings. I did found the possibility to customize one button in order to switch off the screen, but it turns only black while remaining backlit! Incredible! I sincerely hope that this management is improved with new firmwares.

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Another thing I do not like much is the shutter sound. Of course it is fantastic, sounds like an old SLR, sounds solid. But it’s definitely too strong! In street photography this is not a good thing at all. In short, from a machine without a mirror I would have expected a lighter “click”.

Nothing to say except notes of praise on the image quality. Optimal dynamic range and very malleable files in post-production. The behavior at high ISO level is very good. We can work safely at 3200IS. Going over it is certainly possible, but you must expose very correctly. By the way, I personally think that over 6400 is completely useless.

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In conclusion I would say that this is an excellent camera, which can easily replace our dear old DSLR. Reactivity to shoot and feeling are identical to an DSLR and I am fully satisfied after just few days of use, then I can only hope well for the future.

All the shots below were made with Sony A7R and Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 freehand.

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Gianmaria Veronese

Blog: www.gianmariaveronese.com

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/photogmv

Nov 292013
 

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The Sony A7 and A7r Camera Review by Steve Huff 

Yes, Sony did it! 

Well here we are near the end of 2013 and finally…in my hand is the Sony A7 and A7r cameras (and they have been for a few weeks), the two little powerhouses that are poised and planned to take over the mirrorless camera world with their small tough design and their full frame class leading sensors. No one else had the balls to make such a camera yet Sony plowed right in, listened to the enthusiasts and DID IT. NOPE! Not Nikon, Not Leica, Not Olympus, Not Samsung, Not Pentax and certainly NOT Canon who have been doing nothing exciting or innovated at all lately in my opinion (I am speaking about Canon in that last statement).

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BUT after extensive real world use with these cameras I am left scratching my bald head…”WHY did Sony make two cameras”? I think they would have been better off with ONE A7 model which IMO would have been the A7 minus the AA filter. Done deal. By releasing TWO it has made everyone confused. I have now spoken to several who have canceled their pre orders only to order the other version and then cancel again because of the conflicting reports online of each model. Poeple are flooding me with questions on a daily basis “which one should I buy”???

Well, to all of you who are confused, let me ease your mind…the A7 is just as good of a camera for 99.2% of users as the A7R is. You will lose nothing and may even gain some by shooting with the A7 over the A7r. But I will get more into  this later on..for now, let me get back to my talk about Sony being revolutionary in the camera world..because they are really the only ones who are at the moment with Olympus right behind them.

The A7r with the Leica 75 Summilux Lens – Stunning Combo. Used the Simple Studio 1344 LED Light kit here. A light kit that is easy to use and packs a HUGE punch. Superbly made as well. 

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Nope, no one else has managed to come in and create something like the A7 series of camera. No one has attempted to put a full frame sensor into a small mirrorless body besides Leica, and they have been doing it since the M9 days (but expect to pay dearly for those red dots). There is a huge enthusiast, amateur and even pro audience for a camera like the A7 and A7r because the price point of the Leica M 240 is out of reach of so many photographers. Many of us wanted a small full frame solution that would not bankrupt us and now it is here in both the A7 and A7r.

After shooting with these new Sony cameras for a while I can safely say that my favorite is…BOTH! I just wanted to let that out up front. I feel the sensor is a little better in the A7r, the detail is better and the camera overall “seems” better when I am out shooting but of course much of that is mental due to the powerhouse sensor. But at the end of the day, more keepers came from the A7 for me, and it has a quieter shutter. So to me, that sums it up in my mind. Both are fantastic, both can do amazing things and both have the same flaws. Either can take a great image.

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The A7 is fantastic but if you want that extra ounce (and I do mean OUNCE) of performance, the A7r is the bell of the ball though for anything besides uber large printing no one will see a difference. Now if you are the type of shooter who sets up his sturdy tripod and does landscape, then the A7r will do the trick for you but shooting handheld in all kinds of light, the A7 gets the nod for me.

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Why these cameras are game changers

The new A7 and A7r have created a whole new genre. Now we have the best full frame sensors available in a smaller package and to be honest quite affordable for what they bring to the table. No, $1700 and  $2300 is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but it is for what you are getting here. So first of all, the price is right. Many of us thought this camera was going to come in at $4500 and no one knew there would actually be TWO of them with one UNDER $1700 and one just under $2300. So in that respect they are game changers already.

I think the costs are lower due to the fact that these cameras are made in Thailand instead of Japan. But no biggie as the cameras seem very solid in the build and reliability department. If Sony made these in Japan I bet the cost for the A7r would have been over $3k, so I welcome the lower price as long as the long term reliability holds up.

Another way that the Sony will separate itself from the competition is by being able to mount and shoot SOME/MOST Leica M mount lenses with fantastic results and in the full frame native format. No other full frame camera can do this (besides the Leica M itself). We have been able to use these lenses on APS-C sensor cameras but that was not the best way as we were really not using these lenses to their full capacity when using them with a cropped sensor.

Most Leica M mount lenses are full frame lenses and they are gorgeous in size, build and feel. The good news is that 85-90% of them work amazingly well on the A7 and A7r. I found some of the best performing lenses on the A7 and A7r came from Zeiss with the Zeiss ZM line. Lenses like the 50 Zm f/2 Planar and the 50 Sonnar 1.5 are wonderful. They also come in at a much lower cost than the Leica counterparts. Also, one of the most magical lenses I have tried on these cameras has been the 75 Summilux. Gorgeous.

So we now have something that is important and very welcome..a choice!

GRRRRRR – A7r – ISO 800 35 2.8

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So those with Leica M lenses, you now have a full frame alternative to the Leica M.

The Leica M is of course the preffered camera to shoot these lenses with but as I said, not all of us have $7000 to spend on a camera body. Some of us have Leica M’s but want a backup and do not want to spend $7k TWICE :) The Sony A7 and A7r, IMO, are perfect for shooting Leica M mount glass from 28mm and up. I have tested and shot with the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Zeiss 35 Biogon and 50 Planar ZM and they were amazing on the A7 and A7r. Especially the A7r. The color, the pop, the depth and the detail was all there and dare I say, even more so than with the Leica M in many cases.

In case you missed my earlier reports from a few weeks ago, below are links to each and every one and they have TONS of samples with M glass..

Day 1 – Nashville with the new Sony Cameras - Honky Tonks!

Day 2 – Nashville with the A7!  - Zeiss OTUS!

Day 3 – IN the studio!

Day 4 - Wrap up!

With those reports plus this longer term use review most of you should get an idea as to how the Sony A7 and A7r perform. So yes, these new Sony cameras have paved the way and are leading the mirrorless pack just for these reasons alone. But NO, they are NOT perfect and I do have some negatives I can speak about later. It is just that the IQ will NOT be one of them!

The Zeiss Otus is AMAZING in it’s IQ with the Sony A7 series..these three will show you that :) You can buy this lens HERE. I USED THE Canon Mount with an Adapter.

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The Specs

Full Frame Compact Mirrorless Digital Camera

The Sony Alpha a7 incorporates a full frame 35.8 x 23.9 sensor into the compact, lightweight form of an E-mount mirrorless camera providing the imaging prowess of full frame and the convenience and versatility of mirrorless.

A7: 24.3MP Exmor CMOS Sensor

With 24.3 effective megapixels, the Exmor CMOS sensor captures high-resolution, low-noise images with rich tonal gradation and low-light sensitivity. The normal ISO range on the Alpha a7 is 100-25600.

A7R: 36.4MP Exmor CMOS Sensor with No Optical Low Pass Filter

The 36.4MP resolution and outstanding performance of the Alpha a7R are optimized by removing the optical low-pass filter. In combination with the new BIONZ X image processing engine this design increases resolution and enhances the reproduction of the finest details. In addition, the sensor includes a new gapless lens design that fills the space between neighboring pixels to significantly increase light collecting efficiency and realize high corner-to-corner image quality. Differing from the Sony Alpha a7, the Alpha a7R with its omitted low-pass filter, gapless lens design sensor and contrast-detection AF provides the utmost in high-resolution, finely detailed capture. With 36.4 effective megapixels, the Exmor CMOS sensor captures high-resolution, low-noise images with rich tonal gradation and low-light sensitivity. The normal ISO range on the Alpha a7R is 100-25600.

A7R: Gapless, On-chip Sensor Lenses

Sony optimized the design and positioning of the sensor’s on-chip lens (OCL) covering every pixel to significantly enhance light-gathering efficiency. A gapless on-chip lens design eliminates the gaps between the micro-lenses to collect more light. Moreover, each on-chip lens is optimally positioned depending on its location to accommodate the sharper angle of light entering the periphery, which is caused by larger sensor dimensions being teamed with the E-mount’s short flange-back distance.

BIONZ X Image Processor

The new BIONZ X image processing engine reproduces textures and details in real time via extra high-speed processing capabilities. Together with front-end LSI (large scale integration) that accelerates the earliest processing stages, it enables more natural details, more realistic images, richer tonal gradations, and lower noise whether you shoot still images or movies.

A7: Fast Hybrid Autofocus

Enhanced Fast Hybrid auto focus combines speedy phase-detection AF with accurate contrast-detection AF, which has been accelerated through a new Spatial Object Detection algorithm. Phase-detection AF with 117 densely placed phase-detection AF points swiftly moves the lens to bring the subject nearly into focus, then contrast-detection AF with wide AF coverage fine-tunes precise focusing. A7r does not have the hybrid AF.

A7: Up to 5 fps Continuous Shooting

New faster, more accurate AF tracking, made possible by Fast Hybrid AF allows you to capture action shots and that ‘perfect’ moment with 5 fps continuous shooting in Speed Priority Continuous Shooting Mode. Differing from the Alpha a7R, the Alpha a7 provides a Hybrid Focus system that enables faster focusing and frame rates for photographers who favor performance speed.

Compatibility with Sony’s E-mount Lenses and New Full-Frame Lenses

Maintaining its lightweight form, the Alpha a7 is fully compatible with Sony’s present APS-C E-mount lens system and the new line of E-mount compact full-frame lenses from Carl Zeiss and Sony’s premier G-series.

3.0″ Tilt LCD Monitor

The tiltable 3.0″ Xtra Fine LCD Display offers a 1,229K-dot resolution and makes it easy to photograph from low or high angles, swinging up 84° and down 45°. WhiteMagic technology dramatically increases visibility in bright daylight. The large display delivers brilliant-quality still images and movies while enabling easy focusing operation.

2.4M-dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder

With its 3-lens optical system the viewfinder faithfully displays what will appear in your recording, including the effects of your camera settings. You’ll enjoy rich tonal gradations and improved contrast. High-end features like 100% frame coverage and a wide viewing angle enable comfortable and stable eye-level composition.

Full HD Movie at 24p/60i/60p with Uncompressed HDMI Output

The Alpha a7 supports in-camera AVCHD codec frames rates in super-smooth 60p, standard 60i or cinematic 24p. MP4 codec is also available for smaller files for easier upload to the web. Also, it is possible to capture Full 1080 HD uncompressed clean-screen video files to external recording devices via an HDMI connection in 60p and 60i frame-rates.

Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC

Connectivity with smartphones for One-touch sharing/One-touch remote has been simplified with Wi-Fi/NFC control. In addition to Wi-Fi support for connecting to smartphones, the Alpha a7 also supports NFC (Near Field Communication) providing convenient transfer of images to Android smartphones and tablets. Users need only touch devices to connect; no complex set-up is required. Moreover, when using Smart Remote Control – a feature that allows shutter release to be controlled by a smartphone – connection to the smartphone can be established by simply touching compatible devices.

Direct Access Interface

Quick Navi Pro displays all major shooting options on the LCD screen so you can rapidly confirm settings and make adjustments without searching through dedicated menus. When shooting opportunities arise, you’ll be able to respond swiftly with just the right settings.

New Eye AF control

Even when capturing a subject partially turned away from the camera with a shallow depth of field, the face will be sharply focused thanks to extremely accurate eye detection that can prioritize a single pupil. A green frame appears over the prioritized eye when focus has been achieved for easy confirmation. Eye AF can be used when the function is assigned to a customizable button, allowing users to instantly activate it depending on the scene.

14-bit RAW Output

14-bit RAW image data of extremely high quality is outputted by the Alpha a7. This data preserves the rich detail generated by the image sensor during the 14-bit A/D conversion process. When developed with Sony’s Image Data Converter RAW development software, these images deliver particularly high quality photographic expression and rich gradation.

Wired Remote Control with Video Capture Control

Remote Camera Control allows you to control your Alpha a7 from your computer using a USB cable. It has been updated to include video capture control.

Multi-Interface Shoe

The Alpha a7 features the advanced Multi-Interface Shoe that dramatically expands compatibility with Sony digital imaging accessories such as flash units, microphones, lights, and monitors thus increasing the potential of your photo and movie shooting.

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The Body

OK, so what about this funky looking body that some are calling ugly and some are calling beautiful?

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I feel that the Sony A7 and A7r bodies have a 70′s retro vintage vibe mixed with a bit of modern style. In one way, the square body and EVF hump remind me of the old film bodies yet the glossy black and SONY logo do not. For me, I liked it from about 36 seconds after I saw it, especially with the funky thin grip attached. It made me feel like I was holding an old school yet modern camera and when holding it, it gives you that feeling of confidence.

The build is solid on the A7 and A7r. Both have magnesium alloy build with the A7r having a little more metal in the front and within the top dials. Speaking of dials, Sony did it right with these cameras. There are manual dials for anything you need to control and once set up to your liking you will never need to delve into the menu system. Need to change aperture? No problem, turn the thumb dial. Need to change ISO? No problem. Shutter speed? No problem. EV comp? No problem, use the dedicated dial.

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After using these for a few weeks it is obvious that Sony did their homework. To some, it may seem like there are too many dials but there is not. To those who appreciate manual control and being able to instinctivly change a setting, the Sony’s are a treat. Makes me wish my Leica M had an Exposure Compensation dial as I use it often and on the Leica M it is a pain to change. So as you can see, the top of the A7 and A7r have two dials, one for shutter speed, one for aperture. They also have a mode dial and an EV dial. On the back there is a dial that can be programmed to control whatever you want and the C1 button up top can also be set up to do whatever you command it to do (ISO, focus mag, etc)

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So with some long term use I grew to really enjoy the feel, design and control scheme of the A7 and A7r. The build of the cameras is solid and feels good in my had. They do not feel as solid nor as good in my hand as my Leica but remember, these bodies are thousands less than the Leica yet offer the same or better IQ.

Sony A7 and 50 Noctilux F/1

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That LOUD Shutter!

The #1 thing that made waves throughout the online photo community about these new A7′s is the LOUD shutter. Yes, it is louder than about any other digital camera I have used. Is it a big deal? No, not really. I can see where it may be a big deal to those who need to shoot in quite locations but if that is the case, only digital cameras with silent leaf shutters would work anyway. No big DSLR has a quiet shutter so the A7 is about the same as all other major cameras. It has a real shutter.

The A7 is not as loud as the A7r because when you shoot it you will hear ONE shutter click. The A7r has TWO shutter clicks. This is just how it is and I was told it is all due to sensor design and the sensor in the A7r needs that 2nd click. With the A7 you can set the shutter to either way by choosing “first curtain” in the menu to on or off. The A7r does not have this menu item.

Below is a video I did showing the shutter sounds of the Sony and the Leica M side by side:

So if you need to know ANYTHING at all about these two models it is that the shutter is on the loud side so do NOT expect silence when shooting :)

The Native Sony and Zeiss Lenses and my thoughts

The Sony A7 cameras have a total of THREE Native lenses at or near launch. The Zeiss 35 2.8, the Zeiss 55 1.8 (coming a few weeks after launch), and the 28-70 Kit Zoom. The 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 are SUPERB lenses and for me the 35 takes the cake for the best launch lens. It is small, fast to AF and has a gorgeous Leica like quality about it. Even being an f/2.8 lens it is fantastic and gives off a shallow DOF that I would not expect from an f/2.8 lens.

The kit zoom is average. It is somewhat larger than the other two, and a slow aperture zoom that I just could not get into..at all. I am expecting the upcoming Zeiss 24-70 to rock it out of the park but this kit version is just average when it comes to kit zooms. Still one thing I will never understand. Why does a company release an amazing camera with a sensor that can resolve the most detail EVER in 35mm but they release it with a slow below average kit zoom lens? Makes no sense other than it makes the kit cheap and more affordable which is good for sales but bad for image when people are like “Hey, my images do not look like those I saw on the internet”..

The Zeiss 35 2.8 is a GREAT lens for the system. 

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The 35 at 2.8 and ISO 500

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The 35 2.8 at 2.8

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IMO, the 35 2.8 is a must buy lens for anyone with an A7 or A7r. It seems like it was made for the camera and was my fave during the review period.

The Zeiss 55 1.8 is also fantastic and not as large as many have made it out to be. Sure it is larger than a Leica 50 Summicron, and much lighter, but it is still fantastic. The AF speed is good but not amazingly good. I have had this lens miss the AF point when shooting in low light as well as up close. Still, it is amazingly brutally sharp even wide open.

I still find the AF of the A7 and A7r to be quicker and more accurate than the last Fuji bodies I have tried.

The A7 and 55 1.8

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DETAIL EXTREME: In the Studio with Nikki Leigh and the Zeiss 55 1.8

So how much detail can we expect from the A7 or A7r? My quick answer? Either one will offer PLENTY of detail and resolution.  Here is proof.

I shot model Nikki Leigh using the A7 and A7r using some FANTASTIC new LED lights..in fact, they are the best and coolest LED lights I have ever seen or touched. You can check them out here but they are small, compact, built like a tank and pack 1344 LED’s into each unit. They are dimmable and VERY easy to set up.

The results were great and the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 showed its stuff, even wide open and close to it.  The two photos below were converted from RAW with some sharpening applied but these are the full size files. Click on them for the full size.

Note both are from the A7 as the same shots I did with the A7r were actually softer for some reason. So to those who were afraid of lack of detail in the A7, no worries :)

The A7 and 55

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The A7 and 55 

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and here is a video of me using these lights

I am not usually a light guy but these little powerhouses come packed in their own pelican style case and are ultra portable. I have never seen this kind of power from an LED. If you are into lighting and do not want to mess with strobes, these can be a great alternative. Very very cool and super high quality. The Simple Studio 1344′s are very simple but very serious lights. Again, they can be seen HERE or HERE.

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DETAIL EXTREME: Sony A7R and Zeiss OTUS 55 1.4

The most mystical, magical and sharpest lens I have used on these cameras (as well as having the best color) is the Zeiss Otus lens in Canon EF mount. An adapter is required but MAN this lens is AMAZING. Probably the best lens I have used in the 50mm range, ever. BUT the main drawback is that it is HUGE and pricey at $4000. Click the image below and you will see the full size from RAW file. Focus was on the eyelashes.

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The EVF and Manual Focus of the A7 and A7r

The EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) in the Sony A7 and A7r is the same EVF that Sony sells for $450 (for the RX1, RX100II, etc) so yea, it is good, and BUILT IN. While not as large or clear as the Olympus EVF-4 that resides in their flagship E-M1, the Sony has the 2nd best EVF I have ever used. These days I much prefer a good EVF over an optical VF (though I love the rangefinder and VF in the Leica M equally).

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So for those afraid of jumping to an EVF..don’t be. This is 2013, almost 2014 and EVF quality has come a long long way in the past 10 years. It can be a beautiful thing when looking through the EVF as what you see is what you get. No need to worry about VF coverage or any of that. It is easy to frame and you know what you are getting when you press that shutter button.

I have no complaints on the EVF in the Sony A7 and A7r. BOTH have the same EVF.

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The Speed and overall usability of the cameras

The A7 and A7r both feel good in the hand but both have loud shutters. Some love the sound as it takes us back to the old mechanical days of a real shutter firing. Some shutters are quieter than others and the Sony A7 and A7r are on the louder end of the spectrum and I think that due to this it gives us the impression that the camera is slower or clunky. These cameras do indeed feel slower than an Olympus E-M1 or RX1 in use and I kind of compare them to shooting medium format. Slow paced and steady. Aim, compose, fire. These are not the cameras for sports shooters or machine gun blazing shutter crazies as they are not. Still, I managed to catch this little horse pulling this guy in a buggy and they were CRUISING! But oh..I shot it with a manual focus Zeiss Otus :)

Still, the A7 and A7r are faster to AF than the NEX-7 and most Fuji X bodies. So it is not slow, it is just not blazing fast. Also, do not expect too many frames per second with that A7r (up to 4).

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The Menus & WiFi

The Sony A7 and A7r menus are a BIG step up from those found on the NEX series. In fact, the A7 series now has the Alpha menu so those who are familiar with the RX1, A99 or any A camera of recent times will be right at home with the menu on the A7 series of cameras. I find the menu clean and quick and easy to navigate. You can see more in the video below:

Below is my video I shot when I was able to use these cameras at a Sony Media Event in Nashville, TN – I go over the cameras and give my early thoughts on them. 

WiFi is also included and it works like a charm. It is super easy to set up and start sending images to your tablet, phone or device. I was taking shots out on the road, instantly sending them to my iPhone and then instantly posting to Facebook. Amazing how far technology has come in the past few years. Amazing.

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The battery life

The Battery life of the Sony cameras is not the best. I do NOT shoot at a high frame rate and I calculate my shooting. If I see a shot, I frame it and take it. I am not into chomping too much either. Usually with the A7 and A7r I found myself at 40% left at the end of a day with 150-200 shots taken. Others who shoot with the A7 find themselves running out of battery mid day so I would suggest buying 1-2 extra batteries with this camera. The good news is that it uses the same battery as the NEX series so if you are upgrading from a NEX system camera you already have a spare or two. They will deplete faster than a NEX-6 or 7 will.

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The High ISO Performance of the A7 and A7r

High ISO performance is as good as can be expected. I ALWAYS test these without ANY noise reduction, so NR is OFF 100%. I also test indoor under low light, not with studio light as that makes zero sense..at all. No one shoots high ISO in the studio or in good light so the best way to test the ISO performance is under low light, indoor, when most of us will want to use it. It boggles my mind that so many sites still test high ISO with studio lighting. Below is a test scene in my office with 100% crops of each ISO from 640-25,600. The A7 and A7r are so close in high ISO it really is a draw when it comes down to looking at the images, weather resized or prints.

Take a look below but you MUST click on the crops to see them as 100% crops. 

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TWO SHOTS at ISO 6400 with the A7r  - 1st one with the Sony Zeiss 35 2.8 and the 2nd with the Voigtlander 21 1.8 M mount lens.

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You can see an ISO comparison that I did HERE between the A7, A7r and Leica M.  I am hoping to also ass some side by side M comparisons to this review in the next week or two but for now, here is one that I did last week. 

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Using Leica M Mount Lenses

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Shooting with Leica lenses is a treat for me because this is one part of the camera I was really excited about. When you shoot Leica lenses for many years it is tough to go back to cheap plastic primes and zooms and when I realized that these two cameras were coming I knew it would be huge for those who shoot Leica M glass.

I tested this camera with loads of M mount lenses including those from Leica, Zeiss, and Voigtlander. All worked great besides the ultra wide M mount glass (Though the Leica W.A.T.E. 16-18-21 works very well without any real issues). The Zeiss 35 Biogon f/2 performed wonderfully for me as did the 50 f.2 Planar. The Voigtlander 35 1.2 Ii was amazing (the image above was taken with this lens) and the Leica 50 Noctilux f/1 and 75 Summilux also knocked it out of the park with results bettering what came out of the Leica M for me. Crisper, more detail from the A7 and A7r.

So for me, the A7 and A7r represent a tremendous value because I can take it out and shoot with the fabulous auto focus 35 2.8 Zeiss or use a Leica M mount lens and fire away.

Shot with the A7 and Zeiss 35 Biogon at f/2 inside a music studio

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Below – the A7R and Leica 50 Noctilux F/1 – Amazing combo. One can find a used Leica Noctilux F1 for around $5k these days..add that to the $1700 A7 and you have a drop dead gorgeous combo for less than the cost of a Leica M alone. This lens works just as magical as it does on any Leica M camera. I manually focused this shot at f/1 and did not use peaking or magnification. Focused on my eye and due to the large EVF, it was easy to do. 

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The Zeiss 50 ZM PLanar f/2 is a tremendous bargain in the M mount world. Competes with the $2200 Summicron at less than half the cost but provides the same sharpness but with punchier color and more 3D pop.

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For mounting the M lenses I mainly used the best in th ebusiness M mount to Sony E mount adapter, the Novoflex. It is expensive for an adapter but when you are using lenses that are worth multiple thousands of dollars, spending $250 on the best adapter should not be an issue. But if you do not want to spend $250 on an adapter or are all tapped out from the camera and a lens, then you can also buy a $15 adapter from Amazon, as they work also. They are not made as well, have looser tolerances and can come loose after a few weeks but $15 vs $250..you cold buy 10 of them and still save $100.

Below is a link to the adapters:

The Novoflex M mount to E mount top use Leica M mount lenses on the A7 or A7r – B&H Photo

The generic adapter for $15 – Buy at Amazon

I bought my adapters before the big A7 and A7r storm and as of this writing they seem to be out of stock everywhere but should be back in stock soon.

So the bottom line is that the Sony A7 and A7r will both work with most Leica M mount glass but some wide angles or ultra wide angles will give you bad color shifts on BOTH cameras so just beware of some lenses 28mm and under as some will work, some will not. I have no way to test them all so search around the internet for more info on this subject.

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Manually Focusing with the A7 or A7r

As for manually focusing these lenses, I had NO PROBLEM. I did NOT use focus peaking as I found that when shooting super fast aperture lenses at f/1 or f/1.2 it hampered the focusing. I also really did not use the focus magnification as it took too long to activate with two button presses. When I looked through that big fat EVF and just used my eyes to see when the image was in focus, it just worked. So concentrate and use your eyes. Your mileage may vary depending on your eyesight and comfort level. If it is tough for you to manually focus just by using the EVF, feel free to use the peaking feature or the magnification. Both tools are there for this purpose.

An OOC JPEG from the A7r and Voigtlander 21 1.8

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Video Performance

The Sony A7 and A7r both offer full HD video and Sony usually does video very well. I have not yet had the time to test video but will be doing so soon and then will add my thoughts and video sample HERE. So check back soon!

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The Pros and Cons of the A7 cameras

Pros

  • Full frame in a smaller sized and well made body
  • Monster resolution for both cameras!
  • Super rich files!
  • No AA filter in the A7r should give you a little more detail to work with.
  • Solid buid, small body – yum.
  • Built in EVF is fantastic..big, clear and easy to frame
  • Easy to navigate menu system
  • Dials, dials and more dials. Easy to manually control!
  • Focus Peaking is helpful but not necessary.
  • Works great with classic manual focus lenses, a joy to use.
  • Easy to adapt many lens mounts! Canon, Nikon, Leica..
  • Price Point is perfect!
  • Nothing else like it anywhere near this price – PERIOD

Cons

  • Cameras feel slow/clunky in use.
  • Shutter sound is loud, especially with A7r
  • Kit Zoom is lacking in quality.
  • Some wide angle Leica M mount lenses have issues when adapted (but this should not be a con)
  • Lack of lenses at launch (only the 35 and kit zoom on launch day)
  • Very High ISO is a little better on last years RX1 and RX1r it seems.
  • May cause you to spend more money on M mount lenses :)
  • The A7r can indeed be a little challenging to handhold in lower light without blur.

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My Final word on the Sony A7 and A7r

I really enjoyed the A7 and A7r cameras. At launch I was insanely excited about them because there is simply nothing else like them at this price point, and even my beloved Leica M..well, the A7 and A7r surpass it in overall IQ. While they do not offer the same build, feel or joy of use as my Leica M, they can compete and surpass in overall IQ, and do. At a fraction of the cost as well.

Still, I love and adore my Leica for many reasons, not just the great IQ. To those who own one and shoot with one you will know exactly what I mean. It is the quintessential photographers camera.

As for the Sony, you will get a ton for your money with these guys but not everyone will fall in love with them. While there is nothing to complain about in the image quality department, the camera does have some quirks. It has a loud shutter sound, so forget about being sneaky..at all. They feel a little but slow and clunky in use and it may just seem that way due to that noisy shutter – a mental thing. Which one to choose? I feel that Sony should have released ONE camera as even for me reviewing them and trying to connect with one of them..it was tough. BOTH are fantastic and there really is not enough separating the two to warrant two separate models. That is just my opinion but a super A7 with a mix of both cameras would have been great at $1995.

The build is good but not Leica M or Nikon D800 or Olympus E-M1 good. They are sort of an in-between. They feel more hefty than the NEX-6 and NEX-7 but not up there with the top of the heap. Some things could have been made to be more sturdy..the battery door for one. With a premium camera and one that is making a statement I feel Sony should have REALLY made a statement like they used to do back in the day with certain products outside of the camera line (anyone know of the SCD-1)?. But it is what it is and the cameras are excellent but not perfect (No camera is though). Note that I am NOT saying the build is cheap or low quality as it is NOT, it just could be a little better.

One thing is for certain…the A7 and A7r do fantastic with old school manual focusing lenses. I had no issues focusing, even when testing out a Leica 50 Noctilux f/1 and I do not even use magnification or peaking..just the big EVF and my eyeballs. There is no question that these offer huge bang for the buck and some of the best IQ you can get in 35mm but is that enough to overlook the fact that there is really only 2 quality lenses available at or near launch? (the 35 and 55).

The EVF is fantastic, 2nd only to the one in the Olympus E-M1. The files are rich, detailed and full of information. Creamy, dreamy and shallow if you so desire. The lenses have great quality and bokeh and would really be all I needed with the camera.

Like I said, I really enjoyed these cameras and I took many fantastic images without any issues or problems but for the 1st 2 weeks I was not bonding with them, and I could not put my finger on it as to why that is. Then it hit me.

I like the build, the feel, the design and the features but I think the response is just not there when compared to my Olympus E-M1, which is lightning fast in response. I have been shooting that E-M1 like mad and when I switched it up to the A7 and A7r it seemed like I was working in slow motion..and I am not talking about AF, just overall response time of the camera.

So after I realized this I started to take out the A7 and I thought  of it as a medium format rig. It is right at home when shooting it slow and steady and by doing so it can reward  you with some astonishing files and images. In fact, I started to like it more and more and more because in this regard, it started to remind me of my Leica. Slow..steady..and take that one shot you know will be a keeper. Now it is faster than a medium format camera but when you go out with that mindset you can bring home some amazing imagery.

That is when it started to attach itself to me and I really saw the beauty and the value in the A7 cameras.

At the end of the day, if you want a fantastic full frame camera that is at the top of the heap in the IQ department, one that is smaller than all of the bulky SLRs and one that is much less expensive than the Leica M, take a long hard look at the Sony A7 or A7r. If you want to shoot Leica M glass or even Nikon or Canon glass..you can. If you have a stash of Sony Alpha DSLR glass, you can also shoot with that (with adapters of course). So the name of the game with the Sony’s are VALUE. You get a lot of BANG for your BUCK, especially with the A7.

These are an EASY recommendation and if you are out there trying to decide which model to go for, I can not see anyone being unhappy with the A7 over the A7r. At under $1700 for the A7, it is a steal for what you are getting. The 1st lens I would get is the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8. It has a gorgeous rendering that reminds me of the highest quality Zeiss lenses of the past.

I love what Sony is doing and I can only imagine that in a year or two these cameras will get even better, faster and slicker. I am happy to support a company that just “gets it” when it comes to what we want in a camera. Go Sony GO!

**Later tonight or tomorrow I will post a first look review from Ashwin Rao who shot the A7r with a slew of Leica M mount lenses. So if you want tons of results and thoughts on that subject, be sure to come back here later or tomorrow for more! Thanks for reading!

Steve

The 7R at ISO 1250 with the 35 2.8

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WHERE TO BUY THE A7, A7R and Accessories such as Lens Adapters, Lenses, etc. 

The A7 and A7r where to buy page is HERE but you can also use the links below:

Buy the Sony A7 Body – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony A7r body B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony A7 Kit Zoom Bundle - B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 Zoom – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy Leica M mount lenses from Ken Hansen (E-Mail him at [email protected]), PopFlash or The Pro Shop

Buy Voigtlander M Mount Lenses from CameraQuest.com

Buy Zeiss ZM Lenses HERE

Buy The Novoflex Leica M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the Generic M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the two LED light set I used HERE

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