Oct 242014
 

The Zeiss 50 f/2.8 Macro Touit Lens Review. A cracking good lens for any occasion!

You can buy the Zeiss Touit 50 f/2.8 in Sony or Fuji mount HERE. 

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A few weeks ago B&H Photo asked me if I wanted to test out the Zeiss 50 2.8 Touit Macro lens for Sony E-Mount, and since I am always excited about any lens with the ZEISS name on it, I of course said “SEND IT MY WAY ASAP”! When it arrived I was so busy with other gear reviews that the lens sat in the box for a week or so before I even opened it up.

When I did open the box to check out the lens I saw that it was small, light and fit nicely onto my Sony A6000 and A7s. While this lens is an APS-C lens it will work on the full frame Sony’s using a crop mode. Overall the lens was a great size, not far off from something like a Leica 75 Summicron, but lighter and with auto focus. Coming in at under a grand, or to be more exact, $999., the Zeiss Touit 50 f/2.8 Macro lens is a lens that will bust a wallet but not break the bank, if you know what I mean.

When I started to use the lens I realized that I am not that big into macro shooting, at all. I will occasionally use a Macro lens but the last time I reviewed one was quite a while ago when I wrote about the fantastic Olympus 60mm Macro lens and while I loved that lens I never did buy it because I am just not a Macro shooter. With this Zeiss lens, it appears and looks like any normal lens so I wondered if it would be good for double duty and would be good for shooting any scene, not just macro.

So away I went, shooting it in many different lighting situations to judge the AF speed and sharpness. I was also curious if it would exhibit the famous Zeiss look (rich color, 3D pop, etc) and hold up to the other two Zeiss Touit lenses I reviewed, the 12mm 2.8 and 35 1.8.

So away I went with the Sony A6000 (which is a FANTASTIC camera, read my review HERE) and Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Touit and shot whatever I cam across that looked interesting to me. When I go out to test a lens or camera I am not out looking to create works of art with the camera but instead I am looking for scenes that will test the lens or camera – maybe something to test low light, bokeh, color or other aspects of the lens or camera. With that said, I do try to at least bring interesting sample shots to the table ;)

The image below was shot at the AZ State Fair and this guy was the person in control of the “CreepShow” ride, a haunted house that was not scary in any way and lasted under 1 minute as a ride through. The funny thing is that I shot this same guy a year ago at the fair, operating the same ride. The Zeiss was set to f/2.8, wide open and it focused perfectly at this distance. The lens is a 50mm lens but on an APS-C it will give you more of an 75mm equivalent, so it has some reach. Even at f/2.8, which I consider to be on the slow side, the lens had no issues on the A6000.

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Zeiss lenses and color..two things that go together just as well as peanut butter and jelly. 

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Click for larger. I was testing to see how the lens would Auto Focus on the moving swing that was quite far from me. Being a Macro lens you would think the lens would be slower than normal to AF…and it is when comparing it to a normal 50mm lens. With that said, it was still pretty snappy on the A6000 and gave me the sharpness and color I was looking for. Click the image for larger view. 

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Still at the State Fair. I saw this guy doing a performance and lifted the camera and snapped. The lens nailed the focus and I was happy with the result. 

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This is a Macro Lens Steve! 

Lol, yes I know. So far I have shown a few images but none are using the lens as it was made to be used! Yes, this is a Macro lens but what I found is that it also made for a VERY nice 75mm equivalent lens as well! I did do some macro testing but I am horrible with Macro and have maybe shot 75 Macro images in my entire life so while I will talk about this later on, I feel this lens is a jackal and hyde, a lens that is very usable at any distance from you subject. Even for street style photos.

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One thing I found that was nice was the Zeiss color. I love Zeiss color. I see it in all of the Zeiss ZM lenses that they make with a Leica mount. Luscious and rich colors that would always POP from my screen, more so than when I used Leica lenses which render in a more cool way. I see Zeiss as rich, warm, and lush. I see Leica as cool, calm, collected. Both have their place and some feel Zeiss is too warm and rich. Others love and adore this look. Thinking about all of this reminds me from a time about 15 years ago when so many would swear there were no differences between lenses. The big photo forum at that time had people arguing almost daily about the Canon lenses and how the L glass was no different from the cheap lenses when it came to image quality. Today it is well-known and accepted that YES, the lens is what gives the character and look to the images and some lenses are spectacular and some are less that wonderful.

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For example, some lenses I have tested recently have had dull off-color and some have amazing color. Some are sharp, some are soft. Some have funky Bokeh and others have beautiful Bokeh blur. So lenses are the most important part of your kit when it comes to being a photographer. You are basically painting with light when taking a photo, and the lenses are pretty much your “brushes” and each one will give you a different result..or stroke if you will. Some will render with amazing character, some will be sterile and clean and others will be sloppy. So where does this Zeiss Touit fit in? Well, pretty much just where you think it would. It is clean, sharp across the frame and has the Zeiss punchy color. Nothing unique or magical, just a nice clean lens that will deliver a “correct” image whether you are shooting up close or far away.

Many will say “why isn’t this an f/2 lens”? Well, usually macro lenses are not built for speed. Instead they are built for performance up close and up close, you will want to stop down to f/8 to get some depth of field otherwise it will be tricky to nail the shot.

Zeiss Greens..

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below is a 100% crop of the image above..

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Lately I have been more about the PHOTOS than pumping out 10,000 words in a review. Usually my lens reviews average 2,500-3,500 words but sometimes they are super short and sweet at only 1,000 words. When a lens is so good at what it is built for there is really little to say and very little to knock down about it. Such is the case with this Zeiss Touit 50 2.8. It never failed me, never had an AF miss, and delivered sharp photos full of color and sharpness. Even B&W conversion look fantastic with this combo of A6000 and Zeiss lens. I even pit it against the Leica Monochrom recently in a just for fun poll. 

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The image below will give you an idea of the Bokeh at f/2.8…

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Finally..up close performance. As I said, I am no macro shooter but the lens will focus to about 6″ and give you a 1:1 ratio. Shooting six inches from your subject is pretty insane and this is when you need to take lighting into consideration as being so close will cause shadows, which is why many Macro shooters use ring lights and various lighting sources to brighten up the subject, extract more detail and avoid shadows. I shot enough up close to realize this lens really has no big weakness. If I had to complain about something it would be that the Auto Focus is a tad slow when shooting up close, but all macro lenses are like this so it is not a fault at all. Just how it works. :)

click images below for larger view and you can see the 100% crop in the 2nd image below. 

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My final thoughts on the Zeiss Touit 50 f/2.8 Macro Lens

So after carrying around this lens on my Sony A6000 for a couple of weeks I have to say that I really like this lens. If I was a macro shooter, it would be mine. If anyone out there is looking for a fantastic Macro lens for their Sony E-Mount camera, look no further than this guy right here. At $999 you get the Zeiss name, Zeiss performance and a small, light and well made lens. I tested it on my Sony A7s as well and it was just as fantastic as it was on the A6000 but with even richer color. It had to shoot in crop mode though because this is not a full frame lens. Even so, for APS-C Sony NEX or A series owners, this is a solid lens and I can not imagine anyone being disappointed in it.

Highly recommended if Macro is your thing, or if you want a nice 50mm f/2.8 for general use AND macro.

You can buy the lens in Sony E Mount or Fuji Mount at B&H Photo by clicking HERE.

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Oct 132014
 

My First time with Zeiss

by Toni Ahvenainen – His blog is HERE
About eight months ago I started my Sony Alpha related photography project called ‘ Year of the Alpha – 52 Weeks of Sony Alpha Photography‘. The aim of my project was to find my inspiration again for photography and gain better understanding of my own photographic eye. On top of that I decided to set up a photo blog, where I would share my images at least two images per week and hoped it would gain some interest plus convoy inspiration to other photographers like me. Right from the start I got lucky and my site had much more traffic than I ever believed would be possible. Because of this the project turned into something that has given me a lot of inspiration and energy, not only for photography, but for life in general. It is also partial reason why I am doing this story here today.

As I have already introduced my photography project here before and with greater length I won’t go anymore into details. You can find the earlier story about my project here.

Because of my photography project and the way it had drawn attention in social media circles, an unexpected opportunity came to me: Zeiss was willing to support my photography project and they would let me use two lenses from their Touit line up. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with the Touit line up before, it is the new family of Zeiss lenses which are targeted to mirrorless system cameras (Sony E-mount & Fuji X-mount). All the lenses have full autofocus capabilities and they represent a modern Zeiss design with black matte finish and more contemporary look – but most importantly they convoy the famous Zeiss optical quality for mirrorless system cameras.

So, at one Friday afternoon, after UPS delivery had brought me a parcel which I had opened with child-like enthusiasm, I had two Zeiss lenses in my hands that in real life would be very much out of my reach: Touit 2.8/12 & Touit 2.8/50M. I had of course read about the famous Zeiss from countless photography sites likes this, but never believed I would get opportunity to actually shoot with them. Like for many other photographers the most exciting lenses and their magical qualities were always something I could just see through a store display window. And while the Touit is not exactly an Otus (optically the most advanced DSLR lenses currently available, also build by Zeiss), for my photography it was a unique opportunity and something of which I consider myself to be very lucky. For return favor I would need to tell story of my experience with the Zeiss lenses.

Like any true and committed photography enthusiast, I was very interested to see how these lenses would affect my photography. What will be my first impressions? How will they fit into my shooting habits? How I will be using these lenses? What kind of optical qualities will they have and will I be able to find the famous ‘Zeiss look’, described with terms like Zeiss contrast, punchy colors and 3D-pop? In short, what will be my first time experience with Zeiss?

I will be exploring these and other questions as well for 10 weeks in my photo blog. The Zeiss lenses will accompany me with a theme called ‘Season of Touit’. With this theme I will move away from the standard focal lengths that I’ve used thorough the year so far and concentrate doing ultra wide and close-up photography which are, regarding the perception of the depth, kind of extreme ends. If you are interested, you are most welcome to follow my story through this season. Later on I will do a more complete story about my findings right here at the Steve Huff’s website where it will surely find the most friendly and kind audience one could ever hope. (Thanks for the opportunity, Steve!)

To give you some insight right now, I can already say I’m very impressed by colors and contrast the Zeiss Touit lenses convoy. At the first day, right after I had opened the parcels, I did a short photo walk and immediately noticed that the images looked a bit different from my cameras lcd. Maybe more vibrant and subtle regarding the overall look. Am I imagine things, is this just the placebo effect, I thought to myself. Even at home, looking pictures from computer screen, I felt certain anxiety because the pictures looked different and better, but felt that I didn’t have right terms to conceptualize this difference to myself. After using these lenses for about a month, I honestly feel they have trained my eyes for better understanding of how good optics will affect the contrast and colors.

I’ll show couple of examples here taken with Touit 2.8/12 & Touit 2.8/50M. Everything you see here has been post processed with my own regular methods and with a help of VSCO film pack 4. While the pictures in this state doesn’t offer a neutral starting point, if there even exist one, for detailed analysis of Zeiss look, they however represent the great results I’ve been able achieve with these lenses – and which I think are extraordinary regarding color & contrast. In future article I might also present images that will be better suitable for detailed analysis, if I find meaningful ways to do it.

Thank for reading my story and if interested you can follow it at: www.yearofthealpha.com. Also remember that within five or six weeks I’m going to do a longer story which I’m going to share right here at the Steve Huff’s website.

Toni Ahvenainen


Snap from the street – Didn’t do much of post processing with this snap, but immediately thought that nothing from my camera has looked so good before regarding colors & contrast. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/50M — ISO100, f/6.3, 1/400sec, raw)

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The Great Divide – Touit 2.8/50M doubles as a macro lens and let’s one approach the wonders of the macro world. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/50M — ISO250, f/10, 1/80sec, raw)

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Simple landscape – I just love how easy it to get great clarity and contrast with these Zeiss lenses. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/12 — ISO100, f/4.5, 1/200, raw)

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Unusual church ceiling – Relatively fast wide-angle lens like Touit 2.8/12 offers certain freedom in dim lighted interiors like churches. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/12 — ISO400, f/2.8, 1/25sec, raw)

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From Steve: Thanks Toni! If anyone would like to submit a user report or guest article, just click here for details!

Oct 092014
 

The CicLaVia ride to East Los Angeles

By Huss Hardan

A group of us just participated in the CicLaVia event. “What is CicLaVia?” I hear someone ask..

www.http://www.ciclavia.org/.org

Their website says it better than I can:

CicLAvia catalyzes vibrant public spaces, active transportation and good health through car-free streets. CicLAvia engages with people to transform our relationship with our communities and with each other.

CicLAvia makes the streets safe for people to walk, skate, play and ride a bike. There are activities along the route. Shop owners and restaurants are encouraged to open their doors to people along the CicLAvia.

Ciclovías started in Bogotá, Colombia, over thirty years ago as a response to the congestion and pollution of city streets. Now they happen throughout Latin America and the United States.

Connecting communities and giving people a break from the stress of car traffic. The health benefits are immense. Ciclovías bring families outside of their homes to enjoy the streets, our largest public space. In Los Angeles we need CicLAvia more than ever. Our streets are congested with traffic, our air is polluted with toxic fumes, our children suffer from obesity and other health conditions caused by the scarcity of public space and safe, healthy transportation options. CicLAvia creates a temporary park for free, simply by removing cars from city streets. It creates a network of connections between our neighborhoods and businesses and parks with corridors filled with fun. We can’t wait to see you at CicLAvia!”

Got that?! In practice what this means is that a route is chosen (this October it was about 12 miles in length) in Los Angeles where the streets are closed to vehicular traffic. Pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders etc are all welcome. Just no motos! The vibe is really neat, one of celebration and unification, taking advantage of the four-hour opportunity to see the city in a way that would not normally be possible.

My group chose bikes, and I shot while in motion on my bike. Like most people at the event we took the Metro train into downtown LA. My gear was simple – a Leica M5 with Zhou half case (more on this in a bit), a Zeiss Planar 50 (with ND filter), a Leica Summicron Asph 35 and one roll of Kodak Portra 400 rated at ISO 200. I shot one-handed while riding, and the Zhou case really helped as it has grips on the front and back of the case. I was able to focus with one hand as the Zeiss lens has a ribbed metal focus ring so I could turn that with one finger. I had to zone focus the Summicron as it only has a focus tab which I was not able to use while holding the camera with one hand. Oh yeah, one hand because the other one was steering the bike!

It was an unusually hot day – about 100 degrees – but it was a lot of fun. The next one is in December and I highly recommend it.

Peace out
Huss

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Oct 032014
 

Testing the Zeiss Loxia, ZM 35 1.4 and Otus lenses on the A7r

(some quick shots from Photokina)

by Dirk De Paepe

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Recapitulation of a Problem

Perhaps you look upon the Sony A7x series as the first full frame alternative to the Leica M: a compact, high quality full frame camera, that’s about perfect for manual shooting – although not without issues, but then, I’ve yet to see the first perfect camera. :-)

Today the A7s gets a lot of applause, not only for its high ISO capability, but also because it “fixed” some of the issues of the A7r: the shutter sound is one, but IMO the questionable compatibility with quite some M-mount wide-angle lenses is an even more important item.

For many photographers, the possibility of using the compact M-mount lenses on the A7x, via adapter, is one of the attractive features of those cameras. But particularly the corner problems that primarily the A7r poses, when used with (quite some) wide-angle M-mount lenses, are mentioned frequently as a set back, reducing the A7r owner’s choice regarding compact wide-angle glass. Not all M-mount wide angles pose this problem though: some of the Voigtländers work flawlessly. But most Leica M en Zeiss ZM wide angles render this purple/magenta color shift and smearing in the corners, which we really don’t want.

I own the Zeiss Biogon 28 ZM and have experienced it too. Although with certain apertures it’s possible to avoid almost all of the smearing and the color shift can most of the time easily be neutralized in Photoshop, still it limits the possibilities and ease of work. So I mainly use the Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.4 (very compact M-mount) and some wider Canon FDs as WAs for now. For now, indeed, because I was pretty confident that a “solution” would be in the make. As a matter of fact, I hoped for some time that Sony would somehow fix this problem. But is it really Sony’s problem to fix? Well, recently I changed my mind about it…

The solution has a name: Loxia.

When Zeiss announced its new Loxia series for Sony’s FE mount and when I saw that those were based on the compact ZM series, I immediately wondered: what about the corners when shooting a Biogon wide-angle on the A7r? The so far published images (that I’ve seen) didn’t mention which A7-type was used (there was no Exif data available), or they were taken with the A7s, on which the WA M-mount glass poses no problems. So I was stuck with the question: how will the new Loxia Biogon 2/35 perform on my A7r?

The Loxia Biogon 2/35 on the A7r

Living at less than 2 hours from Cologne, I decided to make the trip to Photokina, to get the answer. I was there on Saturday, when the fairground was pretty crowded, with lots of people thronging at the Zeiss technicians counter, wanting to get answers to their questions and trying all kinds of Zeiss lenses on all kinds of cameras.

So I had to take my shots pretty fast and I had to take them all from the same spot: my position at the technicians counter. Sorry for that. But my goal was not to shoot nice pictures, my goal was to get answers. Does the Biogon perform well on the A7r?

Short answer: YES it does! Absolutely!

I first checked if there was any color shift at the corners, putting the aperture wide open – the most sensible setting. With a booth made from white/greyish panels, it was easy to check. It’s very clear: the Biogon produces no color shift what so ever! It was immediately absolutely clear, from the first shot, but I can add to that: in none of my shots, at whatever aperture, there was even the faintest glimpse of color shift to be noticed.

Pic 1. Loxia 3/35, f/2, &/500s, ISO200. No color shift whatsoever. I focused in the left upper corner, to check the corner detail at f/2. IMO a bit ridiculous to absolutely want perfect corners when shooting wide open, but since some people come up with this issue, I wanted to check it. Next picture gives a 100% view of that corner

01. Loxia2-35 f2 corner focus

And what about the smearing? Well, again when shooting wide open the image remained pretty clear and detailed in the corners, with only some loss of detail in the farthest reaches and (IMO) no smearing. Considering how deep in the corners I’m talking about, I’d say only a slight loss of detail in the corners. But let’s be honest, when you really want every spot of your picture to be clear, you don’t shoot wide open, do you… In general I was absolutely astonished with the level of detail this Biogon renders at f/2. Without ever getting razor-sharp, the amount of detail is pretty amazing, even when looking at 100% and shooting with a 36MP sensor. And also the vignetting is at a very low-level, IMO negligible.

Pic 2. 100% crop. In the farthest reaches of the corners, there is some loss of detail. Not too much, I’d say, because I can even read numbers there. I certainly wouldn’t talk of smearing. There is some difference in detail to be noticed, due to some items being positioned slightly out of focus, like in the text on the left box. Don’t be mistaken there. Anyway, I find the detail that this Biogon renders wide open to be really astonishing. 

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Pic 3. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. Also the vignetting is negligible, even wide open. Focusing in the center.

03. Loxia2-35_f2 center focus

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Pic 4. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Without being razor-sharp, all the detail is there. No added sharpness.

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Pic 5. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. No 2/35mm renders a spectacular bokeh. Still this one is pretty smooth and for sure renders a nice 3D separation.

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Pic 6. Loxia 2/35, f/4, 1/60s, ISO400. DOF is a bit larger, still with beautiful bokeh, also in front.

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Pic 7. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Even at f/4 focusing needs to be done with care on the A7r. I missed the focus on the watch here and placed it on the guy’s shirt, revealing all the shirt’s detail…

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At the more narrow apertures, those that are used when pursuing a wide dof, the detail is excellent all over. Is it absolutely perfect? Well, no. This is no Otus, but a three times less expensive Loxia. Still, IMO, the IQ is excellent, with clear detail all over, although still slightly soft when looking at 100%, but not at all to the extend that one can call this a weakness.

Pic 8. Loxia 2/35, f/11, 1/40s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.

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Pic 9. Loxia 2/35, f/14, 1/10s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.

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Pic 10. 100% crop (click to see full size)..

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This is absolutely not a lens test, so I won’t go into all lens characteristics. I couldn’t take enough different pictures, nor perform tests to do that. I’m sure there will be enough articles in the near future from professional photography journalist that will come up with all the details.

Still, what I also noticed is some fringing (diminishing with narrower apertures of course), which I always could correct with great ease in Photoshop. I didn’t check the distortion, but personally I don’t mind that too much, since this is also easily correctable. BTW, I understand that Zeiss also gave extra care in that department, so again, I have no worries here. Overall, I liked very much what I saw, also regarding the OOC color balance, dynamic range etc. – so I’m very confident that I won’t be disappointed in this Biogon and that it’ll render a typical Zeiss IQ – I expect it to be even slightly better than my ZMs.

Improved optics

When I told the technician that I was pleasantly surprised, after being worried when I noticed the great similarity between the Loxia and ZM Biogons, and that I wondered how Zeiss has solved the corner problems without considerably lengthening the distance between back lens and sensor, he told me that the two Loxia lenses are admittedly built after classic Zeiss concepts, but that the whole calculation has been redone, resulting in differences in the thickness of the glasses and the space between them, whereby the light approaches the sensor in different angles, thus avoiding the known problems of the older ZM lenses (lenses that were conceived for film cameras and Leica digital cameras, not for mirrorless sensors). Even the Planar, that in ZM version doesn’t pose any problem at all on the A7r (and is BTW my personal favorite lens) has been reworked and optimized with enhanced performance. Regarding the Biogon, even after a few shots, I can without a doubt state, that they did a great job. I leave it to the professional reviewers to determine exactly how great. But I’m impressed. And excited. There simply is not a shred of color shift in the corners and wide open there’s only a slight decrease of detail in the farthest corners, which I wouldn’t call smearing at (far from what we know from the ZM Biogons, when used on the A7r). What I also noticed was that this lens renders about the same detail wide open as it does stopped down (with the exception of the farthest corners, as I said), which was a véry pleasant surprise. There is some vignetting wide open (but really not much) and some fringing as well (always very easily removable in Photoshop). What did you expect. This is no Otus, it’s not perfect. It’s three to four times cheaper than Otus and still is an excellent lens. I’m sure future tests will confirm this.

General Loxia advantages for Sony’s A7x

So the Biogon is absolutely “good to go” on the A7r IMO, or in other words, it’s a great option to buy, if you’re into manual prime glass. You won’t be surprised that I placed my order for both Loxias. Also the Planar, which maybe will surprise you, since I own the ZM Planar that really is without issues on the A7r. But Loxia offers a lot more than ZM. First there is the better optical performance (reworked for E-mount), then there is the shorter minimal focal distance (30cm for the Biogon and 45cm for the Planar versus 70cm for both ZMs), further there is the transmission of full Exif info, which I applaud because after a series of shots with different lenses I tend to forget what lens I used for which shot, let alone what aperture. Often I can “see the lens in the shot”, but really not always with absolute certainty. And I find it very interesting to know the exact aperture afterwards. And finally, the last big advantage of Loxia over ZM is the activation (which is to be programmed on your A7x) of the automatic enlargement in the VF, by the slightest movement of the focus ring, which completes all means for performing “modern manual focusing” on the A7x. IMHO, all the focusing functionalities of the A7x/Loxia strongly outperform any optical viewfinder. OK, a range finder is something special, but personally, I don’t wanna do without the modern EVF functionality anymore. No way. They abundantly outweigh the range finder’s advantages (all IMO of course).

Pic 11. Left half: Loxia Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Right half: ZM Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Both picture were shot at minimal focal distance – Loxia at 45cm, ZM at 70cm and they were only horizontally cropped. Impressive difference. A big advantage of the Loxia. (The ZM picture was shot back home.)

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Personally, I’m really thrilled about Zeiss developing the Loxia line. There has been lots of reactions on it, with many complaining about the first two lenses being 50 and 35mm again. Why not chosing other focal lenghts that people miss right now? The answer is really simple. Loxia is for a totally different type of photographer, namely the typical manual shooter, like I am. As much as I admire the image quality of the AF Zeiss lenses, I’ll never buy them because I don’t feel good when the camera decides for me. The only “automation” that I use is aperture priority and still, I’ll determine the exposure with the compensation dial or by holding the release button halfway while reframing.

The core of any optical system is, no doubt, the lens. I think we can say that Zeiss plays in the same league as Leica. Both have passionate proponents. I guess it’s probably the kind of photography one practices, that make one belong to either camp. Personally, I’d mix both brands, if the Leica prices were at Zeiss level. But they aren’t. So I don’t buy Leica… a personal matter.
The core of the body is, without any doubt, the sensor. Sony, a leader amongst sensor manufacturers has an excellent position in this department. The rest of the body is functionality, in other words advanced electronic applications, and build quality. It needs no saying that Sony is an electronics giant and in many branches, and in general the Sony quality is legendary. I’m not saying there are never issues with Sony products, everybody makes “mistakes”, but this a giant and I believe that this giant is determined to succeed in photography. So the Sony/Zeiss combination has for sure a lot of things in its favor. Now, with Loxia, the glass is perfectly maching the body, adapter free, with transmitted Exif data, automated magnification in the EVF and a design and feel that perfectly matches the body.

I told you that I already placed my order, even for the Planar, while I’m owning an Otus 55 ànd ZM Planar 2/50. But the Planar is my all time favorite lens. Its compact size, ease of use and always reliable IQ grants it this status. This is the lens that I always carry on my camera, making it possible to carry a high-res/high-IQ camera with me whenever I want, wherever I go to, without ever being bothered by it. Now, with the Loxia Planar, my carry-all-time lens will match my body for 100% and add some functionality that I welcome very much.

Loxia is made for sensors of mirrorless cameras, Zeiss ZM (and Leica M) is made for film. In its digital M bodies, Leica corrects its lenses with software. The Zeiss Loxia doesn’t need to be corrected, because it’s optically designed for sensor. BTW, I wonder if Zeiss doesn’t think of making Loxias in M-mount, or at least come up with a new generation ZMs, that would have the Loxia optics. Makes sense IMO.

The Otus 85 on the A7r

With so many Otus lenses on their Photokina booth, ready to try out, of course I asked for the new 1.4/85. You probably already knew from a former article that I own the Otus 55 and believe that Otus is a great combination with the A7r. This top-level Zeiss line is developed for the latest (and future) generations of hi-res sensors, and Sony plays a leading role in this, with the A7r still leading the pack. So I pulled out my Novoflex adapter and mounted the Otus 85 on the body. The bystanders payed extra attention, when I then pulled a vertical grip out of my bag and mounted it with some swift moves on the A7r body.
My goal was in no way to test the lens on itself. Knowing the 55 and reading from all thrustful sources that the 85 is even a todd better (is it really possible?), I have not the slightest doubt that this lens will perform to its expectations. What I was curious about was how it felt in the hand, when mounted on the A7r, and I also wanted to get the “focus experience” at f/1.4, because already with the 55, focusing at 1.4 needs to be done with great care.
I immediately felt that the 85 is an even heavier and thicker beast than the 55. It’s a muscle trainer for sure. I don’t know how long I would be able to shoot continuously with it, I can only say that I felt it considerably more than when holding the 55. But I can’t tell if it’s only because the physical geometry is different and that it’s gonna be a matter of getting used to it, or if it really would tire me out faster. But what I can tell you for sure is, that, with the same way of holding it as I described in my Otus 55 article, this lens/body combination lies incredibly stable and well-balanced in the hand. I already said that the shots were to be made fast at the Zeiss technicians booth, so I took a fast picture of the gentle technician that was helping me. He was standing pretty close, at the other side of the counter. I focused on his eyelashes and took the shot at 1/25sec, which is in fact insanely slow for an OOH shot with a 85mm lens. But the total absence of motion blur proves the perfect balance of this lens/body combination, again indicating that the A7r is a body worth considering for use with the Otus 85, as it is with the Otus 55. That’s exactly what I wanted to know with my trial shots.

Pic 12. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/25s, ISO100. Shooting at this shutter speed with an 85mm lens is only possible when the lens/body combination is in perfect balanse, which IMO is the case with the A7r + vertical grip. At the crowded Zeiss booth, this shot of a (very busy) Zeiss technician needed to be taken in seconds.

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Pic 13. 100% crop (click to see full size). What stroke me is the extremely shallow dof. I don’t know how this can be possible (maybe somebody can explain), but I have the impression that the Otus 85 produces an even more shallow dof than the Canon FD85 at f/1.2, that I also own. And if not, it must be véry close. But for sure, I’d swear it’s the Otus that wins this trophy. While the eyelashes are in focus, the eyeball is already out of focus. The eyebrow is only partly in focus. At this distance, I normally wouldn’t take this shot at f/1.4, because I’d surely want a somewhat larger dof. Still it’s nice to have the potential at hand and for greater distances it will surely do a great job.

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Focusing at f/1.4, for use at full size images with a 36MP sensor (or more in the near future), must be done with the greatest care. This was no surprise to me, with my experience with the Otus 55, it was just a confirmation. It’s odd that I have the impression that focusing the Otus 85 at f/1.4 requires even more precision than with my Canon FD85 at F/1.2. I even think to notice an even shallower dof with the Otus. It’s just an impression, a feeling. But a strong one. Maybe it’s because of the incredible detail Otus renders, combined with 36 megapixels. Again, I didn’t perform test procedures with this in mind, it’s just a feeling. BTW, I love the FD85/1.4.
Last thing about the Otus 85: I absolutely love the super creamy bokeh!

Pic 14. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/20s, ISO100. Only horizontally cropped. Is this a creamy bokeh or what?…

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The ZM Distagon 1.4/35

By then, after shooting the Otus 85, the guys behind me were increasingly insisting to get a place at the counter. But still I managed to get the new ZM Distagon 1.4/35 for a few super fast shots. I simply wondered whether Zeiss, knowing of the problems that some of the ZMs have with modern hi-res sensors, would take this into account when developing new wide-angle ZMs. I quickly took two shots with the new ZM Distagon. In the first I just shot the grey-ish white wall, to check for color shift. The picture is absolutely dull, of course, but it was conclusive: no color shift.

In the second (and last) super fast taken shot, I focused on a guy in the upper left corner, to check for smearing. No smearing (although the picture isn’t perfect, with a tiny bit of motion blur, but no smearing). What I did notice in those shots was that, wide open, the vignetting and fringing was more prominent than with the Loxia Biogon. But then, this is a f/1.4 vs. the f/2 Loxia. So this is normal. And nothing that I couldn’t correct in Photoshop.

So I guess that future Zeiss ZM lenses will work perfectly on film bodies, Leica M bodies ànd fullframe mirrorless bodies – from Sony and other brands to follow.
And I’m very much looking forward for future new products in their new lines, Otus and surely Loxia. I’ve been having a soft spot for Zeiss for about 50 years now. I think this spot is only going to further grow in the years to come… :-)

Pic 15. ZM 1.4/35, f/1.4, 1/25, ISO100. A clearly more explicit bokeh than with the Loxia 2/35, but also more fringing (as well as vignetting, which this pic doesn’t show clearly) – though nothing that can’t be corrected, I guess.

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Pic 16. Defringed crop. I thought, since the shot was not really OK, it wouldn’t be fair to show the fringing. So I corrected it in Photoshop for this crop.

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Epilogue

IMO, the Loxia line, once it’s to be completed as yet, will definitely turn the A7x series into today’s superior compact system for manual shooting, offering a more modern concept than Leica. I can truly say that I don’t dream of Leica anymore. This Sony/Zeiss FE-system really is more desirable to me than the Leica M-system – outperforming it (again IMO) and… reasonably priced! My personal dream of today: owning both the A7r (for resolution) and A7s (for ISO) with a complete set of Loxias. But what I expect (of course I can’t be absolutely sure about it) is a future Sony sensor that will combine resolution and high ISO. I’m sure it will happen, maybe in some years time, but probably earlier than I expect. And it will be mounted in an FE-mount Alpha body! Thàt will be my next camera…

Dirk De Paepe

B&H Photo sells the Loxia lenses HERE, the OTUS is HERE and the new Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM is HERE

Sep 232014
 

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Jupiter 8: A cheap and lovely character lens for your Leica M or Sony A7 camera

The best $30 I have ever spent? This old, beat up, tiny 50mm f/2 Jupiter 8 Russian lens. Yes, I bought this lens on the cheap locally here in Phx AZ along with a Jupiter 9, which is an 85mm f/2 for $70 or so (though the 9 is a tad off with focusing on my M). I never owned a Jupiter though they have been around forever and what has kept me away from them is the fact that many say they are not very good lenses, will not focus correctly or are just plain cheap in construction. Well, taking all of that in to consideration I decided that $30 would be a no brainer way to test out the Jupiter 8 and I am glad I did as this is truly a “no guilt and no buyers remorse” lens. For $30, it could easily be resold if I did not like it, but again, at this kind of money, this lens will always be in my kit for when I want the character of this lens. I am a huge fan of classic Rangefinder lenses and many of them are better to me than modern-day pricey lenses.

Shot wide open at f/2 on the Sony A7s with the only purpose being to show the Bokeh. This was shot up at some trees and defocused

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I have always seen these lenses for sale on E-Bay for pretty cheap prices but samples online that show the softness, low contrast and strange rendering put me off on the Jupiter 8. While I am looking around for a decent Jupiter 3 now, the 8 has actually surprised me with just how sharp it can be, even at f/2. In addition, it has that classic Zeiss Sonnar rendering that I recognize. I will say though that an article on this very website is what really had me really wanting to give these lenses a shot. You can see that article HERE.

At f/2 focusing correctly on the Leica Monochrom. Yes, this lens focuses great on my MM. Click the image to see just how sharp it is, you may be amazed that a cheap lens such as this one can do this!

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…and it works just as well on the A7s, even for B&W :)

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Dreamy, Creamy and Classic

Basically what this lens will deliver is nothing like what a Leica Summicron or Summilux will bring you. I have talked any times about lenses being like the artist’s brush. Choosing a specific lens will help you create the vision you are looking for whether that is in the form of a Leica Noctilux, Canon Dream Lens, or a Zeiss 50 Planar. This Jupiter 8 reminds me most of the Zeiss 50 Sonnar but for 1/30th the price! While not as nice as the Zeiss in build, feel, or IQ, it has something unique about it that I can enjoy from time  to time. IN color on the Sony A7s it is gorgeous (for me) even though the Bokeh is a teeny bit nervous at times. Other times it is silky smooth.

These three test shots were taken to show the rendering and bokeh and color. All on the fantastic A7s. Click them for larger and better viewing experience! 

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Portraits

Some people use this lens for portraits due to its softer look when wide open (when compared to critically sharp lenses like a 50 Summicron or APO or 90 APO) and I tested it and found it to be lovely. The lens does feel cheap in construction but it has lasted this long so I assume to will last me many more years to come. At this price, the Jupiter 8 is a bargain of massive proportions. A fun lens to have around and mess with when you want a classic creamy look.

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So for anyone who wants to try out a new lens but you do not want to put a dent in your wallet, give a Jupiter 8 lens a try. It may surprise you. Many say that when being used on a Leica M that the lens may need shims to get it to focus correctly. My copy did not need this but I guess some do. It is a small, light, oddball lens but it works nicely for some applications. I will be using it again and again, and for Sony A7 shooters, using this lens with the Voigtlander close focus M to E adapter, it is lovely and a breeze to focus.

Highly recommended!

Steve

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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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Sep 192014
 

New Reviews on the Way! Leica X, Zeiss Touit 50 2.8, IBELUX 40mm f/0.85, more!

 

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Next week I should have a few new items in my hands for review. First up, the Leica X with the new 23 1.7 Summiulux ASPH lens. The X many of us have been asking for (though without the integrated EVF that we BEG for) with the faster glass and stunning Leica looks. How will it hold up? From early reports and images I think the image quality will be just as it always has been, pure Leica. Even the X1 and X2 have the Leica signature, so this one will have even more of it I think due to the lens. I will so a 1st look report as soon as it arrives to me.

Also coming in next week is the Zeiss Touit 50 2.8 for the E mount system as well as the Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 for the APS-C E-Mount system. Two lenses I am happy to test on my Sony A6000 as they are APS-C lenses.

The Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 for APS-C Sony E-Mount. What a killer lens for the Sony A6000! Click here to see more at B&H Photo on this lens. 

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Finally, the Lytro Illum is coming and that should be VERY interesting indeed. I reviewed the original LYTRO long ago HERE and was not a fan. I am hearing the new Illum is pretty good, but IMO, will still be very limited. Nice to see them pushing the technology though. Will report with a 1st look next week.

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I want to wish everyone here a happy weekend and be safe, be happy and get out there and shoot!

Sep 022014
 

Two new E Mount Full Frame Lenses from Zeiss! Loxia 35 and 50 f/2!

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PRE-ORDER THE ZEISS LOXIA LENSES AT B&H PHOTO HERE

Zeiss has announced a couple of new lenses for the Sony E mount, specifically the A7 series. The new Loxia 35 and 50mm f/2 lenses are going to be superb I think and I love the fact that they are MANUAL FOCUS lenses.  These lenses feature a declick mode so you can turn the lens into a click less aperture lens or leave it with click stops. Zeiss says the Loxia line has distortion free optics, all manual focus, full metal casing and of course, the lenses are designed for full frame. The 35 and 50mm focal lengths are the two most popular amongst street shooters, Leica shooters and many enthusiasts. There is not much more I like more than a sweet 50mm or 35mm lens, and these two lenses are very welcomed in the Sony A7 world.

Below is what Zeiss says about the new releases:

With the new Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 lenses, ZEISS combines maximum image quality with classic ease of use for E-mount full-frame cameras

The ZEISS lenses Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are the first members of a new family of manual focus lenses for the E-mount full frame. They are optimized for digital sensors and electronic viewfinders and feature a mechanical aperture setting and the mechanical deactivation of the click stop (de-click) for ambitious videography.

“Ever since the Sony Alpha 7/7r/7s helped compact system cameras break through to the full frame, there has been a growing desire for a ‘digital manual focus‘ experience that combines the best of both worlds. The Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 are the first members of a new family of manual focus lenses for the E-mount full frame. By entering this field, ZEISS not only wants to meet this desire, but exceed it,” said Christophe Casenave, Product Manager with ZEISS Camera Lenses.

The Loxia 2/50 will be available worldwide starting October 2014 and the Loxia 2/35 from the end of the fourth quarter of 2014. The recommended retail price of the Loxia 2/35 will be $1,299.00 and that of the Loxia 2/50 will be $ 949.00.

ZEISS Loxia lenses were specifically designed for Sony α7 cameras. This means that they can make the most of the mirrorless, full frame system, while giving you all the creative possibilities of ‘classic’ photography with manual focus at the same time.

And that’s not all: ZEISS Loxia lenses also provide everything you need to shoot high quality video, such as the unique DeClick feature for smooth adjustment of the aperture, for example.

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As soon as I can get a hold of these lenses I will give them  a review! You can read more about the Loxia 50mm HERE and the 35mm Loxia can be seen HERE. 

PRE-ORDER THE ZEISS LOXIA LENSES AT B&H PHOTO HERE

 

Aug 292014
 

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A night with the Monochrom at ISO 10,000

So yesterday you saw where I wrote about the new Leica M-P and the silver Monochrom. Last night Debby and I decided to take a drive down to a cool hangout here in Phoenix called “The Lost Leaf’. We have been there a few times now and it always offers a great atmosphere, a huge selection of beers and drinks and every single night, live music. The last time I was there I brought along the Sony A7s and tested it in the torturous low light conditions of the Lost Leaf, which at times borders on near darkness. The A7s did well, even when pushed to over 80,000 ISO and seeing that I was going that high in ISO with the A7s, I did not think the Monochrom would be able to handle it, especially with the 50 f/2 lens I had on the camera. But I gave it a shot. I cranked the Monochrom to ISO 10,000, which is the max ISO for this camera, and I snapped a few frames.

Before heading in I set the MM to ISO 6400 and snapped a shot of this mural on the wall across the street. Click on it to see  the tones, graduations and sharpness. It was shot at 50mm and f/2, wide open.

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At ISO 10,000 the Monochrom puts out files that look like Tri-X 400 film.  All images below were shot at ISO 10,000

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People hanging out on the patio waiting for the nights musical act, Copper & Congress. 

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As the band started to play I took a test shot from my table to test the lighting and to see if ISO 10k and f/2 was enough. I managed to get 1/60th second.

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I feel the Monochrom puts out convincing B&W that does remind me of my M6 ad M7 film days..

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I moved in closer to get some shots of the band..

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By far my fave shot of the night, and this one is a JPEG from camera. ISO 10,000, f/2 – click it for much better viewing experience.

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The Sony A7s was also with me…

I also brought the Sony A7s with me along with the 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 Zeiss. It focused so accurate and fast for me using auto focus, even in these dim conditions..it was amazing. With that said, I had to crank the ISO higher on the Sony as I was using an f/2.8 lens so I used ISO 16,000 and 32,000. Only problem was I had the camera (by accident) set to JPEG only, and was shooting in the gimmicky “high contrast B&W mode” which killed the tonality of the image. None of them looked good, but it was my mistake for using the HC B&W option. Here is one example below of what that setting will do when used at high ISO and low light:

The next two shots were taken with the Sony A7s at ISO 16,000 and 32,000 using the 55 1.8 and 35 2.8. Problem is I had the camera set to JPEG only and used the High Contrast B&W mode which destroyed the tones. Lesson learned.

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As you can see, using high contrast B&W on the A7s destroyed the details, the tones and the overall look of the image (IMO). From now on, no more gimmick modes for me! If it were set to standard B&W it would have looked great. I can also see the NR at work from the camera even though it was set to low. Still, the A7s performed like a beast. Fast AF, quick and easy shooting, no issues. If I had it set to RAW and JPEG I could have saved my photos so user error on that one.

At the end of the day though I soooo loved shooting the Monochrom last night. It has been a while since I shot anything like this with a Leica and with the insanely low light here (It’s literally lit up by one red light bulb) I did not think the Leica would cut it, especially with a 50 f/2. While the Noct would have been amazing here, the little Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 did well. For me the Mono images have a teeny something about them that is beautiful and now I know that I can go up to ISO 10k in the dark without issue. It’s all about the exposure and if you nail it then you will have minimal noise.

I will be back to the Lost Leaf soon I am sure because it is great fun to see and shoot these live acts in such a cool inmate environment.

You can check out the Lost Leaf here and if you are ever in Phoenix I highly recommend stopping in. You can check out Copper & Congress at their website HERE. 

Jul 122014
 

The Overlooked 50

By Jorge Torralba

The Overlooked 50.

Over the past year, there has been resurgence in the market for 50mm range lenses from a wide variety of manufacturers. Needless to say, they all claim their 50, 55 or 58 are the best in their class. If it’s not the Nikon 58, then it must be the Sigma ART, Leica APO, Zeiss Otus or Lens X from Sylvester McMonkey McBean. Let’s face it, we have seen them, praised them and condemned them all without even owning them. It’s too big. It’s too expensive. It produces beautiful bokeh. It’s sharp. It’s dull. It is full of CA. It’s manual focus. It focuses too slow. It’s not weather sealed. And so on … But, we talk about them. Either in a positive or negative way, they get our attention and become the topic of discussion for the day, week or however long that thread on a forum lives for.

I am here to tell you of a not so talked about or popular lens that gets overlooked way too often. Rarely gets mentioned as a super lens or a must have. I am talking about the Sony Zeiss ZA 50mm 1.4 Planar. A lens made for the A mount Sony cameras like the A900, A77, A99 etc … When paired with an A99, A6000 or A7 it produces amazing images with such contrast and detail that it’s hard to imagine even considering a third-party lens for your Alpha camera. Granted, it is a little expensive but you can find deals now and then and when compared to some other high-priced 50’s, it starts to look even more attractive and worth considering. It is less expensive than the new Nikon 58, Zeiss Otus or Leica APO. However, It’s is worth every penny and when you start using it you will know why. Simply put, this lens is result oriented and it delivers without question.

For years I have been a fan boy of the Zeiss family of lenses I have owned the Otus, and several other great Zeiss lenses for my Nikon cameras which over the years have developed a reputation which has made them coveted by many. However, not long ago I decided it was time to move on and catch up with technology. I wanted autofocus Zeiss glass and a good full frame camera to use them on. Due to licensing restrictions, I was not going to find what I was looking for in either Canon or Nikon mount. The only modern solution which met my requirements was to switch to the Sony Alpha system and use the ZA lenses with a native Sony A mount and autofocus. Boy. You have heard the saying, never say never. But, let me tell you. After the switch and seeing results that clearly show why the Zeiss glass is so coveted, I find it hard to imagine ever going go back. The 50 ZA is weather sealed gem which focuses extremely fast, renders beautiful bokeh and is built like a tank. The 50 ZA sits nicely in your hand when attached to a DSLR or a small mirror less camera with the Sony LA-EA4 adapter. It is comfortable to hold and easy to focus when switching to manual focus. It is a true example of getting what you paid for. It has become my most used lens and it has yet to let me down. It is wonderful for street photography, snap shots landscapes and just about anything else you can think of. It even makes a great paper weight when it sits on my desk.

You have to ask yourself why this lens is overlooked by so many. Is it because it is for a Sony? Is it big or small? Is it too expensive? There are many thing s to bring up about this lens in conversation but you rarely read or hear about it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that only Nikon and Canon are at the top. Sony is on a steam roller squashing the competition with innovation and advances in sensor technology that is defining the photography of tomorrow. Their alliance with Zeiss was a brilliant strategy that was successful in converting me from Nikon to Sony and the 50 ZA is just one of the reasons I have not even thought of turning back.

You can see much more from the 50 and other great Zeiss or Sony lenses on www.ZeissImages.com or www.SonyAlphaImages.com . But, to give you a sampling of its capabilities, here are just a few examples from this wonderful lens used on my A99 and A6000

The Annex Bar in downtown Portland. Hand held A99 and 50 ZA at f4 and ISO 800

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For a much larger image to view follow this link.

http://zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1395985868.SEQ.0.jpg

I met this gent outside of the rescue center near Burnside in Portland. He was very friendly, polite and did not mind me snapping a few pictures. For the most part, It looked like an average photo to me. However, when I started processing in Light Room and magnifying certain sections for a bit of pixel peeping is when I started seeing the detail and was taken by surprise by what I saw. Here is a full frame capture again at f4.

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What you really need to look at now is a tighter crop of the face and the detail. The amount of detail in the lips and eyes is amazing. Follow this link for yourself and wee what this lens can do.

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This was just outside of Escape from New York Pizza in the NW District of Portland. A little roughed up from a street fight the night before, a gracious pose was in order. This was shot at f3.5 and ISO 400 with the A99.

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Follow link for a larger version

http://www.sonyalphaimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1395280407.SEQ.1.jpg

My son staring at a computer monitor in low lighting conditions. ISO 200 at f2 1/15th of a second.

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Larger version here

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Here is one of those typical boring shots that you do just because you had nothing better to do. But this shows a good example of the out of focus areas from this lens. Shot at f2 with the A99.

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And finally a snap shot from the A6000 and the 50 at f2.0

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Larger version here

http://www.zeissimages.com/gallery/4/U4I1401936661.SEQ.2.jpg

 

Jun 022014
 

Zeiss Touit Deals BACK IN STOCK NOW! ACT FAST!

 

See the bundle deal for Sony – The Zeiss 12mm and 32 1.8 for $919!

See the bundle deal for Fuji – The Zeiss 12 and 32 1.8 for $919!

BACK IN STOCK NOW BUT WILL GO FAST!!! 

Both of these lenses are superb and are a steal of a deal at $919 for the set. Deals like this one rarely come around, so if you have been wanting a sweet lens for your Sony or Fuji X, these are both fantastic. But do not wait too long…

The Zeiss 32 1.8 on the Sony A6000 is one hell of a lens (my review here). B&H also has the 12mm Zeiss at a special price as well. Details and direct links below on these new in box lenses!

Click here to see all of the Zeiss Touit Deals at B&H Photo NOW!

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B&H PHOTO IS also advertising this INSANE deal of the two tout lenses, the 32 1.8 and 12 2.8 for Sony or Fuji for $919 TOTAL. That is $800 off the normal price. 

See the bundle deal for Sony

See the bundle deal for Fuji

IN STOCK NOW!

Jun 012014
 

Great buy on Zeiss Touit 32 1.8, Fuji or Sony at B&H!

Just found out that B&H released a slew of Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 lenses for $520! A savings of $200! At $520 tho lens is a bargain. which are showing up in their used department but may be refurbished units. Either way, it is a steal ass these lenses are amazing. The Zeiss 32 1.8 on the Sony A6000 is one hell of a lens (my review here). B&H also hasten 12mm Zeiss at a special price as ell. Details and direct links below:

Click here to see the Zeiss Touit Deals at B&H Photo NOW!

970840

B&H PHOTO IS also advertising this INSANE deal of the two tout lenses, the 32 1.8 and 12 2.8 for Sony or Fuji for $919 TOTAL. That is $800 off the normal price. 

See the bundle deal for Sony

See the bundle deal for Fuji

May 022014
 

Testing the real Zeiss Ikon

By Huss Hardan

Leica and Zeiss-1

Many people lust over the Zeiss Ikon ZM – the sadly recently discontinued 35mm rangefinder made by Cosina. This camera always piqued my curiosity but things went the way they did, and I ended up with a brace of Leica M3s.
Of course, I am always on the look out for a bargain, but my searches always turned up another Zeiss Ikon. The Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35.

This was a ‘real’ Zeiss Ikon rangefinder, in as much as it was built-in Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1950s. An incredibly well made camera, really over-built for its use, with a Zeiss Tessar 45mm f 2.8 lens. The lens hid behind a draw bridge style panel, which allowed it to collapse into the body. A nifty design that is all metal, without rubber or fabric bellows that can be quite delicate.

As luck would have it, my girlfriend’s sister came across one and asked me to test it. I first checked it empty with the back open to see if it worked at all. This is when I discovered that the only shutter speeds that functioned were B and anything higher than 1/50. Which would be fine as I would be using it in daylight. To be fair, every old camera that I have bought has needed a clean/lube/adjust before it worked properly. It is just a matter of age and dried out lubricants. But I digress… I loaded the Zeiss with some expired (but refrigerated) Fuji Pro 160S and gave it a shot…

It took a little getting used to, as advancing the film was performed by a dial on the base. Once that was done you had to cock the shutter with a lever that was separate from the shooting lever/button that is next to the lens. Shutter speeds (B-1/500), aperture settings (2.8-22) and focus (linked rangefinder) are all adjusted using dials on the lens. The camera has a built-in light meter, but it has long since expired so I just estimated based on experience.

The upside to the Zeiss Ikon Contessa – it is nice and compact, really fun to use, and people go nuts when you pull it out. They cannot believe that you are using such an antique! The down side is that I compared it to my Leica M3. I picked the dual stroke version as it was built at about the same time. The M3 really has a ‘modern’ film camera lay out, if you know how to use pretty much any modern 35mm camera, you’ll know how to use an M3. But the most glaring difference is the viewfinder. It is tiny and dark on the Zeiss, with no frame lines. So the composition of many of my shots were a bit off.

The M3 has, still, the best viewfinder I have ever used. If you ever get the chance, you really need to take a peak through one.

Back to the Contessa. I shot the test roll in a day down at the beach, dropped it off at Costco for their one hour develop and scan ($4.86!), loaded the jpegs into Lightroom and what you see is what I got. I adjusted a bit for contrast and exposure but nothing major. The camera did do one bad thing, it apparently scratched a bunch of horizontal lines across the negatives. This is what happens when someone hands you a camera from the 1950s and asks you to check it out!

As always, all comments are welcome as long as they are complimentary..
;)

Best regards
Huss
husshardan.com

Pic 1, local VW Bug with a bit of lens flare at the top

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-1
Pic 2, back side of a performing arts building

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-2
Pic 3, beach scene in Santa Monica, CA

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Pic 4, stairs and sandals, Annenberg Beach House, Santa Monica, CA.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-4

Apr 302014
 

Big and small: in the field with a D800/55mm Otus and an A7r/35mm Summilux

Andrew Paquette

www.paqart.com

My background is as a visual artist, not a photographer. I started out as an editorial artist in New York, then became a comic book artist, a 3D artist in the video game industry, a special effects artist in the feature film business, and then an art director in video games. Throughout my career I have made extensive use of cameras, but only in a utilitarian way. For an illustration I did for Travel & Leisure, I took reference photos with a Polaroid. For an issue of the comic Nightbreed, I used my Nikon 2020 to shoot some friends in my loft, again as reference. For the movie Spider-Man, I used photos taken by one of my colleagues to build part of the 3d New York City set. For my paintings, though I preferred to paint subjects “live”, I sometimes took photos with my D70 for reference. On one painting in particular I had the nagging feeling that if only I’d had a better camera I could have skipped painting it. It turned into a fairly popular poster, but even today I think that a photo of the same scene would have done just as well or even better. Now that I have that better camera, I am fairly sure that is true.

I have read in many places that it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have if you have a good eye for a picture. I would say that if you don’t have a decent eye for what makes a good picture, it won’t matter as much what kind of equipment you use, but it will still make a difference. If you do have some experience making pictures, the equipment can make a huge difference.

At the moment, my two favorite camera/lens combinations are almost exact opposites. One is huge, the other is tiny. On the big end of the spectrum, I love my D800 when paired with the Zeiss 55mm Otus lens. On the small side of things, I am equally pleased with my Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH when mounted on an A7r. The difference between how these two kits handle cannot be understated. The D800 + Otus is so ponderously heavy that I literally injured my hand using it (and even had to go to the doctor as a result). The A7r + Summilux is so tiny that I can carry it in a hip pouch and forget it is there. At face value, one might think that the small setup is the way to go but I have found the images I get out of the D800 + Otus so compelling that I take it out for a walk just as often as I go out with the A7r. I have not put the Otus on the A7r as others have done because for me, the purpose of the A7r is to have something lightweight and discreet. If I’m going to use the Otus, it won’t be discreet no matter what it’s mounted on, so I may as well have the higher frame rate offered by the D800.

When I bought the A7r, I was planning on switching to an all Sony/Leica system so that I could travel more easily with my photography gear. At first, I thought that was how it would work out, but then the Otus was released and I got curious about it. The next thing I knew, I had the Otus and found that it was capable of a wonderful medium format look. The A7r/Summilux would have been a perfect combination to shoot the subject I painted that was mentioned earlier, but the D800 + Otus would have been better for another painting I made shortly thereafter. Despite the extra weight, I found that I wanted to keep the D800 (and all my Zeiss lenses) and the A7r. Now, I use the A7r whenever I travel by plane, have to stay in a hotel, or if my arm is not feeling up to walking around with the Otus. Otherwise, I almost always use the Otus. For special occasions, other lenses will get a ride on the D800, but these days I almost always use the Otus.

I should also give a plug for Zacuto viewfinders here. After using the Sony’s vastly superior electronic viewfinder on the A7r, I was too spoiled to be satisfied with the optical viewfinder or live view on the D800. I use the Zacuto Z-finder pro 3x on both cameras now, and hardly ever misfocus as a result. As an added bonus, my exposure is much improved thanks to the Zacuto’s ability to isolate the LCD from exterior light. For the D800, I leave the mounting plate attached to the camera body, then snap on the viewfinder when I need it. For the A7r, I do not attach the mounting plate, but wear the Zacuto on a lanyard around my neck instead, then hold it up to the live view panel when needed.

With all that preamble out-of-the-way, here are some photos. Most were taken in Amsterdam, but several were taken on a recent trip to Geneva with the A7r. See the captions for more detailed information.

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1 The A7r+35mm Leica Summilux ASPH

Carnival ride, Amsterdam. There was a carnival in Dam square a couple weeks ago when I shot this image. The ride was moving so fast that I was amazed I could get any shots at all with the manual focus Summilux, but got several regardless. The real problem was that the seats on this ride spun from the arm they were attached to, meaning that I only occasionally had riders facing the camera.

A7r-01

Breakdancing at Museumplein, Amsterdam. There is a troupe of breakdancers that I have now photographed three times at Museumplein. The first time I shot them on an overcast day with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon, then with a 55mm Zeiss Otus, and here with the 35mm Summilux. Like the carnival ride, I was worried about shooting fast action because of the A7r’s comparatively slow shots per second, but it worked out fine. I didn’t get as many shots as the D800 would have provided, but it was enough to get the exact shots I wanted.

A7r-02

Indian magic trick at Leidseplein, Amsterdam. Although I avoid doing so with my other lenses, I love shooting backlit subjects with the A7r/Summilux combo. It isn’t that I never get decent shots of this type with other lenses, but this combination yields terrific contrast in these situations.

A7r-03

Horse-drawn coach, Amsterdam  I’ve tried several times to get a decent shot of this horse, and finally got it with the A7r. One thing I love about the 35mm Summilux is its ability to provide context to a subject, as in this case by showing the environment around the horse.

A7r-04

Particle beam casing and magnets, CERN, Geneva. My friend, Dr. Richard Breedon, has been associated with one of the experiments at CERN for as long as I’ve known him. Recently he offered me an opportunity to come to Geneva and take some photos. I think he gave me something like two days’ notice, but I’d wanted to do it for quite a while, so I got the plane tickets right away and flew down. Taking pictures at CERN was made difficult by the poor lighting and the bizarre colors almost all the machinery was painted.

A7r-05

Scientist calibrating panel at CERN, Geneva. This was one of a small number of shots I took at CERN that has a human subject in the frame to give a sense of the scale of the beam magnets. This scientist is standing at the base of one of these things, which are about 30 meters in diameter. Like most of the shots taken in this area, I converted it to black and white to get rid of all the brilliant green, red, and yellow painted objects.

A7r-06

Skier at Chamonix. Richard and I drove down to Chamonix the day after photographing CERN, to have a look at the slopes near Mont Blanc. This shot was taken in an ice cave at the top of a perilous cable car ride. From here, it was all downhill. Most of the shots I took in Chamonix were taken with ISO 50, f 16, and 1/4000 shutter speed. This was one of maybe three shots that had more normal settings. I would post some of the others because I like them, but anyone who has ever been to this location will have very similar shots because there are only a few places to take pictures from unless you want to risk life and limb.

A7r-07

Geneva auto show, Geneva. This shot looks pretty bright, but it was an indoor space lit with artificial lights, so it wasn’t that bright. This is where having a 1.4 aperture option comes in extremely handy. At ISO 400 I was able to shoot this at 1/400th of a second. One thing I should mention here is that I avoid shooting the A7r at less than 1/200th of a second to avoid shutter vibration, even if it means a higher ISO than I would normally use. In the 1/60-1/125 range, shutter vibration is noticeable, so I just don’t use those settings at all.

A7r-08

Swan on Lake Geneva. I took about 20 shots of these swans, all in attempt to get one shot of water dripping off their beaks. After thinking I’d missed the shot every time, I found that the first shot got exactly what I wanted.

A7r-09

Pedestrian, Geneva. This was taken after sunset. Streetlights were just coming on and it was starting to get difficult to see. Despite the lack of light, the Summilux delivered a very nice tonal range.

A7r-10

Missing the pocket, Amsterdam. When I spotted this couple walking down the street, I had to get a shot of them. I turned around and snapped about five or six shots before they disappeared into a crowd. I particularly like shooting with the Summilux slightly after sundown because of the rich blue violet shades that permeate images made at that time of night. The same evening I took some other nice shots of boats and lights reflected in the canals. Absolutely gorgeous light.

A7r-11

Roman Road golf course, Wales. I took this on the last day of a conference I attended in Wales. Until that morning, the region had been buried in deep fog that made it almost impossible to shot anything. I was grateful when the sky opened up a little to allow this image to be taken.

A7r-12

2 The D800+55mm Zeiss Otus

Parked cars, Bergen op Zoom. In the Netherlands, it is very common to see trees trimmed like the ones in this image. Coming from the U.S., I think this looks a bit strange, but interesting. In this shot, I like how the shallow depth of field blends all the twigs together in the background, creating a kind of smoky bramble above the cars.

D800-01

Looking and not looking, Amsterdam. To get this shot, I parked myself in front of the violet lamp-post, focused on it, then waited for people to walk by. When I got home, I was fascinated by how sharp the lamp post is. I’m still not used to this quality the Otus has. The Summilux has terrific color and contrast, but the neutral color and outstanding sharpness of the Otus are mesmerizing to look at.

D800-02

Artist, Spui, Amsterdam. This shot looks about as cold as Siberia, but it wasn’t very cold at all, nor has it been all winter. We didn’t even have snow this year. Normally I don’t like to take pictures of paintings unless they are mine, but in this case I liked the large amount of white space interrupted by these couple of spots of intense color.

D800-03

Couple, Museumplein, Amsterdam. This shot, like many other shots taken with the Otus, looks like medium format photography to me. It also reminds me of the colors one finds in color photography from the 1950’s. The people in the Netherlands tend to be tall, and I like how this man looks like a giant in a tiny seat as he eyeballs my camera.

D800-04

Girl with braid, Amsterdam. The primary reason I shot this is because of the colors in this little girl’s clothing. While I think of the Summilux as being particularly good at dealing with blues and yellows, the Otus seems to like pinks and greens more. This may just be my imagination, but it has led me to shooting specific colors with this lens because I think they look better with it.

D800-05

Hands with tiny camera, Amsterdam. Unlike the monster I shot this with, the camera in these hands is barely visible. I had wanted to get a picture of this man because of the complex pattern on his jacket, but he ducked into an alcove, took a picture of a building across the street, then went back the way he’d come. I took this in anticipation of him coming out of the alcove in a moment, but he didn’t do it.

D800-06

Green and red, Haagse Beemden, Netherlands. I may be the only person in the world that likes this photograph of practically nothing, but I really do like it because of the colors. It is just a garbage can and a big red cylindrical building on the edge of a manmade lake, but I like the combination of red and green.

D800-07

Organ, Amsterdam. I have taken a lot of photos of cathedrals, but not as many of the organs, which are usually so high above the ground that it isn’t worth the trouble to shoot them with less than a 100mm lens. This one was lower than most and had great color.

D800-08

Breakdancer, Amsterdam. A problem had with the Zacuto is that the D800 live view screen will go black after the shutter is pressed until the image is finished saving. This meant that as I tried to follow the breakdancers with the camera, I could only frame the first shot by eye, and then the rest (if shot in continuous mode) I had to guess. For this reason, I have decided to use the Zacuto for initial focus when shooting action, but will remove it after it is focused so that I can track the action. For this type of shot, I thought the A7r was easier to use because I didn’t have to deal with the Zacuto getting in the way of the EVF.

D800-09

Skater, Amsterdam. To me, this skater looks almost like a superhero in this shot. I have at least a hundred shots of skaters in this park, but this is easily the most elegant of the group.

D800-10

Intersection, Amsterdam. It almost seems criminal sometimes to turn some of these images to black and white, but in this case I felt it was worth it to enhance the effect of the light falling between buildings on the opposite side of the street, silhouetting the man on the near traffic island.

D800-11

Bubbles, Carnaval celebration. This is another one of those shots that demonstrates how brilliant the Otus typically is. It’s pictures like this that have me wanting to think up some decent staged shots, find some models, then do some deliberate shoots to get a specific composition instead of hoping to find something interesting while walking around town.

D800-12

3 Conclusion

I have a hard time saying that I think either of these kits is better than the other because they are both clearly very capable systems. A funny thing about the handling of them is that while I wish the Otus didn’t weigh so much and was less bulky, using it is in some ways more comfortable than using the A7r. The A7r is easier to carry and less obtrusive, but I feel less in control of making the image than when I am using the Otus. I think this is because of the long throw on the Otus, which allows more fine focusing. With the A7r, I always worry that I’ve tapped the little focusing knuckle ring a little too far or not enough when taking a photo. Since I can tell whether it is in focus or not by using the EVF or Zacuto viewfinder, it is a silly concern to have, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling more confident when shooting the Otus. Having said all that, when selecting images for this article, I initially had almost twice as many Summilux shots as Otus shots as candidates. Is this because I unconsciously favor the Summilux? I wouldn’t know.

AP

Apr 172014
 

Looking Back to the Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar Day

By Zaki Jaihutan

Dear Steve and Brandon, thanks for providing the opportunity to share my nostalgic moment with the beautiful Zeiss ZM 50mm sonnar f1.5 or the Sonnar.

Not long ago I traded my Sonnar (together with one other lens) with the legenday leica 50mm summilux ASPH. I’ve been wanting to get my hand on the Lux for quite some time, it has its own strong rendition different to that of the Sonnar (perhaps “slight”, but it’s there).

I am not going to provide you with comparison between the two lenses. Not only that I dislike technical comparison (though I admit this type of comparison has its own use), but I also like to see a lens for what it is, its overall feel, its drawing if you like, how the lens work with my camera and myself. I am not good in giving objective explanation about this and prefer picture to do the talking. My acquisition of the Lux is a pure aesthetic choice (not to mention the opportunity to obtain the Lux at a very acceptable price), and while I am happy with the result I get from the Lux, I cannot say that the Sonnar is inferior to it. I don’t want to sound like I’m defending an ex girlfriend, but the Lux and the Sonnar are simply two different beauties.

When I first venture into the difficult world of rangefinder by purchasing my M9, the Sonnar is my first lens, and it has been my go to lens until I got my 35 lux ASPH about 8 months ago. I choose the Sonnar not just due to price consideration (voigtlander can give you a more acceptable price range with a good quality glass), but from the result of its images, their artistic feel, and….guess what? From the possible problem in using this lens due to its famous “focus-shift” issue. I was a total rookie in the rangefinder world (which I still am, mine you I started using leica M9 for only around two and a half years  ), and I thought, gee, why not challenge myself more? It just sounds cool, using tricky lens to get a certain artistic look.

Believe it or not, I don’t find any focus shift issue. Most pictures I took are spot on where I want them to be. Perhaps its me that is less critical? Maybe the objects I choose do not reveal this issue (smaller object might show this perhaps, e.g. pencil points or something like that?). I remember someone said somewhere in the web that he did not get any focus shift issue, and someone responded that is impossible!!! Well, maybe my lens, or my camera, was already adjusted …or maybe, someone had skillfully painted a different lens and put the mark ZM sonnar to the lens in order to fool me. Maybe, mabe and maybe.

Anyway, looking back at what I can get from the Sonnar, its imperfection which add up to its artistic look, its “drawing” as many people like to call it, I feel a bit nostalgic and would like to share what the Sonnar has done to my worldview. I realize many samples are already there, but I guess additional view to enjoy are always fun. Perhaps this can reignite interest to this classic lens (and an option to consider for those who like to get a good quality 50mm glass with their M, but finds it hard to justify purchasing the uber expensive Lux). All of these were taken with either the M9 or the new M. Most of them can also be seen at my flickr site at HYPERLINK “http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaihutan/” http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaihutan/

See if you can feel its unique soft way of blending the subject into soft focus, and find it adorable. Enjoy.

With kind regards,
Zaki Jaihutan

Sonnar-2

Sonnar-3

Sonnar-4

Sonnar-5

Sonnar-1

Sonnar-10

Sonnar-8

Sonnar-7

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