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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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS EASY!

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. 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.

So all I ask is that if you found the 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 – Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google + or YouTube. ;)

I thank you ALL!

Nov 212013
 

Shooting the legend: Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 with Leica m Monochrom

By Dierk Topp

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom

This lens fascinates me since it was announced in the late sixties in a version as a fixed lens in a Zeiss Ikon body. And some time ago I bought this very special lens with Leica M mount and used it on the Leica M Monocrome. It is a Contax G lens, converted to Leica M mount. The price for one of the few original Hologon 15mm/8 lenses are about 17.000$ (if you find one). My price was less than 3.000€, still a lot but it is for a very special lens.

If you are interested, you may find some interesting information on this site:

http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/nikon/nikkoresources/RF-Nikkor/Contax_RF/Zeiss-Hologon/index4.htm

The lens has a fixed aperture of f/8 and uses a ND center filter against the severe vignetting making it an effective fixed f/16!

Due to its almost symmetrical construction it has near zero distortion and superior DOF at f/8 and it is ideal for architecture and images for great DOF. The severe color/magenta shift is no problem on the MM.

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8

If you are interested, I would like to prepare some explaining text and and as many images, as you want.

My Hologon album is here on flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157636630037335/

and I append a few images, to show, what I am talking about :-)

regards

Dierk

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom with center filter

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom, ND center filter

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom, ND center filter

Oct 312013
 

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My 1st look wrap up of the Sony A7 and A7r cameras!

NOTE: All images posted here are JPEGS from the cameras, NOT RAW. 

Hello to all and good morning on this spooky Halloween day. I decided to take the morning off from this Sony event (off-road driving) because I am so backed up on work as well as tired and in need of a refresh. So I have a few hours free this morning to catch up on work, doing some tests that have been requested and charging my internal battery.

An OOC Jpeg with the A7r – 55 1.4 Otus

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Over the past few days I have been writing and showing samples from the new Sony A7 cameras. This will be my final wrap up on my 1st look of them from using these bad boys all week. To catch up you can see parts 1-3 below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I have also stated that this is basically a first hands on look, and NOT a full review. When I get a review sample at home I will do a full review of the cameras. (As for all of the requests..there is simply no way to get them all done during this week as every minute of every day is jammed packed but I will be posting my first look wrap up and opinion on my experience with the new camera so far).

Sony A7r and Zeiss Otus

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Auto Focus, Lenses and more…

So are these the dream cameras many of us have waited years  for? Is it the “RX1 with IC lenses” that many of us wanted? Is it a Leica M replacement for a fraction of the cost? Well, that remains to be seen but the camera is not perfect (no camera really is) and its biggest issue right now is native lens availability. At launch we have the Kit Zoom 24-70, a 35 2.8 and a 55 1.8 (a couple of weeks later). The 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 are superb lenses. Lightweight and sharp as can be. BUT in low light, with either of these cameras, these lenses can hunt for AF which has always been a Sony thing it seems. It’s not “bad” and you CAN get the cameras to AF in really low light, it is just there me be a time when the camera hunts and misses if shooting in low light conditions.

The Sony 55 1.8 at 1.8 on the A7 – OOC JPEG

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Sony 55 1.8 on the A7 – ISO 6400

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55 1.8 on the A7

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If you have at least SOME light then you are good to go but I can state right now that these Sony’s will not win AF speed awards with either of these cameras. Keep in mind, my reference is the Olympus E-M1 as I have found this camera to be the fastest to AF of any I have ever used, period. The Sony’s in comparison to that reference are nearly as fast in daylight but in low light they drop to about 50% as fast. I noticed this last night when shooting Ben Folds at the historic Ryman Theater using the 55 1.8 and A mount 70-400. There were a couple of occasions where it would hunt for AF due to the lights being so low.

In other words..FAST AF in daylight. Slower AF in low light. This goes for both the A7 and A7r. 

Ben Folds with the 55 1.8 and A7

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Using the 70-400 A mount lens with Adapter at 400mm, ISO 6400 and I accidentally had my camera set for -2 EV comp!

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The 55 once again..during soundcheck

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Before you read any further, take a look at the video I made for the A7 cameras comparing them side by side, taking a listen to the shutter sound of each and sharing my verbal thoughts about using the cameras.

The 1st Look Video on the A7 and A7r

The Build

The build of the A7 and A7r are fantastic. I have had no issues with this and while to me, the OM-D E-M1 feels slightly better made, I am not sure this is really the case. Both are built nice though the E-M1 may feel better in my hand. I am comparing it to the E-M1 as I have that camera with me on this trip and just held both side by side.

Same size, both feel great but the Oly is a little more “slick” in its design.

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The A7 and A7r are weather sealed as well so should not be an issue in the rain if you need to grab some shots while it is coming down.

As for the differences in build, the A7r has better made dials but in use you really do not notice this. Both feel the same to me in the hand as well as look the same. To me the build feels like a beefed up NEX-7.

No issues there.

The 55 1.8 on the A7 at 1.8 – Country Music legend Porter Wagner’s old suit and guitar displayed at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, TN

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General Use

In use the A7 and A7r are just fine. Menus are easy to navigate as they use the Alpha menu system and NOT the NEX menu system. To those who were saying it has the NEX Menu system available, it DOES NOT. End of story.

After setting up the camera to your own preferences it is simple as pie to use.

Exposure:

Some who are with me that have been using the camera have been saying they were having overexposure issues. Well, I have not had any when using most lenses..until I was shooting with the 55 1.8. Then I noticed the camera was over exposing just a little and I had to dial it down with some negative exposure compensation. When using the manual lenses I had no issues so not sure if this is a firmware thing or a lens thing but do know that overall I had no issues with exposure. I am sure that if any bugs are found that Sony will address these before the camera ships in the form of firmware updates.

Other than that, the exposure metering seems solid to me. I know there have been some reports about exposure issues but I have been posting loads of JPEGS..do they look overexposed? :)

Manual Focus:

When shooting any lens in manual focus, even a Sony FE lens, for me it was easy to nail focus without a problem. Some have been saying the focus peaking is not accurate..well..focus peaking is more of an aid, not a sure-fire way for critically manually focusing. I think that many testing the camera now have never really used peaking much, but using it requires some practice as well as making sure to not just rely on the peaking but on the subject in the EVF as well. I kind of mesh both..when the peaking is telling me something is in focus, and shooting wide open at 1.4 or close to it, any slight movement of the focus barrel can knock it out of whack. You have to be precise and peaking is not really precise (nor is it on any camera). Just remember it is an aid to manual focus and does not replace your own eyeball. It can also be turned off if you do not want it. You can also press a button and have instant magnification if you want to critically focus.

For every photo I posted here over the past few days using a manual lens I used peaking without magnification. I had no issues and 98% of my images were in focus. But I have used peaking quite a bit over the past few years so I am used to it and know what to expect from it and what not to.

For those who are not used to it, practice makes perfect and after 2-3 days of shooting using peaking it should not be an issue.

As for manual focusing the Sony FE lenses, I had to switch on MF last night while taking photos in a bar where Sony had us gather for some really low light shooting. Now, the place was DARK and while I could AF on some things I had to MF for others. Manually focusing a Sony lens will automatically bring up magnification when you turn the focus barrel. This makes it foolproof to nail the AF.

So for me, I had no issues with manually focusing any lens and nailing focus. At all. In fact, I found it quite easy..just as easy as manually focusing on the E-M1.

Using Leica M Mount Lenses

The Leica 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4 – Sharp just how I remember it from the M9 days…through a store window at 12AM..Hmmm, I used focus peaking here :) Wide open…and it worked!

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After using these cameras extensively with a variety of Leica M mount glass I can say that if you shoot 35mm and up, there will be no issues on the A7 or A7r with color fringing or magenta edges or focusing. If shooting lenses such as the crazy 12mm Voigtlander or the 15mm or a Zeiss 21 2.8 or Voigtlander 28 f/2 you will see different degrees of either Vignetting or Color issues on the edges.

This also happens on the worlds only other full frame mirrorless camera, the Leica M 240 (and previous M9)

The next few are from the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH, wide open at 1.4 on the A7. I am happy to see that it keeps its signature look. It works just as well on the A7r, was a breeze to manually focus and the color is great, even in these plain old JPEGS from the A7.

EXIF is embedded so be sure to check out the ISO on these :) AND click them for larger versions! THESE ARE ALL JPEGS, NO RAWS YET.

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I am happy to see the 50 Lux retain its quality and look on the new A7 and A7r. For some, an A7r and 50 Lux would be all they would ever need. Throw in a 35 f/1.2 or 35 f2 and then 75 or 90 and you would have a nice little tiny lens kit with a powerhouse camera. Truth be told, I loved  shooting the A7 and A7r with these tiny RF lenses. Not only did it feel good in the hand, they were easy to work with and focus as well as putting out amazing results. Anyone who is saying this lens will not do good on the A7 or A7r do not know how to use them correctly on such a camera (or are trying to knock it down for Leica’s sake).

But back to the wide-angle thing…some of these ultra wides lenses are just not meant to work well with full frame digital bodies. The good news is that if you like B&W you can use the 12, 15 or any ultra wide you like. Just convert to B&W and you will not have problems. :) Lol. But seriously, if you are primarily an ultra wide Leica M lens shooter, you may want to skip these bodies. If you shoot 35mm and up, to me, these two cameras put out better IQ than the Leica M. Quite the fear for Sony so I applaud them for that.

Many of you have asked for a slew of samples on each body with different lenses. First of all, I am not a Leica lens storage cabinet, I only have certain lenses I was able to borrow for this trip (from cameraquest.com) and they are mostly Voigtlander and some Zeiss (which came from lensrentals.com). I have also had zero time until today (only because I skipped the morning trip) to do ANY sort of testing. I can tell you this though…

What I have found is that my favorite lenses on the A7 or A7r have been the Voigtlander 35 1.2 II, the Zeiss 35 Biogon f/2 and  the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH as well as the little tiny Zeiss 50 ZM Planar (amazing colors). All amazingly beautiful in color, sharpness and overall look. I am a huge fan of rangefinder lenses so I am happy to see that the Sony A7 and A7r can use most of them to their full potential without issue. (besides ultra wides).

A friend of mine, Ashwin Rao has a slew of Leica M mount lenses..something like 30 of them or so. If I can get an A7 and A7r to review and take home I will fly to Seattle to test these lenses with Ashwin, one by one, spending a full day or two to do it right. He has lenses ranging from 16mm to 135mm and also ranging from vintage to modern.

THAT would be a cool test. I will let you guys know who have interest in that soon if it will be a reality.

For now though, seeing that I am in a hotel room in Nashville, all I could do is what you see below:

Lens Testing – M Mount from 15 to 50mm

1st set on the A7R

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2nd set on the A7

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a7voigt21

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So there you go. What you see is what you get with each lens on each camera. These are direct from camera JPEG using AWB. Exactly as I expected from shooting them over the last few days. The A7 will give you slightly better performance with ultra wides though none will give you clean files with the 15mm Voigtlander. No full frame camera in digital can. The A7 with all of the lenses besides the 15 look pretty damn good though. As I said, my faves are the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Zeiss 35 f/2 and  the Zeiss 50 f/2 (as well as the 50 lux).

Wrap it up!

There you have it! My 1st look wrap up after using these cameras for the past 4 days. Sony has  created a unique camera with a nice build and feel, a full frame sensor and the ability to not only use their new lenses, but adapted lenses as well (with some exceptions in wide angle M mount) as their older E Mount lenses (which will crop on these cameras, killing the full frame look they are bought for).

I saw a guy yesterday shooting the Nikon 14-24 on the A7R without issues and man oh man was it sharp. So the camera is very versatile when you think about the possibilities of what lenses can be attached to this little guy. There are hundreds of classic RF lenses to try and loads of Canon glass as well. Pretty limitless.

I have not yet been able to test things such as continuous AF speed or full on ISO comparisons but I can say that by using both, I really did see the resolution increase in the 7… but do I need it? Not really. Do I want it? Probably.

Many have been asking me…”Which one do I get”?

To answer that ask yourself if you want powerhouse resolution or huge resolution. Either one delivers plenty of detail and resolution but the A7r takes it up a notch. For Leica users who want to use M glass, I recommend the A7 if you want to shoot with some wide angles (some work fine) and the A7r if you are 35mm and up. It’s that simple. Both excel at low light and high ISO, both feel the same and work the same.

What about the 35 2.8 Zeiss Lens? 

For those wanting more from the new Sony 35 2.8 FE, I have posted samples and thoughts in previous posts but will do more in my  upcoming full review. The 35 is a SUPERB lens and if you want AF it will be tough to find a sharper 35mm for this system. In fact, that would be impossible. It focuses fast, is sharp as you could ever need and it is small.

Below is a full size JPEG from the 35 2.8 at 5.6 on the A7R, Handheld out of my hotel window..click it for full size (saved as a level 8 JPEG)

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A7 or E-M1?

For those asking me if they should buy an A7 or Olympus E-M1, that is not for me  to decide. Best thing to do is read reviews and go from there. As I said a few weeks ago, I will own both and will explain why in a future detailed article because it may cause some commotion :) The E-M1 will focus faster, feels even better in the hand, is more repsonsive and has many more lenses available. BUT it is not full frame, which is what the A7 and A7r are all about.

Also, many have asked about the new RX10 as well, and I have not even touched one yet but will be doing so today for the halloween costume contest Sony is putting on later. Again, it will just be my 1st thoughts, not  a full review.

So with all of that I must leave now to go get ready for the rest of the day ahead of me, this took me a few hours to put together so time to join back up with the group. Will be back home tomorrow evening so looking forward to getting back and resuming my normal schedule!

Happy Halloween!

OH and if you want to order one of the Sony cameras, doing so at my list of links will greatly help me out here on this site. Those tiny commissions I get help to keep this site up and running everytime one of you use my links to buy ANYTHING. CLICK HERE FOR THE SONY a7 PRE ORDER PAGE!

Also, big thanks to Stephen Gandy from Camera Quest once again for letting me use these lenses! His site is HERE. 

Steve

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Oct 302013
 

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Day 3 with the Sony A7 and A7r – Nashville Musicians and Models!

See Day 1 HERE

See Day 2 HERE

NEW: Final 1st look Wrap Up with loads of thoughts, samples and more (Wwas posted AFTER this article you see here)

Just an afternoon update while I have an hour or so to write. Half of the long day os over and this morning I was able to shoot the A7 and A7r in a Nashville Recording Studio to shoot a new up and coming performer, Leah Turner . She put on a GREAT soulful show and sounded amazing. It was such a great experience to shoot inside of a studio while the artist was recording. I have shot artists on stage quite a few times but never in a studio, so I enjoyed it.

We were treated to a small private 3 song concert and were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. Many of you who know me know that I go for the emotion in the shot..waiting until the one moment that shows me something..soul..excitement..passion..love or whatever that may be. So I waited and waited and was able to capture a few that I really liked. I also am not a fan of zooming into the face as I would rather capture the entire scene and what is happening.

I mixed it up with the A7 and A7r and swapped between the Zeiss Otus and Zeiss 35 Zm f/2, which is also quite amazing on the A7 or A7r.

Leah in action with the A7 and 35mm Zeiss f/2 – click for larger. This, as with all of my A7 and A7r samples is a JPEG.

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The next few shots of Leah were shot with the A7r and Zeiss Otus..the monster 55 1.4 in Canon mount. I used the Metabones adapter and seeing that this is a manual focus lens it feels really nice when shooting. 

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After the mini concert we went downstairs to shoot a model who was there waiting for all of us crazy photographers. 

This one is shot with the Sony FE 55 1.8 lens, which is also a gem – A7

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This one was shot with the Otus at 1.4 as was the image after this one. A7r

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and a full size OOC JPEG using the Otus 55 1.4 from Sony along with the A7R – click it for full size. Is this enough detail? Keep in mind, this is an OOC JPEG, the RAW will be even more detailed. 

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Finally we took a walk to another Studio where artist Ben Folds was recording his next album. We kind of surprised him I think and when 47 of us poured into the small studio he seemed a bit overwhelmed but it was awesome to meet a man I have been a fan of for 15 years. In fact, he sings the song “The Luckiest” which happens to be a special song to me and my finacee. I put in a request with him because later on today we get to go to his sound check and then shoot his concert at the Ryman Theater here in Nashville.

Ben Folds testing out the Sony A7 – He is also an avid photographer so he seemed interested in this new camera. He said he has been shooting a Sony RX100 and loves it. 

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This is going to be a great night! More to come tomorrow with pics from Ben’s performance with the A7 and A7r as well as some late night Honky Tonk. Not sure if we will be able to get close to the stage (maybe not) for Ben’s show but either way I will be having a good time.

Tomorrow we will be doing some off road driving as well as partaking in a Halloween costume contest..all being shot. I am hoping to test the RX10 tomorrow!

Steve

Oct 242013
 

Some images from Photo Plus in NYC today. Sony, Zeiss, Leica…

What a day! Whew…

Yesterday I flew out of Sunny AZ at 6am headed to NYC for the Photo Plus show going on this week. When I arrived in NY I did a big “UH OH” because I realized I only brought a light jacket with me, and here I was in NYC in 48 degree weather! The good thing is that it was not THAT cold so I survived a short walk to dinner with some friends and had a great evening. As always, I had a camera with me so for the chilly walk back I snapped a shot or two..

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This morning I woke up later than I expected, around 8:30AM. Had a business phone call at 9 through 9:30 and by the time I headed out to the show it was 10:30.

On my way I had to take a picture of myself in front of B&H Photo, the “Candy Land” for photo and tech geeks!

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I only had a 15 minute walk to the convention center from my hotel, and was cool that B&H is one block from my hotel. Makes it too easy to spend money though!

As I walked I snapped a few shots with a fisheye that I have been playing around with…

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When I arrived to Photo Plus I saw a few familiar faces and made my way to pick up my press pass.

I ended up walking around and it seemed every few steps someone who knew me would walk up to me to chat! Was so cool to meet so many readers of this site today, all were super nice and wonderful people.

I eventually found my way to the most crowded section of the show (from what I saw) and it was the Sony Booth. They had the A7 and A7r on display, as well as the new RX10 (which is  looking better and better to me the more I mess with it). I even had a chance to borrow a Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar from a woman who was testing some old lenses on the A7. She was kind enough to let me take a shot or two with her lens mounted on the A7.

I snapped a shot of a guy who was chatting with me (a reader here) at 1.5, wide open. Sony would NOT let me put an SD card in the camera (they are saying the camera is still not FINAL in FW, so pre-production) but when I saw the playback it had the full on Zeiss character and was beautiful. I am telling you this..the camera was a breeze to manually focus with this Zeiss ZM lens. No focus shift because you are using Live View, so what you see is what you get.

The OOF transitions were creamy, the color was nice for being indoors with horrible light and I can tell that this camera is going to deliver on IQ, no doubt in my mind at all. After more hands on time with the A7 and A7r I can tell you that yes, the A7r does have metal dials on top where the A7 has plastic. They both feel great and I noticed no difference in feel or build when in my hand. I have a feeling that the a7r is going to be the Godzilla of resolution. A beast.

Shot with the 50 Zeiss Zm Sonnar at 1.5

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So after messing around and chatting with a few folks a woman walks up from Zeiss to show me the new Otus lens. This lens is a statement piece from Zeiss and coming in at $4000. The 55 1.4 design is gorgeous but man, this lens is HUGE (though light).

She wanted me to try it on the A7r and I used the Metabones Adapter to do so. When I looked at the results on the screen..WOWOWOWOWOW. This lens is something the perfectionist will want. Those who want ultimate IQ..this lens will do the trick and seeing that it is a pro manual focus lens (NO AF), it feels REALLY good in use. It is just large.

I HEARD MUMBLINGS…Sony was telling Zeiss..MAKE THIS FOR FE MOUNT! So we shall see. Below is the lens with hood attached and Metabones EF to E mount adapter. I may get to shoot with this lens on the A7r NEXT WEEK and this time, with an SD card in the camera :)

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So as I left Sony I headed toward Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Panasonic. Not much new there. Saw the GX7 but I already reviewed it here. I saw the All weather Nikon 1 which was larger and much more solid than I expected and I saw a few other things around the convention center that were more interesting than what Nikon was offering..

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I stopped by the Olympus booth and they were busy with everyone checking out the E-M1 and even E-P5. I saw quite a few walking around today with OM-D E-M5’s and E-P5’s. The woman above was doing an act for Olympus demoing their wifi smartphone/ipad remote feature. Before I shot this I cracked a joke which was probably not good because she could have lost her concentration :) But she didn’t. Behind here you can see every Olympus Micro 4/3 and 4/3 lens ever made.

The Leica booth had a few gawkers but they were not showing anything new besides their “Glossy Black” D-Lux 6. Yet another refresh of the same old D-Lux 6 which appeared to be slapped together just for the show..I mean, they had to have SOMETHING new right?

They did have this on display…

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I stopped by Fuji as well and took a look at the new X-E2. Looks and feels like an X-E1. Same build. AF seemed faster but not a dramatic difference. The new 23 1.4 was fantastic though.  This is a lens I would buy if I owned a Fuji. Smaller than you think as well.

So after the show I walked back to my room, stopped off at B&H Photo once again and am now laying in my hotel bed writing this update. What I learned today from Photo Plus is that there is MASS interest in the Sony A7 and A7r as well as  the new RX10. Olympus is hot with the E-M1 and Nikon and Canon are still Nikon and Canon with their usual DSLR updates. (yawwwn)

Leica is holding steady with M sales doing very well for them and Panasonic had quite the crowd as well.

So without a doubt, the biggest thing here this year is the Sony A7 and A7r. Sales are STRONG, results are looking AMAZING and the camera is well made, solid and has very fast AF. When something this good comes along, it gets noticed and the people I spoke with today who were giving it a spin all said the same thing..”I pre ordered one already”. They were all happy with the fact that they did.

Remember, starting on the 28th I will have loads of samples and news and videos on the new A7 and A7r and RX10, so bookmark and come back because you will NOT want to miss it.

For those wondering, all photos posted here were shot with an Olympus E-P5.

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I will beheading back to the show tomorrow morning to throw a Voigtlander 12mm on the Sony A7 and A7r and to see what I see on the LCD. Of course, what I see you will see here right after :)

 

Oct 042013
 

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Crazy Comparison Part 2: Fuji X-M1, Leica M 240, Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GX7

Woooooooo! It never fails, ever! Every time I have done a crazy comparison (and I have done many over the years) people get all kinds of bent out of shape. Anyone who knows me or this site will know I do these comparisons FOR FUN. They are real results, posted for all to see but these are cameras that are not even meant to be compared! The X-M1 is the budget Fuji. The GX7 is the top end Panasonic and the Leica..well, we all know what that is.

But it is fun sometimes to put underdogs in a race to see if they can get close to winning. It’s a classic game really. Does anyone not remember the tortoise racing the rabbit in old Saturday Morning cartoons? So to all of you getting all bent out of shape and the Fuji owners feeling like they need to attack and defend, relax. All I am doing is showing real results from all cameras. I was motivated to do this because so many trash Micro 4.3 as a system when they have zero clue about what it is, what it does or the results that can indeed come from it. It’s just as capable as APS-C as i have always said but in many ways MORE SO. Why? Because you will never miss a shot due to dodgy AF. You will have a solid well made machine that inspires you. You will have a selection of some of the best fast primes available. But a camera is a personal choice. We all have different likes, different passions and different opinions.

So as I showed in the 1st test, Micro 4/3 can hang with the big guys, and it appears I ruffled some Fuji feathers with my own opinions on the Fuji build and AF. I have been saying it since the X-Pro 1 launch and it still remains. The Fujis need work to be exceptional. I strongly feel Fuji is working on this and in 2014 we may see something special from them. Then when everyone upgrades and says “Wow, it is so much faster to focus and I never miss a shot“…well, then my honest comments on the current X bodies will prove to be true :) It will happen. Watch and see.

When you own a camera system and are dedicated to it there is something that happens along the way. You forgive it for its shortcomings..you bond with it and you have no idea what other cameras can do because you shoot your camera. I do that with the Leica! I like shooting it so much that I forgive it for its off-color in some lighting, I forgive it for being $7000 and I forgive it for having a slow clunky EVF :) Many feel the way I do about their Fuji or Olympus or Sony or Panasonic as I do about my Leica. But whatever we do, we should never lose track of WHY we use what we use. Because we love it, enjoy it and it makes us want to go out and photograph. Whatever that camera is for you it is the right one :)

In fact, we should not even worry about new cameras or new tech as long as we are happy with our current camera. But we live in a “Disposable Society” where we buy, sell, buy sell and buy and sell. Sites like mine do not help this either! Believe me, I am well aware.

At the same time, many of us love technology. We enjoy using new cameras, testing them, trying out new lenses. It brings us joy as it is apart of our passion. So in many ways it is perfectly fine because we only live once, might as well enjoy it while we can.

What I am getting at is that these comparisons are called “Crazy Comparisons’ for a reason. Have fun with it and take it for what it is, a comparison of mismatched cameras. :)

I will always stand by my word though as I do not lie or make up nonsense for  the sake of it. I report my true feelings so if I say the Fuji bodies feel cheap to me, that is what I mean. If I say the Pansonic GX7 has a cheap feeling dial it is because I feel it does. If I say the Leica is overpriced it means I feel it is. None of this means camera A, B or C is crap. They are all fantastic in their own way.

In any case, enjoy the next set of comparisons which will include a high ISO test and another image shot at f/2 with each camera.

BTW, to those who say I hate Fuji, I do not. The fuji X100 and X100s are some of the best cameras you can get and the X100s focuses as a Fuji should. It is one that Fuji improved and they did a great job. They need to do this in a new X-Pro 2 and X-E2 and then we will be getting somewhere.

HIGH ISO TEST

For this test I am testing ISO as I ALWAYS have for the past 5 years, so those who want to complain about it I suggest you do not even look at the results. 

I test cameras in a real world way, always have, always will. I take a camera and use it as 99% of buyers would. I turn it on and use it. I do not set the metering to match another brand of camera, I use the cameras metering as is. ALL cameras have different ISO discrepancies. ALL of them. What is ISO 1600 on one camera is not really 1600 on another. Just how it is. But when I use say a GX7 I am not trying to set it to meter like a Sony RX1. No, I use it as it is. So this test will be done with each camera metering how  they meter at any given ISO so you see WHAT YOU WILL GET from said camera. Real world. 

So each camera was set to ISO 3200 for this test as that is as high as most of us ever will go and many will not even touch that high of an ISO these days. But for the sake of testing, ISO 3200 sounds good.

With all of that out-of-the-way, let us take a look at three cameras with three different sensor sizes and what to expect from ISO 3200 with each one in a normally lit home environment. Testing high ISO with studio lights is ridiculous. Who shoots high ISO in a studio light environment? No one. Again, real world because with less light we see the true ISO performance when we will really be using high ISO. 

YOU MUST CLICK THEM FOR FULL SIZE and The Olympus E-M1 was delivered just as I was setting up this test so I included it in this ISO test!

Leica M 240 ISO 3200 – f/8

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Fuji X-M1 ISO 3200 – f/8

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Panasonic GX7 ISO 3200 – f/8

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and the Olympus E-M1 which was delivered just as I was setting up this test! – ISO 3200 – f/8

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100% crops to make it easier

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The CLEAR winner at ISO 3200 is the Leica – richness, color, noise..all beats the other three. The Fuji is next in line with a sharp image (all were shot at f/8 on a tripod) and some noise where the Micro 4/3 are still looking good IMO and up there with many APS-C cameras. In print or web size, you would not even see the noise and this is at 3200! Even so, the Leica is VERY far ahead here IMO, as it should be for that kind of premium :)

One more image from RAW test (Olympus E-M1 was not in my hands for this one)

Leica M 240 – 50 Summilux at f/2 – MUST click it to see larger/full size

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Fuji X-M1 – Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 at f/2 – MUST click it to see larger size

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GX7 – Nokton 25 at f/2 – from RAW – resized – MUST click it to see it correctly

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So there you go. You can take a look at the samples and see for yourself. They are all good at producing lovely looking files. :) Me, I prefer the GX7 and M 240 as I find the Fuji to be off color and not as good looking of a file. If this were taken in Studio light, the Fuji would have shined. But in natural light, the other two, to me, do a better job.

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I will leave you with one from the GX7 and 25 0.95 wide open and up at the closest focus distance. Some funky color PP here as well :) 

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Oct 032013
 

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Crazy Comparison! Leica M 240, Fuji X-M1 and Panasonic GX7

Part 1 – static subject

 

Part 2 IS HERE

(Part 2 will be up tomorrow. High ISO and Blind Test)

Goes to show..any camera these days will do the trick :) Below are a few sets of images from three cameras and three equivalent lenses.

1. The Leica M 240 and Leica 50 Summilux ASPH 1.4 Lens – Total Value: $11,000 US dollars. – 50mm true FOV

2. The Fuji X-M1 and Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit Lens – Total Value: $1,600 US Dollars – 50mm equivalent

3. The Panasonic GX7 and Voigtlander 25 0.95 Lens – Total Value – $1,900 US Dollars – 50mm equivalent 

I wanted to see if the less expensive options could even get close to the Leica in overall image quality. I believe that most cameras today can give you superb quality with the right lenses. The three cameras listed here all have a different size sensor, which means the depth of field will be different with each result. From the 1st test below I am listing which image was shot with what camera and lens. You can click on any of the images to see the full size file from RAW. I matched the white balance on all to the same settings during the RAW conversion and I let the cameras meter the scene using their base ISO. My favorite rendering  came from the Leica M and 50 Lux at f/2. On image quality alone though, you will not see a $9,000 US difference here.

That difference in price comes from the fact that it is A: A Leica and Leica cameras are always VERY expensive. 2: It is a rangefinder, and the only digital RF available, and 3: Usability is a WHOLE other thing with the Leica. It’s a fantastic thing. 

My least favorite of the 1st shots came from the Fuji even though there is no lack of sharpness. Something about them just seem off to me and they seem to fall flat a little. I would choose a GX7 or E-M1 with a Voigtlander prime any day of the week over the Fuji and Zeiss 32 Touit. That’s just me, your tastes will vary but shooting the GX7 and Voigtlander was much more enjoyable in all ways to the Fuji set.

All of these were shot on a tripod at base ISO of each camera. You can click each image to download the full size file. These were shot as RAW with white balance adjusted to match (3000). Details are on each image and EXIF has been embedded. I let each camera choose its own exposure metering because that is what you will expect to get from the camera when in real world use. You would not use  the Leica meter in a Fuji camera and vice versa, so what you see is what you get.

1st up, the Leica shots…f/1.4 and then f/2

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Now the Fuji shots..1.8 and then f/2 – Typo on the images, I know the lens is a 32 not a 35.

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and the Panasonic GX7 and Voigtlander set starting at 0.95, then 1.4 and then f/2

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And a 100% crop from all three at f/2 – GX7 is sharpest, then Fuji, then Leica. Color? Leica, then GX7 then Fuji. To me, the IQ champ is Leica and GX7 hands down even though Leica is the least sharp. When looking at the entire image and rendering  this is how I judge things. 

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Many say that Fuji is the new Leica but this is actually far from fact. In fact, Micro 4/3 is more like the new Leica. How so?

When Leica started they were all about SMALL size, SMALL fast prime lenses and fantastic usability. The Fuji X-M1 may be small, but the lenses are not and there is no viewfinder. The Fuji is also the worst of these three when it comes to usability (had 4 mis-focused shots during this test due to the camera not locking on to the right spot, and I told it where to AF). Micro 4/3, specifically the new E-M1 and GX7 are superb with usability, AF, speed, build and feel and they specialize in small size WELL MADE bodies and small size well made fast primes. With the right lenses, these cameras are superb in quality and when shooting with one of those Voigtlander 0.95 lenses you feel like you are shooting an old Leica or similar.

So to me, Micro 4/3 is closer to being the new modern day Leica than Fuji. I see the Fuji X IC Bodies as an immature imitation in looks alone. Maybe in 2-3 more years but today? No. (X100s is a different story). The X-M1 is an odd camera. BAD ergonomics with big lenses on a think tiny body with dodgy AF, no EVF, cheap feel, and other odd ball things going on with it. A departure from the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 for sure, and not sure why. Next to the GX7 set, the X-M1 FEELS like a toy made for a child while the GX7 FEELS like a tool made for a photographer. Sounds harsh but I am telling you my honest opinions after shooting and handling all three of these. Of course the Leica is in another league  when it comes to build and feel as it should be. The Fuji also had the worst color as the pedal in the photo is closest to the Leica and Panasonic. The Fuji is quite a bit off so I am hoping Fuji ups their game in 2014 with something that takes it all 3 steps up.

So what about Leica? They are still around so why even talk about “A new Leica”? Well, unfortunately Leica has priced many out of their cameras and lenses as to where only the hardcore Leica fans and hardcore enthusiasts are buying them. $11,000 is a lot of cash to spend on one camera body and one lens, especially when other full frame cameras can meet or exceed its capabilities. We are all waiting for some sort of Sony announcement of course (as per the rumor sites) and if Sony does release the rumored Full Frame IC camera with Olympus’s 5-Axis IS built in and a killer EVF with the ability to mount and shoot Leica M glass for half price or less of a Leica M..well, what do you think is going to happen?

Well, then maybe we can say “Sony is the new Leica”, and for once, that statement may turn out to be 100% true. We need to wait and see what pans out of these rumors.

I think it is all about vision, creativity and pushing the envelope. Sony is doing this. Olympus is doing this. Leica is not really doing this in 2013. The M is a huge improvement to the M9 of course and I love mine to death but facts are facts, and in 2014 we may be seeing some very huge leaps once again in camera tech and what we get for our money. Of course, it is all about the person behind that camera and in all of this reality, none of these silly tests mean a thing. All of these cameras will create works of art if the person looking through them has the vision to create.

Still, these are always fun to do  and most of you seem to enjoy it :)

So a quick breakdown of comparison #1:

My opinions…

Leica M wins this one for me in IQ and camera build, feel, usability.

GX7 comes in 2nd with great usability, decent build and nice IQ with that Voigtlander lens. Plenty of “Bokeh” for my tastes. I highly recommend the 25 0.95

Fuji X-M1 comes in last for build (feels cheap) and IQ and usability due to no EVF, slow and sometimes inaccurate AF. 

Look for part 2 tomorrow – HIGH ISO and three shots that will be unmarked for you to tell ME which camera took which image. Should be fun :) I expect the Fuji to win high ISO though I will be testing with zero NR.

Part 2 is HERE

My GX7 review should be up next week as well, and then I will be starting to shoot the Olympus E-M1 for 2 weeks before that full review. Stay tuned!

 

Jul 082013
 

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The Sony RX1R Review. Medium Format quality in your pocket. Almost.

Buy the RX1R at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE

Read my RX1 review HERE

Have you ever wondered if technology would get to the point where you could own a camera that fits in a coat pocket or large pants pocket but delivers near digital medium format image quality? Well my friends we are almost there, but in many ways, we have surpassed that..as in..there is BETTER than medium format in a camera that can fit in your coat pocket! Before you scream and attack, read this review in full and let me explain.

The image below is from a 100% crop, resized. RX1R – f/8

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I remember when the Leica M9 hit. Using that camera with a great lens would yield results that looked almost like Medium Format. Now it has happened again, but it’s even better! Yes, Sony came close with the RX1 and now with the RX1R (R stands for RESOLUTION) they have come even closer to giving us a medium format look and feel with the files that come out of this camera. By taking the RX1 and removing the AA filter (Anti Alaising Filter/Low Pass Filter) the results coming out of the camera are crisper, sharper, more detailed and dare I say, have a little more soul than what comes out of a full on MF rig, which at times can look a little sterile if I do say so myself. It’s like the best of both world’s! 35mm and MF.

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BELOW: Click the image below for a MUCH larger and super detailed version. This is a 100% crop! ISO 1000, f/8

The color, the detail, and the fact that this was shot at ISO 1250 and has this much detail is amazing  to me. I also disabled ALL Noise Reduction, so this is what you get without NR! After seeing this I placed my order for the RX1R. Medium format detail without the medium format high ISO noise.

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Now of course the RX1R will not deliver those smooth 40-60MP files like a Medium Format camera can or even a Leica S2 at low ISO  but the images that come out of it can be just as sharp and detailed as some of the MF images I have seen in my day. What makes it better is that it is so small, is easy to take with you and can almost shoot in the dark, UNLIKE Medium Format that poops out at mid to high ISO’s. Yes, Medium Format backs that cost $20-$40k can do magical things at base ISO but by ISO 400 they suck. The RX1R at ISO 400 does not even start to show noise yet.

When Sony met me in San Diego in my hotel (while I was on a mini vacation) and whipped out the new RX1R they were quick to tell me that the difference between it and the RX1 was actually small. They showed me prints from the RX1 and RX1R with 100% crops as well. I saw a difference but it was indeed a smaller one. It was not until I used the RX1R personally that I realized it was a little more than a “small” difference. It is not a huge or large difference but there is indeed quite a difference that I see with the R version of the Sony and it is now even more of a full frame powerhouse camera.

Sony told me that if you shoot RAW and are serious about quality the RX1R will be the one. If you like to shoot JPEG and rarely use RAW then stick with the RX1. They also showed me 100% crops in print showing the Moire from the RX1R and D800E. The RX1R Moire was much better controlled due to software in camera that helps tone it down. Was never an issue for me with what I shot for this review. Did not see it at all. Not even once and it was not like I was trying  to avoid it.

The B&W rendering from this sensor is astonishing. Rich, 3 dimensional and beautiful. I think this is an improvement on the Leica M9 with a 35 cron and even the M 240 with a 35 cron. That’s a bold statement but this is a bold camera.

After seeing this image below I knew I made the right choice in  pre-ordering the new version. Not that the original could not pull this off, as it can, but the R version with the extra detail just gives me  that little bit more “POP”. When you have more detail and sharpness it also gives your resized images a nicer look as well. Also, a camera does not a photographer make but a good camera can indeed give a decent shooter MUCH nicer looking results. The RX1 and RX1R make it easy.

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NOTE: This is just a refresh review! For camera details read my RX1 review 1st!

Before you read on, if you have not already done so, I suggest you read my Sony RX1 review as this review will just be going over the sharpness and detail difference of the new camera vs the old. EVERYTHING ELSE is just the same with the RX1R as it was with the RX1. The ONLY difference is in the detail of the images when shooting RAW, at least that is what I was told direct from Sony. After you read PART 1, read PART 2.

YEP! Sony has managed to do it again but not in a really dramatic or life changing way. As I already stated, this RX1R is just an RX1 without the Alaising filter. This will bring more detail but it can also mean you will run into occasional Moire issues (I have had none during my time with the RX1R). The current trend in digital is to remove this AA filter and cameras like the Ricoh GR, Nikon D800E, Pentax K5IIs and the old Leica M9 and new M 240 all have sensors without the AA filter. Just wanted that to be clear.

Moire has never been an issue for what I shoot so I would always go for the camera without the filter if at all possible. If I were buying a new RX camera today I would 100% go for the RX1R over the RX1. Yes, the RX1 is AMAZING but The RX1R gives us even “more amazing” in the details. If that is worth it to you, only you can decide of course.

What I will do in the review is to give you guys as many full size images or crops that I can so you can see for yourself what this camera puts out wide open and stopped down. High ISO and low ISO though the ISO performance is the same as the original RX1. The files from the RX1R are at times, jaw droppingly good. Smooth, silky, inanely detailed and with good color as well. Something even my Leica M has trouble with (but not for long when the new FW arrives).

Click the image for a full size from RAW image. The detail at the focus point is amazing and almost Medium Format like.

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It’s true, with one of my favorite cameras ever (RX1) being updated without an AA filter I was pretty excited. To me, this was great news because while the RX1 always gave impressive detail, I always welcome more and with the powerfull full frame 24MP sensor in this guy going without that filter, I was expecting some pretty impressive results. Many say that with the Nikon D800 and D800E the differences are small. Some say that with the RX1 and RX1R you could literally just sharpen up your RX1 images to look identical to the RX1R. Is this true? I will test this later on down on this review to find out but what I can tell you right now is that I have not had this kind of detail come from my RX1. Close, but not quite like this.

Click the image below for the FULL size from RAW file. I never saw this kind of detail, at this level, from my RX1. 

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After using the new RX1R now for a while I can say that I AM NOT disappointed and while it is not a huge or even dramatic difference over the old RX1, to me it is 100% noticeable. Not only in the 100% views and prints but for some reason it appears that there may be more micro contrast because the images I am getting from the “R” seem to pop a little more, just like my old Leica M9 but with GOBS more Dynamic Range. Even when resizing images down to 1800 pixels wide, there is a biting sharpness to the images while still keeping that beautiful smooth look of the RX1. Put this camera in good hands and I am sure amazing things will come from it.

Click this one for a full size 24 MP file

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This one was shot at f/2 to test detail wide open. What you see is an amazingly sharp chair corner with nice detail without being harsh. Also, that amazing smooth Zeiss bokeh is here as well.  You must click the image for large size and 100% crop!

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Another one to show the detail. Click it to check it out, f/2 – wide open.

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Look at the detail! Not even the Leica M9 or M can give this kind of detail, at least that I have seen to date.

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and one more at f/4. 1st the image, then the 100% crop below it

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Using this new RX1R has me drooling for a “RX-M” BODY of the same camera. Imagine that. An RX-M (RX Mirrorless) body that you can swap lenses on. High quality Leica lenses. A true digital CL. Wow. Will it ever happen? Probably not but if Sony did it, and Sony could do it, they would instantly and literally overnight sell truckloads of them just to readers of this site :)

As for the RX1R, I am not sure how many will sell as Sony have sold quite a few RX1’s and selling the old for the new may not be worth it this time around, just to gain some detail. The good thing is that the RX1R is the same price as the RX1. Sony did not go the way of Nikon and others by charging more for something less. How is it something less? Well, they save money by not having to include the AA filter! This improves performance but lower their cost of production. They should not increase the price! Maybe they will lower the cost of the original to $2495 :) Or Maybe they won’t. I think they should because I think from this point on, most will go with the RX1R over the RX1 when buying new. At $2798 it is $400 less than a Nikon D800E body only yet matches the D800E output easily due to the matched Zeiss lens. A D800E and high quality 35 Zeiss will set you back almost $5000 and be 5X the weight and size. I know I prefer the output of the RX1R over the D800 and Zeiss 35 1.4 I tested a while ago.

Lemons!

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NICE!

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Crisp and clean..evan at f/2. I even had an ND filter on for this one.

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The RX1 and RX1R in B&W. It’s a beautiful thing.

I have shot the Leica Monochrom, the $7000 dedicated B&W camera for months and month and the only B&W that I have seen that rivals it for sharpness, detail, tonality and richness is the RX1R. The RX1 as well but the RX1R being sharper than the RX1 does indeed show and it now reaches Leica Mono territory in that regard. The tones are different…more black and more white than the Greys of the MM but still, I LOVE the B&W output of the RX1/RX1R. Deep and rich, as it should be. I attribute much of that to the Zeiss lens which has great contrast and pop as well as sharpness.

LOW LIGHT B&W TIP: Try setting your RX1 or RX1R in JPEG Mode, then High Contrast B&W, then shoot in at ISO 6400-12,500. You may be surprised at what you see.

Below are a few B&W images that were converted to B&W after the fact but still, amazing detail and richness in these. No one can deny this. Click them for larger and better looking versions.

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High ISO – Still rocking it! Same as the RX1 but even crisper detail.

I know I sound a little excited but I always get like this when a product comes around that is simply awesome. Sony is just rocking the digital world IMO. In fact, not many can come close in digital 35mm mirrorless land to what the RX1R can do. Not Fuji, Not Olympus, Not Anyone. In fact, between this and a medium format rig that cost $30k + I would take the RX1R because I can fit it in my coat pocket, take it anywhere, shoot in full sun or super low light. I can go to ISO 50 or ISO 25,600. I have the amazing sensor and Zeiss lens all in one. I may not have 40-60 megapixels but in all reality, the majority of us who shoot, and who read this website do not need 40-60 MP. For me, I am happy with 18-24 MP and always will be. The D800E matches the RX1R and can take other lenses with faster AF but it is also more expensive and MUCH MUCH larger and heavier. I would leave it at home 90% of the time and the Sony would go with me 100% of the time.

The Leica M 240 with a Zeiss 35mm Biogon f/2 lens can get there but it is much more expensive, does not have the high ISO performance of the RX1R and can not focus as close as the RX1R (0.7 meters vs 0.2 meters). I will have this full comparison below in this review BTW.

Yes my friends, This camera means business and even Medium Format could not have taken the next ISO 4000 image you will see below. Not because it is some amazing shot, it is just a snapshot, but look how good the quality is at ISO 4000, f/2, shot blindly yet the camera focused quickly and fired the shot.

I had noise reduction off 100% but the detail in the 100% image is staggering. ZERO noise reduction here.

HIGH ISO TIP: Turn off ALL noise reduction in camera to keep your detail at higher ISO. If you do not, you will get mushy results from the in camera Noise Reduction and the results will look not so good when shooting low light and high ISO. 

ISO 4000, f/2, Zero NR, color right from camera

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ISO 4000, f/2 – click it to see how it retains sharpness where I focuses – his eye. Zero NR.

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ISO 6400, ZERO NR – Click it for full size OOC file

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An OOC JPEG in High Contrast B&W at ISO 12,800 – raw and high contrast

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*The Sony RX1 vs the Sony RX1R vs the Leica M 240 and Zeiss 35 Biogon

Below is a 4 camera comparison. The Sony RX1, Sony RX1R, Leica M 240 with 35 Zeiss Biogon and just for fun, and Olympus E-P5 with 17 1.8 at f/8. All lenses were shot on a tripod at f/8 and base ISO. These images are from RAW with a 100% crop of each file.

Comparison #1: Detail

What do I see in the 1st detail comparison? The RX1R has the most detail in the 1st detail comparison followed by the RX1 and then followed by the Leica M and Zeiss combo. Last place, as expected is the Olympus. Winner for detail, Sony RX1R.

You must click the image below to see the 100% crops and detail.

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Comparison #2 – Overall Bokeh and Color Test

 These tests were more of a for fun test to see how the Bokeh would look from the RX1R vs M 240 with Zeiss 35 Biogon, both wide open at f/2:

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and a couple more..which Bokeh do you prefer?

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The Leica combo will run you about $8300. The RX1R will run you $2798 and the E-P5 will run you about $1300-$1400.

More Detail at f/4

This is where the RX1R really shows its resolving power and wins again in the detail department. All were at f/4. Leica M had the Zeiss 35 at f/4. RX1R wins, RX1 2nd, Leica M 3rd place. If detail is your desire, it does not get any better than the RX1R before stepping up to the Nikon D800E, and I have seen side by side crops PRINTED from the RX1R and D800E and the RX1R was every bit the equal of the D800E file. Crazy.

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In the test above the RX1/RX1R wins for color as well.

BTW, I used the EVF for focusing the M 240 to be sure it was exact. I also used the EVF on the RX1 and Olympus. 

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Dynamic Range is HUGE

Of all of the cameras I have shot in recent times the two that have knocked my socks off in regards to Dynamic Range is the Nikon D800 and the Sony RX1. The new RX1R, being the same as the RX1 still has that incredible dynamic range. What does this mean? Well, for one thing it will be tough to blow highlights if you expose properly and if you under expose you can even bring the shot back to life with one slider pull.

Take a look at a shot below that was WAY underexposed. It was a quick grab shot and aiming the camera  up towards the waiter (and the sun) underexposed the scene. Below you will see the out of camera file and then the file I corrected by taking the Exposure and Shadow slider in Adobe Camera Raw and sliding them up. No problem for the RX1 and RX1R files.

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So what is WRONG with the RX1R?

With all of this raving of the RX1R there has to be something wrong with it right? Well, whatever weaknesses the RX1 had, the RX1R will have. For me the RX1R could be improved in some ways, and here is my list for Sony:

1. Add a built in high quality EVF even if you make the camera longer to do so. With this addition it would be the dream camera of many shooters. 

2. Make the AF a little quicker. I think the AF is pretty good but could be quicker as with all mirrorless cameras. 

3. Offer a better grip add on option or if adding an EVF, keep the little thumb grip. As it is now, the accessory grip can not be used with the EVF.

4. Offer a real battery charger in the box. Sony makes one, it should be included.

5. Lower the cost of the accessories a bit. $180 for a hood? Too much. 

6. Create a wide conversion lens, high quality for a 24mm view.

7. Make a beefier battery for longer life.

8. Either make an interchangeable lens version or release an RX-2 with a 50mm f/2 Zeiss.

Other than that the camera is just about perfect IQ wise and I love the controls. The manual aperture ring on the lens, the exposure comp dial on top, the programmable buttons, the solid build, the beautiful lens, astonishing detail and the amazing high ISO capability all rock. I feel the price is in line and well worth it for what you get.

What inspires YOU?

You know, I have been doing this blog for almost 5 years now. Daily updates with one day off per week. I decided to take that one day off (Sunday) and just concentrate on my actual life outside of photography and this website. Over these past 5 years I have handled just about every camera released as well as used them for review or personal evaluation without a review. I have seen file after file and held body after body. You would think that by now I would be so burned out and un-inspired that it would be hard for me to keep all of this going. I mean, it happens from time to time.

But sometimes a camera or lens comes along that even today excites me and inspires me to just go out and shoot. When there is a camera that has me excited to get out of bed at 5Am to get ready for a long drive to find something to take photos of, then I know it is one hell of a camera.

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So which cameras have done that for me? There have been 2-3 in the past 5 years that have done this, and here they are in chronological order:

1. The Leica M9 – This is a camera that may loved and many hated. I loved it because it was the 1st full frame digital Leica M. Using an M6 and M7 for a while had me craving a full frame Leica and while the M8 was nice, the M9 took it to the next level. While it was not perfect, it satisfied my personal needs for 3+ years. It still would be today if it was not for the new M taking its place. The M9 and I had many early morning adventures back in 2009-1010. Just me, my car and my M9. It only let me down 2-3 times when the RF went out of calibration (which sucked) but the images coming from it with my 50mm lens were fantastic. I connected with this one. Now I have that same connection with the M 240. It’s the same experience as the M9 though I prefer the output of the RX1R for the 35mm focal length.

2. The Sony RX1/RX1R – The Sony RX1 surprised the hell out of me. Small size, amazing low light ability, full frame sensor and a superb lens, all in one tiny unit. The RX1 seemed to deliver images that always looked good, even if I screwed up! Now the RX1R with the added detail is just jaw droppingly good in my honest opinion. The RX1R has such amazing depth, soul, and ability that I just can not imagine anyone not being happy or thrilled with it. Sure the AF could be faster but for me it has been fast enough and accurate, which is much more important. The RX1R files are the best digital 35mm files I have ever seen, and in my experience beats the M 240 and D800 all while being a fraction of the size while still retaining the solid metal build. The RX1 and now RX1R have earned a place in my bag. Close focusing is a plus and very cool to have. Shooting this guy while having a night out on the town is special as it even works out at super high ISO.

So those cameras have been the ones that have inspired me the most over the past 5 years. I have loved and adored a few others like the OM-D, Fuji X100, and Nex-7 but the M series and RX series are the ones that connected with me on an emotional level..as in, I did not want to be without them.

This is the out of camera color version of the B&W version above. Skin tones looking good. Click for larger.

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Shooting ONLY one focal length. Does it suck?

I get this question all of the time and while I understand those who want to lug around 6 lenses every day to make sure they do not miss their shot, it is really not necessary. There are MANY ways to see and capture a scene, a portrait and even a moment. The masters mostly shot with a 35 or 50mm and never worried about their 12, 18 or 21 mm lenses. Telephoto lenses have their place with sports or nature but in everyday life who needs a 90 or 200? No one really.

Once you start shooting with ONE focal length, whether that is a 21, 35, 50 or 90 you will start to adapt to that focal length. If you limit yourself you will soon start to “see” in with your eyes the way your lens is seeing through your camera.

For the last year 95% of my images were shot with a 50mm. The year before that most were shot with a 35mm. I never once said “Damn, I wish I had a wider angle or telephoto”..instead, I made it work with what I had. This is good as it makes you think. It makes you work and it can open up new ideas as well. It can also save you money :)

Not everyone can get along with one focal length. I sure can, and have done so many times and while it would be nice to have a 28, 35, 50 and 90 available for a camera like this, shooting just in 35mm can be liberating and fun. So no, it does not suck.

But before buying a camera such as the RX1, RX1r or even Fuji X100s make sure you can get along OK with a 35mm only camera as that is all you will have, unless you are using it as a backup or carry around camera to something else.

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My overall feelings on the Sony RX1R, the bottom line.

If you have been thinking of the RX1, are OK with the cost and have been ready to pull the trigger but hesitating for some reason I will say this about the RX1R.

BUY IT. Then come back here to thank me.

I have shot with almost every camera that has been released over the past 12 years. To date, I have yet to have one in my hand that can meet or exceed what this little RX1R can give me in all areas of operation. I have never seen such rich files with such detail and astonishing dynamic range in the 35mm format. In fact, it is quite incredible. No Leica, No Fuji, No Olympus, No Ricoh, No Canon or Nikon mirroless can do what this guy does. When you counter in that it is pretty damn small yet built very solidly and with heft it is a NO BRAINER.

The Leica M 240 and a 35 Summicron can not really even match what the RX1R does. Incredible. That is a $10k combo (Leica) vs a $2800 combo (RX1R). Of course you do not have a Rangefinder or even a built in viewfinder or the option of other lenses with the RX but man, that output is special. There is also the Sigma DP Merrill but those are only competitive at base ISO, are very slow, built cheaply and not versatile at all. I also prefer the Sony color in the RX1R as well as the B&W of the Sony over the Sigma.

The original RX1 was and is fantastic. My camera of the year 2012.

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The RX1R is a step above when it comes to detail, even when resizing images. Even with JPEGS (even though Sony says you will not really see a difference with JPEG) and for some odd reason I have been getting excellent color from the RX1R but with the RX1 sometimes it is a bit off. Maybe it is just me but the RX1R has been giving me just about everything I have been wanting in a small high quality camera. I am aware of a couple of others testing the camera and saying there is a 1-2% increase in detail. In my experience it is more than that, at least from my RX1 to the loaner RX1R.

If this guy had a built in viewfinder it would be even more amazing. If it had that built in VF and interchangeable lens capability with 2 more lenses that equal the quality of the Zeiss 35 it would be game over. Then it would be my desert island camera. In fact, it may already be my desert island camera! It is that good. No sensor dust, no lenses to buy, forces me to learn by shooting one focal length and getting over limitations, small size, solid build, insanely detailed yet creamy output, high ISO off the chart performance and easy simple operation.

Reliable, glitch free, low light, bright light, wide open or stopped down, this beast performs. The AF could be quicker but all mirrorless cameras have AF that could be better. During my review I had zero AF issue or problems but if I had to nitpick this is where I would say the only weakness of the camera is because it is not DSLR speed. But I can’t complain really. It focused in the day and at night. I ONLY use center point focusing with the RX1 and RX1R and I recommend everyone does.

So while this is an RX1 with the AA filter removed I am thrilled to death that Sony offered this up as an option. It really does take the RX1 to the next level and delivers just enough more to make you say “WOW”. The images I have captured in the past week with this guy have had the effect on me like the original M9 files did 3-4 years ago. But even more so.

While I have an M 240 and RX1, I will be upgrading my RX1 to the RX1R. In fact, my pre order is in. The M for my 50 and 90 and the RX1R for my 35 as it beats a 35 cron on the M from what I have seen. It is also cheaper than the 35 Cron alone by a few hundred dollars. NOt everyone should upgrade though as the RX1 is highly capable as is. It all comes down to what you want and I have been spoiled by many AA filterless cameras, now I am hooked.

If Sony releases this kind of quality in a body only it will be a huge blow to ALL other camera makers with a statement, and a bold one at that.

Kudos and congrats to Sony, the only camera company today that seems to really “Get It” when it comes to what the enthusiasts want. I wish them well and hope they keep on pushing the envelope.

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Where To buy

You can buy the Sony RX1R at B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE. Shipping date is July 26th 2013. I can not imagine anyone being unhappy with this camera purchase. At $2798 it is not cheap but in my opinion, it is well worth the cost for this mighty fine camera that has just been taken up another notch on the detail level. The RX1 is fantastic and the RX1R is as well.

I highly recommend this camera to ANYONE who loves super high quality images in almost any situation. The RX1 and RX1R have never let me down or left me disappointed.

TIP: Make sure you turn on LENS DISTORTION CORRECTION in the menu when you 1st get the camera as it defaults to off for some odd reason!

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Extra: The rumored full frame NEX..will it be good?

If the rumors are true and Sony releases a full frame NEX camera in 2014 I have a feeling what comes out of it will NOT be up to the level of the RX1R UNLESS Sony creates something REALLY high end and unfortunately, expensive. By turning a NEX body into a full frame body Sony has all kinds of challenges to get through. The first one is the fact that your current E-Mount NEX lenses are NOT full frame lenses, not even the Zeiss 24 1.8 They are built and made for an APS-C sized sensor and mount so using a lens like the Zeiss 24 1.8 will not give you a 24 1.8 on a full frame NEX.

To match the level of the RX1R Sony needs super quality Zeiss glass to do the trick. With such a thin body on most NEX cameras, it will indeed be a very tough challenge to get nice quality from a full frame sensor, especially if mounting Leica glass. I have a strong feeling that Sony is working hard on a FF mirror less inter-changeable lens camera and I just hope they create it with the same quality as the RX1 and RX1R in build and performance.

If they release it, and all signs point to a “yes they will”,  do not expect it to be cheap! I fully expect it to be a high end camera with Zeiss lenses in the $2000 range. My guess is that a FF Sony NEX and a HQ Zeiss lens will set us back $4500, still less than half of what a Leica M and one lens would cost. I expect that if this his happening we may just hear an announcement sometime in the next 3 months. But hey, what do I know? Just a guess :)

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Jul 052013
 

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TRY BEFORE YOU BUY! Zeiss Touit Lenses for Fuji X or Sony E Mount!

PopFlash.com has informed me that they are offering a very cool program for the Zeiss Touit line of lenses where you can actually try them out before you buy. In other words, give the lenses a try. If you like them, great! if you do not like them, send them back! This is a great way to see if you like the lenses before committing to buy 100%.

Here are the details from the PopFlash.com website:

“Here is your opportunity to have a hands on experience with the ZEISS TOUIT LENSES for Fuji X Mount or Sony E Mount. You will be billed for security purposes, then shipped the tryout lenses of your choice. Upon return, you will be refunded minus the shipping cost. All you pay for is shipping to your destination plus the **shipping cost to return the camera and lenses. If you like the “TRYOUT SET” and decide to purchase any of the lenses, just return the tryout equipment and we can bill and ship brand new Zeiss Touit Lenses of your choice at our current sale price.”

To check it out and read more visit the page at PopFlash.com HERE. You can read my thoughts on the Zeiss lenses for Fuji HERE. That 12mm is a superb lens!

 

Jun 282013
 

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My look at the Zeiss Touit lenses on the Fuji X-E1

Where to buy Zeiss Touit:  PopFlash.com and B&H Photo

PoPflash.com even has a loaner try out program, check it out!

About a week ago Zeiss sent me their two newest lenses for the Fuji X system, which are also available for the Sony NEX camera system. The Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 and the Zeiss Touit 12 2.8. These lenses were highly welcomed to the mirrorless world of Fuji and Sony as it would be two more super high quality lenses for these two systems. With a lack of really HQ lenses for the Sony NEX these Zeiss offerings are pretty exciting to  those who shoot with a NEX body. But these lenses do not come cheap. At $1250 for the ultra wide 12mm f/2.8 and $900 for the 32 f/1.8 these will set you back a pretty penny. So the question is, are they worth the cost?

Fro the moment Zeiss announced these lenses I knew that I would want to try them as soon as they hit the shelves, as I LOVE ZEISS glass! As most of you know, these lenses are not made in Germany by Zeiss but by Cosina in Japan through a partnership with Zeiss. A video was released showing how the Zeiss Touit lenses are hand assembled and they appear that they do a very fine job of putting these lenses together.

Zeiss sent me the new 32 1.8 Touit as well as the 12mm f/2.8 Touit and I was happy to give them a try. I do not own a Fuji X body so I rented an X-E1 for a few weeks and figured I could bring these to the Palouse workshop with me to give them a real workout. But last week I took the camera and lenses out to an old “mock” mining town in Apache Junction, AZ and the sun was nasty and harsh, so I knew that this was nightmare lighting for the Fuji X cameras. One thing I notice with the Fuji X-Trans is that if you give it beautiful light it will reward you with a rich, 3 dimensional file and pleasant colors that are second to none. Feed that sensor some harsh or low light and it will give you flat dull files. Where my OM-D or Leica M would give me good results in almost any light, the one beef I have with the Fuji X-Trans is the flat output most of the time, if you are not in “just right” light.

But maybe that was just a lens thing? Maybe I am just spoiled by Leica lenses and the full frame sensor. Maybe I needed some Zeiss flavor pumped into that little Fuji. I can tell you that after taking the X-E1 to the Palouse with the Zeiss 12mm, the images I am seeing from the combo are very nice. In fact, the 12mm is my fave of the two “Touit” Lenses. But let’s talk about each one.

This review will be short and to the point.

The Zeiss Touit 35 1.8 – $900 for Fuji X or Sony NEX

Buy it at B&H Photo or Amazon

IQ

Well, if you love your Fuji 35 1.4 you will also love the Zeiss Touit 32 1.8. In fact, IQ wise they are very close and in my every day real world shooting, I had a hard time seeing the difference in output between the Zeiss and when I shot the Fuji. The Zeiss focus speed is about the same as the Fuji 35 1.4 and I am not really seeing the “Zeiss Look” here with these as I do with the Zeiss ZM for Leica. I thought I would get that Zeiss pop but I am not seeing it. With the Zeiss 24 1.8 for the Sony NEX I saw rich color and sharp files with some 3D pop but here I see about the same as I was getting from the Fuji 35 1.4. So output is similar but the build and feel of the Zeiss is on another level. Oh, and THE BOKEH IS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT and I feel I prefer the Fuji 35 1.4 in that area.

The Build

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The build and feel of the Zeiss 35 1.8 is top-notch. Feels solid, looks amazing and the focus ring and aperture dial are solid and smooth. The Fuji lens to me felt like a toy..hollow and cheap-ish IN COMPARISON. The Zeiss lens feels like a pro lens and looks nice on the camera. The hood is included and while being plastic, at least they give the hood, which is designed to match the style of the lens. Zeiss went all out on the “attention to detail” thing with these lenses and the 35 1.8 at $900 may be worth it to you just for this alone.

I will leave you below with some images from the 35 1.8 Zeiss on the Fuji X-E1. My feelings on this lens is that it is a gorgeous lens that appears like it will last a lifetime. Great design, solid feel, and in use it is wonderful. AF is no faster than the Fuji 35 1.4 and IQ seems about the same (without going to shooting detailed charts) in real world use so the question is..do you want the Zeiss name and build? Also, the Bokeh from the Fuji may be a little more pleasing. So, is it worth the extra few hundred dollars to spring for this Zeiss just for the build? Only you can answer that one.

As you can see below, some nice window light on your subject and it can look superb. The shot of my dog below is an OOC JPEG shot with the X-E1 and Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit Lens. My little rescue dog was sad the day I had to put my older dog Scrubby down. You can see it in her eyes right here, as if she knew.

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So away I went to give these lenses a try out at Goldfield Ghost Town. It was 109 degrees and Debby and I were walking around sweating after three steps out of the car..yea, it’s a “dry heat”. Whatever :) As we approached the “town” the 1st building you come up on is the Mercantile where you can buy drinks, fudge or touristy gifts. The image below was taken with the 32 1.8 at f/5.6. I use Adobe Camera Raw with Photoshop 6 for all images on this site. It seems camera RAW still has issues processing X-Trans RAW files. When I view a shot at 100% I do not get that crisp look I get from other cameras. Instead I get the odd smearing going on in fine details. 

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Here we can see how good the lens will do in low light. This was shot inside of the old saloon where they have boots hanging from the ceiling. At 1.8 the lens rendered nicely.

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Against a wooden wall I shot this one and then converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

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Wide open at 1.8  – looks good

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The Palouse with the 32 1.8

I then brought this lens with the X-E1 to the Palouse Road Trip, which was a rip roaring success! Everyone had a great time and walked away with some breathtaking shots. The Fuji did well here, as you can see.

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Walking around downtown Palouse

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So bottom line: The Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 is a fantastic lens with superb build and a smooth pro feel. BUT, the Fuji 35 1.4 is optically just as good with slightly smoother bokeh. The Zeiss is $900 and the Fuji is $600.

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The Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 – $1250 for Fuji X or Sony NEX

Where to buy Zeiss Touit:  PopFlash.com and B&H Photo

 

This is cool as it is a ultrawide lens for your Sony or Fuji cameras, and at 12mm you will walk away with an 18mm equivalent, which is WIDE! I loved the Zeiss 12mm as it gave me a field of view I was not used to and for me it was a challenge to fill that frame with anything interesting! As I shot it more, I grew to really enjoy it and if I were to invest in Fuji in the future I would buy this lens without question. Below are some images from the lens and the Fuji X-E1:

Ahhh! The 12mm! It gives us an 18mm field of view and I grabbed a shot from the steps of the building looking up. At 12mm (18mm) you get a VERY wide-angle.  The Zeiss 12mm is a fine lens. 

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Yes you will see some distortion but this is a 12mm lens. Another 12mm lens I love is the Olympus 12mm which is an f/2 lens and TINY. DO I prefer the Zeiss to the Olympus? Well, I feel the Zeiss is the better lens though the Olympus is a much more manageable size.

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Some Alien Skin Exposure on this one…

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The Palouse with the 12mm

I also brought this lens to the Palouse and used it 95% of the  time when I pulled out the Fuji. I feel it did fantastic and added the drama I was looking for. All images below were shot with the 12mm, EXIF is embedded in all images. One thing I can say is that the Zeiss 12mm is SHARP.

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So there ya go, my quick thoughts on the Zeiss Touit lenses for the Fuji X Mount. I like both but really fell more for the 12mm. At $1250 though it is not cheap. Another 12mm lens I enjoy is the Olympus 12mm for Micro 4/3. Much smaller, superb performance and comes in at $799 but that is for Micro 4/3, not an APS-C Fuji :) Overall the Zeiss lenses provide top quality build, feel, smooth use and great performance. While they do not give me the usual Zeiss pop I have seen from Zeiss lenses on Leica or Nikon or Canon, they still give the Fuji flavor of the X-Trans sensor, which many adore.

The thing you have to ask yourself is if you want a solidly made and nice to use lens for your X or NEX and if so, the Ziess Touit lenses should be looked at closely.

Thanks for reading!

Where To Buy?

PopFlash.com and B&H Photo sells the entire line of Zeiss Touit Lenses!

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Jun 122013
 

Reviews coming SOON! Leica X Vario, Zeiss Touit Lenses, Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton and Olympus E-P5

Hello everyone! It has been a rowdy week with all of the Leica news and the new X Vario camera. I know many of us (most of us) were disappointed as we were really hoping for a real “Mini M”. I think the problem was the fact that Leica teased us with the “Mini M” promo but to be fair, they all called the X2 the “Micro M” so we could have read into it any way we wanted to.

 

The Leica X Vario Camera is on the way!

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Now that the dust is settling and we now know that this is indeed the new Leica camera I have one on the way for a full review. B&H Photo is shipping me one today so I can evaluate it for a couple of weeks. Was shipped out today so I should get it within a few days. I will use it, test it and bring it along to Palouse for the workshop coming up on the 21st of the month. I have no doubt it will make for a fine daylight landscape camera, NO DOUBT AT ALL :) I feel the camera will lose its appeal for me when I take it to lower natural light. With that slow zoom, it just does not seem possible to get nice clean shots in low light. But in any case, I have one on the way for review so I am looking forward to it. I remember hating the Nikon V1 specs and then loving the camera so you never know. I will give my 100% honest evaluation of the camera so stay tuned! All site sponsor dealers have them in stock as of today for anyone feeling the zoom love. Those sponsors are always listed on the right side of any page :)

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The NEW Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton Chrome/Brass M Mount

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I am really excited to be getting my very own Chrome Voigtlander 50 1.5 lens from Camera Quest this week! This is the new M mount redesign of the legendary 50 1.5 Nokton screw mount of the past. That old lens competed head on with the Leica Summilux and the new version looks like a classic lens, made of chrome and brass and my guess is that it will be damn good. I am hoping to have mine by the end of the week so when it gets here, expect a 1st look video and snaps with a full review to follow. Camera quest has only a few left in Chrome in their 1st shipment and black is all sold out but if you ask me, Chrome is the way to go as it is limited edition and built just like they used to make them. REAL Brass and Chrome. You can buy one here for shipping this week, but as I said, only a few remain. You can also order a black for shipping in July.

Specs (hey, the lens hood is even included)

Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton Leica M mount Aspherical

M Mount

Close Focus .7 Meter

5 Groups, 6 elements

Filter size 49mm

Length 47.7mm

Diameter 53.8mm

f/1.5 to f/16

Black or Chrome (real chrome on brass)

Notice the smaller 49mm filter size compared to the earlier 50/1.5 Screw mount version. Voigtlander has apparently modified the formula slightly

Lens Hood included

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Zeiss Touit Lenses on the Fuji X

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I have also been shooting the X-E1 with the new Zeiss Touit Lenses and they look and feel FANTASTIC.

The Zeiss lenses are a great addition to the Sony NEX and Fuji X line as they feel like solid pro glass should. Amazing build and feel and while the 32 1.8 is about equal to the Fuji 35 1.4 in IQ and output, the construction is indeed much nicer. But I will have that review up very soon as well.

For those joining Ashwin and I in Palouse I will have all of this gear with me including my M 240 for anyone to take a look at. Should be a blast and I can not wait! PopFlash.com now is a Fuji X Dealer and they also carry the full line of Zeiss Touit lenses.

X-E1 and the 32 1.8 Zeiss Touit with nice window light

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The Zeiss Touit 12mm 2.8 in 111 degree heat in Apache Junction AZ :)

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BTW, I will have the Olympus E-P5 HOPEFULLY before Palouse by may not get that one until I return. Either way, it will have a full review!

May 022013
 

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New Zeiss 12 f/2.8 Touit and 32 f/1.8 Touit lenses for Sony E and Fuji X mounts

You can now pre-order these at B&H Photo HERE

Woohoo! Finally, Zeiss has announced the release of brand new lenses for Sony E-Mount and Fuji X-Mount cameras and I have just gotten the invite to NYC to try them out this month in the flesh. Not sure I can make the event but I am thrilled to see Zeiss release some new lenses for these mirrorless systems, and what they are releasing appears to be very nice. A gorgeous 18mm equivalent wide-angle and a 50mm equivalent, both fast and both ZEISS quality! Mirrorless is maturing quite nicely :)

Touit 1.8-32 on Sony NEX and Fujifilm X

The Zeiss 32mm f/1.8 Lens for Sony E or Fuji X Mount. 

Price: $900

For those that want s super high quality fast 50 for your Sony or Fuji camera, here you go. Zeiss optics and design. Finally, some stellar lenses arrive for these capable cameras. Sure Fuji has their own 35 1.4 but I have a feeling that the Zeiss Touit 32mm 1.8 will surpass it in build, speed and quality. I am excited to review these and Zeiss will be sending me the lens to test SOON (within 2-3 weeks). Can’t wait.

Press blurb:

“The best of two worlds. Just like a 50 mm lens in 35 mm photography, the Touit 1.8/32 offers the same angle of view as the human eye. However, optimised for use with APS-C format sensors, it is simultaneously a lens that is so light and compact that it can be taken along simply anywhere and everywhere you go. Whether you are shooting portraits, landscapes or spontaneous snapshots, you will never cease to be amazed by what a Touit 1.8/32 can tease out of your camera. It is quite simply the ideal companion for capturing perspectives and colour- and lighting moods in perfect pictures.”

Read more about it HERE

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The Zeiss 12mm f/2.8 Touit

Price: $1250

The new 12mm 2.8 will be  a wide-angle for your mirrorless system. Available for your NEX or X, this is another Zeiss option that is VERY welcome in the Sony and Fuji world. This will be like an 18mm lens on your Sony or Fuji body, so a true Ultra Wide. Perfect for architecture or landscape.

Press Blurb:

“With an angle of view of 99 degrees, the Touit 2.8/12 wide-angle lens will soon become a firm favourite, particularly for landscapes and architectural photography. Its unique T* multicoating guarantees maximum transmission and outstanding absorption of extraneous light. The result: breathtaking image quality from edge to edge and corner to corner of the entire image field. What’s more, all moving parts of the Touit 2.8/12, conceived specifically for Sony NEX and Fujifilm X Series cameras, are engineered for extreme precision and a long working life. And finally, its strong and rigid metal bayonet mount makes it an absolutely dependable companion for many years to come.”

Read more about it HERE

Apr 162013
 

Using a simple prop in your photos can make it fun and interesting

“The Glasses” – A start of a new portrait series

Since I had a couple of days free this past weekend I decided to have some fun and goof around at home by taking some silly portraits using an old pair of vintage eyeglasses I found at a local goodwill for $1.  I bought the glasses with the purpose of using them for goofy portraits. When I saw the glasses and had my son’s friend put them on he looked quite odd..like a lunatic. It seemed to change his personality which I found interesting. I snapped his pic and of course we all laughed. Yep, a simple “prop” could not only make a fun photo but maybe, possibly a new series of photos that can give you something creative to think about and create. It sparked a silly idea in my head and gave me something fun to try.

I told my son to put them on and I saw the same thing so I bought them and brought them home. I mean, where else can you get fun like this for $1? Later that night I snapped a photo of my son wearing them while outside at 10PM. I used the light by the door to illuminate his face and set the camera to ISO 1600. With those huge frames he kind of resembles a young Bill Gates, or a geeky inventor.

I then had my buddy put them on and he took a knife and made a menacing face..almost Serial Killer like, so I said “you look like a serial killer”! Then Katie, my soon to be stepdaughter put them on and she became the “pyromaniac”.

After these three shots I decided to keep going with these glasses for the next year and when I meet someone or find someone willing I am going to tell them to put them on for a portrait while they tell me what they feel the glasses make them look and feel like. Should be fun :)

Could an old pair of glasses bring out a personality we never knew existed? Probably not, but possibly. Either way it should be interesting and I look forward to seeing what I can get over the next year :) The images below were shot with the Leica Monochrom but I am not limiting myself to using that camera. Future images may be taken with the M, Sony RX1 or even a Fuji or Olympus but I will keep them all B&W.

If you ever get bored and have nothing to shoot try using a simple prop and see what you can drum up!

For those who are wondering, the 1st two shots were with the 50 Lux ASPH and the 3rd was with the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 at 1.5 and you can see the differences for sure, at least I can. I am loving both lenses but that Sonnar…well..it is rockin’.

The Inventor

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The Serial Killer

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The Pyromaniac

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Apr 112013
 

Zeiss 50 Sonnar on Leica Monochrom

A new look at the Zeiss 50mm C Sonnar T 1.5 Lens

By Steve Huff

Note: all images in this post were shot with the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 ZM lens and the Leica M 240 except one image with the Monochrom (which was noted). You can click them for larger versions. 

A Beautiful Old Friend

It was 4-5 years ago when I wrote a review on the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 Lens, the current model that is still sold by Zeiss for $1200. I originally tested it on the Leica M8 and LOVED it. That old review was hosted on my original website but has since been lost..gone..kaput. So no more old review of the Zeiss Sonnar.

But there’s no need to fear! A review refresher is here! With the new Leica M I have been testing out all kinds of lenses, mainly the 50mm focal length from Leica and Zeiss and I have to say these Zeiss lenses are really beautiful. I recently fell in love with the 50 Planar for its low price and unique signature but remembered the Sonnar from the old M8 days and when I tested it briefly on the Monochrom. The Sonnar is so much different from the Zeiss Planar or Leica Summicron or Leica Summilux that it is worth checking out if you want to make your shots a bit more interesting..or classic..or beautiful. :)

I always embrace “different” :)

The Dynamic Range of the M 240 is superb and mates well with the Sonnar

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The Zeiss Sonnar is an old 1930’s design (designed in 1929 by Dr. Ludwig Bertele) and this lens as it is sold today uses the same optical formula as the 1934 version but with new modern coatings for enhanced contrast. This modern version of the classic lens does indeed have the classic look but it also has the Zeiss colors and 3D pop to go along with it, which can get addicting because when you go back to Leica glass it is just not there. Leica renders the image in a much different way, technically better but different colors, bokeh, sharpness, etc. There is a Leica look and a Zeiss look. Each look has their share of fans.

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It has a 1.5 aperture for shallow depth of field and is beautifully built as well as sexy to look at. Some of the greatest shots by the masters were shot with Sonnar 50mm designs and this design is just as capable today as it was back then. In a day of modern aspherical and APO lenses things can sometimes start to look too perfect, too clinical and too sharp. By going out on a walk with a lens like the Sonnar you will be guaranteed to come back with shots that look much different and unique to what you would get with your normal 50mm lens.

Nice Zeiss color…

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Just a few days ago I revisited the 50 Zeiss Planar, which I adored but even that lens will render a more perfect scene then the Zeiss Sonnar. I argued that it may be wise to own BOTH the Planar and the Sonnar. This way, you get your sharper more perfect look as well as your classic bokeh filled look for just about $2000, or $300 less than a Leica Summicron lens alone :) It’s a win/win.

At $1200 it seems the Sonnar is not cheap but when compared to Leica glass, it is much less expensive in some cases. For example, the Leica Summilux 1.4 comes in at $4000 and yes, the Summilux is the mother of all fast 50’s when it comes to the combo of speed, size, beauty and build. It’s just about the most perfect 50mm lens in existence because it does everything right and never lets you down. The Sonnar is much different because images coming from the Sonnar will not look like what you get from the Summilux ASPH. They will not be perfect, nor modern looking nor will they have the Leica feel.

Part of the beauty of the Sonnar is the flaws and the character that comes along with it. Also, the challenge of shooting it on a digital M body.

Both of these are wide open at 1.5, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

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BEWARE!

It’s true. This is a lens you will either love or hate! It just so happens to be very challenging to use and there has been controversy surrounding it since its release. When it was released, some users thought it was a very soft lens wide open and there were statements about it being so soft it appeared dreamy. That could not be further from the truth. This lens is pretty damn sharp wide open but the key is to get the focus right, and using a rangefinder makes it tough because this lens is usually calibrated for use at f/2.8 which means focusing with your rangefinder at 1.5 will not be accurate and will result in a soft “dreamy” look. It is called “Focus Shift”. Keep in mind that this only affects rangefinder cameras and using the rangefinder focusing patch. If you use this lens on a mirrorless system with live view you will not experience focus shift. 

There are simple ways around this issue if you want accurate focus every time at 1.5 though, and if you like the character of the lens it is worth it to put a few minutes into figuring it out.

If you have a Zeiss sonnar set and optimized for f/2.8, it will take you a few minutes to learn how to use it at f/1.5 to be reliable, just as I have when taking the images you see here. These were all mostly shot at 1.5 and captured in one shot using the Rangefinder of the Leica M 240, not live view. They are all in focus where I intended the camera to focus.

The newest copy I have here came from B&H Photo and it appears to me that it is optimized more for f/2 than 1.5 or 2.8 because I can focus in the RF at 1.5 and get a sharp result but if I turn the focus ring a hair clockwise after I line up the RF patch I get super sharp results as you can see in the shot below:

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In other words, this copy of the lens is sharp wide open when focusing normally but can get REALLy sharp wide open with one little trick. I basically shot this scene above as a test for 6-7 shots and figured out where my perfect focus was when using the rangefinder, which as stated, was a hair to the right after I lined up the patch. What I mean by this is when I focus normally the shot is a teeny bit soft due to focus shift. If I move the focus barrel a teeny bit more to the right after focusing I will get real spot on focus. If I do this every time I will nail focus every time.

Still, paying $1200 for a lens you have to work with to focus accurately may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be worth it because this is one of those lenses some call an “Artists Lens”. The look it gives is unique and super classic. Much like the Noctilux has its own gorgeous signature, the Sonnar has one as well. If it is Bokeh you are after, this lens will give it to you. The image below was a test shot to see Bokeh quality and here it is pretty smooth.

Use it, Learn it, Love It!

This one shot on the Monochrom at ISO 4000 and 1.5

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I have seen some who bought this lens give up on it in frustration because they would focus and get soft results. Some users did not know if it was a problem with their eyes or what but this lens has its share of haters and lovers. I am in the lover camp but let me be honest…there are loads of 50mm choices for your M rangefinder and if you can only have ONE 50mm, I would not recommend this one as an only lens because it does offer such a unique look and you may tire of it after a while. The lens also has a 1 meter close focus limitation where lenses like the Leica 50 Lux let you focus closer t0 0.7 meters.

You can own this as  your only 50, and I know a couple of guys that do, but I feel the 50 Planar or Leica is better as an only one lens solution (which is why I went for both). I am now up to four 50mm lenses but I love my 50’s!

If you learn how to use your Sonnar on your camera it will become quick and easy to focus the way it needs to be focused for sharp results at 1.5, and that is where the magic of the lens happens..wide open.

Leica M 240 and B&W conversion

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In the world of 50mm rangefinder lenses there are many choices from modern Leica perfection to old classic RF lenses from the past like the Canon 50 1.8 LTM (which I also own) and everything in between. The 50mm is a classic focal length and probably the most popular for rangefinder shooters. My #1 recommendation for a 50mm Lens is money is no object is  the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH or new 50 Summicron APO. If money is an object, and for most of us it is, you can still buy a lens or  two that will not hamper you in any way and still give you gorgeous results. Zeiss ZM glass is just one of those options where you get to pay less but still have that special quality that makes  you say “wow” when you nail a special shot.

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The images here were all just test shots around my yard, nothing special at all but it goes to show that a lens like the Sonnar can make things look better than they actually are in some cases. Even a silly shot of some dusty mini blinds (yes, I have now cleaned them after seeing the shot above from my office blinds) have that special Sonnar “look”.

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The Zeiss Sonnar is one of those lenses you buy with your heart. Like I already mentioned, you either love it or you hate it. But for me, it is a lens I will always love and have a soft spot for. I guess you can say this lens has a “romantic” quality, and there is nothing wrong with that because we all need a little romance in our lives every now and then :)

You can buy the Zeiss 50 Sonnar at B&H Photo, PopFlash.com or Amazon!

Apr 092013
 

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A new look at the Zeiss ZM 50mm Planar f/2 Lens

This is not a lens review, just a refresher of a lens I reviewed a few years back. The Zeiss Planar has been with me for a few days via LenRentals.com and I have enjoyed it so much I had to write down some thoughts about using it on the Leica M and MM. Enjoy!

The deal of the century..is that not what many of us are always on the lookout for? Well, the Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 lens for Leica M mount may not be the “Deal of the Century” but it is a slam dunk bang for your hard-earned buck if there ever was one. This little 50mm f/2 lens is SUPERB and I reviewed it a few years back on the Leica M9. It is one of my older reviews so it may not be that long or detailed but it does have plenty of samples that were shot on the M9. The good news? It seems to do just as well on the new generation of Leica cameras and in these days of $4000-$10000 Leica lenses it is refreshing to see an under $900 lens perform just as well as its Leica counterpart.

The Zeiss 50 Planar on the Leica Monochrome – click it for 1600 pixel wide version to see how sharp it is at the focus point (whiskers)

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I remember this lens and ever since that 2009 review period and ever since then I have toyed with the idea of owning it because I remember it gave me those Zeiss colors and Zeiss pop along with the Zeiss 3D depth that the Leica did not give me. I remember the lens being super sharp as well but how will it hold up today on the Leica M 240 and Monochrom? At under $900 how could this lens compete with the legendary Leica 50 Summicron that sells for $2295? Can it? Well yes it does, and it does so very well indeed. In some ways it is better than the Leica 50 Cron (original, not APO) and in others it is not. Well, mainly in one area only, and that is build.

It appears many have had the same question as me: “Which lens should I get? Zeiss ZM 50 Planar or Leica Summicron”? Again, the cron is now $1400 more expensive than the Zeiss Planar and below I will go over how I feel the Zeiss compares with the legendary cron as well as talk a teeny bit about the Zeiss 50 Sonnar C 1.5 as well.

I do not have a 50 Cron here anymore to compare but I have extensive experience with it on film and digital, so I know it well. I know its rendering, its bokeh quality and its build. It is a great lens and a favorite of mine but the Zeiss belongs right up there with it, especially considering the cost. Be sure to click on the images here  to see them larger with more details.

The Zeiss on the Monochrom wide open at f/2

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The Breakdown

Build quality will go to the Leica without question. The Leica, as I said, is legendary. It is a problem free lens and the build has never had any major issues unlike the Zeiss that sometimes can develop “focus slop” over time. The review sample I had years ago had the slop and stickiness and Zeiss sent that one to me direct! It did not affect the focusing performance but it did feel loose and sloppy. The one I am using now is a rental from lensrentals.com and it is perfect in feel and use but build wise, it is lighter than the Leica and you can tell it just is not made as well as the mighty cron. I’d say it is 80% of the Leica build. The Leica also has a built-in slide out hood. The Zeiss hood is an extra $80.

Flare control goes to the Zeiss. I tried to get it to flare and just could not yet the Summicron is known for flare. I never had too many issues with the cron and flare but have experienced it quite a few times last year. The Zeiss is flare free. Period.

The M240 and Planar at f/2

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Sharpness wide open may go to the Summicron but it is close. Sharpness from 2.8 on..the Zeiss is a monster. There is gobs of detail when shooting this lens at f4 to the point that you couldn’t get any sharper.

Bokeh goes to the Zeiss. The Zeiss can get harsh at times but the cron can get harsh more of the time. The Summicron is one lens where you either love or hate the Bokeh. The Zeiss is smoother, creamier and more pleasurable to look at.

M 240 and Planar

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3D Pop/Depth – Zeiss wins in this area.

Color - Zeiss will give you rich saturated colors where the Summicron will render a bit cooler and with less saturation. To some the Zeiss colors may be overkill but they can be toned down if needed. The Zeiss is also more contrasty.

M 240 and 50 Planar at f/2

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Cost - The Zeiss is under $900. The Leica is $2295. Image quality is a little different but I would not classify either as better. You just go with the look you like most but again, $900 for a high quality Zeiss 50 f/2 for your Leica..BRAND NEW? No brainer if you want to save some money. I know how it is after buying a Leica M body..sometimes you have very little left over for a lens.

Resale Value – Leica will always have better resale value with their lenses but if we take a look at resale values of the Zeiss Planar and Leica Summicron 50 (latest non APO version) we can see that the Zeiss is not so bad of a choice when it comes to resale in comparison. I have seen the Zeiss sell for as low as $625, that is $275 less than new. I have seen the 50 cron sell used for $1350-$1500. That is $800 to $950 less than new. You lose less by reselling the Zeiss.

Ive been using this rental for a while and became so tempted to just buy one to add to my 50mm collection. So much so that I just did buy one today. It will be my 4th 50mm so I guess I have a 50mm addiction, lol. It does not give up anything in performance when compared to the Leica equivalent and some will prefer the Zeiss hands down.

Detail and Crops

So how does this lens really do on the M240 or Monochrom? Take a look below at the three shots with 100% crops embedded. You will have to click on them to see the larger views with full 100% crop. BTW, these were all at f/2 but the cat at the bottom from the Mono was at 2.8. Incredible detail here.

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One con with the Zeiss is that there is some distortion if you shoot up close at the minimum focus distance when shooting straight lines. You can see this in the 2nd crop image above with the fly. I do not remember ever seeing this with the Summicron.

What about the C Sonnar 1.5 from Zeiss?

This one is Easy. If you are a 50mm fan then GET BOTH. For $2100, $200 less than the Leica 50 Summicron you can have the Planar and the Sonnar and you will have TWO totally different looks. The Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 is a classic design and your images will have that classic look and feel. Use the Planar when you want sharpness and detail and more “perfection” and use the Sonnar when you want “dreamy and creamy”. I adore both of these lenses and both are gorgeous in their own ways. Here are three shots from the Sonnar using the lovely Leica Monochrom:

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The Sonnar just has a classic look and feel to the images and the Bokeh is much different from the Planar. This one runs about $1200 and is another of my all time favorite 50mm lenses and yes, I caught that butterfly wide open at 1.5  :)

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Zeiss ZM  – Well worth the cost, a true deal. 

I can easily and highly recommend this lens for anyone who shoots with a Leica M8, M9, Monochrom or M 240. It’s a legitimate deal in the world of Leica mount lenses and the lens is a beautiful piece of kit that really does no wrong. It is flare free, easy to focus, has 1/3 aperture click stops, focus dial is smooth (unless you get a sticky one), and from what I hear the service from Zeiss is top-notch if you ever have issues. The Zeiss Planar ZM is a hell of a lens my friends and it will not break the bank when it comes to putting a lens on your Leica M or Zeiss Ikon.

You can buy this lens at B&H Photo HERE. PopFlash also sells it :)

A couple more samples below:

 

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