May 192014
 

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The Voigtlander 75 1.8 VM Heliar Classic Lens Quick Review

By Steve Huff

Lens is available to purchase HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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Testing the 75 1.8 in a real world way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ISO 1250 at f/2

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

My Mother on her Graduation day in May 2014.

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My Nephew in the park

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

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

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

Steve

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

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

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

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Mar 082014
 

User report: My Fuji X-Pro 1

By Liandro Siringoringo

Dear Steve,

First of all, thank you very much for this opportunity Steve, much appreciate, and let’s cut to the chase :D

My name is Liandro and I’m from Indonesia. It’s been a year now, my journey with the X-Pro1, my very first camera and the one that I decided to start to learn with and I must say, it’s a rough, long and windy road. Oh and I bought this camera in Melbourne with a whopping $300 discount by that time so lot of my photos will be around Melbourne.

I started out with loving it (since it’s my first camera) and the hating it because all the flaws. Luckily though, several weeks after that the firmware update came and voila, the focusing got better a notch and it’s enjoyable in some way but still..with the hate feelings lurking just right around the corner.

“In the Afternoon, Melbourne”

In The Afternoon

I shot the photo above and many other photos mainly using spot metering. This one with a voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 @f/8 if I’m not mistaken. The spot metering(which later I change to average) sometimes confuses me as a beginner because it gives me a blown out highlights or just a very dark shadows area and it’s really a learning curve for me.

What made me chose the Fuji is because the layout and handling is so direct. You can see the aperture, shutter speed, exp comp straight away without have to guess which dial control which. And it’s small, even though it’s not as small as other MFT camera, but still.

Without the mirror it really does give us a way to try old lenses which has its own magic.

“Chef’s prep time @GAZI Restaurant, Melbourne”

Chefs Prep Time GAZI Restaurant Melbourne

I took the shot above with an old Fujinon EBC 50mm f/1.4 @f/2 and even though without the focus peaking, I can focus manually just fine and manage to get the chef’s eyes sharp. The EVF really helps and I really love how Fuji came up up with a solution, a Hybrid viewfinder. IMHO, it’s brilliant.

Here are some other shot of the chefs..

“Simon Moss – Owner and Head Chef of Sapore at St. Kilda”

Simon Moss Owner of Sapore

 “Simon Moss trusty right hand, Chef Dario”

Trusty Right Hand Chef Dario

One thing also, I’m not to knowledgeable in data processing and technical stuff about camera but the RAW files from Fuji is pretty cool. The range that you can play with (if you got the exposure right or slightly right) is very broad. You can save some blown highlight at some point like I did on the image below

 “Playing with fire, Literally”

Playing with fire literally

I got the exposure wrong on the image above but I can save it somehow even though it’s not perfect but it’ll do for me.

Later on I change my metering to average and follow some of the setting for the RAW files such as, color -2, highlight -2, shadow -2, from a discussion with my friend’s experience and from the Fuji forum. It really helps us with the handling of the RAW files.

Oh, The average metering really helps me to get a good exposure for my architectural photos and others but then again this is not scientific, it’s just my personal experience.

“HQ, Bandung, Indonesia”

HQ_Bandung-Indonesia

“Inception”

Inception

 “To The Other Side”

To The Other Side

Love the weight of it and the size, it makes you just want to go out with it everyday.

“Eternal Beauty” (One of my personal project)

Eternal Beauty

Hmm..Until now it’s still a love-hate relationship with my X-Pro1 and it’s still an on-going learning of photography (which probably never ends) for me. There are a lot of things I would like to suggest to Fuji to change and improve but I think others already covered it up. Well I hope you guys and Steve enjoy my user report. It might not be technical but it’s my experience gradually understanding the system and changing the setting through out my learning curve.

Oh almost forgot, feel free to visit my Flickr account

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

I am welcome to any critics if that can help me grow to be a better photographer. Along with this goodbye, I want to share the rest of photos I had taken with the X-Pro1

Again, thank you very much Steve for this opportunity, best of luck and stay healthy. God bless

Kind regards,

Liandro N. I. Siringoringo

 

“Grande” Voigt 15mm f/4.5 @8

 Grande

“In Need of Lights” Fujinon EBC 50mm f/1.4 @1.4

In Need of Lights 

“GAME ON!”

 Game On

“Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5″

 Voigtlander 15mm

“White Converse”

 White Converse

“Stacked Rectangles”

Stacked Rectangles 

“Sheets of Paper”

 Sheets of Paper

“Holmesglen Share House, Melbourne”

Holmesglen Share House 

“Every Girl’s Dream”

 Every Girl Dream

“Bold”

 Bold

“Framing”

 Framing

“Quiet Time”

Quiet Time 

“Le French Connection”

Le French Connection

Feb 072014
 

The Voigtlander Ultron 40 f/2 SL II

by Julien Hautcoeur

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

Voigtlander-9

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Voigtlander-1

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

Voigtlander-3

Voigtlander-2

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

Voigtlander-4

Voigtlander-5

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

Voigtlander-8

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

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

Thank you

Regards,

Julien Hautcoeur 

http://bustitawayphotography.com

https://www.facebook.com/BustItAwayPhotography

http://bustitaway.tumblr.com/

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

Feb 042014
 

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

by Steven Norquist

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

Why is this?

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

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

This lens almost never works on digital cameras!

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

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

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

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

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

I decided to find out.

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

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

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

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

The two main issues are:

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

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

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

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

Ok here we go.

The Magenta Test

Parameters of test:

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

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

 

Magenta Corners Test Sample 1

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Magenta Corners Test Sample 2

02_Magenta

Conclusion:

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

The Corner Blur Test

Parameters of test:

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

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

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

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

Hyperfocal Test 1

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Left Corner 100% crop

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Right Corner 100% crop

03_Hyperfocal_Right Lower Corner

 

Hyperfocal Test 2

01_Hyperfocal_F5.6

Left corner crop

01_Hyperfocal_Left Lower Corner

Right corner crop

01_Hyperfocal_Right Lower Corner

 

Infinity Test

01_Infinity_F5.6

Upper Left Corner 100% crop

01_Infinity_Left Upper Corner

Upper Right Corner 100% crop

01_Infinity_Right Upper Corner

Lower Left Corner 100% crop

01_Infinity_Left Lower Corner

Lower Right Corner 100% crop

01_Infinity_Right Lower Corner

 

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Final thoughts:

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

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

My V1 was dying long before the A7!

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

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

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Jan 072014
 

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

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

The manual focus Voigtlander 58 1.4 on the Nikon Df

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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DSC_2032

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

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

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

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

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)

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

I thank you ALL!

Oct 232013
 

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A quick follow up…the Olympus Pen E-P5. What a beauty!

With all of the chatter on the A7 and A7r as well as the Olympus E-M1 some of us have forgotten about the other Mighty Mirrorless that IMO, beats the Panasonic GX7 in most areas (besides the handy built-in EVF). I recently reviewed the Olympus E-M1, the 1st Micro 4/3 Pro camera ever, and as you could read and see, I loved it. I also reviewed the Panasonic GX7 and declared it the 2nd best Micro 4/3 camera next to the E-M1. Well, I take that back after I have done more shooting with the Olympus E-P5!

Not only is the AF faster than the GX7, the build is better and the design even sexier and I much prefer the color coming from the Olympus E-P5 (which is also different from what comes from the E-M1). The images I am getting are also sharper than the GX7 and due to the VF4, it is a BREEZE to manually focus Leica M mount lenses (not so on the small GX7 finder). I have never officially reviewed the E-P5, though I did do a 1st look video for it a few months ago. You can see it HERE.

I ended up not doing a full review as I found it was close to the OM-D E-M5, but even better in the tech department with some enhancements and improvements. Even so, it is not as easy to hold as the E-M1 or E-M5 but after using it more and more I can state that the 17 1.8 performs like a champ with the P5 as well, just like the E-M1. This camera is about good looks, fast performance and versatility. If Olympus made this exact camera with the EVF-4 built on the back left side it would be nearly perfect. The external is fantastically good but does add a bug hump as well as take away from the sleek design. In Silver, this camera is a thing of beauty with a solid heft to it as well.

Below are a few images I shot today with the E-P5. I have the E-M1 here as well and was curious if there was a difference in IQ between them. From what I see, there is not.

The first two images were shot with the Voigtlander 35 1.2 M mount lens using a cheap adapter.

My dog at ISO 1600. Yes, ISO 1600. From RAW, Zero noise reduction. Low light indoors. Click it for larger. Shot at f/1.2

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35 1.2 at 1.2 – My oh so patient Fiancee doing yet another test shot for me :) Again, with the EVF-4 this camera is a breeze to manually focus. 

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This one was shot with the 45 1.8 and is my cat looking out of the back door at my dog, who was outside with me :)

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Me, getting ready for Halloween in my evil clown mask. This one has had some PP using Alien Skin and a Radial Blur filter. 17 1.8

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Ok..maybe she was getting fed up :) This one with the 25 0.95 Nokton at 0.95 – This lens is NOT soft at 0.95 anymore. Try it on the P5 or M1.

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Super sharp at f 1.2 using the Voigtlander – and the Olympus color..THIS is from an OOC JPEG in Vivid mode!

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A NY city scene from my Hotel window

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I will be shooting with the E-P5 for a while along with some various lenses including some M mount lenses to see how it goes. Should be fun.

You can order the E-P5 at Amazon or B&H Photo. It gets my vote for best PEN camera ever, and 2nd best Micro 4/3 ever. The Voigtlander lenses can be seen HERE.

Steve

Sep 242013
 

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The Voigtlander 35 1.4 SC Nokton Classic on the Leica M 240

If you are looking for a fast 35mm but do not have a few grand to spare for a Leica Summilux 35 1.4 then there is good news, and there is bad news.

The GOOD news:

You can get a brand new lens, with warranty that is a 35mm f/1.4 full frame lens for your Leica M and it works quite good on the M 240. All for $600. 

The BAD news:

It is nothing like the new 35 Summilux ASPH FLE as it is a CLASSIC style of lens, soft wide open, flares and is low contrast with heavy vignetting at 1.4. Also has barrel distortion and slight focus shift. Pretty much the opposite of the Leica.

More GOOD news:

For double the cost of the 35 1.4 SC you can buy Voigtlanders EXCELLENT 35 1.2 II ASPH lens which gives the $5000 Summilux a run for its money. 

Classic Bokeh but even at 1.4 it is sharp, though not bitingly sharp like the 35 Lux ASPH FLE. But should it be at 1/10th the cost?

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So depending on what you want in a lens this could either be a dream or a nightmare :) This is a NOKTON “Classic” and I have reviewed the Multi Coated (MC) version many years ago on the Leica M9. Back then I found distortion, a little bit of a dull rendering and I do remember enjoying it and loving the size. But a Summilux it is not.

It actually is not far off from the look of the old classic Summilux 1.4 but without as much “glow” wide open and a little softer wide open. The Voigtlander lenses always seem to have less Microcontrast than the Leica counterparts which IMO, gives off a duller look. But to most, this is not even noticeable. To me, it is because it is my job to notice these things. But even being in the same ballpark as the old classic 35 Summilux Pre ASPH is impressive.  Why is that? The old Summilux sells for $1800-$3000 depending on condition so at $629, this Voigtlander, no matter how you look at it, is a deal. A fast 35 1.4 lens for your Leica M for $629. For that kind of cash I am in no way expecting a masterpiece but I am expecting a decent lens that will give me a classic and nice/pleasing rendering.

Wide open I find the rendering to be very pleasing and I feel that the Single Coated is the version to get in this lens. I love the way it handles highlights. 

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I can not stress this enough. DO NOT buy this lens if you want anything resembling a modern Leica 35 1.4 lens as you will not get that. But if you are someone who enjoys checking out older Leica M glass from the 50′s and 60′s and like that classic style, this could be a lens you LOVE because it give you some of that old classic flavor in a newly made, newly built lens with warranty.

So how does the lens do on the M 240? Pretty damn nice! Click any image in this review to make them larger and better!

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Lately I have been using the Sony RX1R for my 35mm needs but have always been interested in, or should I say “curious” about the Voigtlander SC (Single Coated) version of this lens. I actually am one who adores a classic rendering, a soft glow, and a little bit of flare. I mean, it is an OPTION for when you want something different. The last Leica M lens from Voigtlander that I reviewed was the wonderful 50 Nokton Classic. It is a new lens and it a very good lens, well worth the $900 it costs. Not far off from the pre-asph Summilux 50 1.4. In fact, it may be just about the same. That lens is a  beauty with its only real weakness being the barrel distortion. I guess you can not have perfection at these price points when it comes to Leica M glass. But check out the way the 35 1.4 SC renders a simple tissue box :)

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This 35 1.4 Single Coated Nokton classic performs just as it says in the title. CLASSIC. As you can see in the tissue box image above, it renders in a soft gentle non analytical way with soft colors. At the same time, it does have some pop. I snapped the quick shot below at ISO 3200 on the M as she made a face at me. The images do have some depth, and also check out the soft glowing flare from the left side which is light from a window in the kitchen. This is what the Single Coating will give you.

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I have read a few reviews of this lens online from those who own it and use it and others from those who just picked one up for review. Usually those who own it really like it and others hate it. This is a lens you must use for a while, get to know and then take advantage of its shortcomings. Learn how to shoot to exploit the qualities of the lens and you can walk away with some beautiful shots.

The Build of the Lens

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The lens is built very nice and it is also very SMALL. It feels much like an old classic 35mm lens and is on par size wise with the old Leica 35 1.4 Summilux pre-asph. The 35 Lux ASPH of today is large and long (in Leica standards) but the old one is a beautiful little gem size wise.

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This little Voigtlander is superb in build and feel. Solid, nice aperture clicks and attractive as well. It feels a little more solid than the last Leica 35 Summarit 2.5 I owned, which sells for almost 4X the cost of this lens and is a stop slower at f/2.5. The Leica is sharper, gives better colors, has better micro contrast and Bokeh quality but it is an f/2.5 lens for almost $2000. This little Voigtlander renders in a totally different way and offers its own character but will not match the Leica for technical testing (shooting charts and MTF readings). Think of the Leica 35 Summarit 2.5 as being a more crisper and perfect lens and the Voigtlander has having more character.

But build wise, I have no complaints on this little guy. It is solid, just as solid in build as the nearly $2000 Leica 35 Summarit 2.5.

The Voigtlander 35 1.4 at 1.4 inside a restaraunt with my buddy Mike. 

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Bokeh Wide Open – click image to see sharpness on the focus pint (iPad Mini)

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At f2 indoors, .7 meter focus distance

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Bokeh once again, wide open. You will either love it or hate it!

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Distortion and Focus Shift?

As I reported in the 35 1.4 MC lens review on the M9 many years ago, this lens does have some barrel distortion. To my eye and my memory this is also the weakness of the Leica 35 Summarit. Barrel Distortion. If you are shooting straight lines up close, you will see the distortion so yes, this lens has it. If you want a lens with much less or no real visible distortion go to a Leica 35 Summicron or Zeiss 35 f.2 Biogon or even the Zeiss 2.8.  The Voigtlander has some but in 95% of your photos you will never really notice it, unless you are a perfectionist of course. But what you WILL see if you shoot wide open is the heavy vignetting going on. When shot at 1.4 it is pretty extreme, when stopped down it is not so offending.

See below for a distortion and vignette sample. 

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Focus Shift?

It seems that every review I have read on this lens speaks of “focus shift”. I never noticed it much because I normally shoot these kinds of lenses wide open because that is where the character lies in rangefinder lenses. But I decided to do a focus shift test on the M 240. Results are below using the rangefinder  to focus each shot. If I use Live View then there would be zero focus shift as this happens when using the rangefinder. These were shot on the RF. So let us see how bad it really is and if it really exists. If you click the image below you will see the test image with 5 crops at different apertures. Camera was stable and on a table and did not move during the test. To my eyes, f/2 is the sharpest and there does seem to be a slight focus shift at 2.8 and f/4. Would you see this in real world shooting? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on your own personal tolerance for this sort of thing.

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Bottom Line Concluision on the Voigtlander 35 1.4 SC Lens

With all of this talk about SOFT, FLARE, DISTORTION and CLASSIC you may be scared off by this lens but do not let that scare you. In fact, this lens can still give you nice images on an M 240. You will get distortion, you will get vignetting and  the lens is not as sharp as the Leica counterparts. The contrast is lower and the flare is there, but this is why this lens is called CLASSIC and why it is SINGLE COATED. Some who shoot Leica pefer these characteristics in a lens to gove their photographs a vintage vibe. Me, I like it but do not love it. I feel it vignettes too heavily for my tastes when shot at 1.4, but I can still see using it as a cheap 35mm for my Leica. If I want better I have to step up to a larger Zeiss or more Expensive Leica 35 Summarit, Summicron or Summilux.

This lens and the $7000 Leica M 240 will NOT beat the $2800 Sony RX1 in anything but classic character :)

If you have $600 to burn on a 35mm and enjoy a classic look, you may just like this lens. :)

Where To Buy?

You can buy this little guy at Cameraquest.com or B&H Photo who also sells the lens.

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PLEASE Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

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Sep 142013
 

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Coming Soon: Voigtlander Nokton 35 1.4 SC Classic on the M 240

Coming soon, my review of the $630 Voigtlander 35 1.4 SC (Single Coated) on the Leica M 240. I recently just picked up this lens from CameraQuest.com and I am pleasantly surprised. While it is nothing like a 35 Lux ASPH FLE, it is a classical, smooth and interesting lens for sure. At 1/10th the cost of a Leica Lux (new) this Voigtlander could be the 35 some of you have been looking for, though some will not be a fan of the classic draw.

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So look for this review soon on the M, which I still love BTW :)

Here are a couple of snaps I took today for fun with the 35 1.4 SC and M 240:

Wide open, minimum focus at .7 meters

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ISO 3200 – f/1.4

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Again, at 1.4

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Focus is spot on using the RF so I will be shooting with this guy for the next couple of weeks and then will post my thoughts. I reviewed the MC version years ago on the M9 and that can be seen here. To those looking for perfection, then this is not your lens. For those looking for Character and old school charm, this just might be it :) The price is right and the build and feel is superb.

1.4 Bokeh from the SC

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You can check out this lens at Cameraquest.com . I am a fan of the SC because it will give a little bit of a softer less contrasty look, will give a little flare and behave more like an old classic Leica lens.

Sep 142013
 

What lenses I would buy with the new Olympus E-M1

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With the new (now a #1 best seller on Amazon) E-M1 scheduled to hit the shops in about 2-3 weeks I have been getting asked repeatedly “what lenses should I buy with it”. Well, buying a lens is almost like buying underwear. It’s all personal preference, lol. But even so, there are some superb lenses for this system and in case you did not know it, yes, you can use Panasonic lenses made for Micro 4/3 on a Olympus Micro 4/3 body and vice versa.

In the mirrorless world some of my favorite lenses come from Micro 4/3. Below is a list (and some alternatives) of what I would buy if I were diving fresh into Micro 4/3 with the new E-M1 camera, which I predict will be the best Micro 4/3 to date in all areas but looks (GX7 or a PEN  takes that prize).

The Camera

The new Olympus E-M1 is a big deal in the Micro 4/3 world as it is the 1st “Pro” body that is weather proof and freeze proof. It is blazing fast, has the worlds best Image Stabilization IN BODY and has eliminated the AA filter. The build, feel and performance are quite amazing. You can order the camera at Amazon or B&H Photo or PopFlash.com and I expect this one to be a big seller because even while pricey at $1399, it is much cheaper than other alternatives. In other words, this is priced right for what you are getting in my opinion.

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Wide Angle

My fave: The fast aperture of f/2 allows the Olympus 12mm f/2 to shoot in lower light while getting sharp and colorful images. The 12mm is a premium lens for the Micro 4/3 system giving you a 24mm equivalent.

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There are a few GREAt wide-angle choices but depending on how wide and how fast you want to go will decide what to get.

**The best bang for the buck will be in blue bold text!**

**My favorite will be in RED text!**

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Olympus 12mm f/2A beautiful little lens and a favorite of mine even though I find it a little on the pricey side today with so much competition. GORGEOUS in the all black edition (which is no longer sold) this lens offers AF speed that is FAST, focus accuracy and a fast f/2 aperture along with close focusing and nice manual focusing features. It is small, light and looks the part. The key word is SMALL. :) A 24mm equivalent t in focal length.

Panasonic 14 f/2.5 - Smaller and flatter than the 12mm and just about as good image quality wise. It is not as fast to AF (but still super fast) and it is not as slick as the 12mm but it is MUCH cheaper at $340 or so. Almost $400 less than the Olympus. You lose a half of a stop going from f/2 to f/2.5 as well as 2mm but you save cash while getting a fantastic lens. A 28mm equivalent. 

Olympus 9-18 Zoom - This is a wide-angle little jewel. I have not yet reviewed it (but will be VERY soon on the E-M1) but have tried it and if you want versatility with an effective focal range of 18-36 this is your guy. Sharp, great color and while slow in the aperture department many of us will not need a fast aperture for this focal length. This lens sells for $699. Review SOON.

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My Fave: The Voigtlander 25 f/0.95 is a large, heavy and powerful lens on Micro 4/3. If you love your shallow DOF but want sharpness and great color, this is it. Just be prepared for manual focus only! Should do very well on the E-M1 with the huge EVF. 

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New Olympus 12-40 – The new super pro zoom by Olympus could end up being my new fave. No, I am not usually a zoom guy but this one is special. Superb quality, superfast AF and a semi fast f/2.8 aperture. Expensive but should be worth it to those who like zooms with a constant f/2.8 aperture. Weather proof as well and will kick the 12-50 to the curb. $999. Review SOON.

Panasonic 20 1.7 IIA powerhouse pancake with a small design. Not the fastest to AF but it has become a legend for its size, price and output. You can not go wrong with this lens, period. Review is HERE.

Panasonic 25 1.4 - Another legendary favorite for Micro 4/3. This one is deliciously good but around $500 or so and it is larger and noisier to AF than the 20. Gives you a little more magic over the 20 so up to you if the expense and size is worth it. This is also a fave of mine but the “bang for the buck” goes to the 20 1.7II. My review is HERE.

Voigtlander 17 or 25 0.95These are beasts. Heavy, Large and of HIGH quality build. All manual and much like shooting an old (or new) Leica lens in feel. Sharp at 0.95 and with a fantastic character and Bokeh. I love the 17.5 and 25 but if pressed with only owing one 25 (50mm equiv) I would go for the 25 f/0.95 or the 25 1.4 from Panasonic. These are around $1000 so they are the most expensive. When you hold one you will wonder why they are not $1500 :)

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Want Some reach?

The Voigtlander 42.5 at f/0.95 is beautiful. :) 

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Olympus 45 1.8This is almost a MUST own. A 90mm equivalent and coming it at around $349 this lens is so worth it that if you own a nice Micro 4/3 camera and do not own this lens you should really reconsider that thought. Fantastic in every way. For me, limited use as I am not a 90mm guy but for those who are, this one rocks. Priced right. My review of this lens is HERE.

Voigtlander 42.5Another Voigtlander masterpiece! The 42.5 gives us an 85mm f/0.95 equivalent. Amazing sharp lens and you can see my review HERE. Not cheap but fills out the Voigtlander trinity of lenses for Micro 4/3 which gives us a 35, 50 and now 85mm, all f/0.95! Top quality here guys. You can buy this from CameraQuest HERE.

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More? How about a Telephoto!

The 75 1.8 will give you a 150mm equivalent so if you are shy, and want to keep some distance, this lens will let you do it.

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Olympus 75 1.8 – Ahhhhhh, one of the best pieces of glass in the Micro 4/3 lineup, period. This lens is a masterpiece but long at 150mm (equivalent). Still, this is one of those special lenses and it feels, looks and performs like a million bucks. In black it is super sexy as well. Not very large or heavy but just right with fast AF as well. Bravo Olympus. My review is HERE.

Panasonic 35-100 This is in the high quality premo line for Panasonic and it does not come cheap but from what I hear, it is a great high quality tele option. $1500!

Panasonic 100-300The budget telephoto with some serious power and high quality. Many swear by this guy, and if you want REACH…as in 600mm equivalent, this is the best $600 you can spend on your Micro 4/3 for a native lens. 

Olympus 40-150This $149 lens can not be beat for the price. It is a bit lightweight in the build but delivers good performance across the 40-150 range giving you an 80-300 equivalent. $149 at B&H Photo. 

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Specialty Lenses – Macro and Fisheye

The E-M5 and Panasonic 8mm Fisheye – GREAT special effect lens. But make sure to GET CLOSE!

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Panasonic 8mm Fisheye – I have shot with the cheap manual focus Rokinon fisheye and the quality Panasonic 8mm fisheye and I LOVED the 8mm from Panasonic the most. It feels nice, build is superb as is performance. This is a great special effect lens for occasional up close use. I love it. You can see my review HERE. Amazon sells this beauty via PRIME.

The Olympus 60 Macro is AMAZING. Highly recommended for Macro lovers. 

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The Olympus 60mm Macro - Probably the best Macro lens I have personally used or tested. Superb lens. $499 at Amazon. My full review is HERE.

 

Sep 082013
 

New Zealand – East Cape Revisited

By Jason Howe – His website is HERE

Sometimes “real life” has to take precedence over photography and I’ve just experienced one such period. Having gone a few months without touching a camera I decided to brush off the cobwebs and take a trip out to the isolated East Cape of New Zealand. This is really one of the most beautiful regions of the North Island, relatively unspoilt, in parts like time is frozen. I first visited the East Cape last year on a road trip with my son’s, you can see those images HERE.

Despite knowing full well that keeping things simple and travelling light is the best way to go I found myself in a bit of a predicament. I had lenses that had arrived over the last couple of months that I hadn’t used and I was obviously very keen to try them out. So, I packed as much as I could, I wouldn’t carry everything all the time but at least I’d get to try the glass out on various bodies.

Therefore my bag looked like this -

Leica M9

Leica MM

Leica M6

21mm Voigtlander Ultron f/1.8 Asph

35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1

50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

90mm Summicron f/2 III (1984)

There really was quite a lot to go at here, the 21mm and 50mm VC are obviously both fairly recent releases, I’d not taken them out of the house……..the 35mm Summicron v.1 I’ve had for a while but felt I’d not given it adequate camera time. Finally the 90mm I picked up from a friend because I knew it would challenge me and there is nothing wrong with that!

21mm Voigtlander Ultron f/1.8 Asph

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The 21mm Ultron is considerably larger and heavier than its cousin the 15mm Super Wide Heliar f/4.5 which I also own. The truth is, all of the images I took here could quite easily have been captured with that lens. The real benefit of the 21mm Ultron is of course it’s speed, I didn’t really get an opportunity to explore the lens at wider apertures where this would come in to its own, I’ll need to experiment more with that. One real positive was the external finder, these are always a little painful but at least it is reasonably accurate in terms of framing the shot. I don’t have any other 21mm lenses to compare performance against but I found this lens to have excellent sharpness and no determinable distortion.

 

35mm Summicron f/2 (Pre Asph) v.1

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Most of the time I had this lens on my M6, those rolls of Portra 400 and TRI-X 400 are currently away for processing. What I had noticed before with this lens was reitterated once more, it exhibits exceptional sharpness and the transition between the in and out of focus areas is beautifully smooth. Despite it’s age this really could be one of the best 35mm lenses you can buy, the current 35mm Cron Asph is also fantastic, just in a slightly different way.

50mm Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5 Asph

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I had high expectations for this lens, at the risk of sounding like a Voigtlander advertisement their lenses just keep getting better and better, I have plenty of Leica glass but these VC offerings really do represent some serious value for money and that can’t be ignored. This 50/1.5 Asph is no exception, it’s really everything you could want and more in a 50mm lens and when you factor in that price I’d be bold enough to say it’s right up there with the best of them.

 90mm Summicron f/2 III (1984)

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I knew this would be a challenge and I’d have to say it was, focusing was tricky even with the 1.4x magnifier and I have a lot more work to do with this focal length.

I have to say I really did feel a little rusty initially, however by the end of the trip I began to feel like I’d got some of my photographic “mojo” back. I’m now looking forward to spending a couple of weeks in the South Island, just me and my cameras, happy days.

You can read the full post and see more images from my trip on my website HERE.

Cheers, Jason.

 

Aug 282013
 

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The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95  Micro 4/3 Lens Review

By Steve Huff

Thanks to Camera Quest for sending me this lens one day before it was even released so I could review it. 

Ahhhh, super fast 0.95 aperture glass. You gotta love them even if they are built like a tank and heavier than you really want to go with a mirrorless system that is supposed to be all about high quality in a compact package. Yep, Voigtlander has done it again completing a trio of uber fast 0.95 aperture lenses with this new 42.5mm f/0.95 lens. It is large. It is heavy. It is beautiful. Lenses with a fast aperture of f/0.95 used to be unheard of until Leica designed and released their masterpiece Noctilux f/0.95 a few years ago. Ever since there have been a slew of fast f/0.95 and faster lenses released by other manufacturers showing that yes, it can be done and yes, it can be done for less. They may not be 100% of a Leica lens but they are at least 80%, and that right there is a great feat of engineering by these companies.

Voigtlander is one of these who boldly went for it after seeing there was a market for ultra fast glass, especially in the Micro 4/3 format. With the depth of field of a Micro 4/3 sensor being greater than what we get on a full frame sensor, one way to combat that is by using ultra fast aperture lenses. This way, if you like that smooth and creamy “background blown out of focus” look, or “Subject Isolation”, then this lens, and a few others can easily give it to you while still giving you superb quality all the way around.

But today I am speaking of the 42.5mm f/0.95 Micro 4/3 lens from Voigtlander and this lens is not for the faint hearted due to the size, weight and $999 price tag that comes with it.

When I say it is large and heavy, I mean it is large and heavy in comparison to normal Micro 4/3 prime lenses. Lenses like the Olympus 12mm f/2 or 45 1.8. Lenses like the Panasonic 20 1.7II or the 25 1.4 .Yes Ladies and Gentleman, Voigtlander lenses are built-in the style of good old-fashioned Leica Rangefinder lenses. In my book, this is a good thing. No, a GREAT thing. Why? Well, this means you will have a serious thrill when you open that box and see the quality of the build, the feel of the focus ring and solid click of the aperture dial. It is like you went back in time to the 1950′s..a time when lens construction was top-notch. Quality all the way.

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So as a warning to anyone who is thinking of this lens, or the 17.5 f/0.95 or the 25 f/0.95..just know you are getting a seriously built lens for your money :)

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The Image Quality

With that out-of-the-way, how is the image quality of this lens? Many would think at f/0.95, which is wide open, that the lens may be soft at such a wide open aperture. All I know is that my 1st tests with the lens on an Olympus E-P5 shooting at f/0.95 yielded incredibly sharp results at my focus point.

Speaking of focusing, the E-P5 with the focus peaking and VF-4 made it EASY to focus this beast of a lens and speaking of beasts…my 1st test shots were of the local cows :) All wide open at 0.95. Keep in mind I shoot every day, 5-6 days a week reviewing cameras. So to me, finding a bunch of cows who posed for me was exciting..different. Lol. Moooooooo!

YOU MUST click them to see the larger size and to see how sharp this lens can be at the widest aperture. Quite amazing for Micro 4/3.

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If you noticed any noise or grain in the images above it is because I ran them through a VSCO Agfa Scala filter, which added some fine grain. AGFA Scala is a B&W slide film. Even so, if you click on the image above you will see how sharp this lens is when used with the E-P5. Not far off from the LOOK I GET with the Leica M 240 with a Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton even though that is a full frame camera.

The reality is that the cameras made for enthusiasts today are quite exceptional and offer amazing IQ possibilities depending on the lens used. We have DSLR’s, we have small mirrorless solutions like Micro 4/3, we have amazing cameras like the Sony RX1 and many other options (many reviews can be found on these in my “Mirrorless Central” section). It can boggle the brain if you sit and try to figure out what to buy and why to buy and when to buy. Ten years ago the pickings were slim if you wanted amazing quality and when you found it, you had to pay dearly for it. Today, a camera like the $999 Olympus E-P5 performs better than a camera I paid $10,000 for with a couple of lenses back in 2003, the Canon 1Ds (1st version). A camera that was considered a “Holy Grail” by so many back then..yet today..the $999 Olympus E-P5 beats it when used with lenses like these from Voigtlander. The little Olympus beats it in high ISO, speed, and of course, weight. Makes me wonder what we will have in 10 more years. Will it all be phones with high tec cameras and artificial depth of field? Will it be cameras like the Lytro? No one knows but I think some brands will die out and there will still be some around supplying the latest and greatest to the enthusiasts and pros.

Cameras like the Nikon D800E, RX1R, Canon 5D series..are all exceptional when it comes to image quality. They compete head to head with mid scale medium format backs so where do we go from here? Only time will tell but today in August of 2013 what we have to choose from is pretty damn nice.

Wide open, f/0.95 – click it for larger. 

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Walking the Line

As for today..for now..and for right here and right now I am sitting here looking at snapshots I took with this $999 lens and $999 camera body. A $2000 combo and I have to say it is walking a line that used to be reserved for megabuck systems.

The image below was e-mailed to 8 people I know well who are enthusiasts like you and me. The version I emailed had the EXIF stripped and I asked my camera buddies..“what camera took this snapshot? Take a guess”.

Walking the Line – 42.5 at 0.95 – E-P5

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6 of the 8 said “Leica M 240″.  One said “Leica M9″ and one said “OM-D and 45 1.8″

SIX thought I took this image, this basic snapshot of a stray cat walking across a fence with a $7000 Leica body. In the past, even as early as 2009 there was a clearer line between such cameras..today the line is getting rubbed out a bit. Kind of crazy when you think about it because I could spend $4500 on an E-P5 (or new GX7) along with these three amazing super speed Voigtlander lenses:

The 17.5 f/0.95 – This will give you a 35mm equivalent field of view, the preference of many street shooters. The lens is built to a high standard, well above most lenses made for Micro 4/3 or any system besides Leica M. It is heavy, but even at 0.95 it is pretty sharp. Great bokeh, a great look and feel and above all works fantastic on the newer bodies with focus peaking. Just beware of the weight as this will make your Micro 4/3 system larger and heavier. The Olympus 17 1.8 is good but will not give you the same look as this lens so all depends on what you like. I have samples with this lens in my OM-D E-M5 Review.

25 f/0.95 – A classic 50mm field of view. While it will not give you the same depth of field as a 50mm 0.95 on full frame, it will give you the DOF of a 25mm f/0.95 lens because that is exactly what it is. Most importantly you will get that light sucking ability that only a fast 0.95 lens can give you. This one is smaller than the 17.5 and feels pretty nice on the OM-D series or E-P series. Easy to focus with the new VF-4. This is probably my fave of the three due to the 50mm focal length, which is where I am most comfortable. Again, samples can be seen in my original OM-D E-M5 review. 

42.5 f/0.95 – This is the lens that every image on this page was shot with and it will give you the classic 85mm focal length and even more shallow DOF because this is close to a 50mm lens so you will get closer to a 50mm 0.95 Bokeh effect (can anyone say Noctilux)? Beautiful build and feel and for $999, it is a great buy if you like shooting at 85mm/90mm. But it is especially for  those who like BOKEH..and lots of it.

So if you buy or own a Micro 4/3 camera and want lenses that will give your images this effect..in other words,  results that give a “Leica Like” vibe (though it will be a CLASSIC Leica Vibe),  then this is as close as you can get on Micro 4/3.

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Of course I know that just by saying you can get close to the “look and feel” of a Leica M 240 using an E-P5 and these Voigtlander lenses I will probably suffer an attack or two by hardcore Leica users who will mistake what I said for something else. I did not say this was better than any Leica setup with Leica glass. I said you can get close to the look and feel (though some will say equal it and others will say beat it) of a Leica M 240 and certain lenses. :) In fact, these Voigtlander lenses perform much like older classic Leica lenses and is one reason they work so well for B&W.

The Lens comes complete with metal lens hood

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In fact, in the past year alone I have test and used just about EVERY major camera that has been released. The Sony’s, the Fuji’s, the Samsung’s, the Nikon’s, the Ricoh, the Pentax’s, etc. I am in a position to where I get to try it all, and the cool thing is I  tell the truth even when it upsets some readers. I just tell it how it is..MY own experience. I compare cameras and know what I like and what I do not. Contrary to what some believe, no manufacturer “pays me off” to say anything. Camera makers pay no one-off in the blogging/review world because if they did it could hurt them. I pride myself on always telling MY OWN TRUE FEELINGS. That is all. Take it or leave it :)

What I can say is that the newest crop of Micro 4/3 cameras and lenses have been extraordinary. Superb. As good as most will ever need for everything but super fast focus tracking (which some of us need, and some us will never use). So depending on your needs, this system is rocking in 2013. When you add these lenses it takes it up a notch.

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Let us see what happens when we have a Micro 4/3 image, a Leica M 240 image and a Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss image. This is NOT in any way, shape or form anything scientific. In fact, these images were taken on different days, months apart. Same subject. What I want to show here is not sharpness, not detail, not much of anything besides depth of field and color and “pleasing to the eye” results. Of the three, which one suits YOUR tastes the most when it comes to how this scene was rendered? Of course the Olympus has a 2X crop sensor, the Leica is full frame and the Fuji is APS-C, so 1.5 crop.

The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 – wide open.

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The Leica M 240 – 50 Voigtlander Nokton at 1.5

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The Fuji X-E1 with Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 – wide open

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Now of course we have the difference of focal length. With the E-P5 we have the Bokeh of a 42.5mm lens at 0.95 but the field of view of an 85mm lens. With the Leica we have the Bokeh of a 50mm 1.5 lens as it is full frame and what you see is what you get. With the Fuji and Zeiss, we have the Bokeh of a 32mm 1.8 lens and the field of view of around 50mm. To my eyes the most pleasing result was with the Leica and Olympus. I love the Leica as it gives me that 50mm FOV I love. If I had the Voigtlander 25 0.95 it would have been a better comparison but you can not fault that Voigtlander. Smooth, rich and creamy all the way with great out of focus background. The Fuji and Zeiss have a pretty busy background and it really shows what a 0.95 aperture can do for you (with the 2X crop of the E-P5). Yep, Micro 4/3 is no longer crippled by that crop factor.

Subject Separation, 3 Dimensional, Bokeh, Background Blur, Depth of Field…

It’s all about subject separation. Something many Micro 4/3 naysayers used to say was not possible but it is indeed possible with these Voigtlander lenses (and many others) and I am very happy that these options are here for those of us who love these little powerhouse cameras.

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There is a downside though. While you can get a nice 3D feel and subject separation with these lenses on a Micro 4/3body, as I stated earlier they are HEAVY and LARGE. Over time they can get cumbersome and remember, these lenses are manual focus only. No blazing auto focus here :)

If you want small, light and fast AF I highly suggest other lenses like the Panasonic 25 1.4 or the Olympus 45 1.8 or 75 1.8. All fantastic pieces of glass that will give you sharp results and the conveniences of the system. So not everyone will enjoy a lens like this 42.5 0.95.

So who will like this lens? Who will not?

If you come from a Leica background you will love this lens. If you enjoy finely crafted lenses, you will adore this lens. If you love that 0.95 look and want it for your Micro 4/3 system..you will  love this lens and appreciate it. If  you are “old school” you may enjoy this lens. If you like ultra modern crisp renderings with huge depth of field, you will NOT like this lens. If you hate heavy and large, you will NOT like this lens. If you hate manual focus, you will NOT like this lens. If you expect a lens like this to be $300, you are not meant for this lens :)

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The Bottom Line

At the end of the day this lens is a firecracker. Extreme build, heavy weight and able to suck in enough light to your sensor while giving you that 3D feel that many of us crave. It’s sharp wide open and sharp throughout the aperture range. It is a lens that will deliver a different look and if it is what you seek, you will not be disappointed with this lovely lens.

That is about all I can say. These days when I review a lens it is tough because most lenses today are superb. That is why I talk mostly about the character and talk about comparisons with gear that is sometimes much more costly. The truth is that we have never had such a choice and selection in cameras and lenses. I am talking QUALITY choices. The upside is that it seems to be gaining more and more steam, so I expect much more to come.

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Where to Buy the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95

Since CameraQuest sent this out to me before it was even released so I could review it, at no cost to me AND they are the main USA distributor for Voigtlander I would say GO CHECK THEM OUT and if you want this lens, show them some love. Stephen Gandy runs it and he ships FAST. YHe has full stock of this lens and the other Nokton lenses for Micro 4/3.

You can see or buy all of the Micro 4/3 choices HERE. 

Specs of the 42.5:

  • f/.095 to f16 aperture range
  • 11 lens elements in 8 optical groups
  • 10 aperture blades
  • Filter size 58mm
  • Close focus .23 meter
  • Size: length 74.6mm, diameter 64.3mm
  • Lens hood included with lens

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Aug 232013
 

The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 Lens for Micro 4/3 is here! Review SOON!

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Hey guys! Happy Friday! Just a note to let you all know that the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 Lens has arrived for Micro 4/3 and it has been with me since yesterday :) GREAT lens, solid build and feel, HEFT as the 17 and 25 0.95 lenses and insane sharpness, even at 0.95. This lens is gorgeous and one of the nicest I have come across for Micro 4/3 to date. Up there with the other two 0.95 Micro 4/3 offerings, the 17.5 and 25 Nokton lenses. This trio would be astounding with the new Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

I will have a full review of the 42.5 Nokton within 7-10 days!

Thanks to CameraQuest.com for sending it along to me so fast so I could review it. This one may be a keeper. :) You can check it out HERE but stay tuned for the full review!

Quick Specs:

  • f/.095 to f16 aperture range
  • 11 lens elements in 8 optical groups
  • 10 aperture blades
  • Filter size 58mm
  • Close focus .23 meter
  • Size: length 74.6mm, diameter 64.3mm
  • Metal Lens hood included with lens

1st shot, wide open at 0.95 on the E-P5. Click it for an 1800 pixel wide version. This one was converted with the VSCO Slide Pack.  The grain you see was added by the AGFA Scala preset. When I post the full review I will have plenty of full size out of camera shots. 

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and the gorgeous out of camera JPEG color. This is an untouched OOC JPEG, just resized. Click for larger. WIDE OPEN.

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Jun 192013
 

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The Voigtlander 50 1.5 Aspherical VM Lens Review

Man oh man oh man! If you are someone who has been reading this website for the past few months then you know I have been doing refresh reviews on different Leica mount 50mm lenses from old to new to obscure gems from the 50′s. From the Zeiss Planar and Sonnar to the old classic Canon 50 1.8 LTM to the 50 Summicron and Summarit, 50 Summilux ASPH to the crazy Canon 50 0.95 and Canon 50 1.2! Yep,  I love me a good 50mm lens. Can you tell?

The Voigtlander 50 Nokton ASPH VM Lens on the M240 at 1.5

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and one in B&W wide open on the 240

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The 50mm focal length is a very popular choice and that is probably one reason why there are so many 50mm lenses that are in existence. There are so many good choices it is hard to pick just “one” but the good news is there is a stellar 50 for almost any budget or camera system.

For example, the Leica 50 Summicron is a legend..a classic. It has been in production for well over 50 years and even today is considered a gem, and to be honest, it is one of my top 3 lenses for the Leica M 240. It is sharp, contrasty and also has the most extreme 3D separation I have seen in a lens. It is not creamy or dreamy but instead sharp and classic all at the same time. The 50 Summicron is still made today and comes in at $2295 (or less), and honestly, it is all the lens you would ever need with a Leica rangefinder if you want to keep it simple.

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Many go for the 50 Lux ASPH for their Leica due to the cult status but the cron will always perform. No vignetting, no distortion, no focus shift, color that pops, super sharp and classic bokeh, all with fantastic build. The Lux ASPH is $3995, NOT cheap and it will have some CA in certain situations (purple fringing) but it is really the ultimate when it comes to a cost no object 50mm f/1.4 lens design.

Bokeh example at f/1.5

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Even at $2295, the cron is expensive for a 50 f/2 lens. The Zeiss Planar competes with the Leica Summicron head to head and comes in at around $900, and is well worth that cost. While it does not have the build of the cron, or the signature look, it does have its own look with bold Zeiss color that is warm and rich, good sharpness and 3D separation and no focus problems. Made in Japan, the Zeiss ZM line is beautiful and provides great performance for much less than the Leica counterparts.

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But as much as I love most of the  50′s that I have tested there is a new kid on the block from Voigtlander, the new classic inspired 50 1.5 ASPH in Leica M mount, or “VM mount” which is what Voigtlander calls their Leica mount line of lenses and guess what? It is yet another 50mm lens for Leica mount that I just had to test.

Wide Open Character of the 50 Nokton 1.5 ASPH

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Voigtlander have introduced this new lens after discontinuing the old Screw Mount version some time ago. That old lens was well reviewed and liked but it did have a flaw or two. Namely, it was not M mount and needed an adapter to mount to an M camera which is fine, but a full-out M mount would have been ideal.  It also had a minimum focus distance of 0.9 meters instead of the .7 of modern Leica glass. It also had wonky Bokeh at times but overall, for the price, it was a fantastic lens that many raved about as being equal to the Leica 50 Summilux pre-asph.

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With the new version, Voigtlander went back to the 1950′s for the design and created what I feel is one hell of a gorgeous lens in chrome and a pretty handsome one in black. When I saw the images of these lenses I knew I drooled a little and then knew I had to give it a shot, and if I loved it, keep one in chrome as that is a limited edition from Voigtlander and to my eyes and brain, the best looking of the two options.

The focus point is very sharp. Wide open there is only softness in the corners with the Nokton, which goes away by f/2

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Voigtlander has been on a roll lately. They now have the beautiful 35 1.2 II, the worlds fastest 35mm lens, and by that I mean Aperture speed. The 35 1.2 II is a VERY nice lens that renders in a beautiful way. It competes with the Leica 35 Lux but is even faster with a 1.2 vs 1.4 aperture though it is huge for a 35mm lens and does not have the micro contrast of the Leica lens, which is a true masterpiece but damn expensive at $4500. But the size, well, that can be a problem because for some shooters it is too large and bulky for every day use. Well, at least for me.

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I owned the 35 1.2 II and I grew tired of the size rather quickly but when I sold mine and then I missed the unique rendering the lens gave. In fact, I find that most Voigtlander glass gives a similar style of rendering, just as Leica glass and Zeiss glass does. This new 50 keeps that look but brings it up a notch with what I feel may be better color performance than older Voigtlander glass. Either way, Voigtlander has some jewels in their line and I wanted to know if this new 50 was indeed one of them. I suspected that it just might be, or at least I said “It better be” ! Lots of hype has surrounded this release.

Wide open

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When it comes to image quality and lenses, I usually I rate Leica as #1, Zeiss ZM as #2 and Voigtlander as #3. Leica is super crisp and has amazingly good micro contrast, the best you can get in a lens. I can spot a shot taken with a modern Leica M lens just due to the color, crispness and micro-contrast.

Zeiss is easy to spot as well because the ZM line, when used on a Leica body, will  give us that amazingly warm color and rich 3D presentation. Some think it goes over the top with that and many also think the build/durability of the Zeiss ZM line lacks a little. I can agree to that as well (the build does not match Leica).

Then we have Voigtlander…

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Voigtlander has been around a long time and the 1st lens I owned of theirs was the little 35mm f/2.5 pancake that I used on the Epson RD-1. I LOVED that lens and I have photos taken with that setup that rival my M8 and M9 shots for tonality and quality. I have reviewed quite a few Voigtlander lenses from the 50 1.1 Nokton to the 35 1.2 II low light monster to the 21 1.8 wide angle and I always really like the lenses but usually I do not LOVE them enough to plunk down my cash. I usually find something “missing”, which is a side effect of using the worlds best lenses..authentic modern Leica M lenses.

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But Voigtlander has some jewels as I have already stated. A lens like the 35 1.2II is one of those as is the little 35 f/2.5 and old Nokton 1.5.

So they have some good lenses and they also have some stellar lenses that rival Leica’s own German-made optics. The main differences is in the micro contrast when it comes to Voigtlander vs Leica. Other than that, Voigtlander glass is a HUGE bang for the buck for any Leica owner. Spent all of your cash on your Leica M body? Then go for a Voigtlander lens and know you have a capable and well made lens.

But this new 50 1.5…So I thought…“Hmmm, maybe this new Nokton is one of those Voigtlander Jewels”. I was excited to see.

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I fell in love with the style, the build, the chrome as well as the legend of the original 50 Nokton 1.5, which is  a lens I have never even used! So I was pretty excited and had high hopes with this lens. I placed a pre-order through Stephen Gandy at CameraQuest.com and I was able to be one of the 1st to get the lens in my hands just last week. Ever since it has been glued onto my M 240, which is the combo that has taken every shot you see in this review.

Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton Leica M mount Aspherical Specs

Leica M Mount – No adapter needed for your M

Close Focus .7 Meter – YES!

5 Groups, 6 elements

Filter size is 49mm

f/1.5 to f/16

Black or Chrome. The chrome is a brass lens. Nice.

Metal Lens Hood and metal lens cap (for the hood) included

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Now that I have spent some time with it I can state that I adore this lens! It is NOT perfect but that is quite OK with me as I do not need “perfection”, I enjoy a bit of character with my images :)

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Wide open this lens is sharp but vignettes slightly and has soft corners..but I LOVE that about the lens. Stop it down to f/2 and the slight vignette and soft corners are gone. So wide open you get a classical/modern rendering and stopped down we get sharpness and the Voigtlander smoothness. No harshness with this lens at all. Contrast is about in the middle, not too low and not too high.

If you hate vignetting when shooting wide open, then this lens is not for  you. The Leica 50 Lux ASPH does not Vignette BTW but will set you back $3200 more.

The only image in this review with extensive PP. Basically some contrast and shadow enhancement. M 240 and 50 Nokton at f/2.8 or f/4 – Not sure which one :)

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In fact, speaking of Leica lenses, this 50 Nokton reminds me of a certain Leica lens! That lens is one I had a few years ago in a special black paint edition..the 50 Summilux Pre-Asph latest version that focused to .7 meters. If I had to pick a lens that this new Nokton rendered the most like, it would be that Leica lens. That Leica lens happens to sell for $2500-$3000 when it goes up for sale so you can get much of that flavor for $899 with the Nokton. Pretty incredible.

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The Nokton also comes with a metal hood, unlike the Zeiss ZM line of lenses and the cheaper Summarit Leica line of lenses. That is a good thing. It also comes with an all metal front cap that fits over the hood. For $899 (black version) this is a lens any Leica M owner or mirrorless camera owner should seriously consider.

Wide open sharpness

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The Nitty Gritty…

Sharpness, Vignette, Distortion Test

I set up my trusty tripod and took a shot of my back wall. Since this is a lens review and I noticed some slight barrel distortion from the lens using it wide open and up close I decided to see just how bad it was.

You can see the distortion here (the post was not bent) – shot at 1.5 and up close. If I stopped the lens down or backed up, this would not be visible. 

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more…

As you can see below (and you can click them for larger versions) when using the lens wide open at f/1.5 you will get some vignetting and a little bit of barrel distortion. The distortion is only noticeable when up close and shooting wide open or close to it. The corners sharpen up at f/2 and more so at f/2.8. Wide open there is some softness to them.I was up close to the wall so the distortion is at its worst in the 1st shot.

See for yourself. The images below are labeled and range from f/1.5 to f/5.6

See the CA (purple fringing)  in the 1st two shots? Well that is not a problem with the lens, it is inherit in ALL fast lenses on Leica digital bodies. The 50 Lux has it, the 35 Lux has it and the Noctilux is the worst offender ever. It happens when shooting wide open fast glass against a harsh transition like the top of this fence. The high contrast from dark to light will do it every time. So this is not a Nokton issue, it would happen with every other fast lens on this camera or the M9. Leica does not correct in body for it like some other cameras do.

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Crazy Comparison: Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 vs M 240 and Nokton 50 1.5 ASPH

OK, since I have a Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 Lens here I figured “Why not, could be fun”. Since the Zeiss 32 1.8 is just about a 50mm equivalent and pretty close to the Nokton 50 1.5 I decided to see just how close this Fuji is to slaying the M240 and a lower end 50mm lens. So many Fuji owners tell me their X-Pro and X-E1 give better output than any Leica M and lens, so let us see how it goes.

I call it Crazy for two reasons. 1st: The Leica M and 50 Nokton is an $8000 set. The Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss is about an $1800 set. A difference of $6200. The Leica should win easily and by a large margin for that kind of cash, but we know it is not a $6200 difference. Those of us who shoot Leica do it for more than the IQ that it brings. We shoot it for the RF experience as well as shooting with a finely crafted tool. With that said, the Leica M is indeed more enjoyable to use and shoot, that is not even a question for me. But lets see the images! Remember, just for fun guys and girls :)

Set #1: The Leica M 240 with 50 at 1.5 vs the Fuji and Zeiss Touit at 1.8 – click them for larger and 100% crop

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EEK! To me this one is no contest. The Leica wins EASILY. The Leica/Nokton image is much more pleasing, the Bokeh more pleasing and the color more pleasing. It looks like a Leica image. The rendering, the pop, the detail. The Fuji looks like a Fuji shot. An APS-C sensor shot and the Bokeh from that Touit is quite nervous IMO.

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Set #2 – Same as above, Both wide open

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Ok, color differences extreme here. Also, you can see the vignette of the Nokton here. If you click on the images to see the real versions you will see teh silky smoothess of the Leica shot vs the sort of harsh rendering of the Fuji. BUT! The Fuji has no vignette, and has the accurate color. The Leica shot is more pleasing to my eye and has that glow. Fuji wins on the technical side but Leica on the pleasing side.

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Set #3 – B&W Portrait – wide open at 1.5

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Both cameras and lenses do great here. When you click on them and look at the real photos you will see the Leica signture. Smooth, some glow, big bad bokeh which shows the difference between APS-C and full frame. With APS-C we have to use shorter focal lengths for an “equivilant” of 50 which leads to MORE Depth of Field. You can see this in the shot above. Some parts of me prefer the rendering and the B&W conversion from the Leica, and others prefer the Fuji here. If you like the APS-C look, you will prefer the Fuji look. Both are nice.

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Set #4

The Swan

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This one is much closer but when clicking the images and looking at them in their larger size it is easy to pick the Leica/Nokton shot. It is just more pleasing to the eye..more “wow”. Not that this is a “wow” shot but it shows what a good lens can do to a scene, just as the shots above have shown. For me, another win for Leica/Nokton. Remember though, this Leica combo is much more expensive! When you view these larger you will see the flatter looking Fuji file vs the one from the M 240.

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Set #5

Goes to show that the color of the M 240 is just fine :) 

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This time it is closer. But the Fuji is missing the glow and magic of the Leica shot above it, and this is using the ‘cheaper” Voigtlander lens. The M shot has more life, a more 3 dimensional feel and again, less DOF.The Fuji file is flat here.

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So to me, this is no contest at all. Shooting both cameras side by side with a 50 on the Leica and a 50 Equiv on the Fuji was fun but the Leica was MUCH more enjoyable to use as it just has a way of inspiring you to shoot. It has a feel, a heft, a sound as well as a way that draws you into it. The Voigtlander 50 Nokton ASPH makes for a fine companion, even as a one lens kit. This little gem will be glued to my M for a while.

Full size sample

Below is a full size sample from the 50 at f/4 – just click it for full size download. Focus was on the boys face.

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I recommend this lens easily. 

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WHERE TO BUY!?!?

Buy it at Cameraquest in CHROME or BLACK - They offer FREE USPS Express Next Day ship and have a few chrome in stock RIGHT NOW with next shipment coming in July.

B&H Photo also sells it in Black or Chrome.

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My Bottom Line Conclusion on the 50 1.5 Nokton VM

When I 1st opened the box of this lens I smiled. When I saw that old school chrome on brass build I was very happy as I am a huge fan of classic glass as I feel you do not need to spend a fortune to have a lens that takes great photos. I think that sometimes we get caught up in buying the latest and greatest and I have been just as guilty of that as the next guy but in my older age (43) I feel that I am starting to see the pleasure of shooting a lens like this Voigtlander with my Leica M.

If I can not take a good picture with this lens, I can not take one with any other 50mm. Period. A Summilux or Noctilux will not make me an instant artist or make me see with magical eyes, but they will put their Leica mojo onto the images with their unique rendering or “draw”, which is exactly what this Voigtander Nokton will do as well, just in its own flavor that some will love and some will not.

With this Nokton classic you will get a smooth rendering about on par with the old Leica 50 Summilux Pre ASPH and in reality, it is just as sharp as the Lux ASPH wide open at the focus point. Smooth, sharp –  yet not clinical, some classical looking Bokeh and medium contrast. The corners are soft at 1.5 and there is some slight barrel distortion if shooting wide open up close. By f/2 this lens gets really sharp and by 2.8 it is as sharp as you could ever need.

The lens provides good color reproduction though it is different from Leica and Zeiss. It has its own “Voigtlander Style”. There will be some CA in high contrast situations when used wide open, but that goes for any Leica fast lens as well..Lux, Noctilux, etc.

At $899 for the black version, it is a steal of a deal. It is a small, compact 49mm filter thread FAST 50mm that is a great performer. Amazing images can be made with this lens, and while it does not offer the biting “perfection across the frame” of the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH, it is over $3000 less expensive, which is quite amazing. If I were buying this lens though, and I did,  I’d go with the Chrome Limited edition and it will go up in value so no need to worry about another lens in your collection to lose money on one day. Keep it for a few years and it will be an in demand item.

As for the Nokton vs the Zeiss Planar or Sonnar, two fast 50′s in the same price range, they offer totally different renderings as well as a different BUILD. The Voigtlander is built MUCH better than the Zeiss ZM line, at least the Chrome version is. Makes the ZM Planar feel like a toy and the Planar has had issues with the focus barrel loosening over time. Still, the Zeiss Planar is a super lens and comes in at $850 or so. The Sonnar is $1100 and has focus shift issues and a 1m min focus distance, but has a gorgeous rendering when you nail it. I would say the best bang for the buck would be the 50 Zeiss Planar ZM if an f/2 lens is good enough for what you need. If you want a more classic look with a tad faster performance and much nicer build and feel, the Nokton rocks it.

Am I disappointed in the Vignetting and distortion when used wide open? Slightly, but if the lens did not have these things it would be 99% of the 50 Lux ASPH. That would just be too good to be true :) You have to decide if these things are worth $3000 to you. If so, then spring $4000 for the Lux APSH and call it a day.

I love the Nokton 1.5 and I also ADORE my M 240. I still stick with my initial verdict, it is the best digital M to date, hands down no contest and while in a perfect world the M 240 would have a 50 Summilux ASPH glued  on to it, the Nokton is a nice workable alternative at  1/4 the price.

Steve

I will leave you with a few more shots from this gorgeous little lens! Enjoy!

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Jun 152013
 

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The new Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton Arrives

So the long-awaited M mount newly (but classicly) re-designed 50mm f/1.5 Nokton arrived to my mailbox today from CameraQuest and I went for the super sexy looking limited edition chrome version at $1049. Voigtlander seems to have hit it out of the park with this one as it has the styling of the 1950′s classic Nokton 1.5 with the great performance of the previous Nokton that was made in Leica screw mount. That was a highly regarded lens but Voigtlander decided to remake it with a Leica M mount and I am glad they did. The lens ships with a black hood and a black metal cap but no lens cap for use without the hood. But yes, it comes with the metal hood and metal cap, no extra charge as with Zeiss ZM and Leica :)

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Fresh out of the box!

It just arrived 30 minutes ago and I am about to head out the door for a weekend trip but I wanted to get a pic or two up with it and of it. I chose chrome as I have grown to appreciate the look of classic styled chrome lenses on a black body. Some hate it, and I used to as well, but these days I prefer it in some ways over a standard black on black look. The lens in chrome is gorgeous.

1st impressions out of the box? The Chrome version is beautiful in a classic sort of way. It has a knurled focusing ring, a smooth and solid aperture dial and feels nice and solid in the hand. Being Chrome and Brass, it is much like the lenses that were built-in the 50′s. I expect this is a lens that will last a long time. But how about the IQ and the character of the lens? I have only taken 15+ shots with it as of this writing and from what I can see it is a little bit of modern with a larger amount of classic. Not as perfected as a Leica Summilux ASPH but very sharp wide open at f/1.5 with an overall smooth presentation. I noticed some slight vignetting at 1.5 as well. The cool thing is that it focuses close to .7 meters just like the Leica Lux ASPH, unlike the old lenses of the 50′s that usually focus to 1 meter.

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Again, only about 15 shots have been taken with this on my M 240  but I wanted to get this up before I head out the door so you guys can get a look at it :) This lens in black is $899 and chrome is $1049. The Leica 50 Summilux f/1.4 comes in at $3995. Both lenses are a fast 50mm and both are top notch in build. I prefer the design and style of this new Nokton and I am excited to use it this weekend to see what it can do. I did notice that from f/2 on it gets really sharp with crazy sharpness across the frame by f/4. Is the Leica worth the extra $3000+? Who knows, but I hope to find out when I do the full review of this lens.

When the lens came I instantly attached it to the M 240 and asked Debby if I could grab a quick comparison shot. I grabbed the M240/Nokton and then the Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit, which gives an almost 50mm equivalent . I had it on hand, so why not? Nokton was at 1.5, Fuji at 1.8. Quick images are below. You can click them for larger but what you will see if a more shallow Depth of Field from the Leica combo vs the Fuji. That is what you get from a crop sensor and equivalent focal length lens. I also see more 3d depth and glow from the Nokton shot over the X-E1, which to me looks a bit flat in comparison.

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The new Voigtlander is a “so far so good” lens as I am only judging it on design and build/feel right now until I get to actually go out and use it. So far it seems like it may be a bargain in the fast M mount 50mm world. Other lenses in this range are the Zeiss 50 f/2 Planar ZM and the Zeiss Sonnar f/1.5 Sonnar which is a whole different lens character. I do not think it can equal or beat the Leica 50 Lux ASPH but for 1/4 the price I am feeling it can get close, and close enough for most.

Below are a couple of more quick snaps I shot within those 1st 8 frames with it around the house. All wide open at 1.5.

Full review soon!

I picke dup my Nokton from Camera Quest. They have pre-orders up for the Black and Chrome as their 1st shipment sold out 100% in black and there are actually a few Chrome lenses available and in stock there as I am writing this. You can pre-order the Black HERE or get the Chrome version HERE, for immediate ship. (until these last few sell out, then it is July 2013)

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