The Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon ZM (Leica mount) Lens Review
by Cemal Sagnak
Many People belief, a Leica Camera needs native Leica lenses, although there are Alternatives by other German Companies like Carl Zeiss with a long optical history in making lenses and Rangefinder cameras. As a passionate Leica Photographer, I always search and look for high quality alternative lenses for my Leica M Typ 240.
One of my favorite lenses is the Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 2/35 ZM, a versatile documentary and Photojournalist lens with outstanding optical performance and my standard Lens on the M.
I was very tempted to read the announcement during the last Photokina in September about a new fast 35mm f/1.4 hoping this can match with my Biogon 35/2 in optical performance but with a fast f1.4 aperture.
I could not be happier when last week my Demo Lens arrived.
My initial impression was extremely good, although the Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is larger (lengths 87,3 49mm Filter, 381gr) vs. the Biogon T* 2/35 ZM (lengths 68mm, Filter size 43mm, 240gr) the finder blockage is still moderate. You get immediately a feel of the build quality, all metal finish, robust and made for the next generation, something I definitely expected from a Carl Zeiss Lens.
The Distagon is build with 10 Elements in 7 groups with and the10 blades can be set in 1/3 steps giving you a good haptic feedback, you can feel comfortably each click on the aperture wheel. The focus wheel is on the right spot, perfectly accessible and smooth in handling, Rotating is not to tight and not to loose, which is important for a fast lens shooting at f/1.4 to achieve precise results.
The lens is equipped with the T* anti-reflective coating to control flare we will see later how good it performs using the Distagon against strong sunlight. The Distagon is made to be used under low light condition or for a clear separation of the subject from the background, don’t be surprised to see many pictures shot at f/1.4.
The Data sheet is promising; with a relative distortion of less than -1% the Distagon beats the Summilux –M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH on paper. Lets see how it performs.
Non-Leica Users need to know that sharpness of a rangefinder lens is relative and depending on the skills and eyesight of the User behind the Finder.
Before I took the Lens out, I did some shots at home on a tripod to see if there is a focus shift or misalignment. One shot through the RF and one with the LCD of the M and no surprise, all was good, as you can see in the crop of the image taken through the RF.
BTW, I tried the EVF of the M240 but I come to the conclusion that I am better and faster with the optical RF and composing is much easier. I turn on the LCD just when I use a 21mm lens to control the frame. I maybe would use the EVF if someone puts me a Noctilux under the Xmas tree and for sure with Leica – R lenses. But coming back to the Distagon…
My first sessionwas taken in my new hometown Cologne, known as the capital of German Photography and this is not because of the Photokina only. Pictures are DNG files converted into jpg in LR 5.7 I took some random street shots including the Xmas market to get warmed up with the character of the lens.
crop below the image
Crop below the image
The Bicycle shot shows rich and contrasts colors with a nice background blur and a great sharpness on the flowers. I tried similar with people, I am glad my daughters share my passion so they are always great models to try new Gear.
My second opportunity using the Distagon was a fashion shooting with the lovely Dana, who is running a fashion blog and needs regular shots of her in the seasons dress-up.
A 35mm lens is not the first choice for Portraits and People. Still the results were highly satisfying, color and focus are as well. Flare is not always welcome but in this case I used it as an element. Unfortunately Zeiss did not deliver a Lens Hood with this demo unit. I recommend purchasing a hood with the Lens.
Beside some lens flare, I identified chromatic aberration, which appears when shooting wide open. Nowadays nothing software cant fix and also visible in some of my Summilux pictures. The third part of my Test was the low light capability of the lens, using it in some urban lightning and using it for what it was made for, wide open in low light, I travel much, so taking a tripod with me is a hassle and 100% of my shots outside are handheld. Maybe this is the case for many Leica Users.
This leads me to the Part 3 of my test…. Paris! A perfect Place using a Leica Camera and going for a photo walk along the river Seine and visiting places where Grandmasters of Photography took many iconic pictures. The Zeiss Distagon performs well wide open and paired with the great ISO abilities and Dynamic range of the M240, you will be able to get extraordinary results shooting this combo in the dark.
Here one Bokehlicious shot from a brigde in Paris.
After all, I am pretty impressed by this new lens. I have owned the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH (pre-FLE) and use currently the Biogon 35/2 which are the natural competitors. Before I come to my personal conclusion here is a price overview (Prices in Euro )
Now my question before I started this lens test: is it worth to pay almost double the price compared to the Biogon 35/2 for one f stop faster? For me it is, not that everybody needs an f1.4 lens but if you like shooting fast lenses, this is the lens, which delivers the image quality sharpness and details starting from f1.4.
Please find below the comparison shot at f2.0 between the Distagon and the Biogon. The Distagon is clearly sharper, I plan some more shots for a detailed comparison. Is the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM capable to compete with one of the best available lenses the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH FL?
35 Biogon f/2 at f/2
35 Distagon 1.4 at f/2
Based on my experience with the Summilux , the Distagon is definitely worth to consider and not only because its half the price. Sharpness is on par between both lenses. I would like to do a lens comparison but I assume difference is very small and can be better measured in a LAB test rather then comparing pixel.
35 1.4 Distagon and then a crop
The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is announced to be ship at the end of 2014.
Testing the Zeiss Loxia, ZM 35 1.4 and Otus lenses on the A7r
(some quick shots from Photokina)
by Dirk De Paepe
Recapitulation of a Problem
Perhaps you look upon the Sony A7x series as the first full frame alternative to the Leica M: a compact, high quality full frame camera, that’s about perfect for manual shooting – although not without issues, but then, I’ve yet to see the first perfect camera. :-)
Today the A7s gets a lot of applause, not only for its high ISO capability, but also because it “fixed” some of the issues of the A7r: the shutter sound is one, but IMO the questionable compatibility with quite some M-mount wide-angle lenses is an even more important item.
For many photographers, the possibility of using the compact M-mount lenses on the A7x, via adapter, is one of the attractive features of those cameras. But particularly the corner problems that primarily the A7r poses, when used with (quite some) wide-angle M-mount lenses, are mentioned frequently as a set back, reducing the A7r owner’s choice regarding compact wide-angle glass. Not all M-mount wide angles pose this problem though: some of the Voigtländers work flawlessly. But most Leica M en Zeiss ZM wide angles render this purple/magenta color shift and smearing in the corners, which we really don’t want.
I own the Zeiss Biogon 28 ZM and have experienced it too. Although with certain apertures it’s possible to avoid almost all of the smearing and the color shift can most of the time easily be neutralized in Photoshop, still it limits the possibilities and ease of work. So I mainly use the Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.4 (very compact M-mount) and some wider Canon FDs as WAs for now. For now, indeed, because I was pretty confident that a “solution” would be in the make. As a matter of fact, I hoped for some time that Sony would somehow fix this problem. But is it really Sony’s problem to fix? Well, recently I changed my mind about it…
The solution has a name: Loxia.
When Zeiss announced its new Loxia series for Sony’s FE mount and when I saw that those were based on the compact ZM series, I immediately wondered: what about the corners when shooting a Biogon wide-angle on the A7r? The so far published images (that I’ve seen) didn’t mention which A7-type was used (there was no Exif data available), or they were taken with the A7s, on which the WA M-mount glass poses no problems. So I was stuck with the question: how will the new Loxia Biogon 2/35 perform on my A7r?
The Loxia Biogon 2/35 on the A7r
Living at less than 2 hours from Cologne, I decided to make the trip to Photokina, to get the answer. I was there on Saturday, when the fairground was pretty crowded, with lots of people thronging at the Zeiss technicians counter, wanting to get answers to their questions and trying all kinds of Zeiss lenses on all kinds of cameras.
So I had to take my shots pretty fast and I had to take them all from the same spot: my position at the technicians counter. Sorry for that. But my goal was not to shoot nice pictures, my goal was to get answers. Does the Biogon perform well on the A7r?
Short answer: YES it does! Absolutely!
I first checked if there was any color shift at the corners, putting the aperture wide open – the most sensible setting. With a booth made from white/greyish panels, it was easy to check. It’s very clear: the Biogon produces no color shift what so ever! It was immediately absolutely clear, from the first shot, but I can add to that: in none of my shots, at whatever aperture, there was even the faintest glimpse of color shift to be noticed.
Pic 1. Loxia 3/35, f/2, &/500s, ISO200. No color shift whatsoever. I focused in the left upper corner, to check the corner detail at f/2. IMO a bit ridiculous to absolutely want perfect corners when shooting wide open, but since some people come up with this issue, I wanted to check it. Next picture gives a 100% view of that corner
And what about the smearing? Well, again when shooting wide open the image remained pretty clear and detailed in the corners, with only some loss of detail in the farthest reaches and (IMO) no smearing. Considering how deep in the corners I’m talking about, I’d say only a slight loss of detail in the corners. But let’s be honest, when you really want every spot of your picture to be clear, you don’t shoot wide open, do you… In general I was absolutely astonished with the level of detail this Biogon renders at f/2. Without ever getting razor-sharp, the amount of detail is pretty amazing, even when looking at 100% and shooting with a 36MP sensor. And also the vignetting is at a very low-level, IMO negligible.
Pic 2. 100% crop. In the farthest reaches of the corners, there is some loss of detail. Not too much, I’d say, because I can even read numbers there. I certainly wouldn’t talk of smearing. There is some difference in detail to be noticed, due to some items being positioned slightly out of focus, like in the text on the left box. Don’t be mistaken there. Anyway, I find the detail that this Biogon renders wide open to be really astonishing.
Pic 3. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. Also the vignetting is negligible, even wide open. Focusing in the center.
Pic 4. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Without being razor-sharp, all the detail is there. No added sharpness.
Pic 5. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. No 2/35mm renders a spectacular bokeh. Still this one is pretty smooth and for sure renders a nice 3D separation.
Pic 6. Loxia 2/35, f/4, 1/60s, ISO400. DOF is a bit larger, still with beautiful bokeh, also in front.
Pic 7. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Even at f/4 focusing needs to be done with care on the A7r. I missed the focus on the watch here and placed it on the guy’s shirt, revealing all the shirt’s detail…
At the more narrow apertures, those that are used when pursuing a wide dof, the detail is excellent all over. Is it absolutely perfect? Well, no. This is no Otus, but a three times less expensive Loxia. Still, IMO, the IQ is excellent, with clear detail all over, although still slightly soft when looking at 100%, but not at all to the extend that one can call this a weakness.
Pic 8. Loxia 2/35, f/11, 1/40s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.
Pic 9. Loxia 2/35, f/14, 1/10s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.
Pic 10. 100% crop (click to see full size)..
This is absolutely not a lens test, so I won’t go into all lens characteristics. I couldn’t take enough different pictures, nor perform tests to do that. I’m sure there will be enough articles in the near future from professional photography journalist that will come up with all the details.
Still, what I also noticed is some fringing (diminishing with narrower apertures of course), which I always could correct with great ease in Photoshop. I didn’t check the distortion, but personally I don’t mind that too much, since this is also easily correctable. BTW, I understand that Zeiss also gave extra care in that department, so again, I have no worries here. Overall, I liked very much what I saw, also regarding the OOC color balance, dynamic range etc. – so I’m very confident that I won’t be disappointed in this Biogon and that it’ll render a typical Zeiss IQ – I expect it to be even slightly better than my ZMs.
When I told the technician that I was pleasantly surprised, after being worried when I noticed the great similarity between the Loxia and ZM Biogons, and that I wondered how Zeiss has solved the corner problems without considerably lengthening the distance between back lens and sensor, he told me that the two Loxia lenses are admittedly built after classic Zeiss concepts, but that the whole calculation has been redone, resulting in differences in the thickness of the glasses and the space between them, whereby the light approaches the sensor in different angles, thus avoiding the known problems of the older ZM lenses (lenses that were conceived for film cameras and Leica digital cameras, not for mirrorless sensors). Even the Planar, that in ZM version doesn’t pose any problem at all on the A7r (and is BTW my personal favorite lens) has been reworked and optimized with enhanced performance. Regarding the Biogon, even after a few shots, I can without a doubt state, that they did a great job. I leave it to the professional reviewers to determine exactly how great. But I’m impressed. And excited. There simply is not a shred of color shift in the corners and wide open there’s only a slight decrease of detail in the farthest corners, which I wouldn’t call smearing at (far from what we know from the ZM Biogons, when used on the A7r). What I also noticed was that this lens renders about the same detail wide open as it does stopped down (with the exception of the farthest corners, as I said), which was a véry pleasant surprise. There is some vignetting wide open (but really not much) and some fringing as well (always very easily removable in Photoshop). What did you expect. This is no Otus, it’s not perfect. It’s three to four times cheaper than Otus and still is an excellent lens. I’m sure future tests will confirm this.
General Loxia advantages for Sony’s A7x
So the Biogon is absolutely “good to go” on the A7r IMO, or in other words, it’s a great option to buy, if you’re into manual prime glass. You won’t be surprised that I placed my order for both Loxias. Also the Planar, which maybe will surprise you, since I own the ZM Planar that really is without issues on the A7r. But Loxia offers a lot more than ZM. First there is the better optical performance (reworked for E-mount), then there is the shorter minimal focal distance (30cm for the Biogon and 45cm for the Planar versus 70cm for both ZMs), further there is the transmission of full Exif info, which I applaud because after a series of shots with different lenses I tend to forget what lens I used for which shot, let alone what aperture. Often I can “see the lens in the shot”, but really not always with absolute certainty. And I find it very interesting to know the exact aperture afterwards. And finally, the last big advantage of Loxia over ZM is the activation (which is to be programmed on your A7x) of the automatic enlargement in the VF, by the slightest movement of the focus ring, which completes all means for performing “modern manual focusing” on the A7x. IMHO, all the focusing functionalities of the A7x/Loxia strongly outperform any optical viewfinder. OK, a range finder is something special, but personally, I don’t wanna do without the modern EVF functionality anymore. No way. They abundantly outweigh the range finder’s advantages (all IMO of course).
Pic 11. Left half: Loxia Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Right half: ZM Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Both picture were shot at minimal focal distance – Loxia at 45cm, ZM at 70cm and they were only horizontally cropped. Impressive difference. A big advantage of the Loxia. (The ZM picture was shot back home.)
Personally, I’m really thrilled about Zeiss developing the Loxia line. There has been lots of reactions on it, with many complaining about the first two lenses being 50 and 35mm again. Why not chosing other focal lenghts that people miss right now? The answer is really simple. Loxia is for a totally different type of photographer, namely the typical manual shooter, like I am. As much as I admire the image quality of the AF Zeiss lenses, I’ll never buy them because I don’t feel good when the camera decides for me. The only “automation” that I use is aperture priority and still, I’ll determine the exposure with the compensation dial or by holding the release button halfway while reframing.
The core of any optical system is, no doubt, the lens. I think we can say that Zeiss plays in the same league as Leica. Both have passionate proponents. I guess it’s probably the kind of photography one practices, that make one belong to either camp. Personally, I’d mix both brands, if the Leica prices were at Zeiss level. But they aren’t. So I don’t buy Leica… a personal matter.
The core of the body is, without any doubt, the sensor. Sony, a leader amongst sensor manufacturers has an excellent position in this department. The rest of the body is functionality, in other words advanced electronic applications, and build quality. It needs no saying that Sony is an electronics giant and in many branches, and in general the Sony quality is legendary. I’m not saying there are never issues with Sony products, everybody makes “mistakes”, but this a giant and I believe that this giant is determined to succeed in photography. So the Sony/Zeiss combination has for sure a lot of things in its favor. Now, with Loxia, the glass is perfectly maching the body, adapter free, with transmitted Exif data, automated magnification in the EVF and a design and feel that perfectly matches the body.
I told you that I already placed my order, even for the Planar, while I’m owning an Otus 55 ànd ZM Planar 2/50. But the Planar is my all time favorite lens. Its compact size, ease of use and always reliable IQ grants it this status. This is the lens that I always carry on my camera, making it possible to carry a high-res/high-IQ camera with me whenever I want, wherever I go to, without ever being bothered by it. Now, with the Loxia Planar, my carry-all-time lens will match my body for 100% and add some functionality that I welcome very much.
Loxia is made for sensors of mirrorless cameras, Zeiss ZM (and Leica M) is made for film. In its digital M bodies, Leica corrects its lenses with software. The Zeiss Loxia doesn’t need to be corrected, because it’s optically designed for sensor. BTW, I wonder if Zeiss doesn’t think of making Loxias in M-mount, or at least come up with a new generation ZMs, that would have the Loxia optics. Makes sense IMO.
The Otus 85 on the A7r
With so many Otus lenses on their Photokina booth, ready to try out, of course I asked for the new 1.4/85. You probably already knew from a former article that I own the Otus 55 and believe that Otus is a great combination with the A7r. This top-level Zeiss line is developed for the latest (and future) generations of hi-res sensors, and Sony plays a leading role in this, with the A7r still leading the pack. So I pulled out my Novoflex adapter and mounted the Otus 85 on the body. The bystanders payed extra attention, when I then pulled a vertical grip out of my bag and mounted it with some swift moves on the A7r body.
My goal was in no way to test the lens on itself. Knowing the 55 and reading from all thrustful sources that the 85 is even a todd better (is it really possible?), I have not the slightest doubt that this lens will perform to its expectations. What I was curious about was how it felt in the hand, when mounted on the A7r, and I also wanted to get the “focus experience” at f/1.4, because already with the 55, focusing at 1.4 needs to be done with great care.
I immediately felt that the 85 is an even heavier and thicker beast than the 55. It’s a muscle trainer for sure. I don’t know how long I would be able to shoot continuously with it, I can only say that I felt it considerably more than when holding the 55. But I can’t tell if it’s only because the physical geometry is different and that it’s gonna be a matter of getting used to it, or if it really would tire me out faster. But what I can tell you for sure is, that, with the same way of holding it as I described in my Otus 55 article, this lens/body combination lies incredibly stable and well-balanced in the hand. I already said that the shots were to be made fast at the Zeiss technicians booth, so I took a fast picture of the gentle technician that was helping me. He was standing pretty close, at the other side of the counter. I focused on his eyelashes and took the shot at 1/25sec, which is in fact insanely slow for an OOH shot with a 85mm lens. But the total absence of motion blur proves the perfect balance of this lens/body combination, again indicating that the A7r is a body worth considering for use with the Otus 85, as it is with the Otus 55. That’s exactly what I wanted to know with my trial shots.
Pic 12. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/25s, ISO100. Shooting at this shutter speed with an 85mm lens is only possible when the lens/body combination is in perfect balanse, which IMO is the case with the A7r + vertical grip. At the crowded Zeiss booth, this shot of a (very busy) Zeiss technician needed to be taken in seconds.
Pic 13. 100% crop (click to see full size). What stroke me is the extremely shallow dof. I don’t know how this can be possible (maybe somebody can explain), but I have the impression that the Otus 85 produces an even more shallow dof than the Canon FD85 at f/1.2, that I also own. And if not, it must be véry close. But for sure, I’d swear it’s the Otus that wins this trophy. While the eyelashes are in focus, the eyeball is already out of focus. The eyebrow is only partly in focus. At this distance, I normally wouldn’t take this shot at f/1.4, because I’d surely want a somewhat larger dof. Still it’s nice to have the potential at hand and for greater distances it will surely do a great job.
Focusing at f/1.4, for use at full size images with a 36MP sensor (or more in the near future), must be done with the greatest care. This was no surprise to me, with my experience with the Otus 55, it was just a confirmation. It’s odd that I have the impression that focusing the Otus 85 at f/1.4 requires even more precision than with my Canon FD85 at F/1.2. I even think to notice an even shallower dof with the Otus. It’s just an impression, a feeling. But a strong one. Maybe it’s because of the incredible detail Otus renders, combined with 36 megapixels. Again, I didn’t perform test procedures with this in mind, it’s just a feeling. BTW, I love the FD85/1.4.
Last thing about the Otus 85: I absolutely love the super creamy bokeh!
Pic 14. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/20s, ISO100. Only horizontally cropped. Is this a creamy bokeh or what?…
The ZM Distagon 1.4/35
By then, after shooting the Otus 85, the guys behind me were increasingly insisting to get a place at the counter. But still I managed to get the new ZM Distagon 1.4/35 for a few super fast shots. I simply wondered whether Zeiss, knowing of the problems that some of the ZMs have with modern hi-res sensors, would take this into account when developing new wide-angle ZMs. I quickly took two shots with the new ZM Distagon. In the first I just shot the grey-ish white wall, to check for color shift. The picture is absolutely dull, of course, but it was conclusive: no color shift.
In the second (and last) super fast taken shot, I focused on a guy in the upper left corner, to check for smearing. No smearing (although the picture isn’t perfect, with a tiny bit of motion blur, but no smearing). What I did notice in those shots was that, wide open, the vignetting and fringing was more prominent than with the Loxia Biogon. But then, this is a f/1.4 vs. the f/2 Loxia. So this is normal. And nothing that I couldn’t correct in Photoshop.
So I guess that future Zeiss ZM lenses will work perfectly on film bodies, Leica M bodies ànd fullframe mirrorless bodies – from Sony and other brands to follow.
And I’m very much looking forward for future new products in their new lines, Otus and surely Loxia. I’ve been having a soft spot for Zeiss for about 50 years now. I think this spot is only going to further grow in the years to come… :-)
Pic 15. ZM 1.4/35, f/1.4, 1/25, ISO100. A clearly more explicit bokeh than with the Loxia 2/35, but also more fringing (as well as vignetting, which this pic doesn’t show clearly) – though nothing that can’t be corrected, I guess.
Pic 16. Defringed crop. I thought, since the shot was not really OK, it wouldn’t be fair to show the fringing. So I corrected it in Photoshop for this crop.
IMO, the Loxia line, once it’s to be completed as yet, will definitely turn the A7x series into today’s superior compact system for manual shooting, offering a more modern concept than Leica. I can truly say that I don’t dream of Leica anymore. This Sony/Zeiss FE-system really is more desirable to me than the Leica M-system – outperforming it (again IMO) and… reasonably priced! My personal dream of today: owning both the A7r (for resolution) and A7s (for ISO) with a complete set of Loxias. But what I expect (of course I can’t be absolutely sure about it) is a future Sony sensor that will combine resolution and high ISO. I’m sure it will happen, maybe in some years time, but probably earlier than I expect. And it will be mounted in an FE-mount Alpha body! Thàt will be my next camera…
My top 3 Lusted after Leica items from Photokina 2014
So for me it is the morning after. It is 8Am here in Sunny Phx, AZ and I was up late last night checking out all of the new Leica releases. In fact, Leica has released more than 40 new items and while many are accessories such as cases and bags, many of these were serious releases! Leica has been hard at work creating a range of cameras to fit almost everyone’s tastes and yes, even budget. The stars of the newly announced Leica lineup for me are the new X Typ 113, the M-A, the D-Lux and the new Summarit lenses, which I think will be pretty sweet.
Of course, my #1 most lusted after item that was announced FOR Leica M is the new Ziess 35 1.4 ZM lens. Zeiss is sort of hyping this guy as the best 35mm for the M system and at $2250, it is less than half the cost of the 35 Summilux FLE. I have always had a soft spot for the Zeiss ZM line and while they are not made in Germany, they are made in Japan and the quality of these lenses are of superb quality when it comes to IQ. In fact, I prefer the little 50 Zeiss ZM Planar to the classic 50 Summicron in image rendering, color, pop, bokeh and overall look/feel. The build of the Leica is better but at less than half the price, the Zeiss Zm 50 is so so so good. Many Zeiss ZM lenses are the “goto” for Leica shooters and this new 35 1.4 looks AMAZING. I will be buying one without question for use on my A7s and Leica camera bodies.
So yes, for me, this is the item I most want for my own personal use. You can pre-order the Zeiss Distagon 35 1.4 at B&H Photo in BLACK or SILVER
My #2 most Lusted after item announced FROM Leica?
The new X Typ 113 with 23 1.7 Summilux
I have to admit, I am not a film guy anymore due to costs, time, and all of that stuff we associate with film shooting. Today, for me, digital is just too convenient and too good. So while I LOVE the new M-A film release, and would own one in a heartbeat if it were 1979 or if it were $1500, for me it is just not feasible. It is a beauty for sure but just would not fit for my personal use. I am happy with my M, MM and A7s.
I am also extremely pleased that Leica released the M 60 Years edition. No LCD, and a cool Audi design. This is what Leica is all about. Simplicity, beauty, passion. Gone will be the chimping, the stress, the wondering “did I get the focus right”. Nope, you will not know until you see your shots. God forbid your RF goes out, then you are screwed. In fact, without any EVF or LCD, this would be my #1 concern of the this new limited edition Leica. I have had quite a few RF’s go out of whack over the years and without a way to check them while shooting, I am not sure I would want to do an important job with this one. Still, I LOVE THE CONCEPT and IDEA and would love to own one. At $18,500 it is out of my league but I hope to be able to see one someday :) It’s a beauty and I am sure will be sitting on the shelves of quite a few collectors. B&H has it listed here for $18,500 but you do get the stainless steel 35 Summilux lens, which is a collector in itself and will only go up in value. If one bought this set and kept it for 10 years it could probably be sold for $25k and up.
But even so, neither the MA or the M 60 are in my #2 spot.
Instead it is the new X Type 113. With the new Summilux f 1.7 lens, this is finally the X that should have been from day one. While Leica is keeping the X2 (disguised as the new XE) the X 113 is where it is at. It is small, beautiful, and now with a fast 35mm equivalent lens it will bring you that Leica IQ and lens quality all in a sweet small gorgeous package. At $2295 it is not cheap but hey, it is a real Leica. Not a rebadged Panasonic. I can imagine my camera set as the Leica M-P, Leica MM, Sony A7s and the X 113. I would use them all on different days and occasions. Overkill? Sure, but it is my passion and for me you can never have too many cameras! The one drawback of the new X? NO EVF! It seems Leica will NEVER learn that putting a nice viewfinder in their smaller cameras is very beneficial. DROP this externals and go internal Leica. Even without the EVF, the camera is beautiful but the lens makes it for me.
My #3 most lusted after item announced from Leica?
Easy. The new line of Summarit lenses. These little guys look so gorgeous, especially in silver! They remind me of some of the classics in design and look and Leica also states that the lenses have been improved and rehauled giving nicer image quality and a SLIGHTLY faster aperture that creeps into Summicron territory. I mean, look how gorgeous and tiny the 50 Summarit looks!
I have always been a fan of the Summarit line and in fact, the 35 Summarit is one of Leicas best 35’s IMO! It has the most pleasing Bokeh and has a mix of classic and modern in its rendering. I hope the new version is just as good but it should be better. I may have to pick up the 50 and 90 in this line as the price is right (for Leica) and the size is small, and they just feel “right”. As I get older I am starting to appreciate lenses like this more and more. I am moving away from the ultimate speed (except for the Zeiss 35 1.4 which will be amazing) and also enjoy lenses like this these days. I appreciate small size above all, as long as the quality is there. These lenses fit the bill and they come in at 35, 50, 75 and 90 so it covers quite a large range.
I am sure I will pick up one or two of these in Silver as I think they will do quite well on my silver Monochrom :)
While many have written off Leica over the years, even as early as a few months ago, they appear to be going on full steam ahead. Strong, with a plan and on a mission to provide many options for those who want to get into the brand. Just a few years ago it was just the M8 or M9 with the Panasonic made D-Lux series. Then came the X1 when Leica wanted to expand out to a larger audience, and it worked. Then came the S2, then the floodgates opened and out poured the X2, X Vario, M 240, Monochrom. Now we have all kinds of offerings from Leica. The M, The MM, the D-Lux series, the V-Lux series, the X series and even the T series. Of course the special editions and the film offering as well.
Leica is growing and showing all of those who wrote them off years ago that they are here to stay for the long haul. They have been here for over 100 years and plan on being here for another 100.
My #4 most lusted after Leica item is the new D-Lux. It is actually the same cameras as the Panasonic LX100 that I have already written about but the Leica version looks bad ass. Of course we get the Leica styling, the red dot, the Lightroom software and the longer warranty with the Leica, which comes in at $300 more than the Panasonic version. For me, well worth it for the better styling, the name/resale value, the software and the warranty. Actually, $300 more for the Leica is not bad at all and a no brainer for any enthusiast or hobbyist. It is not a made in Germany Leica but you do get the extras that make it worth it. It is the same camera, same lens and made in the same factory as the LX100 but it is the Leica version, so we all know how that goes as it has been going on for years and years now, ever since the original Digilux 1. and Digilux 2.
At $1195 this will make for a high end super quality P&S. Housing a 4/3 sensor it will provide images that are not possible with the smaller 1″ sensor cameras.
I’ve always loved 50mm as a lens, probably because when I first started shooting the 50mm was the “standard lens” and the field of view just feels right on the M6. The sonnar is a fantastic lens; it can be crisp, sharp and contrasty when stopped down or soft, subtle and dreamy when shot wide open.
I’ve used it a lot in the studio where I love combining the softness to create intimate daylight portraits such as Rebecca reclining and portraits of Ariel. It is equally at home however, stopped down and shot in full sunlight outside as my normal lens. I have been shooting a series about the British seaside for a couple of years now, and the birds, dog and beach shots are from this series. The water lilies were shot at the National Botanic Gardens in Carmarthenshire, Wales.
The black and white photos were shot on Tri-X exposed at 250 iso and developed either in HC-110 or D76, and the colour photographs were shot on Portra 400 (also exposed at 250 iso).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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..
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.
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.
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.
OK, so what about this funky looking body that some are calling ugly and some are calling beautiful?
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.
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)
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
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.
The 35 at 2.8 and ISO 500
The 35 2.8 at 2.8
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
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
The A7 and 55
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
The Pros and Cons of the A7 cameras
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
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.
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!
The 7R at ISO 1250 with the 35 2.8
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:
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OK! What a LONG day! 15 hours ago I left the hotel here in Nashville, TN with a slew of other journalists, photographers and bloggers on what would be a very long day of shooting with the new Sony cameras including the A7, A7r, RX10 and even the new Music Video Camera (which I ordered)!
Again, as with last night, it is late and I need sleep so I can be up tomorrow bright and early for another day of shooting (and tomorrow is going to be amazingly special..and I am excited to shoot as it should be right up my alley). So I am tired and will keep this one short. When I do a full review of these new cameras I will go in-depth as much as I can and normally do.
Remember, this is NOT a review in any way, shape or form on the new Sony products. It is simply a first real world look and my 1st thoughts on using them as well as sharing my images with all of you just as I get them..hot off the press! After all, it is the images that most of you want to see from new cameras and I am happy to deliver real world shooting results for you, even if I get 3 hours of sleep every night this week!
I have been shooting JPEG and RAW but for now and ONLY showing JPEGS! I will not be doing processing or RAW processing until I get back home to my main computer as even just opening the JPEGS on my Macbook air are not the best way to view these :) (I am not a fan of the Macbook Air screen for viewing photos).
So with that made clear (that this is NOT a review..YET) let me share with you what we did today in the form of images taken with either the A7 or A7r. I have not been able to get a hold of an RX10 just yet but should be soon and may even be able to take one home with me for review..we shall see.
But 1st, Some quick thoughts..
In regards to Leica M Mount lenses using adapters…The A7r has issues with the 12, 15 and 21mm focal length, even 28mm to some extent. The A7 had some slight vignetting with the 15 and 21 but no real color shift. Not nearly as much as the A7r. So if you are one who was planning on using WIDE ANGLE Leica M mount glass, go for the A7.
The A7 and A7r do amazingly well with the Sony FE lenses as well as Leica M mount glass from 35mm and up. The Voigtlander 35 1.2 II is doing mighty fine on the A7 or A7r and I prefer using it on these cameras over using it on the Leica M. It is easy to focus using the EVF and Focus Peaking and I can MF faster than I can on my M. This will be one lens I highly recommend for the A7 or A7r for those that want really nice shallow DOF and sharp results to go with it in a 35mm format. You can buy it HERE.
Now on to the days photos with the A7 and A7r (RX10 images, thoughts and full review will be coming soon as that camera looks very promising as well)
We started the day early with an hour bus ride to a horse farm. I had the A7r with me in hand and shot this out of the bus window at f/2.8 with the 35mm Sony/Zeiss FE. This is one sharp lens and what you see below is the JPEG that came out of the camera. I did resize the image as well as upped the contrast a tad.
When we arrived to the horse farm there were riders all ready to rock and roll so we could all take shots of them in action..
The A7R and Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 – A BEAST of a lens but man oh man..this is the finest 50-ish focal length I have ever shot with in regards to sharpness. Once I process RAW files I will post some crazy crops. Wide open, this is quite a bit sharper than the Leica 50 Lux ASPH on my M. But it is manual focus, large and $4000.
Catching action using the EVF and Manual focus was not an issue with this combo, even at 1.4
I had the little Zeiss 21 2.8 ZM on the A7 and there is slight vignetting but as you will see below in a color shot, no real issues. On my M this lens had some slight color shifts. On the A7r it has them as well. The A7 is very very usable. I converted this JPEG to B&W using Alien Skin.
Back to the A7r and Otus at 1.4 – JPEG. RAW color will be better.
This shows the power of the A7R and Otus, even in a resized JPEG! This was at 1.4 wide open with the Otus and it is sharp as any lens can be with gorgeous Bokeh and color. This is an amazing lens my friends and it ships in about 2 weeks.
Once again the Otus 55 1.4 at 1.4 on the A7r
So with all of the Otus mania I decided to hand it to the next in line and plop on the other Zeiss that I love. The little tiny Zeiss 50mm Planar F/2 ZM. It is also a little crazy sharp lens with some cool 3D pop.
One more from the Zeiss 21 2.8. You can see vignetting here but no real magenta color shift on the edges. This is on the A7
The Voigtlander 35 1.2 II – Amazing lens any way you slice it. Around $1100 and performs great and feels great on the A7 or A7r.
This is a nice couple I met today as we walked a trail at Rock City. I asked if I could take their photo and they were nice enough to let me. I shot this with the A7 and 35 1.2 II at 1.2
This one is with the 35 1.2 II at ISO 6400 on the A7..WILD! NOTE: This was in near blackness..we walked through a blacklight exhibit and when I saw the results I was blown away. This was shot in near darkness, under blacklight at ISO 6400. Yet the camera created better colors than what I saw! This would have been a nightmare for many other cameras but this combo pulled it off.
and three more from the 35 1.2…
So there you go! My fave snaps from today after the Horse Farm, the Jack Daniels Distillery, the walk through Rock City and even dinner just a couple hours ago. Tomorrow I will try to put up a 1st look video of the A7 and A7r as well as some wide angle Leica M lens comparisons between the A7 and A7R and how they perform on each body.
My 2nd day thoughts? The IQ coming from these JPEGS is astonishing. They look better to me than what comes out of my Leica M with color and sharpness. High ISO as well. While the cameras are not perfect (loud shutter, not Leica build or feel, not the fastest AF using native FE glass (not as fast as E-M1) and an overall slower feel when using it (then again, so is medium format) the Sony A7 and A7r are quite special for what they offer at their price point. I would take one of these over ANY full frame DSLR any day of the week, and at a small fraction of the cost of a Leica M body, there is nothing bad to say about the A7 and A7r. In fact, I think it has some of the M9 look mixed with the M look! Using it is not the same as an M but the results ROCK.
I will have more thoughts as I use it more and when I do my full review.
Once I get back home this weekend the site will resume its normal updates of guest posts, daily inspirations and more :)
This is not a lens review, just a refresher of a lens I reviewed a few years back. The Zeiss Planar has been with me for a few days via LenRentals.com and I have enjoyed it so much I had to write down some thoughts about using it on the Leica M and MM. Enjoy!
The deal of the century..is that not what many of us are always on the lookout for? Well, the Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 lens for Leica M mount may not be the “Deal of the Century” but it is a slam dunk bang for your hard-earned buck if there ever was one. This little 50mm f/2 lens is SUPERB and I reviewed it a few years back on the Leica M9. It is one of my older reviews so it may not be that long or detailed but it does have plenty of samples that were shot on the M9. The good news? It seems to do just as well on the new generation of Leica cameras and in these days of $4000-$10000 Leica lenses it is refreshing to see an under $900 lens perform just as well as its Leica counterpart.
The Zeiss 50 Planar on the Leica Monochrome – click it for 1600 pixel wide version to see how sharp it is at the focus point (whiskers)
I remember this lens and ever since that 2009 review period and ever since then I have toyed with the idea of owning it because I remember it gave me those Zeiss colors and Zeiss pop along with the Zeiss 3D depth that the Leica did not give me. I remember the lens being super sharp as well but how will it hold up today on the Leica M 240 and Monochrom? At under $900 how could this lens compete with the legendary Leica 50 Summicron that sells for $2295? Can it? Well yes it does, and it does so very well indeed. In some ways it is better than the Leica 50 Cron (original, not APO) and in others it is not. Well, mainly in one area only, and that is build.
It appears many have had the same question as me:“Which lens should I get? Zeiss ZM 50 Planar or Leica Summicron”? Again, the cron is now $1400 more expensive than the Zeiss Planar and below I will go over how I feel the Zeiss compares with the legendary cron as well as talk a teeny bit about the Zeiss 50 Sonnar C 1.5 as well.
I do not have a 50 Cron here anymore to compare but I have extensive experience with it on film and digital, so I know it well. I know its rendering, its bokeh quality and its build. It is a great lens and a favorite of mine but the Zeiss belongs right up there with it, especially considering the cost. Be sure to click on the images here to see them larger with more details.
The Zeiss on the Monochrom wide open at f/2
Build quality will go to the Leica without question. The Leica, as I said, is legendary. It is a problem free lens and the build has never had any major issues unlike the Zeiss that sometimes can develop “focus slop” over time. The review sample I had years ago had the slop and stickiness and Zeiss sent that one to me direct! It did not affect the focusing performance but it did feel loose and sloppy. The one I am using now is a rental from lensrentals.com and it is perfect in feel and use but build wise, it is lighter than the Leica and you can tell it just is not made as well as the mighty cron. I’d say it is 80% of the Leica build. The Leica also has a built-in slide out hood. The Zeiss hood is an extra $80.
Flare control goes to the Zeiss. I tried to get it to flare and just could not yet the Summicron is known for flare. I never had too many issues with the cron and flare but have experienced it quite a few times last year. The Zeiss is flare free. Period.
The M240 and Planar at f/2
Sharpness wide open may go to the Summicron but it is close. Sharpness from 2.8 on..the Zeiss is a monster. There is gobs of detail when shooting this lens at f4 to the point that you couldn’t get any sharper.
Bokeh goes to the Zeiss. The Zeiss can get harsh at times but the cron can get harsh more of the time. The Summicron is one lens where you either love or hate the Bokeh. The Zeiss is smoother, creamier and more pleasurable to look at.
M 240 and Planar
3D Pop/Depth – Zeiss wins in this area.
Color - Zeiss will give you rich saturated colors where the Summicron will render a bit cooler and with less saturation. To some the Zeiss colors may be overkill but they can be toned down if needed. The Zeiss is also more contrasty.
M 240 and 50 Planar at f/2
Cost- The Zeiss is under $900. The Leica is $2295. Image quality is a little different but I would not classify either as better. You just go with the look you like most but again, $900 for a high quality Zeiss 50 f/2 for your Leica..BRAND NEW? No brainer if you want to save some money. I know how it is after buying a Leica M body..sometimes you have very little left over for a lens.
Resale Value – Leica will always have better resale value with their lenses but if we take a look at resale values of the Zeiss Planar and Leica Summicron 50 (latest non APO version) we can see that the Zeiss is not so bad of a choice when it comes to resale in comparison. I have seen the Zeiss sell for as low as $625, that is $275 less than new. I have seen the 50 cron sell used for $1350-$1500. That is $800 to $950 less than new. You lose less by reselling the Zeiss.
Ive been using this rental for a while and became so tempted to just buy one to add to my 50mm collection. So much so that I just did buy one today. It will be my 4th 50mm so I guess I have a 50mm addiction, lol. It does not give up anything in performance when compared to the Leica equivalent and some will prefer the Zeiss hands down.
Detail and Crops
So how does this lens really do on the M240 or Monochrom? Take a look below at the three shots with 100% crops embedded. You will have to click on them to see the larger views with full 100% crop. BTW, these were all at f/2 but the cat at the bottom from the Mono was at 2.8. Incredible detail here.
One con with the Zeiss is that there is some distortion if you shoot up close at the minimum focus distance when shooting straight lines. You can see this in the 2nd crop image above with the fly. I do not remember ever seeing this with the Summicron.
What about the C Sonnar 1.5 from Zeiss?
This one is Easy. If you are a 50mm fan then GET BOTH. For $2100, $200 less than the Leica 50 Summicron you can have the Planar and the Sonnar and you will have TWO totally different looks. The Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 is a classic design and your images will have that classic look and feel. Use the Planar when you want sharpness and detail and more “perfection” and use the Sonnar when you want “dreamy and creamy”. I adore both of these lenses and both are gorgeous in their own ways. Here are three shots from the Sonnar using the lovely Leica Monochrom:
The Sonnar just has a classic look and feel to the images and the Bokeh is much different from the Planar. This one runs about $1200 and is another of my all time favorite 50mm lenses and yes, I caught that butterfly wide open at 1.5 :)
Zeiss ZM – Well worth the cost, a true deal.
I can easily and highly recommend this lens for anyone who shoots with a Leica M8, M9, Monochrom or M 240. It’s a legitimate deal in the world of Leica mount lenses and the lens is a beautiful piece of kit that really does no wrong. It is flare free, easy to focus, has 1/3 aperture click stops, focus dial is smooth (unless you get a sticky one), and from what I hear the service from Zeiss is top-notch if you ever have issues. The Zeiss Planar ZM is a hell of a lens my friends and it will not break the bank when it comes to putting a lens on your Leica M or Zeiss Ikon.
First of all, I’m not a photographer. I’m a publisher (living in Belgium, so pardon my English language mistakes) of a trade magazine for the music business (that’s really a niche market). Besides that, I’m a photography enthusiast for more than 50 years, since my late father (who was nothing more than an enthusiast himself) learned me how to shoot with a Zeiss Ikon. Beside that, I never had any photography education what so ever. My education was music, and maybe (I hope) I got a sense of aesthetics from there.
Because I wrote some comments to some articles on your website before, maybe you know that I love your site very much, because of your real life and “human” approach that really appeals to me.
The reason why I write you this time is double. First of all, I use the Sony Nex-7 (one of the most anticipated camera’s of the last year) now for quite some time, since December 30 to be precise. And I think that I’m probably (one of) the prototype(s) of the Nex-7 user: a real enthusiast who wants to enjoy shooting pictures as much as possible.
Second reason is that I’m also a huge Carl Zeiss fan. And with the Novoflex adaptor, I can use my ZM lenses on the NEX-7 body. I use three lenses: the Biogon 2,8/28 ZM, the Planar 2/50 ZM and the Tele-Tessar 4/85 ZM. When I bought my previous camera, a NEX-5, it came with the Sony E 3.5-6.3/18-200 OSS. I’m keeping this lens, because of its 200mm capability, but I have to say that up till now, I never felt the need to use it, because I find shooting with the Zeiss glass to be so much more fun!
Why am I not a Leica fan? Well, in fact I am, but more in the sence that the Leica M9-P is my dream camera. But it’s simply to expensive for my kind of use. It’s simply not justifiable. So I guess it will remain a dream. But hey, isn’t it nice to have a dream?!!
In my opinion a photography enthusiast is somebody who’s not taking pictures as a profession (although in my job I regularly use my own pictures), as such he doesn’t take as many pictures as a pro, but he nevertheless tries to use his equipment to the fullest and is always looking for the best possible shot. So he’s definitely not a point and shoot photographer. We both now that many of your site visitors are enthusiasts, so what I write about my NEX-7/Zeiss ZM experience is probably very relevant to many of them. When I look at the “Daily Inspiration” publications on your site, sometimes I see pictures that really “Waw!” me. They are shot by great pro photographers, who can do things with their camera that I simply can’t. Maybe they shoot in better light circumstances, most likely they know better how to process the image afterwords and surely they use different material (the Leica M9 sensor for instance is clearly superior to the NEX’s). Not to forget that they developed “a better eye” than most enthusiast ever will. So many of your site visitors will, like me, never be able to reach that level. The more relevant I guess it is, to see what an average, but nevertheless serious enthusiast can realize with this material.
I know you did some testing of the NEX-7 with Leica glass, but honestly, I don’t think that this combination is really relevant for enthusiasts. When I’d want to spend that kind of money for my lenses, I wouldn’t doubt for a second to by an M9. But I simply can’t justify to spend Leica kind of money for my “on the road” camera. Nevertheless the idea is good: the NEX body can easily work with M-mount lenses. To me it’s almost as if the NEX-7 was conceived to be used with M-mount glass. And luckily there are other brands then Leica that make this glass for a considerably lower cost. Amongst them, Zeiss has always been my favorite, being of the same brand as that fabulous first camera of mine, a Zeis Ikon Ikonta C, that shot so unbelievably sharp on 90x60mm film, although it had no light meter, and no focus system what so ever. But it learned you right away what the technique of photographing was really all about… :-)
From a budget point of view the combination of NEX-7 with Zeiss ZM lenses is about the best one can get. And I know that in some circumstances there is a magenta color shift on the NEX-7 with M-mount glass. But really, when I consider that I just took shots as always, I must say that as far as now, it has never bothered me. And I even shot the Biogon wide open sometimes. But, probably like many enthusiasts, I don’t ALWAYS shote wide open. I recently visited the NAMM show, a big music trade show in Anaheim, CA, for my job and took quite some pictures there for our publication and just for fun. (Unfortunately the skies were grey during our visit.) When I shoot the exposition booth of our clients, it’s important that one can see as much as possible, so the DOF must be as large as possible. Also when I want to give a general impression of the fair, I think one must see as much as possible. In those pictures, my goal is probably different of yours. When I want to paint the atmosphere – I don’t want to focus on only one particular detail, but I need to show everything that’s going on there. This is important for our readers and our clients as well. Coming from that background, I always have been oriented towards an as large as possible DOF, with as much as possible detail. And that’s where the Zeiss lenses (in my opinion) outshine.
It’s only since buying the NEX-7 and finding the SteveHuffPhoto website, that I also targeted towards shallow DOF and that I tried to achieve this very beautiful 3D effect, just for fun. How come? Well it’s undoubtedly thanks to the NEX-7/Zeiss combination. To me the camera size and weight is perfect. I can have it around my neck permanently, without being bothered by it in the slightest way. Yet it’s just a little bit bigger than the NEX-5, that a found just too small to be practical. And of course the wonderful view finder (I NEVER AGAIN want to shoot with a camera without view finder!) and the extra control knobs make it such a tremendous joy to work with. I have never shot that much pictures just for fun! I can do everything manually again, but now in a very easy and smooth way. And this brings me the real joy of photographing.
You know, I’m an enthusiast. My goal is not to shoot “The Picture of The Year”. My goal is to enjoy shooting pictures, and at the same time trying to take nice pictures and to continue improving. The NEX-7 gave me already so much more inspiration and ideas to improve my photographic skills, mainly about where to look at while focussing, and how to do this fast. I believe that if one is really trained in manual focussing, he will focus almost as fast as an automatic focussing system, surely when using the ingenious focus peaking, and a good lens like the Zeiss ZM. The focus peaking allows you to immediately and purposefully focus on any point in the view finder. In my opinion (correct me if I’m wrong) this beats any automatic focussing system – surely in joy of use (and remember, that’s my #1 motivation!). To me this opened a new world. Where I used to really take time for every shot, thinking about DOF, pointing, focussing, holding the release knob half ways and reframing, I now enjoy instant shooting, but still framing and focussing in the best possible way. Only now I can do this instantly. What a joy! Many of you will think that it’s pretty remarkable that I only begin to shoot in this way in my late fifties, but hey, I’m just an enthusiast! Of course, shallow depth of field is something I’ve known for whole my life. But I never achieved it in my pictures so much until recently. Nevertheless, I don’t get why anyone would ALWAYS want to achieve THE MOST shallow DOF possible. Sometimes, like in my waitress picture, I want it to be 3D with a shallow background, but I believe it’s better for the atmosphere of the picture to still have some notice of the surroundings, instead off just having some light stains “to make a nice bouquet”.
Do I have other remarks on the NEX-7? Yes. Well, everybody must communicate to Sony that in a future software update, they must provide that the camera can stay in standby while hanging around your neck. “Waking it up” by touching the release knob seems a good idea to me. When I’m out to take fast shots, I’d want it in the on-position all the time. Now this drains the battery in a few hours time. (I measured around 3.5 hours, but maybe that depends on the light circumstances.) Luckily, the battery is small and I have three of them, thanks to my NEX-5. So it’s not a big deal to me. But still…
And yes, I sometimes accidentally start filming. So I delete those. That’s about it guys, and it really doesn’t spoil my joy of using this camera. For the rest, the balance and the feel of the camera is superb. And with the ZM lenses on it, my hand just doesn’t get tired. Ever!
Do I have other remarks on the Zeiss ZM lenses? No. I’m utterly pleased by them. They are sharp, nice bouquet, great 3D, fairly lightweight (without feeling cheap), so easy to use, beautiful and offer the best quality for the money, by far. I told you, I’m a fifty year Zeiss fan. I’m probably not the most objective person, when it comes to Zeiss (after a love of 50 years, who can blame me), but you know, I’m no photography reporter, nor a professional photographer, so I think I can permit me more… :-)
Do I have special comments on the NEX-7/Zeiss ZM combination? Yes. To work with, it’s just a perfect combination. The joy of use is tremendous. Never experienced that in my 50 years of shooting! (I owned more than 10 different camera’s.) Also, the price is right. Lenses and body “play in the same league”. They seem to be meant for one another.
And then there is the magenta color shift. I can’t deny that it’s there. It is. Sometimes. Very rarely in my use. And only with the Biogon. With large aperture. But even then not always, or not noticeable. And when it appears, sometimes it’s only very slightly. Which doesn’t bother me. You know I don’t shoot wide open all the time. From the about 1000 pictures I took up till now, the magenta really bothered me only a very few times – two or maybe three, I already forgot it… Would I want to get rid of it? Sure! Will I buy another camera for it? No way!! Maybe Sony can fix it in a later software update, although I doubt it and I don’t hope for it. But if they do, I surely want the update. If the don’t I stay happy as it is.
My only real comment and regret on the NEX-7 is it not having a full frame sensor. I really would like to get rid of the cropping factor! So maybe the last camera I’ll ever buy will be a full frame NEX-10?? ;-)
I hope you still can enjoy the pictures of a non-pro, who, I’m sure, sometimes will do things that “are not done” in a professionals opinion. If you can give critic of any kind, that can improve my shooting, you are so very welcome! Besides that, I guess the pictures can be very relevant for all those enthusiasts, who want to see what quality they can expect from this NEX-7/Zeiss ZM combination for themselves. Me being one of them!
The pictures shown here are all taken out of hand, without flash, as jpg’s and often slightly processed with Photoshop Elements. I find the Shadows/Highlights function to be very effective, I sometimes somewhat skew and of course sometimes crop a little. Also I sometimes use a very small amount of Unsharp Mask. Oh yeah, also the Adjust Color for Skin Tone sometimes works very effectively. Those functions make it possible to work very fast, being designed to process photo’s and some of them are not available in the regular Photoshop. That’s why I prefer Photoshop Elements for my “normal” pictures, and Photoshop CS Extended for pictures that need to be printed in the magazine.
Hello to all! I am back again with yet another lens review for the Leica M mount! Today I will be writing about and reviewing the Zeiss 35 Biogon F2 lens. I remember when this lens was released it was causing quite the stir because it was gearing up to be a real competitor to the Leica 35 Summicron at a fraction of the cost. Many say that it is even better that the cron!
For years I wanted to give this lens a try because I have seen some really great results with it on the Leica M8 as well as M mount film cameras such as the Zeiss Ikon, Leica M7, etc.
This Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon now retails for $1000 or so and it has went up in price in 2010. The old price was around $900. The Leica 35 Summicron F2 lens sells for $2995 these days so this Zeiss is 1/3 the price. That adds up to be quite a savings! I have owned the 35 Summicron, the 35 Summilux and I currently own the Leica 35 Summarit which I really enjoy. But even the Leica summarit will set you back $1700, and it’s a slower lens with a f2.5 Aperture vs the f2 of the Zeiss.
Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – Set up as a 35 Summicron Pre-Asph in the M9 Menu
I was so curious about this lens I was about to buy one just to try it out! As luck would have it, out of the blue I received an e-mail from Zeiss and they offered to send me the lens to try out for a while. So for the past 3-4 weeks it has been on my Leica M9 and I have shot with it quite a bit. I even did some side by side stuff with my little Leica Summarit.
The Zeiss 35 Biogon f2 Build Quality. Is it as good as Leica?
I get many questions asking me if the Zeiss ZM build quality is comparable to Leica build quality. First of all, let me point out that the Zeiss ZM line of lenses are all made in Japan (all except the 85 Sonnar and the 15 Distagon which are manufactured in Germany). Leica lenses are made in Germany. What does this REALLY mean? Well, it means that the Leica lenses will cost more :)
When I first took the lens out of the box, I noticed it was larger than my 35 Summarit and my old 35 Summicron. It felt lighter and there was some play in the focus ring, much like the Zeiss 50 planar I tested out a few months back. I had no idea if this was a normal thing or if this lens has been loaned out so much that it was in need of some adjustment or repair.
When side by side with my little Summarit, which is a “lower end” Leica lens, the Zeiss was larger and not quite as well made but it was not that far off. Besides, what really counts is the image quality. If I could describe it in an easier way I would say that the Zeiss may last you 15 years before needing service and the Leica may last you 40 years before needing service. The Leica just seemed more solid.
My Leica summarit next to the Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon. I did not have the Summicron on hand but it’s only SLIGHTLY larger than the Summarit.
Also, let us remember that the Zeiss is 1/3 the cost of the lower end Leica Summarit, and it’s a faster lens with an f/2 Aperture vs t he f/2.5 of the Summarit! So I did not really expect the same build as the Leica. As with every Zeiss ZM lens I have tried the aperture ring is solid and clicks in to place without any worries of it clicking out accidentaly. It’s solid in that dept. I already mentioned that my copy had some focus play but it did NOT affect the actual focus results.
What about the Image Quality?
The Zeiss 35 Biogon F2 frustrated me early on. When I mounted it to the M9 it appeared to underexpose, have some severe vignetting and sometimes overly warm colors. I was shooting it uncoded of course and for the first few days I shot it without setting up any coding for it in the M9 “Lens Detection” menu.
Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – No coding. The lens will vignette on the M9 if not set up correctly. This is an out of camera shot.
Finally, after shooting with it for a while I set up the lens as a 35 Summicron pre-asph in the M9 menu. Once I did that all of the problems were just about gone. I started seeing beautiful results and started to wonder if this was a better lens than my 35 Summarit! I did some comparisons earlier with the two lenses and my Summarit always seemed more accurate in color with better contrast and sharpness. The Zeiss seemed to do better with 3D pop and had plenty of warmth. But again, this was before I set it up as a 35 Summicron Pre-Asph.
Leica M9 and Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 – Set up as a 35 Summicron in the M9 Menu
This one had a cross processing filter applied in color efex pro…
With the Zeiss set up in the M9 menu as the cron I was getting rich color, 3 dimensional depth, and it was plenty sharp for any need I would ever have. I had just bought the little Summarit prior to getting the Zeiss in for review but I was not upset about that because the Summarit is one fine lens and it gives me superb results, and it is coded.
The issue with the Zeiss on a Leica M9 lies with the coding. If you forget to set it up in the menu then your images will have vignetting and sometimes odd color if shooting wide open at F2, or even 2.5. If you own this lens and have been shooting it with the Leica M9, give it a try. Go to menu, then “lens detection” and then set it up as the 35 f/2 11310/11311. This setting gave me the best results.
Once set up, the IQ is sooooo good at times, especially when you have really good light (this goes for ANY lens/camera combo as light is #1). The images have a warm glow with a rich feel. If you like warm and saturated, the Zeiss will not leave you disappointed.
Ugly Wallpaper Comparisons
I wanted to see how much improvement there really was when setting up the lens in the M9 menu so I set up my tripod and did my “ugly wallpaper” test. Here are the results…
M9/35 Biogon without any setup in the M9 menu. Notice the vignetting even at f/2.5 – Also some odd color casts.
Let’s see what happens when it is set up as a 35 Summicron Pre-Asph in the M9 “Lens Detection” menu:
Much improved but it is not perfect. Since I was all set up in the room with the M9 and tripod, I threw on my 35 Summarit just for fun.
MUCH better! The 35 Summarit, being a Leica lens and coded for the M8/M9 does a better job in the vignetting dept. than the Zeiss. But again, this is wallpaper and there is no way in hell I would ever take a photo of this ugly ass wallpaper so let’s see what the Zeiss can do out in the REAL WORLD. BTW, this wallpaper was in a room in my house when we bought it and the wife is STILL bugging me to strip it off the walls :) After a year, I still have it on my “to do” list!
Real World Samples
I know and you know that what matters most with a lens or camera is how it performs when taking actual images, not images of walls or test charts. If it can do a good job of delivering high quality images, in other words, what it is made for, then it doesn’t matter what the test charts say. I wanted to get out there with this lens and decided to take a short 36 hour road trip!
I went on the road with my Mother (the wife has a VERY busy schedule) and brought along the Zeiss 35 and the M9 (as well as the S2 and other goodies). Here are some of the images from that trip with the Zeiss. You can click on any image for a larger view…
Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9
As we headed into the state of Kentucky I spotted a log cabin. I pulled the car into this field and on my way back I snapped a shot off. This image has the typical warm and rich Zeiss colors.
Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – No coding
I forgot to set the lens up as the 35 cron for this one. I had my 50 cron on the camera and it was set to “Auto” so you can see some vignetting in this one. This was a small dirt road we went down called “Booger Drive”.
Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 on the Leica M9 – No coding
Again, I forgot to set up the lens (I actually thought it was already set up) but as you can see, in a real image it doesn’t really matter. The vignetting here adds to the mood and I love the colors.
Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 – No setup/coding
Man, it seems like I NEVER remembered to set this lens up! That was the big problem. With my Summarit it was automatic, with the Zeiss it was NOT so if I forgot then the vignetting would creep in. But still, I love the look here.
Zeiss 35 Biogon at F2 – Lens setup as the 35 Summicron Pre-Asph in the Leica M9 menu
Finally, I remembered to set it up :) Looks MUCH cleaner now…
So in real world shooting you can see that the Zeiss Biogon did pretty damn good on the M9. When I look at the 35 Summarit shots from the same trip they appear sharper and a bit more clinical than the Zeiss, but also they have more “brilliance”. It’s the usual Leica vs Zeiss thing and is pretty much personal preference. Here is an image from the Leica 35 Summarit:
Leica M9 and Leica 35 Summarit at f2.5 – The summarit is a bit more “perfect” than the Zeiss on the M9.
Sharpness and Detail of the Zeiss
So I have already established that this lens renders colors in a warm and pleasing way. I have also shown that it has a nice 3D rendering and when set up as a Leica 35 Summicron PRE-ASPH on the Leica M9 most of the issues go away (but not fully). In real world photos the results are very nice. Some may find the colors a bit TOO WARM but others will like the effect.
But what about sharpness? The Leica 35 Summarit is a very sharp lens and in the full size version of the above image the detail is amazing. What about the Zeiss? Well, it is also a VERY sharp lens but it’s about 90-95% of the Summarit in the detail arena. Not as bitingly sharp, and for many things this is a GOOD thing. Portraits for example :) Here is an image I shot with the Zeiss at F4 along with a crop. At F4 it’s just as sharp as the summarit is at 2.5.
The detail is pretty impressive here if you ask me! The lens was NOT set up as the summicron so you still have some vignetting (even at F4) but it did not hurt the detail. At F2 it has a hint of softness and glow but it sharpens up quite nicely after that.
How about on Micro 4/3?
I did try this lens briefly on micro 4/3 but again, since I own and shoot the M9 I never really find myself wanting to use those lenses on the E-P2, so I tested it out and that was about it. Here are a few shots taken with the E-P2 and Novoflex M to m4/3 adapter, both at F2:
Olympus E-P2, Novoflex Adapter and Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon at F2
The lens seemed to do fine on the Olympus E-P2 with the Adapter but remember, the lens will act like a 70mm focal length and you will not get the same look and detail that you would get on an M8 or M9.
The Zeiss 35 Biogon or Leica 35 Summicron
I used to own the Leica 35 Summicron ASPH which now goes for $2995. Many say the Zeiss is a better lens and you have your fans of each brand. Me, I personally think the Zeiss may give you images that are more pleasing to the eye at times but the 35 Summicron will give you more accurate color, sharper out of focus transitions at F2, and better build quality. It really comes down to what look you are after. At F2 think “round/warm” for the Zeiss and “sharp/perfect” with the 35 Summicron ASPH.
Personally, when you take everything into consideration like price, build, and image quality then it would be hard to dismiss the Zeiss. That is why I say if your budget goes up to $1000, the Zeiss would be a great choice. If you have more to spend, go with your heart and eyes. Which look do you prefer?
PROS and CONS:
It’s not cheap but it’s not crazy either. About $1000 for a fast 35mm for your M mount camera.
Great warm colors, 3D depth and great detail.
It’s a Zeiss!
Build is very good (but not Leica like)
Seems to do great on m4/3 with adapter.
It’s larger than the Leica Summarit and Summicron.
It’s hood is a twist on and it is large and is an extra accessory to buy.
No coding on the lens means it can be problematic on the Leica M9.
Vignettes some at f2-f4 on the M9.
No case included.
My copy seemed to have some play in the focus ring just like the Zeiss 50 planar I tested so build may not be up there with Leica.
The Bottom Line Conclusion
For the money, the Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon f2 lens is a winner any way you look at it. On M mount film cameras it is superb, on the M8 it is superb and on the M9 it CAN be superb if you remember to set up the lens in the Lens Detection menu to a 35 Summicron pre-asph. The lens is sharp, it has gorgeous rich color, and at f2 you can even use it in some low light situations if needed. If shooting on an M9 just remember to either get the lens coded or to set it up in the M9 menu for best results. In many ways I liked it a little better than my Leica 35 Summarit. I’m a sucker for that Zeiss look and in some of my photos I felt like I could reach out and touch what was in the image.
Some photographers LOVE Zeiss glass and if you are one of those who love the 3D qualities of Zeiss then the Biogon will be right up your alley. It did not disappoint and I have even sold a few prints from one of the photos made with this lens. For the money you can not beat it in the M mount 35mm focal length arena!
If you are looking for a nice 35mm for your M mount camera and have a budget up to $1000 or so, THIS is the lens to get. I would buy mine at B&H Photo as this is where I have been shopping for close to 15 years. They are #1 in my book for anything photo related as well as Mac computers, hard drives, software and so much more. If you follow my links here and make a purchase then you are helping to keep this site going and growing as I will get a tiny commission for any sale generated from my links here. So, if you enjoyed this review and found it helpful feel free to use my links to this lens HERE for black or HERE for silver! Thank you for reading my Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon review!
Here are even more samples from my time with this lens! These images have some post processing as they are part of my “Rural Landscape” series and they are prepared for print.
This one has had some contrast, color, and highlight tweaks. Also, a filter from Color Efex pro was used as well as cloning the fence on the right to the left. I sold 5 prints of this image in one week and it was shot with the Zeiss 35 at F4.
Here is another with some post processing. The Zeiss just has that 3D quality and it is so cool on these types of images. All I did here was add the “low key” filter in color efex pro. I then took the dodge tool to brighten the building. I then added some blur around the house. These simple steps gives the image a very moody and dreary look. Just what I was going for. Took 10 minutes. BTW, this one was shot at F2.
and one more…did the same thing as the one above, just not as intense! This lens is the most 3D lens I have ever shot with.
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