May 302014
 

Zeiss love

By Brendan Gara

Good to see the site going from strength to strength. It’s been nearly a year since you published my report of my travels in South East Asia with my M6 and Fuji X100 (www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/05/29/three-months-in-south-east-asia-with-a-leica-m6-and-the-fuji-x100-by-brendan-gara/). Since then I’ve been mostly shooting with my M6 and the Zeiss ZM 50mm C Sonnar T 1.5 lens.

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).

Thanks Brendan

My blog: http://brendangaraphotography.wordpress.com

My flickr page: www.flickr.com/photos/brendangara

Surf Beach

Rebecca Reclining

Rhossili Dog

Rhossili Martin

Lily

Jonathan and friend

Ilfracombe gulls

Ariel 1

Ariel 2

Ariel 3

Nov 292013
 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Sony A7 and A7r Camera Review by Steve Huff 

Yes, Sony did it! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why these cameras are game changers

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

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

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

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

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

GRRRRRR – A7r – ISO 800 35 2.8

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3 – IN the studio!

Day 4 – Wrap up!

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

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

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The Specs

Full Frame Compact Mirrorless Digital Camera

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

A7: 24.3MP Exmor CMOS Sensor

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

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

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

A7R: Gapless, On-chip Sensor Lenses

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

BIONZ X Image Processor

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

A7: Fast Hybrid Autofocus

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

A7: Up to 5 fps Continuous Shooting

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

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

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

3.0″ Tilt LCD Monitor

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

2.4M-dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder

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

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

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

Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC

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

Direct Access Interface

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

New Eye AF control

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

14-bit RAW Output

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

Wired Remote Control with Video Capture Control

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

Multi-Interface Shoe

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

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The Body

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

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

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

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

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

Sony A7 and 50 Noctilux F/1

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That LOUD Shutter!

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

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

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

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

The Native Sony and Zeiss Lenses and my thoughts

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

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

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

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The 35 at 2.8 and ISO 500

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The 35 2.8 at 2.8

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

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

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

The A7 and 55 1.8

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

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

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

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

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

The A7 and 55

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The A7 and 55 

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and here is a video of me using these lights

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

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DETAIL EXTREME: Sony A7R and Zeiss OTUS 55 1.4

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

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The EVF and Manual Focus of the A7 and A7r

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

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

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

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The Speed and overall usability of the cameras

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

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

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The Menus & WiFi

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

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

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

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The battery life

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

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The High ISO Performance of the A7 and A7r

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

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

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

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

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Using Leica M Mount Lenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is a link to the adapters:

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

The generic adapter for $15 – Buy at Amazon

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

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

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Manually Focusing with the A7 or A7r

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

An OOC JPEG from the A7r and Voigtlander 21 1.8

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Video Performance

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

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The Pros and Cons of the A7 cameras

Pros

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

Cons

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

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My Final word on the Sony A7 and A7r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve

The 7R at ISO 1250 with the 35 2.8

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

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

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

Buy the Sony A7r body B&H Photo or Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Voigtlander M Mount Lenses from CameraQuest.com

Buy Zeiss ZM Lenses HERE

Buy The Novoflex Leica M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the Generic M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the two LED light set I used HERE

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

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

To help out it is simple. 

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

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website.

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

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

I thank you ALL!

Oct 302013
 

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Day two with the Sony A7 and A7r..and the Zeiss Otus 55 1.4!

See Day 1 HERE.

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 A7R offers pure power in resolution and that is about the only advantage it gives over the cheaper A7 (besides slight build on the dials). I love both but the A7 shutter is quieter, the AF is faster and the camera costs less and does better with wide angle Leica M glass!

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. 

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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..

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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

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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. 

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Back to the A7r and Otus at 1.4 – JPEG. RAW color will be better. 

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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. 

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Once again the Otus 55 1.4 at 1.4 on the A7r

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and again…

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and again…

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and again…

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and again…

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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. 

The next FIVE shots were taken with the A7 and 50 Zm f/2 Planar. This lens sells for around $800 and is one of the best bang for the bucks out there in M mount glass. You can see a recent refresh I did on this lens with the Leica HERE.

This 1st shot is from the Jack Daniels Distillery in TN. We took a great tour there and even got to feel some EXTREME heat. The Sony stood up to the heat test. My face was melting but the camera still kept shooting! Make sure you click these for larger and remember, these are all JPEG! The Zeiss Planar 50 f/2 AM is another fave of mine on the A7 or A7r and I feel this lens on these bodies will beat the Leica M with this lens for IQ. Can not wait to process the RAW files. This OOC color is amazing though.

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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

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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

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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. 

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and three more from the 35 1.2…

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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 :)

Thanks!

Steve

Apr 092013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Zeiss on the Monochrom wide open at f/2

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The Breakdown

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

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

The M240 and Planar at f/2

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

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

M 240 and Planar

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

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

M 240 and 50 Planar at f/2

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

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

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

Detail and Crops

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

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

What about the C Sonnar 1.5 from Zeiss?

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

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

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

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

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

A couple more samples below:

 

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Feb 102012
 

USER REPORT: The Sony Nex-7 with Zeiss ZM lenses.

By Dirk De Paepe 

Hello Steve,

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.

Have fun shooting!

Feb 252010
 

The Zeiss ZM 35 Biogon Lens Review

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:

PROS:

  • 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.

CONS:

  • 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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Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Also, if you are interested in any prints from ANY images you see on this site (taken by me of course) let me know as I sell prints from my “Rural Landscape” series which grows every week.

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