Jun 022014
 

Zeiss Touit Deals BACK IN STOCK NOW! ACT FAST!

 

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

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

BACK IN STOCK NOW BUT WILL GO FAST!!! 

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

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

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

970840

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

See the bundle deal for Sony

See the bundle deal for Fuji

IN STOCK NOW!

May 052014
 

3 days of paris!

By Rikard Landberg

Hi Steve!

I would like to share some photos from my trip to Paris with you and your readers. I used a Leica M4-P with a Zeiss Biogon 35/2.8 loaded with Tmax 400. It´s a great combo!

My ”style” of photography is black and white photos with a lot of negative space. The negative thing about negative space is that i often don’t get close enough. The challenge on this trip was to get closer but still work with negative space. Did i succeed?

Paris_looking outTOYP

Paris_smöga (2)TOYP

Paris_bänkparTOYP

Paris_fotografTOYP

Paris_jackaTOYP

Paris_parTOYP

Paris_pornmanTOYP

Paris_fredTOYP

Paris_cafe (2)TOYP

Paris_spegelTOYP

Website: www.rikardlandberg.se
Flickr: www.flickr.com/landberg

Thank you!
Rikard Landberg, Sweden.

May 022014
 

Testing the real Zeiss Ikon

By Huss Hardan

Leica and Zeiss-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best regards
Huss
husshardan.com

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

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

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

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-3
Pic 4, stairs and sandals, Annenberg Beach House, Santa Monica, CA.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-4

Apr 222014
 

Ironwork craft makers

By Sebastien Bridelance

Hi Steeve, Hi Brandon,

My name is Sebastien, I’m french and fond of SteveHuffPhoto.com. I like the way you and your readers share and sharing is also the topic of the little story I would like to tell you.

An event, ‘the european days of crafts’ takes place during the first weekend of April. I would probably miss this but fortunately a friend of mine invite me to visit ironwork craftmakers of his friends. They’re located in Estaires, only few kilometers away from home. Obviously, my camera and me have accepted the invitation.

I’ve met passionate men, lovers of their work, preserving a traditional know-how. They’ve shown me how they shape pieces of iron for building and decorating a banister or a portal. They’re inspired and inspiring persons. I thank them for their friendly welcome. I’ve taken the following photos using a ‘classic’ gear : nikon D700 and two of my favorite lenses : Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 and Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/2. The 85 shot the first picture while the Distagon 35 made the two others. I’ve post-processed the raw files with Silver Efex.

Curving the hot metal – Nikkor 85/1.8 @ f/1.8

DSC_1652-2-1

In front of the forge – Distagon 35/2 @ f/4

DSC_1864-2-1

Mr Lenglart, owner of the workshop, making a flower from a sheet of iron – Distagon 35/2 @ f/2.8

DSC_1762-1

Best wishes,

Sebastien Bridelance

cercle2confusion.wordpress.com

Apr 092014
 

titleotus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 on the Sony A7r:

my considerations and experiences (so far)

by Dirk De Paepe

A contradiction?

Putting the largest and heaviest lens on the smallest and lightest body… doesn’t seem to be the smartest move, does it?!

Indeed, no other FF lens of standard focus length weighs more and is bigger than the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55, and no other FF body is smaller and lighter than the Sony A7r (at the time of this writing, April 2014). Combining those two indeed appears to be a major contradiction. Obviously.

But let me make another statement now.

Putting the best lens on the best sensor… makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?!

Indeed, the Otus was developed by Zeiss with only one simple goal: creating a full frame lens with the best possible image quality, to meet the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) full frame hi-res sensors, that are able to provide an IQ close to medium format cameras. Zeiss clearly felt the need for lenses that meet (and surpass) those sensor specifications. Therefore the Zeiss engineers received no restrictions whatsoever concerning size, weight and budget. So this lens is indeed big, heavy and expensive. What did you expect.

With the A7r, it’s clear that Sony wanted to come up with nothing less than a masterstroke: combining the most advanced FF sensor with the smallest body, to offer the highest IQ in a FF body of today’s market.

Yet it doesn’t make too much sense to compare Sony’s situation with Zeiss’. Already the life span of both products will differ significantly. The evolution in sensors and bodies rushes further at an incredible pace, with a continuous stream of major new announcements. Still, although every camera body that one can buy today can offer satisfactory results for quite some years, the life span of a good lens remains a lot longer and can be estimated as virtually a lifetime.

Nobody doubts the Otus IQ. And, as far as I followed publications about the A7r, all test reports stated that its IQ is at least at par with, if not surpasses this of the Nikon D800E (until recently the sole standard for hi-res FF sensors). So purely regarding IQ, paring the Otus with the A7r makes a lot of sence. Obviously.

So on Wednesday, October 16, minutes after the first official presentation of the A7/A7r – by Sony Australia on YouTube – I placed my order. This was the camera body that I had been waiting for since about 5 years, when I bought my first NEX-5. Ever since that moment, I had been thinking: “If only they’d make a full frame camera like this, with a good viewfinder and enough knobs for direct manual control of the basic parameters…”

The NEX-7 was already a big step forward, with the EVF as an unexpected bonus. And when the full frame RX-1 was launched, unfortunately not an IC body, I was sure that Sony was in the final straight line towards my dream camera. So that Wednesday morning, I didn’t have to think it over for a second, because I already considered it for five years. During the whole presentation, I thought: “Yes!”

Also when the Zeiss Otus was announced to become available, I placed an order to get one of the first possible lenses that would ship to Belgium. The Otus 1.4/55 immediately tremendously appealed to me. Those who’ve read my first article, being published on this site, won’t be surprised, since my love for Zeiss goes back some 50 years. What I love about Zeiss can be summarized as: achieving the highest possible quality but still selling for reasonable, not Leica-crazy prices (sorry, Leica). All test reports about the Otus spoke of the most extra-ordinary full frame lens of all time, better than the Leica Apo-Summicron, that more than doubles its price. The Otus is said to be virtually perfect in all domains that really matter. OK, it’s not perfect in ALL domains, but that wouldn’t be of this world, would it. It’s big and heavy, actually the biggest and heaviest standard focal length glass on the market. It’s probably not really completely weather sealed, it’s not suitable for autofocus, it has no image stabilization and it scratches pretty easily (that’s what I read, so I try to handle it with great care). Oh yeah, it’s also pretty expensive.

Two versions of Otus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/50 comes in two versions: the ZE for Canon mount and the ZF.2 for Nikon. Both versions can be used with the A7r – of course with different adapters. (BTW, also the Sony comes in two versions, A7 and A7r, but there has been written enough about this on this website.)

The construction of the optics are identical with both lenses, which implies that the distance from the back lens to the sensor is the same (as it is with all “pairs” of Zeiss ZE and ZF.2 SLR lenses). So the “mounting foot” of each version is adapted to the specific camera body it is designed for, which is a bit shorter (some 3mm) on the ZF.2, due to Nikons longer FFD (flange focal distance = distance from flange to sensor). Thus, when mounting an Otus on the A7r, the appropriate adapter for the ZF.2 version will be 3mm thicker than the one for the ZE. But the total length of the camera/adapter/lens combination will be exactly the same for both – necessarily so, to make the optics work. (The camera is measure from the point where the sensor is mounted in the body.)

Besides the mounting, there are some other obvious differences. The ZF.2 has an aperture ring, which lacks on the ZE. Here the aperture must be set from the camera body. So there is an automation mechanism in the lens that makes the ZE 60g heavier and a bit fatter at the rear end. Yet, on the ZF.2, the aperture ring locks when set to f/16, allowing shutter speed priority (according to the manual), and thus automated aperture setting. With some bodies, it would even be possible to chose whether the aperture is set from the lens or the body. Because the lens manual indicates this, I don’t doubt it for a second. But I didn’t try it.

Which one to choose?

It took me quite some time to make up my mind about which version to choose for my A7r. Initially, I made the following considerations. The A7r has two customizable turning knobs on top of the body, one for thumb control, the other for the index finger. Aperture and shutter time control can be programmed to those, which makes sense, when using the ZE version. Also, I noticed that on the press presentation, the ZE was used in combination with the A7r. So this must mean something, no? They used the Metabones Smart Adapter Mark III (make sure to order the Mark III), which is that one adapter on the market that I’d trust to do the job for the Otus ZE. With some cheap EF to E (former NEX) adapters, you just loose the aperture control. (At the time of this writing) I’m really astonished that those are even on the market. Who for heavens sake would settle for only being able to shoot wide open? Then there are adapters that provide build in aperture blades. Neglecting the aperture system of the lens, those adapters offers an “ersatz” set aperture blades… ? I never tried one of those, and I never will, because, for sure, the character of your lens’ bokeh will be lost. So everything else but the Metabones is definitely a no-go for the ZE, IMO. Luckily the Metabones works really well (with one restriction – I’ll come to that later). It transmits all necessary electronic data perfectly back and forward. BTW, (at the moment of this writing and to my knowledge) there is no adapter on the market that does the same job for the ZF.2, so there’s no data exchange, no lens Exif data available, no lens control from the body, although, in case of the ZF.2, that’s not really dramatic, since the aperture can be set on the lens. To finish this off, all ZF.2 controls (Nikon-style) work in reverse to what I’m used to, which I thought can be confusing sometimes. Concerning the weight, I considered the extra 60g of the ZE to be not really important, in regard to the total lens weight of around 1kg. So it’s clear that I ordered a ZE Otus and a Metabones adapter. (Recently I noticed the appearance of some other data exchanging adapters that are a lot cheaper than the Metabones. But I would be very reluctant to buy a cheap adapter for the Otus, in regard to the problems this can cause – I come to that later.)

The adapter arrived first, even before my A7r. When picking up my camera at the shop, first thing I did was mounting the adapter and putting on a Canon EF lens from the shop, to see if everything worked out alright. And it did! Flawlesly. Even the autofocus beeped and nailed. So my A7r’s DSC00001 picture is shot in full automatic mode with a Canon Zoom lens! I just went outside the shop, pointed and shot – no thinking, just pushing the button. Being a 100% manual shooter, using prime lenses solely, this must be a unicum for both my camera and myself! :-)

Later, a friend of mine lent me his Zeiss Planar 1,4/50 ZE, to compare it to my own Planar 2/50 ZM. It also offered me the opportunity to further try out my Metabones adapter, imagining how it would operate with the Otus, once it would arrive. And then I made some remarkable observations. First of all: regardless of the set aperture, the lens always stayed wide open, until the moment the release button is pushed (Canon shooters will be familiar with that). I found that very inconvenient, making it impossible to estimate the DOF in the viewfinder and not consistent at all to what I’m used to with the other lenses I have, like the Zeiss ZMs. But I knew this problem could be solved. Canon has a designated button to check the DOF, and indeed, one can program the implementation of the set aperture under one of the customizable push buttons of the A7r, to obtain this function as well. Problem solved. At least, that’s what I thought initially… The DOF is indeed veraciously visible. But when using my other prime lenses, the A7r makes it possible to check the DOF very precisely in the viewfinder, by magnifying critical zones (as a matter of fact, the EVF can magnify any zone I want). Especially when hyperfocusing, I consider this a unique and major quality – “modern manual shooting”, so to speak. And here the ZE (and all Canon EF mount lenses) cause a problem, since it’s impossible to combine closing the aperture blades to the set value (holding down the designated button) with the viewfinder magnification function (for which we need to push another button – it’s exactly the simultaneous activation of two functions that’s impossible). But again, one has tried to provide a solution. This time, Metabones did an effort by features two operation modes on their adapter: Green and Advanced. First of all, it’s not evident to know of those modes, since there comes no manual with the package, nor is there any mentioning that the manual can be found on the Metabones website. If you’re interested in it, you can find it here: http://www.metabones.com/article/of/green-power-save-mode. The adapter is set to Green mode by default, featuring an operation as described above.

The activation of the Advanced mode is very simple: mount the adapter, switch the camera power on and mount the lens on the adapter, while holding down the “wide open” button of the adapter. In Advanced mode, the lens blades will always directly adjust to the set aperture. So there’s no longer need to activate two functions at the same time, which indeed ensures the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. Still there remains a serious handicap with respect to the ZF.2 version, since the ZE doesn’t allow finetuning of the DOF while monitoring in magnification mode. That is, in VF magnification mode, the wheel with which you set the diafragm gets another function, namely moving the magnified zone to the left and right. Maybe Sony will eventually come up with a software upgrade to fix this, but that’s not a certainty of course. So what is the exact difference ? Both versions offer the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. But with the ZE, this is done in a static way: set the aperture and magnify to check. If you wanna change, leave the magnification mode, set a different aperture and check again. With the ZF.2 on the other hand, you can do this in a direct interactive way: go to VF magnification mode and determine the DOF by fine tuning the aperture ring on the lens, while monitoring the changes in the VF. Fast, simple and accurate. IMO the ZE version makes a lot of detours to end up with a crippled functionality. And on top of it, it’s pretty battery consuming, since every change of aperture requires battery power.

Anyway, at this moment, it’s a no-go for me, and I guess the ZE will never enthuse me. I really can’t think of any real advantage that a body set aperture has – not one. I consider Exif-data interesting, but not really vital (although I’d welcome a Novoflex ZF.2 adapter with electronic signal transmission to remind me of the set aperture) and I look upon aperture setting on the body as an unnecessary detour. But interactively fine tuning the DOF to precision on the other hand, I consider that to be a vital operation for “modern manual shooting”, especially when using a hi-res lens on a hi-res sensor. (No OVF offers this possibility. That’s one of the reasons why I believe that the EVF has the future.)

So I changed my Otus order to a ZF.2 version, bought a Novoflex NEX/NIK adapter with tripod collar (necessary IMO) and put my Metabones for sale. Yes, I’ll have to live with the inverse settings and mounting of the “Nikon-style” lens, but hey, there’s no ideal world, is there…

Furthermore, choosing the ZF.2 has even more advantages. The possibility to mount a tripod collar on the adapter improves the camera’s balance on the tripod, since the tripod base plate of the collar protrudes a few cm. The Metabones has a tripod base too, but this one is positioned closer to the body, changing the balance. And when shooting OOH, you can’t remove this plate, which “scratched” my left hands fingers from time to time (nothing serious really, but still…). Another point: when using the Otus, I like to mount the vertical grip on the body (which is a no-go in combination with the Metabones, because it inhibits any upwards tilting). This grip substantially contributes to improve the balance of the lens/body combination. I’ve read in several reviews that the Otus would not really be suitable for the A7r, for reasons of unbalance when OOH shooting. I strongly disagree! (See hereunder in the “Balance” chapter.) Just buy the vertical grip and you’ll experience a completely different story. I know some criticized the A7r’s ergonomics, the knobs not being positioned in the places where they expected them. But isn’t that just a matter of getting used to it? I know that’s how it worked for me. And of course, some thorough consideration, about where to program the functions you always wanna keep at hand, helps a lot. What I like about the A7r is that it offers all the possibilities to work without having to pass through the menu and that I can blindly find all the functions I need.

Oh yeah, last advantage of my choice for the ZF.2 version: it gives me the instant overview of focal distance, aperture and DOF scale with a single glance on the lens – as traditional primes do and as it should IMO (I’m old fashioned in that department). This is shown in my picture “Aperture on lens” below:

1.Aperture on lens

Why the Otus?

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus anyway? Well, I can only tell you why I bought it.

Since the time Leica launched its M8, I started dreaming of it and later of the M9. I also could see very interesting lenses being reviewed for those cameras. Now I don’t easily sell my lenses, since good ones can virtually last a lifetime, and it’s the glass above all that determines the character of the image (next to the photographer of course). Some of those reviewed lenses were very appealing to me indeed, but most of them crazy expensive. First of all I think of the Noctilux and Summilux. The latter, being a lot less expensive, was still a no-go for me, regarding it’s price/performance relation. I found a much healthier relation offered by Zeiss, still being of top level (sometimes even outperforming Leica IMO) but being sold for 2 to 3 times less money. It’s clear I went for Zeiss.

The first reports on the Otus immediately pulled me over. Here was a lens that outperforms all my former dream-lenses and is still payable – with some effort admittedly (but that’s a personal matter). That’s my motivation, plain and simple.

The Otus Image Quality

From the very first reports, literally everybody that tried this lens was somewhere between impressed and flabbergasted by its IQ. What I read was that it performs close to perfection for all criteria, at all apertures and in the whole picture up to the extreme corners. The superlatives were flying around. It has the finest detail in all apertures and throughout the whole image, (close to) no flare, no distortion, no CA, incredible micro contrast, the smoothest bokeq (front and hind equally). Read the reviews for all the details… The comments of the reviewers are that homogeneous that I couldn’t but believe them. And having a more than 50 years experience with Zeiss myself, it only allowed me to be even more confident. So I really immediately ordered without any doubt.

But the question is: now that I’ve got it, does it live up to my expectations? Short answer: indeed it does, in every way! I had been searching for all possible Otus pictures online, but still, looking at the first images that I shot myself, really made my jaw drop. I spend minutes, looking at all details on all places, trying to absorb what I saw. Yes, this was really happening! No anomalies in whatever parameter. Detail and (micro) contrast like I’ve never seen before in my pictures. No need for sharpening. An incredibly soft bokeh, with super smooth transitions, especially when setting the sharpening to zero. And the bokeh is of an equal beauty in front and behind the focus point. Do I need to say more? Well, I’ll try: think of anything you want and the Otus will probably outperform any FF lens you know.

Combined with the A7r, the files offer not only tremendous detail, they are very workable as well. Not that you need to process them a lot, but you can, if you wanna go for a certain image that you have in mind. Of course the sensor has a huge participation herein. In “Glass Doll”, I wanted to emphasize the green color in the glass.

2.Glass doll

I literally pushed every relevant parameter in RAW conversion to the limit (really to the max), just to see how far I could go. And the result still remains very credible IMO. Notwithstanding the very fierce processing, the bokeh and the color transitions remain a treat for the eyes. This one was shot at f/1.4 and the focusing took half a minute or so, to have it exactly on and equally divided amongst the eye, noose and mouth of the doll. The full size version is available on my flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12444908724/sizes/o/in/photostream/) – I advise you to look at it to really see what’s going on with the color transitions and the details in the glass. All of a sudden, all the tiny faults in the glass become visible in a way that refers to macro shooting. The small focal distance, close to the minimum of 45cm, combined with the hi-res sensor makes this happen.

The Otus is specially conceived for hi-res sensors. So the detail is really important. That’s why I wanted to apply this detail in some of my pictures. In “Bicyclist under trees” I hyperfocused, wanting to get everything sharp, from closest to farthest object.

3.Bicyclist under trees

Hyperfocusing with a 55mm lens is far from obvious, the DOF getting considerably smaller with this focal lenght. A Zeiss sales manager told me: “I wouldn’t buy this lens that much for hyperfocusing purposes.” But personally, I believe it’s really possible, although this requires a very precise focus setting. The detail remains at such a high level throughout the whole field, that IMO it is absolutely possible to hyperfocus with the Otus. The EVF of the A7r, that combines checking the DOF (the amount of detail) in focus magnification really helps in this case. (I don’t wanna work without EVF anymore!) I absolutely wanted to try hyperfocusing, since this is an excellent way to get detail all over the picture, and as such to prove the exceptional quality of the Otus. Looking at this picture, you can see that even in the corners (especially obvious in the upper left and lower right corners) the IQ remains excellent and consistent.

When looking at the objects far beyond the focal point, there is still detail, but the image is unmistakably becoming a bit softer, because those objects are situated at the very end of the field, if not slightly beyond (indicated by the DOF scale). It’s still at par with most lenses at “normal” aperture, while this one was being taken at f/16. In this picture, I really pushed the hyperfocal possibilities to the limit, by focusing at around 7m. On flickr you can get a 100% image, for you to really see what I’m talking about. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12294747935/sizes/o/in/photostream/) I thought the detail, especially in the branches on the left, is flat out amazing.

I guess IQ is best experienced when shooting yourself, because everybody is used to get a certain IQ level, when opening his own pictures out of camera. You never now what kind of processing was done on somebody else’s picture, but when looking with a fresh eye at your own shots, you can more easily compare. I can honestly say, that I was really deeply impressed when looking at the first shots of my A7r, but I was flat out flabbergasted when looking at the first shots of my Otus. And what I absolutely wanna emphasize on, is how workable those Otus/A7r files are. You can really underexpose and retrieve beautiful natural colors out of close to black zones. Also the opposite is possible: retrieving colors from over exposure. This PP can be done to a really amazing level as I never new before – not by far. Again, the sensor has a huge participation herein.

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus? There is only one answer: for its flabbergasting image quality, especially combined with the A7r. IMO those two pair amazingly well. This combination will not only deliver a top level IQ, you will also have great cropping power. “Overview” is an example hereof. Cutting off the woman from her surroundings, was an obvious choice. But since I couldn’t get any closer, I needed to crop this picture to 27,5%. Still the image remains pretty detailed. Who needs a zoom?!

4.Overview

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory”, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

5.Forest, canal and factory

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory” above, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

Why not a faster lens than a f/1.4?

I have been fantasizing about a Leica Noctilux for years, I have even been very close to buying an SLR Magic Hyperprime T0.95 and I reckon I’m not the only one. I guess many would have liked Zeiss as well to come up with such a hyper fast lens, for them to “play in the same league”. But I have only seen pictures shot with those hyper fast lenses of at most 24MP. By stepping up from the NEX-7 (24MP) to the A7r, I experienced that with a 36MP sensor (let alone even more MPs in the future), focusing at f/1,4 becomes extremely critical – the more with the hyper detailed Otus. I guess Zeiss regarded it as useless to go any faster, in any case, that’s exactly how I feel it, now that I own and shoot with the Otus.

6.Bicycle parking

In pictures like “Bicycle parking” (above), a typical OOH street shot, where the moving subject obliges you to focus fast and constantly readjust, it’s extremely difficult to nail the focus perfectly. I took four shots of this girl, trying to catch the most significant moment, but only in half of them I nailed the focus to what I consider an acceptable level, when looking at full size, that is. I was pretty pleased with this one, beautifully illustrating the scene, but as a matter of fact, the focus is perfect on the handle bars of the bike and “acceptable” on the girls face. I would rather have it the other way round, but if I would be that demanding, my percentage of keepers would drop dramatically. I have to say, it’s only when looking at 100% that one can see the difference in focus quality, but if you don’t look in that much a detail, what’s the use of using the Otus anyway? (Yes, I know, there’s a lot more to the Otus than just the detail, but still we can’t disregard it.) All in all, with a f/0.95 lens of this optical quality, combined with a 36MP sensor, I guess nailing the focus in this kind of circumstances would be a matter of sheer luck…

Even to exactly nail the focus on a still subject at f/1.4, the Otus requires an extremely careful and precise setting, regarding how quick the blur occurs (again, when looking at 100%), to the extend that I absolutely wonder if I would even want to use any faster glass, and, in regard of the wonderful 3D separation and the absolutely gorgeous bokeh of the Otus, if there’s really anything further to gain. When I think of how much bigger and (even more important) how much heavier such a f/0.95 lens would be, provided that Zeiss would want to obtain the same optical quality, there’s no way that I would have even considered for a second to buy such a lens. I really don’t want to carry and handle a standard focal length lens of >2kg! You think I exaggerate? Just think of the Noctilux being more than twice as heavy as the Summilux… BTW, such a lens would probably sell for about double the price. So it’s a no-go on all fronts. But most importantly, I truly believe that the gain would be of very little use, if not virtually nonexistent because of it being next to impossible to exploit. And if Zeiss was to produce a f/0.95 lens of about the same size, weight and price of the Otus, in addition to the present 1.4/55, the choice would go between a significantly better optical quality in the 1.4/55 version, versus a very questionable gain of speed in the f/0.95 version. As far as I’m concerned, I’m absolutely happy with the choices Zeiss made and I’m 100% “cured” from my “hyper fast lens fever”. :-)

Another few words on the Bicycle Parking picture. I slid the sharpening in the RAW converter back to 0% and didn’t use any unsharp mask, preferring to preserve the hyper smooth bokeh and grain, which would always become harsher when adding even the smallest amount of sharpening or unsharp mask. I really would like you to go watch this picture on my flickr page in full size version, to appreciate the quality of grain and bokeh that this lens renders. To my taste, although the background buildings make for pretty nervous and busy surroundings, the grain and transitions are still from an utterly butter-smooth quality as I’ve never seen before and, what’s even more exceptional, this counts for both front and hind bokeh to the same extend. In the places where the focus is perfect, the detail is absolutely impressive, until recently pretty unthinkable at f/1.4. Still, there is indeed a tiny slight degree of softness here, where at smaller apertures the Otus becomes bitingly sharp. But IMO this slight softness is absolutely desirable when going for bokeh. To conclude about this picture, this wasn’t an attempt to realize the most spectacular shallow DOF – the focus distance was way to long for that – rather than it was to 3D-separate the subject and realize a beautiful bokeh, while still transmitting information of the surroundings. This is how I prefer to use shallow DOF. Oh yeah, this picture was first cropped to 88% and than (obviously) cropped to square, which diminishes the shallow DOF effect to some extend. But I’m not one who’s really into pursuing the most spectacular shallow DOF, merely for the sake of the “effect”.

It’s also important to look at the 100% size picture (flickr), to see how shallow the DOF really becomes, when shooting with the Otus on a 36MP sensor – or in other words, how early the blur occurs, when looking in full detail. Looking at 100%, you’ll see how precarious the focusing becomes (compare the handle bars and the face) and you’ll probably agree that f/1.4 really is the widest meaningful aperture.

The issues

No concept is without issues. No camera serves every purpose. No lens pleases every photographer. So how do I deal with the most common published issues of the Otus, particularly in combination with my A7r? And do I experience some issues myself?

Here are the possible issues that I can think of and/or that I read about:

- Loosing the compact concept of the A7r.

- Adapter issues.

- Ending up with a poorly balanced camera/lens combination with poor handling.

- Early induced motion blur when shooting OOH.

- Hyper delicate focusing.

- Manual focusing only.

- No image stabilization.

- A very big, heavy and expensive lens.

Let’s look at those issues one by one.

Loosing the compact concept of the A7r

As a matter of fact, I don’t feel like loosing this. Like probably any buyer, I chose the A7r for it’s compact size and light weight, combined with its FF sensor. Steve mentioned it frequently: “With a heavy DSLR, I’d miss a lot of pictures, because 85% of the time, I’d leave it at home.” Same for me. So most of the time I have my A7r in my bag, body without vertical grip, the Zeiss Planar ZM on it and two extra lenses of different focal length as backup. Total weight around 1,6kg, bag included. That’s the weight of my wife’s purse. Camera/lens in a smaller bag (without backup lenses) will weigh around 900gr. When I go out shooting with the Otus, this will mostly be the only lens I carry, because I will more have a plan on forehand of what to shoot. Camera with grip plus lens weigh a good 1900gr. My tripod another 1300gr. Adding the bags gives me a total weight of 4,25kg. Too much to carry all the time, IMO (that’s why I have my “compact formula”), but not that much when going out on a dedicated “shooting trip”. Last situation, when going out for OOH shooting with the Otus, I carry 2,4kg with me. Still very manageable.

I often think of my A7r as a kind of chameleon. It can really adapt to any situation. So do I loose the compact concept of my camera? Not at all. I believe the A7r only offers opportunities. Whenever I wanna travel light, the A7r offers me this possibility. On other times, when I wanna go for uncompromising quality, again the A7r helps me out. I don’t wanna go compact on every shoot, but whenever I want, I can. So what did I loose? Nothing. I only gained.

Adapter issues

The most important problem (that I experienced) with inferior adapters are planarity issues. No surface is perfectly plane. But if the deviation is too big, one side will focus closer then the other. So it will be impossible to focus consistently throughout the whole image. For many pictures, this will hardly be seen, but on some occasions (for instance technical or architectural pictures), you really can get into trouble. Surely, you don’t wanna ruin your Otus with a lousy cheap adapter. So my advice is not to economize on the adapter and always perform test shots immediately after buying. Personally, I’ve put my trust in Novoflex adapters. I even tried putting two on top of each other (NEX-M and M-FD) and then shooting a flat surface positioned perpendicular in regard to the lens. I shot with the Canon FD 1,4/50mm wide open, to induce the blur as early as possible, focused on one corner and I could not observe any irregularity in how blur occurred in the four corners. This was not a scientific test, but it was good enough for me. I’m sure that Novoflex stays way below acceptable tolerances. Still, testing every new purchase remains mandatory IMO.

Another adapter issue is that often the adapter makes the lens to focus beyond infinite. But the Zeiss engineers themselves conceived the Otus to focus beyond infinite, to oblige the photographer to carefully focus in all circumstances. So can we really talk about an issue here? Not regarding it having percussions on the focusing process anyway. But if the shift is too big (which was the case with some cheap adapters I’ve tried), you’ll lose a considerable part of your closest focal distance. And again, that’s a no-go.

Conclusion: don’t economize on the adapter(s).

Balance

First thing I thought when I started shooting the Otus was: this is a lens for tripod use! So let’s talk about that first.

Until I got the Otus 1.4/55, my “personal” photography (that is: for personal use, just for fun, the shots that were not mentioned for our publications) was almost all shot OOH. But I knew from what I read that with the Otus, I’d want a tripod. So I bought a new one, since the one we use for product shooting is much to heavy to carry. Now I have to admit that my experience with tripods “on the road” was non-existent. After reading some articles and talking with a few guys, I bought a Sirui lightweight one (1310gr, ballhead included). But a few days later, when commenting on an editorial online, I started to doubt wether or not I made the right choice, after someone said he was sorry that I didn’t buy a really good and more stable tripod, like a Gitzo. That was even before the Otus arrived. So to check it out, I mounted a Canon FD 200mm tele with 2x-A Extender on my A7r, to get a weight that matched the Otus and I shot the same images with the Sirui tripod and a heavy Benbo. Looking at 100%, indeed I saw some slight but still noticeable motion blur with the Sirui – about half of what I got when shooting OOH. But then I thought of the hook, at the bottom of the central pole, and attached my bag to it to increase the weight, in an attempt to enhance stabilization. And it did the job: the motion blur was gone. Since I didn’t want to spend another €1500 or so at this time, after the €3500 for the Otus, I planned to stick to the Sirui and just use my bag as extra weight.

7.Tripod balance

But then I got the Otus. And since I bought the ZF.2 version, I use the dedicated Novoflex collar, attached on the adapter of the same brand, to mount the camera/lens on the tripod. This collar provides a mounting point a few cm further away from the camera body. And to my pleasant surprise, when also mounting the vertical grip to the body (which I always do when using the Otus), I got nothing less than a perfect balance from this camera/lens combination. Even with the clamping knobs completely loosened (hold your breath!), the camera stays perfectly horizontal, thus in absolute balance. My picture “Tripod balance” shows the camera on the tripod with completely loosened clamping knobs, the camera still not falling aside. This perfect balance has two consequences: 1) the framing can easily and quickly be performed to perfection, since there is no more movement whatsoever after tightening the clamping knob, and 2) the weight is equally distributed amongst the three legs, increasing the stability and as such eliminating motion blur even without hanging extra weight to the central pole hook. Conclusion: chances are real that I will never have to buy a €1000+ tripod. I simply don’t see where it could improve my performance. Oh, and when comparing tripod work between the A7r and a traditional DSLR (like the D800): since you’ll mount the DSLR with the body on the tripod, instead of via a collar, the weight of the Otus (1kg!) will cause some serious unbalance, compared to the A7r. So I guess the advantage clearly goes to the A7r in this department.

After a week or two of tripod work, I felt the urge growing, to use the Otus for OOH shooting as well. In the articles that I read, there were quite some questions put, regarding OOH shooting with the Otus on the A7r. Those made me reluctant to shoot OOH for some time. But like I said, the urge was growing.

Anyway, in the meanwhile, I removed the tripod collar, because its long tightening screw really sits in the way of the right hand fingers, when shooting OOH. If you’d wanna go back and forward between tripod and OOH shooting, you can also twist the collar to the left, to move it out of the way of your fingers. BTW, twisting the color gave me the idea to use this position for vertical framing on tripod as well, since as such the perfect balance on the ballhead is remained. Indeed, it can remain upright, because the 90° twist is performed by the camera within the collar.

But let’s get back to OOH shooting. When holding the camera with the right hand and using a “free” left hand for focusing (as I’m used to do with a lightweight camera/lens), the 1kg Otus makes the front really too heavy. Your right hand will get tired very quickly. I think this is a no-go. The balance is absolutely lost. Already after a very short while, it will be very hard to hold the camera still and you will induce motion blur very quickly, needing even faster shutter times. In short: your performance will suffer from it. A 36MP sensor already asks for a faster shutter speed, since the motion blur is earlier induced – that’s a fact. Coming from the 24MP NEX-7, I didn’t expect this to be that prominent, but It’s as if a threshold has been taken: I really need to set the shutter speed faster. Of course, when reducing the resolution of the picture in PP, I can shoot with the same speeds as before, but with an A7r, you wanna use its full abilities at least sometimes, don’t you. So the faster shutter speed becomes a reality at that point. When using an A7r with a lightweight lens like a Zeiss Planar ZM, resulting in a mere 720gr for the camera/lens combination, it’s not easy to hold everything stable. One simply needs to shoot with extra care. But when mounting a hyper precise, super detailed lens like the Otus, that ads 1kg front weight, you might expect it to get worse. But as a matter of fact the weight will help a lot, if you carry it with your left hand. I did some experimenting with holding technique and got some extra-ordinary results.

8.Left hand balance

Having never been afraid of exploring new paths, I experimented with alternative ways of holding the camera, to tackle the weight and balance issues. And it didn’t take me long to find out the most stable way to hold the camera – it almost came to me spontaneously. The Otus has large fixed zones, that can easily be used to hold and support the camera+lens. I have the A7r handgrip rested on the cushion of my hand palm, near my wrist. My thumb supports the fixed ring between focus and aperture. My index finger points forward and supports the lens, centrally below the front end. My middle finger is located at the right side on the focus ring. My ring finger holds on to the same fixed ring as my thumb. And my little finger is on the aperture ring. Middle and little finger can operate their respective rings. Zeiss has coated those rings with the exact covering material (and provided a butterly smooth yet perfect feedback giving operation) to be set easily with one finger. Of course the focus can only be fine tuned in this way, since it features a 270° turn from min to max. But it’s exactly the fine focusing that’s really delicate and takes extra care, right before pushing the release button, so that works out perfectly. A 270° turn is large indeed, but IMO that’s what’s absolutely needed, to offer enough “play” when fine focusing this lens at f/1.4! Also the aperture doesn’t need more than to be fine-tuned, when looking through the viewfinder, that is: I only might want to adjust the DOF very slighty at that point. Anyway, holding the camera in this way provides an absolutely exceptional stability, the index finger playing a crucial role, by supporting the very front of the lens and the whole camera resting on one stable surface. You absolutely don’t need to “grab” the camera – it’s just lying relaxed and comfortably in your left hand. And with your elbow resting on your chest, you barely need to use any muscle power to hold it, and your hand has a direct connection with your body.

My picture “Left hand balance” (above) shows you how the camera is lying in my left hand. You’ll use your right hand for operation of all functions (except for focus and aperture) – all knobs of the A7r are very conveniently located at the right side of the body for that matter, except the menu button, that you never have to use during shooting, since every function that you need can be programmed under the customizable buttons. And of course the right hand also provides extra safety, should anybody give you an unexpected push. Thanks to this really exceptional stability and balance, you only need to use very little muscle power and wont get tired that soon. Muscle power induces instability, hence motion blur. No muscle power means relaxation. Relaxation means stability, hence absence of motion blur. As a matter of fact, the size (enabling a large support surface) and weight (largely contributing to the stability without becoming too heavy) of the Otus/A7r (with grip) have become big advantages as far as OOH shooting is concerned. Of coarse it’s still a considerable weight that you’re holding. And after several minutes staying in the same position without moving, some tension will arise. But it’s very rare to stay unmoved that long.

An unexpected stroke of luck: while my hand has a reverse position (thumb to the left) with this lens in comparison to its position with other lenses (thumb to the right), there’s actually no other technique needed, to set focus and aperture, neutralizing the “inverse Nikon-style”. Streching my middle finger results in focusing closer in both cases, pulling it back moves the focus point further towards infinite.

Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec!

I can understand you being skeptical when reading this. Therefore I wanted to give you some kind of proof and I wanted to push it to the limit. My “Selfie” was shot in manual mode in front of a mirror, giving you proof that it’s absolutely an OOH shot.

9.Selfie

I’ve also put this picture on my flickr pages, in full resolution, with published Exif data. Please check it to verify. You’ll notice that this is indeed a 1/10s shot, with the Otus mounted on the 36MP A7r. Pretty amazing, isn’t it. Please click on the link to choose the full size 36MP file. This is a converted RAW file with zero sharpening applied. I only flipped this picture 180° to get rid of the mirror image. I focused on the text at the bottom of the lens. And as a matter of fact, the lens front is the only thing in focus in the whole picture, whereby the in focus area is that small, that it almost seems as if the whole picture is blurred. Still, what I wanted to show here was the extreme balance of the camera and so I chose one precisely defined focus point, with zero margin for error. In this case, you absolutely must look at 100% to even notice that there really is something in perfect focus. The extreme shallow DOF, due to the f/1.4 aperture, makes the blur set in very quickly. So the stability of the camera was not only required in left/right and up/down directions, but also in back/forward. OK, on tripod, the result would probably have been yet even a bit better. Still, to my eye, this is a pretty good OOH shot – as good as it gets. But remember, this one was shot at 1/10s. Needless to say that this would be plain impossible if the A7r/Otus combination would offer less than a perfect OOH balance. I wonder (and even doubt) if this can be improved by the D-800E/Otus combination. So in this department, I guess the A7r is at least at par with the best DSLRs. I rest my case.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that 1/10s is a normal OOH shutter speed for the A7r/Otus, because it isn’t. What I’m saying is that, with the right technique, this camera/lens combination provides an exceptional balance, otherwise I could impossibly have succeeded in taking this shot. What I’m also saying is, that, where one expects to need faster shutter speeds, due to the hi-res sensor and hyper precise lens, one can actually work with “normal” speeds and even go slower. When applying a minimum of care, I consider 1/30s as a normal feasible shutter speed for this combination. I took my first Selfie-testshots in aperture priority mode. I operated very carefully and succeeded from the first shot, which appeared to be taken at 1/13s. That’s when I thought; let’s push this to the limit. So I switched to Manual mode, kept the aperture at f/1.4 and set the shutter speed at 1/10. I missed the first two shots and realized that I needed to hold the release button longer, beyond the moment of the shutter’s closing. Keeping it down gave me my third picture, the one you can see. BTW, the A7r release button helps a lot for this kind of shots. It has a very soft action, without resistance point – some call it “spongy” and that’s correct. For many applications, one could prefer more definition, but for this kind of use, it’s absolutely a benefit. Furthermore, and this is IMO, for normal “action” shots (in my case that’s mostly candid people shooting) the shutter release button requires some habituation, but isn’t problematic at all.

Delicate focusing

This is absolutely the matter. This lens/sensor combination reveals every detail, as no other FF does (the D800E does as well, of course). Result: when looking in 100% size (and again, you need to do this – where would you otherwise use this combination for), the out-of-focus is induced quite a bit earlier than what we were used to. Of course, with smaller apertures the margin gets bigger, but as you approach the f/1.4 it really gets tough. And wide open, even on a tripod, you need to proceed with great care. The viewfinder magnification function is no unnecessary luxury in this.

Yet I need to add that when shooting for “normal” formats (using less MP), the focusing can be done as easy and fast as with any other lens. And with the A7r EVF, you don’t need any special assistance. In the parts that are in focus, the EVF produces an almost overly sharp image. It’s difficult to describe, but when you’d try it, you’d notice immediately what I mean. With some experience, you even don’t really need the focus peaking anymore for those shots, let alone the VF magnification. But as I said, at large apertures, with very shallow DOF, and at full resolution, it’s another story. The focusing becomes absolutely very delicate.

Manual focusing only

I’m a MF guy. So I can’t really compare with AF systems. But I read in different reviews, that AF is not always absolutely precise on a 36MP sensor. Another statement I remember was that the EVF of the A7r does a better job in focusing than the OVF of the D800E. That, and my own focusing experience with the Otus, makes me understand why Zeiss chose to make it a manual focus lens. I guess with (today’s) AF systems, it’s not possible to set the focus to the same level of precision as one can perform manually. For instance in “Glass Doll”, I wonder how an AF system would manage to determine the exact in focus zone where I wanted it (eye, nose and lips).

Moreover, Zeiss has a vast tradition in manufacturing MF lenses. And personally, that’s exactly what I want.

No image stabilization

This is my personal opinion. After reading the “Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec” chapter, you’ll understand that I really don’t care the Otus not having any image stabilization. Nor the A7r for that matter. I’ve never been missing or wanting it. But I can absolutely get that some people would’t wanna shoot without it. So this is a personal matter. This lens is not for them. Nevertheless I still think that one should work on improving his shooting skills first. But, OK, this is not my domain of experience.

A very big, heavy and expensive lens

I heard the rumor that Zeiss developed the Otus as if it were a medium format lens. In that way, by cropping the corners of the image, we’d get rid of the zones with less than optimal performance. I don’t know if this is really true, but I guess all lenses follow the same optical laws, performing less in the corners. So it makes sense to me: if you want your lens to perform optimally in the corners, you need to crop – which makes you end up with a bigger and heavier lens.

And if you want an image that’s (virtually) free of distortion, you need to correct the image internally. This means more glass elements (12 in the Otus 1.4/55). Again: bigger and heavier.

There are no miracles in optics, I guess. Only choices and consequences. If you want a smaller lens, settle with less perfect performance. I do anyway, when I wanna go compact. I surely don’t always need the Otus performance. But I have to admit, it’s tempting and it’s kind of addictive. It’s inspirational too.

Then the price. Is it expensive? Sure it is! But is it crazy expensive? Sure it isn’t! Being less expensive than the 50mm Leica M Summilux, let go the Apo-Summicron or Noctilux that double and triple it’s price and that the Otus still optically outperforms(!), I guess we gotta stay reasonable concerning the price. To all that criticize its price, I can only say: what do you expect anyway?

I’d say the Otus is not cheap at all, but still it’s absolutely very attractively priced. I love Zeiss for that.

What to shoot with the Otus

What I wanna tell you in this last chapter is about the considerations I made, when starting to shoot with the Otus – considerations about what kind of images to shoot, about how to select the subjects.

This is the best lens in the world, so obviously, my pictures should have to show it, no? Since the subject is the most important element of any picture, I started thinking about what kind of subjects would prove those exceptional Otus qualities. This made me shoot mainly at f/1.4 and f/16 initially, because at the widest and narrowest apertures, Otus still renders exceptional detail, where normally we’d expect a lens to get a lot softer. Another matter, that kept me busy, was how to show that this detail is rendered all over the image, not only at widest and narrowest apertures but also in the corners. And then there is the matter of the incredible micro contrast. And the lack of distortion, flare, etc… To make a long story short, finding “Otus-worthy” subjects quickly became a worrisome task.

But then I thought of how I always have compared musicians, that merely show off their technique, with a circus act (“look what I can do!”) – impressive, but having not much to do with music. Since, as a matter of fact, my professional education has been in music, it always helps my photography to think of comparable situations in music. All of a sudden, I realized that I absolutely don’t have to show off the Otus’ superiority. Whatever lens is used, one rather just needs to think about the picture, and how to shoot it in the best possible way, but not about how to come up with the most “virtuoso” images, using this exceptional lens. That would only have a paralyzing effect and stand in the way of creativity. From that moment on, I felt kind of liberated an relieved. I could use all apertures again in regard of the most favorable DOF and not regarding the “applause” I’d get for the “stunning technicality” of the picture. Every Otus image would already have a superior quality, compared to what I would have gotten, should I have used another lens. Thinking about this lens in this way, makes me absolutely enjoy every shot, also the most simple and modest ones, and makes me use it without restraint whenever I feel like it. In every picture, I see the extra that is contributed by the lens, as I also did, when upgrading from the NEX-7 to the A7r.

Besides that, this lens/camera combination is particularly appropriate for large format printing and extreme cropping, two things that for most of today’s photographers are pretty exceptional. Still, as I said, owning and enjoying one myself, I simply use it, whenever I feel for it and whenever its focal length makes sense – as I do with all my lenses. It’ll never let me down when I employ in that way.

My overall conclusion

The A7r absolutely offers the widest variety of lens/body combinations amongst FF camera’s on the market today (surely for MF shooters that are not afraid of buying some good-quality adapters). Of all those combinations, the A7r/Otus is probably the most extreme concerning size and weight, since in that department, they differ the most (which can be harmonized by mounting the grip on the A7r). Still, both have pretty much all other characteristics in common. It’s not the case, but when combining them, it surely feels as if they were meant for one another. Indeed, this turned out to be a very workable combination for me, one that not only offers the summit in IQ, it’s also surprisingly well balanced, as well on tripod as in the hand. Thanks to the latter, and with the right technique, one can shoot OOH at surprisingly slow shutter speeds, significantly slower than average. So the Otus performs wonderfully great on the A7r, but this is no “plug-and-play” lens. You need to know what you’re doing and if you wanna exploit it fully, you need to proceed with great care.

The Otus 1.4/55 is not cheap, but still it’s very competitively prised. (Same counts for the A7r, BTW.) This lens is not compact at all, but still it’s a tremendous joy to use, because it’s so well made. It really feels good to operate and it’s so extremely rewarding regarding IQ, the more in combination with the A7r, that it easily becomes an addiction.

That’s more than enough for me!

(There are some more pictures hereunder. You can look at all pictures in bigger size in a dedicated set on flickr, by clicking on http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157641276669365/)

Thanks for reading, guys! I hope you enjoyed it.

Art Center at the Canal

B.Waldmin

Bed and breakfast

Early spring at the canal

Front leaves

Hard Rock Beauty

Kitchen Still Life

So many windows

Train and bicycle

Tree bark

Two ships

Two worlds

You missed something

There are more Zeiss Otus images in Steve’s A7 and A7r review HERE.

Dec 122013
 

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Why I quit the Leica M bodies for the Sony A7R

By Didier Godme – His Flickr is HERE, his blog is HERE

I started being more serious about photography when buying my first Canon DSLR (20D) a few years back and then upgraded to the 5DMII. After 3 years of good use, my neck started feeling bad (especially with the 35 f1.4) so in 2011, my wife convinced me to cut my arm in order to be able to afford the M9-P…

I am not the type of guy who always buys the latest stuff, but since I’ve had 2 important failures in less than 2 years on the M9-P (wrong exposure + sensor dead), I decided to go for the Sony A7R. By chance it came out just when I had the 2nd failure and Leica lend me another M9-P during the 4-6 months repair time (no joke…). As a consequence, I had the opportunity to benchmark both. The goal of this article is not to say that M bodies are crap in terms of quality because it’s certainly not the case and not everybody had the same (bad) experience as I did.

My idea is simply to list all the great advantages from the Sony A7r over the M9-P which led me to stop using Leica M bodies.

- Weight: 465 vs 600 gr. OK, we’re talking peanuts here, but you can feel it straight away.

- Size: My dream has always been to get the smallest and lightest possible full frame camera. My M9-P was the first answer to that but Sony is now clearly the winner on both even if the difference is small.

- Ergonomic: I had to buy the grip for the M9-P to be able to have a strong control of it. The Sony is just perfect the way it came out from the factory.

- Iso: No need to go in depth on this one…M9 is already 4 years old and technology made loads of progress since then.

Sony A7r with Zeiss 55

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Leica M9P with 50 Summilux

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Sony A7r with Zeiss 35 2.8

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Leica M9P with 35 Summilux at 2.8

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Sony A7r with Zeiss 35 at 2.8

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Leica M9P with 35 Summilux at 2.8

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- Viewfinder: Although I really love the rangefinder type of viewfinder because it’s huge, clear and you can see what’s happening out of the frame, I always scratch my glasses because of the metal on the M9-P. It’s a detail, but now with the Sony A7R, I will not have to change glasses every year or think about wearing lenses each time I want to shoot.

- Framing: When using rangefinders, there is always a little shift between what was in the framelines and what you get. With the Sony A7R, what you see is what you get.

- Screen: There is no possible benchmark between the one from the M9-P and the Sony A7R. The one from the M9-P was already outdated when it came out and the Sony represents the last generation so the advantage is obvious. It’s not on this point I want to argue but on the tillable screen. It’s a simple option but it allows to increase framing possibilities tremendously and get more original pictures.

- Manual Focus: I’ve been using rangefinders for 5 years now (M7-M9-P) and have no trouble focusing manually on rangefinders. When I first read about focus peaking I had no idea what it was (I know…it’s a shame!) but Steve Huff wrote in his review that it was quite easy to focus manually with Leica M lenses on this body (http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/11/29/the-sony-a7-and-a7r-camera-review-by-steve-huff/). I tested it in the store where I bought it and was convinced in less than 30sec. In opposition to the rangefinder system where you need to use the center of the frame to focus, with focus peaking you can focus everywhere in the frame. The big advantage is that you don’t have to focus and then frame but can do both at the same time.

Sony A7r and 35 Summilux at ISO 6400

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Sony A7r and Zeiss 35 

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Leica M9P with 35 Summilux

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- Auto Focus: As I said, I am used to manual focus and like to control it. My wife however is not really keen on manual focusing and doesn’t take many pictures because of this. When purchasing the A7R I decided to go as well for the Zeiss 35 F2,8 so that she can use it and shot our baby. She (and I) just love this lens and now can use it on the camera. Just impossible on Leica M bodies…

- Speed: Leica M9-P goes up to 1/4000 sec while the A7R up to 1/8000 sec. Again, a small difference, but quite useful when shooting at 1.4F in daylight!

- Image Quality: Although the CCD sensor from the M9 is quite famous and my people LOVE it, I did some comparisons and find the Sony way more detailed. I also prefer the way colors come out.

- Sensor cleaning: Automatic sensor cleaning on the A7R, not on the M9.

All these reasons convinced me to go 100% for the Sony A7R. I am now waiting to get my M9-P back from repair to sell it straight away. The only thing I am going to miss from my old buddy is its legendary design…

To close the loop, standard warranty on my A7R is 4 YEARS!

Thumbs UP Sony!!!

Didier G.

Sony with Leica Summilux

Sony A7R with Zeiss 35 F2.8 iso 6400 2-

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Nov 172013
 

Sony A7 and A7r in the house..review in progress!

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Hope all of you are having a great relaxing or fun weekend! Just wanted to let you all know that I now have the Soy A7 and A7r in hand along with the 35 2.8, 55 1.8 and 28-70 kit zoom. When I was in Nashville shooting these a few weeks ago I mainly shot them with Leica M  glass and LOVED It. I have now been shooting them with the Native glass and yesterday shot them indoors at a reptile show in Phx and did notice the AF missing a bit with the 55 1.8 lens (when shooting at its minimum focus distance). I found  that using selective spot focus helped but still was not what I had hoped. Not horrible but not 100% spot on either. Keep in mind this was INDOOR in lower light and the 55 1.8 was on the A7 not the A7r.

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The 35 2.8 did great and I LOVE the rendering of this lens! At 2.8 it is sharp yet creamy and gives off a very nice look. I can see the Zeiss signature here. I have a long way to go to review these cameras, compare them and see what they can and can not do. I also had my Leica M out with me along with an old 35 Summaron (which is so so so good and classical, even for being an f/3.5 lens) and the M shooting experience, I have to say, is 2nd to none though the Sony’s can put out even better IQ and detail.

So I look forward to shooting with these Sony cameras but can already tell you that the IQ abilities are up there with the best in full frame 35mm, if not THE best. Using Leica glass on them is a JOY. For some, buying an A7 and a Leica M mount 35 or 50 will be all that is needed :) The Sony Zeiss 35 2.8 is stellar as well, with AF.

Click snaps below for larger view – all JPEGS

1st shot below.. A7 and 55 1.8 at 1.8 – ISO 500

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A7 and 55 1.8 at 1.8 – JPEG

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A7r ad 35 2.8 at 2.8

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So stay tuned for more over the next few weeks! 

Steve

Oct 302013
 

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

See Day 1 HERE

See Day 2 HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve

Jul 262013
 

“In Praise of Film”

(…Yes, even for kids!)

Hi Steve,

Given all the recent posts regarding emulation software, I though it might be worthwhile to send you a bona-fide film post for all the “senseless die-hards” out there. About a year ago, I became one of them… Growing up, I had an EOS Rebel film body, and only pressed the shutter when I absolutely had to. Most of the pictures turned out poorly, and I had no idea why. I thought film was incredibly scary. (And expensive!) Thankfully digital came along…

Thirteen months ago, I was inspired by you and Peter (Thanks Prosophos!) to finally shoot and develop my own roll of B&W film. Thanks to the detailed instructions on his site, the process went flawlessly, and I haven’t looked back since.

I have now exposed about 900 film frames (some good, some bad ;) ) and have since learned to develop my color film as well. The process is incredibly easy, especially if you have the knack for B&W. I have posted a detailed guide on my site at http://iftimestoodstill.net

Included below are five quick picks from my recent favorites. I hope others are inspired to “keep up the art”. Once equipment is purchased, and your workflow is sorted out, it is actually not all that expensive or time-consuming (And yes, I know it doesn’t make sense…that’s why it’s senseless!) …But it sure is satisfying when they turn out well! For me, it will never replace digital, but at least it is nice to have a hobby that most people find somewhat intriguing.

Zeiss Ikon was used for all below; “Dandelion” was taken with Nikkor 8.5 cm LTM and the  Zeiss Sonnar 50 mm f/1.5 was used for the other two color photos. The Voigtlander 35 mm f/1.2 VII was used for the B&W images.

Thanks and best regards,

Mark Ewanchuk

http://iftimestoodstill.net

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Apr 162013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inventor

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The Serial Killer

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The Pyromaniac

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Apr 112013
 

Zeiss 50 Sonnar on Leica Monochrom

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

By Steve Huff

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

A Beautiful Old Friend

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

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

I always embrace “different” :)

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

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

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

Nice Zeiss color…

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

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

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

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

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BEWARE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use it, Learn it, Love It!

This one shot on the Monochrom at ISO 4000 and 1.5

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

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

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

Leica M 240 and B&W conversion

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

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

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

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

Apr 092013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Zeiss on the Monochrom wide open at f/2

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The Breakdown

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

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

The M240 and Planar at f/2

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

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

M 240 and Planar

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

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

M 240 and 50 Planar at f/2

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

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

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

Detail and Crops

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

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

What about the C Sonnar 1.5 from Zeiss?

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

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

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

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

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

A couple more samples below:

 

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May 212012
 

Crazy Comparison! Nikon D800 vs Sony NEX-7 vs Olympus E-M5

JUST FOR FUN guys, so please  - no getting bent out of shape! I have done those crazy comparisons for 2 1/2 years and I do them for fun and “just because”. Why? Because I can! Basically I take each camera and shoot the same scene, at the same time, using the same aperture (and preferably the same focal length or equivalent) and I convert the RAW files to check for things like sharpness, color, dynamic range, etc. I used to do this many years ago for my own personal curiosities so I started doing them here as well, and many of you enjoy them. Some of you hate them. But the good thing is, if you dislike these sort of things you don’t have to read it :)

Since I have the Nikon D800 here (which is a BEAST of a camera) along with a Zeiss 35 1.4 I decided to put it up against the Sony NEX-7 with the Zeiss 24 1.8, which gives the NEX a 35mm equivalent field of view. Basically a big brute of a full frame DSLR vs a small mirror less APS-C camera. Now obviously the resolution of each camera is different with the Nikon coming in at a whopping 36 megapixels and the Sony coming in at a not too shabby 24 megapixels. Note that I am not doing this to say “Camera A is better than Camera B”. I am showing this to give you guys and idea of what each camera can put out using these lenses and this scene. :) There are many NEX shooters who come to this site and there are also many curious about the new Nikon.

It is my opinion after shooting the D800 for a few days that for me..well, the size and weight of this camera is a bit much. Sure, it can take a serious quality photograph but so can a NEX-7, or Olympus E-M5 or Fuji X100. But then again, If you are a DSLR guy then this is one of those “Holy Grail” cameras so if you do not mind the weight and size and bulk and cost, then this camera is highly capable of some crazy delicious output.

I did find it easier to manually focus my NEX-7 and OM-D than the D800 as even with its big and bright OVF I found 20% of my shots were missed in the AF dept (even when using the confirmation dot). I never miss focus with the NEX or OM-D when using manual glass. I’ll go over all of this when I write about the D800.

I also am starting to think that 36 megapixels is way overkill for just about anyone. I don’t care if you are shooting for huge billboards, 36 MP is overkill. Period. These RAW files are 76MB and they make my iMac a bit sad. :) But again, with that said, for anyone wanting crazy resolution and full frame benefits, the D800 is indeed a pretty wonderful camera. But given a choice I would take a smaller camera anyway over the D800 because if I owned this beast I would never shoot it unless I was shooting something like a live performance for $$ or in a studio environment (and even then I would choose my M9, as I have in the past). Id never ever take this out for daily shooting anywhere when I have other smaller cameras that are really just as capable. You do not need this kind of camera for street, for snapshots, for your kids, for daily personal use or if you are just resizing for web sharing or making small to large prints. Period. But again, I will write much more in my D800 review coming soon :)

Also, coming SOON (this week) . A NOT SO crazy comparison. The Leica M9 with a converted to B&W image vs Leica Monochrom vs Nikon D800 converted to B&W! Stay tuned!

On to the images! Both were shot RAW and converted using the latest version of ACR. What you see here is what you get! No corrections were made to color but I was finding that the D800 was overexposing in almost every shot I took so I did adjust the exposure in RAW for that file.  All images were shot at f/5.6. The D800 had the $1800 Zeiss 35 1.4 mounted and the Sony had the Zeiss 24 1.8 mounted. Both giving a 35mm field of view.  The last image was shot with the Olympus OM-D but all I had with me was my little 12mm f/2 so that one is also included at the bottom. 

Click on each image to open the larger version with full 100% crop embedded. 

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What do you think? I also shot one with the little Olympus but only had the 12 f/2 with me so wasn’t the same focal length at all.

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and someone requested that I try to pull out the shadow detail here on the Olympus file. Not a problem at all :)

Apr 092012
 

The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout – Part 2 – Close-Up and Wide-Open

By Brad Husick

In part one of “The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout” we tested several lenses in a typical landscape scene, setting the lenses at their infinity focus points and shooting at f/4. This represented a fairly typical scenario of grabbing a lens off the shelf, setting it for mid-aperture and taking a photo of a picturesque subject.

Quite often 35mm rangefinder lenses are used in other photographic opportunities. The 35mm focal length is excellent for tighter, indoor settings where the subject is closer. These situations also often call for wider apertures, demanding higher performance from the lenses. In part two of this test we have tested the lenses in both ways – A) a closer indoor setting and then, B) wide-open to see how they render out of focus areas – their bokeh.

For both parts of the test the subject was illuminated by a single 5500K continuous fluorescent light source in a small softbox and outside light was reduced to a minimum. The Leica M9-P camera was set to ISO 640, white balance of 5600K and each lens was shot at f/2.8, with the exception of the Perar that was shot at its maximum of f/3.5. For some of the lenses f/2.8 was also the maximum aperture, while others had wider apertures available. Shutter speed was set to 1/180 second.

In the part B “bokeh” part of this test the same light source was used while each lens was opened to its maximum aperture. For example, the FLE was shot at f/1.4 while the Zeiss was shot at f/2. Shutter speed was adjusted to maintain the same overall exposure. ISO was maintained at 640.

As in part one of the shootout, the RAW images were brought into Adobe Lightroom 4 and default settings were used to output full resolution JPEG images. 100% crops were taken in Adobe Photoshop CS5. The “bokeh” shots were reduced to 800 pixels wide for web display.

In this test we included six lenses from part one:

MS Super Triplet Perar f3.5 Mark II (Perar)

Zeiss Biogon f2.0 T* ZM Silver (Zeiss)

Leica Summilux f1.4 ASPH FLE (FLE)

Leica Summicron-M f2.0 ASPH Chrome (Cron)

Voigtlander C Color Skopar Classic f2.5 (Skopar)

Leitz Summaron f2.8 LTM/M circa 1959 (Summaron)

 

Part A: The Closer Subject

Despite careful focusing, slight variations in focus occurred across the different lenses. This is an important factor – precise focusing, even when using a tripod as in these photos, can be tricky. I suggest using a viewfinder magnifier when possible, and focus-bracketing your shots with minuscule changes in focus so that you can evaluate the images at 100% zoom on your computer to choose the best one. Leica makes the M9 without the capability of tethered shooting (some workarounds are possible but are mostly unreliable), the camera doesn’t offer live-view, and the LCD is not high-resolution, so critical focus is challenging in many situations. Many Leica shooters are hoping that Leica includes a more state-of-the-art LCD and perhaps live-view in a future M digital camera.

In the center crops of these photos all of the test lenses performed well. In fact, the images were all surprisingly good, from the least expensive to the most expensive lens. Center crops showed very little chromatic aberration, as was expected. There’s little variation here that can inform a decision to choose one lens over another.

At the corners the lenses started telling a more interesting tale. Corner sharpness of the Leica FLE was astonishing. It’s as if Leica engineers were told to solve this problem above all others when developing this new lens. Not far behind in corner rendering were the Zeiss and, surprisingly, the old Summaron. In general the Summaron is a lower contrast lens than the modern formulas, but that doesn’t reduce its ability to render detail. Post processing can add more contrast if desired, but it can’t make a contrasty lens softer without a loss of detail. The Summicron showed some about of distortion in the corner that the others did not. The Skopar is a lens that can achieve sharp results at the center but in my experience this falls away at the corners. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the Skopar has a very short focus throw – the number of degrees of rotation between infinity and close focus endpoints. This means that the smallest movement of the focus ring results in large changes. I resorted to focus-bracketing when shooting the Skopar, taking multiple photos with tiny adjustments to the focus in successive shots, then comparing the results in Lightroom and choosing the sharpest image. This is not my idea of entertainment.  The Perar was particularly challenged in the corners, showing distortion and lower resolution.

Interestingly and rather unexpectedly, the FLE lens showed a fairly high level of chromatic aberration in the specular highlights in the corners. I am including a couple of crops here to show you the unprocessed corner and the same shot when processed by Lightroom 4 using the “Defringe – All Edges” control in the Manual setting of the Lens Corrections panel of the Develop module. Default lens corrections using Lightroom’s preset lens profiles of Leica lenses reduced but did not eliminate the color fringing while the defringe control did a more complete correction. Again, the purpose of this test is not to show what’s ultimately possible with each lens given any amount of post-processing, but this example is particularly illustrative of how good software can help even super-expensive setups.

Leica 35 Summilux FLE corner crop

and after the Lightroom 4 “Defringe – All edges”

 

To my eye the old Summaron did a splendid job in this part of the test. I have a feeling the demand for Summaron lenses will increase soon!

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Perar Center 

and corner

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Zeiss Center

and corner

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FLE Center

and corner

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Summicron Center

and corner

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Skopar Center

and corner

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Summaron Center

and corner

 

Part B: Bokeh

I have included full frames reduced to 800 pixels wide for the comparison of the bokeh rendered by each of the lenses. I find little value in comparing 100% crops of the out of focus areas. Obviously the lenses that have the largest maximum aperture create the shallowest depth of field. These lenses throw the background out of focus most, usually giving the smoothest rendering and a very three-dimensional look to the images. The Leica FLE is an excellent example of this shallow depth of field.

In the time when film was dominant, most photographers were limited to relatively slow color films (ASA 25 or 64) and fairly slow black and white films (ASA 100 or 400). Consequently, large aperture lenses were necessary for most indoor subjects. There simply wasn’t a choice – you needed a fast lens to get any photo at all.

With the advent of today’s digital cameras, it’s common to shoot at ISO 640, 1250 or even higher. Lens speed isn’t critical to getting the shot, it’s now more of a creative choice. Photographers who love the look of a shallow depth of field reach for the Summilux (f/1.4) or even Noctilux (f/1 or f/0.95) lenses to give their photos that “look”. Many choose these lenses in bright light situations, mounting neutral density (ND) filters on the lenses to reduce incoming light by as much as 9 f-stops or more depending on the available light. The Leica M8 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 second while the M9 has a maximum of 1/4000 second, requiring one slower stop of light for wide open shooting.

Rather than trying to rank order the bokeh test shots, I present them here for you to study and draw your own conclusions about what type of rendering is most pleasing to your eye. Naturally, the Perar lens with its maximum aperture of f/3.5 will have the most in-focus background. There are small variations in the lighting between shots, but the overall look of the photos are easy to compare.

Perar

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Zeiss

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Leica Lux FLE

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Summicron

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Skopar

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Summaron

 

Bokeh is an image attribute that can also be achieved in software. Alien Skin makes a Photoshop plug-in product called Bokeh 2.0 that does an admirable job of creating bokeh in images after they were shot, even going so far as to model the attributes of several well known fast lenses, although not Leica lenses. Photoshop 6 (now in beta test) has an advanced blur filter that also mimics the behavior of different lenses to give a natural-looking bokeh effect.

Some photographers eagerly use many tools to give them the look they desire in their photographs while others see the digital manipulation of images as something to be avoided, something that diminishes from the photographic experience. My personal view is that except for photojournalism where truth is paramount, creative control is in the hands of the photographer and creative tools have always been at our disposal, in the analog and digital worlds. The development of more advanced and even easier digital tools is not taking us further away from “real” photographs, it is making it possible for photographers to show us how they “saw” a scene from their own perspective.

Finally, it’s important to consider several factors when choosing from among these lenses. The size and weight of lenses can be important, so clearly the Perar, Summaron and Skopar are the leaders here. If size and weight are not an issue, the Biogon, FLE and Cron are the image quality leaders. One of these lenses is remarkably heavier than the others – the Summicron ASPH Chrome. It’s a solid-brass lens that feels extremely dense when you lift it to mount on the camera. All of these 35mm rangefinder lenses are small and light in comparison to 35mm SLR lenses from Canon or Nikon.

All of these lenses are easy to handle, except the Skopar due to its short focus throw. Even the tiny Perar with its pin-shaped focusing tab is easy to focus with just a little practice. As I pointed out in part one of this test, prices vary widely among this group of lenses, starting at just over $300 for the Color Skopar to more than $6000 for the Leica Summilux ASPH.

My advice is to first decide what type of look you like most in your photos, then see what choices there are at the prices you’re willing to spend for a 35mm lens in your kit. Some photographers like to have two lens “kits” to choose from – a “small-and-light kit” for maximum portability and a “fast kit” for low-light situations. At the 35mm focal length there are plenty of good choices for the rangefinder shooter.

Brad Husick

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