Apr 172015
 

One from the Sony A7II and Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4

Many have been asking me when my full review for the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 Lens will be out. Well, I have been so swamped with all kinds of goodies lately, and I did not want to rush the Sony review so I will be wrapping it up within 10 days or so. For now, I will say that just as I thought in my 1st look report (see that here), this Sony 35 1.4 is the best 35mm lens I have ever shot with, period. For me it beats the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, it beats the Zeiss 35 1.4 Zm, it beats the Nikon 35 1.4, and handily beat the Canon 35 1.4 L. It has an extreme sharpness at 1.4 but ONLY at the focus point. The background melts away into a beautiful bokeh and the color performance is top notch.

THIS lens, optically, is amazing. As good as it gets in the 35mm world. I will leave you with ONE shot I snapped an hour ago of my Stepdaughter Katie just before her Senior prom.

Review in about 7-10 days.

Indoor, NO flash (I never use flash) and just some soft window light. Shot at f/1.4. Click it for larger. Sony A7II. 

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Mar 312015
 

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DUAL Review: Zeiss Loxia 50 F/2

by Bill Danby and Steve Huff

Hey everyone! I have been shooting the Zeiss Loxia 50 f/2 for 2-3 weeks now and LOVE it. I also received a guest report on the Loxia 50 and decided to post both my thoughts and Bill Danby’s thoughts at the same time. First, I will let Bill say what he thinks about the Loxia 50 as he says all that needs to be said! Enjoy!

Bill Danby Loxia Review:

Just about every discussion of the Loxia 50mm also mentions the most likely alternative, the Sony/Zeiss 55mm. (And now, I suppose, I have too.) But this is very rarefied air we’re breathing here. They’re both outstanding lenses designed specifically for the Sony A7 series cameras. Any idea that one will leave the other in the dust is entirely misplaced.

I have used my 55mm extensively; but this will not be a “This vs That” review. Just because there’s an elephant in the room, doesn’t mean you have to pet it.

I don’t do video, so this review won’t be helpful for photographers looking to use the Loxia for that.

I’m not going to be coy. I REALLY like this lens. But I’m not going to recommend it willy-nilly. I’d like to tell you about the lens, and let you decide. But as they say in the small print: The following is provided on an “as is” basis. Your mileage may vary, etc.

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So, why the Loxia 50mm?

The “Ifs:”
If you prefer primes lenses; and
if you prefer a “normal” (50mm) lens; and
if the manual focus is a serious plus for you; and
if you can live without some of the very attractive features of autofocus; and
if only having a manual aperture isn’t a practical negative,
then the Loxia 50mm might be the lens for you.

Image quality

The most important thing to know about the Loxia 50mm is that it’s balanced in terms of its qualities. Zeiss calls it a “flexible all-rounder.” There’s a lot of truth in that; but only for those that got through the “ifs” without having to think too hard about it.

The Loxia’s colour rendering and contrast are both great, and it has its share of Zeiss “pop.” Not OMG “pop;” but it’s a Zeiss Planar and it does what Zeiss Planar lenses do. Apparently the present level of contrast is more the result of the coating than the Planar design. The Planar design has almost 120 years of history and the Zeiss T* coating goes back almost 80 years.

It has extremely low distortion and very little chromatic aberration.

F/2.0 is pretty fast. To get to f/1.4 would have required a bigger lens and that would not have been in keeping with the brief. This is the same speed as its sister, the Loxia 35mm. You have to keep in mind that this is f/2.0 on a full-frame. That means that at f/2.0 on the full frame camera, depth-of-field is slightly more shallow than at f/1.4 with a 32mm (50mm equivalent) lens on an APS-C (crop sensor) camera. So, this affords acceptably narrow depth of field for isolation of a subject, such as for some portraits.

Apparently, the Inuit people have at least 53 words for snow. We seem to be working toward that number of adjectives to describe bokeh. The Loxia’s bokeh isn’t the very creamy style prized by some; but it’s not “nervous” either. I find the bokeh from the Loxia to be both attractive and useful.

This is an outstandingly sharp lens, with a slight softening at the corners, wide open. I had to look for it. It’s not a problem for me.

The lens is an equal partner for the Sony A7II. And from the other reports I’ve read, it also meets the demands of the A7r (which I don’t have).

It’s not a zoom

Prime lenses held pride of place for many years, but times have changed. The quality improvements in zooms have been revolutionary. So now, while there’s a bit of image quality in it, the main difference is lens speed.

Zooms for the A7 series (even the lowly 28-70mm kit lens) usually have their own stabilisation. So if you’re not going to be using an A7II (or, seemingly soon, the A7rII), then using the Loxia over a zoom will cost you the stabilisation as well.

Almost everyone who has had occasion to use my camera, has asked where the zoom ring is. Their reaction on learning there isn’t one, can only be described as pitying. Now, with the Loxia, they’ll be wondering why it isn’t focusing. (I fear that things will be moving from pity to something else.)

Manual focus

Manual focusing seems to have “old school” written all over it. It’s unfortunate that some think that manual focusing is just for “old guys” (apologies for the sexist terminology) trying to recapture their experiences from the day. Feeding such a view is the fact that old guys started in photography without any autofocus. So, they, or those with experience in using legacy lenses, adjust to manual focus more quickly.

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I hate thinking I’ve nailed the focus on a shot, only to find out when I get it into Lightroom that the system has chosen something else to focus on. (That, of course, is the camera rather than the lens.) So, while I still may occasionally miss the exact focus with the Loxia, I don’t get those surprises.

Any movement of the focus ring triggers an immediate magnified view. And a half-press of the shutter button brings you back the full view ahead of whatever timing you’ve set. You can, of course, turn that off and magnify when you want.

It took me a little time to get used to that magnification arrangement because I had been used to giving the shutter a half-press to force an autofocus.

Focusing with the Loxia is fast. It’s not always as fast as some autofocus systems, but it’s more reliable. Manual focus, however, rarely gets lost in the hunt. I usually leave focus peaking on, but I depend on the magnified view.

I’ve also assigned the magnified view to the A7II’s “C1″ soft key. That allows me to get an even higher magnification quickly when I need it.

If you’ve come to depend on Sony’s great, eye-focus feature (or faces, or smiles, or face recognition, or tracking focus), those don’t happen with the Loxia. Except for the loss of the eye focus (which is very accurate, and simple even on a tripod), I’m relieved. There’s no grid of phase detection points, or boxes around people’s faces, or green dots to signal focus.

It’s just point, focus, and shoot.

Zone focusing is not just for street photographers. Once you get used to a hard infinity limit and a hard close focus limit (at about 18 inches), then it’s easy to estimate where a shot is going to be.

I haven’t tried astrophotography, but my lens sets accurately to infinity. So, if you’re trying to focus on the stars, it’ll probably be easier on the Loxia.

It’s ironic for me that after years of watching the developments and discussing the relative merits of phase detection and contrast detection autofocus, I’ve decided to skip both — just when they’re getting really fast.

Handling

The lens is all metal, so it’s relatively heavy, although Zeiss calls it light. Zeiss says it’s 320gm, but with the hood and front lens cap mine was 358gm). My kit (the A7II with the Loxia, but without a strap, ) comes in at 970gm. With the strap, call it a kilogram (2.2lbs).

I find that the on-camera balance is perfect.

I’ve heard the lens called ugly. That, of course, is personal taste; but it doesn’t seem ugly to me.

The focus ring is well placed and wide enough. The ring begins just behind the lens hood when the hood’s attached, so the ring is quick to find. Yes, yes, the focus ring is very smooth. It’s a Zeiss manual lens — it needed to be.

The full, focus rotation for the Loxia is 180 degrees — a manageable spin. But, that’s not the useful information. What you need to know is that the focus rotation to go from 2 meters (6 feet) to infinity is only about 35 degrees (about a tenth of a turn of the focus ring). This means that for most situations I can focus within that range without taking my fingers off the lens.

I wouldn’t have minded a slightly wider aperture ring. No big thing.

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Manual aperture

If you’re not a dedicated aperture-priority shooter, then the Loxia isn’t the lens for you. It’s an absolute manual aperture.

The Loxia’s manual aperture benefit, as with manual focus, is that you not only set it on the lens, you can see what you set; and you can see it even if the camera is “sleeping,” or off.

With an auto lens you can select aperture priority, or not. No such choice with a Loxia. (This means that you can’t put the camera on “auto” to hand to a bystander to take your picture.)

I rarely use the video on my camera, so I don’t need to switch off the aperture clicks. But I was curious to see if the small screwdriver from my Swiss Army Knife (usually used to tighten the screws on eye glasses) would work on the Loxia’s click/declick selector switch, that’s located on the lens mount. It’s not a great fit, but it does.

Exif data reporting

Because the lens reports the exif data to the camera, the f/stop appears in the electronic viewfinder as well. Cool.

The exif data, however, is not just information for idle curiosity. The information feeds the exposure calculations. And when images arrive in Lightroom, you’ll have aperture data with those shots.

The focus data is also used by the A7II’s stabilisation to afford the full, five-axis assistance, rather than the three-axis available to other manual focus lenses. This also means that when you attach a Loxia, the Sony recognises it and sets the system to the lens just as it does for Sony lenses.

The details

The lens shade is metal, but light. It reverses, but the hood is deep. So, when it’s reversed it pretty much covers the focusing ring. There’s only the slightest sliver of ring available in a pinch. You really have to remove the hood to focus the lens. I mentioned that it’s metal, but it has a plastic ring on the inside for the actual connection to the lens. The inside of the barrel of the shade feels as if it has a coating and it’s BLACK. It takes a quarter turn to lock it into place, so if you start with the Zeiss logo at the top, then a quarter-turn will lock it into place and bring the “Loxia 2/50″ to the top.

I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, so most of the “features” of the camera are irrelevant to me. I love the manual focus and I welcome the manual aperture because I used to shoot in aperture priority anyway.

On A7 lens mounts there’s a white dot for aligning the lens when attaching. The corresponding dot on the Loxia 50mm is blue, and almost invisible in poor light. I use the words “E-mount” in (noticeable) white lettering that’s right next to the blue dot as my guide.

The Loxia is a much tighter fit on the A7II than on the A7. That’s a good thing, because the lens mount has been strengthened on the A7II. The only problem is that there’s very little finger purchase on the Loxia 50mm in the space between the aperture ring and the camera for giving it that twist. It’s a bit easier to use the space between the aperture ring and the focus ring.

I haven’t done any testing, but without an autofocus motor, I think I’m getting better battery life.

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Conclusion

I have the Loxia, and I’m keeping it. It’s my everyday, “walking around” lens. And, I’m hoping for Zeiss to release a Loxia 85mm in the future.

I’d like to think that after reading this, you’ll come away with an idea about whether this is a lens for you. But it’s serious money, so if you’re in a big city, you might want to rent one for a couple of days.

Alternatively, when these lenses are more available, head to your local dealer, put one on your Sony, and take it for a spin (focus-ring play-on-words intended).

I have to agree that autofocus has become incredibly good on mirrorless cameras, and you can still manually focus those lenses with fly-by-wire. So, I admit that the Loxia’s manual focus may provide more lens control than actual photographic control. But I’ve used fly-by-wire manual focusing as an adjunct to “auto” on many autofocus lenses, and I don’t miss those experiences.

Good luck with your Loxia, or whatever lens you choose.

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Steve’s thoughts on the Loxia 50:

After my 35 Loxia review I knew I would have fun using the 50 Loxia. For me, this lens is fantastic in size, feel build, and use. I am one who is used to manual focus primes, so this is always my preference. I love Leica M glass and using them, so the Loxia was a natural fit for me and my uses and tastes.

The build is fantastic, feels almost like a Leica lens. At least feels as good as the standard 50 Summicron. Image quality wise it is also fantastic with very little CA, distortion and the lens is razor sharp.

My 1st shot with the 50 Loxia gave me 50 APO detail and rendering, all on my Sony A7S

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I will not repeat what Bill said above as he nailed it when he described the lens qualities. He basically said what I would have said, which is cool as now I do not have to write it all ;) Even so, this lens is priced VERY RIGHT at $949. For under $1,000 you can get a lens that performs almost to the level of  the Leica 50 APO which comes in at $7500 or so. See Brad Husik’s test HERE between this lens and the 50 APO. 

The A7II and the Loxia is a match made in heaven. Color, detail and pop. 

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The build and feel is much nicer than the M mount version from Zeiss. It is a perfect match for the Sony A7 system, and it works well on my A7s and A7II. Beautiful. From the packaging to the all metal lens hood to the silky manual focus feel to the auto magnify when you touch the focus ring, this lens is a winner in every way. If you love manual focus primes with some speed, then this is a lens you will adore. For me, this lens and my A7II is really all I ever need. Sure, I own wide-angle lenses and longer lenses but for me, the 50mm is the true classic prime delivering closest to what our eyes see.

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During my use with the lens I enjoyed every second of it. I never once had frustration nor did I ever wish I had a faster or different lens. I never yearned for auto focus as this lens is as easy to AF as the 35 was, and these rank among the easiest MF lenses I have used. With the auto magnify of the A7 series, it was a breeze to lock in critical focus. It is really quite fun to use the Loxia line.

All images below from the A7II and Zeiss Loxia at f/2 – Various ISO EXIF is embedded.

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Color is delicious, typical of Zeiss glass. It has the sharpness and detail, the build and feel, the great usability and the super pop and color that one would expect. All in a small prime under $950. A must buy for those who love this type of lens. I would take this over a Leica M 50 converted for use on the A7 series. Easy. In fact, this is one of my favorite lenses for the A7 series camera. I enjoy it much more than the Sony 55 1.8 (which I own) as the build is nicer, the lens is smaller yet heavier (better build) and again, I prefer the manual focus. I also feel the images have more character than the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8. Price wise, they are about the same.

Below are more of my photos with the 50 Loxia during my time with it. All on the Sony A7II (my #1 camera of choice today) – my A7II review is HERE.

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Where to Buy the Loxia Lenses:

PopFlash.com is an authorized Zeiss dealer and they carry the Loxia line HERE

B&H Photo also sells the Zeiss Loxia line HERE

Mar 242015
 

Quick Crazy Comparison! Leica M-P 240 with 35 Cron vs Sony A7II with 35 Zeiss Loxia!

JUST FOR FUN!! I have a Leica M-P 240 here with a Leica 35 Summicron ASPH. I also have my A7II with Zeiss 35 Loxia so I decided to run out back to take a couple of TEST shots, just for fun. I was curious about BOKEH of each lens and for my tastes, the Leica 35 Summicron won the Bokeh test for me. The Loxia is a tad busy in comparison. In either case, both of these cameras and lenses can do wonderful things but there are small differences in IQ and HUGE differences in using the cameras.

I have become so used to my A7II and Manual Lenses I adore the EVF and accurate focusing. With the M I adore the experience of shooting a rangefinder in a mature digital body. I also love the battery life of the M. Below are a couple of shots all wide open at f/2 to see the character of each lens. Nothing more, nothing less.

All were RAW and colors were not tweaked. What you see is what came out of the RAW conversion except for test shot #2 where I converted each to B&W to see if there was a difference. I used Alien Skin for the B&W conversion. Click images for larger versions.

You can read my A7II review HERE or my Leica M Review HERE. 

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Mar 162015
 

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Battle of the Champions: Leica M & 50 APO vs Sony A7II & 50 Zeiss Loxia

by Brad Husick

It has been an exciting few years in the development of high-end digital cameras. With the advent of full frame sensors in compact mirrorless bodies, it is now possible to obtain truly outstanding results that can be printed at virtually any size for the home or gallery.

My objective in running this test was to examine the image quality of two of the most highly regarded full frame digital mirrors cameras today – the Leica M model 240 ($7,250) and the Sony A7-II ($1,699), paired with the best available standard optics for each. For the Leica the choice was obvious in the Leica 50mm f/2 APO Summicron ($8,250) and for the Sony the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* ($949). The prices listed here are retail. Street prices can be lower.

The cameras are very different from each other and there are many articles and reviews that go into these differences. My purpose here is to look only at image quality regardless of other factors such as price, functionality, shooting style, build quality, etc. The key question here is which camera and lens combination produces the best images under a variety of real world shooting conditions. This is not a scientific laboratory bench test, it is meant to see how well the cameras do under reasonable realistic conditions.

My methodology was wherever possible to shoot the lenses wide open at f/2 and match the other shooting settings as closely as possible, including ISO and shutter speeds. Both cameras were shot in RAW and the images are displayed in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1. No adjustments other than tiny overall exposure movements used to match the images were made. Settings were left in default positions and do not differ between camera images.

These lenses are both manual focus lenses so I used each camera’s focus magnifying tool at maximum to obtain the sharpest images I could. I did not achieve 100% focus accuracy despite using a tripod for all the indoor shots and high shutter speeds for the outdoor shots. This points to my abilities and the nature of f/2 lenses having very thin depth-of-field when wide open. The indoor shots were taken at ISO 1600 and the outdoor shots at base ISO 200. The wind was blowing at about 5 mph outdoors. The cameras were set on manual exposure and automatic color balance. I did not re-adjust color balance once in Lightroom. These are “as-shot” images.

Each comparison starts with a “master” image showing the entire frame, followed by a few 100% zoom details taken from various positions around the frame.

Rather than try to make this a guessing game, I will tell you up front that each of the side-by-side comparisons has the Sony on the left and the Leica on the right.

I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about the relative strengths of each image.

My conclusion, with which you should feel free to disagree, is that there is a surprisingly small difference here. Based on image quality alone, it’s very difficult to choose. I must conclude that both systems are capable of producing outstanding images, and other factors such as price, preferred shooting style, features and functions, and others are much larger influencers in the decision between these cameras and lenses. One might come to the conclusion that if you choose to invest $15,000 in a Leica system then $2,700 for the Sony system is cheaper than buying one more Leica lens, so why not own both if you care to?

I hope you enjoy this comparison.

IMAGE ONE – FULL FRAME

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Sony crops on left – Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops!

(Steve’s Opinion: The Loxia is sharper here in these MAP crops to my eye)

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IMAGE TWO – FULL FRAME

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Sony crops on the left, Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops

(Steve’s Opinion: These appear to be so close, I would call it a tie)

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IMAGE THREE – FULL FRAME

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Sony crops on the left – Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops

(Steve’s Opinion: What sticks out to me here is the warmer WB of the Leica, sharpness seems similar)

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IMAGE FOUR – FULL FRAME

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT – CLICK ‘EM!

(Steve’s Opinion: The LOXIA seems sharper in crop 2 and 3 with Leica for the 1st)

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IMAGE FIVE – FULL FRAME

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT – YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!

(Steve’s Opinion: To my eye, APO wins this one)

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IMAGE SIX – FULL FRAME

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: LOXIA wins this one – less CA and sharper)

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IMAGE SEVEN

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: These are close, VERY close)

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IMAGE EIGHT

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: Again, VERY close but I pick APO for this one)

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IMAGE NINE

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SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: Almost a draw again but the APO Bokeh is a TAD smoother)

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Best regards,
Brad

Mar 042015
 

A first look video and snaps from the new Zeiss Loxia lenses for FE Mount

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A few days ago I received a package from Zeiss. I opened up the box and there they were. TWO lenses. The Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 and 50 f/2. I opened the packaging expecting these huge big lenses but nope, they were quite small. They were solid, just about as solid as most Leica M lenses, and only slightly larger. I attached them to my A7II and A7s and WOW. The focusing action was smooth as silk, yet damped, almost like it was floating in a barrel of oil, lol.

The aperture rings clicked solidly yet smoothly. Someone at Zeiss did their homework and realized there is a large market for lenses like this for the Sony FE system. I went out, took a few shots (not too many yet as I was busy with the Zeiss 35 1.4 FE) and WOW. It’s all here. The Zeiss POP, the Zeiss COLOR, the Zeiss Depth. No issues. No colored edges. No vignetting. No distortion.

After testing them out for a day I thought “these are priced VERY well for what we get with these lenses”. The 50 f/2, appears to be just as lovely as the Leica 50 APO, at 1/7th the cost and only a little larger. Metal construction, metal hood INCLUDED and fabulous build. THESE are lenses ANY Leica lover wold enjoy on their A7 system.

Oh and they also have close .3 meter focusing!

A video showing the size of these lenses  – smaller than I was led to believe.

I love Zeiss, I love Leica, I love GREAT lenses, period. The Loxias appear to offer much better performance than the Touit line along with smaller size, better build and great usability.

I will have a full review up in the next few weeks but yes, I highly recommend these for your Sony A7 series. I did do a test between the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 and Loxia 35 f/2 which will be in my full Sony Zeiss review, but both are different. I preferred the rendering from the Sony 35 1.4 but the size of  the Loxia. The Loxia was a bit more clinical and the DOF difference, even at f/2 on both lenses was MUCH different with the Sony being more shallow, which is why I feel the Sony gives a true Leica “Lux” look.

In any case, these lenses are very hard to get as Zeiss told me they are doing much better  than anticipated. I can’t wait to see what is next for the Loxia line.

A few quick samples below during my one day of snapshots ;) Will have MANY more in my full review. EXIF is embedded.

Pre-Order these at B&H Photo.

PopFlash is also a Zeiss Dealer.

A7s – 50 f/2

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The 35 at ISO 1000 – A7II

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The 35 – A7II – ISO 1000 – click to see detail in crop!

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A7s – 35 at f/2 – click to see detail in crop

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A7s – 35 f/2

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A7s – 35 f/2

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Feb 092015
 

New Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 Distagon Leica M Mount lens IN STOCK!

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The new and SUPER HOT Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 M mount lens is NOW IN STOCK through PopFlash.com. I have spoken with quite a few who have either bought or shot with this lens and most have said they prefer it to the Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 FLE! It is supposed to be one hell of a lens and is perfect for your Leica M or Sony A7 camera.

PopFlash.com has them in stock in SILVER, right now! CLICK HERE to check it out!

 

Jan 302015
 

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The Sony-Zeiss 16-35 F/4 OSS Lens Quick Review

By Steve Huff

A few weeks ago Sony sent me the 16-35 F/4 Zeiss OSS lens to review and seeing that I rarely shoot wider than 35mm, I knew it would be a while before I could really evaluate the lens. I do not get a review item and go on the street, take 10-20 snaps and come in and write a review. I prefer to USE the gear I review for a few weeks as this way it feels like I own it. This is why when I started this site seven years ago I called my reviews “Real World reviews” as they are written by a real guy who really loves and is passionate about photography AND I despise technical tests with charts and nonsense. Testing with charts personally tells me nothing about a camera or lens, but the results and photos do, and for me, THAT is what matters.

So by really using the gear over an extended time, I can see what my feelings are on longer term use which is always good because if the lens or camera ended up sitting on my shelf most of the time instead of being used, then it would not be so good :)

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With the Sony 16-35 that did not happen. I used it any time I could and evaluated it on the A7s and A7II. For me, Lens reviews are pretty easy to write as I will just be sitting here to tell you about my experiences with the lens and how I feel it compares to other wide-angle lenses I have shot with. I will share most of the images I snapped while using it as well so you get an idea of the IQ from the lens. You will not see resolution tests as this does not matter. As I said above, the photos and results matter and tell me MUCH more than any resolution chart ever will.

To make a long story short, the Sony/Zeiss 16-35 is a hell of a lens for your A7 system. If you shoot wide-angle and LOVE the 16mm-35mm focal lengths…this is about as good as it gets for the A7 series, or any system for that matter.

These three were all shot on the A7s – A&s review is HERE

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Long ago I shot with a D700 and 14-24 Nikon lens. Even back then, not being a really wide-angle guy I was unsure about the lens purchase but with the raves coming in for it back then I knew it was a masterpiece..and it was. While it was large with a huge bulbous front piece the image quality was stunning and that combo of D700 and 14-24 had some magic going on with it. That lens brings back very fond memories of a unique time in life. As I go over the old photos I see my son, much younger..I see where I lived, as well as the fun me and him had with that wide-angle lens,  and I start to remember that just maybe…I AM a wide-angle guy! (just a little).

I always tell myself that I am a 35 and 50mm shooter as that is what I love to shoot with most of the time but there is a beauty to be seen with certain wide-angle lenses and the word at 16mm or even 21mm can be pretty cool. I still feel I am not skilled enough to pull off masterful shots with an ultra wide but with time, patience and passion I think I can get there. The Sony 16-35 may be the lens to push me in that direction as it is a stellar lens for image quality, flare control and distortion control.

While very large (and this I do not like) for a mirrorless system, I can not fault the lens quality or feel. It’s sharp, provides color that is bold and behaves like an ultra wide should. I have used the manual Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 on many occasions over the past 4-5 years but on most of the Sony full frame bodies (A7, A7r, A7II) it suffers from color issues and massive vignetting. On the A7s, it works much better as do most wide-angle M mount lenses. But with the Soy 16-35 there are no problems..though the lens is about 10X larger than the tiny 15mm Voigtlander ;)

There are shots with this lens in my A7II review as well..

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Impressive. The shots below were shot directly into the sun and NO FLARE. This lens has outstanding flare control. 

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The Info:

Here is the lowdown on the lens from Sony:

“With a dust and moisture resistant design, the compact and lightweight Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens covers your wide-angle zoom needs and is designed for full-frame FE-mount cameras but can also be used on APS-C E-mount cameras as well. A constant f/4 maximum aperture offers consistent performance throughout the zoom range. Benefiting working in dim light is Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, which serves to minimize the appearance of camera shake by up to four shutter speed steps.

The optical construction incorporates five aspherical elements, including a large diameter AA (advanced aspherical) element, and three ED (extra-low dispersion) elements to help reduce chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range as well as contribute to a compact overall form-factor. A Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating has been applied to the lens elements to minimize lens flare and ghosting while providing enhanced contrast, clarity, and color fidelity.”

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The lens is well made, and when I look over the images captured with it I see rich color, medium to high contrast and share details. There are no weird issues with the lens and the AF is fast and accurate as can be on the A7s and A7II. For video, this lens is also quite fabulous and with the A7II, the 5 AXIS really makes your video appear smooth as butter.

Usually my lens reviews are short, sweet and to the point and with the Sony 16-35 I really found nothing I disliked about the lens besides the larger size, so this review will be low on words and heavy on the images captured with the lens. The IQ, for me, beat the Leica Wide Angle Tri Elmar (When used on the A7s and A7II) which is a VERY expensive lens at 3X the cost. The Zeiss lens is larger but not so heavy and if I were a wide-angle guy this would be the wide-angle lens of choice for my A7 system, hands down. For Sony owners who love and adore ultra wide to wide, this could be your perfect lens in one simple zoom.

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How about the slow f/4 Aperture? Does this pose a problem in real world use?

In a word, NO, not at all. With the excellent higher ISO performance of these Sony cameras the f/4 aperture never ever was a hindrance. In fact, for wide-angle zooms I do not feel f/2.8 is needed at all (when you have camera tech as it is today). Look at the Leica Wide Angle Tri Elmar..VERY expensive but it is an f/4 lens as well yet considered one of the best wide-angle lenses you can get (when used on a Leica M). It has a huge cult like following and even on a Leica, the f/4 aperture was never an issue due to the fact that with ultra wides, fast apertures are not needed.

Also, at f/4, this lens is sharp and has the quality one would expect for a stopped down lens. So shooting wide open is not a problem AT ALL with the 16-35. This means that there are basically no limitations on what aperture you can shoot with the lens. It will reward you with the same consistent quality throughout the range.

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The lens also has optical steady shot inside which Sony says will give you a 4 stop advantage, and is another reason it is on the large side. When using it on the A7II you can choose if you want to use the 5 Axis in the camera or the OSS in the lens. I choose the 5 Axis in the body when I use it on the A7II.

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My Conclusion on this mega short review?

With lenses there is not much I can say or ramble on about if the lens performs exceptionally well, and this lens performs about as good as I expected, if not better. For the A7 system it will provide problem free wide-angle shooting and while it will not have the character of something like a mega exotic Leica 21 Summilux, it will give you sharp, consistent, bold color and a clean image. Seriously guys, one of the best wide-angle zooms I have ever tried or used, up there with the Nikon 14-24! At $1,398 the lens is NOT cheap but when we look at other full frame lenses like this for other systems, this one comes in well below the others. This is mainly due to the slower f/4 aperture but as I said, f/2.8 is not really needed for a lens like this, especially on the A7 system.

If I had to give a score, I would give the Sony-Zeiss 16-35 f/4 a 95% –  HIGHLY Recommended. Just a few points taken off only for the large size (I feel they could have made it smaller, which would have made it PERFECT) but optically it is wonderful. 

Where to Buy?

You can buy the Sony/Zeiss 16-35 F/4 Lens at B&H Photo or Amazon Below:

B&H Photo 16-35 Page

Amazon 16-35 Page

More images below. All EXIF is embedded and images are a mix from the A7II and A7s. Click any image for a larger size. 

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

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

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Jan 152015
 

2014 – My year with Leica

By Jason Boucher

Long ago I read Mike Johnston’s post on The Online Photographer about a year with Leica and it would make you a better photographer. I wanted to jump in at the time, but at that time couldn’t imagine spending that much on an “old” camera and it would force me to buy a new lens. I ended up buying a used Bessa as well as a used Voigtlander lens. While the original article suggested to commit fully, I committed to at least 1 roll of film per month. In that year I relearned so much about photography. It slowed me down. It made me intentional in my shooting. It also was my 1st experience with a rangefinder and frankly, the focusing became second nature and something I preferred over the split prism I grew up with. I was happy with my Bessa and my m43 digital and DSLR autofocus kits. That year with film and my Bessa really did help me.

A couple of years ago, things changed for me. I took a new job where I was not providing social content and digital image assets to the company I work for. This freed me a bit from photography as work. I could do photography for me and for me only. Coincidentally at the same time, my friend at my local camera store, National Camera Exchange, called me one day and said they got a used M9 in mint condition. I went in and held it in my hands. Wow. It was love and lust at first sight. But…cash was still a problem and I left instead with a used M8. Figuring I could give it a try and not loose much money. I had 1 M -mount lens at the time, a Zeiss 35 f2.8, I attached it and shot it almost exclusively for a couple of months.

Here are a few shots from my summer vacation and family visit in North Dakota with the M8

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It was a lovely set up and gave me a few images that I truly cherish. That old M8 has some quirky but special mojo. To be honest, it is still my favorite black and white, digital camera of all time and one day hope to own one alongside my newer Leica digital M camera. That missing IR filter does something amazing to skin and skin tones. But…I just could not handle the noise of shutter as well as the inability, at least with my single lens I owned, to shoot at higher ISO’s and in lower light, something I do a lot. So I put it away and shot it on special occasion.

About mid way through 2014, I took the M8 on a trip again and was reminded of both the experience and the glorious output. So…I sold everything else I owned including my new Fuji XT1 as well as the M8 and came home with a used M240. Over the course of the fall I slowly added some used M mount glass. I know much has been written about the M240 and how some folks prefer the M9 CCD sensor. I had some experience with the CCD with the M8 and in certain instances do prefer it, the overall shooting experience, capability as well as the higher ISO capabilities make the M240 an easy and preferred choice for me. It just works.

M 240 Images…

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My Leica M240 has become an extension of my hand as well as the most amazing creative tool I have ever used. I am no professional and shoot only for myself, but I am pleased with and believe the camera has in fact been a driving factor in changing my personal style and satisfaction with photography. I know that for each of us that we all respond uniquely to gear and many feel that Leica’s are a bunch of hype. I thought that too, but in the end, I feel that it did help me develop, grow and output better images.

So….Even though I really only starting using Leica cameras halfway through 2014, I still consider it my year of Leica.  Hope you enjoy them and my wish to all of you in 2015 is that you find that muse, that tool, that thing that inspires you and helps you develop your craft and art.

Cheers

Jason
www.imaginegnat.com

Dec 272014
 

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The Sony A7II  Real World Camera Review. My Camera of the Year 2014.

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**Direct Links: Buy the A7 II at B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE**

You just gotta love Sony. They are back yet again at the end of 2014 and have released a camera that is not only a fantastic update, but this one is my pick for camera of the year 2014! 

Yep, they squeezed in the last couple of weeks of 2014 and captured my #1 fave camera of the year. My #2 for 2014 is the Sony A7s, and those who know me and know this website know that I LOVE the Sony A7s. If you did not see my A7s review, you can see it by clicking here. 

The low light monster A7s really grabbed me in so many ways, from the full frame 12MP sensor that can literally see in the dark to the beautiful color and quality that comes from it. The fact that I can shoot at ISO 40,000 and get usable images from the A7s is pretty amazing. To my eye (and many others) Sony improved the image quality/color and AWB with the A7s and this made the images POP and have a more beautiful color. The Auto Focus could/can see in and focus in the dark, even without an AF assist light. So the A7s has been my #1 camera ever since it was launched. The silent shutter and ability to shoot wide angle Leica M lenses was icing on the cake.

The Amazing Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 on the A7II. Natural light and wide open at 1.4

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So now today I am here to sit at my desk in a Log Cabin in the woods I rented for the Holidays..for the long haul..to write about my real word experience with the new and quite popular Sony A7II. As you already know, from my opening statement above…I love the A7II enough to have made it my pick for Camera of the Year 2014.

For me, Sony stepped it up in many ways with the A7II compared to the over one year old A7 yet it will not replace my A7s. Instead it will be an addition to it.

Wow. The Leica Noctilux on the Sony A7II at f/0.95. Look at the color..the depth..the magical rendering that adds emotion and soul to the image. This lens on the A7II is MAGICAL and in no way inferior to  using it on a Leica M, in fact, the color is much better here than with the M. Click image for larger version.

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For one, the build of the A7II is all new and more beefy and solid. The camera feels like a  “pro” camera. It’s very nice.

They also changed the ergonomics by adding a new bigger grip and changing the buttons and dials around a bit. The shutter button and custom buttons are placed in a much better way allowing your fingers to naturally fall where the buttons lay. Perfect. After much use with the A7Ii and A7s, I prefer the shutter button placement of the new A7II. Take a look at my 1st look video below which was shot the day the A7II arrived…

My 1st look video when I received the A7II

 
The AF speed has improved by 30% over the A7 Mark I according to Sony (and I agree) and what may be the biggest news of all comes in the form of in body image stabilization. Sony is now using the 5 Axis IS system which moves the sensor itself to compensate for any hand movement or shake. This means that you will now get up to a 4 stop advantage when shooting low light and needing that extra bit of help keeping things steady…

…and yes, the 5 Axis IS works with classic lenses as well as modern day Leica M mount lenses though the system will revert to a 3 Axis IS (similar to what is in the Olympus E-M10). The 5 Axis will not make the A7II equal the A7s but it does indeed help in low light situations.

The Sony/Zeiss 35 f/2.8 at 2.8, a fantastic lens on the A7II. Click for larger. 

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Sony also upped the Ante with the video, bringing in the same video possibilities as the A7s which has been heralded by some video pros as a fantastic camera for making films. I feel the video works very well with the image stabilization though I am not a video wizard and will be evaluating this camera mainly for photos. Even so, the video I shot with the A7II was fantastic. It has a mic input and the on board mics are quite beefy. By that I mean they are not tinny sounding. They sound nice and full as a good mic should.

With all of these improvements in the A7II you would think Sony would have priced it at the A7s level, or around $2500. Nope! The A7II is $1698 for the body only, which is a HUGE HUGE bang for the buck and worth every penny. Every cent. Every bit of it. I remember many years ago buying an original Canon 1Ds. I spent about $10k on the body and a couple of NON L Canon lenses. Today in 2014 this Sony A7II beats that old Canon 1Ds in EVERY single way from speed to image quality to high ISO to usability and versatility. Digital Photography has come a LONG way over the past 10-15 years.

With the Sony A7II comes a camera that will let YOUR abilities shine or your NON abilities to also shine ;) It is a camera for an amateur, enthusiast or pro, as it has enough to handle almost anything besides fast action sports shooting even though the continuous AF has been improved quite a bit. If you want a camera for the long haul, one that does not cost a fortune yet gives you results that appear that it does, one that will grow with you or allow you to flex your own photographic muscle, then I urge you to read on as this A7II may be just what you have been looking for.

The Voigtlander 40 2.8 for Sony E mount using the Voigtlander close focus adapter. This $400 lens is very nice with a classic rendering though does have some slight vignetting. I reviewed it HERE.

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But the A7II is not perfect, and I will get into all of this as the review goes on.

DISCLAIMER: As you have already seen, I will also show image samples from the A7II using all kinds of lenses from the Sony/Zeiss offerings (35 2.8. 55 1.8 and 16-35) as well as some M mount lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander. Even a few from the teeny Nikkor 5cm 1.4 S mount. With the A7 series, almost ANY lens can be used from any manufacturer with the use of adapters. For this reason, I will be showing the results from all kinds of cool lenses in addition to my favorite three Sony/Zeiss lenses.

THIS, to me, makes the A7 series so much more desirable than any other camera system available today. Sure, you can mount most lenses to an Olympus E-M1 as well but you lose out on the full frame sensor that gives you the full lens character. So a Leica 50 Summilux or Noctilux will retain the same character that it does on a Leica M, in some cases even better. Amazing!

Just think about how special this is. Many of you will be saying “I have no interest in manual focus lenses” because you probably have a DSLR history or are just so used to AF lenses you are nervous to try a nice manual focus lens. I am here to tell you though  – DO NOT FEAR MANUAL FOCUS lenses on the A7 II! Shooting old classic RF lenses is a joy and SO BEAUTIFUL. Lenses can be had from $30 to $13,000 so there are affordable choices that are quite nice.

Manual focus with a Leica Noctilux, at f/0.95. Added a filter using VSCO filters and with the focus peaking and magnification of the A7II, manual focus is a breeze and is actually in a way more rewarding and makes using the camera even more special. 

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With that said, the original Sony 35 2.8, 55 1.8 and new 16-35 perform fantastic as well on the camera. There is something for everyone with this camera and that is the beauty of it.

The A7II at ISO 8000. An out of camera JPEG with Noise Reduction turned OFF. Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8. 

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The Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 at ISO 1600 – click for larger – OOC JPEG – The color, the crispness and the overall rendering is fantastic here! OOC JPEG at night!

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The Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 once again, at night! OOC JPEG

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The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 with the A7II at ISO 3200, zero noise reduction. OOC JPEG

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The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 at ISO 2000 – OOC JPEG

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The 16-35 2.8 zm Zeiss at my Christmas 2014 Getaway ;) Where I wrote this review!

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The 16-35 and A7II at a Comicon fanfest in Phoenix AZ

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First Impressions & Build

Wow, so many photos already and I am just getting started on this review! Phew!

My very 1st impressions of the Sony A7 Mark II was quite surprising. I was expecting an A7 with 5 Axis thrown in but when I took it out of the box I was a bit shocked to feel how much better built it felt, and the A7 already had a good build as it was. This was different. The new body with new grip and button layout feels more beefy and solid. It is slightly larger now due to the 5 Axis inside but it’s still much smaller and thinner than a DSLR.

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When I held the camera in my hand I was impressed with not only the feel and heft but the new finish of the camera which is now a matte and a slightly rougher finish compared to the almost candy coated glossy black of the A7’s that came before. It has the metal build of the A7r and you can feel it. The camera is not thicker but the grip is, and this makes the camera appear larger than the older A7 and A7r as well as the A7s. Adding in the 5 Axis IS made the body slightly bigger so for some of you, this is good. For others you may not like the extra size.

When you hold this camera you instantly know you have something of great quality here, even more than the $1698 that it costs. It feels like a $2500-$3k body and no matter what anyone tells you, it is SMALLER than ANY DSLR and quite a bit smaller than even the Nikon Df. It’s not quite DSLR sized, and the way I love to shoot it is with small rangefinder lenses. BTW, Manual focus is a breeze (as already hinted) with the large EVF (same EVF from the previous A7 series).

You can set up any of the custom buttons to whatever you like. I have the C3 button on the back set up for focus magnification (and yes, you still need to do two button presses to get it magnified) and it makes for a quick and easy way to manually and critically focus any RF lens, such as a Leica Noctilux 50 0.95 which is the most critical lens to focus wide open. Basically, all of the buttons can be assigned to whatever you like meaning your A7II can be customized to your preferences.

Speaking of the Leica Noctilux

When using the Noctilux on the Leica M, you HAVE to make sure your rangefinder is 100% spot on or else it will be a lesson in frustration. Your shots will be slightly out of focus and makes the lens an expensive paperweight. On the A7II, using the Live View EVF with peaking or magnification means you never have to worry about your camera being calibrated. What you see is what you get. As much as I love and adore Leica M bodies, I would be lying if I said I never had Rangefinder calibration issues. When this happens it is NOT fun so using these “best lenses in the world” on the Sony A7II is a joy.

Below are a few examples of this stunning and unique lens on the A7II

All shots using the Leica Noctilux, 0.95, and shows the same gorgeous quality that it does on the Leica M but in some ways, slightly better. 

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and below…ISO 12,800, from RAW, ZERO Noise Reduction. THIS is what makes these Sony cameras special. ISO 12,800 and with a lens like the Noctilux lighting up the scene, it gives the impression that there was light to work with. When shooting this I could not see her with my eyes yet looking through the EVF allowed me to “see in the dark” and the image appears to be lit up when it was not really like this in real life. The A7s or A7II with a Leica Noctilux offers things that are not possible with any other camera system, period. ZERO noise reduction as always.

If anyone is interested in a Noctilux for their A7, A7II, A7s or A7r, I recommend Ken Hansen ([email protected]), the legendary Leica dealer.

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An Artist’s Tool

The buttons on the back are all laid out nicely, in place where you would and could easily access them. I am sitting here writing this and I have a Nikkor 50 1.4 S mount rangefinder lens on the camera. It feels SO SO solid and is nice and compact with this lens on.

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The bonus? This lens has some magic in its rendering and while I once had it for Leica screw mount (which can run you up to $600-$800) this time I was able to buy the S mount for about $100 and pick up an S to E adapter from Cameraquest. Same lens as the screw mount but until now, the S mount lenses were not desirable as they were not usable on any digital cameras. As of today, it is quite easy to find S mount RF glass quite cheap. I have a feeling this may change with so many Sony shooters out there and the new Adapter ;)

There I go again, talking about lenses!

The cheap but super cool Nikkor 5cm 1.4 S mount Rangefinder lens works perfectly with the Sony A7II and S to E adapter (available at CameraQuest here)

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The Sony A7 series is like a true artists tool because you can literally mount ANY lens to it and there are some very cool, very funky and mighty fine lenses out there that can be had for a song. Even my $30 Jupiter 8 does fantastic on the A7II. No DSLR can do this, none. You can not do this on a Fuji body THE RIGHT WAY as the lenses are all compromised seeing that you do not use the full frame of the lens on an APS-C crop sensor. Same goes for Micro 4/3. To date, the ONLY cameras capable of such versatility with lenses is the Sony A7 series. Even the Leica M can not do what the A7II does. The A7 series of cameras are unique for this very reason.

The Jupiter 8, a 50mm f/2 that is light, cheaply made and CHEAP to buy (mine was $30). This lens is even fantastic on the Sony A7II! It’s a Leica screw mount lens so I use a cheap $10 Adapter to turn it to M mount then use my Voigtlander close focus adapter to mount it to the A7II. 

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So my 1st impressions on Day one of the camera were pretty amazing. In fact, two hours after getting the review unit I placed an order for my own A7II. I put my money where my mouth is as I always do when I rave about something. With that out of the way (and already over 2800 words written, geez) let me get started by breaking down what I LOVE about the camera, and then I will talk about what I think should have been different or improved upon.

I will break this down into oddball sections that pop into my head as I write..when I do my reviews I never have a plan or template or even an idea of what I am going to say…it just flows out as I write, so keep that in mind.

The A7II with the super cool Voigtlander 40 2.8 (my review of that lens is here). Crisp, clean, slight vignetting but super sharp for $400. These are OOC JPEGS.

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The A7II Sharpness and Detail

While I love the Sony A7s and have used it ever since its launch, almost daily, the A7II will obviously have more detail due to the 24MP sensor (vs the 12mp sensor of the A7s). The bonus? For the most part, the A7II gives us the color, AWB and more pop of the A7s, which improved from the A7 and A7r. Below take a look at simple OOC JPEGS, yes Out of Camera JPEGs showing how sharp this camera can be without any muss of fuss of RAW processing. Make sure you click on each image to show the 100% crops correctly!

The 1st shot is from the A7II and 55 1.8 lens, at 1.8 This is a JPEG ladies and gentleman, usually this means mushy details but for this one I was very pleasantly surprised to see Sony improved the JPEG rendering of the A7II. Click for larger,

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This next image shows a 100% crop. I used an old 50 year old Leica 50 2.8 Elmar. Click the image to see the full size crop..the detail and the nice looking JPEG file. Again, OOC JPEG!

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Even more details. Rich deep color using the “CLEAR” JPEG preset. 

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…and one more with a crop..the Voigtlander 40 2.8 at 2.8. This lens give a nice color rendering that borders on watercolor and reality. It’s quite beautiful. JPEG!

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…and a full size image  – out of camera JPEG using the Sony 55 1.8 – YES, A JPEG!

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While we get most of the good stuff from the A7s (color, AWB, pop, video specs) we do not get ALL of the good stuff. For example, with the A7II we do not get the silent shutter option as this is sensor specific. We also do not get usable ISO 40,000 images but we do gain the 5 Axis Image Stabilization which helps with low light. We also gain the build and re-design of the A7II.

So basically the A7II should be compared to the A7 Mark I (which I do not own but have shot extensively) and not the A7s as the A7s is a specialty camera for those who do not mind the 12MP resolution. The A7II when compared to the now $1200 A7 is much better due to all of the improvements.

Let’s break down the details of the A7II..

24.3MP Full-Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor

This sensor is fantastic yet it is the same sensor that we had in the original A7. Sony tweaked things a bit though to deliver the better IQ and color over the A7 Mark I.

BIONZ X Image Processor

Sony’s processing that gives us more speed in the A7II.

5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization

First seen in the Olympus bodies such as the E-M5, E-M1 and E-P5, 5 Axis IS is powerful. For video it is superb and for images it allows you to shoot in lower light than before as the 5 Axis IS will move the sensor itself to compensate for your own hand shakes. It works well and I was able to shoot an image at 1/15th of a second with the 55 1.8. Some will say we should be able to do 1/8th of a second with the 55 but without the 5 Axis I was only able to pull off 1/45th. Click below for my 1/15th shot indoors, ISO 1600 with 100% crop. (click on the image).

So any way you slice it, the 5 Axis IS is a nice help and it is worth having it for photo and video. With video it gives some wide angle lenses such as the 16-35 a steady shot kind of feel. No shakes, no jitters, just smooth video.

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Enhanced Fast Hybrid AF and 5 fps Burst

Sony sped up the Auto Focus speed for the A7II and I can tell that it improved. Continuous AF is also improved with much better tracking of your subject.

Full HD XAVC S Video and S-Log2 Gamma

For the video guys, this is good stuff.

3.0″ 1,228.8k-Dot Tilting LCD Monitor

Same LCD as the previous A7 series

XGA 2.36M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder

Same EVF as the previous A7 series

Weather-Resistant Magnesium Alloy Body

The A7II is weather resistant and has weather seals. Body is made of Magnesium Alloy.

Refined Grip & Robust Lens Mount

We gain a beefier lens mount and the larger more refined grip. This is a nice improvement but some will prefer the smaller grip of the old A7 and some will prefer the A7II grip.

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

The A7II still has the WiFi and NFC built in.

So all in all, the A7II uses the Same A7 sensor with tweaked image quality in color, AWB and overall JPEG rendering. The Body is redesigned to feel like a pro body with a beefier grip and lens mount. The 5 Axis IS is the big news here and gives the camera an overall polished feel. The A7II feels complete. It feels like a camera and not a computer. This is good.

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Low Light/High ISO of the A7II 

Ever since I acquired the Sony A7s I have become spoiled by the spectacular ability it has in low light. I have shot images at 102,000 ISO and they were PUBLISHED and usable. Insane capabilities. Of course ISO 102,000 will in no way create a clean image but it does better than any other camera I ave ever used when it comes to cranking up the ISO to get a usable image.

The A7s is quite a bit better than the A7, A7II, A7r when it comes to extreme high ISO because of the 12 MP sensor. Having those big fat megapixels on a full frame sensor helps to kick it into overdrive when it comes to low light abilities. But many could not get along with the 12 MP sensor. Some had a problem with it mentally, others just had a problem with it because they did not want to spend $2500 for a 12MP camera. Me, I printed 20X30’s from my A7s and the prints are gorgeous so I do not need 24, 36 or 54 megapixels to be happy. I am not one who stands an inch from a print trying to see how detailed it is…to me, this is not photography but a pixel peeping disorder. These are the things that can take away the true meaning of photography yet many suffer from it.

With the 24 Megapixels of the A7II we get to a happy medium between low and crazy high. I feel 18-24 MP is perfect and higher is usually when I start to have issues with file sizes, blurred images from hand shake, etc. Also, this is the first Sony body for me that meets or exceeds the legendary Sony RX1R. 

So after using the A7s since launch and not having a worry in the world using Auto ISO up to 80k, low light with the A7II made me nervous. I decided that I would cap it off at 12,800 which to me, is about as high as one would want to go with the A7II. But even so, 12,800 is massive!

Below are some shots taken at various high ISO as well as a side by side with the A7s at ISO 12,800 and 25,600.

ALL with ZERO Noise Reduction. ZERO. 

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Many have asked me how much better the Sony A7s is with high ISO. Well, remember that the max ISO of the A7s is 402,000. The max ISO of the A7II is 25,600. I have shot the A7s at 102,000 ISO and had a shot published at that ISO though it was noisy.

The A7s at 12,800 and 25,600 has an edge over the A7II of course but the difference may not be as huge as you think. I found the A7II is also pumping out even more bold color than the more natural color of the A7s. Still a different rendering than the A7 Mark I though. These files were all Out Of Camera RAW files, meaning, nothing was tweaked at all. No noise reduction was applied at all. What you see is what you get.

Click the images below to see the 12,800 and 25,600 shots. This was taken inside a kitchen without lights on in the kitchen, just some window light.

And now a comparison with the Sony A7s at ISO 12,800 and 25,600 (the max of the A7II)

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So while the A7s is still the king of the night, the A7II does mighty fine at higher ISO’s. I found ISO 8000 is a sweet spot for high ISO work, and ISO 12,800 will work well if needed. Not too shabby! Images above were taken with a Voigtlander 35 1.2 Lens.  Another mighty fine manual lens for the A7 series.

The Wide World Of Lenses for the A7II!

NATIVE LENSES: There are many lenses for the full frame A7 system even though the A7 (FE) mount is only 13 months old! Not sure why people claim there are no lenses. Sony has release a slew of them in a short time with many more to come.

16-35 Zeiss – Superb Ultra Wide Zoom, SUPERB!
28-70 Kit Zoom – CHEAP and Decent..did I say CHEAP?
24-70 Zeiss – Excellent Zoom, just as good as any Canon or Nikon!
35 F/2.8 Zeiss – Bests my Leica 28 Elmarit at 1/2 the cost. Yes, really.
55 1.8 – Gets close to the Leica 50 APO at 1/8th the cost. (I have done side by sides on this site. many preferred the Sony lens)
70-200 f/4 – Here is the 70-200 most people wanted! 
There is also a 28-135 Cinema lens for FE mount by Sony.
Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia for FE
Zeiss 50 f/2 Loxia for FE

Also, the 50 Mitakon Speedmaster f/0.95 – I reviewed it HERE but this is a full frame FE mount lens. Super speed.

New primes on the way this year. Within 3 years there will be more lenses for FE then you know what to do with as third parties are making them for FE as we speak.

Those lenses above cover 16-200mm right now. The A7 series is only 13 months old. In 13 months that is quite a number of lenses released. More than Fuji managed to release or Olympus for that matter. The FE mount is NEW so for this many lenses to be out already is quite amazing really.

More details…

So if you want NATIVE mount lenses, there are plenty here now with more on the way. If you want to be adventurous there are so many lenses you can use and have more fun with and get even more beautiful results with for not any more effort. It is the most versatile system you can buy right now with more lenses available to shoot than any other system.

To date, my favorite native lenses have been the 55 1.8, the 35 2.8 and the newer 16-35 which is a stellar wide angle lens. So for Sony native lenses you have quite a few excellent choices, even a nice 24-70 Zeiss.

Then we have the new Zeiss Loxia lenses, the 35 f/2 and 50 f/2. These are stellar in quality but are manual focus and a little larger in my opinion. They will offer you great Zeiss color and pop but do not expect the size and feel of the Zeiss ZM lenses, which also perform well on the A7II.

Of course there are all kinds of lenses that can be used on the A7 series with the correct adapters. Leica M mount lenses, Voigtlander M mount lenses, screw mount lenses, Nikkor S mount lenses, Canon and Nikon lenses, Contax lenses, etc.

When you sit down and think about it, the A7II has thousands of lenses that can be mounted and used. From vintage to artsy to creative to modern day masterpieces. I love shooting of rangefinder glass on these cameras as it is a sinch to focus and the results are quite different than the native lenses, with more character and pizzaz as well as being quite a bit smaller and better made.

I use Leica M lenses, Voigtlander M lenses, Zeiss ZM M lenses, and even a Nikkor S mount lens. All are fantastic in their own way, even my $30 Jupiter. ;) All are simple to use and make shooting more fun IMO.

Taken with A vintage Nikkor 50 1.4 in S mount. An old rangefinder lens that I am using thanks to the new Adapter available at CameraQuest.com. If you have old S rangefinder lenses, this adapter will let you use them on the Sony A7 series of camera. 

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The Voigtlander 40 2.8 on the A7II

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So whoever buys into the Sony A7 system, you have thousands of lenses at your disposal to use and have fun with. From a cheap Jupiter to a crazy Leica Noctilux  to the Native lenses from Sony, all will deliver a different feel and vibe which makes using this camera very motivating. You never know what jewel you may uncover on you lens hunts.

If going with a Leica M mount lens, wether it is from Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss or whoever, I highly recommend THIS adapter from Cameraquest.com. I own two and they are hands down the best adapter available, even allowing close focus with any M lens, something even the M can not do. Pricey but you get what you pay for and I always believe it is better to buy ONCE instead of buying, selling and buying again.

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Shooting Wide Angle M Mount Lenses on the A7II

From my experience, anything less than 28mm will bring in some color distortions with the A7, A7r and yes, A7II. The A7s is the best A7 camera for Leica wide angle lenses and the A7II has done OK with even the Zeiss 25 2.8 Zm lens but not so well with the Voigtlander 15 4.5. So if you mainly shoot wide angle Leica lenses, the A7II will not be your best bet. It is indeed the same sensor as the A7 Mark I, so I did not expect any major improvement there.

Below are three shots using the Zeiss ZM 25 2.8 Lens. A tiny and superb wide angle  that is between a 28 and 21. It did not do quite as well on the Leica M9 or M 240, and was a little off on the A7r due to colored fringing and edges. On the A7s and A7II it seems to do pretty good with the best performance on the A7s.

Three shots with the A7II and Zeiss ZM 25 2.8. You can buy this lens at B&H Photo HERE.

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To my eyes the 25 is not perfect with the A7II but it is perfectly acceptable for me. I am not a massive pixel peeper though and go for the memory/emotional aspect of the photo, not the perfection aspect. Still, I am LOVING the A7II colors with almost any lens I attach to it. With that said, the best choice for Leica lenses from 28mm and wider would be the A7s.

The Video of the A7II

I am not a huge video guy and 96% of my use with the A7II and A7s will be for photo purposes but the A7s and A7II have fantastic video quality from what I have seen, better with the A7II due to the in camera 5 Axis IS. Shooting video with the 16-35 Zeiss was awesome as it stabilized the lens in a way that made the video appear almost steadycamish. NO shakes or jitters, just smooth video.

Some have complained about artifacts in the video but in my short and limited use, I saw no such things. Nothing that would bother me in the slightest. Then again, if I were making a full length pro feature film, I would be using something besides a mirrorless camera to shoot it. If you want the low down on the video I suggest searching the video sites such as eoshd.com. 

Even so, my humble little video using the A7II is below. It is a hodge lodge of nonsense just to show how the 5 Axis works, and you can see just how well it works when I attach the Leica 50 Noctilux to the A7II and then the A7S. The A7S video is much more shaky where the A7II video is smooth and silky.

Video test of the 5 Axis IS and A7II along with a side by side with the A7s to show the difference 5 Axis makes for video

My Fave Accessories for the A7 II

With a new camera always comes new accessories, at least for me. I have to figure out what strap I want to use, what bag, what memory cards, what case (if any) and even things like shutter soft releases and items that sort of pimp out my cameras. Below is a list of the things I will be using with my A7II and things I already have on my A7s:

STRAPS: My most used straps these days are the Street Strap Long (available HERE) and when I want to get serious, the MoneyMaker from HoldFastGear.com. BTW, The Street Strap has outlasted my expensive Artisan and Artist silk strap which was messed up within one week.

SOFT RELEASE: Amazing soft release for Any A7 camera? The Artisan Obscura Sticky Back release is beautiful. One has been on my A7s since I got it and it has never fallen off. I love these as they will not come off or come loose. Check them out here. 

TACTILE: I attached these little metal buttons to my A7s and love them. They give the camera a better tactile feel when button hunting and works on the A7 or mostly all digital cameras. You can check them out at rluther.com 

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BAG: My favorite bag EVER. The Wotancraft Ryker. Black or Brown, either one is GORGEOUS. My review is HERE.

WRIST STRAP: The nicest wrist strap I have used lately is from Classic Cases. It’s high quality leather and super comfortable. You can see them or order them HERE.  I have one of these attached to the A7II and a Street Strap on my A7s.

MEMORY CARDS: I use a Transcend 64GB and it has been reliable, fast and it was affordable. It is a 60MBPS card and you can nab one on Amazon for under $34. I bought FIVE. 

BATTERIES: I saved some cash and bought a few of these Vivitar replacements as they are cheaper and work just as well as the Sony branded batteries. THIS is the exact deal I bought..TWO batteries, a charger, a rocket blower , lens brush and cloth..all for $24.95. THIS is a steal! Just to verify, these are the A7 batteries and will work in the A7, A7r, A7s and A7II.

LEICA M ADAPTER: My #1 recommended adapter for Leica M lens use is the Voigtlander Close Focus adapter. To me, it is the best made, and allows for close focus. No lens play, just a solid locking connection. I bought mine from Cameraquest.com. 

NIKON S/CONTX RF ADAPTER: Picked up one of these new Adapters and was impressed with the quality and the fact that I can now use Nikkor S mount RF lenses on the A7 series. These are fantastic well made TINY lenses and can be found at great prices. Get it HERE.

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OFFICIAL SONY BATTERY GRIP (above) – This grip is all new for the A7II as the old one will not work. This is a weather sealed grip built to a pro standard and when it is on the camera, it feels like a PRO camera. It makes the camera much larger of course but also doubles the battery life. If I were to buy this I would only use it on heavy days when I needed lots of battery life. The price seems steep to me at $349 but some of you LOVE your battery grips, so Sony is offering this one for the A7II (and possibly whatever comes next to replace the A7r). You can order the grip HERE.

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JB WOODEN GRIP (above): JB has released a new wooden grip for the A7II. You can order it here for under $70

A7II – ISO 6400, Zeiss 35 2.8, OOC JPEG. It was dark! – ZERO Noise Reduction!

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My Favorite Lenses for the A7II, Native and otherwise

I often get e-mails asking me..”what is the best lens for XXXX” – I get this question day in and day out. Truth be told, there is no “best” lens as what lens you choose depends on what you like to shoot! Me, I have always been a 35 and 50 guy and I love fast primes. Even so, the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 SHINES on the A7II, more so than it did on any other A7 body. Same goes for the 55 1.8. No idea why the is but others have noticed it as well.

These two lenses are my go to lenses when I want AF, and reliable performance.

The Sony 35 2.8 Can be seen HERE

The Sony 55 1.8 Can be seen HERE

Other lenses I adore with the A7s and A7II are the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Leica Noctilux 0.95, the Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar ZM, the Zeiss 50 f/2 Planar ZM and even the Voigtlander 21 1.8. 

So many lenses are amazing with these bodies, just choose what you enjoy the most and have at it! If you are unsure you can always rent lenses from lensrentals.com.

PopFlash.com also has deals on Leica M glass most of the time.

16-35 Zeiss at f/4

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The Shutter Sound of the A7II

Many people were not happy with the loud shutter of the original A7R. In fact, it is the loudest of all A7 cameras. The A7II takes it down a notch from the A7R and is pretty much the same as the A7. My A7II is a bit more subdued though and sounds a little more muted than my A7s. While it does not have the silent shutter of the A7s, the shutter sound never caused me one issue when shooting street, portraits or anything. Below is my video showing the shutter sound of MY A7s and the A7II I have on hand.

A few more words about the Leica Noctilux with the A7II (or any A7 body)

I am a lucky guy and thanks to Ken Hansen, who has been part of this site since day 1 (Ken is a legendary Leica dealer with over 50 years experience) by helping me to get it going, I was recently able to obtain a Leica Noctilux again after selling off my last one 1 1/2 years ago due to needing funds more than the lens.

It has been a year and half since I shot with the Noctilux on the Leica M 240 (see a post here) and while it is always a magical lens and what I call a “Lifetime Lens”, it is a lens that is not only hard to justify for mere mortals, it is a lens that is so unique it may be the most lusted after rangefinder lens in history. It is a controversial lens due to the cost where half of the people never understand it and the other half 100% do.

The draw and rendering of this lens is nothing short of breathtaking in the right circumstances, something that is not easy to achieve every time you use it but one thing is for sure, when you DO use this lens it will deliver a WOW rendering that most non camera people will rave over. But be careful, overuse will make it boring after a while so use it sparingly. Bring it out once a month or so and it will retain that wow factor.

From the f/0.95 aperture to the legendary Leica build to the shallow and dreamy depth of field as well as the rich color and contrast, this is a lens that can deliver deep emotion. At $11,000 it is a hard one to swallow and is quite ridiculous in pricing IMO. Even so, I love it, I adore it and I hope that I can keep this one (and plan to). Seeing friends like Ashwin Rao who still has his original Noctilux (also from Ken Hansen) and still loving it makes me feel lucky to own one again.

On the A7II you will get 3 Axis IS with manual Leica M lenses, still a wonderful IS system that helps eliminate the shakes. (same as the Olympus E-M10 which uses 3 Axis IS). Just set the A7II menu to 50mm and shoot away!

Also, Anyone who shoots this lens on the M or the A7 series I HIGHLY recommend the Variable ND filter for it (Ken Hansen has loads of them). Best ND I have ever used and allows wide open aperture in full sunlight which gives an altogether different effect. You can contact Ken at [email protected] and ask him about it. Tell him I sent ya!

A few more images from the combo of Noct and A7II are below…

PS – The Leica M and Noct will cost you $19k. The A7II and Noct will set you back $12500 or so. Insane I know, and it is NOT for everyone but just showing that you can save some cash by using it on the A7 bodies. Keep this lens for 7 years or more and you will make money if you ever decide to sell it. It IS one of the rare lenses that can indeed be considered a true investment. For example I bought a brand new F/1 Noctilux long before the 0.95 was released. I paid $3500 from B&H Photo. NEW. Today I see them going for $8000 if new in the box or true mint with box. Amazing. In 10 years the f/0.95 may be up to $18k or more. You never know, but Leica lenses have a history of appreciating over the years.

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The three images below had filters applied using VSCO film filters – B&W is not a problem for the A7II ;) 

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As you can see, the combo of Noctilux and the A7II seriously rocks. These were all wide open at f/0.95. When you stop down to f/1.4 you get the performance of a Leica Summilux ASPH. Stop down to f/2 and you get the performance of a Summicron but with the added benefit of the 50 APO colors, and the contrast of the Noctilux. To me, the Noctilux beats the old F/1 version handily.

The Bokeh of this lens is legendary, the stuff of fantasy and dreams. I have seen some pretty special photos with this lens when in super  talented hands. Get the light right, the mood right and the scene right and masterpieces can be made with this lens.

Things about the A7II that I wish would have been different

The A7II is one hell of a camera, and again, my “Camera of the Year 2014″ but it is not perfect. Yes, the IQ is stunning. Yes, the 5 Axis IS is wonderful. Yes, the color saturation and depth of the 24 MP sensor is fantastic. Yes, the fact that so many lenses can be used and mounted is awesome. Yes, the new design and beefy build is welcomed and yes the video is stellar. Yes, you can shoot at ISO 8000 and up to 12,800 and get usable results.

But if I could make a change or two the 1st would be to the BATTERY. The battery life is not so hot with the A7II and seems worse than it does with my A7s. It uses the same battery as the previous A7 series but with the new 5 Axis IS being used, it seems that the battery life is even shorter. I found I needed a couple of batteries for a full day of shooting, and I am a light shooter. If you get the A7II I suggest buying 2 or 3 extra batteries. I bought 3-4 Vivitar branded batteries for mine off of Amazon and saved a bundle while getting batteries that work just as well as the Sony branded batteries. The link to the Vivitar batteries is HERE and what a deal it is. Just click it and see what you get for under $25..it’s amazing.

So it seems the battery should have been made better. The Nikon Df battery is awesome and I wish Sony would develop something similar.

Also, I wish the A7II had the silent shutter of the A7s. I use it every now and again and while it is not mandatory it does help sometimes when you need ultimate silence.

One last thing…if the Auto Focus was maybe 15% faster it would be hard it fault at all. As it is, the Af may hunt in low light (The A7s does not) but the good news is that the Auto Focus is CRAZY accurate. I have never gotten a false AF hit with the A7II (but did a few times with the A7 and A7r). In low light it is much faster than the old A7 but not up to the A7s for low light AF. Still, its just as good if not better as most mirrorless cameras that are out these days. I have been testing the Fuji X100T and it has been frustrating the hell out of me with its constant AF misses (though the camera says it is locked). The A7II never has this issue.

The A7II and Sony Zeiss 16-35, a SUPERB wide angle for your A7 body.

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The Sony A7II vs the Leica M 240. 

Many have asked me this question lately and it is not an easy one to answer. The M 240 is a special camera with a special build, feel, emotion AND price. Coming in at $7k (deals can be had) and limited in high ISO and close focus and video use, it is mainly for those who want and love to shoot a rangefinder. The RF system makes the Leica M a 100% different camera to shoot than just about ANYTHING out there today.

The M feels fantastic, one of the best feeling cameras made today. The battery life is amazing, and the quality is superb. But, compared to the A7II, I feel the A7II can give better image quality, better color, and even more detail with 85% of Leica M lenses. Plus, the A7II beats the M in low light as well. Video? Sony 100%, no question. At the end of the day the Sony has a better sensor than the custom made one in the M 240.

All in all I find the only thing the M has over the A7II is the user experience and shooting ultra wide Leica branded coded M glass such as the 18, 21, Tri Elmar, etc. . Shooting an RF camera is a wonderful thing..a state of mind..an inspiration and brings passion into my shooting. I get some of this with the A7II but not as much.

At the end of the day, $1600 for an A7II that puts out better IQ and color and has more versatility is a steal compared to the $7000 M. Even so, I love the M. Always will. This is something that is personal preference and only you can decide. Have the cash? Buy both :) Bank account suffering after the holidays? Buy an A7II and know you ill be getting image quality that actually surpasses the Leica M in good light, low light, high ISO, low ISO, with much better video capabilities (if that’s your thing). I am not knocking the M at all, but I always speak the truth and 2 years after the M 240 arrived, we now have a camera from Sony that literally kicks its bootie in most areas, for 1/5th the cost.

Even so, the M will always have a place in my heart as it provides a “connection” to the user. It’s a thing of beauty.

Night time, Sony A7II and Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 – No issues focusing!

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The Sony A7II Vs the Fuji X-T1

Here there really is no contest for me. I like the X-T1. I feel it is as good as it gets for Fuji, but for me, many of you know that I dislike the X-Trans sensor. The IQ from that sensor excels in perfect lighting but in anything other than that, it fails. You lose punch, sparkle, depth, color, and pop. You gain flatness and a dull sheen. I have seen 10’s of thousands of Fuji images and I have seen some that blew me away (perfect light, natural or studio) and most, around 95%, are flat and dull to me. They are “nice” but lack depth and punch and seeing that the Fuji uses an APS-C sensor you will also lose out on other things such as using 3rd party lenses to their full potential.

For me there is no contest here, if I were offered a Sony A7II at $1698 or a Fuji X-T1 at $499 I would splurge for the Sony. The Sony is $500 more than the Fuji ($1698 vs $1198) for the body only but I always say “you get what you pay for” and this is usually 99% true. I’d rather spend the extra $500 and be 100% happy then spend $500 less and wonder “what if”. I have learned that lesson in life many years ago.

With that said, the Fuji X-T1 is fantastic, and I feel Fuji’s best mirrorless to date. It’s fast, looks great, feels great, has great controls and some wonderful lenses. But when directly comparing, for me, I prefer the A7II in every way from build, feel, IQ, abilities, lenses that can be used, and so on.

To those that love their X-T1 that is awesome, as it can indeed put out some beautiful colors and images but for me, full frame will win out due to DR, Punch, Pop, etc. If there were no full frame Sony mirrorless, then the Fuji would be near the top of the heap but with the A7II and A7s, the Fuji drops below them for me.

You can read my X-T1 review HERE.  As you can see, I raved about it as Fuji got it right and it is something that will make any Fuji fan proud.

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The Sony A7II vs the Olympus E-M1

Another AMAZING camera even two years after its release. The E-M1 is the pro grade Micro 4/3 and does just about everything right. The body is awesome, the feel is superb, the controls just work and the speed of this thing is impressive. The lenses available are 2nd to none and it was the 1st camera with 5 Axis inside. It’s a jewel for sure and many poo poo’ed it due to the smaller sensor but this sensor in the E-M1 easily stands toe to toe with any APS-C sensor around except for low light ability. The one main weakness of the E-M1 these days is the high ISO performance which lacks. Shoot in low light at ISO 3200 and you will get noise. Low light is a great test for high ISO and while many reviewers test it in studio light (which is silly) the real test is using it when you would need it..low light. So the E-M1 falls short for low light work when compared to most modern day cameras.

Compared to the A7II you are saving $300 with an E-M1 (not much) but losing the full frame sensor, better high ISO capability and all that comes with this such as DR, less noise at base ISO, etc. To me, these two are much closer than the Fuji X-T1 and A7II as the E-M1 is one of my all time faves. I still own one. Will take a lot for anything to get me  to remove it from my collection. Even so, I can get more use, better IQ and color, and better low light and DR from the A7II for $300 more. I feel the E-M1 may need to see a price reduction to $999 in the very near future. Will be interesting to see what Olympus comes up with in 2015.

The Sony A7II vs the Sony A7r

The A7r has not yet been replaced and Sony may be pairing down the A7 system to the A7 and A7s and creating a “pro” A9 to replace the A7r. Of course this is speculation as I know nothing at all about what is to come but rumors have been pointing to this.

If choosing today I would take the A7II over the A7r, 100%. No contest.

The A7r is clunky, loud, slower, worse in low light, no IS inside, has inferior AWB and color performance, and has too many MP when they are not needed for 99.5% of people. Every aspect of the II beats the R for me, all of it. The body, the performance, the IS, the video, the experience.

The II is more responsive and again, quieter. The R is the loudest of all A7 bodies (no, they are not all the same).

So to those who asked which one I would go for, the answer is clear. The one I did go for over the R, the A7II. It’s a more finished product and more enjoyable in real world use.

A7II vs the A7s

As for which camera I will use more, my A7s or A7II, that is hard to say as I love both. I see myself using the A7s in the low light scenarios or when I need the silent shutter. The A7II puts out such beautiful images in normal light that I may prefer it for my day to day shooting as it has slightly more oomph to the final image (though not a huge difference). Add in the 5 Axis, pro beefy build and feel and it bumps the A7s from daily driver to 2nd fiddle. Both have a place in my bag. The cool thing is the A7II is $1698 vs the $2498 of the A7s. That is quite the price difference so for new buyers I say go A7II. I own both and love both but if buying one it would be the A7II for me.

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Pros and Cons of the Sony A7II

PROS (for me)

  1. Fantastic build, better ergonomics than old A7
  2. Button placement much better than previous A7
  3. 5 Axis IS really works well (for video as well)
  4. Video is stepped up from A7
  5. Weather Sealed
  6. Can mount almost any lens made for 35mm (this is huge)
  7. Improved color, pop, and overall IQ over A7
  8. Faster AF and overall response than A7
  9. Nice detail and sharpness
  10. Improved OOC JPEGS means you could shoot this as a JPEG camera!
  11. PRICE! $1698 is a GREAT buy. No one can say this is overpriced.
  12. Same great EVF/LCD from previous A7 bodies.
  13. Makes a great 2nd camera to a Leica M or A7s
  14. Still smaller than the smallest DSLR’s, MUCH smaller than a D800 style camera
  15. More Sony Native lenses (and primes) on the way in 2015!
  16. Still usable images at ISO 12,800, which is fantastic.
  17. Sony/Zeiss 35 and 55 seem to take on a new life on this camera for some reason.
  18. Worlds 1st full frame with 5 Axis IS!

CONS (for me)

  1. Battery life is disappointing. Needs a better battery. 250-350 shots per charge. Should be 1000.
  2. No silent shutter that is in the A7s – Boo.
  3. In really low light AF slows down. My A7s is faster in low light.
  4. Still no go for ultra wide Leica M mounts such as Voigtlander 15. Color issues with these lenses.
  5. Can have Moire in certain situations as the sensor is VERY detailed and has loads of resolution (but rare)

Sony/Zeiss 16-35 – crisp and clean – This is a stellar wide angle zoom besting my old Canon 16-35 from back in the day, easily. 

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My Final Word on the Sony A7II

Sony is just hitting it out of the park lately (last 2-3 years)  – The RX1, the RX100, the RX1R, the A7 and now the A7s and A7II are all superb cameras that are pushing the tech and the experience up a notch compared to anyone else. It’s pretty amazing what they have done over the last 3 years.

When the original A7 bodies were released I spoke with Sony about their passion for this project. Basically, I was told they are not holding back and will be pushing forward to develop this system, lenses and all, for the long haul. They have many lenses on the way in 2015 (and ten lenses already for the FE full frame A7 system within a years time)  and it appears they are just getting started. I had the feeling that this was their baby..the one they were banking on (instead of DSLR production) and from my experience, it is working.

The Sony A series update cycle seems to be on a 12-15 month thing right now since it has been just over a year since the A7 and we now have the A7II. I am guessing the A7r replacement will be the rumored “Pro A9″ but believe me when I say it will be much more expensive and have a larger MP count. Many may want to hold out for that one even though right now it is all speculation and rumor (and no, I know nothing). Rumors say Feb 2015.

I was a fan of the A7 and A7r but did not buy one for myself after much thought. The things that held me back were slower than expected AF in low light, a teeny bit of clunkiness and in the case of the R, too noisy of a shutter and too high of a MP count for my tastes. When the A7s arrived I was in heaven as it solved these issues and became the most capable camera I have ever owned or shot with. The A7s, for me, was and is a game changer in the world of mirrorless photography and I am fine with nits 12 MP resolution as it does all I will ever need.

With the A7II Sony has done it again, and damn them! When a company releases a camera that is so good it motivates me to go out every day and shoot, then they have done something right. In 2014 it was a slow year IMO for stellar camera releases. Even the Fuji X100T failed to excite me (AF misses, X Trans Sensor, same old same old). The Panasonic LX100 failed to ignite the passion in me (massive lens flare issues, mushy details). It was not until the Sony A7s and now A7II that my passion was kickstarted in 2014. Passion, motivation and endless possibilities are what these cameras brought me. Sony is costing me more money…Ugh.

No one NEEDS a camera upgrade if you have one that works well already. I did not NEED an A7II as I have a few other cameras already. But when I saw what it could do, how it did it and the endless creative possibilities with it, I knew I WANTED it and the last few weeks have been so much fun discovering what this camera can do. To me, the price of the camera already was worth it for the joy it has brought and the many memories I created with it. Could I have done this with the A7s? Probably, but having the extra punch and 5 Axis in the A7II is what sold me. If and when the Pro A9 comes out looks like I will have THREE Sony cameras as long as it is not some crazy 50+ MP sensor.

The most impressive thing to me about the A7 series in general, especially the A7s and A7II is the fact that not only can we use so many cool lenses on these bodies to the lenses full potential, but now they are ALL stabilized with the internal 5 Axis IS. THIS is impressive and many blow it off as it is nothing, but to me and many others it is a HUGE deal. Many like to trash Sony because they just hate the name Sony. Many will never give this camera chance because they are stuck on Leica, Canon, Nikon, etc. That is the wrong way to look at it as the A7II is one hell of a camera. IN fact ,when I tested a Nikon D810 lately I found the Af to be OK (missed some shots), the body much too large and fat, and the weight an issue. The A7II performed just as well for me in every situation and did so while remaining light, small and with that 5 Axis IS. Again, a pretty big deal. The ability to throw on a tiny Leica 50 Summicron or Summilux, something that you can not do on a DSLR is quite amazing as well.

Yes you can do this on a Fuji but the results are MUCH different when dealing with APS-C as you will not use the entire lens so the lens character goes out the window. Overall, the A7II is a fantastic update and well worth the $1698 price tag. Doesn’t get any better for this price, period.

2014 may have been a slow camera year but Sony came in and snuck this one in last minute. For me, nothing else released in 2014 betters it. To me, this is what I would have called the “ULTIMATE DIGITAL CAMERA” just 6 years ago. Today, I still feel it is just that and I can only imagine what Sony has up their sleeves.

I highly recommend the A7II. I had no issues with it besides the sucky battery life. Everything else is beautiful from the buttons, dials and ergonomics (for me), 5 Axis and IQ. 

No matter if you want to shoot the native AF lenses, Leica M mount lenses, funky mount lenses or anything in between the A7II is going to bring you beautiful image quality, fantastic low light ability, super nice video and pretty fast and responsive (but not the best) AF. Bravo yet again to Sony. I can not wait to see what lies ahead for 2015 as I expect the A7r replacement and near the end of 2015 an S replacement.

I will go ahead and say it…I have been reviewing cameras for 7 years. This Sony A7II is the most versatile, fantastic, useful and all around best priced for what you get camera I have ever reviewed. Bam! I also feel that the review image samples here are among the best quality I have put in ANY of my reviews in those 7 years. 

You can buy the Sony A7II at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE. My two #1 recommended Sony dealers. 

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A few more images below, 1st three should be from the Zeiss 16-35 with the 2nd one at ISO 12,800 outside at night…

ZERO NOISE REFUCTION

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Dec 102014
 

Ten weeks with the Zeiss Loxia Planar 2/50 and the Sony A7r

by Dirk De Paepe

After ten weeks with the Zeiss Loxia Planar 2/50 I thought it was a good idea, to share my findings.

This Loxia Planar, as you probably already know, is the first one of the new Loxia series, that was put in the market by Zeiss right after Photokina, where the first two Loxias were launched. Being thrilled by Zeiss coming up with those lenses, dedicated to mirrorless cameras, I ordered both the Planar 2/50 and the Biogon 2/35 immediately, but the latter probably won’t be available before the end of the year.

Well guys and gals, I can tell you right away that in several domains this Planar offers even more than I expected – and I had really high hopes! But at the same time, in a few other fields, I had pictured something different. Luckily those don’t concern essential issues, so all in all I’m absolutely thrilled with this Loxia, to the point that it quickly became my absolute favorite lens. It’s the one that I always have on my camera when traveling, as my “ready-to-shoot-in-all-circumstances” lens. Before this Loxia, the ZM Planar 2/50 played this role. No surprise, since those two Planars are very familiar lenses in concept (click here to read the ZM Planar 2/50 review on this website). Where the ZM Planar is without any doubt an exquisite lens, the Loxia Planar is even better.

Planar versus Planar

In a former article that Steve published here, right after Photokina, I wrote about the Loxias and already explained the main differences between Loxia and ZM. (Click here to read this article.) So I’ll resume the additional Loxia features here: transmission of Exif data, shorter minimal focal distance (45 versus 70cm), automatic enlargement in the VF when turning the focus ring, de-click possibility of the aperture ring and last but not least improved optical performance for mirrorless cameras.

Optically both Planars are pretty familiar – to my eye, the produced images have the same character, the same color signature, the same clarity, the same detail, etc… As a matter of fact, it’s hard to tell which Planar took which picture, unless you do an A/B comparison. Of course I didn’t perform any measurements, since I’m a user, not a professional photo journalist, but still, in a direct comparison, it was immediately clear that the Loxia performs better in the corners. Although the ZM Planar files remain detailed until pretty far in the corners, I’d say Loxia diminishes the (already small) “vague zones” with at least three-quarters and also the vignetting is less. I have been thinking of publishing A/B pictures here to illustrate the corner performance, but abandoned this idea, since it’s only visible looking at full size, and I really never experienced this matter as a problem with my ZM. Like I said, although the ZM performs excellent, the Loxia just performs quite a tad better. I expect that their will be some improvements measured on other domains as well – we’ll probably read about it soon in different reviews.

But fact is that Zeiss really reworked the optics for Loxia, so this is absolutely no “adapted ZM lens“. It also shows by the field of view, that’s a tiny bit narrower (I reckon some 4%) with the Loxia Planar, compared to the ZM.

Maybe you wonder if this is sufficient to switch from the ZM Planar to Loxia, since the ZM already works so terrificly well on the A7x. Well, I have been wondering about this as well. But I made the move to Loxia, because first of all the wide angles (like the Biogon 2/35 that I tried at Photokina) will perform better with my A7r than most of the M-mounts, but also because I truly believe in FE-mount and Loxia will be totally dedicated to FE. Further it will offer the most modern MF applications, which simply will make me perform better as a photographer, and will be optically 100% developed for mirrorless bodies. I also saw it as a kind of statement: “Loxia is the way to go for manual focus with FE bodies!”. Loxia is dedicated to mirrorless indeed, so to me it feels right being dedicated to Loxia. And the fact that it’s Zeiss (my first and lifelong love in photography) that comes with this modern, all manual lenses for mirrorless generates only one spontaneous reaction in my mind: yes!

Now that I really own and use the Loxia Planar 2/50, I’m feeling for 100% that this was the right choice, and this feeling is even a lot stronger than I expected. The satisfaction and joy to experience this fully dedicated lens, it’s extra features, IQ, styling, and ergonomics is simply bigger than I expected. Yes, some of my reasons are subjective, only based on feeling, but subjectivity is a reality in life, so it’s something that has value to me. Maybe you will feel it differently, because this is partly a personal matter, but still there’s a lot of really objective criteria here as well.

Improvements

I love the shorter minimal focal distance a lot. Combined with the A7r, with its 36MP and its cropping power, it enables “near to makro” pictures. “European Money” is an example hereof. When looking at the 100% crop in the second picture (please remember that you can enlarge all pictures by clicking on them and that you get the real colors only then), you can see that lens and sensor are absolutely keeping up, with no real visible loss of IQ when looking at 100%. I think this indicates that Loxia probably can deliver at resolutions that are even a lot higher. I was pretty flabbergasted, when I looked at this detail. What I see here reminds me of what I get with the Otus 55 (although the Otus delivers exceptional in virtually all circumstances, and the Loxia needs be used with greater care to deliver at this level, for instance regarding choice of aperture). On my monitor, the real world dimensions are enlarged by 7 (the surface by 49), revealing details that aren’t visible with the bare eye. IMO the detail that is rendered here, is simply top-notch.

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02European Monecrop

But apart from this detail power, shooting at smaller distances further narrows the DOF, significantly increasing the bokeh abilities. The bokeh character is pretty much comparable with that of the ZM Planar, but by enacting its formation, it becomes the more clear that this is really a very smooth bokeh, in hind as well as in front focus. Its character reminds me of the Otus again, although I find the latter producing even an a tad more creamy bokeh. But bokeh is a matter of personal taste, so I let you judge for yourself. I’ve shot some wide open pictures, specially for this report, because I know that many followers of this site care a lot about shallow dof and bokeh. The pictures show bokeh in different combinations – front and hind with close and further focus – all shot wide open at f/2. Here they come.

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05. Jaguar emblem

04. Jaguar headlight

07. Austin Healey Cockpit

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07B Getting in the mood for Christmas

When street shooting wide open, one needs to focus fast. If you do this manually, the modern manual focusing features of this lens/body combination do a terrific job. The two following pictures illustrate this. In the first, I focused on the cigaret smoke and only had a time frame of around two seconds to frame and focus. IMO, this is a typical shot to benefit from those modern manual focus features. I used the automatic VF enlargement here.

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Personally I like the front bokeh yet a bit more than the hind one. IMO, the latter sometimes can get a bit nervous, especially when a very detailed background is involved, like leaves, while the front bokeh always remains super creamy in all circumstances.

All-around

Although this is only a f/2 lens, I find it usable in very divers light conditions. In the White Ochid picture the backlight from the bright white sky made the flower almost transparent. With the focal distance at 45cm, I set the aperture at f/4, in order to obtain the desired dof and a very slight but subtile blur in the hind part of the flower. To provide the right exposure, the setting of the shutter time was very delicate, because 1/3 step away killed the transparency effect.

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In “Watershow”, the exposure and processing was delicate as well, to combine the obscurity of the people with the clarity of the water. The EVF is a great tool for shooting that kind of pictures – if you read any of my former articles, you’ll probably remember that I’m a big EVF fan.

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The chiaroscuro was even pulled a bit further in the B&W “Evening at the Efteling”. And in “Compelling Show” I think I proved that also with the A7r and an f/2 lens, shooting in near dark environments is possible. This was of course shot wide open, at ISO8000 and 1/30sec. Here are some more low light pictures.

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15. Liège by night

This lens really is a high quality all-around piece of equipment – not that much a “specialised shallow dof lens”. IMO it specially shines, when you want to apply blur in a moderate, delicate and precisely controlled way or when you want to apply zone focusing and even hyperfocusing. It’ll capture light terrificly well. It’ll provide a color richness that allows you to work in post production with the colors in any way you want. On the Sony A7x this lens feels perfectly in balance, allowing very fast, spontaneous and precise shooting. Here are some different kinds of pictures to illustrate this.

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The Loxia Planar 2/50 is a very fine lens. It produces almost no barrel distortion (IMO the distortion is negligible), making it very useful for architectural shooting. And combined with the A7r, you get enough pixels to perform some “substitutional tilt/shift” work in post production. I went to the beautiful Liege Guillemins train station (Belgium) to live it up.

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Considerations

I guess you wonder if this Loxia has been a windfall to me for 100%. Well, no. In a few domains I had hoped for something slightly different.

First of all size and weight. This Loxia Planar is really a category larger than the ZM Planar (adapter included) and it simply weighs more (some 75gr – I use the Novoflex adpater for the ZM). I feel like it puts the lens/camera combination really in the next category, regarding size and weight, the more when carrying a few lenses in your bag (I will need a larger bag!). It feels like regarding size and weight it’s more to be compared now with the Leica M as a system, where in the past there was a real gain in this department for the Sony. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty comparable with my old Canon A1 with (latest generation) FD lenses. Strange how our perception changes, since at that time the A1/FD was regarded as a full size system. Although this Sony/Zeiss combination is still working fine for me, I’d say: this is the limit, guys – don’t make it grow any further!

Compared to the NEX bodies, like my NEX-7, this combination (A7x/Loxia) allows a bit less stealth shooting, particularly when the lens shade is mounted (although I believe stealth shooting is mainly a photographer’s attitude, as long you don’t use a large DSLR). Seen from a distance, the shade gives this lens the look of a medium zoom lens. When you really want to perform discrete shooting, you need to take away the shade, bringing the size “back to normal”. This is a massive lens shade, that does a great job in its own, but it’s large. For transportation, its size doesn’t pose a problem though, since you can mount it the other way round on the lens, so that it doesn’t take extra space in your bag, because it’s no longer sticking out. So all in all it’s a great working shade, that you only need to remove when you want to shoot discretely.

But every downside has its upside. I have to admit that the extra mass ads to the shooting control. In one of his articles, Steve mentioned that he felt like the size and weight of the M-system offered the ideal combination of compactness/weight and handyness and I wonder if I don’t need to share his opinion here, now that I feel the A7x/Loxia combination is playing in the same league…
The lens is bigger than the ZM, this mainly means thicker. Less stealth (a bit) and more weight on the downside, but more feeling from the focus ring at the upside. With its large (but not too large) swivel range, it allows very precise focusing. The smoothness/resistance is absolutely perfect for “one finger operation”.
The larger diameter of the barrel also makes for a bigger lens cap – less “wobbly” than the ZM caps. And as far as I heard, Zeiss has the plan to provide all Loxias with the same diameter, which would economize on the filter budget. I hope this doesn’t result in a limited lens offer, because then I’d prefer buying a few extra filters! I wonder though if this diameter will allow for a super fast 85mm. I guess and hope they’ll come at least with an f/2 which I reckon must be possible with this diameter – but wouldn’t an f/1.4 in time be nice!…

To conclude about size and weight, I initially had hoped for a lighter, more compact Loxia. But I guess, when able to choose between the two, eventually I’d probably agree with Zeiss’ choice, since it handles better. I think they had the perfect “manual focusing machine for out of hand shooting” in mind, and I have to agree that they both (Zeiss as well as Sony) have come pretty close. Furthermore, the Loxia sure looks absolutely beautiful on the Sony body.

The build quality is very good. The barrel is all metal, which gives confidence. Both the rings feel like they’ve been engineered with the finest precision. Their operation is super smooth with the perfect resistance to give you the right feedback about what you’re doing. The finish, with both rings being perfectly integrated in the barrel surface of the lens, is perfect. The look and feel is wonderful. With one consideration.

What initially disappointed me, was the design of the aperture ring. It’s placed close to the body, where on the ZM you’ll find it at the end of the lens. The placement is a matter of habit, of course, so no comments here. But because of the aperture ring being perfectly integrated in the surface of the lens barrel, I had it more difficult to feel it and thus to find it anyway. It took me a while to find my way here, missing it quite often at first. After a while however, I started using just my thumb (no second finger) at the underside of the lens to turn it. It’s really easy to find the aperture ring in this way, because the body is your guide. Both the aperture and focus rings have small knurls that provide excellent grip and both have a wonderfully smooth action, that make it easy to operate them with one finger. With my thumb on the aperture ring under the lens and my middle finger on the focus ring on top of the lens, I find it very easy and adequate to set both rings at quasi the same time, making the setting of focus and dof easier and faster then ever. Zeiss needed to place the aperture ring close to the body, to make this happen. In this position, my index finger is supporting the body in a quasi symmetric position to the right hand, which provides and equal pressure on both sides of the body, when relaxing both arms, and as such creates a perfect balans, that enables shooting out of hand with exceptionally long shutter speeds as well as allowing very fast setting and shooting. I have been shooting out of hand up till 1/15sec (the night shot with the Coca-Cola umbrellas), without really paying special attention (well, in fact, I always kind of pay special attention when pushing the button) and when looking at 100% (visible at my flickr page) you’ll see that even the fishnets are sharp.

I have been wondering if Zeiss had this way of shooting in mind when designing the lens, because it’s exactly this design that directed me to this way of handling, opening up the most effective way of shooting with manual focusing lenses that I experienced up till now. I wouldn’t be surprised of it, since Zeiss is primarly a specialist of manual lenses and Loxia is developed for mirrorless, which, due to it’s compact size, is the most handy option for manual shooting. Still, up till now, this new way of holding and setting has not yet become an automatism to me. I need to initially concentrate on the way I hold and handle camera and lens. But when I do, it’s really working excellent and faster than with any other lens I know. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll get used to it and it wìll become an automatism. But I also fear that quite some people, who are less keen on experimenting with different ways of handling, will find this recessed aperture ring to be less convenient in action than the one on the ZMs. Too bad, since it really can help you to perform better than ever.

To finish this of, a word about the price. Looking online at the Zeiss lens shop, this Loxia costs 849.00€, which is 100.00€ more expensive than the ZM. Regarding the extra functions, I’d say it’s more than worthwhile. And when you buy the ZM plus a good adapter, you’ll be spending even more money. (The Voigtländer adapter, with close focus ability, even costs a good 300€!)

*pre-order the Zeiss Loxia lenses HERE*

Conclusion

Well, I hope I elucidated the pro’s as well as the con’s of this new Loxia, as far as I could pinpoint them, that is. All in all, to me, it’s the pro’s that prevail. Largely. It asked for a period of adjustment, regarding the handling of the aperture ring, but once I did it right, it allowed for the greatest manual shooting experience that I ever had.

Regarding IQ, this Loxia offers exceptional value for money, it sometimes it even makes me think of my Otus 55, regarding IQ, not regardin budget :-), without the size and weight and without giving in that much on IQ as the price difference suggests.

My “old” ZM Planar is a great all-around lens. The new Loxia Planar improves this concept on all domains where improvements were possible. For all those manual shooting enthusiasts: IMO Loxia is absolutely the way to go with mirrorless bodies – Sony today, other brands to come really soon, for sure.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures that I added, many of them were specially shot for this user report. I also placed them in a dedicated folder on my flickr page, where you can look at some of them in full resolution, to even better illustrate the IQ in all detail and where you can check full exif data of all pictures. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157649262134498/)

All shots were taken out of hand, with the exception of the “European Money” and “White Orchid” pictures (tripod) and “Liege by Night (holding the camera against a tree). Of course shooting out of hand renders a bit less detail than when using a tripod. But I just love shooting out of hand, since this gives me more possibility to react to a moment’s. Some of the shots weren’t even possible to take with tripod, like the ones of the ceiling and tracks on the train station that I shot from a moving escalator.

Two pictures (Seagulls and Splashing Boat) actually were pretty heavy crops, to illustrate the A7r’s cropping power.

I leave you with a few extra shots now, taken at the beautiful Liege train station. Thanks for reading, guys! And I specially thank Steve and Brandon for their fabulous work on this site!

Dirk De Paepe

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Dec 082014
 

The Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon ZM (Leica mount) Lens Review

by Cemal Sagnak

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Many People belief, a Leica Camera needs native Leica lenses, although there are Alternatives by other German Companies like Carl Zeiss with a long optical history in making lenses and Rangefinder cameras. As a passionate Leica Photographer, I always search and look for high quality alternative lenses for my Leica M Typ 240.

One of my favorite lenses is the Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 2/35 ZM, a versatile documentary and Photojournalist lens with outstanding optical performance and my standard Lens on the M.

I was very tempted to read the announcement during the last Photokina in September about a new fast 35mm f/1.4 hoping this can match with my Biogon 35/2 in optical performance but with a fast f1.4 aperture.
I could not be happier when last week my Demo Lens arrived.

My initial impression was extremely good, although the Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is larger (lengths 87,3 49mm Filter, 381gr) vs. the Biogon T* 2/35 ZM (lengths 68mm, Filter size 43mm, 240gr) the finder blockage is still moderate. You get immediately a feel of the build quality, all metal finish, robust and made for the next generation, something I definitely expected from a Carl Zeiss Lens.

The Distagon is build with 10 Elements in 7 groups with and the10 blades can be set in 1/3 steps giving you a good haptic feedback, you can feel comfortably each click on the aperture wheel. The focus wheel is on the right spot, perfectly accessible and smooth in handling, Rotating is not to tight and not to loose, which is important for a fast lens shooting at f/1.4 to achieve precise results.

The lens is equipped with the T* anti-reflective coating to control flare we will see later how good it performs using the Distagon against strong sunlight. The Distagon is made to be used under low light condition or for a clear separation of the subject from the background, don’t be surprised to see many pictures shot at f/1.4.

The Data sheet is promising; with a relative distortion of less than -1% the Distagon beats the Summilux –M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH on paper. Lets see how it performs.

Non-Leica Users need to know that sharpness of a rangefinder lens is relative and depending on the skills and eyesight of the User behind the Finder.

Before I took the Lens out, I did some shots at home on a tripod to see if there is a focus shift or misalignment. One shot through the RF and one with the LCD of the M and no surprise, all was good, as you can see in the crop of the image taken through the RF.

BTW, I tried the EVF of the M240 but I come to the conclusion that I am better and faster with the optical RF and composing is much easier. I turn on the LCD just when I use a 21mm lens to control the frame. I maybe would use the EVF if someone puts me a Noctilux under the Xmas tree and for sure with Leica – R lenses. But coming back to the Distagon…

My first session was taken in my new hometown Cologne, known as the capital of German Photography and this is not because of the Photokina only.  Pictures are DNG files converted into jpg in LR 5.7 I took some random street shots including the Xmas market to get warmed up with the character of the lens.

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The Bicycle shot shows rich and contrasts colors with a nice background blur and a great sharpness on the flowers. I tried similar with people, I am glad my daughters share my passion so they are always great models to try new Gear.
My second opportunity using the Distagon was a fashion shooting with the lovely Dana, who is running a fashion blog and needs regular shots of her in the seasons dress-up.

A 35mm lens is not the first choice for Portraits and People. Still the results were highly satisfying, color and focus are as well. Flare is not always welcome but in this case I used it as an element. Unfortunately Zeiss did not deliver a Lens Hood with this demo unit. I recommend purchasing a hood with the Lens.

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Beside some lens flare, I identified chromatic aberration, which appears when shooting wide open. Nowadays nothing software cant fix and also visible in some of my Summilux pictures. The third part of my Test was the low light capability of the lens, using it in some urban lightning and using it for what it was made for, wide open in low light, I travel much, so taking a tripod with me is a hassle and 100% of my shots outside are handheld. Maybe this is the case for many Leica Users.

This leads me to the Part 3 of my test…. Paris! A perfect Place using a Leica Camera and going for a photo walk along the river Seine and visiting places where Grandmasters of Photography took many iconic pictures. The Zeiss Distagon performs well wide open and paired with the great ISO abilities and Dynamic range of the M240, you will be able to get extraordinary results shooting this combo in the dark.

Here one Bokehlicious shot from a brigde in Paris.

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After all, I am pretty impressed by this new lens. I have owned the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH (pre-FLE) and use currently the Biogon 35/2 which are the natural competitors. Before I come to my personal conclusion here is a price overview (Prices in Euro )

LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH – 4200 Euros
CZ Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM – 2000 Euros
CZ Biogon T* 2/35 ZM – 1050 Euros

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Now my question before I started this lens test: is it worth to pay almost double the price compared to the Biogon 35/2 for one f stop faster? For me it is, not that everybody needs an f1.4 lens but if you like shooting fast lenses, this is the lens, which delivers the image quality sharpness and details starting from f1.4.

Please find below the comparison shot at f2.0 between the Distagon and the Biogon. The Distagon is clearly sharper, I plan some more shots for a detailed comparison. Is the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM capable to compete with one of the best available lenses the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH FL?

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35 Distagon 1.4 at f/2

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Based on my experience with the Summilux , the Distagon is definitely worth to consider and not only because its half the price. Sharpness is on par between both lenses. I would like to do a lens comparison but I assume difference is very small and can be better measured in a LAB test rather then comparing pixel.

35 1.4 Distagon and then a crop

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The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is announced to be ship at the end of 2014.

You can order the lens HERE at B&H Photo.

Cemal Sagnak

https://cemalsagnak.wordpress.com

Dec 082014
 

The Zeiss Loxia 50 f/2 on the streets of NYC 

By Tomer Vaknin

Dear Steve,

First let me say how much respect I have for you and the other members of your website, I have learned a lot by exploring the wonderful photos you all shared, equipment reviews and inputs. I would like to share my own personal experience with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* lens.

As a proud and very happy owner of the Sony Zeiss 55mm, I was hesitant to purchase the Loxia. However, after reading your positive impression of the lens in Photonika 2014 and as a huge fan of M mount lenses that I am, I simply had to try the Loxia.

Here are some photos I took with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* in Amsterdam streets, Marken village and Rennstrecke Zandvoort, during a holiday I took with my wife in the Netherlands. I hope these photos, along with my personal impression of the lens, will help some of undecided readers in making the right decision for themselves.

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My personal take on the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*:

- Great 3D feel (Check the box shot that was -take on a bed)

- Wonderful Bokeh

- Lovely Creamy look

- Great character

- Great colors and contrast

- Very sharp!

Overall, The 3D look, the creamy bokeh and feel + the very nice tone and color makes it a winner. The shots taken with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* looks like they were taken with the Leica lens.

Altough the Sony Zeiss 55mm is an amazing lens and you can’t go wrong with it, I personally prefer the Loxia.

www.facebook.com/tomer.vaknin.5

Dec 052014
 

1STLOOK

The Sony A7II – First Look and Video!

Order the A7II at Amazon – Amazon says they start shipping on the 11th of December

Order the A7II at B&H Photo – B&H says shipping starts December 9th

Steve

The Sony A7II has arrived and is in my hands and I am much more impressed than I expected to be. I assumed it would be an A7 with 5-Axis IS but it is quite a bit more than that. At the price of $1698, this is THE full frame camera to have for any enthusiast, hobbyist or anyone who has the passion of photography and wants extraordinary results with their camera gear.

1st off, take a look at my video below where I talk about my 1st impressions of the Sony A7 II…

 

The camera feels awesome in the hand, so much better than the old A7, A7r or even A7s. The new button placements are just about perfect and the larger grip (that I thought I would hate) feels JUST right. The camera also looks nicer, and feels much better built  – more solid. Feels like a pro camera in my hand and the 5-Axis worked wonders during some test video footage I took today. Made it appear like I was using a steady cam. The AF is indeed faster than the old A7 and the IQ, just as Sony has claimed, has been improved. I now see the better color, AWB and punch of the A7s but with more detail..amazing detail..even when shooting plain old JPEG.

Three 1st snaps with the A7II in my house, which was dimly lit BTW – One with the Zeiss 35 2.8 and two with the Voigtlander 40 2.8 – you MUST click them for larger and true 100% crop. These are JPEG! AWB did well for all three with no odd color casts.

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Click the image below to see just how rich, deep, colorful and detailed an OOC JPEG is from the A7II using the 35 2.8

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and one in B&W at ISO 2500 – NR turned off – 35 2.8

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So my enthusiasm went sky-high after taking the A7II out of the package and putting it in my hand. My A7s can not be replaced by the A7II as the II can not do low light like the A7s but it will be the PERFECT companion to the A7s (which will be moved to low light status) as  the A7II now has stellar color and IQ.

Sony is kicking ass and I have yet to use a camera this year that feels as good, looks as nice and performs like this one. No Fuji, no Olympus, No Leica, No Nikon has done it. The A7II makes the Nikon Df feel like a toy in the hand, that is how much better it feels over the A7 Mark I. I love the Nikon Df, it is the only DSLR I would own (and did for a while) but the A7II has shown that Sony still means business and they are not backing down.

An OOC JPEG from the A7II and Voigtlander 15 (The A7s is on the table)

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and another shot of the A7II

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As you can tell, I am excited about this one..more so than the LX100 and X100T I have here to review as well (though I prefer the LX100 to the X100T).

I will be posting a full review of the A7 Mark II within 2-3 weeks. I need to make sure I get some quality time with it and snap all kinds of images in all kinds of situations to see just how well it behaves when pushed. 1st impressions are all positive so far!

Just some quick notes: This does NOT have a touch screen, it does not have the silent shutter and it will not perform as well as the A7s with Leica M ultra wide angle lenses. When using manual lenses the 5 Axis works well – you can assign what focal length you are using and the camera does the rest. Easy as pie. Buttons are all customizable..Sony has come a long way since the NEX series! The A&II also has a sturdier/beefier lens mount than the previous A7!

You can order your A7II at the links below, starts shipping December 9th! My order is in ;) 

Order at Amazon – Amazon says they start shipping on the 11th of December

Order at B&H Photo – B&H says shipping starts December 9th

Steve

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

Hello to all! For the past 6 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

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

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

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Dec 032014
 

The Great Venice Beach Fire of 2014

By Huss Hardan

Hello Steve and Brandon,

The night of Saturday, October 25 started off like most in Venice Beach, CA. Tourists, drunks, drunk tourists. The usual motley crew including yours truly. But then things changed with the smell of smoke. Now this wasn’t the usual smoke smell that wafts through the neighbourhood – due to 90% of the population suffering from glaucoma – but an acrid smell that warned of more serious events afoot. Something was on fire, so the normal reaction was to grab a camera and go take a look.
It was easy to track down, as I just followed the plumes of smoke, and the sound of sirens. A storage facility was the culprit, one that required 365 firemen to be summoned!

More at : http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20141026/venice-storage-fire-burns-for-14-hours-injures-eight-firefighters

It was quite the scene with moments of absurdity mixed in. One that sticks with me is the dood cycling through the fire trucks holding his munchies, without a care in the world! Ahh, Venice, don’t ever change!

I used a Leica M-E with Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar 1.5. All shots were at 1.5 and ISO 1250 1/125 sec . The intense strobe lights from the trucks made the auto meter go nuts – exposure readings flickering from 1/4000 to 1/30 sec, so I set it manually and stuck with that. As the Leica has an optical view finder, the viewing image was constant, but I wonder how an EVF would have coped with the strobe lights.

Peace out

Huss

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