Crazy Comparison: Leica M9 vs Sony NEX-5

It’s been a while since I did one of these and i feel its time for another CRAZY COMPARISON…

How about this one? The $6995 Leica M9 with a 1940’s $350 lens attached..the 50 Summitar vs The $699 Sony NEX-5 with the 18-55 kit zoom set to 35mm to get as close to 50mm as I can (with the crop sensor). Both cameras were set to their base ISO and the lenses set to 5.6. All images were shot RAW and converted in Aperture 3 with no PP. The little nex, when shot at 5.6 and 35mm (50) is not too  bad at all? Now, the M9 will usually deliver much better performance but I think it was more fair to have a lens that was not crazy sharp and  the Summitar is soft, just like the Sony kit zoom. If a 50 Cron was used on the M9 this would have been a no contest.

Alos, this is just for fun and in o way is meant to say one camera is better than the other. The Leica M9 as many of you know is a totally different style of camera than the NEX and can offer incredible quality with the right lenses. I just wanted to see how the M9 with an old cheap lens stood up to the NEX-5 with its kit zoom at f/5.6, where most lenses do great.

Anyway, here are the test images with crops…

Both cameras were set to base ISO, auto white balance to see how each camera would handle the color and f/5.6. First the Leica and then the Sony. Click any image for a larger image. This was shot through a windshield so the reflection you see in the 1st shot is from the glass/reflection.

now the crops…

BELOW: and more…first Leica and then Sony – click any image for a larger view

BELOW: and the 100% crops…

BELOW: and the last one, in which I like the way the NEX-5 handled the image in regards to color and contrast…but again, the M9 has a VERY old lens on it and still beat the nex for detail. First one is from the M9 and second from the NEX-5. Click images for larger versions.

and the crops

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  1. My understanding is that the Sony Alpha Nex 5 has a sensor that measures 23.4 X 15.6mm and the Leica M9’s sensor measures 24x36mm. Was this acknowledged as a resolution factor in setting up these comparison images? Just curious, and thank you for a fascinating exercise…

    • It doesn’t let you see anything without some kind of a log in. Since it is all in Chinese I have no idea what they are asking for.

      • The link worked fine for me… but it took a while for the pictures to load. And Andrew is quite right – some of those images are pretty amazing!

  2. FWIW, the M9’s sensor isn’t that great. The microlens design is quite an accomplishment, but the underlying silicone is still based on designs that are quite old. Get rid of AA filter and use the special microlenses on the A900/D3x sensor and the Leica would get a substantial jump in quality…and it is rumored that Leica is testing exactly that in the “M10” as we speak.

  3. Hi Steve
    I think Japanese and European made optics are all different and I like to “play” with all of them. I was aware that Panasonic are the largest producer of asphere lenses. They did try to put a near pro grade kit lens on the L10 and L1 designed by Leica and it didn’t get them very far. They priced themselves out of the market. Hence if I were running Sony, I would sell the kit lens as is but provide an alternative Zeiss lens combination for the serious shooter. If it is a pro lens then I don’t think your average punter would spend a lot on a Sony lens as opposed to a Zeiss lens.

    By the way, it’s all in the lens design and not where it’s made (besides the components come from all over the world and it really is only assembled rather than made in a particular country. The USA has as much claim to making the M8, M9 (even the S2) what they are as much as Leica does. Kodak makes the sensor and a really good one it is. I wonder what Pentax come up with their kodak made sensor in the 645D?

    I would love to see an autofocus 85mm f1.4 lens on the NEX 5 that’s sharp at 1.4 (not at 5.6). An autofocus Zeiss 24 f1.4 would also be outstanding. Even a 50 f1.8 or 1.4 would be welcome which can’t be that expensive to design or make. I like manual focus lenses but sometimes I want the speed of a good autofocus lens. The Zeiss designed lens looks like the perfect combination for the NEX 5.

  4. I’ve been using the NEX-5 for a month and quickly decided that the stock lenses are the Achilles heel of the camera. I recently purchased a Leica M to NEX adapter and have been shooting with the Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f/2 lens. This lens does not perform well at f/2, but by f/4 it is sharp. Much, much sharper than either the 16mm or 18-55mm stock lenses. Also looks and feels great on the camera.

  5. The Sony 16mm is an okay lens if you know how to work around its weak points. Plus, the new version of LR3 corrects it well. Considering its size, price and focal length, the Sony 16 is pretty impressive.

    The Voigtlander 35/1.4 is my main NEX lens, and it is wonderful.

  6. I got the NEX 5 + 16mm lens last week, IQ is very good and if you pre focus it’s great for street shooting, I also just ordered the Nipon Contax/Zeiss G adapter so I can use the 28, 45 & 90mm lenses from my G2 kit

  7. Elaine,

    Owning one and having owned another I can tell you that so far the IQ from these cameras is not very good. Not in EP-2 territory by a long shot. Noise, poor color, etc. So far, manufacturers seem focused on ruggedness not picture IQ. That my gradually change as more demanding consumers are dissatisfied and let companies know. If you want 4×6 and maybe 5×7 underwater snaps or just don’t want to have to worry too much about sand or rain ruining your camera they are what you want. If you want high IQ underwater images you need to get a housing for one of the better IQ cameras.

  8. Steve, I just thought about a cool review. How about you take those rugged, waterproof, digital cameras of various names, like Olympus and any others, and do a review of them? You could even compare the IQ of these rugged cameras to an Olympus EP-2 or Leica X1 and new LX5. I would be curious to see the IQ comparisons. Would there be a noticeable drop in IQ in these rugged, waterproof cameras?

  9. I for one would not like to see the NEX with a Leica Lens on it. The vast majority of users of the NEX will not have a clue about this – being general consumers. Steve does real world tests, and in the real world the number of NEX owners that would use or desire a Leica to NEX adapter would be at best 1% of the base.

    If this site is dedicated to real world reviews, then why waste time doing a review that for the most part only an equipment fetishist would care for?

    • I disagree completely. The vast majority of camera buyers don’t visit sites like this in the first place so if that was the criteria he would only cover the under $300 P&Ss. Under your criteria he shouldn’t have covered the M9 or the S2 either. I think this site appeals to the photo enthusiast and many have a wide range of lenses in their collection and alternatively can purchase used lenses be they Contax, Zeis, Leica, Minolta and Voightlander that are affordable and would like to know what the camera is inherently capable of achieving. Such a test would present a more accurate picture than using kit lenses of known lessor quality.

      Additionally, Sony may release some Zeis lenses for the camera soon and this would serve as a preview of the future possibilities.

      • Zeiss lenses manufactured and designed specifically for the NEX would be completely different animals to the ones designed for M’s. First off the NEX, much like the Micro 4/3rds camera, use a lot of software correction for their lenses. This includes CA, various types of Field distortion etc.. We are really, lens wise this is, talking apple and oranges.

        The way Steve Compared them is truely the only proper way to do such a comparison. Jury rigging a lens, that will not be gaining the benefits of all that internal software correction just isn’t fair to the NEX. I’ve seen shots from M43rds and NEX’s already with Leica and Cosina lenses, trust me in many cases the Panny 20/1.7 looks superior since it gains that benefit of the software correction. Is the Panny 20/1.7 a better lens – probably not, but on a M43rds body it certainly is.

        Will Zeiss lenses specifically designed for the E-Mount work better on a NEX than a Leica, CV, or Zeiss for M-Mount via adapter? It most certainly will, but much like the Panny 20/1.7 will most likely be in actual truth not as good, but will enjoy the NEX’s software correction routines.

        Really, mounting Leica Lenses on NEX or M43rds body is just, IMHO being a gear fetishist activity, that really doesn’t get the best out the capture system nor the lens in question.

        • From my experience with the NEX, there’s little software correction for the lens. Distortion and CA are there in the images in abundance! I have the E-PL1 too and it corrects for distortion but not CA unlike the Panasonic bodies.

          Also, my favourite lens on m43 is the 4/3 25mm Summilux. The 20mm pancake is not vibrant or contrasty enough for me, software correction or not.

          Anyway, after shooting Leica M lenses with both m43 and NEX, I must say if one has the camera body and the lenses, not getting an adaptor to mate the two is qute silly 😉

          But what I’m saying does not imply that NEX and m43 should rush to buy M lenses. Doesn’t make sense.

          • I will concur with what Vic says. The NEX does not do in body lens correction for distortion or CA unlike the m43 variants. On the other hand, Leica does do in camera corrections for coded lenses. Personally, I don’t see a problem with doing corrections be they in body or in PP. No lens is perfect and if the corrections enhance the image while allowing for a lower cost of production for equivalent results that is ok by me. Naturally, we all want perfect lenses but the cost might make it prohibitive. I’m not willing to pay any price for such a lens.

            By the way, people jury rig the lenses on the M8 and M9 when they use a non-Leica non coded lens on their Ms. Yet we have Sean Reid and others do “real world” tests with these lenses and don’t apply your same logic to those tests.

          • I use a nex-3 with a leica summicron 50mm f:2, and the difference with the stock sony lenses is night and day. My only wish is for the nex to have in-body stabilization (which due to its size may not be doable, but there are tiny point and shoots that provide this).

      • Fully agree John. Cameras like the NEX and the m43 gear is a godsend for those with legacy lenses which would be laying around collecting dust just because a digital M Leica is too unaffordable. Or for those with R lenses with no digital solution to date!

        The real world is made up of many types of people and the minority no matter so small is still a part of it 🙂

    • Sandy, 6 of the first 7 replies completely disagree with you 🙂 (The 7th being from Steve himself saying that he is going to get an adapter…)

      Your theory is well and good in keyboard warrior land, but once I actually tried the Voigtlander 50/1.1 on my E-PL1 my eyes were completely opened – my 20/1.7 does not compare AT ALL. Technically it is an excellent lens, but it is also quite a boring one.

      This website is made by camera enthusiasts for camera enthusiasts who don’t always obey the rules and want to push the envelope and challenge disbeliefs as much as possible. That’s why Steve’s regular readers keep coming back.

      • And I note that being the lone voice of dissent, I’m persecuted for it. Forgive me for having an opinion, I’ll just let the gear heads who wish to waste time take over and keep quiet.

        • Once Steve gets some NEX+LM glass photos up, feel free to “waste time” along with the rest of us gear heads 🙂

          • Haha, well in the end I’d say we are ALL camera geeks… I agree partially with what Sandy points out. But the geek in all of us is very curious to see what does occur when combining such odd combinations…. sw corrections or not. Somehow, as the request is, the NEX with a ‘real’ piece of glass on it, would arrive at the similar image quality of the X1.

            But as always, “enjoy the ride” as Morcheeba eloquently puts it. I’m going for a mtn bike ride, with camera 🙂

    • I have some experience with M lenses on NEX bodies, the sharpness of both a Leica Summicron and CV Nokton blow the Sony prime out of the water, the difference is very noticeable, even if you don’t zoom in much.

      That may all change with new Sony lenses, but as of right now, if you want a good/fast prime, M lenses are your only option. If you need, say f/2 or under you can’t say “I’ll get the Sony one”, because it does not exist.

      Even when Sony does release a fast lens, which I am sure they will. It will only work on NEX cameras, an M lens represents an investment which will work on many cameras, digital or film, from range finders to m43, to NEX, and probably most new mirrorless cameras which appear. M lenses hold value and sometimes even increase in value, I doubt that will be the case with Sony lenses.

      I think the NEX is great, the wide prime is not too bad, but there are very real reasons to shoot M lenses on NEX bodies.

  10. I think I’d like to see a comparison of Panasonic GF-1, Nex, and Oly EP cameras.

    I would like to make one of those my travel camera this fall. It would be great if there was an update to the GF-1 before October though.

  11. Noel Beharis & Photozopia:
    I agree that Sony and Samsung aren’t über opticians, and didn’t serve their micro bodies well so far. But Panasonic !.. Sure Panasonic is not well-known in the public for its optics, but it’s the largest aspherical lense manufacturer, and has unique technologies in this domain (e.g., the thinnest aspherical lens on the market, 0.3 mm). It is also quickly becoming a great optician by itself: the 20/1.7 is a wonderful lens, and the 14-140 is impressive too (in its league).

    Have you heard of the newly released Voigtländer Nokton 25/0.95 for microFourThirds? Do you think you may be able to review it once available (hopefully soon)? That sounds like a wicked glass for mFT bodies, and I would love to see a good comparative review of its bokeh — and you’re the best address for that!

    • you obviously never tried the samsung 30mm f2 for the nx bodies.. superb lens that beats the overpriced panasonic in every aspect! check photozone reviews of both lenses.
      the panasonic 20mm is the most overhyped lens ever. well at least i know that someone who is praising that lens has no clue what they are talking about : P

  12. Steve, re the M-NEX adaptor, some adaptors are slightly wobbly and makes manual focusing a real PITA. The Kipon is so far the best value for build quality I have tried but best quality is the Voigtlander one.


  13. Ill be ordering an adapter this week for sure, then will do a post with the same lens on each camera. Will be interesting to say the least! I actually like the NEX-5.

  14. Both are great cameras at their (different) price points, but evidence shows the NEX is let down by poor lenses. Noel is correct, Sony, Panasonic & Samsung all shot themselves in the foot by offering ‘generic’ glass on their system cameras rather than big-brand partners like Zeiss. All to save a few bucks in licensing fees no doubt.

    Even the lone Sony 16mm prime is poor value in comparison with the Zeiss glass fitted to other Sony photo-gear. Gonna be more Far East lens adaptors sold than branded Sony lenses ….

    When will the Japanese industry wake up to the fact that it is the lens – not the camera – that REALLY counts. Anyone can work-around a badly designed camera …. no-one can cure a bad lens!

    • Not sure if it’s fair to say the Japanese industry needs to wake up about lenses. Most Zeiss and all Voigtlander lenses are built there. I think the Japanese camera makers know exactly how to make a good lens, but they also know that lenses need to be made to a budget, weight and size constraints, and also leave some room in the market for “premium” lenses for sale later on.

      • Nearly a year later and Sony still haven’t released the ‘premium’ lenses Garry alludes to. I did not reply initially to this post as I thought it fair to give Sony – and Garry – a chance for their predictions to come true. Sadly, no real change, despite announcements of (some) Zeiss glass. As an owner I love the camera – hate the lens choices. Only using third-party (manual) lenses does the Nex shine. My original point stands – most Japanese/Far East manufacturers do not understand the West’s pre-occupation with image quality – Japanese consumers traditionally prefer techno glitz to lens technology. Generic lenses, i.e. just good enough, are preferred – the emphasis is on new technology and gizmos (preferably built in to the camera itself) not optical engineering. Zeiss ARE built in Japan – as are Leica (Panasonic licenced) optics – but in both cases, their uncompromising design originates in Germany. Rare exceptions – Voigtlander, Fuji and Mamiya spring to mind – that equal them, are also made there too, but are an exception rather than a rule. The Far East CAN make optics that rival the best – but they cost much the same as the ‘best of the west’ when they do. Sadly, Sony is still pursuing the cheaper ‘consumer’ level option ….

        • I don’t think you’ve really researched this. Multicoating was invented by Pentax and first used on the Takumars – Zeiss didn’t use it for years. Regardless all the zeiss fetish flying around the olympus OM Zuikos are small, sharp and smooth. I’m not even getting into Nikon, Vivitar macros etc.. Canon’s best are very good. (35 f2 <$300.00 is very good indeed)

          What is never mentioned with Leica and Zeiss is the price. In this comparo we have a $9000.00 camera with full frame against a 600.00 aps sensor. How about this for a comparo – a legacy canon 5D against the Leica – same lens.

          10 to 1 you just wasted $8000.00 you could have given to a food bank or some really good lap dancers.

          When I think of Leica and Zeiss I think of 2 things: Robert Frank and dentists. There's only 1 Robert Frank.

  15. I want to add to the chorus. I did some comparison tests of the 18-55 kit to the old Rokkor 40/2 and two things become obvious. One, the level of detail and sharpness of the 40/2 is far superior to the 18-55 and two, the AWB is different and more accurate with the 40/2. This last one surprised me. There is a third difference and that is in distortion with the 40/2 having little or any distortion but that one was to be expected.



    You may need to click on the images to see the side by side comparison.

    • Steve,
      I’m not sure what I am doing wrong as it isn’t displaying the entire image. Can you provide some guidance please?

      • If you right click on the image and tell it to open in another tab or window you will see the full images.

  16. Steve please consider this.
    If you compare the same fov equivalent, compare also the same dof. Try a 35/2.0 (with adapter) on the nex and a 50/2.8 on the m9. I will hope impatience that comparition.
    Sorry my english

  17. I’m surprised you havent grabbed one yet… they can be had for $40-90 on ebay, or Steve over at CameraQuest has the Voigtlander models for $175. I just ordered a NEX-5 with M and F mount adapters… should be here on Tuesday; I’m excited 🙂

    Looking forward to your results.

  18. I agree with chorus. The Sony with the Summitar comparison please. I have been wondering, why hasn’t Sony included a Zeiss lens for the NEX 3/5? I make a similar comment with Panasonic and the G2, no Leica lens and the Samsung with NX10 no Schnieder Kreuznach lens. All good cameras let down by the amateur grade lenses.

    At least I think that is right. If you test the NEX 5 with the Summitar, then we should get some idea if my comment it true.

  19. Hey Steve,

    I am adding to the chorus here: the best comparison would be using the same leica lens on theNEX-5.

  20. The Nex-5 with a Leica lens attached is amazing. I have both, but when I want a small, relatively inexpensive option to go out shooting with, the Nex-5 and a 35/2.0 Summicron Ver.1 is my choice.

  21. Did you get your M9 back? 🙂

    I think you’re missing a third comparison – the NEX5 with the Summitar attached!

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