Solving the Zuiko 18mm f3.5 Filter ‘Problem’

The last post was a quick review of the Zuiko 18mm f3.5 on a Sony A7R. The only nagging problem was how to attach filters given that the front of the lens bulges about 3mm out from the lens housing. Olympus made a filter step up ring for this purpose, but as it’s now very difficult to find it’s expensive – £100 or more. As long exposures or video shooting require neutral density filters this needed to be fixed.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The 18mm doing what it does best…

The two problems are that the step up ring(s) needs to be deep enough so that the filter doesn’t foul the front lens element, but the deeper the step up ring the greater the chance of vignetting (this lens has an angle of view of 100 degrees or so). A simple 49-77mm step up wasn’t going to work.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The front lens element bulging out from the lens – it looks vulnerable and prevents flat 49mm filters being used.

The solution was to use not one step up ring but two. The first, a 49mm to 58 mm provides a thread 2mm further away from the lens, then a 58mm to 77mm adds a further 2mm. The 77mm filters are wide enough they don’t darken the edges of the shots (vignetting). I’d like to say I did some careful calculations to work all this out but I can’t – I ordered a cheap 58-77mm step up and it just worked so sheer luck really. 77mm was chosen as the filter size because I have several pricey neutral density filters in this size.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5, step up rings, filters

From the top – a UV filter, the 58-77mm step up and below that the 49-58mm step up.

One unexpected benefit is that the step up rings will stop my the tip of my left index finger wandering into the bottom left hand corner of the frame – this happens a lot due to the wide angle of view!

Zuiko 18mm f3.5, step up rings, filters

Not the slickest appearance – but the ‘proper’ Oly solution looks about the same and costs a lot more. It does look impressive from the front though.

Problem solved for around £2 (I already had the 49mm to 58mm ring) so a definite result. It’s an ‘assemble on site’ solution as it’s not that strong and would probably get damaged in a camera bag.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5

Not a long exposure requiring a filter – just a nice shot from yesterday using the 18mm,  included purely because I like it!

The audience for this incredibly niche post is tiny – but if you’ve got this lens (or are thinking of buying it) hopefully you’ll find it useful!

The Sony A7R and a Zuiko 18mm f3.5

This mini review features a rather rare and exotic wide-angle optic which has a great reputation as a film era lens on digital – the tiny Zuiko 18mm f3.5. However, 36Mp of A7R resolution (without an anti-alias filter over the sensor) will stretch any lens so this will be pushing this classic lens to its limits.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The classic wide angle shot – lots of sky, deep depth of field (but see later in the text!) and a dramatic perspective.

It’s a manual focus lens obviously, and the depth of field scale would suggest you really don’t need autofocus at all – the depth of field is infinity to 1/2 a metre (3 feet) at f16. The catch though is that – as with all the other old lenses tested so far – it’s really a lot less than that for critical focus. High resolution digital sensors mercilessly expose any lack of sharpness and although 35mm film covered the same area as the Sony’s sensor I get the feeling that hardly anyone checked sharpness in the same way with film as we do now with digital images. In other words – you’ll still need to focus using the focus magnify feature on the A7R.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The tiny and exotic looking 18mm from above. A minimal set of controls – a focussing ring and five aperture stops. There’s no room for a front facing cosmetic ring giving the serial number/spec so it’s printed around the edge of the lens (the bit that looks like a filter but isn’t). This one has a serial number 102085 (no 2085?). The serial number on my Zuiko 50mm f1.8 is 1494292 – I think they made more of those!

Physically it’s tiny – around the same size as the Zuiko 50mm f1.8. Weighing in at 267g (around 10 oz) it’s solidly built with a slightly shinier surface than most Zuikos, and feels quite dense. What’s most striking is the bulbous front element which protrudes from the front of the lens by around 2mm at the centre and looks vulnerable to damage (I remove the deep ‘slide on’ lens cap, take the picture and put the cap straight back on). Minimum focus is 25 cm and focus goes from infinity to minimum in around 90 degrees of a turn of the focussing ring.

There is a 49 mm thread fitted and Olympus made a now rare and expensive 49mm to 72mm step up ring for filter use. I’ll be experimenting with how to sort out this problem later but suffice to say standard filters won’t fit and I don’t want to pay £100+ for a step up ring!

 

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

That amazing front element hides a complex set of internal lens elements and is quite hypnotic to look into!

According to my old Oly lens catalogue (circa 1980) the lens features an automatic correction mechanism to prevent degradation of lens performance at close focussing distances – nearly all wide Zuiko prime lenses do this too.

A 28mm lens has an angle of view of 75 degrees, an 18mm sees 100 degrees so quite a difference, especially in a cramped interior where you can’t step any further back. The cost of using an ultra wide angle is usually strong distortion, flare and soft frame edges – these lenses aren’t easy to design or use and often suffer from poor edge performance.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 28mm f2

The Zuiko 28mm f2 75 degree angle of view – note the slight purple internal flare below the altar.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The 100 degree view of the 18mm – quite a difference and no internal reflections but a slight haze around the light source. I’ve been caught out a few times by including the top edge of my finger as it supports the front of the lens – this really is a wide angle lens.

After using the lens for a day vignetting stood out as a ‘feature’ at f3.5 – it’s very noticable in some shots! In trying to correct the darker edges in DXO a reddish colour cast was introduced so you can’t work around it either. It’s pretty much gone by f8 and isn’t that much of a problem as to get the best resolution you’ll need f5.6-f11 anyway, but it’s worth pointing out. You could use it creatively I suppose – I don’t think I will be though!

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

Hammer House of Horror would be pleased with vignetting at f3.5 (more or less gone by f8). Unless you really like this effect use f5.6 or ideally f8 to f16. Depending on the composition it can be devastatingly obvious or not that obvious at all.

Flare is usually a problem with ultrawides. With so much in the picture the sun often makes an appearance and with all those lens elements internal reflections can become a problem (lens hoods aren’t that much use either as they’re so shallow). Happily I can report that I had to deliberately engineer a shot to see anything significant and other than this example I saw no flare which was distracting.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The worst flare/internal reflections I could manage. Pointing the camera upwards as in this shot produces these converging verticals.

I found only a little purple/green chromatic aberration when looking for it – the example below illustrates it quite well. It can be easily removed in post-processing but honestly, I wouldn’t bother as it’s virtually insignificant in most shots – a few pixels at most (a few in 36Mp isn’t that much!).

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The whole shot

_DSC1284ECA_DxO2b

Large crop from the top right.

Close up distortion -well distortion in general really – is minimal. I haven’t seen any pincushion distortion or bent horizons which is remarkable in itself. Pointing the lens upwards will obviously produce converging verticals, but with the camera more or less level the images don’t give away that they were taken with an ultra wide at all.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

At f8 – still a little vignetting (easily removed at this severity) but good sharpness and colour saturation and very little chromatic aberration – excellent! This doesn’t look like an 18mm shot at all – more like a 28mm.

Close up distortion is pretty minimal too :-

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

You’re thinking – ‘so what?’ aren’t you! This was taken about two feet away from the window and there’s no distortion at all in an uncorrected image – that is remarkable. The 24mm end of a high quality zoom would have the centre looking like it was bulging out of the picture.

On to the mill for the acid test :-

f3.5

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The full frame at f3.5 with vignetting obvious

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

A large centre crop and OK ish. Not great it must be said.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The edge at f3.5 is so dark, sharpness is difficult to judge. Unless you like strong vignetting it’s irrelevant, but if you do it’s OK – I can just read some of the wording on the sign.

 

f8

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

f8 centre and looking very good – not amazing but this is a 18mm lens – not a 50mm!

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

f8 at the edge.

At f3.5 things are fairly good in the centre, but edge definition is completely masked by vignetting (possibly a good thing!) By f5.6 things have sharpened up nicely, f8 is optimal and, as usual, slight softness is created by diffraction at f16 but the differences between f5.6 and f16 aren’t very noticeable. As you might expect, the edges of such a wide-angle lens are slightly softer than the centre at all apertures but the centre is pretty good – maybe an 8/10. These have been processed using DXO Optics 9 with straightforward default RAW conversion. I’ll have a play around to see if I can squeeze a little but more sharpness out of them using micro-contrast and sharpening controls.

At £300 plus this doesn’t fall into the usual ‘cheap and very good’ category of for Zuiko MF lenses (£300 doesn’t buy many modern AF lenses either), it always was an expensive and exotic optic.

It must be said that it isn’t making the most of 36Mp of resolution, but it’s resolution is impressive for an ultra wide-angle lens. I doubt that most modern lenses, especially zoom lenses, would be that much better in terms of sharpness on the A7r at this focal length. Where this lens really shines though is its remarkable lack of distortion and tiny amounts of chromatic aberration in such a small package. It’s in a different league to my cheap and cheerful Tokina 17mm f3.5.

So oddly, and I wasn’t expecting this, I’ll conclude that for such an exotic focal length, this is a well behaved solid lens which is consistently ‘sharp enough’ from f5.6 to f16 and, if used with care, produces images which don’t have most of the giveaway signs of an ultra wide angle lens. It would be an excellent lens for photographing architecture and landscapes. Highly recommended – I must try it on my OM2N next!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

 

The Sony A7R and a Zuiko 85mm f2

Having been diverted by a Tokina standard zoom lens in my last post, it’s back to looking at Zuiko prime lenses on the A7R with its monstrous 36Mp of resolution. The Zuiko 85mm f2 is a fast, moderate telephoto lens which would conventionally be used for portraits and has worked out well so far on other cameras. Being made some time in the 1970/1980s it’s obviously manual focus and there’s no image stabilisation so 1/200th of a second minimum hand-held shutter speed is needed.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

At f2 – shallow depth of field and some vignetting – classic fast prime lens characteristics.

 

Weighing in at around 280 g (10 oz) it looks identical to the 50mm f1.4 apart from a slight extension at the front. Judging by the internal diagram of the lens it may be a modified 50mm f1.4 as the element configurations look similar. The filter thread is 49mm, minimum focus is 85cm (about 2 1/2 feet) which is a bit restrictive, and apertures run from f2 to f16.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

On the A7R – lightweight and only slightly larger than the 50mm f1.4 so all good!

The aperture is made up of eight blades which sounds like it would give some unattractive octagonal bokeh, but strangely I’ve never noticed it.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

It’s a joy to use on the A7R – depth of field is shallow at wider apertures so focussing is super-accurate with the focus magnify feature of the A7R. The magnification of this focal length isn’t enough to cause too much movement when the image is magnified for focussing. The focus ring is smooth and even, and goes from infinity to minimum focus in a bit more than half a turn.

At F2 the depth of field is tiny and – just like the 50mm f1.4- out of focus parts of the image close to the camera can take on a distinctly ‘swirly’ appearance.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Wide open image curvature illustrated – I like it – you may not…

For isolating a subject and blurring away a background 85mm f2 lenses are hard to beat in such a small package.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

The background here was an ugly fence and car park – all magically gone at f2

 

As the lens is of fairly low contrast it can produce a lovely range of tones. You can always bash up the contrast later in PP if you like but there’s a noticeable difference between these old film lenses wide open and their more contrasty digital equivalents.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

At f4 and a very ‘film like’ rendition of the subject. Contrast has been tweaked up slightly.

 

With it’s slightly bulbous front element, flare can be a problem so a lens hood would be a good idea working outside. It’s not a bad problem – you just need to be aware of it to avoid it, which is easy enough.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

I don’t shoot pictures of grass normally but this was the worst flare I could manage to illustrate! Easily avoided with a lens hood or slight repositioning.

 

Onto the resolution test :-

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

You know where this is if you’ve read any previous tests…

 

At f2

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Wide open centre – surprisingly good. Not 10/10 but maybe A 7/10?

 

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Edge at f2 – not that good and close to expectations.

 

At f8

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

This really is un-sharpened. Like the 50mm f1.4 result this is outstanding! I can’t imagine how much sharper this could get.

 

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Edge at f8 is better – but it’s still not brilliant.

 

As I’d hoped then, this lens is more than useable on the A7R. The edge definition isn’t anything to rave about but it’s good enough, the centre at f8 is as good as it’s going to get and appears to be living up to 36Mp of resolution. The Zuiko 85mm f2 is still fairly cheap at around the £100 mark and is a real bargain.

These old prime lenses – with the limitations of needing some PP and being susceptible to flare – are working out very well on this Sony body. I really doubted they would be up to the job and I’d be extending the mortgage to buy Zeiss lenses, so this is a pleasant – and economical – surprise! I’m so confident after these few test with Zuikos on the A7R I’m selling off my Canon DSLR lenses and buying Zuikos to plug the gaps in my focal length range (the 24-105 f4 ‘L’ has gone in exchange for a Zuiko 18mm f3.5 – but more of that in a later post)!.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

Addition – Nick (in the comments section) has asked for a sample at closer distances so here they are. All ISO 100 at f8 shot from around eight feet away on a tripod. Just an ‘Auto Levels’ on the RAW file as contrast was low. The subject is a David Shepherd painting – not my usual sort of subject but I’m not going outside – it’s raining here!

The whole frame

The central portion of the frame

 

The lower left edge

And just to complete the test the caption at the bottom of the mount.

I think you might be right Nick – the edge of the frame does seem better at closer distances, which I suppose is what we’d expect in a portrait lens.

 

 

A Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6 on a Sony A7R

This mini test has been done to try out a free (to me) 1980/1990’s mid range zoom and to test my assumption that only good quality prime lenses are up to the A7R’s 36MP sensor.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Bokeh at f3.5 and 70mm – not too bad at all!

When zooms were being introduced into mainstream 35mm photography it was widely believed that they were grossly inferior to quality primes which put me off using them until partially moving to digital from film in around 2005. Are my old prejudices justified? I had to give it a test!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

In its favour is its diminutive size and light weight. It’s not as small as any individual prime lens in the useful 28-70mm range, but it’s lighter than all three usually used in this range (28,50 and 85). The rear element disappears far into the lens barrel past 50mm which is slightly disconcerting and doesn’t fill me with confidence as it seems to be quite a primitive design. It does have a ‘red ring’ at the front which might appeal to ‘L’ series users – unfortunately it’s not a Canon lens.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

On the A7R – moderately compact and surprisingly good to use.

Carrying just this lens on the camera and no camera bag is rather refreshing. It has a 1:5 macro mode so isn’t a macro lens at all but the close up mode is reached by rotating the zoom ring past 70mm, and it’s better than nothing!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

It’s not a very fast lens – unsurprising given it’s size – but if sharpness rather than spectacular bokeh is your goal you probably won’t move the aperture ring far away from an optimal f8 so it’s no real problem. The aperture is made up of 6 blades giving hexagonal out of focus highlights, the filter size is 52mm and it’s nicely made and satisfyingly compact and dense. The ‘SD’ bit of the name stands for ‘Super Low Dispersion’ lens elements used in the lens to reduce chromatic aberration. We’ll see!

In use it’s controls are nicely balanced and although it doesn’t exude the quality feel of a prime Zuiko lens (oops – Zuikoholic prejudice coming out there!).

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

As a ‘walk around’ macro it’s not bad at all. Pleasing contrast and natural colours here.

Starting with macro – it’s quite useful when wandering around for casual close ups but not for exacting macro work.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Quite pleasing and fun for macro work all in all. The focus aids on the A7R as always managed to nail focus hand held.

Generally it seems like a reasonably sharp and contrasty lens :-

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Onto the acid test then and Kingston Lacy house used as a test subject, all at f8 so as good as this lens is going to get :-

28mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

28mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre and OK

 

28mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge is a bit vague and chromatic aberration will need some more post processing.

 

50mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

50mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – very good

 

50mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

edge – better – optimal on this lens

 

70mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

70mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – good again

 

70mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge – it’s getting vague again…

 

The centres at all focal lengths are ‘good’ to ‘very good’, but the edges of the frame are a bit of a let down. Even at f8 it would take a lot of work to sort these out in post processing.

In conclusion then I’d say it’s a nice, portable lens which does a basic job of covering the 28-70mm focal length range. The edge definition lets it down badly, but the contrast makes up for some of the shortcomings. The A7R is flattering to older lenses based on previous experience, but I’m afraid that the convenience of carrying just a zoom lens doesn’t quite balance out the loss of quality at the edges of the frame so this lens won’t be used again.

Looks like my prejudices were correct based on this lens – the A7R needs the best prime lenses at their optimal aperture to make the most of it’s sensor. Maybe using the ‘crop mode’ to sample just a central APS-C sized portion of the sensor would work, but life – as they say – is too short!

I can’t complain too much – though – this lens was ‘free’!

Thanks for looking – hope this was useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

 

A Zuiko 50mm f3.5 on a Sony A7R

The Zuiko 50mm f3.5 has been the only macro lens I’ve needed over the last ten years or so, and it’s always been a solid, sensible performer on several camera bodies (with adaptors). Having had such good results with some other Zuiko lenses on my Sony A7R it’s next in the list for mini review so here goes :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Vintage image of a Geisha copied from a faded late 19th century book of hand tinted photographs (original A4) now with my agency.

The most striking thing about this lens is that it’s so light – 212g or 7.4oz. It’s slightly longer than a 50mm f1.8 due to the long focus helicoid thread but all in all it could have been made for the A7R. This is obviously a manual focus lens with no autofocus or image stabilisation, attached to the camera with a NEX to OM adaptor. Getting the best out of lenses for the A7R’s sensor requires f5.6 to f11 on most lenses so the rather slow f3.5 maximum aperture isn’t that much or a problem – and best avoided.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

From above at minimum focus – all nice and light and matched perfectly to the A7R.

Focussing at further distances is nice and snappy due to a focus rack of only a few degrees between infinity and 1m/3ft (around 15 degrees I’d guess). The filter size is 49mm, apertures run from f3.5 to f22 and minimum focus is 23 cm where 1:2 macro is achieved (1/2 life-size on the sensor).

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Sadly there are only six aperture blades leading to hexagonal bokeh. Usually you’ll be focussing so close that it probably won’t matter.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Maximium magnification without tubes (1:2 macro).

 

As always the focus aids in the camera body make precision focus easy, reliably producing sharp results. There are a few matching extension tubes made by Olympus which will extend to 1:1 macro (life-size on the sensor) and beyond. These are 25mm (for 1:1), 14mm and 7mm for lesser magnifications. Once you pass 1:1 use becomes progressively more difficult! Even the slightest vibration on a tripod mounted camera becomes painfully obvious and exposures become longer the more macro you go. I’d personally stop at 1:1!

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

With the 25mm extension tubes and 1:1 macro.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

With all 3 extension tubes on – and extremely difficult to use, around 2:1 macro.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

All 3 extension tubes (and the adaptor) – there is such narrow depth of field using these that tightening a tripod screw will take the subject out of focus. This is not a ‘walk around’ combination and rather silly!

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

With all extension tubes on the small stamp at f8 – virtually no depth of field at all – sub 1 mm!

So, very useful for macro to 1:1, but beyond that magnification less so, becoming almost unusable at what is presumably 2:1 (twice life-size on the sensor). Up to 1:1 at f8 to f11 the resolution and colours are superb, beyond 1:1 a cyan cast appears and the resolution – not unsurprisingly – starts to drop dramatically.

But – most people will want to use this portable lens to get fairly close to flowers, insects etc.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

A butterfly (now obviously an ex-butterfly having been trapped in a building) taken with the camera resting on the window sill.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

And a central enlargement.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Get low enough and some nice macro shots are easy!

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Hand held at 1/320th and moderately close this is a good example of what this lens excels at on the A7R – despite the hexagonal bokeh.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Colours are quite vivid once the rather flat RAW files are processed – again fine for this sort of subject.

 

 

So for a general purpose hand held close-ups its pretty good too, as long as you keep the shutter speed high and take great care focussing. The resolution good to excellent with the caveat that there is so little depth of field at these closer distances that much of you images will be out of focus anyway so be extra careful what you focus on!

At infinity things are pretty good too (all hand-held shots) :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

The full frame which I’m sure you’re all familiar with.

 

f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Centre wide open – a bit soft but OK. Best avoided.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Edge wide open – not bad but not great either.

 

f8

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

f8 centre – stunning! Wow!

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

f8 edge – very good.

 

f16

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

f16 centre softening again.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Same with the edge performance.

The conclusion for infinity focussing – a fantastic performance at the centre at f8, dropping to ‘very good’ at the edges. Like the Zuiko 50mm f1.4 at optimal apertures this seems to be getting close to doing justice to the 36Mp sensor of the A7R. Other apertures obviously aren’t – but few lenses (especially sub £100 lenses) can.

Overall an impressive little lens on this body. Useable up to 1:1 macro on a tripod, good for hand-held medium close-ups and superb as a general purpose 50mm when used at infinity at f8. The ‘fun factor’ using this lens to pick out fine detail is hard to beat too! At 212g it’s staying in the camera bag.

As with all the OM Zuikos tested on the A7R, the results are better than I’d expected. The ability to get very precise focus using EVF focussing aids, and the A7R’s metering (much more accurate than using them on DSLRs) produce files which, when post-processed, are the best I’ve produced using these lenses. They’re all more prone to flare than modern lenses but I can work around that. I may not need any Zeiss lenses if this trend continues!

Thanks for looking, hope you found this – rather long – review useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

 

The Sony A7R and a Helios 85mm f2

This little review is done out of pure curiosity. The Russian made Helios Jupiter 85mm f2 is not known for it’s sharpness (Zeiss have nothing to worry about here), more for the unusual characteristics of the images it produces which I’ve found in the past to be unique. I’m not expecting much at all here so this should be good fun.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

That magic bokeh is back!

 

For around £8 a NEX to M42 screw mount adaptor was ordered, and it’s pretty well made, with three allen key loosened grub screws to allow the fixed lens to be rotated so the top of the lens aligns with the camera. What this does for the alignment of the lens with the sensor plane is anyone’s guess but let’s not worry for now. There is no electronic contact between lens and camera so no EXIF data for the lens or aperture used. Obviously there’s no autofocus, apertures are set manually and forget image stabilisation.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

On the A7R – this is about as heavy as it’s possible to go on the small A7R body without things feeling unbalanced (for me). The adaptor adjustment grub screws can be seen on the right hand side of the adaptor.

 

The lens is solidly made in metal and quite compact, but feels heavy (13 oz/374g). Minimum focus is around 75 cm (about 30 inches) and it shares a 49 mm filter thread with most Zuiko prime lenses. Focus from infinity to minimum distance takes around 270 degrees. The weight helps stabilise the camera/lens but there’s no image stabilisation (not invented when the lens was made!) so 160th of a second or shorter for hand-held shots is best.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Without the adaptor and front UV filter it’s quite small and ‘dense’. Controls from left to right – grip for screwing the lens on to the adaptor, the knurled focus ring, the ‘stop down the aperture to what’s been selected’ ring and the ‘set the desired aperture’ ring

 

The aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures, and look quite different from most lenses. Rather than being matt black they appear to be bare metal which looks a bit ‘industrial’, just like the rest of the lens in fact. The ‘stop down’ nature of the lens means it’s best to leave the front aperture setting at f16 then just rotate the inner ring across the aperture range until things look good. This means you have no idea what aperture is being used. If you’re very patient you could do it correctly and set the aperture on the front ring then rotate the inner ring completely to the right. I’m not that patient.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Shiny and worn aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures – no hexagonal out of focus points!

 

Focussing isn’t as easy as with the sharp, contrasty OM Zuiko lenses. The ‘focus peaking’ feature relies on image contrast to sprinkle the view finder with ‘in focus’ pixels, but as this lens isn’t too sharp and of low contrast it didn’t show much. With the ‘focus magnify’ focussing was much easier, but at the maximum ‘zoom in’ level you can actually see how soft the image is at maximum aperture. It’s very much like focussing a Lensbaby – there’s nothing really sharp ‘out there’ through the lens so just do the best you can. Combined with the extra care needed shooting with the A7R this combination means slow, deliberate photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Soft and dreamy – nice.

 

There’s a little vignetting wide open but only if you’re looking for it. Flare can be quite bad as the front element isn’t multicoated (it may not be coated at all). Contrast is low across the aperture range (images look terrible before post processing) so shoot in RAW and be prepared for some moderately serious post processing – all in a day’s work for MF lens users.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Nice smooth bokeh – lovely

 

If image sharpness or ease of use are your goals look elsewhere – very far away! This lens excels at producing soft ‘dreamy’ images at closer focussing distances with some very shallow depth of field and attractive bokeh. Traditionally used for portraits, these characteristics lend themselves to a few other subjects such as flower, food and ‘special effect’ photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At medium distances the edges of the frame can get quite ‘swirly’ – like a poor man’s Petzval lens.

This lens did quite well on a Canon 5D Mk2 and a 60D as the poor resolution wasn’t so mercilessly exposed on 20Mp and 18Mp sensors. It was however more difficult to focus through the optical viewfinders of these cameras so sort of a draw there. Using this lens is a huge waste of 36Mp of resolution (8Mp might be appropriate), but as the A7R is now my main camera, I’m not carrying another one just for this lens!

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

It’s rather good for ‘book cover’ type stuff.

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At f2 and soft everywhere even the bits in focus – but it all sort of ‘works’

 

For tradition’s sake, let’s do a centre enlargement from a shot at f8 :-

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The full image

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The centre enlagement – forget the edges at all apertures. Not great – but – not what it was designed for.

 

So, is this a useful lens on a Sony A7R? For me it is, as my specialist market is book covers, and a ‘different’ look at the expense of sharpness can sometimes sell (this lens paid for itself in sales many times over on other cameras). For the narrow range of subjects it’s designed for its great (and cheap), for everything else it’s pretty useless. Despite it’s shortcomings I really like this lens – it’s got ‘character’.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

The Zuiko 28mm f2 on a Sony A7R

For a short while I’ve managed to wrench the excellent Zuiko 50mm f1.4 from the Sony to see how well my old favourite lens performs. I’ve found this to be a very good lens on other cameras so I’ve high hopes!

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

Salisbury Cathedral from the ‘classic’ viewpoint. Looks good so far.

The lens is slightly longer than the 50mm f1.4 but still extremely compact. The aperture range is f2 to f16, minimum focus is around 30cm (or one foot) and the filter size is a standard (and cheap) 49mm.

It’s nicely balanced on the Sony, just like the 50mm. Focussing is slightly more difficult that the 50mm, presumably because of increased depth of field, but the ‘focus magnify’ button is your friend here and usually gets the job done. Operating the combo of camera and lens feels fast and easy.

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

The combo from above – light, portable and easy to use – can’t fault it really.

Surprisingly I’m finding that manually focussing is producing much sharper results than autofocus systems on other cameras. Here’s an article on how phase detect autofocus works http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2010/07/how-autofocus-often-works, and having seen how shallow the ‘really in focus bit’ is using focus magnify I can understand why. No anti-alias filter helps the sharpness a lot, but really shows when you’ve got the focus wrong.

It seems working slowly and deliberately is required to get the best from 36 Mp of resolution as some slightly mis-focussed shots have illustrated! It goes without saying that the depth of field scale on the lens and the focus peaking feature on the A7R aren’t to be trusted for best results.

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

Using the ‘neutral’ colour profile and setting the white balance in post processing results in some very accurate colour.

Colours and contrast are good, though there is some vignetting at f2 as you would expect. There’s no image stabilisation with this combo so 1/60th is the absolute minimum hand held shutter speed for me – anything slower use a tripod or a monopod.

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

Inside Sherborne Abbey and looking up at the spectacular fan vaulting, a good resolution test. The detail in the full size file is amazing!

Flare isn’t as well controlled as modern lenses, but it’s not too bad – there’s a hint of it around the windows in the above shot.

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

Bokeh with a 28mm lens – if you want it you can do it.

Bokeh isn’t a feature usually associated with wide angle lenses due to the deep depth of field, but f2 is pretty fast and you can create some nice out of focus effects at close focus distances.

Right then, the standard test :-

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

Full frame at f2. The vignetting is visible here, but apart from that not bad at all.

 

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

The centre at f2 – a bit soft but useable in all but huge enlargements.

 

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

Centre at f8 – nicely sharpened up and good enough.

 

Zuiko 28mm f2, Sony A7R

The extreme edges however never really get bitingly sharp, just ‘good’. This is at f16 but f5.6 and f8 are the same. Don’t ask about the edge at f2!

In conclusion then, a well behaved lens capable of very good results at smaller apertures, and fast enough to allow shooting in lower light if you’re prepared to accept softer images. Is it making the most of the 36Mp sensor? Not really, especially at the edge, so if you’re a very demanding photographer it might be best to look elsewhere. It is however more than capable for all but the largest enlargements and with it’s compact dimensions, a perfect physical match to the A7R.

The very best part of using these lenses is that I now sometimes leave the camera bag behind altogether, carrying the 28mm and a 135mm lens in each jacket pocket, and the 50mm on the A7R. To be able to do this and get files which exceed my agency’s image requirements is nothing short of fantastic!

Unless someone comes up with a reasonably priced, compact and outstandingly good 28mm I’ll stick with this as it’s more than good enough for my purposes.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful. A similar test of the 50mm f1.4 is here.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.