The Sony A7R and a Zuiko 21mm f3.5

It’s been ages since I posted anything here (sorry!), mainly because I haven’t bought any more lenses! This nice 21mm f3.5 was swapped for my Zuiko 18mm earlier in the year as it was a bit too wide for my tastes, and really I always wanted the 21mm. It hasn’t been used that much so far so I thought I’d give it a proper test and share the results. Wandering round with just this lens was an interesting experience for someone who’s current favourite focal length is 50mm – sometimes it seemed just too wide an angle of view.           Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Physically it’s tiny and light – about the same size as my 50mm f1.8, 1 1/4 inches long (3cm ish) and it weighs 7 1/2 ounces (212 g) so very portable. The angle of view is 92 degrees and a very close focussing distance of 8 inches (or 20cm) to infinity focus is achieved in around 1/4 of a turn. And of course being a Zuiko it’s very well made too. It matches the A7R very well as do most of the smaller Zuikos. The A7R’s love of a default 1/60th of a second in ‘A’ mode with MF lenses is also nothing to worry about at 21 mm.

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Five apertures to choose from – 3.5 to 16 and a focussing ring – can’t get much simpler than that.

The filter thread is the normal 49mm screw in, but even thin filters cause vignetting so I’ve stopped using them on this lens, so no polarizer or NDs unless you’re prepared to do some cropping in PP.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

At f3.5 and insanely close, this is the best bokeh I could manage. Using a 21mm lens as a macro lens is – er- eccentric to say the least.

Focussing using focus magnify works well, though at smaller apertures it’s more difficult as there’s a lot in focus, and the changes when the focus ring is turned are fairly subtle. The ‘focus peaking’ feature is pretty useless with lenses as wide as this for the same reason. As with the 18mm, the depth of field scale is pretty optimistic and the zone of really sharp focus is narrower than you might expect – in other words, always use ‘focus magnify’!

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Starburst at f16 (with a tiny amount of flare)- not bad at all if you like this sort of thing. Shadows pulled up in PP (the A7R is brilliant for this).

I couldn’t provoke much flare on a sunny day – this lens seems excellent in this respect. I did find an odd circular internal reflection in one shot when the sun was pretty much in the centre of the image which I quite like :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Native vignetting is moderate at f3.5, gone by f5.6 :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f3.5 – nowhere near as bad as the 18mm but then few things are. I can live with this and even use it occasionally.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f5.6 – hardly noticable and it doesn’t reappear at other apertures.

Distortion when pointed upwards is obvious – what you’d expect really from an ultra-wide :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

This was taken with a slim UV filter but its still vignetting!

Close distance distortion is also remarkably low – this was taken very close to the fence and is uncorrected :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

OK – it’s all looking good so far, what about the resolution? All of these are straight RAW conversions so note that the minimal CA and distortion could be cleaned up quite easily. Here’s the test scene (same as earlier in the post), edge crop from the centre left.

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f3.5, the edge crop darkened by the natural vignetting of the lens.

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f5.6

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f8

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f11

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

So – optimal between f5.6 and f8, tailing off slightly at f11 and f16 (not shown). Quite predictable really. However this is a remarkably consistent performance across the aperture range with minimal CA wide open. It’s nice and sharp in the centre at all apertures, but the edges are never really achieve the same resolution.

In conclusion then, apart from the edge performance which I’d call ‘good’ (or ‘good enough’ for my purposes) a very good lens. Small, light, low distortion, low CA, sharp in the centre and can do sun stars as a party trick. I might use this lens ten or twenty times a year and for me the positives easily outweigh the negatives so I’m keeping this one! If you use this focal length all the time and need better edge performance something more expensive might be in order.

Second hand they range in price between £200 and £300 which is pretty cheap. As with all older lenses exposures have to be carefully monitored (they tend towards one to two stops of under exposure so watch the histogram), some PP will be required on all images, mainly contrast enhancement but the clarity slider in CS is remarkably useful too.

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking!

 

Six Months with a Sony A7R and OM Zuiko Lenses

It’s about time for a summary of using the Sony A7R and a selection of OM Zuiko lenses over the last six months. There are still a few lenses left to review, but enough time has passed to give a balanced personal opinion.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 close up.

I traded in my Canon full frame kit earlier in the year due to a back injury – weight was the only factor in the decision – and the A7R is the only camera I’ve used in the last six months or so. Various lenses have been tested (have a look on the Film Camera and Lens Review tab if you’d like to see them in detail), but here’s the general summary.

The Camera

First then, the positive.

The decision to save weight has worked very well – I can walk further without becoming fatigued (and therefore disinterested in taking pictures!) and the camera’s ergonomics are now completely familiar. The images produced are satisfyingly detailed and most post processing problems (white balance was the worst) have been solved.

Lensbaby Plastic Lens, Sony A7R

Even a Lensbaby is pretty good on the A7R.

The A7R can wring the maximum performance from manual focus lenses because the manual focus viewfinder tools make precision focussing fast and easy. The results are much more precise than anything possible using an optical viewfinder and it’s quite a surprise how much less is in sharp focus than the depth of field scale would suggest. The lack of an anti-alias filter also makes a big difference to the sharpness of the images – I rarely need to use anything but low default sharpening to obtain clean, sharp results. I haven’t noticed any moire either.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.8 – a shot resulting from just carrying the A7R and the 50mm on a casual walk.

Exposure control is perfect for me. The use of zebras to prevent overexposing highlights along with the ability to pull up shadows in PP without excessive noise results in some stunning dynamic range.

The loud shutter is no worse than a full frame DSLR – certainly a 5D MK2.

The 1080 HD video is a big improvement over the Canon 60D’s output (the camera I’ve used for video over the last few years) – not really a fair comparison as 60D is fairly old now, and APSC.

Zuiko OM 85mm f2, Sony A7R

The 85mm f2.

I haven’t noticed any dust on the sensor – and I change lenses more than most and shoot at smaller apertures. A periodic blast with a rocket blower is all it needs. In contrast the 5dMk2 was a dust magnet which needed cleaning very frequently which was just a pain.

The other most quoted problems – shutter shock and compressed RAW – I haven’t noticed at all. Having said that I’m careful with shooting technique, don’t use long lenses that often and rarely feel compelled to take pictures in near darkness.

But nothing is perfect :-

The Auto ISO implementation when using aperture priority isn’t much good when shooting longer manual focus as the camera will use 1/60th and the lowest ISO setting, forcing the use of shutter priority. Things may be different with non manual focus lenses.

Battery life isn’t as much of a problem as thought it was going to be. Two spares are more than enough for a day’s heavy shooting. What is a negative is being effectively forced to buy a charger (which should have been included) and a spare battery. Interestingly Sony bundle a spare and a charger with the A7R Mk2…..

White balance is a bit random in cloudy conditions producing blueish greens. This can be solved using the ‘neutral’ colour profile with RAW and developing troublesome shots with Adobe Camera Raw (rather than DXO Optics 9 which does a fine job on non-problem files).

Zuiko OM 28mm f2, Sony A7R

The 28mm f2 and one of those shots where the greens needed some non-default processing to remove a slightly blueish tint. The shadows were pulled up in pp.

Using the otherwise excellent EVF in bright conditions isn’t as good as using an OVF – darker areas cut to black quite early. However the histogram and exposure aids (zebras) make getting that perfect exposure much easier. Sort of a balance there.

Finally, there’s no auto correction for MF lenses in DXO or ACR – you’re on your own I’m afraid. Luckily the prime lenses used here didn’t distort that much – but you’ll become a dab hand removing any chromatic aberration and using the ‘levels’ tool!

The OM Zuiko Lenses

The A7R works wonders with manual focus lenses – an ideal companion if you like. It can’t however work miracles and some lenses just don’t make the grade of producing quality images on a 36Mp sensor. With this level of resolution even excellent film era prime lenses are pushed.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.8 again!

Before we start it’s worth starting that all of these lenses need to be shot at optimal apertures (f5.6 – f11) to approach the Sony sensor’s resolution. Alternatively open them up to their widest aperture and trade resolution for some attractive bokeh.

In addition they will all flare easily by comparison with modern lenses so a lens hood and careful technique are required – just like using a film camera really. They are all wonderfully small and light – a perfect match for the small A7R. Remember when hand holding the camera to always use at least twice the focal length of the lens as the shutter speed e.g. 125th of a second for a 50mm lens to prevent camera shake – 1/60th (by the old 35mm rule) doesn’t always work at these resolutions.

As anticipated, zooms fare badly. The Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-5.6 and Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 Series 1 both had some serious flaws with edge definition and chromatic aberration which would make them pretty unattractive for serious use.

The old primes are a different matter :-

The Zuiko 18mm f3.5 isn’t a resolution monster but produces very low chromatic aberration and distortion.

Zuiko OM 18mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The 18mm at f8.

The Zuiko 24mm f2.8 isn’t up to the job I’m sorry to say – the edges are too soft at all apertures. APSC only.

The Zuiko 28mm f2 – Just about good enough though prone to flare.

Zuiko OM 28mm f2, Sony A7R

28mm f2. Some pp brought up the shadows after exposing for the highlights here.

The Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro – still good even at these resolutions. No need to replace this one.

Zuiko OM 50mm f3.5 macro, Sony A7R

Copied from an antique book of photographs under less than ideal circumstances but the 50mm f3.5 macro performed admirably as always.

The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 and f1.8 – 50mms are easy to make well – both are good but the 1.8 has the edge and is cheaper – a bargain.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4, Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 wide open and close up.

The Zuiko 85mm f2 – pretty good – edges are a bit soft even at f8, but for portraits/mid tele work still good.

Zuiko OM 85mm f2, Sony A7R

The 85mm f2 blurring away an untidy background.

The Helios 85mm f2 – resolution isn’t its strong point but for sheer character this is still worth using (I have a soft spot for this lens which defies all logic).

Helios 85mm f2, Sony A7R

The soft, romantic images produces by the Helios 85mm f2 though not of very high resolution are still unique – I love this lens on any camera it’s attached to!

The Zuiko 135mm f3.5 – solid if undistinguished with a little chromatic aberration – just about good enough.

Zuiko OM 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The 135 f3.5 on a frosty morning.

The 18mm is the only lens which would cost over £100 – most would be under £50 and some under £30.

All of these lenses are ‘just good enough’ but great bargains – 36Mp is probably their limit and any more sensor resolution would be a waste.

Using lenses longer than 135mm is difficult – no IS, the need for fast shutter speeds and the difficulties in manually focussing them mean I’d leave this job the Canon 60D and a modern AF tele zoom.

In the interests of fairness, I’m sure the Canon/Nikon/Minolta/Pentax equivalents would be just as good if you have any hanging around.

Conclusion

There isn’t a simple conclusion to be drawn on using the A7R and MF lenses for all photographers – but I’ll have a go! As someone who started in the film era, I’m used to working around kit limitations and I don’t expect (or want) kit to do everything for me.

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

50mm f1.8.

The A7R is a specialised camera which is aimed at people who take their time with their photography and are willing to put up with some quirks to wring the most out of that amazing 36Mp sensor. In this context, slow startup times, manual focus etc become irrelevant – you’ll be there for a few minutes taking the shot anyway.

Use it without concentrating on what you’re doing and it will treat you with contempt and spit out some truly disappointing images. Use it with care and it will jump through hoops for you.

The A7R second-hand is now under £1000 which is a fantastic bargain for a modern full frame 36Mp camera. Add a few fast old MF lenses and an adaptor or two for around £500 and – for the amount you’ve spent – you’ll have an amazingly good setup. Lusting after old prime lenses is cheaper than eyeing up their modern AF counterparts – especially Zeiss lenses! I’d recommend Ffordes in Scotland for second-hand kit – it’s always checked before being put on sale and I haven’t been disappointed yet (I’m not being paid to say this unfortunately – I’m just a satisfied customer).

Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4, Sony A7R

Finishing up with the 50mm f1.4.

I used to use a medium format 6×6 camera (a Yashica 124G) along with my old OM 35mm cameras. It was slow and fairly difficult to use but produced stunning results if you put the effort in (6×6 Velvia film was shockingly good). Think of the A7R with old primes as a (lightweight) medium format camera, and an APSC Canon 60D with zooms as the 35mm SLR equivalent and you’ve pretty much got the perfect analogy. I still use the Canon 60D when IS and autofocus are needed – they complement each other nicely.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking!

Detailed (well relatively detailed) mini reviews for all of these lenses are available on the Film, Camera and Lens Review tab.

A Zuiko 50mm f1.8 on a Sony A7R

In the last of this series of mini-tests of OM Zuiko lenses on an A7R, the very humble 50mm f1.8 is under scrutiny this time. This one came ‘free’ with a second-hand OM2N a few years ago and until now hasn’t been used – my usual 50mm lens choice is my 50mm f1.4 which I’ve used for 34 years (a good investment!).

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

Bokeh wide open close up.

These were made in their tens (if not hundreds) of thousands by Olympus, being the ‘standard’ lens on OM series cameras for many years. They were slowly improved over three decades (1972 – 2002) gaining multi coating and improved designs and are often overlooked due to their cheapness, humble appearance and the fact that they were the ‘kit lens’ of their day. Let’s have a look.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

From above, tiny, light and very portable.

As you’d expect it’s of all metal construction, light (160g or 6 oz), around 3cm long, min focus is around 40cm, apertures run from f1.8 to f16 and it takes 49mm filters – all standard stuff and typical of what makes OM Zuikos so attractive to use.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

This is an ‘F Zuiko’ marked lens (meaning six elements) – it doesn’t help date it though (unless you know different!).

Everything on this mid-period still works smoothly, the focus mechanism is smooth and nicely geared though this version of the lens doesn’t appear to be multi coated. There are unfortunately only six aperture blades – eight would be better for out of focus highlights.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Personally I shoot a lot at 50mm – just familiarity I suppose, and the fact that most of my book cover stuff looks natural and undistorted at this focal length.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Depth of field at f1.8 is minimal as you’d expect. Here you can see some of those out of focus highlights have a bright outer rim which can look quite distracting in some shots especially if the highlights are many and close together. I think it’s quite attractive – it’s definitely different to the Zuiko 50mm f1.4’s very soft mushy bokeh – but you may not! It may not be a ‘problem’ with later versions of the lens so don’t let it put you off.

Here are a few more shots to illustrate the bokeh.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Enough about the performance wide open – where some sharpness is sacrificed for subject isolation – how about its performance at f8 (the theoretical optimal aperture for  edge to edge sharpness)?

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Pin sharp at f8

Pixel peeping this it looks very good! No chromatic aberration, edges very sharp and no distortion.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

At f2.8 sharpness picks up quickly and keeps a shallow depth of field.

So – with a hint of excitement – a proper test across apertures.

The whole frame (on a dull day). Crops from the centre and the top right.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f1.8

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f4

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f8

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f16

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

At f1.8 it’s quite hazy and soft with some chromatic aberration and a slight amount of vignetting, but by f4 the centre is excellent and by f8 it’s excellent across the whole frame. By f16 – as always – things are going downhill again.

Using old prime lenses on a 36Mp full frame sensor is always going to push them to their limits and means putting up with some corner softness or chromatic aberration. This lens at f8 though does – amazingly – get very close to using all of that sensor resolution across the frame with no nasty side effects. Despite being single coated, I haven’t seen any flare problems either, but I have been using a lens hood during a mainly cloudy late summer. The only oddity is those bright edged out of focus highlights at maximum aperture which I like anyway!

I have to say it’s better in the corners than the other OM 50’s tested so far (my much-loved 1.4 and the 3.5 macro), f1.8 is only slightly slower than f1.4, so I’ll go as far to say to any A7R user – just get one! At £30 it’s the best value lens you’ll find. Later versions of the lens are reputed to be even better!

Watermarked shots have been post processed and have been accepted by my rather picky agency Arcangel in case you were wondering.

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.

There’s an informative page here on OM lens history here if you’d like a look :- http://esif.world-traveller.org/om-sif/lensgroup/lensterms.htm

 

 

The Zuiko 24mm f2.8 on a Sony A7R

Continuing this series of mini reviews of my favourite old lenses on the beefy A7R’s 36Mp sensor, this time it’s the turn of the tiny Zuiko 24mm f2.8. This was a cracker of a lens on the APSC Canon 60D so I’m hoping for lots of good things…. All shots taken in RAW mode and ‘developed’ in DXO Optics 9 using default settings.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

The 24mm doing what it does best – cramming lots of landscape into the frame.

The most striking thing about this all metal lens is its size – a shade more than 3cm (1 1/4 inches) long and weighs in at 220g (7.8 oz). It has almost the same dimensions as the Zuiko 50mm f1.8, and is about as small as it’s possible to make a manual focus lens and keep it useable. It accepts 49mm filter, apertures run from 2.8 to 16, the minimum focus distance is about 25cm and the aperture is – unfortunately – made up of only six blades which means hexagonal bokeh – if you ever see it with such a wide-angle lens.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Take off the lens cap and the filter and it’s even smaller!

Ergonomically on the A7r it’s perfect – the focussing ring is smooth and well geared and the camera/lens combo is wonderfully light and easy to use.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

This looks like a mid era model – maybe late 1980’s?

With an angle of view of 84 degrees it’s noticeably wider than a Zuiko 28mm lens (75 degrees) and not that far off an 18 mm lens (100 degrees) or the 21mm Zuiko (92 degrees). With this level of ‘wide angle-ness’ verticals start to heavily distort if the camera isn’t parallel with the subject so unless you really like correcting this in pp, be careful!

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Just a slight tip upwards produces converging vertical. Fixed easily in pp.

Vignetting is obvious at f2.8, gradually fading to nothing by f8 – nowhere near as bad as the Zuiko 18mm f3.5 at max aperture (few lenses are!) but something to bear in mind.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Sharp, good colour and snappy contrast – looks good.

The contrast and colour are all as good as they were on the Canon 60D, but the A7R seems to over saturate greens with this lens which is odd but there you go.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

This isn’t the worst example of flare I could have shown – it’s just that it’s so ugly when it happens I didn’t want to take the shot!

Flare is a big problem with this lens, and the hexagonal nature of the aperture makes things worse. To be fair, most old MF lenses suffer from flare to some degree but this is worse than most. A lens hood won’t help much on such a wide-angle lens so you just have to be careful and recompose if necessary.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

That contrast and colour again – excellent.

Chromatic aberration is minimal, probably removed easily by DXO Optics 9 when processing the RAW files for this test, so a major plus.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

It’s possible to create some nice converging lines by getting in close and letting the wide-angle distortion do it’s ‘thing’.

Resolution then – on to the mill.

The whole frame (showing that vignetting nicely at f2.8).

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f2.8

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f5.6

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f11

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f16 (just for completeness)

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

The positive first then – the superb resolution at the centre is obvious from f5.6 to f11 just as it was on the Canon 60D. f5.6 is especially impressive. The obvious problem though is edge resolution – it’s very poor at f3.5, cleans up a little by f11 where it’s still not that good, and by f16 everything is starts to fall apart again due to diffraction. Quite a disappointment as I had high hopes for this lens.

This doesn’t appear to be a problem with the adaptor as the right hand side of the frame is just as bad as the left. I mention this after reading Lensrentals analysis of using adaptors with non-native lenses here (it’s an interesting article!).

All in all then, something of a mixed bag on a full frame camera. Centre resolution is excellent at the right apertures, colour and contrast are good, chromatic aberration never makes much of an appearance and distortion is controllable if it’s used properly. It’s wonderfully small and light and a joy to use. Set against that is pretty terrible flare, vignetting till f8 and the poor edge resolution.

If you aren’t too picky this isn’t bad for the price (sub £100), but it’s effectively a 24mm f5.6 (to f11) lens if you want the best results and I would imagine a modern zoom lens would beat it hands down at the edges (maybe not the centre!). On an APSC sensor where the weak edge definition and vignetting don’t matter so much it’s a different story, and for smaller sensors I can heartily recommend it as a 35mm – 40mm standard lens. For full frame sensors though it’s not quite so easy to recommend.

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.

Ten Years of Digital Imaging or “How Many Megapixels Do You Need?”

A while ago I did a post on how much imaging technology had improved over the last decades from 35mm film to digital and concluded that within limited parameters (low ISO, good exposure etc) it wasn’t a massive difference. Then I found my first digital camera in a drawer – a Sony 5.1 Mp Cybershot from 2005 and thought “You really must test how well this will stand up against a 15Mp Oly EPL5, an 18Mp Canon 60D and a 36Mp Sony A7R”. So here we are.

Insanity? Probably, but if you don’t test assumptions you’ll never know if they’re right! And it sounded like fun. This post has turned out longer than I planned – sorry!

AA1379133

This shot has nothing to do with this post – I just needed something to look good on the reader page – no-one is interested in my bookshelf…. A7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.8

Before we start I’m not bashing or promoting any particular camera. I’ve bought all of these and still use them – with the exception of the old  Cybershot 5 Mp compact. The EPL5, 60D and A7R are all great cameras.

A high tech test scene was organised (my bookshelf and some bits and pieces) and to equalise the test the same Zuiko OM 50mm f3.5 macro lens was used on all the cameras except the tiny Sony Cybershot which has a fixed zoom lens. All shot at base ISO at f11, manually focussed on a tripod, straight RAW development in DXO Optics 9 (except the Cybershot jpg) and ‘auto levels’ applied to all in Photoshop. As there are variable camera crop factors involved, the distance to the subject was changed to keep – approximately – the same shot.

As a preamble to the shots here are the frame dimensions and file sizes :-

Cybershot 5.1 Mp    2592 x 1944 pixels, 1.7 Mb. Sensor will be tiny and is now ‘obsolete’. This camera would be worth around £5 now.

Olympus EPL5        4608 x 3456 pixels, 15.5 Mb. Micro Four Thirds. Around £500 when new, about £200 now second hand.

Canon 60D              5185 x 3456 pixels, 17.8 Mb. APSC DSLR. Around £800 when new, about £300 now second hand.

Sony A7R                 7360 x 4912 pixels, 33.6 Mb. Full frame mirrorless. The only camera without an anti alias filter. £1300 new, about £1000 second hand now.

frame

Onto the crops then – they get larger on-screen as we’re cropping out of progressively larger images.

Sony Cybershot 5.1Mp Crops – first the centre then the lower left. The card in this camera was a Sony Memory Stick of 128Mb (Yes MB!)

wsc100b

wsc100a

Then the EPL5 15Mp –

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now the 18Mp Canon 60D

60db

60da

And finally the 36Mp Sony A7R

a7ra

a7rb

Well let’s get the bleeding obvious out of the way first – a 10 year old 5Mp camera doesn’t compare that well to mid range or top of the range sensors. However when looking at all the shots at around 8×6 inches on the screen the differences are quite subtle. I doubt I could tell the difference from the humble 5.1 ‘jpeg only’ image and the RAW processed 36Mp A7R image in a consumer print of the same size (i.e. 8×6 inches).

The EPL5 and 60D are very roughly the same frame dimensions, but the 60D looks slightly better in these enlargements – not much but it’s noticeable. There is obviously a big difference between 15Mp/18Mp and 5Mp sensors, but not between 15Mp and 18Mp sensors.

The A7R – not surprisingly – is resolving more detail than the 60D and the EPL5. However, all those extra megapixels aren’t adding that much extra so a bit more of a zoom in with the test ‘how far can I enlarge before I can see pixels?’.

60D

60dhuge

A7R

a7huge

Well – if you really look closely enough there’s a definite difference, but pixel peeping such a tiny section of a frame seems extreme. The 60D has an anti-alias filter, the A7R doesn’t, which, along with its extra pixels accounts for the extra sharpness.

Finally what happens if you downsample the A7R to 18Mp. This is a bit sharper that the 60d – if you can be bothered to go to so much effort.

a7rhugerescale

What conclusions regarding resolution then at base ISO? IMHO :-

If you never crop, never print more that 8×6 inches or only use your shots on the web – 5Mp is fine and anything more is just clogging up your disk drive and increasing your credit card bill. The same would apply to camera or tablet phones.

If you want to crop or print larger than 8×6 inches then 15 to 18Mp is fine – even for large prints like 22 x 15 inches (which I’ve done and sold!). These Oly/Canon cameras are useful all rounders which are well evolved, easy to use and can cope with most photographic subjects. They are very good value.

Cameras like the A7R are really only practically needed if you either want to print to huge sizes, or you wish to sell your work (as I do) when clients/agencies value larger file sizes as the extra resolution gives them more flexibility. Of course if you just want that extra resolution because you’re a perfectionist – and that’s fine by me as I’m one too – it’s there, and the Sony sensor is superb. It’s just that the improvement in image quality might not be as great as you expect. You’ll need to use the best lenses (ideally primes) at optimal apertures and the best technique to really make the most of the new sensors. The A7R Mk2 looks like it will be more forgiving that the A7R but it’s not cheap!

At higher ISOs it’s a different story of course, and this doesn’t take into account other variables like dynamic range (excellent on the A7R), image stabilisation, noise or colour rendition. Also video from older cameras is often very poor compared to more up to date models – an area where progress has been even more rapid.

It’s fair to say that ten years of digital imaging improvements have made a huge difference – though whether moving past around 20Mp is worth it is up to you. I’m sure in two or three years time 36Mp will be the ‘standard’ sensor resolution with the cutting edge sensors topping 80Mp! It’s worth pointing out that the very best, very expensive prime lenses resolve around 30Mp of detail, the best zooms around 25Mp on high resolution sensors according to DXO……

Oh – and that 30 year old Zuiko 5omm f3.5 lens is still excellent!

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking (and for reading this far!).

The Sony A7R and a Vivitar 70-210 f3.5 Series 1

Continuing this series of mini-reviews of old MF lenses on the superb Sony A7R, this time it’s a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm constant f3.5 aperture zoom from the 1970’s. It’s very different in terms of size and weight to the small Zuikos tested so far, but it showed some promise on the Canon 60D and I need to at least try to find a decent telephoto option before lashing out lots of cash on a Zeiss/Sony zoom. All shots taken in RAW and converted using DXO Optics 9 an ‘auto levels’ in Photoshop.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

 

The history of the Series 1 line is described nicely here – suffice to say avoid later models with variable apertures. The earlier models were very highly regarded in the film days – at least equal to most camera manufacturer’s equivalents if not superior. If the build quality is anything to go by this lens is already a star – heavy at 967g (2lb 2.2 oz) and built to an extremely high standard of metal construction, it still feels precise, solid and reliable after 40 years, not surprising as this one was made by Kiron. It feels best to hold the lens rather than the camera when carrying it!

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nice soft bokeh – close upat 210 mm f3.5

The filter thread is 67mm and this one has VMC (Vivitar Multi Coating) which looks effective, and this model also sports an innovative if slightly clunky macro mode I’ll describe later. The aperture range is f3.5 to f22 and the aperture has six blades.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The lens on the camera. Not well balanced at all, so support the lens at all times! This is a one touch zoom so pulling the focus ring back zooms in, rotating it focuses it, much faster than a two touch designs if rather under geared on the focus. The only major sign of age is that some of the yellow paint has flaked out of the etched ‘macro’ focus channel. It’s possibly one of the best finished lenses I’ve seen.

In use the focus is easy (as with most MF lenses) using focus assist tools of the A7R’s EVF, though focussing gets more difficult as the focal length increases. There’s no image stabilisation so shutter priority is the best exposure mode – set twice the focal length e.g. 1/400th for the 200mm long end of the zoom) and use your best shooting technique to avoid camera shake.  My only criticism is that the focus mechanism could be more highly geared – sometimes it needed lots of focus ring turn to rack focus from infinity to close up – around 180 degrees. Closest ‘non-macro’ focus distance is around 2m/6ft.

 

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The macro button – a plastic white release, puts the lens in macro mode when the lens is at 210mm with a twist of the knurled ring. Once in macro mode, zooming in and out quickly changes focus, turning the focussing ring gives finer control. It’s not effortlessly smooth but the results are good and once the lens is ‘in or out’ of this mode the operation is pretty smooth.

Macro results are very good. I found ‘zooming’ quickly to achieve rough focus then turning the focus ring nailed focus quickly and easily.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

The maximum macro reproduction ratio is around 1:2.5 (ish), about the same as the Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro without extension tubes. There is some variable telephoto magnification going on as well, but what the focal length is in this mode is guesswork at somewhere between 135 and 200mm.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Closest focus distance is around 5cm from the front element. Not bad for a ‘walk around’ lens but not as good as a proper macro lens.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nothing to complain about in the bokeh department at max aperture in macro mode.

So for macro it’s pretty good, apart from a tendency towards chromatic aberration in closer distance highlights at maximum aperture. How about normal ‘non-macro’ close focus?

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

210mm at f3.5 at around 10 m (30 ft) – good too.

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Nothing to complain about here.

And finally medium to far distance, and a change of subject from my normal test – Kingston Lacy House. All at f8.

70mm, f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

135mm, f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

210mm f8

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Centre

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

Edge

sony a7r, vivitar 70-201 f3.5 macro

In conclusion then, this is a pretty good ‘old’ lens – especially if you can get it, as I did,  for £10 (yes ten!) on Ebay. The macro performance is outstandingly good if your camera is level, but pointing the camera downwards allows the zoom ring to creep forward. In ‘non-macro mode’ things are good at 70mm, deteriorate slightly by 135mm and the edges are starting to fall apart by 210mm but the centre holds up. This isn’t unusual for telephoto zoom lenses where the long end lets things down and is provided as a sort of ‘free extra’ (or example, the relatively modern Canon 70-300 mm f4-5.6 is fine until 200mm then falls away quite fast). Chromatic aberration is slight at f3.5 but gone by f5.6 across the zoom range.

I didn’t notice any flare without a lens hood except at 70mm where it was comparatively minor.

Is this resolving 36MP? Well it’s good at 70mm, but past 100mm definitely not. However the macro mode is very useful so for sub £100 it’s worth it just for that – and the 70-100mm performance.

Whether it’s worth £1000+ for a Zeiss/Sony AF version with all the AF bells and whistles is entirely up to you…..

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.

A Plastic Lens Lensbaby and a Sony A7R

This unlikely post is about the unholy match of two pieces of photographic kit from opposite ends of the image quality spectrum – the superb 36MP Sony A7R and the odd (some might say weird) Plastic Lensbaby lens which is designed to produce soft ethereal images. Why? Well it’s an experiment which sounded like fun, and trying to coax any decent results out of the Lensbaby is always an enjoyable challenge.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the right, DXO Filmpack Agfa Vista profile. Not bad.

I’ve tested this lens on an Oly EPL5 , a Canon 60D and a 5d Mk2 and came to the conclusion that the Oly produced the best results as it uses just the centre of the image circle. I have a feeling after this test the conclusion might be the same – but here goes.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The whole setup. The aperture disks lower right, the disk holder and magnetic disk remover top right. The lens itself is mounted inside a ‘Composer’ body (several bodies are available allowing different amounts of ‘lens bending’ control.

Even for someone using light Zuikos this 50mm lens is light – 125g or 4 1/2 oz. Mounted on an inexpensive Fotga adaptor for Canon EF to NEX mount, the focus ring is alarmingly sloppy, the apertures are waterstone stops held in by magnets at the front, and the relatively sharp centre of the frame can be moved around the frame by undoing a friction clutch and moving the lens about like some sort of mad sci-fi monster’s eye.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The F8 aperture disk held in place by magnets – not a conventional arrangement….

As the images will be soft you can forget about shutter shock, chromatic aberration (it’s terrible!), changing aperture (it’s a pain so I tend not to) and camera shake. Put the camera on auto-ISO, focus and shoot – all very liberating and not your normal photographic experience. Crucially, the focus peaking works very well on the A7R, ably illustrating focus curvature (to explain :- imagine focussing on a brick wall parallel to the sensor – the centre will be in focus, the edge won’t be, but de-focus the centre and the edges come into focus). In reality it’s so far from normal photography it’s fantastic!

Rather than a resolution test (don’t be silly!) here are a few shots shot at different apertures so you can judge the effect of different aperture disks, F2 to f22.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk (F2). Very ethereal but I’m pushed to think of a use for something this extreme.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F4

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F16

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

f22. The best in terms of sharpness, but it just looks like a very bad conventional lens. Maybe useful for simulating a cheap old camera from the 1960s?

Personally my favourite is f8 – just about the right amount of ‘Lensbaby-ness’.

All Lensbaby images need lots of post processing – the following have been pushed through (a slightly baffled!) DXO Optics 9 and then DXO Filmpack.

First some mono conversions :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The lens tilted all the way to the right and a PAN F profile – I like this!

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 and some more blurriness.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 again

And some with colour film conversions using different DXO Filmpack profiles :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk for this one – but pushing the very low contrast and using a colourful film profile has sort of worked?

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the top of the frame and the Ultracolour profile – I’m pleased with this. This is Kingston Lacy in Dorset in case you were wondering.

 

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and the ‘1960s’ profile – looks like some old family album shot (my Dad had a terrible camera!).

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and Ultracolour again.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 close up, Ultracolour again.

This is a real ‘marmite’ (UK expression – you’ll either ‘love or loath it’) lens. With some serious PP it does open some interesting possibilities if you don’t mind the odd look from passers-by while you change the aperture disks. Mono works well, but the colour ones work better for me, and the stronger the colours the better – don’t be half-hearted in the conversion!

It’s use on an A7R is genuinely better than on DSLR’s with optical viewfinders because you can make sure things are in focus – well, as much as they’re ever going to be in focus! The Sony’s exposure metering was also very good – something my DSLR’s struggled with using this lens. The Oly EPL5 produced images which looked more ‘misty’ than these – not a better result but just different as each could have their use.

Maybe it’s best thought of in the same way as the Olympus ‘dramatic tone’ filter – good in small doses to produce something different but make sure you don’t use it all the time. I’d recommend using one just for the sheer challenge and fun of using them – you though may (sensibly) prefer not to!

Commercially the images can sell (two or three have over the years) but they’re a bit ‘niche’ even for the book cover market.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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