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.

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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.

The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 on a Sony A7R

I know what you’re thinking – putting an old MF lens on a modern 36Mp body is a waste of all that resolution. However, these old OM Zuiko prime lenses were – and still are – considered very high quality pieces of kit, but I still had my doubts. 50mm lenses are usually the easiest to design and the sharpest in a focal length range so let’s see….

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Wide open at f1.4 and there’s classical fast prime vignetting and shallow depth of field.

Firstly, ergonomics. OM Zuikos are wonderfully light, small and precision made in metal. Compared to, say a Canon 50mm f1.4 EF, they’re almost indestructible – this lens has been heavily used for 34 years. I know this because I bought it new and it’s still working fine. My short-lived acquaintance with the Canon equivalent ended in a slight bash, a repair then it being sold. Performance is around the same as the Canon which not surprising as they use loosely the same double gauss design.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Shot in a sea mist and heavily post processed – the RAW files have a wide latitude to pull up shadows and draw down highlights if carefully exposed.

Focussing and aperture changes are fluid and precise, focussing is easy using focus magnify (focus peaking isn’t that precise) and it’s generally a pleasure to use. I’m using a mid range Novoflex adaptor which works fine – it doesn’t really have to do much as there is no electronic communication between the camera and lens. Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4As the A7R doesn’t use ‘auto aperture’ like the OM bodies, the aperture set is always that ‘in use’. The EVF displays the depth of field as it will be in the final shot which is useful, but at smaller apertures focus peaking becomes pretty useless as it thinks everything is in focus and covers the EVF in white high contrast pixels (as it turns out when focus magnify is used, everything isn’t in focus, but it does mean that it’s possible to really accurately nail it)

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Set f8 and you get f8 straight away – no depth of field button required. The EVF maintains brightness at all apertures unlike an OVF.

Colours are excellent one you’ve cracked post processing of the raw files. DXO Optics 9 sometimes produced magenta-ish blue skies on the ‘standard’ in camera colour profile, but Adobe ACR and a neutral colour profile in camera are very accurate. The A7R’s white balance in ‘auto’ mode is often wayward so either shoot in raw and correct in post or it’s best to set white balance in advance if using JPEG. This seems to be an A7R problem rather than a Zuiko problem.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

The lack of an anti-alias filter allows this lens to perform to a higher standard on the A7R than any of the other cameras it’s been attached to. Typical of a fast prime, at large apertures there’s vignetting, chromatic aberration (CA), low contrast and the centre is sharp but the edges soft. Stop down to f8-f16 and everything sharpens up nicely across the frame and contrast and CA improve. Here are a few more images (some with the agency) :-

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Shot at f2.8 the out of focus areas aren’t insanely out of focus but are just enough to lead the eye to the steps.

 

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

I should have used f16 for this rather than f8 to get all of that cherry blossom in focus – this camera will punish any mistake!

 

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Colours, detail and tones here are excellent.

 

At these web resolutions it’s not possible to really judge much about the files produced so – it’s back to the traditional test subject on this blog, the mill.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Not The Mill again! – afraid so… The detail leaps out of the full sized file. f8.

 

At f1.4 to f5.6 things are ‘decent to good’ so I won’t bother you with the shots, but at f8 to f16 this is the sort of resolution this camera and lens is capable of :-

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Centre crop out of that huge 36Mp image at f8 – sharp enough I’d say.

 

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

I was impressed that the superb Sigma 50mm f1.4 ‘Art’ could resolve the wire guards on the chimney (top left of the whole image). The Zuiko has done quite a nice job too.

 

It isn’t a criticism of the lens but shooting with this much resolution means you really need to be careful of technique and focussing. A shutter speed of 125th of a second on a well held camera is the minimum I’d use with this lens, higher for closeups, so in low light, use shutter priority and auto ISO. Outside in bright light aperture priority and auto ISO are fine. In both cases limit the max ISO to 3200.

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Post processes in DXO Filmpack to give a Kodachrome look, this one made it to the agency.

 

I’m frankly amazed that this lens works so well on the A7R. It’s not as good as the Sigma 50mm f1.4 ‘Art’ lens, but then it costs, and weighs, a lot less. It’s also more prone to flare than modern lenses so some care must be taken when shooting – so I really must buy a lens hood!

For some reason I like the 50mm focal length on this camera more than any other focal length so far. So much so it’s been used for 90% of the shots taken over the last few weeks. I haven’t missed a zoom lens at all (I’ve got feet!) and the results of such a simple setup are producing some very good results. This may be down to me being used to using small, light OM film cameras which this camera so much resembles – I’ve even tried to advance a non-existent film lever a few times….

Sony A7R, ILCE-7R, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

A rough pulling up of shadow detail from a high dynamic range image – amazing again (this is more down to the A7R than the Zuiko though!)

 

In conclusion then, a cracking combination of lens and camera which produces fantastic results in a small, light package and very highly recommended.

Thanks for looking, hope to find this useful.

p.s. If you’re interested in how well this lens (and lots of others) work on other bodies check the  film, camera and lens review index tab.