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.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 on a Sony A7R

  1. Hi Rob,
    Following your last article and some other research, I took the plunge and bought an A7R. I have an adapter on the way but am currently using the camera with the Sony FE f/2.8 35mm and I’ve been really impressed. Compared to lugging a big old backpack with my D800e, several lenses plus a heavy tripod, this little camera is a dream. The camera came with a free Fox Talbot camera satchel and heading out with this and nothing more has been really quite liberating. I can definitely see the potential for a lot more impromtu photography. I’m quite happy with the 35mm, certainly wide enough for a nice landscape and with the sensor size and the ability to crop so tightly, it doesn’t do badly on macro either. Like you I’m going to be trying the camera with my other lenses, I’ve got high hopes for my Nikon f/1.4 50mm.
    Another really useful article. Thanks for all the advice!
    All the best..

    • Hi Chillbrook – really glad you found the post useful.

      Moving to the A7R from my Canon kit was a bit of a wrench but so far I’ve no regrets when I pick up a light camera bag.

      I’ve only been really impressed by kit five times in 35 years of photography. The OM1N, the Sony R1, the Canon 60D, the Sigma 50mm f1.4 and the Sony A7R, all huge improvements on what went before. However, the equipment which has stayed with me over all that time has been a selection of Zuiko OM lenses (28mm f2, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f2, 50mm f3.5 and 135mm f3.5) all of which are still going strong on various cameras including the original OM series.

      I’m sure Nikon lenses will do just as well as the Zuikos – looking forward to seeing the results.

      All the best

      Rob

  2. Hi Rob, looks like a great pairing! Having gone completely mirrorless myself (sold all my full-frame Nikon gear to go Olympus and Fuji), I can certainly agree on the benefits of accurate focusing and exposure previewing.

    And the primary motivation for my comment – that second shot (I’m guessing jetty posts in the mist?) is outstanding – minimalism at its very best!

    • Thanks Tim –

      It helped that it was a foggy day removing the normally distracting background on the jetty post shot.

      I’ve been out for a day’s shooting with a friend today who was using a 5D MK 3 and a big f2.8 standard zoom – It’s hard to believe I used to carry around so much bulk, it seemed huge! Those OMD’s looked beautifully compact in a camera shop window as well as the lenses, but for agency work 16Mp just isn’t quite enough so the Sony won the recent upgrade ‘battle’.

      Cheers,

      Rob

  3. Having recently bought a Sony A7 and having a few old zuiko lenses, i have to say i’m very pleased to have stumbled on your website.
    Very good informations, thank you.
    I own both the 50mm 1.4 and the 1.8 but haven’t tried them fully yet.
    You seem to say in the test on another page that there isn’t much difference between the two ?
    Still i supposed you prefer to use the 1.4 ?

    • Thanks Joe – as you’ve guessed I do prefer the 1.4 even though it’s a bit heavier. My 1.8 can sometimes produce some mid-distance distracting circular bokeh where the 1.4’s is much smoother. However the 1.8 is a bit sharper. Since both at f8 are easily sharp enough (corner to corner – amazing really), the 1.4 is usually the preferred lens. The 50mm f3.5 macro is very good too but I really like shallow depth of field too much to use it as a walk around lens.

      Hope this helps

      Rob

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s