An A7R with a Zuiko 50mm f1.2

An A7R with a Zuiko 50mm f1.2

This is a short – well not that short – description of the spectacular Zuiko 50mm f1.2 on a 36Mp A7R. I’ve had this lens for about a year and it rapidly became my favourite 50mm. It was bought on the pretense that my old 1.4 was falling to pieces after thirty years of use, but if I’m honest I’ve always wanted one and it was up for sale in mint condition at Ffordes. And of course I’m a complete sucker for fast Zuikos, especially 50mm’s.

For those of you with the 1.8 or 1.4, I’ve included a brief comparison. All shot in RAW and developed in DXO Photolab. There aren’t any profiles for old lenses like this so you’re on your own when it comes to corrections. Luckily 50mm’s don’t need much correction.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

Bokeh… This lens produces some very nice examples.

So starting with a description – it’s a bit wider and longer than the 1.4, but a lot bigger than the tiny 1.8. Despite being a 1.2 it takes 49mm filters like the other two. From left to right, the 1.8, the 1.4 and the 1.2. Prices are £10-20 for the 1.8 (or free with an OM2), £80-100 for the 1.4, £350 for the 1.2

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

1.8, 1.4 and 1.2 – it’s the other way round in the next diagram!

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The lens designs from the 1980’s Zuiko lens catalogue. The 1.2 is essentially an upscaled 1.4, the 1.8 shows it’s more humble design with fewer elements. If you’re interested in the historic development of lenses have a look here – fascinating :- https://wordpress.lensrentals.com/blog/2011/08/lens-geneology-part-1/

As per the other two, minimum focus is 45cm and the smooth rack from infinity to min focus is achieved in around 120 degrees. Like the 1.4, it has ten aperture blades, the 1.8 has eight.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

On the Rayqual adaptor which has solved some of my wideangle edge definition problems due to its precision (thanks for the tip https://phillipreeve.net/blog/)

It’s nicely balanced on the A7R, being nice and light (11.6 oz, or 330 g), and has a lovely smooth focus ring and snappy aperture ring. Altogether a real pleasure to use in a discrete package. As it’s a relatively recent Zuiko it’s got some very effective multi-coating, but I still like to use a lens hood.

So, physically it’s a lovely lens and a pleasure to use, but how does it perform?  You’re not buying this lens to use at f8 so let’s look at f1.2.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

Shallow depth of field and heavy post processing to produce an abstract.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

An example of the ‘Trioplan’ style bubble bokeh at f1.2. I like this effect but you may not. If you don’t you’ll be happy to know it’s gone by f2.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

An example in colour. Note the classic flattening of the bokeh circles towards the edge of the frame.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

And another with some light green/purple CA on the harsh table reflections. It’s no too difficult to remove in post, but here doesn’t distract from the shot IMHO.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

And some creative overexposure just for good measure.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

At middle distances the shallow depth of field is less obvious but adds some subtle depth to an image.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f1.2

Colour, contrast and sharpness are exemplary at f5.6 to f8, but this wouldn’t look that different at anywhere between f2 and f16.

It may be a bit tedious, but no lens test is complete without a full aperture range set of samples, so here we go…..

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The test frame at f1.2. Some light vignetting in the corners – it’s gone by f4. As you can probably see, f1.2 for landscapes isn’t recommended unless you like a ‘vintage’ effect or are good at post-processing.

f1.2 centre

12c

f1.2 edge

12e

As you can see there’s some overexposure which would need fixing in RAW, a little CA and a veiling flare across the frame. It’s possible to tidy most of this up in post, but importantly edge and central definition are already quite good.

f2 centre

2c

f2 edge

2e

All tidied up at f2. Centre and edge definition are already very good.

f2.8 centre

28c

f2.8 edge

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f5.6 centre

56c

f5.6 edge

56e

f8 centre

8c

f8 edge

8e

f16 centre

16c

f16 edge

16e

So, to my eyes, very good centre and edge definition from f2, excellent at f5.6 and f8, and hardly deteriorating through diffraction at f16. Even f1.2 is usable with some work in post.

In conclusion then, the very best Zuiko I’ve used. Most of them are just ‘good enough’ on the 36Mp A7R with a fairly narrow ‘sweet spot’ of resolution at mid apertures. This lens though is very good to excellent across most of the aperture range and reminds me of the excellent Sigma 50mm f1.4 on a Canon 5d Mk2 at at half the price and a fifth of the weight and bulk, albeit without autofocus (but that’s easy when you’re used to it). I may have bought it for the f1.2 aperture but what like most is the excellent performance from f2 to f16. I also can fix it’s faults at f1.2!

Is it worth £350? I’d say so if you’re a perfectionist. £350 for an old lens isn’t on the face of it that cheap, but I could put this up against some of the best modern, more pricey 50’s and I think it would put up a respectable fight. It’s not that surprising – this was a very expensive lens thirty years ago and it shows. The 1.4 is excellent value for < £100, and the 1.8 is a steal for < £20, but for the really critical (obsessive?) photographer, this 1.2 is in a different league.

I was wondering about doing a shot by shot comparison between the Zuiko 50’s (1.2, 1.4, 1.8, 3.5 macro) is there’s any interest out there. If so let me know – it will take quite a bit of effort.

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

Rob

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A Year with a Sony RX10 Mk3

Hello again after a long break from blogging. I’ve a few articles planned for the next few months as there are a few new Zuiko lenses waiting for a test. This though, is about a Sony RX10 Mk3, which is a much more interesting camera than you might think. No really.

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To the left the RX100 Mk3, to the right an A7R with a Zuiko 50mm f3.5 (for no particular reason).

Many years ago I had a Sony R1 which was an unusually designed camera but produced excellent (for the time) images. My nephew still uses it. Fast forward to 2017 and I bought it’s descendant, the RX10, as a general purpose stills and video stock camera. The headline attraction is that 24-600(!)mm f2.8 to f4 lens and a one inch 20Mp sensor which I like so much in my RX100. So after a year, here are my impressions for stills photography – the excellent video abilities would take another article.

All shots processed in DXO Photolab which does a very good job, especially with Prime noise reduction (see later).

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At the 24mm setting.

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And a more obtrusive 600mm setting.

Knowing where to start with such a fully featured camera is difficult. Let’s start with the lens. Actually that wasn’t a difficult decision at all. There is a de-clickable aperture ring, manual focus by wire is available (though not recommended) and a focus lock button to the rear left hand side of the lens. It takes 72mm filters. There are various focus options selected on a front-of-body switch, but I’ve really only used single AF using a central area point.

It uses standard Sony NP-FW50 batteries and two are more than enough for a whole day’s demanding shooting.

I’ve only shot RAW with this camera so I’ve no comments on the JPEG performance.

Strangely there is a cable release thread on the shutter button which is a nice touch. The camera weighs in at about 1kg (2.2 lb) which feels about the same as my old Canon 60D with a good standard zoom on it. The LCD panes flips up and down a bit, but doesn’t flip out which would have been very useful.

So, let’s get on with it, what does a 24-600mm lens range look like?

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24mm….. Kingston Lacy House on an overcast day.

 

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600mm. This is just the top bit of the building!

Quite (!) a wide to tele lens then, and it’s a good performer throughout the full range – unbelievably so. There’s a lot of processing going on under the hood of course, and I wouldn’t like to see uncorrected RAWs, but the end result is very good. It seems best at f4 throughout the zoom range, but I suspect Sony didn’t build this camera for people who worry about such things.

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The Channel Island ferry with Bournemouth on the horizon at 600mm. Haze and heat distortion start to be more visible at longer focal lengths – something which should be borne in mind when taking the shot.

Minimum focus at 24mm to 50mm is quite good (3cm) but this extends out to about four feet by 200 mm then strangely back to three feet from 300mm to 600mm. A 600mm lens focussing to three feet opens up some interesting possibilities, though auto-focus can be a bit hit and miss so it’s best to take a few shots each time.

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A wary Damsel Fly.

 

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And another. I became a bit obsessed taking insect pictures over the summer with this camera.

The image stabilisation works pretty well – it needs to at the longer focal lengths. Longer focal lengths need faster shutter speeds and therefore higher ISO’s, which is where DXO Prime noise reduction comes in. With noise starting to appear at around ISO 1000, you’d better be prepared to use something good to get rid of it for best results.

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It has a 24mm setting too!

Colors are fine to my eye though I’m used to Sony colours. Blue sky can appear a little cyan sometimes, but it’s easily corrected in post.

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Autumn produce in a dimly lit shed. Not too bad!

Although only having a small sensor, you can get some nice bokeh at longer focal lengths and close focus distances.

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This is as good as my Helios 85mm f2 on an A7R for out of focus blur – and that’s pretty good.

So technically all very good, apart from high ISO performance which can be corrected – within reason.

With such a wide zoom range at your fingertips, walking around a large event presents a sometimes overwhelming set of possibilities. I found concentrating on just wide angle for 1/3 of the time, just tele for another 1/3 and normal mid focal lengths worked for me. The following are a few from the 2017 Great Dorset Steam Fair which is always a good photo day out.

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All in all quite an impressive performance and an excellent ‘reportage’ type camera. You could get technically better shots with a DSLR and a range of lenses, but to cover this focal length range you might need an assistant to carry them all or be a weightlifter.

In conclusion then, I’ll sum up by firstly listing the ‘not so good’.

  • In terms of image quality it’s not up to a micro 4/3 or APSC sensor camera (but not far off at low ISOs), and it won’t focus as fast (or at all) in low light.
  • It’s a bit clunky to operate until you get used to it.
  • It’s not a camera for ‘pixel peepers’.
  • You’d best have some good noise reduction software available for post-processing as well.
  • It’s not particularly charming either – I think Sony just let their engineers loose to design it without hindrance from the aesthetics department.  It’s possibly the best example I’ve come across of a camera designed to be ‘just a tool’. An Olympus Pen F or Sony A7R it isn’t.

However, if you can see past, and work within these limitations, what it does, it does very well – provide an excellent, versatile zoom lens with good image stabilisation and macro capabilities which offer an almost boundless set of photographic possibilities. And a lot of fun!

A 600mm f4 equivalent lens in a package this small would be remarkable enough, but a 24-600mm which performs well across it’s whole range is amazing.

I haven’t touched on it’s video capabilities, but the 4k is very nice. With the timelapse app I can speed time up, and with the high frame rate video (250 fps 1080p) I can slow it down, using focal lengths from 24mm to 600mm. If you’d told me twenty years ago that such a camera would exist I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m not sure I do now.

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I bought this thinking I probably wouldn’t like it but couldn’t resist the technical specs. I can’t say I love using it like the A7R with old lenses, but I do have a huge respect for it’s abilities and can’t think of any camera I’ve used which is as versatile, while producing  results which are good enough (after PP) to submit to some picky stock photography sites.

‘Everything in life is a compromise’ is a phrase I’ve heard often – does it apply to the RX10 Mk3? Well not as much as you’d think.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.

Rob