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.

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DXO Optics Pro 9 Noise Removal (a quick test)

If you shoot with a wide variety of camera bodies and lenses but want to shoot in RAW, there are a few options available to smooth out the work needed to process your shots.

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The original scene. The enlargement is from the centre left.

Converting to DNG format, then opening in Photoshop is an option, but correcting 3rd party lens distortion on each individual shot is laborious. Alternatively you could switch between the RAW converters provided by the camera manufacturer, but they won’t correct 3rd party lenses either. This is where DXO Optics excels. It can load and process most camera/lens formats without any fuss – a real time saver.

In addition to lots of advanced image processing options (including integration with Filmpack 4), it offers a new noise reduction called PRIME (Probabilistic Raw IMage Enhancement), which takes a few minutes to process an image. As it looked like it was doing a lot of work it seemed worth a quick test.

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An enlargement from the centre left. No noise reduction – and pretty grainy. Good enough for a small print but quite ugly.

I don’t often shoot above ISO 800, but with a slow wide-angle (a Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6), no IS and no tripod in a dark interior, higher ISOs are needed. This was taken on a Canon 60D at 6400 ISO – an insane sensitivity for an old film shooter – the nearest film I can remember which would come close was Kodak’s Professional T-Max P3200, but the results would only be useable if you really wanted a very grainy look.

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Standard noise reduction setting. This is very good but there’s still a fair degree of visible noise (look at the pillar on the left).

The standard noise reduction offered by DXO is better than most, but it can’t work miracles as the image above demonstrates. It’s fairly quick to process an 18Mp image however.

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Processed using DXO’s PRIME noise reduction. This takes a few minutes to complete processing on a basic spec quad core I5 PC.

Personally I’d say this is excellent – better than anything else I’ve tried. There’s inevitably a tiny loss of detail (check the detail in those gold finials), but it’s more than worth it for the improvement in noise over the standard processing. It would be better to keep a tripod in the car of course, but in an emergency it’s good to know it’s possible to shoot at high ISOs in an emergency and still get useable results.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.

p.s. I’m not connected with DXO in any way – just using their software.

Bits of Autumn So Far

Here are a few stills from Autumn so far – not that many but there you go.

Though it looks pleasant this was taken last Saturday before the storm which swept in on Sunday/Monday morning and it was pretty windy. The cliffs are Ballard Down and Old Harry Rocks. Canon 60D, 70-300mm, processed from RAW in DXO Optics 9 (which is superb by the way!).

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Postbox Dorset Ballard Down Old Harry Rocks

Here’s the RNLI Lifeboat making headway against some heavy seas – a small enlargement from the centre of the frame, taken from the cliffs at Durleston.

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Lifeboat RNLI

Next a quieter day – but some nice colours through a Zuiko 50mm f1.4 on the 60D. I say the 60D, but there are now two in the camera bag. As the 70D has come out the 60D is really cheap – at least by comparison to it’s price three years ago. I really like this camera’s balance and features, so rather than upgrade, I just got another one. With results this good it seemed like a good idea.

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Canon 60D 50mm f1.4 Autumn Bench

Finally a bit of an odd one and I’m not sure if I really like it or not – a Dorset cottage path with some fallen apples. Zuiko 50mm f1.4 again – this is rather an addictive lens…

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Canon 60D 50mm f1.4 Cottage Autumn

So, a vague Autumn theme. The next post should have something a bit more coherent!

In the meanwhile thanks for looking, hope you like them.