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.

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.

The Sony A7R and a Zuiko 85mm f2

Having been diverted by a Tokina standard zoom lens in my last post, it’s back to looking at Zuiko prime lenses on the A7R with its monstrous 36Mp of resolution. The Zuiko 85mm f2 is a fast, moderate telephoto lens which would conventionally be used for portraits and has worked out well so far on other cameras. Being made some time in the 1970/1980s it’s obviously manual focus and there’s no image stabilisation so 1/200th of a second minimum hand-held shutter speed is needed.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

At f2 – shallow depth of field and some vignetting – classic fast prime lens characteristics.

 

Weighing in at around 280 g (10 oz) it looks identical to the 50mm f1.4 apart from a slight extension at the front. Judging by the internal diagram of the lens it may be a modified 50mm f1.4 as the element configurations look similar. The filter thread is 49mm, minimum focus is 85cm (about 2 1/2 feet) which is a bit restrictive, and apertures run from f2 to f16.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

On the A7R – lightweight and only slightly larger than the 50mm f1.4 so all good!

The aperture is made up of eight blades which sounds like it would give some unattractive octagonal bokeh, but strangely I’ve never noticed it.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

It’s a joy to use on the A7R – depth of field is shallow at wider apertures so focussing is super-accurate with the focus magnify feature of the A7R. The magnification of this focal length isn’t enough to cause too much movement when the image is magnified for focussing. The focus ring is smooth and even, and goes from infinity to minimum focus in a bit more than half a turn.

At F2 the depth of field is tiny and – just like the 50mm f1.4- out of focus parts of the image close to the camera can take on a distinctly ‘swirly’ appearance.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Wide open image curvature illustrated – I like it – you may not…

For isolating a subject and blurring away a background 85mm f2 lenses are hard to beat in such a small package.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

The background here was an ugly fence and car park – all magically gone at f2

 

As the lens is of fairly low contrast it can produce a lovely range of tones. You can always bash up the contrast later in PP if you like but there’s a noticeable difference between these old film lenses wide open and their more contrasty digital equivalents.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

At f4 and a very ‘film like’ rendition of the subject. Contrast has been tweaked up slightly.

 

With it’s slightly bulbous front element, flare can be a problem so a lens hood would be a good idea working outside. It’s not a bad problem – you just need to be aware of it to avoid it, which is easy enough.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

I don’t shoot pictures of grass normally but this was the worst flare I could manage to illustrate! Easily avoided with a lens hood or slight repositioning.

 

Onto the resolution test :-

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

You know where this is if you’ve read any previous tests…

 

At f2

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Wide open centre – surprisingly good. Not 10/10 but maybe A 7/10?

 

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Edge at f2 – not that good and close to expectations.

 

At f8

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

This really is un-sharpened. Like the 50mm f1.4 result this is outstanding! I can’t imagine how much sharper this could get.

 

Sony A7R, Zuiko 85mm f2

Edge at f8 is better – but it’s still not brilliant.

 

As I’d hoped then, this lens is more than useable on the A7R. The edge definition isn’t anything to rave about but it’s good enough, the centre at f8 is as good as it’s going to get and appears to be living up to 36Mp of resolution. The Zuiko 85mm f2 is still fairly cheap at around the £100 mark and is a real bargain.

These old prime lenses – with the limitations of needing some PP and being susceptible to flare – are working out very well on this Sony body. I really doubted they would be up to the job and I’d be extending the mortgage to buy Zeiss lenses, so this is a pleasant – and economical – surprise! I’m so confident after these few test with Zuikos on the A7R I’m selling off my Canon DSLR lenses and buying Zuikos to plug the gaps in my focal length range (the 24-105 f4 ‘L’ has gone in exchange for a Zuiko 18mm f3.5 – but more of that in a later post)!.

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.

Addition – Nick (in the comments section) has asked for a sample at closer distances so here they are. All ISO 100 at f8 shot from around eight feet away on a tripod. Just an ‘Auto Levels’ on the RAW file as contrast was low. The subject is a David Shepherd painting – not my usual sort of subject but I’m not going outside – it’s raining here!

The whole frame

The central portion of the frame

 

The lower left edge

And just to complete the test the caption at the bottom of the mount.

I think you might be right Nick – the edge of the frame does seem better at closer distances, which I suppose is what we’d expect in a portrait lens.

 

 

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.

Ilford Pan-F in Tetenal Neofin Blue

Having messed about with Ilford 3200 in an attempt to get some truly monstrous grain (previous post), it’s back to the other end of the film speed spectrum with an old favourite – Ilford Pan F. All shots on an Olympus OM2N in aperture priority mode (with appropriate exposure compensation).

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

25 ASA with a 50mm f1.4 at 1/30th second and an excellent start!

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

The centre of the image showing very little grain .

Rather than use the same old developer I thought was worth trying something different after reading this :- an article from Practical Photography back in 1960 describing using Neofin Blue with a now long gone film Ilford Micro Neg. Interestingly this reminded me of several characteristics of Adox’s CMS20 film. Neofin Blue is a high acutance one shot developer for slower films – the fast film version was Neofin Red now discontinued. The link above is to a really interesting website if you’re into photographic history by the way.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

There are five ampoules of developer in a pack working out at around £1.60 per film if used at the standard dilution. The dilution can be halved for economy if you wish.

Pan F is happy at 25 and 50 ASA, though the contrast at 25 ASA in ID11 developer is pretty strong. Will it do the same thing in Neofin Blue? I’ve never used Tetenal chemistry so this should be interesting.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

The 50mm f.14 again at f5.6 – nice.

Mixing Neofin Blue has an extra calculation – one ampoule of 30ml in 500ml of water is the standard dilution. Other dilutions are possible (half an ampoule, more water etc) which will result in a multiplier to the development time. I stuck with the standard dilution as it’s the first time I’ve used it. The development time was a short 4.5 minutes which seemed very brief but worked perfectly.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue This is good! The harsh contrast I’ve experienced with ID11 at 25 ASA just isn’t here at all, the grain is very well controlled and the tonality pleasing.

What about 50 ASA?

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

@50 ASA and this is hardly different from the 25 ASA results which is welcome. 25 ASA just isn’t fast enough sometimes.

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

The centre of the previous image – being able to see the thin cable attached to the top of the tower and exiting left is impressive (the branches are slightly out of focus)!

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

Being fairly slow film this is good for long exposures – this was around one second through an R25 red filter at f16. Vivitar 17mm f3.5

 

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

Some of Pan-F’s dark characteristics remain – those shadows are very deep even if i missed a few dust spots – sorry.

Most of these were taken using a new minimalist kit approach – one camera body, a 50mm f1.4 or 1.8, a 28mm f2, a 135mm f3.5, two spare rolls of film and a spare set of batteries. A wonderfully light and flexible set of equipment which can be carried in jacket pockets without a heavy camera bag. As the 50mm lenses get used more than any other I could leave the other lenses behind and go really minimalist! Try it one day – it’s very refreshing and the results are good so far.

Olympus OM2N Pan F Neofin Blue

50 ASA on an overcast day allows the gratuitous use of wide apertures and some flashy shallow depth of field. This is with the 50mm f1.8 – it’s bokeh is a bit busy here.

All in all an excellent result. At 25 ASA the contrast is better controlled than ID11’s results, and at both 25 and 50 ASA the grain is excellent for a high acutance developer. The ‘dark’ look of Pan F has been nicely preserved too. It’s not quite as grainless as Adox CMS20 but then I didn’t really expect it to be. A highly recommended combination!

Thanks for looking – hope you find it useful.

p.s. There a reviews of lots of other films on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

Still Quite Fast – Fuji Neopan Professional 400

As part of a series testing films which are faster than I’m used too (100 ASA essentially), the next one up is Fuji Neopan Professional 400. After testing the 100 ASA version of this film (here), the 400 ASA version should hopefully be as good.

Fuji Neopan Professional 400, Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

This was taken at a local Iron Age hillfort which floods between the ramparts after heavy rain. The landscape is quite surreal and a good location for some abstract landscapes. This is a very good start! Vivitar 17mm.

Physically the film exudes a high quality feel as the canister feels very robust – it’s quite difficult to prise it open when it comes to development. Efke films canisters used to just fall apart in the darkroom!

Fuji Neopan Professional 400, Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

Another abstract shot round the other side of the hillfort. Vivitar 17mm.

The film loads very easily on to a film spiral – always a good thing – and usually a sign that film is well made.

Fuji Neopan Professional 400, Olympus OM2N, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

This is something of a nice oddity from the start of the roll. There’s an area down the left extending over to the upper part of the shot which looks like a strange light leak into the canister. Not that I’m complaining – I like the effect. Zuiko 50mm f1.4 and soft (or mis-focussed!) wide open.

Exposed at its box speed these were taken on an Oly OM2N in aperture priority mode (I’m getting lazy!), adjusting exposure as necessary. Various lenses were used – if I can remember what they were I’ll put it in the caption!

Fuji Neopan Professional 400, Olympus OM2N, Zuiko 28mm f2

This one’s a bit of a test of DR (in digital speak). Shadow detail is lost to preserve most of the highlights with the sun behind the obelisk. The film has coped well here – again very good. Zuiko 28mm f2 closed down to f11 .

Developed in D76 stock for 7 minutes (these were taken in contrasty conditions so 30 seconds were taken off the recommendation) the results look pretty good.

Fuji Neopan Professional 400, Olympus OM2N, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

The Zuiko 50mm f1.4 at f11 – nice and sharp and a good range of tones.

An enlargement of the centre portion :-

Fuji Neopan Professional 400, Olympus OM2N, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

This grain for a 400 ASA film is excellent – if I didn’t know I’d guess this was a 100 ASA film.

There hasn’t been any dust spotting or ‘dust and scratches’ correction on these negatives so it looks like it’s resistant to gathering dust when drying. This makes it’s use worthwhile just on it’s own and is quite remarkable!

Fuji Neopan Professional 400, Olympus OM2N, Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Close up (well ‘ish’), 50mm f1.4 blurring the winter background away. The range of tones captured is excellent again.

Unfortunately if you like the look of this stuff and want to cheat with DXO Filmpack you can only approximate the look with something like Acros 100 as there is no profile for this film – on my installation anyway – so a direct comparison isn’t possible here.

Oddly enough the conclusion of this test isn’t what I was expecting to write at all. This is virtually indistinguishable from 100 ASA film which makes it a useful film for use in the winter when the light is low. Unfortunately I’m currently trying to get more grain in my shots so it didn’t quite do what I wanted! I’ll try pushing a roll a few stops and use Rodinal or Neofin Blue on the next roll to see if I can coax some grain from this excellent film.

So highly recommended – unless you’re after some grain! Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful!

p.s. There a reviews of lots of other films on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

The Zuiko 28mm f2 on a 5D MK2 (at last)

This blog is named after my favourite lens – the Zuiko 28mm f2, so this mini test is overdue. It’s been tested on a Canon 60D, but not on a 5dMk2 – it’s ‘native format’, full frame 35mm. Lets hope it’s as good as I’ve always thought!

This is a manual focus lens from the days of film mounted using a lens to camera adaptor, so no image stabilisation, no autofocus and no communication with the camera so some missing IPTC data. The exposures can be a bit random using old lenses like this – aperture priority centre weighted metering and RAW is the best way to use them, but even then you may need to bracket exposure.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Mounted using a Fotodiox OM to EF adaptor. The lens and body are evenly balanced due to it’s all metal build and the amount of glass in there.

Focussing is smooth and it’s relatively easy at f2 on the standard focussing screen in good light. In low light it’s better to use the distance scale if the subject is at infinity – ‘infinity’ for a 28mm lens isn’t that far away, look at the distance scale. The next marked distance is 3m! Alternatives are to focus bracket, use the depth of field scale and f8 in which case everything between infinity and around 2m is in focus, or to use the LCD .

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

At f8 the resolution is very,very good – there isn’t much CA in low contrast conditions, the colour is faithful, so all good.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Crop from the centre – superb! f8

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Crop from the edge top left and again – superb. f8

A good start! As I’d hoped at f8 it’s as good as it gets – but this is an ‘easy’ scene, front lit with gentle autumn light. Let’s push things a bit.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

In more extreme conditions shooting into the light there can be some light flaring around silhouetted areas which I quite like. This isn’t unusual in older lenses – I suspect there’s some internal fogging of the lens elements. This lens is over forty years old! f4.

 

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Shooting into the sun there can be some internal reflections/flare – not surprising for a lens of this age and speed. This was taken at f2. Easy to avoid with some slight re-framing but something to be aware of. Alternatively it could be used for creative effect. The bokeh here for a wide-angle lens is pretty good.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

There’s a touch of blue/green CA in the tree branches – this is uncorrected in this shot but can easily be fixed in PP. Otherwise this great.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Indoors in a dark church at f2. Note the distortion (not corrected automatically).  It’s sharp enough though.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

This is the best bokeh I could get for this test at f2 – not bad with a slight curve. I like it but others might not.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Close up – this lens has floating internal elements which optimise performance at close distances. Overall it does a good job though using a 28mm as a close up lens is somewhat eccentric!

So time for the standard scene –

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

The complete frame. Note the vignetting at maximum aperture.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Centre f2 – a tad soft but useable – this is a huge enlargement.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Edge f2 – top right and soft at the very extreme edge.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Centre f4

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

Edge f4

I won’t bother posting any more – the results are identical to f11, softening at f16. F2 results are a little soft and the vignetting is quite strong – this isn’t unusual for a fast lens. Note that modern lenses can have their vignetting automatically corrected by software like DPP or DXO,  but for older lenses this will have to be done manually.

In summary then, a cracking lens for its time, very sharp when used in optimal conditions, but showing its age when pushed to take shots into the light when flare and internal reflections can be noticeable. Going back to manually correcting vignetting and distortion manually is a bit of a nostalgic pain.

This is where you’ll fall into one of two camps.

Either

You’ll go for a modern made lens which probably isn’t as well made or sharp at f8 but has AF etc and behaves better when shooting into the light

OR you’ll like the technically flawed results under difficult conditions and use these optical faults creatively to give your shots a ‘vintage’ look.

I’m in the latter camp as I generally like some ‘character’ in lenses and I don’t mind messing around in PP.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 28mm f2

So highly recommended with some caveats – often the story with old lenses. This lens is quite rare on the second hand market and go for $250/£160 so cheaper than most modern 28mm lenses. Things may change when the new Sigma 28mm f1.8 ‘Art’ is released – if it’s as good as the 50mm, the standards by which a 28mm lens is judged may change!

A comprehensive technical description of this lens can be read here, and an interesting discussion of the use of lens adaptors by Roger Cicala of Lensrentals can be found here.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking!

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

The Sigma 50mm F1.4 ‘Art’ on a Canon 60D

Having played around with this lens on a 5d Mk2 (here), I had to try it on an APS-C Canon 60D. Sharing the same EF mount, it will be an 80mm equivalent but testing against the 60D’s greater pixel density (18mp in a smaller sensor) should be interesting.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A good start at f1.4 – smooth bokeh, focus correct with good colour.

I feel it’s rather well suited to the smaller 60D body – a good balance with a bright viewfinder due to that 1.4 aperture.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

At close distances – lovely! f1.4

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

For close-ups (the min focus is 40cm) at 1.4 this lens produces dramatic isolation and blurred away backgrounds. f1.4

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

At close focus distances the bokeh can be surreal – those two dark peaks in the background are yew trees. f1.4 at around 60cm/two feet at f1.4. These extreme effects – stronger than a Zuiko/Canon EF 50mm 1.4 are probably down to the larger front element of the Sigma (6 cm vs 3.5 cm) which is designed to reduce vignetting.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

At longer distances the sharpness shines out. It’s difficult to believe this is at f1.4 (it is – I promise)!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

It does have other apertures….. At f8 sharpness and contrast are exemplary.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Sharpness at the edge is better on the 60D – this isn’t really the edge of the full frame image circle so it should be.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

More leaves, spectacular bokeh etc etc (you’re getting the idea).

So – you guessed it, quick test time for something approaching a scientific test – the full scene with which you may be familiar. Centre AF point only.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

The first, and major problem is the the autofocus on the 60D mis-focusses quite often – much more so than the 5DMk2. The initial series had to be re-shot with manual focus.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

AF result at 1.4 – not good.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f1.4, manual focus – better. There’s a bit of CA – more than on the 5D, but this can be removed manually (the DXO profile has already had a bash at these but not quite succeeded).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

1.4 edge – excellent

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 – faultless

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 edge

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 centre

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 edge – this is even resolving more of the mesh across the chimney entrances!

After the results from the 5DMK2 this isn’t exactly unexpected – this is an exceptionally sharp lens on full frame, so APSC results should be too. There’s more chromatic aberration than on the 5DMK2, possibly a result of the DXO optics module not being so well tuned – it should already be removing it as part of its default processing. It’s easily fixed with some manual adjustments.

The biggest problem on the 60D is the greater proportion of mis-focussed shots using autofocus. This can be corrected using the optional USB dock, but I wouldn’t relish the prospect as the problem seems to be quite random. It might also mess up focussing on the 5dMk2 which is fine out of the box and the camera this will be used on most of the time.

Why this is may be down to the less sophisticated AF in the 60D, or just the fact that it’s an older camera – on a 70D it might be fine. I’ll stick to using manual focussing at apertures less than f4 – it’s not that difficult when you’re used to it, and the results are spectacularly good when you get it right. Alternatively use live view where the results should be 100% in focus.

All in all, an excellent lens if you’re prepared to put some work in. Resolution at f1.4 is breathtakingly good at both centre and edge. Some may think it too sharp for a portrait lens, and as an 80mm equivalent its ideally suited to portraiture. However it’s easy to soften a sharp image, but not so easy the other way round!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful!

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

Initial Impressions – The Sigma 50mm F1.4 ‘Art’ on a 5D MK2 (lots of images)

I don’t usually post about modern lenses – there are lots of reviews out there already of any photographic kit made recently. However, this is the exception which proves the rule as this promises to be one of the best third-party lenses of recent years. All shots taken on a 5D Mk2, processed in DXO Optics 9. DPP (Canon’s RAW developer software) won’t help with distortion etc as this isn’t a Canon lens, but DXO has all the correction profiles available.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

What was hoped for. Contrast, bokeh, colours and sharpness (including spider’s web). A good start to say the least.

Having been distinctly unimpressed by the weak construction of the Canon 50mm f1.4 (it needed a £150 repair after a slight knock) I started looking around for a replacement, and there isn’t that much available which is affordable (i.e. not the Canon 50mm f1.2), optically sound and well-built. There is the manual focus Zeiss Otus available, but as I don’t have £3k+ free it’s a non starter (I’ve had cars cheaper than that).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Left – Canon 24-105mm f4 ‘L’, centre the Sigma 50mm f1.4, and for comparison with the way things were done in the past, the compact and excellent Zuiko OM 50mm f1.4. Amazingly the Zuiko is the equivalent of the Sigma!

Onto the lens. It’s big and heavy! It feels about as heavy as a Canon 24-105 f4 and it’s around the same size. Much has been made of this, but as I’m now used to the size and weight of the 24-104 on a 5D Mk2 it’s not really a problem. Build quality is excellent, the autofocus is quiet and the whole thing exudes a feeling of quality. Costing £700 it should I suppose!

Using Live View (CDAF) the focussing as fast as any lens on the 5D Mk2 (ie slow), using the viewfinder (PDAF) it’s as fast as the 24-105. Low light focussing seems as good as the 24-105 too.

Is it any better than the Canon 50mm f1.4 in the sharpness dept? At f1.4 through to f5.6, definitely and noticeably yes. After f5.6 they’re about the same.

Here’s the full picture in this quick test :-

_MG_8950_DxOs

What a surprise – it’s The Mill again!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f1.4 centre – excellent for a 1.4 –

Update – having tested manual focus on a 60D here this may be ever so slightly out of focus when using autofocus – a little AF tuning required. Having done some MFA in camera adjustments -5 seems the best compromise for all distances (the correction required is different at various distances).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Here’s the result using Live View and manual focus shot on a different day – much more like it!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f1.4 edge using autofocus and slightly mis-focussed – the trees are out of focus even at these distances (see later shots)

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 centre – AF

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 edge

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f4 centre – as good as it gets

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f4 edge

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f5.6 centre – astonishingly sharp!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f5.6 edge – and again.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 centre

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 edge – things soften slightly at f16.

 

What’s noticeable other than the superb sharpness, is that at wider apertures, the trees which are 100 yards or so further behind the chimney in the edge shots out of focus – see the shots at f8 where they are. This narrow a depth of field isn’t something you’d expect for a 50mm lens focussed close to infinity, illustrating just how important accurate AF is. For a much more professional discussion about this see Roger Cicala’s excellent post about using fast lenses here.

This shallow depth of field ‘problem’ explains why some users are initially disappointed with the results from fast lenses – these lenses are difficult to use wide open, you need to be very precise with your focus point and shoot a few shots each time as the focus can vary slightly – even a tiny amount with this narrow margin for error can be disastrous.

Let’s try another shot:-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Autumn on the way (at f2.5)

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Centre crop – that is very sharp.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Top centre crop – very sharp too.

Depth if field at close distances is tiny as you would expect :-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

The Siggy at around two feet (60cm) at 1.4 – a centre 1/3 crop of a frame and that depth of field is around 1/8th of an inch (2-3mm). To get more in focus the focus point would need to be the centre of the bell rather than the bottom and maybe use f2.8. You need to be careful with this lens!

Contrast at 1.4 is OK, but picks up quickly – by f4 the lens shows quite strong contrast – maybe a ‘neutral’ rather than ‘standard’ colour profile would be best if you like to shoot JPEGs.

Colours are very good to excellent straight from the RAW files, with a tendency towards a cooler neutral look (the Canon 50mm f1.4 produced ‘warmer’ results) :-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

It’s all going on here – shallow DOF, contrast, colour and bokeh!

 

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

My stand in portrait model at f2 – the hair really is blue.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A crop from the centre. Focus on the eye is spot on!

Bokeh when the background is deeply out of focus is lovely, but when it’s ‘almost’ in focus it can be bit ‘busy’ :-

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Very out of focus bokeh – this is as good as the old Helios 85mm f2 used in previous posts!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A full range of ‘out of focus-ness’. The intermediate distance bokeh displaying a slight degree of jitter with a detailed subject.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

This subject though – because it has less detail than the leaves – fades smoothly into soft bokeh.

Chromatic aberration is evident at wide apertures but DXO corrects it very well (sometimes with the manual sliders) –

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A crop from the above – a hint of slight green and magenta on out of focus areas but for a shot at 1.4 this is excellent.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Centre(ish) crop

I didn’t need to do any lens callibration focus adjustments on the 5dMk2 (the Canon rather huffily just reports ’50mm’ for the lens in the MF adjustments screen!), and it looks as if it’s also fine on the 60D though this needs proper testing. I only ever use the centre focus point – edge points may not be as accurate.

I haven’t worried about vignetting – DXO does an excellent job of removing it (I didn’t see any in other words). I also tried to get some flare without the lens hood attached but wasn’t successful, which may mean the lens hood isn’t needed….

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

So, all as advertised it seems, but who is going to buy one given the price (3x the Canon version) and the weight? Other than me obviously.

It seems to me that this lens offers an alternative to the fast/sharp in the centre/blurry at the edge/heavily vignetted fast prime ‘look’ which has been accepted for years. To have a f1.4 lens which is sharp wide open at the edges opens up some interesting opportunities, whilst allowing for ultra sharp images across the frame at f5.6 onwards. Photographers who would like to make the most of this new wide aperture ‘look’ will find this attractive.

The weight is a non issue in my humble opinion  – if you’re carrying a full frame DSLR with a 24-104mm or 24-70mm zoom you already don’t care about weight and do care about maximum image quality (if you do care about the weight you may have the wrong camera system!).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Based on this initial series of images, the Sigma produces some of the best results I’ve seen. It’s not the easiest lens to use – where you place your focus point is critical, and choosing backgrounds with less detail provides better bokeh at mid distances (a universal rule not specific to this lens). If it had a proper aperture ring and image stabilisation it would be perfect!

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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

p.s I have no connection with Sigma – just using their products

Zuiko 50mm F1.4 on a 5D Mk2

A post from last year tested this lens on a Canon 60D, and found it to be an excellent manual focus alternative to a modern AF lens. As my Canon 50mm f1.4 is going for repair after a bash resulting in misaligned lens elements, the older 50mm has been resurrected. To illustrate the difference in construction quality, the all metal constructed Zuiko is 34 years old and has been knocked around over the years. The modern plastic made Canon lens has lasted 6 months of light use and failed at the first collision …..

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Doing what it does best at 1.4. Shallow depth of field, heavy vignetting, and an ‘expensive’ look.

Anyway, gripe over, is it as good on a full frame sensor as on a crop sensor? On the 60D it’s a 80mm-ish equivalent lens, on the 5dMk2 it’s a proper 50mm.  You would use this as a general purpose standard lens on the 5DMK2 to create shallow depth of field effects, half length portraits and in low light – 1.4 is very fast. The filter thread is an economical 49mm, hence the B+W filter – unusual as I’m usually too cheap to pay for expensive filters. The EF to OM adaptor is the same old Fotodiox used for earlier posts.

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Mounted on the 5DMK2 body – maybe a little on the small side for this body but it works well.

It looks a little small on the bulky 5dMk2, but not ridiculously so. It’s quite heavy and doesn’t protrude too much so is nicely balanced. Focussing is easy at f1.4 on the standard focussing screen.

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Close focus at f1.4 is tricky as any slight movement after focussing moves the shallow depth of focus area – literally millimetres deep! Focus bracket if it’s a good shot. This figure is around 12 inches high.

Right then, onto the test area – the mill. It’s effectively a brick wall, but a very scenic one. If you don’t like looking at test results, look away now (well scroll down to the conclusion anyway). All shots processed in DXP Optics Pro 9, downsized and resized in Photoshop.

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

The full test frame.

At f1.4 :-

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

f1.4 centre crop

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

f1.4 edge

Soft and rather ‘ethereal’. Not bad for f1.4

At f2.8 :-

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

2.8 centre

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

2.8 edge

No problems here.

At f5.6 :-

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

f5.6 centre

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

f5.6 edge

Or here…

At f11 :-

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

f11 centre

Canon 5dMk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

f11 edge

At 1.4 images are a little soft with low contrast as you might expect, but by f2.8 things are sharp, the contrast has improved and the vignetting has disappeared. An excellent result all round and very useable, with performance peaking at f5.6 to f8.

Just out of curiosity I also shot this test frame using a 24-104mm L series lens at f8 at 50mm for comparison purposes.

Canon 5dMk2 24-105mm L f4

Canon 5dMk2 24-105mm L f4

The L series has an advantage as DXO knows what lens is attached so can do lens specific corrections, distortion correction and bespoke sharpening – something it can’t do for the Zuiko. The Zuiko can’t match the modern zoom for biting sharpness in the centre, but it is three stops faster and looking at these full size on a monitor (rather than pixel peeping) I’m not sure I’d notice the difference.

Canon 5d Mk2 Zuiko 50mm f1.4

The slightly greenish hue to out of focus areas is a feature of the old Zuiko (and many fast lenses).

In conclusion, it’s just as good on the 5dMk2 as it was on the 60D, with shallower depth of field (see equivalence), a super fast f1.4 max aperture and an ability to produce images with real ‘depth’. Get hold of one if you can. I’m rather glad I didn’t sell it six months ago!

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

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.

Canon 5d Mk 2 Meets a Helios 85mm f2

Having just got my hands on a new (well new to me) 5D Mk2, my first thought was – how does my favourite MF lens perform on the full frame body? It’s a bit of a star on a crop frame 60D (review with lens specs here) so I’ve high hopes. Here’s a first test batch of lightly processed shots all shot at 100 ISO with a ‘Neutral’ colour profile :-

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

The smooth bokeh looks slightly better than the 60D – looks like a good start.

Focussing is pretty easy at f2 just using the default focussing screen – just make sure your viewfinder dioptre adjustment is correct (it’s the small wheel to the top right of the viewfinder when the camera is viewed from the rear).

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

This heavy lump of a lens overwhelms smaller cameras like an Oly EPL5. On the heavy 5D it’s much more evenly balanced.

The same mount adaptor as the previous test has been used – a cheap M42 to Canon EF from Ebay which cost £10. As it’s so cheap (and so am I apparently) the lens doesn’t align properly (see above). Not that it matters…

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

On a bright day the 1/8000th second shutter speed still isn’t quite short enough at f2 and 100 ISO) so carrying an ND filter might be a good idea.

The 5D’s metering is more confused by this lens than the 60D – exposures were all over the place using centre weighted and evaluative modes. If you’re going to try this make sure you shoot in RAW as there’s going to be quite a lot of post processing involved. All the images will need a substantial contrast boost and a manual ‘levels’ adjustment as a simple ‘auto levels’ isn’t enough.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

This is an elaborate scarecrow standing in for a portrait model on a sunny day. The hair should be blue, it’s not white balance problem!

The major difference between using this lens on a full frame sensor vs a crop APS-C sensor is that it now has a proper 85mm focal length, not a 135mm equivalent. Where you can easily fill the frame with a subject on the 60D, on the 5D you need to get closer, and for the first time the minimum 80cm focus distance becomes a restriction.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

Close focus results are rather nice too.

So time for a proper mini test and back to the mill : –

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

Here’s the frame – with a wonky horizon but never mind…

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

At f2 – the edge of the frame and not that good, but nothing much was expected here. This is a soft portrait lens after all.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

Centre at f2 – a slight max aperture ‘sheen’ but not too bad.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

f8 and much better – as they should be at this aperture. There a hint of chromatic aberration but not much. Things start to tidy up around f4 but f8 is best.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

f8, centre of the frame and it’s tidied up nicely.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

f16 edge – still good.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

centre at f16 – very good indeed!

So – pretty much an identical performance as on the 60D which is a surprise, especially at the edge of the frame which the cropped frame 60D doesn’t ‘see’. The odd orange tint seen on the 60D wasn’t present in any of these shots.

It’s very useable for general photography past f5.6. At f2 – f4 it excels as a specialist lens for producing ‘portrait mode’/narrow depth of field/soft bokeh images – just what it was designed for 50+ years ago! What’s encouraging is that it still does a cracking job on full frame digital which means I’d better do a few tests on my old Zuiko collection…..

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

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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.

Another Roll of Expired Film

I’ve got a long term fascination with shooting old film. The results are hit and miss, but all the better for it!

This roll expired in 2003, a roll of Fuji Superia, exposed at 100 ASA, one stop overexposure relative to it’s original speed of 200 ASA. All shot on an OM2N with a 50mm f1.4 and a neutral density filter (x8) to allow wider apertures. The processing was standard lab C41 with no special instructions.

The subject is a vintage car rally, with lots of old cars with what are now relatively unknown names. Wolseley anyone?fuji4

This film seems to age with a preference for a blue hue which I personally like, but others may not. The softness of the light is like flare, but it in this light it couldn’t be – the sun was behind me.

fuji18

Finally a really typical image on old film – these aren’t manipulated with any software – just straight off the scanner with some levels adjustments. Ten years hasn’t done much for the grain in the final images, but it’s all part of the process.

fuji20

If you’re lucky enough to be given an old roll of film, don’t throw it away – use it! The results may be be more interesting than you anticipated!

Thanks for looking, hope you like them.

Some More From the Zuiko 50mm F1.4

Been trying something simple today – just one fixed focal length lens on the Canon 60D – the lovely Zuiko 50mm f1.4. Having only one focal length really makes you work for the pictures but the results are usually better – especially when used at a wide aperture to give a narrow depth of field. All shots required a bit of post processing as the exposures and colours can be slightly off using old MF lenses – easily fixed in RAW though.

The butterflies were quite still this morning – allowing me to approach to around 50 cm.

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Without the help of the 60D’s 1/8000th of a second shutter the use of such a wide aperture on a sunny would be impossible at ISO 100 without a neutral density filter (which I always forget to carry with me).

This note tied to a branch by a ribbon is at the ‘Wish Tree’ at Knowlton (see previous posts), an evocative location at all times of the year.

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Same location for this home made pendant. The 50mm’s out of focus areas never disappoint!

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Finally in an attempt to get a ‘different’ angle on the ruined church, a shot from down the road through the roadside grasses.

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As always – taken for the book cover market – hope you like them!

A full review of the lens on this blog is here, or have a look at several Zuiko lens reviews on the “Film, Camera and Lens Review Index” tap at the top of the page if you’re interested.