The Sony A7R and a Zuiko 21mm f3.5

It’s been ages since I posted anything here (sorry!), mainly because I haven’t bought any more lenses! This nice 21mm f3.5 was swapped for my Zuiko 18mm earlier in the year as it was a bit too wide for my tastes, and really I always wanted the 21mm. It hasn’t been used that much so far so I thought I’d give it a proper test and share the results. Wandering round with just this lens was an interesting experience for someone who’s current favourite focal length is 50mm – sometimes it seemed just too wide an angle of view.           Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Physically it’s tiny and light – about the same size as my 50mm f1.8, 1 1/4 inches long (3cm ish) and it weighs 7 1/2 ounces (212 g) so very portable. The angle of view is 92 degrees and a very close focussing distance of 8 inches (or 20cm) to infinity focus is achieved in around 1/4 of a turn. And of course being a Zuiko it’s very well made too. It matches the A7R very well as do most of the smaller Zuikos. The A7R’s love of a default 1/60th of a second in ‘A’ mode with MF lenses is also nothing to worry about at 21 mm.

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Five apertures to choose from – 3.5 to 16 and a focussing ring – can’t get much simpler than that.

The filter thread is the normal 49mm screw in, but even thin filters cause vignetting so I’ve stopped using them on this lens, so no polarizer or NDs unless you’re prepared to do some cropping in PP.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

At f3.5 and insanely close, this is the best bokeh I could manage. Using a 21mm lens as a macro lens is – er- eccentric to say the least.

Focussing using focus magnify works well, though at smaller apertures it’s more difficult as there’s a lot in focus, and the changes when the focus ring is turned are fairly subtle. The ‘focus peaking’ feature is pretty useless with lenses as wide as this for the same reason. As with the 18mm, the depth of field scale is pretty optimistic and the zone of really sharp focus is narrower than you might expect – in other words, always use ‘focus magnify’!

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Starburst at f16 (with a tiny amount of flare)- not bad at all if you like this sort of thing. Shadows pulled up in PP (the A7R is brilliant for this).

I couldn’t provoke much flare on a sunny day – this lens seems excellent in this respect. I did find an odd circular internal reflection in one shot when the sun was pretty much in the centre of the image which I quite like :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Native vignetting is moderate at f3.5, gone by f5.6 :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f3.5 – nowhere near as bad as the 18mm but then few things are. I can live with this and even use it occasionally.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f5.6 – hardly noticable and it doesn’t reappear at other apertures.

Distortion when pointed upwards is obvious – what you’d expect really from an ultra-wide :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

This was taken with a slim UV filter but its still vignetting!

Close distance distortion is also remarkably low – this was taken very close to the fence and is uncorrected :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

OK – it’s all looking good so far, what about the resolution? All of these are straight RAW conversions so note that the minimal CA and distortion could be cleaned up quite easily. Here’s the test scene (same as earlier in the post), edge crop from the centre left.

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f3.5, the edge crop darkened by the natural vignetting of the lens.

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f5.6

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f8

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

f11

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 21mm f3.5

So – optimal between f5.6 and f8, tailing off slightly at f11 and f16 (not shown). Quite predictable really. However this is a remarkably consistent performance across the aperture range with minimal CA wide open. It’s nice and sharp in the centre at all apertures, but the edges are never really achieve the same resolution.

In conclusion then, apart from the edge performance which I’d call ‘good’ (or ‘good enough’ for my purposes) a very good lens. Small, light, low distortion, low CA, sharp in the centre and can do sun stars as a party trick. I might use this lens ten or twenty times a year and for me the positives easily outweigh the negatives so I’m keeping this one! If you use this focal length all the time and need better edge performance something more expensive might be in order.

Second hand they range in price between £200 and £300 which is pretty cheap. As with all older lenses exposures have to be carefully monitored (they tend towards one to two stops of under exposure so watch the histogram), some PP will be required on all images, mainly contrast enhancement but the clarity slider in CS is remarkably useful too.

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking!

 

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.

A Zuiko 50mm f1.8 on a Sony A7R

In the last of this series of mini-tests of OM Zuiko lenses on an A7R, the very humble 50mm f1.8 is under scrutiny this time. This one came ‘free’ with a second-hand OM2N a few years ago and until now hasn’t been used – my usual 50mm lens choice is my 50mm f1.4 which I’ve used for 34 years (a good investment!).

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

Bokeh wide open close up.

These were made in their tens (if not hundreds) of thousands by Olympus, being the ‘standard’ lens on OM series cameras for many years. They were slowly improved over three decades (1972 – 2002) gaining multi coating and improved designs and are often overlooked due to their cheapness, humble appearance and the fact that they were the ‘kit lens’ of their day. Let’s have a look.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

From above, tiny, light and very portable.

As you’d expect it’s of all metal construction, light (160g or 6 oz), around 3cm long, min focus is around 40cm, apertures run from f1.8 to f16 and it takes 49mm filters – all standard stuff and typical of what makes OM Zuikos so attractive to use.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R

This is an ‘F Zuiko’ marked lens (meaning six elements) – it doesn’t help date it though (unless you know different!).

Everything on this mid-period still works smoothly, the focus mechanism is smooth and nicely geared though this version of the lens doesn’t appear to be multi coated. There are unfortunately only six aperture blades – eight would be better for out of focus highlights.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Personally I shoot a lot at 50mm – just familiarity I suppose, and the fact that most of my book cover stuff looks natural and undistorted at this focal length.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Depth of field at f1.8 is minimal as you’d expect. Here you can see some of those out of focus highlights have a bright outer rim which can look quite distracting in some shots especially if the highlights are many and close together. I think it’s quite attractive – it’s definitely different to the Zuiko 50mm f1.4’s very soft mushy bokeh – but you may not! It may not be a ‘problem’ with later versions of the lens so don’t let it put you off.

Here are a few more shots to illustrate the bokeh.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Enough about the performance wide open – where some sharpness is sacrificed for subject isolation – how about its performance at f8 (the theoretical optimal aperture for  edge to edge sharpness)?

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

Pin sharp at f8

Pixel peeping this it looks very good! No chromatic aberration, edges very sharp and no distortion.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

At f2.8 sharpness picks up quickly and keeps a shallow depth of field.

So – with a hint of excitement – a proper test across apertures.

The whole frame (on a dull day). Crops from the centre and the top right.

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f1.8

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f4

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f8

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

f16

centre

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

edge

Zuiko 50mm f1.8, Sony A7R, Arcangel

At f1.8 it’s quite hazy and soft with some chromatic aberration and a slight amount of vignetting, but by f4 the centre is excellent and by f8 it’s excellent across the whole frame. By f16 – as always – things are going downhill again.

Using old prime lenses on a 36Mp full frame sensor is always going to push them to their limits and means putting up with some corner softness or chromatic aberration. This lens at f8 though does – amazingly – get very close to using all of that sensor resolution across the frame with no nasty side effects. Despite being single coated, I haven’t seen any flare problems either, but I have been using a lens hood during a mainly cloudy late summer. The only oddity is those bright edged out of focus highlights at maximum aperture which I like anyway!

I have to say it’s better in the corners than the other OM 50’s tested so far (my much-loved 1.4 and the 3.5 macro), f1.8 is only slightly slower than f1.4, so I’ll go as far to say to any A7R user – just get one! At £30 it’s the best value lens you’ll find. Later versions of the lens are reputed to be even better!

Watermarked shots have been post processed and have been accepted by my rather picky agency Arcangel in case you were wondering.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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

There’s an informative page here on OM lens history here if you’d like a look :- http://esif.world-traveller.org/om-sif/lensgroup/lensterms.htm

 

 

The Zuiko 24mm f2.8 on a Sony A7R

Continuing this series of mini reviews of my favourite old lenses on the beefy A7R’s 36Mp sensor, this time it’s the turn of the tiny Zuiko 24mm f2.8. This was a cracker of a lens on the APSC Canon 60D so I’m hoping for lots of good things…. All shots taken in RAW mode and ‘developed’ in DXO Optics 9 using default settings.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

The 24mm doing what it does best – cramming lots of landscape into the frame.

The most striking thing about this all metal lens is its size – a shade more than 3cm (1 1/4 inches) long and weighs in at 220g (7.8 oz). It has almost the same dimensions as the Zuiko 50mm f1.8, and is about as small as it’s possible to make a manual focus lens and keep it useable. It accepts 49mm filter, apertures run from 2.8 to 16, the minimum focus distance is about 25cm and the aperture is – unfortunately – made up of only six blades which means hexagonal bokeh – if you ever see it with such a wide-angle lens.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Take off the lens cap and the filter and it’s even smaller!

Ergonomically on the A7r it’s perfect – the focussing ring is smooth and well geared and the camera/lens combo is wonderfully light and easy to use.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

This looks like a mid era model – maybe late 1980’s?

With an angle of view of 84 degrees it’s noticeably wider than a Zuiko 28mm lens (75 degrees) and not that far off an 18 mm lens (100 degrees) or the 21mm Zuiko (92 degrees). With this level of ‘wide angle-ness’ verticals start to heavily distort if the camera isn’t parallel with the subject so unless you really like correcting this in pp, be careful!

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Just a slight tip upwards produces converging vertical. Fixed easily in pp.

Vignetting is obvious at f2.8, gradually fading to nothing by f8 – nowhere near as bad as the Zuiko 18mm f3.5 at max aperture (few lenses are!) but something to bear in mind.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Sharp, good colour and snappy contrast – looks good.

The contrast and colour are all as good as they were on the Canon 60D, but the A7R seems to over saturate greens with this lens which is odd but there you go.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

This isn’t the worst example of flare I could have shown – it’s just that it’s so ugly when it happens I didn’t want to take the shot!

Flare is a big problem with this lens, and the hexagonal nature of the aperture makes things worse. To be fair, most old MF lenses suffer from flare to some degree but this is worse than most. A lens hood won’t help much on such a wide-angle lens so you just have to be careful and recompose if necessary.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

That contrast and colour again – excellent.

Chromatic aberration is minimal, probably removed easily by DXO Optics 9 when processing the RAW files for this test, so a major plus.

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

It’s possible to create some nice converging lines by getting in close and letting the wide-angle distortion do it’s ‘thing’.

Resolution then – on to the mill.

The whole frame (showing that vignetting nicely at f2.8).

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f2.8

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f5.6

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f11

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

f16 (just for completeness)

Centre

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

Edge

Sony A7R, Zuiko 24mm f2.8

The positive first then – the superb resolution at the centre is obvious from f5.6 to f11 just as it was on the Canon 60D. f5.6 is especially impressive. The obvious problem though is edge resolution – it’s very poor at f3.5, cleans up a little by f11 where it’s still not that good, and by f16 everything is starts to fall apart again due to diffraction. Quite a disappointment as I had high hopes for this lens.

This doesn’t appear to be a problem with the adaptor as the right hand side of the frame is just as bad as the left. I mention this after reading Lensrentals analysis of using adaptors with non-native lenses here (it’s an interesting article!).

All in all then, something of a mixed bag on a full frame camera. Centre resolution is excellent at the right apertures, colour and contrast are good, chromatic aberration never makes much of an appearance and distortion is controllable if it’s used properly. It’s wonderfully small and light and a joy to use. Set against that is pretty terrible flare, vignetting till f8 and the poor edge resolution.

If you aren’t too picky this isn’t bad for the price (sub £100), but it’s effectively a 24mm f5.6 (to f11) lens if you want the best results and I would imagine a modern zoom lens would beat it hands down at the edges (maybe not the centre!). On an APSC sensor where the weak edge definition and vignetting don’t matter so much it’s a different story, and for smaller sensors I can heartily recommend it as a 35mm – 40mm standard lens. For full frame sensors though it’s not quite so easy to recommend.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

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

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 Zuiko 135 f3.5 and a Sony A7R

Recent posts have reviewed some fairly expensive Zuikos (expensive for old MF lenses anyway). This post is about the very humble 135 f3.5 – available for around £30 in the UK for a clean copy. Surely even I can’t expect such a basic lens to produce results anywhere near the 36Mp A7R’s sensors potential?

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

Nice colour (with a quick auto levels), default DXO sharpening and little else – looks good.

135mm is at the long end of my usual working focal lengths so assembling enough shots for this test was good fun. All shot in RAW and converted using DXO Optics.

The lens is small and light as you would expect for a slow Zuiko (325g/11.4 oz in weight and around 7 1/2 cm or 3 inches long). The adaptor adds some length to the combination but it’s strikingly small on the A7R for a telephoto lens and balances well on the small body.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

There isn’t enough telephoto ‘oomph’ to really isolate features in a landscape but taking a wider angle approach produces pleasing results – well to me anyway!

The angle of view is 18 degrees, minimum focus is a disappointing 1.5 m/4 feet, it accepts 49mm filters and the apertures run from f3.5 to f22. There is a built-in lens hood, and 5 elements in four groups make up the optical formula. The aperture is made up of eight blades giving a more or less circular aperture.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

With the lens hood extended this looks like a larger’ lens than it is. In reality it’s pretty small and easy to carry.

Trying to squeeze the most resolution out of a lens means using it at f5.6 to f11, so the slow maximum aperture isn’t that much of a problem and cuts down the weight. It’s not terribly easy to focus at these apertures, so for the first time I resorted to focussing at f3.5 then stopping down when I couldn’t see things in critical focus. Using the focus magnify feature of the A7R is quite difficult as the image jumps around much more than shorter focal lengths.  As always, the depth of field scale is optimistic – so don’t trust it!

At 135mm there’s some moderate telephoto compression, evident in the landscape shot below.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The lens hood does a good job or preventing flare and I saw no vignetting at any aperture. I have noticed a blueish cast to some shots though that’s correctable with a white balance tweak – auto white balance isn’t a strength of the A7R. As always the A7R’s exposures (with the help of the zebra over exposure warning) were spot on.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The minimum focus distance of 1.5m/4 feet isn’t going to win any macro awards, but it can still get moderately close and produce some pleasant if slightly busy bokeh. f5.6.

Wide open at close focussing distances  at f3.5 the bokeh becomes better.

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

Not bad for f3.5

To avoid camera shake use shutter priority of 1/250th or 1/500th of a second and auto ISO but keep an eye out for under exposure at smaller apertures as you hit your max ISO limit – mine is set at ISO 1600 – and all will be fine.

F3.5 isn’t ever going to produce blurred away backgrounds at moderate to longer focussing distances. The shot below is an example of this – perfectly sharp, in focus and pretty detailed, just not much subject isolation. Having said that f3.5 is around what you’ll achieve on a consumer grade 70-300mm lens at 135mm and this is probably sharper!

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

A 2/3 crop and not bad at f3.5

The ‘scientific’ test then at the mill. The subject fills the frame here in stark contrast to the last time I took test shots with the 18mm f3.5!

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

The full test frame

f3.5 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f3.5 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f8 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f8 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f16 centre

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

f16 edge

Zuiko 135mm f3.5, Sony A7R

At f3.5 there’s some chromatic aberration and the edges are a bit vague – no surprises there then. What is a surprise is how good things are at f8 (and f5.6) – sharp to the edge of the frame, softening slightly by f16. The slight (4-5 pixels) of chromatic aberration at f3.5 disappears by f5.6.

In conclusion then this is a solid and sensible (if unspectacular) lens on the A7R at mid apertures. It’s a huge bargain, especially given it’s cost, light weigh and portability. Just don’t expect miracles when it comes to bokeh, contrast or subject isolation using it’s maximum aperture. It’s earned the small place in the camera bag it takes up for when I next need it. It’s not resolving 36Mp – maybe 20? – but it’s good enough for my occasional use of this focal length. If your needs are different it may be best to look elsewhere – and spend a lot more!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

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

Solving the Zuiko 18mm f3.5 Filter ‘Problem’

The last post was a quick review of the Zuiko 18mm f3.5 on a Sony A7R. The only nagging problem was how to attach filters given that the front of the lens bulges about 3mm out from the lens housing. Olympus made a filter step up ring for this purpose, but as it’s now very difficult to find it’s expensive – £100 or more. As long exposures or video shooting require neutral density filters this needed to be fixed.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The 18mm doing what it does best…

The two problems are that the step up ring(s) needs to be deep enough so that the filter doesn’t foul the front lens element, but the deeper the step up ring the greater the chance of vignetting (this lens has an angle of view of 100 degrees or so). A simple 49-77mm step up wasn’t going to work.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The front lens element bulging out from the lens – it looks vulnerable and prevents flat 49mm filters being used.

The solution was to use not one step up ring but two. The first, a 49mm to 58 mm provides a thread 2mm further away from the lens, then a 58mm to 77mm adds a further 2mm. The 77mm filters are wide enough they don’t darken the edges of the shots (vignetting). I’d like to say I did some careful calculations to work all this out but I can’t – I ordered a cheap 58-77mm step up and it just worked so sheer luck really. 77mm was chosen as the filter size because I have several pricey neutral density filters in this size.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5, step up rings, filters

From the top – a UV filter, the 58-77mm step up and below that the 49-58mm step up.

One unexpected benefit is that the step up rings will stop my the tip of my left index finger wandering into the bottom left hand corner of the frame – this happens a lot due to the wide angle of view!

Zuiko 18mm f3.5, step up rings, filters

Not the slickest appearance – but the ‘proper’ Oly solution looks about the same and costs a lot more. It does look impressive from the front though.

Problem solved for around £2 (I already had the 49mm to 58mm ring) so a definite result. It’s an ‘assemble on site’ solution as it’s not that strong and would probably get damaged in a camera bag.

Zuiko 18mm f3.5

Not a long exposure requiring a filter – just a nice shot from yesterday using the 18mm,  included purely because I like it!

The audience for this incredibly niche post is tiny – but if you’ve got this lens (or are thinking of buying it) hopefully you’ll find it useful!

The Sony A7R and a Zuiko 18mm f3.5

This mini review features a rather rare and exotic wide-angle optic which has a great reputation as a film era lens on digital – the tiny Zuiko 18mm f3.5. However, 36Mp of A7R resolution (without an anti-alias filter over the sensor) will stretch any lens so this will be pushing this classic lens to its limits.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The classic wide angle shot – lots of sky, deep depth of field (but see later in the text!) and a dramatic perspective.

It’s a manual focus lens obviously, and the depth of field scale would suggest you really don’t need autofocus at all – the depth of field is infinity to 1/2 a metre (3 feet) at f16. The catch though is that – as with all the other old lenses tested so far – it’s really a lot less than that for critical focus. High resolution digital sensors mercilessly expose any lack of sharpness and although 35mm film covered the same area as the Sony’s sensor I get the feeling that hardly anyone checked sharpness in the same way with film as we do now with digital images. In other words – you’ll still need to focus using the focus magnify feature on the A7R.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The tiny and exotic looking 18mm from above. A minimal set of controls – a focussing ring and five aperture stops. There’s no room for a front facing cosmetic ring giving the serial number/spec so it’s printed around the edge of the lens (the bit that looks like a filter but isn’t). This one has a serial number 102085 (no 2085?). The serial number on my Zuiko 50mm f1.8 is 1494292 – I think they made more of those!

Physically it’s tiny – around the same size as the Zuiko 50mm f1.8. Weighing in at 267g (around 10 oz) it’s solidly built with a slightly shinier surface than most Zuikos, and feels quite dense. What’s most striking is the bulbous front element which protrudes from the front of the lens by around 2mm at the centre and looks vulnerable to damage (I remove the deep ‘slide on’ lens cap, take the picture and put the cap straight back on). Minimum focus is 25 cm and focus goes from infinity to minimum in around 90 degrees of a turn of the focussing ring.

There is a 49 mm thread fitted and Olympus made a now rare and expensive 49mm to 72mm step up ring for filter use. I’ll be experimenting with how to sort out this problem later but suffice to say standard filters won’t fit and I don’t want to pay £100+ for a step up ring!

 

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

That amazing front element hides a complex set of internal lens elements and is quite hypnotic to look into!

According to my old Oly lens catalogue (circa 1980) the lens features an automatic correction mechanism to prevent degradation of lens performance at close focussing distances – nearly all wide Zuiko prime lenses do this too.

A 28mm lens has an angle of view of 75 degrees, an 18mm sees 100 degrees so quite a difference, especially in a cramped interior where you can’t step any further back. The cost of using an ultra wide angle is usually strong distortion, flare and soft frame edges – these lenses aren’t easy to design or use and often suffer from poor edge performance.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 28mm f2

The Zuiko 28mm f2 75 degree angle of view – note the slight purple internal flare below the altar.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The 100 degree view of the 18mm – quite a difference and no internal reflections but a slight haze around the light source. I’ve been caught out a few times by including the top edge of my finger as it supports the front of the lens – this really is a wide angle lens.

After using the lens for a day vignetting stood out as a ‘feature’ at f3.5 – it’s very noticable in some shots! In trying to correct the darker edges in DXO a reddish colour cast was introduced so you can’t work around it either. It’s pretty much gone by f8 and isn’t that much of a problem as to get the best resolution you’ll need f5.6-f11 anyway, but it’s worth pointing out. You could use it creatively I suppose – I don’t think I will be though!

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

Hammer House of Horror would be pleased with vignetting at f3.5 (more or less gone by f8). Unless you really like this effect use f5.6 or ideally f8 to f16. Depending on the composition it can be devastatingly obvious or not that obvious at all.

Flare is usually a problem with ultrawides. With so much in the picture the sun often makes an appearance and with all those lens elements internal reflections can become a problem (lens hoods aren’t that much use either as they’re so shallow). Happily I can report that I had to deliberately engineer a shot to see anything significant and other than this example I saw no flare which was distracting.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The worst flare/internal reflections I could manage. Pointing the camera upwards as in this shot produces these converging verticals.

I found only a little purple/green chromatic aberration when looking for it – the example below illustrates it quite well. It can be easily removed in post-processing but honestly, I wouldn’t bother as it’s virtually insignificant in most shots – a few pixels at most (a few in 36Mp isn’t that much!).

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The whole shot

_DSC1284ECA_DxO2b

Large crop from the top right.

Close up distortion -well distortion in general really – is minimal. I haven’t seen any pincushion distortion or bent horizons which is remarkable in itself. Pointing the lens upwards will obviously produce converging verticals, but with the camera more or less level the images don’t give away that they were taken with an ultra wide at all.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

At f8 – still a little vignetting (easily removed at this severity) but good sharpness and colour saturation and very little chromatic aberration – excellent! This doesn’t look like an 18mm shot at all – more like a 28mm.

Close up distortion is pretty minimal too :-

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

You’re thinking – ‘so what?’ aren’t you! This was taken about two feet away from the window and there’s no distortion at all in an uncorrected image – that is remarkable. The 24mm end of a high quality zoom would have the centre looking like it was bulging out of the picture.

On to the mill for the acid test :-

f3.5

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The full frame at f3.5 with vignetting obvious

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

A large centre crop and OK ish. Not great it must be said.

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

The edge at f3.5 is so dark, sharpness is difficult to judge. Unless you like strong vignetting it’s irrelevant, but if you do it’s OK – I can just read some of the wording on the sign.

 

f8

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

f8 centre and looking very good – not amazing but this is a 18mm lens – not a 50mm!

Sony A7r, Zuiko 18mm f3.5

f8 at the edge.

At f3.5 things are fairly good in the centre, but edge definition is completely masked by vignetting (possibly a good thing!) By f5.6 things have sharpened up nicely, f8 is optimal and, as usual, slight softness is created by diffraction at f16 but the differences between f5.6 and f16 aren’t very noticeable. As you might expect, the edges of such a wide-angle lens are slightly softer than the centre at all apertures but the centre is pretty good – maybe an 8/10. These have been processed using DXO Optics 9 with straightforward default RAW conversion. I’ll have a play around to see if I can squeeze a little but more sharpness out of them using micro-contrast and sharpening controls.

At £300 plus this doesn’t fall into the usual ‘cheap and very good’ category of for Zuiko MF lenses (£300 doesn’t buy many modern AF lenses either), it always was an expensive and exotic optic.

It must be said that it isn’t making the most of 36Mp of resolution, but it’s resolution is impressive for an ultra wide-angle lens. I doubt that most modern lenses, especially zoom lenses, would be that much better in terms of sharpness on the A7r at this focal length. Where this lens really shines though is its remarkable lack of distortion and tiny amounts of chromatic aberration in such a small package. It’s in a different league to my cheap and cheerful Tokina 17mm f3.5.

So oddly, and I wasn’t expecting this, I’ll conclude that for such an exotic focal length, this is a well behaved solid lens which is consistently ‘sharp enough’ from f5.6 to f16 and, if used with care, produces images which don’t have most of the giveaway signs of an ultra wide angle lens. It would be an excellent lens for photographing architecture and landscapes. Highly recommended – I must try it on my OM2N next!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

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

 

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.

 

 

A Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6 on a Sony A7R

This mini test has been done to try out a free (to me) 1980/1990’s mid range zoom and to test my assumption that only good quality prime lenses are up to the A7R’s 36MP sensor.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Bokeh at f3.5 and 70mm – not too bad at all!

When zooms were being introduced into mainstream 35mm photography it was widely believed that they were grossly inferior to quality primes which put me off using them until partially moving to digital from film in around 2005. Are my old prejudices justified? I had to give it a test!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

In its favour is its diminutive size and light weight. It’s not as small as any individual prime lens in the useful 28-70mm range, but it’s lighter than all three usually used in this range (28,50 and 85). The rear element disappears far into the lens barrel past 50mm which is slightly disconcerting and doesn’t fill me with confidence as it seems to be quite a primitive design. It does have a ‘red ring’ at the front which might appeal to ‘L’ series users – unfortunately it’s not a Canon lens.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

On the A7R – moderately compact and surprisingly good to use.

Carrying just this lens on the camera and no camera bag is rather refreshing. It has a 1:5 macro mode so isn’t a macro lens at all but the close up mode is reached by rotating the zoom ring past 70mm, and it’s better than nothing!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

It’s not a very fast lens – unsurprising given it’s size – but if sharpness rather than spectacular bokeh is your goal you probably won’t move the aperture ring far away from an optimal f8 so it’s no real problem. The aperture is made up of 6 blades giving hexagonal out of focus highlights, the filter size is 52mm and it’s nicely made and satisfyingly compact and dense. The ‘SD’ bit of the name stands for ‘Super Low Dispersion’ lens elements used in the lens to reduce chromatic aberration. We’ll see!

In use it’s controls are nicely balanced and although it doesn’t exude the quality feel of a prime Zuiko lens (oops – Zuikoholic prejudice coming out there!).

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

As a ‘walk around’ macro it’s not bad at all. Pleasing contrast and natural colours here.

Starting with macro – it’s quite useful when wandering around for casual close ups but not for exacting macro work.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Quite pleasing and fun for macro work all in all. The focus aids on the A7R as always managed to nail focus hand held.

Generally it seems like a reasonably sharp and contrasty lens :-

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Onto the acid test then and Kingston Lacy house used as a test subject, all at f8 so as good as this lens is going to get :-

28mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

28mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre and OK

 

28mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge is a bit vague and chromatic aberration will need some more post processing.

 

50mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

50mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – very good

 

50mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

edge – better – optimal on this lens

 

70mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

70mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – good again

 

70mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge – it’s getting vague again…

 

The centres at all focal lengths are ‘good’ to ‘very good’, but the edges of the frame are a bit of a let down. Even at f8 it would take a lot of work to sort these out in post processing.

In conclusion then I’d say it’s a nice, portable lens which does a basic job of covering the 28-70mm focal length range. The edge definition lets it down badly, but the contrast makes up for some of the shortcomings. The A7R is flattering to older lenses based on previous experience, but I’m afraid that the convenience of carrying just a zoom lens doesn’t quite balance out the loss of quality at the edges of the frame so this lens won’t be used again.

Looks like my prejudices were correct based on this lens – the A7R needs the best prime lenses at their optimal aperture to make the most of it’s sensor. Maybe using the ‘crop mode’ to sample just a central APS-C sized portion of the sensor would work, but life – as they say – is too short!

I can’t complain too much – though – this lens was ‘free’!

Thanks for looking – hope this was useful.

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

 

A Zuiko 50mm f3.5 on a Sony A7R

The Zuiko 50mm f3.5 has been the only macro lens I’ve needed over the last ten years or so, and it’s always been a solid, sensible performer on several camera bodies (with adaptors). Having had such good results with some other Zuiko lenses on my Sony A7R it’s next in the list for mini review so here goes :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Vintage image of a Geisha copied from a faded late 19th century book of hand tinted photographs (original A4) now with my agency.

The most striking thing about this lens is that it’s so light – 212g or 7.4oz. It’s slightly longer than a 50mm f1.8 due to the long focus helicoid thread but all in all it could have been made for the A7R. This is obviously a manual focus lens with no autofocus or image stabilisation, attached to the camera with a NEX to OM adaptor. Getting the best out of lenses for the A7R’s sensor requires f5.6 to f11 on most lenses so the rather slow f3.5 maximum aperture isn’t that much or a problem – and best avoided.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

From above at minimum focus – all nice and light and matched perfectly to the A7R.

Focussing at further distances is nice and snappy due to a focus rack of only a few degrees between infinity and 1m/3ft (around 15 degrees I’d guess). The filter size is 49mm, apertures run from f3.5 to f22 and minimum focus is 23 cm where 1:2 macro is achieved (1/2 life-size on the sensor).

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Sadly there are only six aperture blades leading to hexagonal bokeh. Usually you’ll be focussing so close that it probably won’t matter.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Maximium magnification without tubes (1:2 macro).

 

As always the focus aids in the camera body make precision focus easy, reliably producing sharp results. There are a few matching extension tubes made by Olympus which will extend to 1:1 macro (life-size on the sensor) and beyond. These are 25mm (for 1:1), 14mm and 7mm for lesser magnifications. Once you pass 1:1 use becomes progressively more difficult! Even the slightest vibration on a tripod mounted camera becomes painfully obvious and exposures become longer the more macro you go. I’d personally stop at 1:1!

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

With the 25mm extension tubes and 1:1 macro.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

With all 3 extension tubes on – and extremely difficult to use, around 2:1 macro.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

All 3 extension tubes (and the adaptor) – there is such narrow depth of field using these that tightening a tripod screw will take the subject out of focus. This is not a ‘walk around’ combination and rather silly!

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

With all extension tubes on the small stamp at f8 – virtually no depth of field at all – sub 1 mm!

So, very useful for macro to 1:1, but beyond that magnification less so, becoming almost unusable at what is presumably 2:1 (twice life-size on the sensor). Up to 1:1 at f8 to f11 the resolution and colours are superb, beyond 1:1 a cyan cast appears and the resolution – not unsurprisingly – starts to drop dramatically.

But – most people will want to use this portable lens to get fairly close to flowers, insects etc.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

A butterfly (now obviously an ex-butterfly having been trapped in a building) taken with the camera resting on the window sill.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

And a central enlargement.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Get low enough and some nice macro shots are easy!

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Hand held at 1/320th and moderately close this is a good example of what this lens excels at on the A7R – despite the hexagonal bokeh.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Colours are quite vivid once the rather flat RAW files are processed – again fine for this sort of subject.

 

 

So for a general purpose hand held close-ups its pretty good too, as long as you keep the shutter speed high and take great care focussing. The resolution good to excellent with the caveat that there is so little depth of field at these closer distances that much of you images will be out of focus anyway so be extra careful what you focus on!

At infinity things are pretty good too (all hand-held shots) :-

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

The full frame which I’m sure you’re all familiar with.

 

f3.5

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Centre wide open – a bit soft but OK. Best avoided.

 

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Edge wide open – not bad but not great either.

 

f8

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

f8 centre – stunning! Wow!

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

f8 edge – very good.

 

f16

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

f16 centre softening again.

Sony A7R Zuiko 50mm f3.5

Same with the edge performance.

The conclusion for infinity focussing – a fantastic performance at the centre at f8, dropping to ‘very good’ at the edges. Like the Zuiko 50mm f1.4 at optimal apertures this seems to be getting close to doing justice to the 36Mp sensor of the A7R. Other apertures obviously aren’t – but few lenses (especially sub £100 lenses) can.

Overall an impressive little lens on this body. Useable up to 1:1 macro on a tripod, good for hand-held medium close-ups and superb as a general purpose 50mm when used at infinity at f8. The ‘fun factor’ using this lens to pick out fine detail is hard to beat too! At 212g it’s staying in the camera bag.

As with all the OM Zuikos tested on the A7R, the results are better than I’d expected. The ability to get very precise focus using EVF focussing aids, and the A7R’s metering (much more accurate than using them on DSLRs) produce files which, when post-processed, are the best I’ve produced using these lenses. They’re all more prone to flare than modern lenses but I can work around that. I may not need any Zeiss lenses if this trend continues!

Thanks for looking, hope you found this – rather long – review useful.

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

 

The Sony A7R and a Helios 85mm f2

This little review is done out of pure curiosity. The Russian made Helios Jupiter 85mm f2 is not known for it’s sharpness (Zeiss have nothing to worry about here), more for the unusual characteristics of the images it produces which I’ve found in the past to be unique. I’m not expecting much at all here so this should be good fun.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

That magic bokeh is back!

 

For around £8 a NEX to M42 screw mount adaptor was ordered, and it’s pretty well made, with three allen key loosened grub screws to allow the fixed lens to be rotated so the top of the lens aligns with the camera. What this does for the alignment of the lens with the sensor plane is anyone’s guess but let’s not worry for now. There is no electronic contact between lens and camera so no EXIF data for the lens or aperture used. Obviously there’s no autofocus, apertures are set manually and forget image stabilisation.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

On the A7R – this is about as heavy as it’s possible to go on the small A7R body without things feeling unbalanced (for me). The adaptor adjustment grub screws can be seen on the right hand side of the adaptor.

 

The lens is solidly made in metal and quite compact, but feels heavy (13 oz/374g). Minimum focus is around 75 cm (about 30 inches) and it shares a 49 mm filter thread with most Zuiko prime lenses. Focus from infinity to minimum distance takes around 270 degrees. The weight helps stabilise the camera/lens but there’s no image stabilisation (not invented when the lens was made!) so 160th of a second or shorter for hand-held shots is best.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Without the adaptor and front UV filter it’s quite small and ‘dense’. Controls from left to right – grip for screwing the lens on to the adaptor, the knurled focus ring, the ‘stop down the aperture to what’s been selected’ ring and the ‘set the desired aperture’ ring

 

The aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures, and look quite different from most lenses. Rather than being matt black they appear to be bare metal which looks a bit ‘industrial’, just like the rest of the lens in fact. The ‘stop down’ nature of the lens means it’s best to leave the front aperture setting at f16 then just rotate the inner ring across the aperture range until things look good. This means you have no idea what aperture is being used. If you’re very patient you could do it correctly and set the aperture on the front ring then rotate the inner ring completely to the right. I’m not that patient.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Shiny and worn aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures – no hexagonal out of focus points!

 

Focussing isn’t as easy as with the sharp, contrasty OM Zuiko lenses. The ‘focus peaking’ feature relies on image contrast to sprinkle the view finder with ‘in focus’ pixels, but as this lens isn’t too sharp and of low contrast it didn’t show much. With the ‘focus magnify’ focussing was much easier, but at the maximum ‘zoom in’ level you can actually see how soft the image is at maximum aperture. It’s very much like focussing a Lensbaby – there’s nothing really sharp ‘out there’ through the lens so just do the best you can. Combined with the extra care needed shooting with the A7R this combination means slow, deliberate photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Soft and dreamy – nice.

 

There’s a little vignetting wide open but only if you’re looking for it. Flare can be quite bad as the front element isn’t multicoated (it may not be coated at all). Contrast is low across the aperture range (images look terrible before post processing) so shoot in RAW and be prepared for some moderately serious post processing – all in a day’s work for MF lens users.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Nice smooth bokeh – lovely

 

If image sharpness or ease of use are your goals look elsewhere – very far away! This lens excels at producing soft ‘dreamy’ images at closer focussing distances with some very shallow depth of field and attractive bokeh. Traditionally used for portraits, these characteristics lend themselves to a few other subjects such as flower, food and ‘special effect’ photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At medium distances the edges of the frame can get quite ‘swirly’ – like a poor man’s Petzval lens.

This lens did quite well on a Canon 5D Mk2 and a 60D as the poor resolution wasn’t so mercilessly exposed on 20Mp and 18Mp sensors. It was however more difficult to focus through the optical viewfinders of these cameras so sort of a draw there. Using this lens is a huge waste of 36Mp of resolution (8Mp might be appropriate), but as the A7R is now my main camera, I’m not carrying another one just for this lens!

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

It’s rather good for ‘book cover’ type stuff.

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At f2 and soft everywhere even the bits in focus – but it all sort of ‘works’

 

For tradition’s sake, let’s do a centre enlargement from a shot at f8 :-

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The full image

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The centre enlagement – forget the edges at all apertures. Not great – but – not what it was designed for.

 

So, is this a useful lens on a Sony A7R? For me it is, as my specialist market is book covers, and a ‘different’ look at the expense of sharpness can sometimes sell (this lens paid for itself in sales many times over on other cameras). For the narrow range of subjects it’s designed for its great (and cheap), for everything else it’s pretty useless. Despite it’s shortcomings I really like this lens – it’s got ‘character’.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

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

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.

Initial Impressions – a Sony A7R and some old Olympus OM lenses.

This detailed post is the result of a bad back, a feeling of dissatisfaction with a camera and remembering something from years ago – just so you know….

Forgetting I’m not 18 years old any more I badly strained my lower back helping someone move out of a shop over Christmas. Since then, carrying a Canon 5d MK2, a Sigma 50mm f1.4, a 70-300mm and a 24-105 ‘L’ on long photo trips has become painful.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Taken with the A7R and Zuiko 50mm f1.4 at ISO 100 with the shadows pulled up slightly – remarkable!

Secondly, apart from the weight, a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the 5dMk2 has been brewing lately – it’s not that much better than my 60D so it’s turning into a paperweight. It’s also irritatingly bad at attracting dust onto the sensor. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 though is possibly the best lens I’ve ever used, but again it’s very heavy and is turning into a ‘stay at home’ lens.

Zuiko 28mm f2  Sony A7R

The Zuiko 28mm f2 @ ISO 1600.

Thirdly I remembered what I always wanted from digital photography when it started to become viable, and that was a full frame digital back for my OM1N. 10Mp would have been fine, but for probably obvious reasons it was never done…..

_MG_1914_DxO2s

A size comparison clockwise from top left – the A7R, (full frame 36Mp), the Oly EPL5 (micro 4/3 16Mp), the Oly OM2N (er film!) and the Canon 5d Mk2 (full frame 20 Mp). The Sony is taller than the OM2N but narrower and with the adaptor weighs almost exactly the same.

So – what to do?

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R Novoflex adaptor

The Sony with the E-mount (or NEX) adaptor to Olympus OM. Its fits tightly with no lens ‘wobble’ and feels precisely engineered.

Something radical is called for. Trade the 5D and the Sigma 50 1.4 for a Sony A7R body and a Novoflex adaptor and go completely ‘manual focus’ using my old OM lenses. In size the Sony is around the same size and weight as an OM2/1 though the mount adaptor adds some extra length to lenses and it’s slightly taller. Some tinkering with the kitchen scales showed I’d been routinely carrying around 13 lb (6 kg) of kit (including a tripod) which could be more or less halved, This will be very welcome on long hikes. It will also yield up easily cropped 36 MP images, and more resolution is always welcome, though I wasn’t sure if the old OM primes were up to it.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Pixel peeping a 50mm f1.4 shot taken at f8 ISO 100.

 

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Detail from the centre – I hadn’t even seen the gent in the window but he was recorded in some detail! The edges are inevitability slightly softer but better than expected. The centre is amazingly sharp.

 

Initial impressions of the body are very good. It didn’t take long to set up (i.e. switching to RAW, airplane mode on, configuring the function buttons) the build quality seems excellent and it feels light and solid with well damped and placed controls. Reassuringly it ‘glued’ itself to my smaller hands immediately – almost tailor-made. The camera bag fully loaded with 17mm to 135mm lenses can now be carried effortlessly and has lots of room left over.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Sony A7R

The 17mm f3.5 – I really thought this lens would be very soft but at f8-f16 it’s not bad at all even at 36 MP.

 

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Sony A7R

It’s possible to just make out the writing on the bench plaque.

The viewfinder is electronic (an EVF) and delivers a view roughly comparable to Oly’s VF-4 – i.e. very good. The information displayed in the viewfinder of the Sony is better organised around the image rather than over it and seems a little crisper, but there’s not much in it. Occasionally the Sony seems to need time to think over things, when moving around menus or if switched on soon after switching off, but it’s nothing I’d really complain about.

Manual focus using ‘peaking’ isn’t as precise as using the ‘focus magnify’ feature which nails focus every time (as per the EPL5). What’s slightly disturbing is that the OM lenses which I’ve used for thirty years have much less depth of field than I’d thought – the A7R shows the focus point moving very rapidly as the focus is racked and focussing for critical sharpness is tight. I can only guess at how approximate the split image/microprism method of focussing is on the OM1/2. On a 60D or a 5d focussing using the optical viewfinder is vague to say the least – hence some past sub-par results.

Zuiko 85mm f2 Sony A7R

The 85mm f2 though trickier to focus is good too.

Post processing takes a little longer due to the size of the RAW files. The 7360 x 4912 RAW files are around 35Mb, and DXO Optics 9 produces huge JPEG files of the same size or larger! Photoshop compresses the JPEGS more efficiently to around 8-15Mb. Opening and saving files takes a few seconds longer than 20Mb images too and DXO Prime noise removal takes around 4 minutes (vs 2 minutes for 20Mb files).

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 wide open producing some showy bokeh. Shots wide open with this lens always need some chromatic aberration correction in PP.

The lack of an anti alias filter seems to make the resolution of the OM lenses shine through. When you can really nail the focus, shoot at a high enough shutter speed and stop down to f8 to f11 these old lenses produce some remarkably good results. They’re still prone to flare and some internal reflections, but results when compared to the results from the 60D/5D Mk2 are in a different league. To various degrees they suffer from some softer edges but subsequent posts will go into this in more detail.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

Sony reds are still rather oversaturated for my taste but they’re better than the RX100’s purply reds.

 

The most extraordinary thing about the RAW results though is how far shadow detail can be pulled up without producing noise.

Zuiko 28mm f2 Sony A7R

Some PP pulling up the shadows just a little produces excellent dynamic range. The 28mm again.

As for the infamous ‘shutter shock’ problem – I haven’t noticed it so far. As there’s no image stabilisation you need to be extra careful about shutter speeds and shooting technique and – so far – I’ve had no camera shake. The ‘double shutter’ noise doesn’t really bother me either really – by comparison with an EPL5 my 5d Mk2 sounds like someone hitting a shovel on a car bonnet (something of an exaggeration but you get the point!). Keep the shutter speed reasonably above the focal length of the lens and use good technique and all will be fine. You can push the ISO to 3200 without any real noise problems.

Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Sony A7R

There’s no automatic distortion correction software as there’s no EXIF lens data saved with the files – not even aperture. The 17mm if tilted upwards can produce some distorted verticals so keep it horizontal!

Infrared – look elsewhere I’m afraid. I’d hoped the A7R would be as good as the RX100 but no – the A7R is very insensitive to IR frequencies (see below).

_DSC0103_DxO2s

30 seconds at ISO 100 f8 with an R72 filter and underexposed – so useless for infrared. Hand held IR would have been great but I’m expecting too much!

Ultra high ISO is – as usual – not that useful. ISO 25600 (I thought ISO 3200 extreme!) is OK for a small print but otherwise not that good, even with DXO’s Prime noise reduction. ISO 100 -400 is essentially grain-less and up to 3200 ISO nicely controlled – this is a 36Mp image so for any given print size noise is less of a problem.

_DSC0058_DxO2s

High ISO 25600 is pretty ugly as you’d expect even with a run through DXO’s PRIME noise removal tool – which took 5 minutes! Stick to ISO 3200 or less!

_DSC0058_DxO2zm

A fascinating close up of my well organised bookshelf…. For 25600 ISO this isn’t bad but then it isn’t that good either.

 

For a full days shooting I’ll need a second battery. Sony thinks in camera charging is a good idea unfortunately. Not providing a charger as an alternative is irritatingly cheap of them when selling a camera in this price range.

Overall after one week I’m very impressed. If you’re a photographer who takes their time and doesn’t mind manual focus and a few delays here and there, the A7R will extract the maximum detail from those old MF lenses with a ‘focus magnify’ feature which is very efficient (like the EPL5). To really like this camera you’ll also be the sort who doesn’t mind a bit of post processing to extract the best from RAW files. If you put in the effort the files produced are sharp, detailed and exceed by a country mile what I wanted 15 years ago with a digital back for my old OM1N.

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 Sony A7R

The 50mm f1.4 @1.4 doing what it does best.

As a setup with MF lenses it would be comically inadequate for any sort of action photography or for telephoto lens use past 135mm but as I don’t shoot that sort of stuff I don’t care! I’m sure anyone with a collection of old quality prime lenses would find this camera just as good. The lack of an anti alias filter over the sensor seems to make a huge difference to sharpness using these lenses.

It’s not perfect, but it’s 95% there for my purposes (not necessarily yours!). I’ve now got so much room in the camera bag I can even take along an OM2N as well!

Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

p.s. If you’re interested in the internals of this camera have a look as Lensrental’s disassembly of an A7R here.