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 Plastic Lens Lensbaby and a Sony A7R

This unlikely post is about the unholy match of two pieces of photographic kit from opposite ends of the image quality spectrum – the superb 36MP Sony A7R and the odd (some might say weird) Plastic Lensbaby lens which is designed to produce soft ethereal images. Why? Well it’s an experiment which sounded like fun, and trying to coax any decent results out of the Lensbaby is always an enjoyable challenge.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the right, DXO Filmpack Agfa Vista profile. Not bad.

I’ve tested this lens on an Oly EPL5 , a Canon 60D and a 5d Mk2 and came to the conclusion that the Oly produced the best results as it uses just the centre of the image circle. I have a feeling after this test the conclusion might be the same – but here goes.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The whole setup. The aperture disks lower right, the disk holder and magnetic disk remover top right. The lens itself is mounted inside a ‘Composer’ body (several bodies are available allowing different amounts of ‘lens bending’ control.

Even for someone using light Zuikos this 50mm lens is light – 125g or 4 1/2 oz. Mounted on an inexpensive Fotga adaptor for Canon EF to NEX mount, the focus ring is alarmingly sloppy, the apertures are waterstone stops held in by magnets at the front, and the relatively sharp centre of the frame can be moved around the frame by undoing a friction clutch and moving the lens about like some sort of mad sci-fi monster’s eye.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The F8 aperture disk held in place by magnets – not a conventional arrangement….

As the images will be soft you can forget about shutter shock, chromatic aberration (it’s terrible!), changing aperture (it’s a pain so I tend not to) and camera shake. Put the camera on auto-ISO, focus and shoot – all very liberating and not your normal photographic experience. Crucially, the focus peaking works very well on the A7R, ably illustrating focus curvature (to explain :- imagine focussing on a brick wall parallel to the sensor – the centre will be in focus, the edge won’t be, but de-focus the centre and the edges come into focus). In reality it’s so far from normal photography it’s fantastic!

Rather than a resolution test (don’t be silly!) here are a few shots shot at different apertures so you can judge the effect of different aperture disks, F2 to f22.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk (F2). Very ethereal but I’m pushed to think of a use for something this extreme.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F4

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F16

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

f22. The best in terms of sharpness, but it just looks like a very bad conventional lens. Maybe useful for simulating a cheap old camera from the 1960s?

Personally my favourite is f8 – just about the right amount of ‘Lensbaby-ness’.

All Lensbaby images need lots of post processing – the following have been pushed through (a slightly baffled!) DXO Optics 9 and then DXO Filmpack.

First some mono conversions :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

The lens tilted all the way to the right and a PAN F profile – I like this!

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 and some more blurriness.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F5.6 again

And some with colour film conversions using different DXO Filmpack profiles :-

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

No aperture disk for this one – but pushing the very low contrast and using a colourful film profile has sort of worked?

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8, lens bent towards the top of the frame and the Ultracolour profile – I’m pleased with this. This is Kingston Lacy in Dorset in case you were wondering.

 

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and the ‘1960s’ profile – looks like some old family album shot (my Dad had a terrible camera!).

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 and Ultracolour again.

Sony A7R, Lensbaby Composer Plastic Lens

F8 close up, Ultracolour again.

This is a real ‘marmite’ (UK expression – you’ll either ‘love or loath it’) lens. With some serious PP it does open some interesting possibilities if you don’t mind the odd look from passers-by while you change the aperture disks. Mono works well, but the colour ones work better for me, and the stronger the colours the better – don’t be half-hearted in the conversion!

It’s use on an A7R is genuinely better than on DSLR’s with optical viewfinders because you can make sure things are in focus – well, as much as they’re ever going to be in focus! The Sony’s exposure metering was also very good – something my DSLR’s struggled with using this lens. The Oly EPL5 produced images which looked more ‘misty’ than these – not a better result but just different as each could have their use.

Maybe it’s best thought of in the same way as the Olympus ‘dramatic tone’ filter – good in small doses to produce something different but make sure you don’t use it all the time. I’d recommend using one just for the sheer challenge and fun of using them – you though may (sensibly) prefer not to!

Commercially the images can sell (two or three have over the years) but they’re a bit ‘niche’ even for the book cover market.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other more sensible 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 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 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.

Some More Ilford Delta 3200 (through a red R25A filter)

Being rather taken with this fast monochrome film (having used lower ISO rated films for years) here are a few more to whet the appetite.

i3259

Just about right – though I cheated a bit and added a vignette here for dramatic effect. 17mm.

All taken on a trip in winter round Poole Harbour (Dorset UK) on a drizzly, dull day using an OM2N, a Vivitar 17mm, a Zuiko 50mm f1.8 and R25A red filters to bring some drama to the patches of blue skies. Exposed at 1600 ASA the dev time was 9 1/2 minutes in D76 stock which does a good job with this film.

Ilford Delta 3200, Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

That looks suspiciously like a fingerprint on the right. Hmm. I’ll pretend it’s a Photoshop layer. 17mm.

The viewfinder is darkened using the filter (and everything is red obviously) but using smaller apertures and the depth of field markings is sufficient. It’s best to use these on the 17mm lens anyway as the viewfinder focus aids aren’t that useful on such a wide-angle lens where most things are in focus.

Ilford Delta 3200, Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

Hardly ‘gritty urban’ but it has something. The red filter has done a nice job on darkening the blue skies here. 17mm.

The ‘exposure factor’ for an R25A red filter is 3x so this is the equivalent of shooting at 200 ASA which is more than enough even on an overcast day using wide-angle lenses to use f11 or f16 and keep the shutter speed fast enough for hand holding.

Ilford Delta 3200, Olympus OM2N, Zuiko 50mm f1.8

The light was just right here for a few seconds as the sun came out from between heavy clouds brightening the wet pavement and putting some highlights in the river ripples. 50mm.

The low contrast conditions meant that the whole roll was fairly flat, so some levels adjustments plus the inevitable dust spotting were needed.

Ilford Delta 3200, Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

Not that happy with the tone of the grass in this one. I suppose it’s the low diffuse light and the red filter. It’s OK though.

Though it’s difficult to be certain the red filter has brought out some nice detail in those clouds, improved (I think anyway) by the grain of the film.

Ilford Delta 3200, Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

My favourite from the day with the sun getting quite low and the path and trees looking ominous. The 17mm lens goes a bit soft at wider apertures (below f8) and f3.5 was needed for this but the trees hide it luckily.

In case you’re wondering if you can achieve the ‘look’ of this film in software, the answer is that you can – almost! The following two images are firstly the last of a roll of Adox Silvermax and secondly the first off the roll of Ilford Delta 3200. I know it’s converting from one film to another but Silvermax is a fine-grained well-behaved film and the image characteristics are similar to a monochrome converted digital shot. OK – not 100% convincing, I know for a proper comparison I should use a digital shot but I didn’t have a digital camera on me at the time.

Ilford Delta 3200, Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

‘Proper’ Ilford Delta 3200 image

The Ilford image is quite low in contrast, the grain is quite soft and in the clouds the transitions between light and dark are nice and gentle. The DXO version comes very close, but this is with the contrast turned right down to a minimum. There is more detail visible in the buildings and the grain is sharp. I don’t personally think the clouds look as good but that’s purely personal.

Ilford Delta 3200 simulation, DXO film pack, , Olympus OM2N, Vivitar 17mm f3.5

Simulated in DXO Film Pack from a Silvermax image (no filter present on the lens).

So it’s very close indeed and possibly good enough, but I still prefer the original. Whether the difference is worth messing around loading, processing and scanning proper film is up to you! It would be possible to process the Ilford image to look more like the DXO default output but the grain would still be too sharp on the DXO image and that process seems to be the wrong way round (Ilford isn’t simulating DXO!).

I’m so impressed by this film there’s a load on order and if you hadn’t already guessed it’s heartily recommended! Hope you find this useful, thanks for looking.

p.s. There a reviews of lots of other films 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.