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

 

 

Does Film Not Work All of a Sudden?

Of course it does! These recent shots were taken on an OM2N with a Vivitar 17mm f3.5 or a humble 50mm f1.8 using Adox Silvermax. More importantly they were accepted by the agency for commercial use (hopefully book covers).

Olympus OM2N Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Adox Silvermax

Developed in ID11 stock for 9 minutes at 20 degrees centigrade. Just shot at box speed of 100 ASA and with straightforward development – nothing fancy.

Olympus OM2N Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Adox Silvermax

Scanned on a Plustek 7500 then downsized to around 18 MP these were a rather nice set of negs.

Olympus OM2N Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Adox Silvermax

To add a bit of drama a light texture layer was added before the final save.

Olympus OM2N Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Adox Silvermax

The location was Poole in Dorset on a cool but bright autumn day, just enough cloud in the sky to add some interesting clouds.

Olympus OM2N Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Adox Silvermax

The shot above was also vignetted to give it a ‘closed in’ look.

Olympus OM2N Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Adox Silvermax

All of the above using the 17mm, the one below using the 50mm lens.

Olympus OM2N Vivitar 17mm f3.5 Adox Silvermax

All in all a productive hour or so with lightweight, minimal equipment (no zoom lenses) as is so often the case. I must do this more often, and would humbly suggest you should too!

Thanks for looking, hope you like them.

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

Bits of Autumn So Far

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

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

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Postbox Dorset Ballard Down Old Harry Rocks

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

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Lifeboat RNLI

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

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Canon 60D 50mm f1.4 Autumn Bench

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

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Canon 60D 50mm f1.4 Cottage Autumn

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

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

Last Few Weeks

Not many posts over the last few weeks as I’ve been completely absorbed in planning a complex time lapse video project. Some stills have been taken despite recent developments, so here are the best ones, though it’s a pretty random selection!

First – a plastic lensbaby shot of some fresh leaves with the sunlight edging in from behind. The flare, sharpness and chromatic aberration are terrible by conventional standards, but working with a lensbaby is primarily about finding shooting situations where that doesn’t matter.

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Next a Sony RX100 shot of a dumped TV in a pond on the nearby heathland. This is very unusual as most people respect the area, but there are always those who don’t. The contrast between the disposable consumer goods dumped in an ancient landscape provided a striking contrast.

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This time a macro with the venerable 50mm f3.5 OM system lens mounted on extension tubes on a Canon 60D to get a really close focus. The subject is just a crow’s feather found in the garden – always a fascinating subject.

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Finally an off centre shot with the Helios 85mm f2 of a weathered ‘sculpture’ (can’t think of a better word) near a church door.

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All pictures for the book cover market – as always. Hope you like them!

Some More From the Zuiko 50mm F1.4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet More RX100 Infrareds!

Dorset is experiencing something weird this year – summer! The skies are clear, the temperatures are hitting 30 degrees C and for people used to cloudy wet summers with just a glimpse of sunshine now and then it’s all most disturbing…..

So using this hot weather as an excuse to shoot yet more infrared handheld on the unmodified RX100 (with an R72 filter) , here we go.

First, a few of the pedestrian bridges over the River Stour near Tarrant Crawford – the leaves and grasses radiating IR like mad. All taken at 28mm setting at f1.8 using RAW, the ‘Black and White’ creative setting (for composition) and +1 exposure compensation.

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This is the next bridge along – the field boundary is heavily overgrown on either side which help isolate the dark path.

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And the same view but in landscape orientation with a lower contrast – can’t make my mind up which of the two is best. _DSC0948_DxOFP

Finally a small avenue of trees taken on the same day, the shadows on the road being an integral part of the composition.

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As usual, all taken for the book cover market – hope you like them!