Update: the Planar G 45mm f/2 has now been tested on the Sony NEX-7. A summary of all this website’s reviews of the Sony NEX-5n and NEX-7 is now available.
After presenting the Zeiss ZM Distagon 18/4 in my previous post, here are three more lenses from the private collection of Philippe, a fellow photographer who kindly offered to lend me some of his equipment after reading my review of the Sony NEX-5N with Leica-M, Leica-R, Zeiss ZM and Zeiss C/Y lenses.
Today, we are looking at 3 lenses from the lesser known but oh-so-good, Contax G stable: the 28mm f/2.8 Biogon, the 45mm f/2 Planar and the 90mm f/2.8 Sonnar. My time with these lenses was very limited and tet conditions pretty abysmal with terribly flat and muddy light, drizzle and freezing temperatures.
What did I think of these lenses? After looking closely at the pictures at 100% in LightRoom, let’s just say the 45mm and the 90mm are probably the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used, period!!! But if it’s a bed of roses, it’s a bed of thorny ones! Read-on 😉
The Contax G system was a wonderful rangefinder system that used to make me dream in my 20’s. There was no way I could afford it, not any more than Leica’s M rival of the time. The G was more ‘advanced’ in that is offered autofocus. While this was great at the time (if you really need autofocus), it’s a major pain in the … today as the lenses do not … focus. Therefore the adaptor has to do the work of sliding the lens in and out, closer or further from the NEX’s sensor, without losing alignment.
From my limited time with it, I can report two things:
Me, I’m with the others 😉 The adapter is wide enough to grab well, and you need it because it is really hard to turn. I’f you’re in love of your 40 year old Leica Elmar because of it’s buttery smooth yet perfectly damped focusing ring, you’re in for boils on your fingers with this one. OK, so I’m exaggerating, but the very high bracket of the adaptor makes it very very firm indeed. There may be others on the market. Check Leitax ?
This being said, it’s no worse than using a view camera or hand holding a Hassie for macro work (right, Philippe 😉 ?) and if you have the time to master this beastie, the lenses are really worth the small effort. On to the lenses!
This is the worse lens of the three. It’s only very good. As in way better than anything Sony has to offer in E-mount for the NEX-5N (maybe the 24/1.8?). It sharp from edge to edge and shows very little vignetting even wide open. Look at the bottom of the picture below to see that distortion is also minimal.
There’s not a lot more I can say about this lens, which I used for only a few minutes. It’s a worthwhile addition to a G collection but I wouldn’t jump the gun for it. It’s no better than my wonderful Zeiss ZM Biogon 25/2.8, I don’t like the very warm tone it gives and the focusing is a pain.
Let me leave you with this … fuzzy picture. It wasn’t done on purpose, but I guess it shows what bokeh can be like if you focus on a subject close up:)
Verdict : It’s cheap-ish, small and plenty sharp. But for similar money, I’ll get a Voigtlander used 28/1.9 instead, or a Voigtlander Ultron 28/2.0. It’s nowhere near as good technically but a joy to use and renders so beautifully.
This is a fantastic lens. If I hadn’t already committed to a system, this one would really sway me. It .. is .. so sharp, at all apertures! It focuses way closer than a Leica M lens. It’s small and sexy. Bokeh is quite nice, in spite of only 6 blades in the diaphragm.
Click the picture below for a real impression of the sharpness and clarity this lens can deliver. Remember the light was terrible. The colour separation here is really stunning. Sharpness and micro-contrast second to none. The small wire netting around the top statues is rendered perfectly. There is absolutely no purple fringing, either. A perfect 10 like I’ve rarely seen before!
This one, on the other hand shows the only thing I do not like about this lens: the overly warm cast. It’s a bit too yellow to my tastes, but that’s easily corrected in post processing and easily automated. At least colours are not muted (the reading man was in the shadow on a very overcast day). ISO 200 1/20 F/2.8 (the picture is blurred as I was trembling in the cold, and back focused. Shame on me ;)).
Verdict: This lens is so much better than my Summicron-R 50 it hurts. If it was a focal range I used more, I would seriously consider getting one. But I don’t (all my lenses – that get used – are either below 35 or above 90, strange isn’t it ..) and won’t. With a full frame sensor, well …
This is another sharpness monster. Read any review you can find on the Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8, look at the MTF curves for that lens at f/8 and you will see it is a damn sharp lens. The Sonnar is sharper. Easily!
I do apologise for the lousy quality of the pictures on this page. I had on hour to test 5 lenses and a limited range of subjects. And it was cold. Cold weather annihilates my artistic sense, it seems 😉
Still, look at the colours in this picture of Hotel du Louvre. Vibrant an clean, if – again – a bit too yellow. Micro contrast is incredible. Sharpness is perfect all over the frame. If this level of quality can be maintained on a full frame with no AA filter, this lens can probably deliver the goods over 40Mpix (that’s 40″ prints @200dpi without upresing!) Medium format beware …
Of all these three lenses, this is the only one to display purple fringing (very moderate).
Compare these two pictures of the same building. The first is taken using the Contax G 90/2.8 Sonnar, the second with the Leica Elmarit-M 90/2.8. Notice the difference in colour. To me the Leica is much more natural and realistic (look at the white shutters at middle top). What do you think ?
On the positive side, look at the aerial at top right. The squares are top right are made of wires a few millimeters thick and the aerial is over 100 meters away. Yet, they are resolved individually against a white background. At 2.8. Enough said?
Here’s a battle of the giants at their best aperture of f/8. First the Contax, second the Leica.What my eyes tell me is that the Contax is way sharper than the Leica, if you pixel peep.
Verdict: Sharper than probably any other lens of this focal length. A tad clinical and yellowish, I still prefer my wonderful Elmarit, but if you want the sharpest, GO FOR IT !!
All of these lenses work perfectly well on the Sony NEX-5N. Together they offer you a range of astounding technical quality. The adapter is a bit of a nuisance at first, but for slow, deliberate shooting, really not a problem at all. Get all three with a NEX-5N and you will probably be making 24″ prints that will stun you again and again, for the price of a single (cheap) Leica-M lens. Combined with an autofocus lens for everyday family shots, you’d be doing very well. If this tempts you, hurry though. Mirrorless cameras such as the NEX have raised interest in these lenses and prices have almost doubled in a year.
A last word: thank you Philippe !
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