They are named Novoflex, but should really call themselves the match makers. When cameras and lenses have Romeo and Juliet upbringings and their parents refuse to see them wed, Novoflex swoop in and make the romance happen. This post is the story of an unlikely and forbidden love between my best camera ever and my best lens ever.
But does it have a happy ending?
It’s funny how you procrastinate when you’re affraid of learning the truth about something important to you. Ever since my X1D arrived, I delayed the purchase of an M-mount adapter, fearing my beloved C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM (a.k.a. Cesar) might not fare as well as in my dreams, on the Swedish newcomer. I actually had no hopes at all for the Distagon 1.4/35 ZM (a.k.a. Audrey), based on Internet wisdom.
But the adapter arrived and, after a couple of casual shots made to confirm the disqualification of Audrey, my ears perked up like my cat’s upon hearing the sound of biscuits in her plate. Could it be that … ?
It sure could! It sure could! So I’ll investigate and report on Cesar’s behaviour later.
So, to go beyond a few test shots at home, I took the opportunity of a bread run in the village to make a few photographs in real-life conditions, to evaluate how well an old(ish) Zeiss lens designed for full-frame might work on a new(ish) Hasselblad small MF (44×33) sensor. Just like I would if this was a new lens being tested.
The results are unexpected. I’ve not had time to determine a best post-processing routine for this lens, obviously, and both Phocus and Lightroom were used to (hastily) process the images of the walk. So the aesthetics are somewhat … higgledy-piggledy 😉
But this gives you and me an opportunity to determine whether there are some looks we like or not. Below are nearly all of the photographs from this 20-30 minute walk. I have only omitted some made by mistake (pressing the release button too hard while waking up the camera, eg) or that are close duplicates of those presented. Sometimes, two versions of a same file are shown, either because of different ideas for PP or to highlight the difference in rendering between Phocus and Lightroom (in general, I use Phocus for colour and Lightroom for B&W). Onwards.
My village takes pride in its fountains. If you drove through, you’d be forgiven for not even noticing them, but one close to my parking spot seemed like a great place to start, with the sun rays very oblique and grazing.
If there’s one thing Audrey is good for, it’s recreating an ambiance, with great tonal subtlety and very immersive 3D. The X1D being superb for preserving tiny little nuances of shades and hues, I had high hopes for that scene. And you can see the great variety of looks that can be obtained with this duo.
I’ll let the pictures do the tour-guiding and will focus instead on the experience and results.
In terms of feel, this is a match made in heaven. The adapter is perfect. Snug. Wider and thicker than on Sony mount, meaning the release button can be mounted on the front and is smoother to operate. There is no slack in any direction. Zero.
Using an old-style lens on what feels like an old-style (i.e. fuss free) camera is pure bliss. Everything is where it should be, perfectly designed and perfectly smooth. This is honestly the most pleasant shooting experience I’ve ever had. It makes me lament once again Hasselblad’s choice to lose the aperture ring on its XCD lenses. Sure it’s more modern and tetherable to have everything done in-camera. But it feels so unfair when the needs of mere thousands of professionals, whose livelihoods depend on it, are put ahead of my personal amateur desires. Ugh.
All is not perfect in the integration, however. This being a purely mechanical mating, there is no EXIF or – more importantly – Auto-ISO (my default setting and so very freeing) or in-camera correction of any aberrations. What Audrey sees is what you get. It’s nothing new to me, obviously, since I had never owned a native lens on a digital camera in the past (my film-era white Canon zooms on Canon 6D don’t count as truly native). No deal-breaker, but certainly a big point in favour of XCD lenses here.
What about image quality? You be the judge …
In the 2 doubles above, 2 photos are processed in Lightroom and the other 2 in Phocus. LR automatically applies quite significant contrast reduction compared to Phocus’ true to life approach. Lightroom is preserving shadow and highlights but I admire Hasselblad’s approach to respecting tone rather than dynamic range. Kudos! Phocus also has better subtlety and stronger colour.
As you can see from the two frontal shots of the first fountain (different crops) white balance isn’t identical either. Of course the two can be matched more than this but, to me, Phocus always has a slight edge on colour photographs. In b&w, Lightroom absolutely murders Phocus, however. And I’m tempted to purchase a new copy of Nik to add the glorious Silver Efex to Lightroom’s repertoire. I wonder whether LR has a module for dumbwits who forget about the readout time of their sensor in silent shutter mode. Yup, did it again … 😀
Whatever the processing software, however, vignetting will always be a part of the equation with this unnatural couple. The diminutive Distagon was never designed to cover the surface of the X1D’s sensor, and it shows painfully. This is undoubtedly the yuckiest fly in the scrumptious ointment.
There are ways to cover it up, of course. Cropping to a 33×33 square, for example. And, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no hardship in that. Or accepting the vignetting. In Lightroom, it can be reduced more significantly than in Phocus (which has no profile for Zeiss full frame lenses). And I often add vignetting to my photographs.
But the optical vignetting has quite a hard edge and doesn’t look very nice. It also comes free of charge with an unpleasant magenta cast that’s a lot harder to cover up. Which leaves conversion to b&w as a “last resort”. So, monochrome squares, anyone?
I used to rant that 3:2 was not my fave format and that 4:3 is much cooler. Maybe I could snob my way of out this vignetting problem by declaring that 4:3 is passé and 6×7 is the new black?
One strong point in favour of the Hassy, however, is corner sharpness. Dunno what the specs are but it appears that the sensor stack is less thick than on the Sony A7r2, as corner performance is shockingly good right up to the edges and almost into the very corners, even without cropping. At all apertures! So cool!
If you can look past the vignetting issue, there’s a lot to look forward to. Colours are lovely. Not neutral, and curiously reminiscent of a Leica M9, but lovely nonetheless.
The hypnotic 3D of this lens is perfectly rendered in the Hassy’s files, even on totally flat subjects (see below, at full aperture).
And the files just look so alive …
At the end of the day, though, the tragedy needs its clash resolved. Audrey has to answer “Should I stay or should I go, now?”
Reasons to let Audrey go are :
Reasons to keep Audrey include :
So, tuff kwestian, monn. If I compromise my ethics too much, it will become hard for me to continue heralding the systematic lambasting of all politicians. It won’t stop me, of course, but I’ll feel bad. If I compromise my financial integrity, how will I afford the gear to do justice to Mendelsson’s adaptation of Bach’s “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” aria in St. Matthew Passion which simultaneously blew my mind, socks off and concentration, on my car radio, last night? Kidding aside, when pairings produce a result greater than the sum of the parts, as was the case in that spine-tingling musical moment, should we not celebrate those small miracles for what they are?
Sleep on it, I must, as might have said our mighty green mentor. This has certainly been an unexpected turn of events.
And I could use your help. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Or is this sudden elation only the product of my desire to not cut the umbilical cord with delightful Audrey? I do have 5 exquisite native XCD lenses to play with and absolutely no need for the complications of adapted lenses any more.
“Erbarme dich, mein Gott”?
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