#835. When Audrey met Mjölner (Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM on Hasselblad X1D)

#835. When Audrey met Mjölner (Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM on Hasselblad X1D)

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.

 
Test shot 1 (cropped)
Test shot 2 (cropped)
 

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’m breaking sequence for illustrative purposes here, sorry. But come on, how surprisingly nice is that?
 

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 :

  • I kinda promised to sell it to Philippe …
  • The XCD 30 is a superb lens (review coming up)
  • I desperately need to sell stuff to pay back for the unexpected outlay (I hadn’t planned on buying so many lenses with the X1D) and selling that lens was always part of the plan. Particularly now that traiterous DS contributors have convinced me to re-invest in HiFi … 😉
  • Non-attachment practise. My soul needs my ego to be Teflon.
  • The risk of becoming locked into a single photographic look.
 
 

Reasons to keep Audrey include :

  • The greatest shooting experience of my life.
  • The sexiest 28 f/1.1 lens mankind has ever seen. Even with a bit of cropping it’s even better than on the Sony due to corner sharpness.
  • They said it couldn’t be done.
  • Stealth. The lens feels a perfect fit for the camera and nobody takes any notice of the black combo.
  • Manual focus lenses probably save battery life 🙂
  • The search is over. If 30 minutes can produce this, think about 10 years. Heck, I might even sell a print …
  • I wanna.
 
 

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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38 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Steve Mallett March 23, 2019

    My Lord, what a vibe! Some of those images you can almost step into. They are gorgeous. I don’t want one, honest.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Thanks Steve. That makes 2 of us, who definitely don’t want one.

  2. Avatar
    paulperton March 23, 2019

    I’ll take Audrey off your hands, Pascal. You know it’s going to a good home and then, I can pretend to be able to take such wonderful images myself.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Yeah right, as if you need that to create gems 😉 Plus you already have that Biogon 25 I had to forfeit. Come to think of it, I wonder how well it would do on a thin sensor stack! Hmmm …

      • Avatar
        paulperton March 24, 2019

        The 25 Biogon will be in my pocket when I get to London at the end of May. St Pancras and Eurostar is close by and I think some time in Paris might be just what I need. Mind you, it’s easier to get the stars to align than to get you and Philippe together…

        Perhaps with some help from Steve?

  3. Avatar
    Philberphoto March 23, 2019

    Make that 3. Not that I don’t fathom how deeply lovely the pics and the files are, but the Hassy is for Masters, which I will never be. The Sony is already better than the sum of my (in)abilities. It allows me not to feel as inadequate as I’d be with a more demanding device. That said, good on you, mate!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Thank you Philippe, glad to see you are still speaking to me 😉

  4. Avatar
    Frank Field March 23, 2019

    Well done! Keep shooting with the classic lenses. There is one school of thought that classic lenses are not able to keep up with today’s sensors. I largely disagree and personally find that today’s sensors capture some of the beauty of these lenses that we did not fully appreciate when shooting 35mm film and did our peeping with a loupe. I’ve taken a lower budget approach and am loving the images I get with my Nikon DSLR bodies shot with AI-S era primes. A totally different look, different color spectrum, and much lower distortion than today’s 15, 16, 18 element, over-corrected zooms. Also, in spite of their rugged all metal design, any single AI-S prime is much lighter dangling from your neck than a modern “bazooka-sized” zoom. Having started photography in the 1980s, I’m right at home setting the aperture with my left hand. Thanks for a wonderful posting.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Hi Frank, very interesting point of view, thanks. And I agree entirely. In fact, I feel that by switching off the internal lens corrections, the X1D is showing the ZM 35/1.4 as it is rather than a digitally corrected version of itself (on that subject, I find that by switching off the auto lens corrections on the native lenses, they come a bit more alive). What AI-S lenses are you using? There were lovely ones then. Pascal Ravach (who also comments on this post) sent me an article you might enjoy about these lower-correction lenses with fewer elements and more pop : https://yannickkhong.com/blog/2015/10/4/the-flattening-of-modern-lenses-or-the-death-of-3d-pop. Also, thank you for the kind words 🙂 All the best, Pascal

  5. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron March 23, 2019

    Philipe might have to wait – it sounds as though you are still happily married to Audrey (as well as that other woman 🙂 ). Anyway, since I am old (myself), I would rather not learn that you chuck all your old stuff out, to make way for the new.
    I don’t know if this helps – you asked a question but provided no “tags” for us to tell you which photo we preferred – here’s my appraisal:
    Job_6368-2-1 wins over its companion shot – thought I’m confused by what on earth is the purpose of a door which is labelled “entry prohibited”?
    Job-6372-2 wins over its companion
    BTW – I’ve no idea what lens you used to shoot either image – this is a “blind test”. 🙂 To continue:
    Job_6375-2-1 wins over the colour version, 6375-1. (If it was me, I would have waited for more suitable lighting on both – but of course it was not me).
    As for your comments on format – there is one”one size fits all”. For convenience (looking forward, to the day I take a break from printing photos and actually start putting them in albums) I have standardised on 2×3. But I frequently find it necessary to switch to 3×4, or 4×5, or 5×5. And you are well aware of a recent shot that’s 3×28 🙂
    WhatI do envy is the detail you will find in the highlights. FF manages detail in the shadows, but not until MF do we get detail in highlights. I intend to leave you playing with the X1D, Pascal, while I try to save up for SIGMA’s (now) promised 60.9MP Foveon FF L-mount mirror-less camera, due for release next year, so that we can compare notes then. 🙂

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Hi Pete, thankfully for me, my wife is not as high-maintenance as Audrey 😉 All the photos on this page were made with the Distagon 1.4/35 ZM.

      Yes, better lighting will produce a better image. Early morning would be perfect there. This was just a quick walk around the village before buying the bread and getting back to work.

      3×28 😀 😀 😀 Only you !

      That Foveon could be a game changer! I too look forward to seeing the photographs it creates.

      Cheers 🙂

    • Avatar
      jean pierre {pete} guaron March 24, 2019

      Blast the idiot that infected my computer with an AI spelling guide!
      What I meant to say – and I’m sure it’s what I typed – was that there is no “one size fits all”, when you are looking at format. The subject dictates the format – or perhaps the subject, in conjunction with the composition, which means the photographer of course.

  6. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo March 23, 2019

    > “I wanna”

    A *really* good reason!
    Don’t deny your instincts!

    Let (some more) time decide for you – unless you risk loosing a friend or becoming broke…
    🙂

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Being broke, I can deal with. Not losing a dear friend 😉 But fear not, there are plenty of Audreys to find on the used market if Philippe wants one and mine is no longer up for grabs.

      My instincts … hmmm, not really sure. On the one side I got the whole X1D system for its super neutral look. On the other, occasionnal romanticism can’t hurt, can it ? 😉

      • Avatar
        jean pierre (pete) guaron March 24, 2019

        I have exactly the same relationship with my Otus 55mm, Pascal. From the first moment I looked through it, after attaching it to my camera, I was hopelessly in love with it. 🙂
        And you have to be true to your loved ones, Pascal. Audrey and X1D will transport you to another dimension! 🙂

  7. Avatar
    Pascal Ravach March 23, 2019

    traiterous, traiterous… hey, I assume my bad influence 😀
    no, my only regret was to agree how good Audrey was… I will never learn how to trash the objects of my desire 😀
    the green of those windows… simply stunning! And yes, the two interpretations are very interesting!
    Compromise? I have it for you: a bit for one eye (that works), a bit for one ear… (that works… less :D)… ok, 1/3, 2/3 then 🙂

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Pascal, worry not. The only treachery is to my cowardness. It’s really great that you shook me out of my slumber. I’ve been longing to listen to my record, CDs and files for a long time now, and I’m really grateful for your guidance 🙂 Photos during the day time, music at home. Doesn’t get much better, does it. Now, for some finding of money: all it takes is a first step.

      And yes, Audrey is a stunner !

  8. Avatar
    Pascal Ravach March 23, 2019

    hem…

  9. Avatar
    brian March 23, 2019

    You wrote, “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?”

    After reading and rereading the various odes to Audrey on this site over years, I finally succumbed. It is a lovely lens, and I’m not bothered by the easily-fixed and relatively modest vignetting on a Sony A7R III. However, I’ve been spoiled, as far as corners go, by the Loxia 25, which recalls the magic of the 50mm lens for my dearly-departed Mamiya 7. Fortunately, the familiar 4×5-ish aspect ratio for the nominally 6×7 Mamiya provides a way forward: While I don’t care about corner sharpness at wider apertures, Audrey does just fine in cropped landscape images from f/5.6 or f/8 even on the Sony. I’m enjoying the lens, and I thank you for your reviews and discussions.

    But now, please stop.

    I’m content with my excellent little Zeiss Tele-Tessar 85/4, and I don’t need to read any more paeans to George, its bigger brother. I don’t need to buy into another expensive camera system, no matter how wonderful. I’ll continue to read the technique and travel-related articles here along with the quasi-philosophical musings, but I can’t read any more gear reviews. Ever.

    Thanks.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Hello Brian, so nice to hear from another Mamiya 7 admirer 😉 I’m glad you are enjoying both the Loxia 25 and the Distagon 1.4/35 ZM. Both superb lenses. I’ll try to remembber your request and start all my review articles with a health warning next time 😉 You’re in luck, my next ones will mainly be about Hasselblad lenses so you should not be tempted.

      All the best, Pascal

  10. Avatar
    Dallas Thomas March 23, 2019

    Firstly, Pascal I don’t want Audrey, my opinion is stick to the native lens and I know Philippe would love Audrey to join his bag. You have some great shots, I would think it will take a long while to really get the best out of your new system. As some bloke with the initials of HCB said your first 10,000 will be the worst!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 23, 2019

      Ha ha, well said. The problem is that HCB was a genius. You can probably add a zero to my training-wheel photograph count. Ah well, the fun is in the travel, not the destination. Cheers (and see you soon).

  11. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron March 23, 2019

    PS – Pascal, what is the point of a fountain with a sign on it, telling you not to fill a cup from it, to have a drink of water?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 25, 2019

      The point is local authorities covering there arses in case someone drinks and is ill. It’s the water from the river and there’s no way to control what’s going on in there. Since mayors are being sued left right and center for things that have nothing to do with their natural authority, they are taking precautions, now.

  12. Avatar
    Adam Bonn March 24, 2019

    None of these pictures are bad..

    …and many have me goggle eyed, jaw to the floor acting like I never saw a photograph before!

    How you can consider splitting the combo that made these is um… er… yeah.

    Have a long hard think about that

    You’ve got natural light, web res images that actually look like MF. (That indeed have more than a hint of the M9 colour about them, which is no bad thing)

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 25, 2019

      Adam, thanks so much for the kind words. The splitting is harder than the atom’s. Not quite convinced that I want to really. Something has to go, financially, but what? I’ll publish two more lens “reviews” in the next few days. Maybe that can help come to a conclusion?

      My guess is the M9 and the X1D share a common good behaviour when it comes to respecting the signal coming from the lens, hence the shared look.

      Cheers.

      • Avatar
        jean pierre (pete) guaron March 27, 2019

        Here’s what is perhaps the most eulogistic review of a camera that I have ever come across:
        https://newatlas.com/sony-a9-review-first-impressions/50477/

        Of course you will realise from the juxtaposition of this comment with yours, that it is perfectly evil to bring this up – especially with your past association with sony cams. 🙂

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy March 27, 2019

          Yeah, and the AF is indeed compelling. The rest they can keep. Mountains and cities rarely move too fast for my burst rate and Sony colours … well …

  13. Avatar
    immodoc March 25, 2019

    Hi, thank you for showing the results when adapting the ZEISS Distagon (I also have) to “SUPER-“FF””. I did not expect color shift to set in at
    35mm.

    My SONY A7R2 works better in this respect. Vignetting and color-shift can be corrected in-camera with the SONY lens correction app (which
    does not help against corner weakness, however).

    The Fuji GFX 50R has a 35mm mode to avoid these problems.

    I used to adapt Leica M mount lenses to SONYs, but stopped doing so. In the early days, there were not enough E-mount lenses, and there
    was also the dream of using Leica lenses on low-cost bodies forever. Reality set in with the NEX-7 and the following “FF” A series.

    With “SUPER-“FF”” a reason to use Leica M mount lenses might be the desire to have a more compact combo with a large body (and of course
    the rendering of some lenses).

    But one must still live the limitations of these configurations. None of the new “heavy-metal” mirrorless bodies, including the Leica SL
    seem to work perfectly with all Leica M lenses.

    I am looking forward to the results with the ZEISS Sonnar (I also have) on the Hassy very much. — Most interesting …

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 25, 2019

      Hi immodoc, the mini review of the Zeiss C-Sonnar is finished and will be published on Wednesday 🙂

      Yes, the 35 ZM is happier on FF than on the X1D and often requires some cropping on that camera. But, as you say, the compactness and rendering and compelling arguments in favour of keeping one or two adapted lenses.

      All the best,
      Pascal

  14. Avatar
    Sean March 26, 2019

    Hi Pascal,
    I really like how the images that have been crafted – the way they’ve been drawn – because of how they take you in and bathe you in their emotive capacities and abilities, because of this unlikely and surprising combination of lens and camera. You’ve summed it up, ver well, and I quote”… 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 …”. Don’t exile Audry into the hands of another, keep her and let her sing for you in ways recently discovered and unexpected …
    Regards
    Sean

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 26, 2019

      Hi Sean, that sounds like good advice. The emotional qualities present in that lens counterbalance the very technical qualities of the rest of the system. It’s a good match.
      Kind regards, Pascal

  15. Avatar
    Johannes Hüttner March 26, 2019

    Hello Pascal,

    the performance of your Audrey on the X1D is better than I would’ve anticipated on such a large sensor. I would keep the 1.4/35 ZM just for the times you feel the itch..
    Lovely photographs as usual. I’m looking forward to your future posts on the X1D.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 26, 2019

      Thank you Johannes. 2 more lens reviews on the way. C-Sonnar tomorrow and XCD 30 towards the end of the week 🙂 All the best, Pascal

    • Avatar
      Brian Nicol March 27, 2019

      Hi, a larger sensor with huge pixels works better with m-glass than full frame sensors due to the more extreme angle of light hitting smaller pixels at an angle causing softness and cyan shift in the edges of the frame.

      • Avatar
        pascaljappy March 27, 2019

        Yes, and this is particularly interesting with vintage glass that doesn’t do well on the recent crop of super high-res FF cameras. See today’s post on the C-Sonnar 1.5/50. Cheers.

  16. Avatar
    Brian Nicol March 27, 2019

    Hi Pascal, as a quick reminder, it was me who suggested that you not rush out and sell Audrey and that she would provide at least 30 glorious MP on on the X1D. I had loved Audrey but sold her to fund my move to Panasonic/Olympus M43 system after a car accident a year ago. I have since added the Hasselblad X1D and XCD 30mm/45mm and two weeks ago the 80/1.9. The 30mm and 80mm are extraordinary glass. The only glass that I have regretted selling in my life are Audrey, zeiss zm 50/1.5 (which must be used under certain lighting conditions and one stop down as a minimum), and the Leica 50/1.4. I still have the Voightlander Heliar 50mm/3.5 which does not cover the X1D sensor but has a magical rendering that will not leave my hands until I am dead and the Leica 75/2 APO which covers the X1D sensor and is so compact to walk around all day. Once my wife is looking another direction, I will repurchase Audrey and the zeiss 50/1.5 as they are wonderful paintbrushes (rendering) for the right situation and the X1D is a great platform for m-mount glass and methodical shooting. Cheers! Brian

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy March 27, 2019

      Hi Brian, indeed.

      It originally bummed me that the X1D’s sensor wasn’t bigger. But now, it’s becoming obvious that this camera, with it’s superb colours and large pixels, is a fabulous host for adapted lenses. It’s ironical that this is what originally attracted me to the Sony A7 series and I feared that would be lost in the move to the X1D. But no, it’s even better than before, as I find this camera does an even better job (as it should, at twice the price) of transmitting the rendering of the lens to the final file.

      I liked Audrey on the camera but now think I like the C-Sonnar even more (see today’s post). That gentle glow gives the camera such a nice retro look.

      While the XCD 30 can never really be made to look exactly like Audrey, I’m finding that subtle PP can close the gap significantly. I’ll be posting a review of the XCD 30 by the end of the week and would very much like your feedback on the respective Audrey/XCD 30 visual merits.

      Cheers, Pascal.

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