(Pascal) Please welcome new contributor Paul Shadarevian, who shares his love for the combination of modern cameras with more traditional lenses. Something I can defintely relate to 😉 Thank you, Paul. All yours (/Pascal).
I have long been a fan of the Sony A7 series after looking for a full frame camera that did not have the bulk of traditional digital SLRs. Before I purchased my first Sony A7r, I used a Canon D5 with a combination of my Contax R and Leica R lenses. The results with each brand were superb (with slightly different colour rendition and character between the brands).
Having moved on to the A7r, I used the same lenses and again had superb results, but the weight of the lenses (coupled with the relatively large converter) did not do much to address the size issue. So, with the purchase of the A7rii I decided to try and go with Zeiss ZM and Leica m glass.
I have been using 4 lenses, and it is these I will discuss in the hope that my experience will help others looking to go a similar route: (1) Zeiss ZM 35(2), (2) Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar (1.5), (3) Leica 50mm Summicron, (4) Leica 90mm (2.8) “Thin” (1982 production Canada Lens).
Before I set out my experience with these lenses on the A7rii, let me say this. I do little landscape, but a lot of townscape, relishing light and shadow. I love portraiture and candid street photography. I also love examining photos on the computer screen (amazed at the resolving power of modern lenses) but, in reality, the level of sharpness that can be observed in prints up to A1 size is nothing like the same as can be seen on screen. Moreover, a good composition for even a large print does not, in the main, rely upon ultimate sharpness, so long as appropriate exposure and focus accuracy is achieved: a lot of that incredible resolving power and detail is simply not apparent on a print. Its the visual impact that matters: context, character, focus on the critical component of the shot, use of light and shade and, of course, the message (the latter may be intended by the author or spurred to be subjectively created by the viewer). Here is what I have found:
Zeiss ZM 35/2Small, light, beautifully engineered and as good as the Contax. Sharp across the frame and good (realistic) colour rendition. Works perfectly with the Sony and does not seem to raise issues with respect to the thickness of the sensor laminates. No flare issues. Lens hood makes no difference. A perfect choice for everyday use and landscape photogaphy and townscape photography in tight conditions.
Zeiss ZM 50/1.5 The lens has a lovely character and bokeh and I marginally prefer it to the Planar for the atmosphere it creates. There are no flare issues. At F1.5 it can be a little soft. At F2 it is wholly acceptable for large printing and, at this aperture, produces sumptuous bokeh, ample resolution and atmosphere.
So much has been said about this lens I will keep this short. It has a distinct and different character to the Contax/Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 (which I expect is closer to the ZM 50/2 Planar). However, and bearing in mind my view about sharpness, I have learned, nonetheless, that so many photos published in relation to reviews of this lens seem not fairly to represent its actual resolving capability and sharpness. Yesterday I took a quick shot of my friend, a decorator. This is not a shot that will win prizes: it has no compositional or artistic merit, but is taken simply to show how very good this lens is. The shot has not been subject to any post processing and has been taken at F2.8. If you zoom in, you can see that the dust on the skin and hair, skin texture and hair is resolved superbly. True, this lens does not produce edge to edge sharpness, but this does not worry me unless I am taking a shot which would benefit from it (as in the photo above), in which case I will use the ZM 35/2.
Above is a portrait taken at f2, post slight processing and cropping (it has been softened a little).
Below is a cropped version, to show the lens’ resolution.
Below is a portrait taken at f2, post slight processing and cropping (it has been softened a little).
Here is a townscape (Le Marche, Italy) taken at f8:
Leica 50mm SummicronI did not keep this lens. Yes it is superb and a bit sharper than the Sonnar wide open, but there are compatibility issues with the Sony sensor. On occasions it produced a veil or darkish halo in some shots which I found dislikeable, and the combination did not bring out the best this lens has to offer. There are numerous examples on Dear Susan where this can be seen. I found that it also tended to flare more easily (not direct flare, but that latent flare that causes a haze over part of the photo if shooting within 120 degrees of the sun source). It might be just my experience and others with same combination do not have them. In any event, if you can live with these issues, it is a great lens with that lovely Leica signature. However, why waste the attributes of such a superb lens on a camera that responds better to the Zeiss ZM? It is a senseless compromise, in my view.
Leica Elmarit 90/2.8 “Thin”I wanted a short telephoto to replace the contax 85 for occasional use. I also wanted something that would keep the camera light and small. This lens seemed ideal for this purpose (it is very small and compact). It has the same flare issues as the Summicron (not cured by the rubber lens hood), but for the kind of use I put it to (tight compositions and portraits) it is not that important, so in this instance I was prepared to compromise At f.4 it is superbly sharp and detailed (and because it is reasonably long, still produces great bokeh stopped down a little) You might find greater resolution with a newer and more expensive Leica 90, but you will also be loosing the size and portability of this little gem. In any event, if your main objective is to produce prints up to A1, it really does not matter that much-and you get the lovely Leica look. The photo of a the Sonnar below was taken simply to illustrate the resolving ability of the lens at F4. Focus is on the Sonar inscription [already cropped by 100%]. Rest assured this lens will provide an excellent shot if haze does not interfere, with excellent sharpness and resolution.
I hope, Dear Susan readers, this little personal review might prove to be of some assistance to those of you still thinking about using M lenses with a Sony A7. If your experiences differ, I am sure you will say so!
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