Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super wide-Heliar

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens mounted to a Sony A7r via a Voigtlander VM Adapter II. and Voigtlander L39 to M mount adapter.

I’ve been meaning to write a review of this lens for a long time – well over a year in fact – and it has proven difficult for a number of reasons which will become apparent as we proceed. In an ideal world all lenses would be wonderful for every possible use we put them to, and to be fair with modern lens their computer aided design makes this happen for the most part. Things get sketchy when we are dealing with older designs on modern digital cameras. High resolution digital imaging has placed a great deal of strain on lenses. With film only a few people had the time, ability, resources and inclination to examine the optical performance of lenses. This was largely the province of a few magazines (remember them?) and they would accompany a review with a couple of graphs which would reference the resolving capabilities with fine grains low ISO black and white films developed in special developers designed to minimise grain and maximise acutance. Now anyone can open up an image in Photoshop and zoom into 200% and see a lenses faults. This is why Canon, Nikon and independents such as Sigma are going through their catalogue of lenses and updating them, and this need for optical improvements explains why lenses are getting bigger, heavier and more expensive. Back to the matter at hand. The video below is the short version.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar Lens.

The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Aspherical Super wide-Heliar to give its full name is really the antithesis of modern lens design. It is small, light, affordable and not heavily optically corrected. But having said that this is the lens that really put Cosina’s re-launch of the Voigtländer brand on the radar of photographers. I can remember when this lens first came out a friend of mine borrowed one and ran around madly shooting roll after roll of film with a silly look on his face enthusing about it wildly. Up until then the widest lens in Leica M mount was the Zeiss 15mm f8 Hologon of which only 225 were made and currently change hands for around the $10,000 USD for one in mint condition.

The Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 is now discontinued but can be obtained as new old stock for approximately $600 USD, or second-hand on Ebay for around the $400 USD mark at the time of writing.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens showing the Leica L39 screw mount.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens showing the Voigtlander L39 to M mount adapter.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens showing the Voigtlander VM adapter II Sony E mount adapter.

 

Specifications

Mount – Leica thread or L39
Angle of view – 110º
Lens construction – 8 elements in 6 groups with one aspherical element
Number of aperture blades – 10
Aperture range f4.5 – f22 in half click stops
Minimum focusing distance – 29.85cm or 11.75 inches
Weight – 113g or 4oz
Diameter 49.6mm or 1.94 inches
Length – 30.7mm or 1.2 inches
Filter thread – N/A
Lens hood – built in tulip style
Rangefinder coupling – no

The lens is very well made – up to Cosina’s very high standards and it has, despite its diminutive size a solid feel and satisfying heft. The aperture ring is at the front of the lens, as is usual with rangefinder lenses, and turns nicely with satisfying half stop click indents. The focusing action is very smooth and has an approximate 100º throw. I found that I tended to use hyper focal distances to zone focus the lens in use as the short focal length means that the DOF is immense. The lens has a very clearly marked scale to make this easy. An aperture of f8 means that everything from 0.5m to infinity is in focus. Conversely lovers of shallow depth of field should really be looking elsewhere.

 

Test Results

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens mounted to a Sony A7r via a Voigtlander VM Adapter II.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar lens mounted to a Sony A7r via a Voigtlander VM Adapter II.

 

Years ago Clint Eastwood made a film called “The “Good, The Bad, The Ugly” (a movie which had the coolest theme tune ever, actually that is an exaggeration as everyone knows Shaft had the coolest, but it’s a close run thing) well this lens is all three. Good, bad and ugly. The good comes when you use the lens as intended on a film rangefinder body. The bad when you mount it on a digital m4/3s body and the ugly when you put in from of the A7r’s 36Mp sensor. This lens is one of the worst I’ve ever had on a digital camera – the worst was a $20 25 mm f/8 Holga lens in m4/3s mount which I tried using on my Olympus EP2 several years ago, but that is, as they say, another story. My friend who I mentioned earlier abused Kodak Tri-X by pushing it, developing in Rodinal and then lith printed the results. He wouldn’t have noticed what I’m about to describe. So this is how it was on the Sony A7r.Right from the get go there is obvious barrel distortion. Wide open there is considerable vignetting which has a very obvious magenta cast. No matter how far you stop down this does not go away (kind of like Mormon missionaries on your doorstep). Wide open the centre sharpness is quite good and remains so until f22 when diffraction rears its ugly head. The corners are smeared and out of focus, things improve a little by f11 but they never get to the level of sharpness of the centre of the lens. Chromatic aberration is also present throughout the aperture range. Flare for such a wide lens is remarkably well controlled and lovers of sunstars should be happy as the 10 aperture blades produce nice results.

 

With film the light-sensitive silver halide crystals don’t care at which angle light hits them.

The reasons for this are that Voigtländer 15mm was designed for use with film and the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion did not care at what angle lights hits them to provide the necessary reaction to form the latent image. But with a digital sensor it is a whole different ball game because the sensor is no longer just a gelatine substrate coated with an emulsion containing silver halide crystals it is a complex sandwich of filters, lenses and electronic componentry as the schematics  show. For best performance the light needs to enter micro lenses at 90º, when the incidence of the light is severely off perpendicular then not all of it reaches the pixel at the bottom of its well this can cause vignetting, smearing with loss of detail, and severe colour fringing. This is what stopped Leica initially developing a digital range finder. Kodak developed a special sensor with offset micro lenses for Leica to help overcome this along with in camera software correction the digital M became a reality.

For light to hit the pixel in its well it needs to travel as near to perpendicular to the sensor plane as possible.

In Use

For stills photography the 15mm f4.5 could be a consideration if you don’t have the current fixation of razor sharpness corner to corner i.e. if the hero of your shot is central to the frame and you don’t mind loss of sharpness at the edges. Working in monochrome would help get rid of the magenta cast of the edges as well. Have said that the magenta cast and vignetting are removable in post, the accompanying video shows how this can be done in Lightroom. In the gallery of example pictures below I’ve left the magenta cast in some of the photos so you can see what it looks like. If you’d like to see the photos larger they can be seen here.

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Video is another matter. Ideally this lens should be perfect for vlogging on a Sony A7 but the smearing, colour cast and vignetting make it quite unsuitable. Also it has no filter threads so it is impossible to use a variable neutral density filter which further adds to its unsuitability.

Conclusion

 

 

To be completely fair we are demonstrating uses for this lens that it was never designed for. With film and optical/chemical printing it is an amazing lens at very cheap price. When looking at it from a digital imaging point of view, whether stills or video, it really can’t be recommended unless you already own it and are prepared to put up with its short comings. If you are looking for an ultra wide the are better options available such as the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D Lens.

Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar

 

The above video is the short version. If you would like to see the test images for image quality larger please click on the photos.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar mounted on a Sony A7r via a Fotodiox DLX Stretch adapter.

This L39 or Leica Thread Mount (LTM) short telephoto lens was one of the first lenses release with the launch of Cosina’s Voigtländer branded camera line. It was discontinued in 2010 with the introduction of the 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic in August of 2010. The 75mm f2.5 can still be purchased as new old stock from some resellers ( Cameraquest being one of them) for $689 USD or second-hand on eBay for around $300. I bought this lens new in 2004 and put a LTM to M adapter on it to use with a Bessa R2.

Cosina Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar showing the native L39 mount.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar showing the Voigtlander Leica L to Leica M adapter.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar showing the Voigtlander Leica M to Sony E mount adapter.

 

The original Heliar design was developed in 1900 by Dr. Hans Harting as a symmetrical 5-element variant of the simple anastigmatic and well color-corrected Cooke triplet. In 1902 the design was revised correcting astigmatism, curvature and coma better than the original design. That new design was asymmetrical six elements in five groups. In 1950 Dr. A.W. Tronnier refined the design even further to produce the Color-Heliar. When Cosina revitalised and relaunched the Voigtländer line they revived the Heliar concept with the 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar. Cosina wanted to recreate the German optical aesthetic and engineering quality. This modern lens has a definite 1950’s look with its beautiful all metal construction. The scalloped focusing ring and ribbed aperture ring aid grip and the focusing ring is nicely dampened and has a throw of approximately 90º. The aperture ring has full and half click stops. The lens comes with a lens hood and it as well as the lens cap are made of brass. The lens hood is a push on fit over the lens hood, a particularly nice touch is the strip of velvet inside the cap to increase the friction between it and the lens hood. The gloss black finish does tend to wear but as it does so it creates a wonderful patina with the brass showing through.

 

Specifications

Mount – L39
Six elements in 5 groups
Aperture blades – 10
Aperture range – f2.5 -16
Angle of view on 35mm – 32º
Closest focusing distance – 1m
Filter size – 43mm
Length 64.5mm
Diameter – 55.5mm
Weight – 230g

Image Quality

 

Cosina Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar mounted on a Sony A7r via a Fotodiox DLX Stretch adapter. Shot wide open at f2.5.

 

Cosina Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar mounted on a Sony A7r via a Fotodiox DLX Stretch adapter. Shot at f5.6.

Vignetting is present at f2.5, but by f5,6 it has completely disappeared. Lateral or transverse chromatic aberration is present throughout the aperture range, but it is well controlled and very slight. It is easy to remove in Lightroom as is the slight pincushion distortion using the lens correction profiles. Wide open the centre is very sharp and contrasty while the edges are a little softer and less contrasty. At f5.6 the corners are as sharp and contrasty as the centre. Diffraction starts to kick in at f11 and decreases the optical quality. There is focus shift as the lens stops down and the lens breathes when focusing.

 

In Use

The minimum focusing distance of 1 metre does preclude its use for head and shoulders portraits unless you use something like the Fotodiox DLX Stretch or the Voigtlander VM/E Close Focus Adapter  which gives 4mm of extension and allows focusing as close as 0.65m. For half-length portraits the lens renders the background out of focus beautifully when shot slightly stopped down at f2.8 with lovely tonal transitions. This makes it a great lens for street photography and events. The fly in the ointment is that the total depth of field for 1.5m distance using an aperture of f2.8 is just 0.07m or 7 cm or 2.77 inches and the focus peaking on my A7r is not sensitive enough to make accurate focusing possible 100% of the time so I have to use the focus magnifier to punch in and fine adjust.

Now according to the pixel peepers on the forums at DPReview it is impossible to shoot moving subjects with anything less that a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1DX Mkii. In fact I get a an attack of hysterical laughter every time some one makes a post about wanting to take pictures of their young children and they are pushed towards those cameras with fast eye wateringly expensive fast primes. I digress. It is possible to shoot moving subjects with manual focus lenses and the A7r. At a recent Medieval Fayre I was able to shoot some action sequences of mounted archers and re-enactments of combat using a mixture and sometimes a combination of pre-focusing and follow focus. Stopping down to f5.6 and f8 gave a little leeway with focusing and smooth focusing action definitely helped. The whole experience of going out with a camera, two small lenses (the other was Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar), a couple of batteries, and an extra memory card was extremely liberating and made the whole experience fun.

Conclusion

The Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar is not a sexy fast aperture lens and this is why it was replaced by the 75mm f1.8 Heliar Classic. Consequently it is ignored by many people which is a great shame as it is a very well made and well performing short telephoto lens. If you like candid portraiture then it is a no-brainer.

 

Sample Photos

Fremantle council has gone a bit overboard with the double yellow lines.

 

Reading about the history of migration outside the Maritime Museum in Fremantle, Western Australia.

 

The Svitzer Eagle tug boat returns to Fremantle Harbour after escorting to Conti Stockholm out to sea.

 

A dog waiting for its owner outside the Beverley Hotel. Beverley Western Australia.

 

Close up of some ornamental blossom using the Cosina Voigtlander 75mm f2.5 Color-Heliar and the Fotodiox DX Stretch.

 

Mounted archery demonstration at the 2017 York Medieval Fayre. Western Australia.

 

The plague doctor carrying out his duties at the 2017 York Medieval Fayre. Western Australia.

 

Pie Melons or Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai are an introduced pest in Western Australia.

 

York Motor Show 2016. Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia.

 

An old Mercedes truck sits in a paddock slowly rusting. Quairading, Western Australia.

 

 

 

Cosina Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar Lens

A close up of the 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar. The clearly marked aperture ring, the focus distance and the hyperfocal settings mean that it is a great for street photography as it is a breeze to use zone focusing.

 

The above video is a shortened version of this entry.

 

Cosina are a Japanese lens manufacturer who produce lenses under their own and under companies names. In 1999 they leased the licensing of the Voigtländer name and started making camera bodies and lenses. Sadly they have stopped making cameras but are still making lenses in the following mounts:

VM – or Leica M
Sony E Mount or Nex
M4/3
Nikon F

There is no need to worry about Cosina’s ability to manufacturer lenses as Carl Zeiss has them make many of their lenses.

 

The Cosina Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar lens is very small and compact. The optional vented lens hood practically doubles its size.

 

This article is about the 35/2.5 P type II VM mount MC version. Which is a way of saying that there have been several versions of this lens with different mounts and lens coatings and this model was introduced in February 2004, I purchased it new that year, and it is still in production. Physically the lens is similar in styling to the Leica pe-aspheric 35mm f2 Sumicron right down to the inclusion of the finger tab on the focusing ring. The vented lens hood is an optional but essential extra, so if purchasing new budget for it, if buying second-hand look for a copy with it included. Readers not familiar with range finders may scoff at the design of the lens hood but the design was necessary so that the hood would not obstruct the view through the viewfinder. Not necessary when adapting the lens to the Sony A7 cameras but it does make the lens look cooler. Yes my copy has a dented lens hood, the lens has been very well used over the years. It also shows that a lens hood provides more protection against damage than a filter ever could.

 

Optical construction of the Cosina Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar Lens P type II VM mount MC showing 7 elements in 5 groups.

 

 

The Cosina Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar lens can be adapted to mount on the Sony A7 and A9 series of cameras by means of an adapter such as the Fotodiox DLX Stretch Leica M to Sony Nex adapter.

Lens Vital Statistics

 

The construction is all metal and for such a tiny lens it has a reasonable heft and feels very dense. So as you can see this is truly a “pancake” lens and makes a very nice all day walk around pairing with a Sony A7. Street and landscape photographers rejoice! The lens also has marked on its barrel along with the focusing scale depth of field markings, this makes zone focusing and setting the hyperfocal distance a breeze. Set at an aperture of f22 everything from 1 metre to infinity will be in focus. The focusing ring has a smooth throw of around 90º coupled with the afore-mentioned finger tab and focusing while the camera is at eye level is just so easy. The aperture ring while admittedly very thin has two tabs on it opposite each other that help you find the ring by touch and adjust without taking your eye from the viewfinder. So while it would be easy to dismiss the lens because of its retro styling these little inclusions show that this is a lens that is meant to be used. To use it on anything other than an M mount camera you will need an adapter.

 

 

Mounted to my Sony A7r how does it perform? Unsurprisingly for a pancake lens vignetting is quite apparent wide open at f2.5 along with a magenta colour cast along the edges and in the corners of the frame. The vignetting is a result of the optical design, the magenta cast the result of putting a true 35mm lens in front of a digital sensor designed to use retro-focused lens designs. The lens was designed for film so it didn’t matter that the rear element was so close to the film plane as the silver halide crystals in the emulsion didn’t care whether the light rays were hitting them perpendicularly or not. Digital sensors do require the light rays to hit perpendicular to the sensor plane, if they don’t you get light fall off, smearing and colour fringing. The Sony A7 cameras because they are mirrorless designs have micro lenses on the sensor that help pick up the light rays at acute angles, but the camera needs to know what the lens is before any correction can be applied. This lens has no electronic communication with the camera so the cast remains. The performance of the lens improves considerably as the lens is stopped down, so the vignetting is all but gone by f8 but the magenta fringing continues throughout the aperture range. Happily the colour cast can be removed in post. If you use Adobe Lightroom there are correction profiles for the Voigtländer lenses – the video accompanying this article shows how they work. If you use other processing software have a look at Cornerfix which is a little app that allows you to build lens profiles.

 

At f2.5 vignetting is very apparent. It is also apparent that there is a magenta colour cast in the corners and along the edges caused by the proximity of the lens’ rear element to the camera sensor.

 

By f8 it has all but disappeared. The magenta cast remains throughout the aperture range.

 

When it comes to distortion – there is some barrel distortion, but that is easily fixed in post as is the small amount of chromatic aberration. Sharpness at f2.5 in the centre of the images is very good with nice edge contrast befitting a modern multi-coated lens. The edges are considerably softer with less contrast. The wide angled rangefinder lens in front of a digital sensor problem comes into play here. A lot of people will complain that there is smearing of detail, and that is true it does happen (Spoiler Alert!) and wait until you see my review of the CV 15mm f4.5 as that has it in spades, but with this moderate wide-angle and it’s fairly sedate maximum aperture of f2.5 the light rays are not being forced to hit the sensor at extreme angles so there is no visible evidence of detail smearing in the corners of an image. Like most lenses used on a 35mm sensor diffraction sets in at f16, it’s not disastrous. Diffraction is not like falling off of a cliff – at f11 everything is sharp then at f16 everything is out of focus. No there is a slight loss of edge definition which is a little more noticeable at f22. Flare is well controlled, but I would still recommend the lens hood and the 10 aperture blades produce nice sun stars.

 

100% enlargements from the centre and edges of the frame. Click on the image to see larger.

My verdict.

Well lets look at pricing first. B&H Photo sell this puppy new for just over $400 USD sans lens hood at the time of writing. There are dealers on eBay that sell them for $350 USD and second-hand copies can be found starting at just over the $200 USD mark. This is not a sexy fast aperture lens and the price reflects that. There are only 7 lens elements with no fancy shapes. What you are getting is very compact moderately wide angled lens with a modest maximum aperture of f2.5. It is well designed and for stills photography is a delight to use. For video it is possible to use it, but the focus throw is a little on the short side, the small size makes operating the lens a little harder while filming and the small filter size makes the use of variable neutral density filters a little cumbersome. It is not a lens that lens snobs would consider, but it is a very fine workman like tool that I won’t ever sell because it is well made, functions well and is optically very consistent. If you like manual lenses and see one at a good price buy one. Like the many people who left reviews on the B&H web page you won’t be disappointed.

 

Examples

Young lovers walk arm in arm through Northbridge in Perth, Western Australia. Voigtlander Bessa R2 with 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar with red filter and Ilford Delta 400.

 

Curry Laksa – one of life’s essentials. Golden York Chinese Restaurant, York, Western Australia. The Fotodiox DLX Stretch adapter is extended to give a minimum focusing distance of 30 cm instead of the usual 70cm.

 

Testing the Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar on the Sony A7r. Mount Brown, York, Western Australia.

 

Young kids on the Avon Walk Trail in York, Western Australia.

 

St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia. Veiling flare with the 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar. While resistant to flare it is possible induce it even when using a lens hood.

 

The vintage Shell petrol pump outside the York Motor Museum on Avon Terrace in York, Western Australia.

 

Jules Cafe on Avon Terrace in York, is a friendly alternative cafe well patronised by locals and tourists alike. Distortion is very well controlled and corner to corner sharpness at f8 is good.

M To N

 

The Sony NEX mount was made for sad old gits like me. “Hold on Paul…” I can hear you say “do you mean that Sony engineered a whole camera line specifically for you?”. No! There was a happy accident that had some unforeseen benefits. I’ll explain. This is going to be a bit beardy and nerdy.

The first commercial 35m film camera was produced – the Tourist Multiple. made by Herbert & Huesgen of New York

Just over 100 years ago, or to be precise in 1909, the film (or movie depending upon where you are from) industry standardised on a film format of 1.37 inches in width with four perforations per frame. The decision was economic, it meant that cinemas didn’t have to have different sized film projectors. In 1913 the first commercial 35m film camera was produced – the Tourist Multiple. made by Herbert & Huesgen of New York. Unfortunately this achievement is largely forgotten because the story of Oskar Barnack inventing 35mm film for stills and the Leica camera has become the accepted history, but that is FAKE NEWS as a certain orange haired buffoon is apt to say. Not long after these small format cameras as they were then known took two distinct evolutionary paths the rangefinder (which was the first) as pioneered by Leica and the Single Lens Reflex as pioneered by K. Nüchterlein’s when the Kine Exakta launched in 1936.

The first Single Lens Reflex was the Kine Exakta launched in 1936.

 

Looking through a rangefinder viewfinder. Illustration p.31 London, B et al Photography, 7th Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002.
How range finder focusing works. Illustration from p.31 London, B et al Photography, 7th Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002.

Rangefinder cameras initially were very popular. The technology was available and relatively simple and the cameras and lenses were very compact. The photographer looks through a window on the camera and sees an image with a fainter duplicate from a rotating prism over laid. The photographer adjusts the rangefinder until the two images match up exactly, then the image is in focus. This system was called the split image rangefinder and had been developed to sight artillery pieces and was well understood at the time. The disadvantage is of course that the photographer is not seeing what the lens sees, only an approximation which can lead to inaccurate framing due to parallax errors. Interchangeable lenses were facilitated by having a screw mount and Leica adopted as their standard the L39 or LTM (Leica Thread Mount) which is 39mm in diameter with a Whitworth thread of 0.977 pitch and a flange distance of 28.8mm. Other manufacturers made variations on a theme i.e. the Canon M39 (aka J Mount) and the FED 39 which all share the same diameter but the thread pitch and flange distances are different. By the 1950’s photographers were looking for a faster way of changing lenses and so short throw bayonet mounts were developed. In 1954 Leica introduced the M mount and this is characterised by it having an external diameter of 44mm, a bayonet consisting of four claws and a flange distance of 27.8mm.

With the advent of digital imaging camera designers were suddenly allowed to consider alternative designs where there were no moving parts. It was hoped that eliminating the mirror and using an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and taking a direct readout off of the sensor would allow cheaper and easier manufacture. The autofocus system would be more accurate because the readings could be taken directly off of the sensor and the use of electronics allowed more accuracy than mechanical linkages. With no flappy mirror to interfere with things the flange distance could be reduced along with it’s radius. So the Sony NEX mount has a flange distance of 18mm and a diameter 41.6mm which means that just about any lens can be mounted to a NEX body via an adapter and as long as it has an imaging circle big enough so that an image can be projected on the sensor. The NEX mount covers both so-called full frame format (35 x 24mm) and the APSC format (24 x 16mm). This is the happy accident because I’m sure that when Sony adopted this standard they didn’t realise that it would allow legions of photographers all over the world to mount legacy lenses (lenses made for cameras that are no longer produced) to be mounted to the new Sony mirrorless cameras. Now I am the first to admit dear reader that as a photographer I have been promiscuous. I have not stayed faithful to one brand or lens mount which means that I have a fair few lenses sitting in a shoe box that I no longer have camera bodies for. Now I’ve already talked about mounting my old Olympus OM Zuiko lenses on my Sony A7r here. This and a few subsequent posts are going to be about using L39 and M mount lenses.

The Fotodiox DLX Stretch is a clever M mount to NEX adapter that has a built in adjustable extension tube to allow a degree of close focusing with any M Mount lens.

“So who in their right mind would want to do this?” Well you’re probably right to want to do this would be a sign of mental infirmity to some, but for many people (myself included) auto everything cameras are a bit boring and modern lenses while being technically very good can be a bit characterless. While Leica lenses are wallet puckeringly expensive there are plenty of more affordable alternatives made by Minolta (now absorbed by Sony), Konica (initially taken over by Minolta and then swallowed up by Sony), Ricoh, Voigtländer, Rollei (both of these as part of Cosina’s licensing of their names) Zeiss and those produced in Russia such as Zorki and Fed. These lenses are beautifully made with metal barrels and mounts, buttery smooth focusing, and exquisite clicking aperture rings. I’ve got a Canon L macro lens, and while it produces wonderful images the plastic body is somewhat underwhelming considering the price Canon charge for it and it’s not something I’d pick up for the tactile experience and as for the whole joy of ownership – well let’s not talk about it. These older lenses just feel so satisfying in the hand that makes you want to do some serious lens fondling. They just engender a joy of ownership that plastic can’t. I told you there are mental health issues with this.

SLRs have a big flippy flappy mirror between the lens and the film/sensor. Illustration p.38 Parish, S; Photograph Australia With Steve Parish, Steve Parish Publishing, Brisbane, 2003.

Another reason why rangefinder lenses are attractive is that there are fewer optical design compromises. SLRs have a big flippy flappy mirror between the lens and the film/sensor. This meant making wide-angle lenses next to impossible because the rear lens element would foul the mirror. In 1950 Pierre Angénieux invented the retrofocus lens which is a kind of “reverse” telephoto design where the lens elements closest to the film plane have a negative effect making the image smaller. The downsides are more glass elements means more air to glass surfaces which means more refraction which means more potential chromatic aberration and distortion. More glass means more weight. Here’s an interesting fact – a cubic centimetre of glass is heavier than a cubic centimetre of concrete. Range finders are mirrorless cameras so there isn’t a restrictive mirror flapping about, this has the net effect that your 28mm lens can be a true 28mm lens without a whole bunch of extra glass causing problems. It also means that rangefinder lenses are much smaller than their SLR counterparts.

The retro focus lens design invented by Pierre Angenieux.

However, it is not all unicorns at the bottom of the garden. Rangefinder lenses were designed for use with film and the silver halide crystals in the film emulsion did not care at what angle lights hits them to provide the necessary reaction to form the latent image. But with a digital sensor it is a whole different ball game because the sensor is no longer just a gelatine substrate coated with an emulsion containing silver halide crystals it is a complex sandwich of filters, lenses and electronic componentry as the schematic from whatdigitalcamera shows. For best performance the light needs to enter micro lenses at 90º, when the incidence of the light is severely off perpendicular then not all of it reaches the pixel at the bottom of its well this can cause vignetting, smearing with loss of detail, and severe colour fringing. This is what stopped Leica initially developing a digital range finder. Kodak developed a special sensor with offset micro lenses for Leica M8 to help overcome this along with in camera software correction the digital M became a reality.

The many layers that make up film emulsion. The silver halide crystals respond to light hitting them at any angle. Illustration from London, B et al; Photography, 7th Edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2002.

 

Anatomy of a sensor. A – Colour filter array
. B – Low-pass filter / Anti-aliasing filter
. C – Infrared filter (hot mirror). D – Circuitry
. E – Pixel
. F – Microlenses. G – Black pixels

. For light to hit the pixel in its well it needs to travel as near to perpendicular to the sensor plane as possible. Illustration from http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/technical-guides/technology-guides/sensors-explained-11457

 

Why not buy a digital M and be done with it? There is no way I could afford a digital Leica as I’m not a “Trustafarian”, and also and perhaps more importantly, my lenses are not made by Leica they are the much cheaper Voigtländers so I’m not going to drop nearly $10K AUD just to use them again. But as I had a Sony A7r for experimenting with my collection of Olympus OM Zuiko lenses I thought I’d just buy a M to N adapter. Because the Sony NEX mount is a much shorter flange distance than a conventional DSLR its sensor does have micro lenses to cope with the native wide angles. However, the fly in the ointment is that just having them alone does not fix the problems with M mount lenses because there is no in camera correction via firmware. So straight away the situation is more complex than using old SLR lenses. The answer is obviously to fix the problems in post. Users of Lightroom can rejoice as there are profiles for Voigtländers lenses in the developing module. They are easy to use but given that they are somewhat generic they sometimes don’t fix the problem entirely requiring a little extra fiddling about. If you are really keen then you can build your own profiles using Cornerfix.

The Voigtlander M to Nex adapter allows users of M mount lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander to mount their lenses on Mirrorless cameras from Sony

Well now we’ve got that out of the way lets talk about adapters. At their most basic an adapter is just a tube with a male bayonet mount at one end and a female at the other. For the sake of brevity I’ll limit this to just dumb adapters i.e. you’re not trying to get auto focus and stabilisation to work. There are a huge range of prices for essentially the same thing. I’ve paid as little as $15 including postage from China to as much as $200. So what do you get for your money? Not a lot. I got a Voigtländers VM II Adapter – Leica M Lenses to Sony E Mount for $200 AUD from an Australian seller. It looked nicely made but it had a serious flaw, there was no spring in the lens release button which means that your lens could fall off as it wasn’t secured. I don’t know if that is typical but I had no luck with trying to exchange it with the seller so I was kind off put off spending a lot of money. The next adapter I bought was from a Chinese seller on eBay and it cost a grand total of $15 AUD and it worked fine. A little agrarian in the looks department but it did the job nicely. Then I noticed that Voigtländer made a close focus adapter which took my fancy. Generally rangefinder lenses only focus down to 1 metre and I like to use wide angles closer than that for dramatic effect and it also meant that my 75mm was suitable for tight portraits. So my interest was definitely piqued, but my wallet was a little bit shy about coughing up $389 AUD after my experience with the other one. Then I discovered the Fotodiox DLX Stretch for $170 AUD from B&H Photo and for half the price of the Voigtländer coupled with B&H’s excellent customer service I was in like Flynn.

The Fotodiox DLX Stretch is a clever M mount to NEX adapter that has a built in adjustable extension tube to allow a degree of close focusing with any M Mount lens.

When the DLX Stretch arrived in its plain brown wrapper I quickly reassured the significant other that it wasn’t anything X rated (“No luv I said photographic accessory not pornographic accessory!”) and got down to playing with it. Basically what it is is an adapter with its own built in variable extension ring. The extension is achieved via a helicoid with a long throw. The amount of extension is not great about 2-3mm but that is enough to reduce the minimum focusing on my Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar from 70cm to 30cm. As my Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super-Wide Heliar and Voigtländer 75mm f2.5 Color Heliar are both L39 screw fitting I promptly ordered two L39 to Leica M adapters so I could use them with the Fotodiox DLX Stretch and the results were just as impressive. For the 75mm the minimum focus is 100cm and is then reduced to 65cm, and for the 15mm the minimum focus was reduced from 30cm to 12cm.

The Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide Heliar normally has a minimum focusing distance of 30cm but when used with the Fotodiox DLX Stretch at full extension the minimum focusing distance becomes 12cm.

In terms of construction the DLX Stretch is reassuringly weighty (unlike the cheap Chinese adapters which feel so light that they may be made from a lacquered toilet roll tube). Both the male and female mounts are chrome plated brass. The aluminium body is anodised a natty orange colour that matches the orange lens mount trim on Sony A7 series cameras. The ring that moves the helicoid is knurled and has a prominent finger tab and has a nice smooth action although saying that it is difficult to use while videoing without creating camera shake. There is no wiggle or play with the extension and the unit attaches to cameras and lens snuggly with evidence of any play or light leaks. To further install confidence in the product Fotodiox warranty the adapter for 24 months.

The Cosina Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar mounted to a Sony A7r via a Fotodiox DLX Stretch M to E lens adapter.

 

A photo of bowl of curry laksa taken with the Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar lens on a Sony A7r at the lenses normal minimum focusing distance of 70 cm.

 

The same bowl of Laksa with the same camera and lens but this time the Fotodiox DLX Stretch is extended to give a minimum focusing distance of 30 cm.

Overall I can see some photographers scoffing at the concept saying they have no need. Myself I like it very much and am using it a lot especially with the Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 Super-Wide Heliar.

Three Lenses

This post came about as a response to post on a Google+ group I belong to. The post contained a link to an article at the website Olympus Passion by Chris Corradino (whom I don’t know) called “Full Frame vs Micro 4-3 Revisited with Pro Olympus Lens” where a canon EOS 6d with 17-40mm f4 L lens was compared with an Olympus OMD EM10 with 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens. Nothing wrong with that, it serves as a potentially useful comparison of two popular cameras and lenses. In the article he posts two pictures of the same scene taken around a year apart, one used a polarizing filter one didn’t and the Canon 17-40L is not the best lens in the line up, and comparing a wide-angle zoom to a standard zoom doesn’t really tell anything. Also Olympus uses in camera software correction of its lenses to the RAW files whereas the Canon doesn’t and one has to manually apply correction when processing in Lightroom or ACR. So I thought about it and decided to do my own test. Now before I start I’d like to say that testing zoom lenses is fraught with difficulty and the reason why is very ably demonstrated by Roger Cicala’s excellent article “Painting Zoom Lenses with a Broad Brush – Roger’s Law of Wide Zoom Relativity” which is enough to make any sane person throw up their hands in horror at the enormity of it all.

 

The file from the EM1 with the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 opened in Lightroom.

 

If we look at the lens correction box it shows that a built in lens profile has been applied.

 

I’m not really the scientific type, but I know that to make any form of comparison you have to compare like with like and remove all variables. The cameras and lenses tested were as follows:

  • Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 pro
  • Canon EOS6d with Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L
  • Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS

Why three cameras and three lenses, well mainly a case of why not, but also I wanted to see how a budget kit lens performed against the two “pro” lenses, and I was using it as a control as I had previously looked at it. Each lens was shot at the wide end and the long end, with the wide end an architectural shot to look at how the lens behaved at infinity and close-ups at the long end.

 

Holy Trinity York provided the wide-angle subject.

 

Typically standard zooms behave best at the wide end and the performance deteriorates as you zoom into the long end. All the lenses were tested at an aperture of f8 for the two shots previously mentioned and wide open to test for vignetting. For each shot the camera was mounted to a tripod, there were no filters on the lenses, any image stabilisation was turned off and the shutter was tripped via the self timer. All metering was done using a handheld incident light meter – Minolta Auto Meter V f. Because the base ISO of the EM1 is 200 all the images on all cameras were shot at value. The only DSLR in the group was used in live view mode to avoid mirror slap. The images were all shot as RAW files and then converted to 8 bit jpgs using RawTherapee (version 4.2.1) which allows you to switch off any embedded lens correction. There was no sharpening, noise reduction or correction for chromatic aberration. Ok that’s the methodology lets look at what happened. Click on the images to see them at full size.

Phillip the photographic bear provided the tele test subject

 


Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens

The Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens was announced as Olympus’ high end standard zoom in 2013 to accompany their then flagship camera the OMD EM1.

 

Built for the micro four thirds system this lens is equivalent to a 24-80 mm lens and that’s all the talk of equivalency you’ll get out of me, if you want more see this. The lens was launched at the same time as the EM1 in 2013 and it heralded a new line of “Pro” lenses. Of the three lenses here it is the only one with a metal outer construction and it has a splash proof and dust proof design. Its vital statistics are 84mm in length, a diameter of 69.9mm, has a filter thread of 62mm and weighs in at 382g. Not that it counts for much, but it feels nice in the hand and the manual focus clutch (reminiscent of the ones found on Pentax’s 645 range of lenses, is a very nice touch. Optically there are 14 elements in 9 groups – there are 1 aspherical element, 1 dual-sided aspherical element, 2 ED glass elements, 2 HR glass elements, 1 EDA glass element, 1 HD glass element. It is the most optically complex lens of the group. For bokeh aficionados there are 7 rounded aperture blades. The minimum focusing distance is 0.2m.

 

At the wide end the centre of the image is what you’d expect from a modern zoom, it is sharp and contrasty. At the edges the image is still sharp but the contrast has fallen off a little giving the appearance of softness. The chromatic aberration (CA) is very apparent. At the long end in the centre the image is still sharp but the contrast is lower than what we found on the wide end. The edges exhibit a little softness. The CA virtually non-existent. The results from the long end caused me a little consternation as it was the first time I’d seen images without any in camera correction applied so I repeated them just be sure and got exactly the same result.

The lens resolution chart shot at 12mm wide open to show any vignetting or lens distortion.

 

Testing for vignetting and distortion I found that the lens exhibited marked vignetting and barrel distortion at the wide end at f2.8. The vignetting had disappeared on stopping down to f5.6.

 

This time at 40mm wide open.

At the long end there is only slight vignetting and very mild pincushion distortion. What is interesting is that there is significant variation in the exposure, remember these were metered using a handheld incident meter. The long end is nearly a whole stop darker than the wide end. This shouldn’t happen with a constant aperture zoom.


Canon EOS6d with Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L lens

The Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L lens was introduced in 2012 as Canon’s budget (if that term can be used at this price) L series standard zoom lens.

 

This is the most expensive lens in the group with a retail price of around $1200 AUD. It is also worth pointing out that this is the budget standard zoom in Canon’s L range. This lens was introduced in 2012 and was intended to be a kit lens for then newly announced Canon EOS6d. The body is made of some variant of ABS plastic which is somewhat disappointing considering the price, but with a weight of 600g it has a satisfying heft. The optical construction is 15 lens elements in twelve groups with 2 aspherical and 2 UD elements. The aperture diaphragm is comprised of 9 rounded blades. Unsurprising it is the biggest lens of the trio being 93mm long, 83.4mm in diameter and has a 77mm filter thread. Image stabilisation is built into the lens and is good for four stops. The minimum focus distance is 0.38m, but the lens has a rather nifty macro feature where you press a button and turn the zoom ring and that takes it down to 0.2m and a maximum magnification of 0.7x.

At 24mm the centre of image is extremely sharp and contrasty and the edges are the same. At the tele end it is a repeat. Chromatic aberration is non-existent at both extremes.

The Canon EF 24-70 f4 IS L at 24mm wide open

 

Shooting wide open at 24mm vignetting is very apparent, I would say that there’s probably 2 stops difference between the corner and the centre. The barrel distortion is not excessive but is noticeable. At 70mm a small amount of vignetting can be seen and there is some mild pincushion distortion.

 

The Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L at 70mm wide open.

Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS

 

The Sony 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS was introduced in 2013 as the budget kit zoom to accompany the Sony A7 mirrorless camera.

 

The joker in the pack and the cheapest on test at just under $350 AUD, and boy when you pick this one up it certainly feels like it. When I originally wrote about it on 3rd July 2016 I was very skeptical of its durability, well nothing adverse has happened to mine, but, Kirk Tuck wrote today that his met a tragic end courtesy of a dog’s tail and a hard floor. Well what do get for your $350? Well unsurprisingly at this price point this is largely made of plastic – the cheap kind – and is very light coming in at 295g. There’s not a lot of glass either just 9 elements in 8 groups made up 1 extra low dispersion and 3 aspherical elements. The simpler optical design and low price makes this the only variable aperture lens in the test group. The aperture diaphragm is made up of 7 blades. Size wise it is a compact 83mm long, has a diameter of 72.5mm and has a filter thread of 55mm. The plus points are that it is dust and moisture resistant, has built in image stabilisation, has a respectable minimum focusing distance of 0.4m and comes with a lens hood. As an aside I believe that every lens should come with a hood.

 

 

At 28mm the lens is again just like any other modern lens – sharp and contrasty. At the edges there is a drop off in contrast but they remain sharp. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled and easily fixed in Lightroom. The slow variable aperture means that vignetting is not a problem and there is only slight barrel distortion. At 70mm the centre is sharp and has good levels of contrast, the edges are sharp with a slightly lower contrast. There was also some evidence of coma. Again very little vignetting and a slight trace of pin cushion distortion.

The Sony 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 28mm wide open.

 

The Sony 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 70mm wide open.

 


Conclusion

So is the Olympus 12-40 the Canon killer that Chris Corroding says? Well without in camera software correction it is only just a bit better than the Sony which is half the price. It is the correction that elevates this lens to very good. Having said that the Canon 24-70 f4 is probably one of their very best zoom lenses and produces very good images straight out of the camera. Apply the Lightroom lens profile and it is even better. Is that surprising? No considering its cost I would hope it be optically very good. This is the rub – for $350 AUD you get a surprisingly good lens with the Sony and most people would be very happy with it. The Olympus at $870 AUD sees some significant improvement. The Canon at $1200 AUD sees only incremental improvement over the Olympus. The law of diminishing returns is very clearly at work here.

When it comes down to sensor performance the Sony A7r rips the head off of the EM1 and EOS6d and spits down the stump. I have been amazed by how well it performs – the dynamic range is very, very good, the lack of an anti-aliasing filter means that with good lenses insane amounts of detail can be rendered, and the high ISO performance is also very good. The Canon EOS6d’s sensor is capable of very nice colour rendition, especially skin tones, but it is not the best when it comes to dynamic range. It is what I’d call workman like. For the Olympus EM1, well the dynamic range is very good, high ISO performance not so. The lack of anti-aliasing filter helps you get the best out of the lenses. I really like my m4/3 Olympus cameras and lenses, I use them more than anything else, but I really feel that the sensors are holding them back. I’ve yet to get any long-term usage out of the new 20Mp sensor that is found in the EM1 Mkii, but I do think that if they got access to the latest BSI sensors from Sony and reduced the base ISO to 100 that there would be quite a sizeable performance boost. But all this is moot as all three are capable of excellent results if I do my part.

It is important to remember that I only have access to one of each lens so I have no idea of what the sample variation is for any of them. What does this all mean in terms of real world usage? Well I’ve used my Olympus 12-40 far more than the Canon 24-70 and I am more than happy with how it performs. I hardly ever use the Sony 28-70 as I only really use the A7r with legacy lenses.

 


 

Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5

Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens
Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens

 

The Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 was one of the original lenses released with the OM1 in 1972. It is fair to say that the lens has tended to be ignored somewhat since the release of the f2 version, this was true in the days of film and it is especially true today with the current trend of mounting legacy glass on cameras such as the Sony A7r. Demand for a product dictates the price and copies of the f2 change hands on eBay for over $1000 USD while the f3.5 goes for around $350 USD. Apart from the aperture what other differences are there between the two? Well asymmetrical-type ultra wide-angle lenses are designed for optimum performance at infinity and unfortunately when used at their closest focusing distance picture quality has a tendency to deteriorate. The 21mm f2 lens incorporates a floating element system for improved sharpness from its close 0.2 meter (0.7 ft) minimum focusing distance to infinity and ensuring its superlative optical performance be extended to its closest working range. So what are the advantages of the 21mm f3.5? Well it fits Yoshihisa Maitani’s design criteria for the OM system – being lightweight and very compact. This thing is

The Fotodiox OM to Nex adapter is bigger than the OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens.
The Fotodiox OM to Nex adapter is bigger than the OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 lens.

absolutely tiny. It is about the same size as the Fotodiox OM to NEX adapter. Most other camera systems would call this a pancake lens – it’s not, it’s just that most modern DSLR cameras are very bloated and unnecessarily large. Optically it has 7 elements in 7 groups, is 31mm (1.2 inches) long, 59mm (2.3 inches) in diameter and has a filter thread of 49mm. Like most Olympus OM lenses there are different versions of the lens – the original weighed in 185g (6.5 oz) while the newer MC (multi coated) one, which is tested here, is 180g (6.3 oz) while sharing the same optical construction and exterior dimensions. Although it does not have the floating rear element of the f2 version it still focuses down to 20cm (7.87 inches) and the quality is reasonable.

20160907-olympus21mm-0228

Test Results

The book shelf optical test. The camera is mounted on a tripod so as to get the whole shelf in the frame without causing loss of the parallel vertical lines.
The book shelf optical test. The camera is mounted on a tripod so as to get the whole shelf in the frame without causing loss of the parallel vertical lines.

Using my standard book shelf test it is immediately apparent that the lens has noticeable barrel distortion. This is not uncommon in wide-angle lenses and occurs where the image magnification decreases with distance from the optical axis and makes parallel straight lines look like the edges of a wooden barrel. These days this can be easily corrected in post. Looking more closely it is easy to see chromatic aberration on high contrast edges, again easily corrected in post. Wide open at f3.5 the centre of the image is sharp with what would now be construed as having low contrast but is actually quite good and can easily be improved on with a quick adjustment in curves. The edges are very soft and lacking in contrast – not mush but would be easily noticeable in architectural shots. At f8 the centre has improved and you can forget the thoughts of a contrast adjustment. The edges have improved but they are still not good. It is at f11 where things start to come very good, the centre is excellent and the edges are not far off. Any further stopping down and optical quality will drop off due to the effects of diffraction. Vignetting is very apparent when wide open – maybe 2 to 2 1/2 stops difference between the centre and the corners. Things improve significantly by f8. Flare is very well controlled considering the angle of view and the sun stars are quite nice considering there are only six aperture blades.

All images are SOOC with no sharpening or optical corrections. The sections are 100% views from the centre and top left corner of the image. This can be viewed larger by clicking on the image.
All images are SOOC with no sharpening or optical corrections. The sections are 100% views from the centre and top left corner of the image. This can be viewed larger by clicking on the image.

 

Wide open vignetting causes a light loss of 2-21/2 stops in the corners.
Wide open vignetting causes a light loss of 2-21/2 stops in the corners.

 

A comparison between the Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 and the Canon EF 20mm f2.8.
A comparison between the Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 and the Canon EF 20mm f2.8.

 

A comparison between the Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 and the Canon EF 20mm f2.8.
A comparison between the Olympus OM Zuiko 21mm f3.5 and the Canon EF 20mm f2.8.

So keeping in mind this is a sample of just 1 and I have no idea if this is a good example or a bad what can I say about this lens. Well I happen to own a Canon EF 20mm f2.8 and while not one of Canon’s primo L lenses it is considered quite a respectable performer when stopped down. When we compare the two the first thing that comes to mind is the size difference. As I said before the Olympus is tiny, and it still looks small when attached to the lens adapter. Vignetting on the Canon is very well controlled, this is the big benefit of that large front element (72mm filter size compared with 49mm). Chromatic aberration is no better and no worse. It is the wide open corner sharpness where the Canon beats the little Olympus, but not hugely so and by f5.6 they are both pretty much the same. The big advantage the Olympus has over the Canon is filter use – the smaller size makes filters more affordable and I would hazard that is one of the few, if not only, ultra wide-angle lens that safely use the Cokin P system (84mm in width). My Canon still vignettes with the larger Cokin Z-Pro system (100mm in width).

 

Real World Examples

Stopping the lens down to f16 and then using the closest focusing distance of 0.2m I was able to to capture a wide angle close up of these flowers with plenty of DOF. Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA.
Stopping the lens down to f16 and then using the closest focusing distance of 0.2m I was able to capture a wide-angle close up of these flowers with plenty of DOF. Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA.

 

This lens encourages you to look for unusual points of view. A Vampire jet on the Beverley-York Road advertises the Beverley Aeronautical Museum.
This lens encourages you to look for unusual points of view. A Vampire jet on the Beverley-York Road advertises the Beverley Aeronautical Museum.

 

The OM 21mm f3.5 is well suited to architectural photography. The York Residency Museum. Built in the 1850's as the quarters for the superintendent of the York Convict Depot and is the last remaing building from the depot. Later it became the official residence of the magistrate, then it was used as part of the old York Hospital. It fell into disrepair and was saved by the work of the York Society. In 1972 it opened as a museum and has been used as such since.
The OM 21mm f3.5 is well suited to architectural photography. The York Residency Museum. Built in the 1850’s as the quarters for the superintendent of the York Convict Depot and is the last remaining building from the depot. Later it became the official residence of the magistrate, then it was used as part of the old York Hospital. It fell into disrepair and was saved by the work of the York Society. In 1972 it opened as a museum and has been used as such since.

 

Shooting into the sun flare is very well controlled for such a wide lens. Note the sun star - the six aperture blades create a nice effect when stopped down to f16. The Shire of York Christmas tree for 2016 on Avon Terrace.
Shooting into the sun flare is very well controlled for such a wide lens. Note the sun star – the six aperture blades create a nice effect when stopped down to f16. The Shire of York Christmas tree for 2016 on Avon Terrace.

Conclusion

Well my only criticism of this lens is really nit-picking. It is just that aperture of f3.5 is a little dim and if I were to use it on an SLR (digital or analogue) it would make focusing using a split screen finder a little bit tricky. With the EVF of the A7r it makes no difference as the view can be made brighter and the focus peaking is easy to see. Probably this is not the lens to buy if you’re into astro, but if you shoot landscape and architecture as I do then it is a worthy addition to the camera bag.
The other OM lenses I’ve looked at are:

Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8
Olympus OM Zuiko MC 50mm f1.4
Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-f4.5
Olympus OM Zuiko MC 35mm f2
Olympus OM Zuiko MC 24mm f2.8

2016 In Review

Faversham
The Faversham vintage van in Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM-1 with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens. Exposure: 1/200 sec, f5.6 ISO 400.

 

If you have slightly geeky bent, and to be honest if you are reading a photography blog it’s pretty much a given that you have, then Adobe’s Lightroom has several useful tools. One of the ones I’ve been looking at is the ability to look at your photographic work for a specific time frame, and in this case it’s for the year 2016. You can also look at the cameras and lenses you used for that period which enables you to see what patterns of equipment usage emerge. It might ultimately save you money i.e. if you have a hankering for an expensive lens you can look back on your past year to see if that focal length/s you used and whether the objective lens of your desires is one you’d actually use or not. This has actually happened to me – a while back I was working on my project Broncos and Bulls and I felt that the Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 IS was costing me shots as it wasn’t the fastest lens to focus and the images at the long end were pretty soft. I wanted a Canon 100-400 L IS but my then preferred local dealer didn’t have one in stock and after waiting nearly 3 months they informed they couldn’t get one. I allowed them to talk me into buying the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS with the Canon x2 converter which they had in stock. Their logic was that I’d end up using the 70-200 much more and would hardly use it combined with the teleconverter. Now looking back through my Lightroom library I can see that I’ve hardly used the 70-200 at all on its own and virtually all the times I have used it was in conjunction with the teleconverter. I should have stuck to my guns and gone to another dealer and that way I’d have a lens that met my needs gave and gave good image quality rather than put up with a convenient compromise.

 

Gotcha!!! by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Gotcha. Steer roping, Boddington Rodeo Western Australia. Canon EOS 5D with Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L and x2 converter. Exposure: 1/800 s at f/5.6 ISO 200
 So what have I deduced about my photography for 2016? Well I’ll start with commenting on 2015 – for that year over half my photographic output was shot with a DSLR (50:50 split between full frame and APS-C). In 2016 that dropped to 10% the other 90% was shot on mirrorless. The DSLR was only used for some macro work (radio controlled TTL flash), some architecture (a specialised lens) and one event where I had a crisis of confidence and didn’t think the mirrorless cameras would cope with high ISOs and low light focussing. When I look at lens usage it comes as a big surprise that one-quarter of the images were taken using adapted lenses and these with a focal range of between 15-135mm in full frame terms. Hmmm well I knew I preferred shorter lenses than

 

Quairading Railway Station by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Aboriginal art at Quairading Railway Station, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 24mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/4000, f8 at ISO 400.

longer already, the main thing is that I enjoyed using legacy lenses and was more than happy with them in terms of image quality. I don’t have to use legacy lenses at all as I have 20 to 600mm covered by modern dedicated AF lenses. For work where it is appropriate I will use the legacy lenses because they give a certain aesthetic that I like which is a less digital and clinical look.

 

York Mill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
As you drive into York on the Great Southern Highway standing tall on your left is the historic York Flour Mill built in 1892, home to The York Mill. Sony A7r with Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide – Heliar lens. Exposure: 1/25 sec, f16 at ISO 100.

Well what will 2017 bring. Well for 2016 I experimented with finding a certain look. For 2017 will be more project driven as I have found the style I wanted and now want to put it to practice. There will be at least one new book (work on that has already started) and there will be some multi media projects. So exciting times indeed.

 

Hillside Farmhouse by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Hillside Farmhouse was designed by Sir Talbot Hobbs, a leading architect and built in 1911 for Morris Edwards in the historic Wheatbelt town of York in Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens mounted via a Fotodiox adapter, Cokin circular polarizing filter and +3 stop graduated neutral density filter. Exposure 4 seconds, f16, ISO 50.

 

I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.

 

Everlastings by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: aperture priority with +1 stop exposure compensation, 1/1000th sec, f2.8 at ISO 100.

 

 

Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 lens

This is my fifth look at classic Olympus OM Zuiko lenses and how they perform on a Sony A7r.

The Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 fresh out of the box. Even though it is thirty years old it is brand new, never having been used.
The Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 fresh out of the box. Even though it is thirty years old it is brand new, never having been used.

Many years ago I had a very basic camera kit consisting of an Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm f1.8 and 135mm f2.8 lenses with an Olympus OM20.One summer I made a series of portraits of friends down on the beach at Bognor Regis and shot a couple of concerts using the 135mm. The speed and shallow depth of field enabled me to get some shots that sold very well and that cemented the idea of my turning professional in my mind. Unfortunately I was seduced by the lure of zoom lens convenience and part exchanged the 135 for the Olympus 35-105mm. While the zoom was very good and became my photographic workhorse I regretted letting the 135 go.

 

The Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 mounted on a Sony A7r using a Fotodiox adapter.
The Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 mounted on a Sony A7r using a Fotodiox adapter.

 

Fast forward some 30 years and I’ve been re-appraising my OM lens collection by mounting them on a Sony A7r. The results have exceeded my expectations so a little while ago I found my trawling EBay idly when I found a brand new OM 135mm f2.8 lens – and I mean brand new, never used complete in its unopened box. So I hit the “buy now” button and waited patiently for the lens to arrive. When it finally got here it was like being re-united with an old friend. The lens feels gorgeous – reassuringly sold and just oozing quality.The detents of the aperture ring cause it to have a very pleasing click as the ring is turned, and the focusing ring has a wonderfully smooth dampened action. The built in lens hood is a delightful touch in this day of $100 options one has to pay to get one for many modern lenses.

 

Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8
Part of the original instruction manual showing the optical construction of the lens. It is a very simple design of five elements in five groups.

 

The E-Zuiko AUTO-T 135mm f/2.8 was one of the first lenses released when the OM system was launched in 1972. It is easily identifiable thanks to the chromed front filter ring (the so-called “silver nose”). In 1977 it was replaced by the Zuiko AUTO-T 135mm f/2.8. Other than the improved multi-coated optics and some cosmetic changes (notably the loss of the silver nose) the lenses are largely the same with an optical formula of 5 elements in 5 groups and both versions come in at a svelte 360g (12.7 oz) The lens departs from the common Olympus filter size of 49mm and uses one of 55mm to allow a larger front element to facilitate the extra light gathering capability of this over the f3.5 version. This is a very modest size though in this day of 77 and 82 mm filter threads used on many modern lenses. Common to all Olympus OM prime lenses the aperture ring is forward of the focusing ring which makes the lens well-balanced in the hand and easy to use. In this day and age of F1.4 and f1.2 primes the maximum aperture seems a little pedestrian, but the aperture range of f2.8 to f22 allows for depth of field control when combined with the compression effect of a true telephoto.

Just to demonstarte the effect of stopping this lens down has on DOF. This is wide open at f2.8.
Just to demonstrate the effect of stopping this lens down has on DOF. This is wide open at f2.8.

 

Just to demonstarte the effect of stopping this lens down has on DOF. This is f8.
Just to demonstrate the effect of stopping this lens down has on DOF. This is f8.

 

Just to demonstarte the effect of stopping this lens down has on DOF. This is f22.
Just to demonstrate the effect of stopping this lens down has on DOF. This is f22.

 

olympus-om-zuiko-135mm-f2-8-lens

 

So down to the nitty-gritty – how does the lens perform on a modern digital camera. The quick answer is very well. Barrel distortion is virtually non-existent. In term of sharpness wide open the lens is pleasantly sharp although lacking in contrast and this improves when the lens is stopped down to f8. At the edges at f2.8 predictably the lens is very soft and has poor contrast. This is not altogether surprising considering the very simple design with no exotic elements. Things improve by f8 although it does not reach the standards of the centre.Vignetting is obvious wide open and again clears up as the lens is stopped down and disappears at f8. There is some chromatic aberration but it is very mild and easily fixed in Lightroom. The bokeh is nice and smooth but with only 8 aperture blades the “bokeh balls” turn into octagons as you stop down. When stressed by shooting into the sun veiling flare is very apparent, the solution to this is use a lens hood and that is easy as it is built into the lens.

 Shooting into the sun without a lenshood at f2.8. The veiling flare is very apparent.
Shooting into the sun without a lenshood at f2.8. The veiling flare is very apparent.

 

What a difference a lens hood makes. Shooting into the sun with a lenshood at f2.8. The rendition of the out of focus highlights (bokeh) is very pleasing.
What a difference a lens hood makes. Shooting into the sun with a lenshood at f2.8. The rendition of the out of focus highlights (bokeh) is very pleasing.

 

With a minimum focusing distance of 1.5m the range of the depth of field at f2.8 is just 0.02m. Using the focus peaking set to mid on the A7r caused me no problems with finding focus on this shot. Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA.
With a minimum focusing distance of 1.5m the range of the depth of field at f2.8 is just 0.02m. Using the focus peaking set to mid on the A7r caused me no problems with finding focus on this shot. Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA.

 

One of the things I noticed when using this lens is that the weight and the resistance of the focusing ring shows the short comings of the Fotodiox adapter. You can feel the lens moving in the adapter as you turn the focus ring. The cheap no-name Chinese version was a lot worse. I am thinking about getting some longer lenses, but after this I think I’ll have to investigate a better adapter such as the one made by Novoflex.

 

Frida posing in the river. At f5.6 the lens is very sharp in the centre. Zoom into the area around Frida's eye and ear and the fine detail of her fur is clear.
Frida posing in the river. At f5.6 the lens is very sharp in the centre. Zoom into the area around Frida’s eye and ear and the fine detail of her fur is clear.

 

Subject isolation is what this lens is all about. Shooting at f4 through a chain link fence at this alpaca demonstrates this.
Subject isolation is what this lens is all about. Shooting at f4 through a chain link fence at this alpaca demonstrates this.

 

So to sum up – to get a better lens you’ll have to spend a lot of money on a more modern highly corrected design. With the softer edges the lens makes a very good portrait lens and you could make a strong argument that the decreased contrast in the centre at f2.8 and f4 would make it very suitable for glamour photography. The true telephoto effect of this focal length makes it a useful lens when you wish to compress perspective when shooting landscapes. The focus throw is a little over 180º and that makes finding focus a precise affair and would appeal to film makers. All in all if you want a manual focus telephoto for use on a full frame sensor then seriously consider this one.

 

At f11 the lens has bags of resolution and is capable of recording very fine detail. There is no sign of diffraction reducing the image quality. Wandoo tree (white gum) on the outskirts of the Western Australian town of Beverley.
At f11 the lens has bags of resolution and is capable of recording very fine detail. There is no sign of diffraction reducing the image quality. Wandoo tree (white gum) on the outskirts of the Western Australian town of Beverley.

So far I have looked at the following Olympus lenses:-

 

Leica Look

Leica want you and everyone around you to know that you are using one of its cameras.
Leica want you and everyone around you to know that you are using one of its cameras.

 

First off a big thanks to Saul Frank and the nice people at Camera Electronic who very kindly awarded me a Leica D-Lux Type 109 in a recent in store competition.

It's all about the lens. Forget the red dot, the Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9-34mm f1.7-2.8 is the star of the show.
It’s all about the lens. Forget the red dot, the Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9-34mm f1.7-2.8 is the star of the show.

For many years Leica aficionados have talked about the “Leica look”. They weren’t talking about the design of the camera, but the way Leica lenses render an image. Many would say that they can look at a photo and tell whether it was taken with a Leica or not. Non Leica users scoff at this and generally accuse Leica owners of being people with more money than sense and with no knowledge of photography. Roger Hicks, the noted English photographic author, once attributed the Leica look to older Leica lenses, film with no anti-halation layer, and over exposure. This allowed soft light to reflected from behind the film and cause bright edges in the image. So that brings us to modern digital Leicas and in the case of the D-Lux those that are built by Panasonic. Do they exhibit the “Leica look”? I think the answer is emphatically no! Modern lenses, even those made by Leica, are inherently more contrasty and digital sensors behave in a completely different way to film.

The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lunix LX5. Looking from the front there is not a lot of difference in the size despite the D_Lux have a sensor much larger than the LX5.
The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lumix LX5. Looking from the front there is not a lot of difference in the size despite the D-Lux having a sensor much larger than the LX5.

 

The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lunix LX5. From above the size difference is more apparent.
The Leica D-Lux compared with the Panasonic Lumix LX5. From above the size difference is more apparent.

So lets talk about the D-Lux, or should I say the Panasonic Lumix LX100? It’s not the first time Leica have re-branded a Panasonic model. The Panasonic Lumix LX5, which I own and have sung the virtues of on this blog, was marketed by Leica as the D-Lux5 and there were many others before that. So what does paying the Leica tax get you over the Panasonic? Leica say they have had the firmware tweaked to their specification and that differentiates it from the LX 100.  Both cameras have a Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9–34 mm f/1.7–2.8 ASPH zoom lens which gives a 35mm equivalent of a 24-75mm lens. I doubt very much that the lenses are made by Leica, it is more likely that Panasonic have licensed the Leica name in the same way that Sony have with Zeiss. The only thing that really differentiates them is the design of the outer shell. The Panasonic has a grip and a faux leatherette covering while the Leica is smooth with no grip. I’d have to say I prefer the look of the Leica, it is to my eye a very sexy looking beast. The only thing that lets it down to my mind is that the shell is plastic, and although the body has a very pleasing heft it feels disappointing not to have the cool feel of a metal shell. Technically the camera is a m4/3 camera with a 16Mp 17.3 mm × 13.0 mm sensor, but the reality is that the camera uses a smaller portion. This has enabled the manufacturer to provide a fast zoom lens in a small size and the image circle created by the lens is smaller than the sensor. The upshot is that you get a multi format camera (4:3, 3;2, 1:1 and 16:9) with a good fast lens. The down side is that you only get 12Mp out of a 16Mp sensor which means even at base ISO of 200 grain is apparent. Having said that thanks to the lens the image quality is good enough for an A3+ (13″ x 19″ or 329mm x 483mm) print which is great for a compact camera. The lens has some corrections applied in camera and is distortion free and suffers from minimal chromatic aberration. I only shoot RAW so can’t comment on the jpgs.

The top plate shows the camera was designed by a photographer. aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation all handled by dials. To switch to aperture priority put the shutter speed dial on "A". To go to shutter speed priority switch the aperture to "A". Want programe mode put both the aperture and shutter speed dial on "A". Simple.
The top plate shows the camera was designed by a photographer. aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation all handled by dials. To switch to aperture priority put the shutter speed dial on “A”. To go to shutter speed priority switch the aperture to “A”. Want program mode put both the aperture and shutter speed dial on “A”. Simple.

 

Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA. Exposure: 1/400th sec, f8 at ISO 800. The close focusing capability made this shot a doddle as did the evaluative metering and the dynamic range of the sensor.

 

St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/320th sec, f8 at ISO 200. The lens is still very good, showing minimal distortion and very little chromatic aberration. Again the metering and the dynamic range combined to handle this scene with aplomb.

 

Graffiti under the Great Southern Highway traffic bridge in York, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/640th sec, f2.8, at ISO 1600. Wide open the lens is sharp and contrasty. The sensor is noisy at high ISO, but appears very organic and film like.

 

Nature trying to reclaim the CBD. Northbridge, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/640th sec, f16 at ISO 3200. The lens is quite resistant to flare which is just as well as like other premium compacts the camera ships without a lens hood.

 

Defacing Reclaim Australia notices in Northbridge, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/2000, f2.8 at ISO 200. A combination of large sensor and fast lens means that shallow depth of field shots are possible. The lens renders subjects very well with a nice fall off in tones and sharpness.

 

Wall mural at the North Metropolitan TAFE Campus in Northbridge. Exposure: 1/1000th sec, f8 at ISO 200. Panasonic aren’t as accomplished with colour science as some other manufacturers so it is safe to say that Leica’s secret sauce has delivered some really nice colour profiles.

 

The patterns on a pruned grass tree. Balladong, Western Australia. Exposure: 1/125th sec, f8 at ISO 250. This file prints out fantastically at A3+. The edge to edge sharpness and detail are amazing

 

Watching the large screen in the Perth Cultural Precinct. Exposure: 1/250th sec, f8 at ISO 200. With its small size, great lens, and good AF performance the Leica D-Lux makes an excellent street camera.

Video quality is very very good. The camera shoots 4K video at 25p 100Mbps and HD at 50p 28Mbps, but specs aren’t everything. For example my phone can shoot 4K video but it is horrible looking and very brittle when processing. The D-Lux gives you a good file that will stand some post processing. I’ve really enjoyed shooting movies and time-lapse sequences with the camera. This is where the DNA proves Panasonic’s paternity. There are only two things that lets it down. First is sound – there is no mic input. With this small feature added the camera would really rock as discrete video cam. Second some form of built in ND filter would really make the camera perfect enabling lovely wide open shots possible in bright sunlight. The wide shots in the video below were shot with the D-Lux.

 

 

The rear of the D-Lux is very tidy and well organised.
The rear of the D-Lux is very tidy and well organised.

 

My Leica D-Lux pimped out with its accessory grip, tripod adapter and Peak Designs Anchor Link.
My Leica D-Lux pimped out with its accessory grip, tripod adapter and Peak Designs Anchor Link.

 

So to sum up. This was a prize that I won, not a purchase. To be honest if it were my money I would have bought the Panasonic LX100 which is over $500 AUD cheaper. Leica try to talk you up by saying their version thanks to its Leica firmware produces better images and they throw in a copy of Adobe Lightroom. But honestly Lightroom is less than $200 and if you shoot RAW you can get the look you want easily enough. I found the body too smooth and sprung for the accessory grip which made life a lot better. The EVF ain’t crash hot – it is a field sequential LCD which means that it is subject to tearing with moving subjects or moving your eye around the viewfinder. This doesn’t bother some people as much as others, but it may be a deal killer. There’s no floppy touch screen and no mic input. On the plus side the camera is responsive produces good stills, very good video and is compact enough that it can be taken anywhere. When I got the camera I initially thought I’d use it for a few days and then sell it on Ebay. Instead I’ve had so much fun with it I’ve decided to keep it.

UPDATE   Well I wrote this before Photokina, the big camera industry trade show in Cologne, Germany. I was hoping for a new updated model from either Leica or Panasonic to be announced with some of the changes I’ve talked about. Panasonic announced the  launch of the  LX10/LX15 (depending on which region you live in) camera. There are some worthy upgrades in the form of a tilt touch screen, an improved image stabilisation system, increase in MP to 20 and Panasonic’s very spiffy 4K photo mode which allows users to record video at 4K 30fps and extract stills from the clip. But the downsides are the loss of the viewfinder and the smaller sensor.