Archive of ‘Lenses’ category

Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 R vs. Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

This is not a review of either lens, but just some notes I’ve made about both lenses while using them. Only some of the photos are taken at the same night at the same location, because at the moment my Noctilux it being calibrated at Solms, Germany. Please bear in mind that the photos I’ve taken with Noctilux are not perhaps the best the lens can do since it’s out of calibration and needs servicing. The cameras used were Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Leica M240. I might do a followup to this article once I get my Noctilux back if there has been a lot of interest in this.

Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 R and Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

How do they compare

One thing to note is that due to APS-C crop sensor on Fujifilm, the effective field of view is 85 mm with the Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2. The crop factor also affects the depth of field which is around F1.8 on the Fujifilm. The crop sensor does not, however, change the exposure, so the F1.2 is F1.2 regardless of the sensor size. Because of different effective focal lengths, it’s not easy to try to replicate the same image on both cameras at least on a busy street. Shooting 85 mm lens is somewhat difficult, and the sometimes slow autofocus does not help there. It’s easier to focus the lens and use zone focusing manually. You probably guess that focusing the Leica at F0.95 is not easy either since the depth of field is quite shallow, especially at close distances. All photos I selected for this article are shot wide open for comparison. They are not manipulated in any way apart from some vignetting correction on Noctilux. Depending on the scene the Noctilux vignetting can be severe although it’s part of the magic if you’re shooting people (let’s see how my travels go after saying that aloud). Noctilux is truly F0.95 only at the centre of the frame and for comparison the Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.4 ASPH.. is not that bad because if is sharper and does not vignette wide open at all. There is still some magic to the Noctilux photos that is not just some single value or even a few. It’s the surprise factor that comes from getting pictures that look different from what the human eye can see, and this is something the Fujifilm completely lacks even at F1.2. To be honest, the Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.4 ASPH. has more of that special mojo wide open than the Fujifilm, but maybe that is because comparing F1.4 and F1.8 the Fujifilm effectively is. On full frame camera, the F1.2 seems to be the aperture where this magic starts appearing, although nothing I’ve tried beats or is even near the Noctilux apart perhaps another Noctilux (the F1.0 version). The old Canon LTM 50 mm F1.2 is also close to magic but in a different way. Luckily I have the first revision of the lens that does not suffer from back element hazing or lack of contrast the second revision has. I haven’t tried the F0.95 version of the Canon LTM myself, but it’s said to be magical also. I should have bought the lens when it was still inexpensive as it is nowadays totally unacceptable in price at least when I have the Noctilux.

Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 R

Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

Should I purchase one

Don’t even think that these are the best examples of what the Noctilux is capable of. I chose similar photos for comparison just because for most people money matters, and the Fujifilm is the only affordable choice no matter how much better the Noctilux is. Let’s not forget that we’re comparing lenses that cost 1100 and 10995 euros new. There is a tenfold difference, and it’s everyone’s own decision whether this is the difference is worth it. The same tenfold difference remains if you buy the lenses used. If you’re not deciding things by price but with personal properties alone, the Noctilux well be a natural choice for you, especially if you are not concerned about the price.

Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 R

Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

The difference in maximum aperture means that the Leica is allowing lower ISO values. When I purchased the Noctilux, the Leica M10 did not exist, and even if it did, the high ISO looks terrible in all cameras, regardless of manufacturer. Fujifilm X-Pro2 is one of the best, but I can assure you I will pick the 2009 Leica M9 ISO 160 photo every time just because a photo with total lack of noise is something to marvel at. Fujifilm does not look the same at ISO 200. The Leica M240 is closer, but I still love my M9 enough to never part from it. The M240 has its moments and is in many aspects a way better camera, but M9 it is not. If I had to replace either, I’d buy M10 to replace the M240. But there’s nothing wrong with M240, so why upgrade. Camera prices fall quickly, lenses do not.

Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 R

Where does the money show

Now back to comparing these lenses. Noctilux is sharp, but I don’t think it can match the Fujifilm at full aperture. I’m not even sure if it when stopped down a bit, but Noctilux is not about the absolute sharpness. The F1 version is not as sharp as the F0.95, and for many, it is the better lens for their taste. Sharpness is maybe the most overvalued aspect of photography because of pixel peeping. If you see the photos in web or printer, you won’t see the difference unless it is huge. Fujifilm somehow lacks the same colour that comes out of the Noctilux pictures, and I don’t think it’s the camera causing the difference. I could have tested the Noctilux with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Leica M-mount to Fujifilm X-mount adapter, but seeing how bad the Sony is with adapted lenses, I feel it’s fair to compare lenses with their native mounts. What you often see with Noctilux and don’t see in Fujifilm photos is not something you can add in Adobe Lightroom using vibrancy slider or similar. There is also some telephoto effect going on with the Fujifilm lens which is, of course, missing from the 50 mm Noctilux.

Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

My sincere wishes to Fujifilm

I wish Fujifilm would release a 35 mm F1.2 or F1.0 lens that is reasonably priced and also has some of that mojo you miss with almost every other lens than an original Noctilux. The 50 mm focal length is my favourite and there the 35 mm F1.4 lens Fujifilm has is very good, but not at all comparable to a Noctilux. Fujifilm has introduced weather resistant versions of their lenses and at the moment there are 23 mm, 35 mm and 50 mm lenses available. I heard the term “Fujicron” attached in conversation about these lenses, similar to F2.0 Summicron series Leica has. I wish they’d introduce a lens or two to the other end of aperture spectrum for available light photographers like me. A Noctilux is like a door to Narnia, and I wish Fujifilm had something similar because while magnificent, the Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 still isn’t in the same category. I have a feeling that most of you who don’t live up here near the Arctic Circle don’t understand at all what the fuss about fast lenses is about. I’ve seen multiple times that why to buy the F1.4 versions of Fujifilm lenses when the F2.0 versions are simply better. No they aren’t if the sun sets at 14:30 and there isn’t enough light to take photos even at ISO 12800, and when they barely make it, they still look abysmal just because of the level of noise. People here see less sunlight than 99,7% of the world’s population. There’s your answer to why F2.0 lineup is not impressive at all. At F1.4 one has one full stop more light, and at F1.0 one would have two full stops, meaning that the ISO 12800 photo is suddenly ISO 3200 and might look worth something. So, Fujifilm, where are your 23 mm and 35 mm F1.0 lenses? It’s dark out here.

Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 R

Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

Shooting in the dark

In the film era, fast lenses were a necessity just because ISO values maxed out at 1600, or 3200 if you pushed your B&W film. Consider me old, but I’m still stuck at a time when maximum usable ISO is 1600, and that is why I like my Leica M9 so much. It’s like a digital film camera if you don’t skimp. For those of you who can’t resist skimping, Leica has made a special version of the camera with no screen at all, but it comes at a price. Just buy the M9, forget that there’s a screen and be done with it. With fast enough lenses ISO 1600 is enough for just about everything and on a well-lit street at night you can shoot at ISO 160. Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 is one of four Fujifilm lenses I’d choose from for a night shoot, the others being the Fujifilm 16 mm F1.4, the Fujifilm 23 mm F1.4 and the Fujifilm 35 mm F1.4. Of all these, the 56 mm makes the most magical photos. I don’t mean that in the sense when people say that your oven makes good food because, in the end, it is you who takes and makes the photos, not the lens nor the camera. It is just a fact that with some lenses the success rate is higher than with others and every lens has its pros and cons.

Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 ASPH.

Great alternative for Noctilux

Fujifilm XF 56 mm F1.2 is an excellent lens, but not without its flaws. The focusing is very slow, maybe the slowest of all Fujifilm lenses I’ve tried myself (so that excludes the old 90 mm and 60 mm lenses which are said to be on the slow side as well). It also needs very high shutter speeds especially if you are shooting handheld, in the dark and with the 24-megapixel sensors. As I said in an article maybe a month ago, the APS-C sensor needs higher shutter speed than the rule of 1 / focal length would generally assume. For the 56 mm lens that means that the 1 / (56 * 1,5), which is 1/85 seconds, isn’t enough. Instead, you’ll need to calculate the speed using the full frame equivalent focal length in place, making the slowest speed for this lens around 1/125 seconds. I don’t know why that is, but I noticed the problem after upgrading to 24-megapixel X-Pro2. Maybe it is because of the higher pixel density or the smaller size of the sensor, but once I use the values calculated this way, I get good results. With my Leica, the 1/f rule still stands, and the camera itself is made well enough not to introduce any shutter shake, and it also is very stable in your hands when handheld. For 50 mm Noctilux, that means a minimum shutter speed of 1/50 seconds, meaning that at F0.95 you can take photographs in such dark conditions that the problem is focusing, not shutter speed.

Trying out some vintage Leica, Canon, Minolta and SMC lenses on Sony a7R

A while ago I decided to do a comparison shoot with four different vintage lenses. The aim was not to make excellent photos, but just to shoot the same thing with same settings and compare the results. The lenses used were:

All of these lenses were shot wide open at F1.4 except the Summicron, which was at F2.0. This is because all vintage lenses look more or less the same at F5.6 or F8.0 which I should have used on the street scene if I were shooting the street and not just comparing the lenses. Old lenses tend to show their flaws aperture wide open, so I did not see any point in comparing these in any other setting since they’d look the same. I have a large collection of lenses, and these were chosen because of relatively low price and good quality. I have better lenses, but comparing affordable lenses is more interesting. I tried to shoot the same scene with a less affordable combination as well so you can do a little bit of comparison between very affordable lenses and not so affordable one.

The camera I used was a Sony a7R with adapters for each lens. I did not do any colour correction after shooting these lenses, so you can see the lesser quality of Sony cameras compared to Leica or Fujifilm just by looking at the white balance. If I need good quality photos from the Sony a7R, I need to change the white balance manually for each photo. That is something I don’t have to do with any of my Fujifilm or Leica cameras. I don’t know what Sony is thinking, but all photos taken on a Sony camera are brown. A photo taken of my grey cat looked brown enough that a friend of mine asked if it’s my cat since it looks brown.

I also made a couple of comparison shots with Leica M9 and Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.5 ASPH. at F1.4. These are just to show that there is a difference both in cameras and in lenses when you go up the price scale. But the truth is that you can take very good photos with lenses that cost less than 100€. When I bought these lenses, they cost less than 50€ each apart from the Summilux which was over 200€. I bought the Canon FD 50 mm F1.4 from Amsterdam, and it came with Canon T70 camera and camera bag all for 40€. It once belonged to an old man who was enthusiastic about film photography, and the widow was delighted to know that the lens was going into real use like his husband would, not into a dusty collection or museum.

Why a cold street and not some nature?

There are places like this in the centre of Jyväskylä if you just look.

Less than 3 km away from the centre of Jyväskylä the view totally changes.

It is currently winter in Finland and these were taken at the end of January. There is nothing that is green around and believe me when I say that there isn’t a lot of nice places to see at this time of the year. When the moment is right and you’re in the correct location you can get nice shots, but when there is little to no snow and everything is brown and grey, looking for something nice is challenging. It was +3 degrees celcius when we were taking these shots and Sony depleted its full battery in less than 45 minutes. I don’t know what Sony is thinking when two batteries in a battery grip last only 12 minutes in -10 celcius. My Leica M240 can shoot whole weekend with one battery and Fujifilm is no slouch either, although not nearly as nice as the Leica M240.

First comparison

This scene was shot at walking district in the centre of Jyväskylä, Finland. I focused all lenses to a pole in the centre of the photo. Sadly the last shot with Leica M9 is not shot in the same direction as the tripod must have moved, and I did not see that in the optical viewfinder of my Leica M9. I have an adapter for M-mount lenses for Sony a7R, but the results are often so disappointing due to sensor differences that I don’t think it’s worth it using any Leica M-mount lenses on a Sony camera, it just looks wrong. Leica has a thinner layer of glass over the sensor and microlens structure to combat colour cast and vignetting. In my opinion, the Leica M240 is even better with all Leica M lenses including wide angles, so Leica has made improvements in that respect. On the other hand, Sony sensor is not designed at all for non-Sony lenses that are very close to the sensor, causing the outer edges of the image to be blurry. For example, the Summilux I used on my M9 during this test shooting is very blurry on the Sony a7R.

Canon FD 50 mm F1.4

Canon FD 50 mm F1.4


Minolta MC Rokkor-X PG 50 mm F1.4

Minolta MC Rokkor-X PG 50 mm F1.4


SMC Takumar 50 mm F1.4

SMC Takumar 50 mm F1.4


Leica Summicron-R 50 mm F2.0

Leica Summicron-R 50 mm F2.0


Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.4 ASPH. with Leica M9

Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.4 ASPH. with Leica M9

Second comparison

This second scene if very near the first one to the same direction. The red granite spheres are called “Kahden kesken” and are made by Matti Peltokangas in 2003. In fact this second set was shot before the first one because of sunlight.

Canon FD 50 mm F1.4

Canon FD 50 mm F1.4


Minolta MC Rokkor-X PG 50 mm F1.4

Minolta MC Rokkor-X PG 50 mm F1.4


SMC Takumar 50 mm F1.4

SMC Takumar 50 mm F1.4


Leica Summicron-R 50 mm F2.0

Leica Summicron-R 50 mm F2.0


Leica M9 and Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.4 ASPH.

Leica M9 and Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.4 ASPH.

What did we learn?

For me it’s obvious that all these lenses are different. I can’t show the exact differences using the same scene but instead, I would have to look for a specific situation for each lens and shoot it with all lenses to show the difference. That would be too much work for something that you’ll eventually see if you purchase any of these lenses.

What was interesting is that price does not always guarantee excellent results. A high-end lens like the Leica Summilux-M 50 mm F1.5 ASPH. demands some practice because of field curvature and other features of the lens. Without particular situation where an individual lens excels, all these are very capable tools. I could have changed the captions for the lenses, and you would never know I did that. The Leica Summilux-R 50 mm F2.0 looks slightly better to my eye, but so would each of the other lenses if they were shot at F2.0 instead.

Camera differences

I have several Fujifilm cameras, but as these all have crop sensors, I decided to use a full frame camera for 50 mm lenses. Since my Leica M240 is still in Solms, Germany, I had to use my Leica M9 for comparison shots. Whenever I go taking photos, I have noticed that everything I shoot with Sony cameras is brown or somehow sad looking. I really like the more true colour balance I get from Fujifilm cameras. Leica M9 is far from neutral, but it has its own charm by having a bit of a Kodak film look, which is not a surprise since the sensor is designed and made by Kodak. Sony a7R is good for adapting different vintage lenses, but it is not capable of using Leica M mount lenses properly because of the short flange focal distance. I know that some lenses look good, but most do not and I hate it when someone is comparing Leica lenses to Sony lenses using a Sony camera when there is a big difference in quality when you use a real Leica. Leica M240 has more neutral look compared to the M9, but sometimes the old CCD look of the M9 is just what I need.

My Fujifilm X-Pro2 experience so far

Initially, I wasn’t as impressed with my Fujifilm X-Pro2
I got in August 2016. I have several native lenses for it as well as too many to count vintage lenses in different mounts. However, this article about X-Pro2 is with its native lenses, not with old lenses in any other mount. I’m primarily a Leica shooter, but since my Leica M TYP 240 and Leica 50 mm Noctilux-M F0.95 ASPH. have been in Solms, Germany for calibration since the beginning of December, I’ve been photographing mostly with the X-Pro2 due to claimed weather resistance my only Leica at home currently, the M9, does not have.

I started using the X-Pro2 in September when it was already autumn, leaves started falling, and the temperature was steadily going towards freezing point. The weather during autumn was many times not survivable by a camera that does not have any weather resistance and of those that do, like my Sony a7R, I think I’d have totalled it again. I’m so glad it has a 5-year warranty as it does need it (it claims to have weather resistance when in reality it has none, although they fix it under warranty). The Fujifilm X-Pro2 is even better in weather resistance department compared to Fujifilm X-T1 before it. It was supposed to be okay, but after some time the door hiding HDMI and Micro-USB connectors started protruding from the body and it was impossible to seal it properly. It’s a known manufacturing flaw in X-T1, and I haven’t contacted Fujifilm about it, because I fixed it by taping over the connectors behind the door, making it making as weather resistant as it was. Optical viewfinder sometimes comes handy when you simply don’t see anything in the dark with the EVF, unless of course you disable the preview picture functionality and have good EVF again. I needed to read a book to learn that. The optical viewfinder also hides the fact that since it’s been raining horizontally, none of your pictures shows anything but blur or flare. So when raining, I always change to EVF to see the result better.

Fujifilm X-Pro2 has been splendid in winter also. One thing my Sony a7R does not handle at all is low temperature. It can deplete two full batteries in a battery grip in 12 minutes (recording 1080p video). I haven’t seen any measurable drop in battery performance when using the camera in freezing temperatures, and that’s way below the Fujifilm’s promised -10 celsius. I have used mostly WR lenses, but since there isn’t a WR lens for every purpose, I’ve used the 18-55 mm kit lens, etc. as well. I don’t know what paradise island Fujifilm engineers spend their days on, but I’m living in a place that gets less sunlight than 99,7% of the world’s population (not a joke!). I’d be euphoric to see WR versions of the 18-55 mm F2.8-4.0 and the 35 mm F1.4 (maybe the t23 mm F1.4 also). Of all the zooms available for Fujifilm, only the 18-55 mm is of some use during winter. Others run out of light so quickly. The 16-55 mm F2.8 is large, and while weather resistant, it lacks the image stabilisation, so it’s unusable during winter (F2.8 means at least ISO 6400) An F1.4 lens is usually ISO 1600, depending on focal length and therefore shutter speed of course). In the city centre there is enough light to survive with “lesser” lenses, but anywhere else you’re out of luck with an F2.0 and APS-C.

Lenses are where my biggest problem lies with the Fujifilm system. I’m mainly a Leica shooter and have several lenses between F0.95 and F1.4. The full frame Leica is also very easy to use handheld, and it does not shake, producing pin-sharp photos almost always. When I was using the 16-megapixel versions of the Fujifilm cameras, I did not notice the problem of blurred photos, although different season helped there a bit also. I have noticed that the 1/f rule for selecting your minimum shutter speed is not even nearly enough to make sharp 24-megapixel photographs with the Fujifilm X-Pro2. And since the weather resistant lenses are F2.0, my photos are often at very high ISO and look awful when compared to even the old Leica M9, which somehow manages to take ISO 160 photographs in the dark. From my experience the real minimum shutter speed using Fujifilm X-Pro2 is 1/2f, and even then the focal length must be converted to full frame first. For 35 mm lens, the minimum is 1/100, any less than that and not one of your photos will be sharp. For Leica M9, the similar minimum is 1/30, or 1/45 if you have light to spare (or use M240 with the 24-megapixel sensor instead of “just” 18). Now you probably catch my point about the one stop difference in lens speed, which isn’t as irrelevant as YouTube reviews usually say. The sun rises after 10 and sets 4 hours later, and all that time it stays behind mountains and clouds, so even the brightest moment of the day isn’t that bright. Not to mention that it’s time of day when I usually have other things to do such as work.

Maybe I’m spoiled with my Leica lenses, but I’ve also noticed that the new WR F2.0 lenses (35 mm and especially the 23 mm) are softer than they should be. Even the 18-55 mm kit lens seems to get sharper results, although there’s the issue with shutter speed and lack of image stabilisation again. The kit lens is also an unfound gem since I just compared it to what Sony has to offer and it’s mindblowing how much better Fujifilm is. It’s the zoom lenses, in fact, that surprise me with their image quality more than the prime lenses. When photographing city streets, I’m using my camera always handheld, so monopods or similar are of no help. What helps is either a fast lens or image stabilisation, preferably former. I have to use the lenses wide open most of the time since there isn’t enough light. When using the prime lenses for Fujifilm, I have to crank up the shutter speed, and since it’s always dark, the ISO values go to smartphone quality territory. I’m sorry to say that I don’t see a point in increasing high-ISO values if the highest good values still hover around the same level, slightly depending on the camera. For most modern cameras it’s ISO 800-1600. Fujifilm is one of the best in this department because the image noise is monochromatic in nature, but it still does not look like the “film grain” on my M9, which should be abysmal camera by technical specifications in 2017. When photographing in low light, Fujifilm seems to miss a lot of detail in the shadows for some reason. It’s mainly the colour detail that is wrong or missing, but that may be just my RAW converter’s fault (Adobe Lightroom).

At daylight Fujifilm is excellent, and none of the native lenses for the X-mount is bad or even below overall average among manufacturers. I don’t know where you’re own quality level lies, but with Fujifilm, I have to take into account the fact that all lenses are available 2nd hand for only a few hundred euros. I know a 2500 € zoom lens for Sony full frame might be better (apart from the gigantic size) or know for a fact that the Leica 50 mm Summilux-M F1.4 ASPH. or the Leica 35 mm Summilux-M F1.4 ASPH. is a lens none of the Fujifilm lenses can hold a candle to, not to mention the Leica 50 mm Noctilux-M F0.95 ASPH. which is mindblowing at night.

Why this article if I did not have any photos to show you nor tell you anything useful? Well, I did. If you are not blessed with the sunshine like most of the planet and struggle with image sharpness on an APS-C sensor sized camera, please try using 1/2f as your minimum shutter speed. For a 23 mm lens on 1,5 crop sensor that turns out to be 1/23*1,5*2, which means on Fujifilm X-Pro2 you’ll use either 1/60 or 1/80 at the minimum. When I was using my X-Pro2 like my Leica, saying 1/40 or so as minimum shutter speed for a 23 mm lens, none of my photos was sharp, not even when standing still when taking the picture.

It takes about one year to master a new camera or a unique lens to a degree, so I’d say I’m still in the learning phase with the X-Pro2. I can’t do the same things with it I’m used to with my Leica cameras, but the same can be said about Leicas that do not have zoom lenses, for instance. Walking around with my Leica and the same lens day in day out makes photographing with it very natural, and the same cannot be yet said about the X-Pro2 just because I’m not entirely satisfied with the quality I get. It’s not the camera’s fault, it’s mine, just to clear things up. I like manual focusing a lot more than automatic since only then I have full control of what should be in focus. Photographing with wide open aperture in dark using automatic focusing makes things difficult because often you’d like the camera to focus to infinity or use hyperfocal focusing, but that’s not easy with digital lenses that have a fly-by-wire focus ring. With a manual Leica lens all that is walk in a park.

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