Archive of ‘Lenses’ category

Do we have enough megapixels?

I am sure everyone has noticed the race to higher megapixel specifications. While the high resolution is not wrong by itself, it comes with multiple tradeoffs. These tradeoffs are not often talked about since publishing better cameras with better specifications is more in the interests of manufacturers rather than consumers. I should have used quotes around the word better since it is not always the case that the newer camera or lens is significantly better, or any better, than the previous one. Also, where does the mindless consumer mentality that the perfect camera and lens setup you had is somehow outdated just because there is always new releases in the pipeline? In fact, the moment you buy something new, the next model is already on drawing board.

If you have a camera and a lens you are happy with, how does a new model affect your photography? Your existing gear will continue producing the same results and unless you have made a terrible mistake at some point and bought something you really don’t like at all, I don’t see any problems using old cameras and lenses, except in strictly professional situations. These are just tools and the times when digital cameras were not up to par with expectations are far away in history. Almost any camera produced in the last ten years if perfectly capable of capturing what you need. Lenses have even longer lifetime than cameras and at least fixed focal length prime lenses have been good enough for quite some time. Unless you’re a serious professional, the curve of increasing gains tends to be very non-linear, meaning that buying the best you can get is often on a different scale than the price you are paying for the privilege of owning high-end gear.

Disclaimer

All photos here are randomly chosen for this article and do not represent artistic quality, but optical and technical differences between cameras and lenses. None of the photos are sharpened, nor have gone through noise reduction. They are also original exposures, meaning that the performance is not artificially changed by underexposing when taking the photo and changing the exposure afterwards in Adobe Lightroom (which does help Leica M9). They are either using Adobe Standard colour profile or embedded profile from camera, i.e. no additional colour profiles or film emulations from 3rd parties are used.

How many megapixels do you really need?

If you take a look at top models from most manufacturers, you’ll notice that they are lower in resolution than the models aimed at regular consumers. That is often because of demands of higher burst rates, but also because of image quality. Regular consumers could not care less about quality it seems, all they care is having the latest and greatest, needed or not. At the moment most cameras have at least 24-megapixel sensor, while the top models have anything between 36 and 50 megapixels. I have been using Nikon Df and Nikon D700 lately, cameras that have 16 and 12-megapixel sensors. What I have noticed that I will get better results than with cameras that have higher resolution (such as the Sony a7R, which supposedly has the same sensor as in Nikon D810). Having higher resolution has more caveats than actual benefits, which I’ll get into in the next chapter. I have also three Fujifilm cameras with 16-megapixel resolution and I have never felt that they’re missing something in resolution aspect. The 24-megapixel sensor in my Fujifilm X-Pro2 is not better because of resolution, it’s better because of high-ISO performance, to which I also get into in the next chapter. If I compare my Leica M9 and Leica M240 photos (18 and 24 megapixels), I do not see any actual difference in resolution. If there was a Leica M240-CCD with the responsiveness of the M240 and resolution and colours of the M9, I’d have bought that instead of either camera I now have.

Nikon Df, Nikkor 105 mm F2.0 DC @ F2.8, ISO800, 1/125 s (a lens from 1993 still going strong)

A regular 10×15 cm printed photo at 300 dpi requires only 2 megapixels. How many of you print your photos larger than that, or at all? That same 2-megapixel image is often just fine for web pages as well. Unless the photo must fill the whole screen, the longer side of a 2-megapixel photo has 1772 pixels which is fine for modern monitors. Even if users have HiDPI monitor such as Apple’s Retina displays, it is hard to justify using a higher resolution than this. Even 4K monitors and televisions are capable of showing just 8 megapixels at 1:1, so in resolution terms only, any camera and any smartphone will do.

What people do not often realise is that doubling the resolution means four times the megapixels. In order to have two times better resolution than a 16-megapixel sensor, one would need a 64-megapixel monster – something that does not exist yet in 35 mm format. Those with an actual need and the money can buy medium format cameras that have higher resolutions than this, but you’ll have to have top-notch optics, lighting and other variables as well.

The caveats of higher resolution

When using a higher resolution, you have multiple things that have an adverse effect on the quality of the end results. Let’s study some of these.

Pixel density

Higher resolution means smaller pixels, meaning lower signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) if gains in sensor technology are left out of the equation. Two cameras with the latest sensor technology and digital signal processing (remember, the sensor is only a part of the equation) where one has lower resolution than the other can demonstrate the difference in practice. For example, Sony has three different resolutions in their a7 series of cameras and the camera having the lowest resolution in each generation of these cameras has the highest perceived image quality. Nikon D4 (and Df) is lower resolution than D810 and with D5 the situation is exactly the same compared to the new D850. With Canon, the same thing, although I lost track of Canon model numbering a long ago – do they really need that many models or should they produce just two or three? I have worked for Nokia in the past and they had the same problem with models: tens of new models per year and Apple took their lollipop just by releasing one phone that had everything Apple had. But, I digress.

Shutter speeds

Higher resolution means a higher chance of blurred image due to either the suspect of the camera itself moving. Some cameras have in-body image stabilisation and image stabilisation in lenses is not a new invention either. But, one can’t freeze the suspect movements with image stabilisation on the sensor or the lens. Whether it is leaves on a tree or people on the street moving, capturing a tack sharp image (if that is what you’re after) requires higher shutter speed.

Leica M240, Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 @ F0.95, ISO200, 1/4000 s (wide open daylight test)

Higher ISO values

Higher shutter speeds due to increased demand for resolution often mean higher ISO settings. Cameras are getting better year by year, but if you care about colours as well, higher ISO is not getting you there. After using the Nikon Df with good lenses and the Leica M9 and M240 with 50 mm Noctilux or Summilux, I can see what I miss in using the Sony a7R, for example. Nikon Df should have a better sensor than the one in Leica M240, and if compared to noise performance alone, it is. However, while the flagship D4 sensor put in Df has excellent colours as well, the Leica looks better most of the time. Depending on the subject, the older Leica M9 CCD sensor has even better rendering than Leica M240, although the highest practical ISO value is only 640 (or 1250 if you’re not concerned about the loss of quality). The Sony a7S has poorer colours than Nikon Df although it has lower resolution, which is probably due to it been optimised for better noise performance by tuning the colour filter array (CFA) in front of the sensor. In general, what you lose in colour performance you gain in noise performance. Unfortunately one can’t get back colours or details that are lost before capturing the RAW image and the same goes for noise reduction algorithms. I prefer my photos without noise reduction as long as the noise is luminance noise, meaning that the colours are still accurate. For example, the Sony a7R I have has a horrible high-ISO performance where the noise is high in colour, as well as in luminance. The Sony also has problems with colours themselves, meaning that a part of white balance is never right, even after setting it manually. A grey cat or grey concrete is different shades of brown with red, green and blue pixels thrown in. Tuning just white balance does not fix this because the problem affects only certain parts of the photo. The fact that Sony did not fix the compressed DNG problem in a7R at all (even while my camera is still under 5-year warranty) but to their latest models only made me not buy nor recommend Sony products.

Nikon Df, Nikkor 35 mm F1.4 AI-s @ F2.8, ISO 2500, 1/125 s (still having vibrant colours at high ISO and good rendering for a 1969 lens, this version being from 1982)

Leica M240, Noctilux-M 50 mm F0.95 @ F0.95, ISO250, 1/45 s (different day than on comparison above)

Optics

Optics always have flaws and the higher resolution you have, the higher the probability of you noticing this is. Lenses stay while cameras come and go, so having to buy new lenses because of unrealistic expectations gets expensive quickly. It’s also known that newer lenses with higher resolution and better correction of chromatic aberrations, coma etc. can be a bit clinical in their rendering. Nothing bad in that if that is what you expect and all manufacturers do this because people read reviews by skipping the photos and focusing on the specifications and MTF charts. One should do the exact opposite. Why should you care about numbers if the photos are the only thing that matter?

Leica M9, Canon 50 mm F1.2 LTM, ISO640, 1/60 s (very good results considering this lens is from 1956 and camera from 2009)

Focusing

Focusing a lens, whether manually or automatically, gets harder with higher resolutions. The eyebrows you had focused perfectly on a 16-megapixel sensor would probably be slightly off-focus on a 50-megapixel sensor. You can mitigate this problem by choosing a smaller aperture, but then again you will have to use higher ISO value or lower shutter speed, which both had their impact on the end result as described above. If you are in a studio, then this is not a problem since you are in control of the lighting and the subject and also more probably are already a seasoned professional who can acquire whatever tools are needed. Studio photography is different from street photos, children, pets or weddings.

File sizes

Higher resolution files are larger, meaning that transferring them to a computer is slower and editing even more so. One can always buy a faster computer is money grows on trees, but with super-high resolutions, even the fastest computers can choke. You will also need larger and faster memory cards which are not surprisingly more expensive. On your computer, you’ll have to have faster and larger disks and backing up the collection locally and off-site (which you should do if you have any respect of your own work and time) is slower and, you guessed it, more expensive.

Practicality

Unless you are printing large or cropping heavily, the practicality of very high resolutions is questionable. You probably have to downsample the photos because of the media you are using, whether that is prints or web pages. If you have to downsample, where exactly was the point in upgrading your gear if all you got was the long list of troubles I have mentioned? You could have used your old camera that was probably just fine, or even better yet, use film – not megapixels. I do not crop my photos because it feels a bit like cheating. I like to have the framing as close to the actual photo as possible – to maximise quality and boost my ego demanding flawless straight out of the camera (SooC) photos. I need some leeway in resolution for adjusting the photos horizontally since I tend to take candid photos and do not have time (nor patience) to look straighten by photos when taking them. It is also surprisingly hard even with the electronic virtual horizon in the optical viewfinder my Nikon Df has. Luckily Leica has no such distractions.

Nikon D200 and cheap zoom in daylight (2006 CCD technology, 10 Mpix)

For my uses, the 10-megapixel CCD sensor on my Nikon D200 is fine even after some straightening and cropping, after which the photos are still over the resolution of modern 4K monitors and televisions. The camera and sensor are from 2006 so in 2018 nobody expects performance equalling modern gear, but the resolution is good enough. It is also a crop sensor, not full frame, so it is using the sweet spot of full frame lenses, with less vignetting etc.

Field of view

If you rely heavily on cropping or zooming instead of you know, walking closer, you might have noticed something is flat in your images. That is because of longer focal lengths used affect the perspective. There are subjects you have to zoom in, crop and even use a smaller sensor to get higher pixel pitch, but unless you’re a wildlife photographer, you can get closer and get better results by using the full field of view and more natural focal length – depending on the subject of course. Even then, it is likely that you will get better results with lower resolution sensor having larger pixels because you see more what you need and fewer artefacts (related to everything I wrote above).

Nikon Df, Nikkor 135 mm F2.0 DC @ F2.0, ISO 6400, 1/200 s (a 1990 lens meets 2013 camera)

Saving money

Instead of constantly upgrading your gear, you can settle for old classics that are proven to be trustworthy and with good output. This also means that you can acquire your gear 2nd hand, which can save you a lot of money. I bought a Nikon D700, a 10-year old camera, just because I like the colours I get from it, it’s indestructible and the price is right – it can’t go much lower than this unless you find a desperate or nonchalant owner. I could have bought the D800, but I don’t need the resolution and the D700 photos look better to my eye. The money you save on camera can be used to buy lenses, which can be used with multiple cameras and much longer than the cameras themselves. If you care more about rendering, colours, micro-contrast and dimensionality, you can get lenses for cheap which might be a little soft on a latest high-megapixel monster, but more than fine on an adequate resolution.

Nikon D700, Nikkor 50 mm F1.4 AF-D, ISO400, 1/500 s (a camera from 2008 meets 1986 lens)

 

Alternatives to the megapixel race

If you are not counting minutes with your photography, film is a fine choice for experimenting with something else. With Leica and Nikon you can use the same lenses with film cameras as well, so you have an excellent arsenal of lenses for your film camera if you go with either brand.

Nikon has a backwards compatibility issue with AF-S lenses (no aperture ring), but since for most purposes you can buy multiple AF-D and AI lenses for the prices of a single AF-S lens and do not see any difference at all unless you’re using a digital sensor with a high megapixel count. Nikon F100, F5 and F6 can use AF-S lenses as well, but I don’t see the point. Modern AF-S lenses may be sharper, but since film camera can’t make corrections to geometry, the new AF-S version of the lens might look worse than film era AI and transition era AF-D lenses. Also, vibration reduction is not supported, so instead of VR, go for fast primes. Don’t forget that you are not shooting Leica, so the maximum apertures are always somewhat soft (makes no difference whatsoever with 35 mm film). Personally, I have the F100 as my only modern film SLR. I have also Nikon’s titanium F3/T HP and the “technocamera” Nikon FA, both of which are excellent for manual focusing and pre-AF-S lenses. The FA is full of features and very light, get one while you still can. The F3 is a professional tool which had a very long production run, so there are plenty of F3’s to buy. It’s also a camera that is trouble free, even though it’s not fully mechanical (it needs a battery for the light meter and shutter speeds other than 1/60).

If you happen to have a closet full of Leica lenses, as all self-respecting G.A.S. members have, you’re in for a treat. All Leica lenses work with film Leica cameras, even the LTM lenses released before M-mount. With film, the lenses behave differently and some look much better on film than on digital. A film does not have problems with extreme angles of light, so colour casts, extreme vignetting and digital sensor blur are things of no concern. My first Leica was a film Leica M5, the so-called ugly duckling. Nowadays I use my Leica M7 more and it’s maybe my favourite among all my cameras. The Leica M7 with a Summicron 35 mm IV pre-ASPH is small, a good-looking package which handles well and provides excellent results.

With film, you are no longer chasing the latest and greatest and if you need a new look, pop in a different film roll. Having to wait for your photos to be developed, whether you do it yourself or in a store or photo lab somewhere, adds to the excitement of finally seeing the photos. It’s like Christmas every time!

Black & White sensors, anti-aliasing filters and colour filter arrays

Some cameras include an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor, which is put there to minimise moiré effect. In recent years camera manufacturers have notes that sometimes people need the resolution more than the blurring effect of the anti-aliasing filter. Moiré is something you may have seen in the cathode ray tube era televisions when a person had striped shirt on. Same happens with digital cameras that do not have an anti-aliasing filter and are using the Bayer-type sensor. Most cameras use the Bayer-type colour filter, but there are exceptions such as Fujifilm’s X-Trans, Sigma’s Foveon and also all cameras that have no colour filter at all, such as Leica M Monochrom.

Fujifilm’s X-trans sensors lack anti-aliasing filter because of non-Bayer colour filter array, which with more randomised photosites, is said to avoid moiré effect. Fujifilm’s solution does not come without compromises though, biggest of which is transforming the RAW images. Even though the situation is better now than a few years ago, it is still there.

Fujifilm X-Trans photo developed with the latest version of Adobe Lightroom (note the awful rendering of green leaves)

After one starts seeing the problem, it is sometimes difficult to unsee. What must be said is that this is nitpicking since it is impossible to see this in actual prints or scaled down images for the web. You must either crop heavily and/or use 100% magnification to see this. The photo above is cropped from 6000 × 4000 resolution image (24 megapixels) to 738 × 492.

Bayer colour filter array (used by almost every camera)

X-Trans sensor colour filter array (Fujifilm)

Fujifilm’s choice of order and amount of sensor photosites has one additional benefit compared to the regular Bayer sensor. It has more green photosites than blue and red, and because green sits in between blue and red in the visible colour spectrum, it allows more vibrant colours. Because of the extra green light sensitivity (which extends to blue end), Fujifilm can design lenses that have more elements than they could otherwise have, meaning they can be more corrected thus having fewer problems without the loss of colour saturation. The difference is not huge, but it is there. If you wonder why Leica lenses look so good, it’s because of fewer elements that are of very high quality. All glass elements attenuate light and it is the blue and green side of the spectrum that suffers more (or so I’m told). Erwin Puts’ book Leica Lens Compendium is a good reading related to lens designs, glass types and optics – highly recommended if you’re a Leica shooter. I can recommend YouTube videos by The Angry Photographer, aka Theoria Apophasis, related to Fujifilm sensors and lenses (or lenses in general).

Black & white sensors are not common, although, in reality, all sensors see only luminance. What makes the sensor see colour is the colour filter array (CFA), the main variation being Bayer and the other two I know, X-Trans and Foveon. There is a company modifying Fujifilm X-Pro1 cameras to B&W by removing the CFA. Leica Monochrom cameras are more expensive than their colour variants. The camera having one part less does not make it cheaper, in fact, it makes it more expensive, and in the case of Leica, a lot more expensive – mainly due to being a niche product inside a niche sector of cameras (rangefinders) leading to smaller production. Somebody has to pay for the R&D that has gone to this variant.

If you are fine with only black & white images, the black & white sensor comes with a benefit you might not have realised. It has essentially up to 100% more resolution even when compared to a colour photo of the same resolution. Compared to Bayer sensor above, a B&W sensor would see every 2 × 2 photosites as one pixel, seeing only luminance. Because there is no colour filter, the sensor sees also one stop more light, meaning it is more sensitive this being able to use higher ISO values with less noise. I have not purchased a Leica Monochrom even though the thought is very tempting. The simple reasons are cost and my habit of using film for black and white. I fear I would get even lazier with Leica Monochrom and stop shooting B&W film with Leica M7.

Conclusions

I guess I have proven my viewpoint and while I can’t deny that there are multiple legitimate uses for higher resolution cameras and lenses required for such cameras, I have chosen not to play the planned obsolescence game. If I had a reason to, I could buy the latest Leica, Sony and Nikon and in some cases get better results, but it’s often the limitations that drive inspiration. That is why I still shoot film in 35 mm and medium format. It’s not better than digital, nor is digital better than film – they’re different. Saying that certain latest and greatest camera makes wonderful photos is like saying to a chef that the new oven is making tastier food.

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.

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