Jan 16 2014

Sony A7 & Contax G primes

Disclaimer: All you ‘re about to read does not rely on scientific tests. It’s all about conclusions, feelings, thoughts, second thoughts and decisions based primarily on experience out in the fields…

Sony A7 with Contax G lenses

Sony A7 with Contax G lenses

Recently I was pulled from the hair to enter the realm of mirrorless freshness. Long before A7 was released, I was dreaming of a full frame little camera, so little that it could just enclose the sensor. After reading Falk Lumo’s post back in 2010 I was convinced that it was all about marketing and the dream camera would surely find its way to the shelves in the coming years. I ‘d love to become a  stealth street photographer! I was seeking for a camera that has

  • quiet shutter
  • fastest & sure AF (preferably on eyes)
  • lightest possible with a 35mm lens (23mm on aps) so I can carry it 24/7
  • very little with a 35mm lens (23mm on aps) so I can hide it or carry it 24/7
  • can accept old Nikon glass that I own
  • no visible noise in high ISO so I can photograph during night
  • good bokeh so I can isolate my subjects

Most friends showed me Olympus EM-1 as the fastest and lightest. The main reason I got A7 was i) to test all my lenses and ii) to push street photography to the limits i.e.speedy subjects in dim light I was coming from the D4 world so there would be no forgives

the father and the kid

father and kid

Unfortunately I could not get the new Sony CZ FE35mm so I stuck with Nikon glass and some wonderful Contax Zeiss rangefinder lenses. I will only review the A7 with these lenses as I found myself using them in everyday basis. First things first, some things about the A7 are astonishing

  • Really small, can fit in hand easily but not feather light, gives a metal sensation shouting “I am a serious camera”
  • 1st electronic shutter curtain (or mechanical selectable!) meaning quiet operation
  • bright viewfinder, big, sharp,without lag. It has nothing to be jealous of the optical viewfinder of the D4.
  • focus peaking and focus magnification also during video recording, perfect combination for manual focusing mainly with the eye glued on the viewfinder. These advantages are not to be overlooked, a new era in video rises, no need of external monitor, just a tiny camera in your eye and you get a spectacular, isolated, detailed view
  • auto-ISO in manual mode !! Yeah, I don’t have it in D4, D800 during video
  • exposure compensation when auto-ISO in M-mode !!! Yeah, I don’t have it in D4, D800 during video
  • Clean 1080/50p signal via HDMI when simultaneously recording 1080/50p in card !! So the question is: Do really  D4 and D800 have an incapable processor that can only output via HDMI 720/25p when simultaneously recording ?
  • ClearImage zoom up to 2X during recording !!! Yes it is smooth, stepless AND of great quality, meaning you can use a prime and pretend you have a zoom.

Now let’s move on with the downsides

  • – little and light body with huge sensor, means body and thus handheld video are constantly in motion, IBIS or OSS lenses are an important miss
  • – AF is at least bad. Slow, and uncertain. I hope Sony FE lenses focus better and faster
  • – Really poor battery (1080mAh). I need 3-4 batteries to get along the whole day, not even shooting a lot, just playing with the menus.
    Actual recording time is 107 minutes in 1080/50p mode. Not to mention almost 4 hours of charging !! Only plus point is it’s a tiny battery, like a little sweet so I can carry many of them in my pockets.
  • – Rich menu although it doesn’t offer much 🙁 e.g. no straight AF point selection (2 buttons at least), no straight Focus Magnification (2 buttons at least).
    Offering direct upload to Facebook means nothing to me, while nail-sharp focus means everything.
  • – Very wide Focus Peaking meaning you think you have a focused subject but you end up with a blurry one.
  • – Over 2sec of startup time, meaning important moments are gone.

When searching for lenses for A7 I was confused since Sony offers were too limited.
The only AF solutions were
LA-EA4 &Sony A-lenses, big SLR lenses with alien adapter (with translucent mirror inside)
Metabones EF-NEX adapter (again Canon has huge lens which become huger with the adapter)
and Deo-Tech Contax-G to NEX “Eagle” adapter & Contax G lenses.

Contax G lenses make perfect companion to A7 as they were built for a rangefinder system preserving size and weight low but retaining image quality equal or superior to that of SLR lenses.
Colors are great, resolution is comparable to expensive Leica lens, vignetting is non-existent, distortion too.

But, in terms of handling, these lenses are 20 years old and cannot compare to modern AF solutions. The adapter actually couples the electrical pins from body to lens letting it to focus on the subject (after a while!).
At the end it fails to satisfy my needs:

  • – I have to check twice the f/stop BUT NOT SET IT TWICE! if I accidentally set f/4 in camera and set the lens at f/4 then the camera will think that it could close the aperture 2 stops at the time of click. The lens will not allow that, so the image will be overexposed for two stops.The solution is to set in camera the most open f/stop of EACH lens.
  • – pdAF not working with these lens ! Yeah, but this is the main reason I preferred A7 versus A7R. pdAF if accomplished correctly is the ultimate tool for street photography
  • – MF very confusing, especially when shooting in portrait orientation. I have to search for the little dial on the adapter with my finger. This is not always easy, it is very little dial and lacated on the upper left side of the adapter.
  • – MF is accomplished by wire, meaning it forces the AF system to turn the little screw on the lens. That means it cannot work without battery and it cannot work away from the body. Odd decision, I reckon.
feels great in hands

feels great in hands

Final thoughts about the adapter:
Does its job, it CAN make Contax G lenses AF again, it is elegant and slim but out in the fields its much easier (and faster) to use the lenses with another adapter that just MFs with traditional wide ring.

 

Now check out some photos taken with this combination of lens/adapter on the Sony A7. RAW in LR5.3 .All settings at default.
Under each photo you can see lens used. Mostly wide open at f/2.0 or f/2.8 (since you cannot see aperture setting in EXIF)

Capture

 

Some comments about some samples:
01.  Check the sharpness, great in the center, good in the corners
11. check the flare , remember these are simply constructed lenses, beware of light reflections. (it’s produced by the light strip in next photo)
16. Great bokeh, even with the 35mm. That’s the beauty of FF
17. Light leakage produces haziness. Beware of side light entering the lens
37. the 45mm is the sharpest and faster
41. beware of the light ghosts
42. iso 12800. Dare to capture motion during the night.
46. colored bokeh? No they’re stickers.
62. dare to shoot against the sky. This camera has exceptional DR when using low ISO.
63. the 90mm is a very clever approach to surveillance. It is the littlest and lightest tele lens I’ve ever used.
71. magenta strip before the focus level. This is LoCA
72. Non-circular bokeh due to only 6 blades of diaphragm
78. Although this shutter is fast enough to capture quick motion, the viewfinder goes dark just about the decisive moment. Is this malfunction?
79-80. Lens Whacking. I was holding the lens with my hand, interesting (and easy) project

 

That’s for now.

pretty little beauty

pretty little beauty

 

lens weight comparison

lens weight comparison

 

Thanks for reading