Sony A7R with a selection of Leica M lenses and a Novoflex adaptor

November 27, 2013  •  31 Comments

"Keep your hopes reasonable" I said, in a pre-emptive piece I published a few weeks back. I was referring to the hopes that so many people had for the potential adaptability of Leica M lenses to the then-forthcoming A7R.

I am glad I said that because now the A7R has come forth, it turns out that half my M lenses are effectively un-usable on the camera, and of the rest, all but one are marginal or compromised. As expected, colour shading issues plague the files but with most lenses corner and edge sharpness is not as bad as some people feared and is, at least on some lenses, not notably worse than with an M240.

I am writing this piece to share some thoughts and give access to test images I made for my own use, rather than as a scientific proof of any particular opinion - so please take it as such. But my own future usage will be dictated by the results shown in this gallery. There are a lot of images in it, and though I have labelled those which are of diagnostic use and where the EXIF doesn't contain all the required information, you might have to dig around to find the files you want. I apologise for this but I am pressed for time at the moment and I am also working on a more in-depth review of the camera itself.

That review will have to wait for its completion until such time as my FE mount Sony Zeiss 35mm F2.8 arrives: I don't see the point in writing a review of a camera until I have been able to use at least one lens designed specifically for it. But in the meantime I will say the following:

  • The file quality is great but is not, to me, as good as a D800E, despite being based on the same sensor. It is close, but there is more shadow noise.
  • The ergonomics aren't too bad but are a mish-mash of consumer and professional aspirations. In particular, the implementation of Auto ISO isn't great. Better than many, but not as good as it should be and indeed with some small firmware tweaks, could be.
  • This camera would really, really 'knock the ball out of the park' if it had EM-1 style IBIS. As it is, you will need to use 1/(3 x focal length) as a shutter speed if you want high levels of confidence about shake. You will often get away with less, but don't rely on it.
  • Some of the PlayMemories Camera Apps are not yet released and the most exciting, the Lens Correction app, looks promising only in some ways: it will be able to write the corrections into the RAW file (good) but from my reading, will not be able to deal with colour shading issues unless they are simple, linear and symmetrical. Which they often aren't.
  • The ability to send a file via Ad Hoc Wifi to an iPad (in other words, no external network is required) is crippled by the fact that the file sent is only 1616 x 1080 pixels and I can't find a way to change that. Also, setting the system up is a mindf%@£k
  • The manual is a disgrace. The worst, most incomplete and inadequate I have ever seen. Sony goes from treating its customers like children to treating them as if they were psychic geniuses.
  • Sony's IDC seems to me (when I can briefly get it to work without crashing) to be a pig without lipstick.
  • Lightroom 5.3 RC is the only mainstream RAW converter that currently converts the files. It gives hard edges quite a pronounced jagged appearance and I don't feel able to assess image quality fully until it is out of beta.

Back to M lenses. Given that Sony have taken the unusual step of releasing a camera that has no native lens availability (though some are now arriving) there is a huge adaptor frenzy going on at the moment, with people creating astonishing Heath Robinson setups of obscure lenses on often bizarre adaptor combinations. It's all great fun and some people seem happy with the results. My own experience has been only with M lenses and is as follows:

18mm Super Elmar suffers very intrusive and complex colour shading and it never cleans up enough for serious use, at any useable aperture. Here it is at F3.8 and F8:

_DSC5922-7_DSC5922-7Leica 18mm Super Elmar F3.8


_DSC5925-10_DSC5925-10Leica 18mm Super Elmar F8

Additionally, it requires F11 to get the corners acceptable, by which time it is diffracted. Even at F8, the edges are only just acceptable to me.

The 28 Cron is less badly afflicted by colour shading but it is still too strong for me to want to try to work with. Here are F2 and F8 examples:

_DSC5950_DSC5950M 28 Cron f2

_DSC5954_DSC5954M 28 Cron F8

In terms of resolution, again F8 is required for a goodish edge and F11 for a sharpish corner. Another 'also ran' on the A7R then.

The 35 FLE has notable casts but you might get away with it at F5.6, which aperture is the first to also show good edge sharpness. F8 is into diffraction territory but not badly, and will generally give an acceptable corner. Not a bad result and the look of the files can be gorgeous, with very good separation of planes - but only at those apertures where the colour shading is a problem. It also has a wavy field of focus, which doesn't suit my style but is ameliorated by the A7R's flexible focus point - something you can't say about the M240. But the lens does, at F8, provide a better overall performance than my Sigma F1.4 35mm ART lens when used on a D800E so it will have its uses, though if the FE3528 is good, I won't need the Leica lens.

The F1 Noctilux was never going to be a 'technical' lens on any camera. It has very severe vignetting on any full frame camera when shot wide open, and it also has notable colour shading on the A7R. Here are some examples at F1 and F8:

_DSC6051_DSC6051Leica M 50mm F1 Noctilux @ f1

_DSC6057_DSC6057Leica M 50mm F1 Noctilux @ F8

The lens requires F8 to F11 for good sharpness across the frame but that isn't really the point of this optic: it has a gorgeous, sexy, dreamy rendition on any camera and I can live with the colour shading issues by using it for B&W up until F5.6 and crossing my fingers thereafter. Always a keeper, the F1 Noctilux is my main 'cold dead hands' lens.

The 50 Lux Asph again has 'liveable with' colour shading. Here are F1.4 and F8 frames:

_DSC6044_DSC6044Leica M 50 Lux F1.4

_DSC6049_DSC6049Leica M 50 Lux F8

In terms of sharpness, the 50 Lux has some mid-field issues that mean that F11 is required for cross frame performance that pleases, but, crucially, both it and the Nocti have less diffraction than I would expect at this aperture on this camera and I would happily use either. Another keeper for now, but I will see how the FE5518 does before making a final decision as to whether the Lux gets used on the A7R.

The 90mm Macro Elmar is one of my favourite lenses with pretty much any camera it mounts on. Colour shading on the A7R is a non-issue and sharpness seems good across the frame - I have not shot Test Shots as such, no brick wall types, because it was evidently just fine in normal use especially at F5.6 and pretty good at F4 and F8. Bit of CA, which cleans up nicely. The only 'buts' are that the use of magnified focus is tough with an unstabilised lens of this length (the subject is very jiggly and there is some Jello too) and that you will need at least a 250th and even that does not always work perfectly. But it is a small and lovely and light lens and very useful.

All the above lenses, with the exception of the 90mm Macro Elmar, have CA issues at wider apertures but they are all 'dealable with' in post, except for the Nocti at F1 thru F2, where the fringing is so wide that to remove it is to fundamentally alter the shot. Again, B&W only at these apertures.

Overall, then, a predictably mixed bag of results but I would say about as good as I hoped and not as bad as I feared: none of these lenses seem, in terms of sharpness and the apertures required to achieve it across the frame, to differ very greatly from their performance on the M240. The bummer is that Cornerfix seems not to work well on the files in my efforts so far: in fact it makes the results worse. There are other, more labour intensive ways of dealing with the colour shading but that is IMHO a slippery slope...

What I would certainly say is that if you already own a bag of longer M lenses but can't afford an M240, the A7R is an interesting and useful option. But if you can afford an M240, it's a better choice. However, if you are starting from a blank sheet, you would not assemble a system of A7R and M glass.

Similarly, be aware that adaptors of any sort introduce further problems: they involve another set of joins that are subject to tolerances and potential errors; they run the risk of losing functionality such as AF, IS and Aperture control; they are mostly going to be so large as to obliterate the size and weight benefits of the small A7R body.

In summary: unless the first FE lenses off the production line (and crucially, the 24-70) are very good and are quickly followed by more choices, or unless you want to use very particular legacy lenses for very specific looks or purposes, you'll be better off with a D800 if you want 36mp. For now.

Added Nov 3rd:  Please note, I have been experimenting extensively with the Adobe Lightroom DNG Flat Field Plugin and it makes for a much simpler and more effective way of dealing with these colour shading issues than any other I have yet found. Even files shot with in-camera shading corrections turned ON and even when shooting with a the native FE mount 35mm F2.8 lens, there are residual colour problems at wider apertures that benefit from this treatment. I will cover examples and workflow suggestions in an upcoming article on that lens.

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35.David Jefferis(non-registered)
Thank you Tim for your reply. I understand what you are saying. I must have miss-spoke in my comment to you, I am not interested in Leica lenses at all. I am interested in Zeiss ZM lenses, especially the new Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM for my Sony A7R. I don't hold out much hope for Sony to solve this problem, it isn't their problem. Sony will probably make the A9(?) a 50 mpx camera and I am not interested in more mpx. What I am interested in is manual focus lenses (not focus by wire). So, I will probably stay with my D800E/Zeiss and wait 2-3 yrs. until they get the mirror-less sorted out. Even then I might have to stay with my DSLR. I am getting tired of buying cameras. Thanks again. David
34.Tim Ashley Photography
Hi David,

I look at it this way:
1) I am no longer as 'in thrall' to Leica lenses as I once was and have sold all of them apart from my F1 Nocti, my 90mm collapsible, and my 28 Cron (the last one I still have because my dealer hasn't yet been able to sell it!) so from my perspective, I don't care so much any more - I have a bag of other lenses I find more useful and in most cases less tricky.
2) The A7R, great though it is in many ways, is fundamentally flawed by its shutter slap problem IMHO. That means that when I use it, which I still do quite a lot, I avoid the dangerous shutter speed range or I resign myself to getting a ~24mp image at least until the A7RII comes out, assuming it has a better shutter.

So I don't need the mod, and even if I did I'd be waiting for the updated model of the camera before seeing how that did with those sorts of lenses.

In other words, I'm not about to put lipstick on a pig when I don't want to take her dancing!
32.Tim Ashley Photography
Peter, most of my shots have been made handheld. I usually go for 3x shutter speed but have had quite good results at less than that, though they are inconsistent. However, I have done some tripod series with adapted Nikon lenses, only one of them long (the 100mm Zeiss F2 T* Makro Planar) and on my Gitzo Carbon Fibre three series with Arca cube and cheap remote release with 2 second delay, I have shot as low as 1/160th with no problem. Often individual tripod rigs have sympathetic frequencies with particular camera/lens combinations, and going to a slower speed can actually help. I find the A7R shutter loud but I haven't so far had real problems with whiplash shake! In fact I have one shot at 1.3 seconds on a Joby Gorillapod with no notable shake, and plenty on tripods with wider lenses between half a second and 100th, all good. I have had shake spoil only about five out of well over a thousand frames so far...
31.Peter Wais(non-registered)
Tim, I have only shot my A7R with the ZF.2 135 APO, as I await the arrival (eventually) of a Novoflex LEM/NEX adapter. I am not able to avoid very noticeable image blur when shooting below 1/180s, and this problem occurs with a tripod, pillow bed, or handheld. It seems shutter shake is horrendous with the A7R, although the blurring may not be an issue at 50mm or a bit longer... you blogged that you liked your Noctilux and 90mm Makro shots on the A7R. What shutter speed did you use? Have you found proper results at longer exposures?
30.Tim Ashley Photography
Hi Carsten,

I'm just a pixel whore, sorry! there are a good range of smallish cameras in the 16-25mp bracket but I was attracted to the A7R purely because it is the only game in the tiny-body-with-a-36mp town. The A7 is undoubtedly a better choice for many people, but given that I don't have one, I can't make any useful comments about it!
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