Tim Ashley Photography: Blog https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Tim Ashley Photography tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:30:00 GMT Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:30:00 GMT https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-5/u511219075-o374332360-50.jpg Tim Ashley Photography: Blog https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog 80 120 Broken Promise https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/3/broken-promise warning: this is not a review of the Promise Pegasus 2 R6: I never got that far.

I'm just a photographer, OK? I want to shoot, process, print and store and I want to do it quickly and reliably.

Trouble is, I'm addicted to high MP cameras and large files and so, increasingly, are an awful lot of the people I know. We need a lot of storage  - and if Lightroom is not to be slowed down by treacle-speed disk access, that means fast drives. 

In the past, I've merely added more internal SATA drives to my old-style Mac Pros and then done a bit of backup here and there. So as you can see, I'm no Lloyd Chambers - I have no really thoroughly structured, analysed approach to storage and backup. To me, it is the washing up after a meal - necessary but of no interest in itself.

Last month my hand was forced. I purchased a "late 2103 Mac Pro" and, because it was in stock and therefore allowed me to skip the several week custom build queue, I took the one with the small internal SSD, planning to use it merely for system files and applications. 

All was good until I noticed how slooow Lightroom was compared to my Macbook Pro. I quickly realised that my external Thunderbolt hard drive was the source of the problem and I set about looking for alternatives.

First, analyse the requirements:

  • I wanted to be able to have ALL my images in ONE LR catalog, instantly accessible. I test a lot of gear and that means a lot of comparisons - so not only do I want to be able to find any image very quickly and without switching catalogs, I also want to be able to do both A:B "Compare" and to switch from one full screen image to another instantly.
  • I needed at least 3TB of external storage but realistically it has to be able to grow to 5TB fairly soon, maybe more.
  • I needed that storage to be very, very reliable and very fast
  • I needed a backup solution

External SSDs were out of the question: too small or, if the right size, astonishingly expensive. So I had to take the plunge and learn more about RAID. Ouch.

The new MacPro has Thunderbolt 2 and so I blundered into thinking that I therefore needed a Thunderbolt 2 drive when in fact I probably don't. My bad but like I said, I'm just a photographer. Off I went to the online Apple Store and discovered that there are very few Thunderbolt 2 options yet available. So I ordered what seemed sensible - the Promise Pegasus2 R6 12 TB. It promised extreme speed and the usual benefits of RAID.

Let me explain, for those who aren't RAID savvy, what that means: most external hard drives spin at about 7200 rpm - and that means, even over Thunderbolt, a data transfer speed for a single drive of 100MB/s or thereabouts, which seems not fast enough for what I need. By comparison my Macbook Pro's SSD speed tests are read speeds of between 300 and 400MB/s and the one in my Mac Pro goes far over 1,000 MB/s.

RAID allows you to create a 'logical drive' by combining several physical drives into one virtual drive. It then splits the data between several physical disks, all spinning at once, by a process known as 'striping'. So when you access a file, it starts spinning off all your disks a once, effectively giving you speeds that can (over the right connection such as Thunderbolt) pretty much match the speeds of the internal SSD. Cool. It's like having six two litre water pistols instead of one twelve litre water pistol. RAID 0 does just this: it turns, in the case of this Pegasus drive, six 2TB drives into one 12TB drive with astonishing speed.

But RAID 0 has a major problem: if just one of your physical drives fail, then all your data is gone. So there are options to help you avoid this. 

RAID 1 mirrors data from one physical drive to another in a two disk array. It slows things down but it backs things up.

A good compromise is RAID 5, which does clever stuff across all the drives so that file data is striped across the drives, but so is parity data. I am no expert (as you can tell) but this level gives you very fast read speeds and a degree of protection: you need at least three physical drives but if one of them fails, you can 'rebuild' your data using a spare. SO you get speed AND redundancy. As long as just one physical disk fails.

The Pegasus ships preconfigured with RAID 5 and that's how I intended to use it at first. I planned to consider a later migration to RAID 10, which may under some circumstances allow two disks to fail while keeping your data recoverable, albeit at the cost of halving the capacity of the array.

So I unpacked The Beast and read the Quick Start guide. No fun yet: when you plug it in, you have to allow it to run a Synchronization routine, which takes many hours.

That done, I fiddled with some setting in the superficially wonderful Promise GUI (turning on the event alarm buzzer, for example) dragged my main LR catalog folder onto the new drive and went to bed, allowing the files to copy over while I dreamed of mythical white horses. Next morning, Bingo! The transfer was complete and so I gathered a bunch of other files and folders from another drive and dropped them all onto the Pegasus.

Buzz. Buzz buzz buzz. Red lights flashing all over the drive. Panic. The thing has frozen and worse, when I look at the GUI I am told that for two of the six physical drives, "Physical Disk is marked as DEAD due to forced offline state". Wow. RAID 5 allows one disk to die without risking your data, not two. 

But hang on, this thing is less than 24 hours out of the box. I have only once in my life had a drive failure and now it looks like there are two of them in a brand new product.

Now I really don't want to bore you with what happened next but a précis might be useful.

I discovered that Promise support isn't as good as I might have hoped (understatement).  Their online Knowledge Base seems very thin and so I opened a support case and then waited. In a mild panic I googled the problem and found a Terminal Command that could force both the drives back online, which worked but which I was later told by support I shouldn't have done because it might have risked my data. Never mind, I still had my original drive, the one from which I had copied all the files in the first place, and a backup. 

Nonetheless I was curious to proceed, to see if the fault had lost me any data (I never found out) and to see what had caused the problem (I never found out) and to see if I needed any physical replacements (after two or three days I discovered that I did, drive 2 needed replacement and I was told to raise an RMA).

Aside from the often extremely slow responses from support, the level of English used by some of the tech staff seemed to me to not be up to the job. Often questions I asked were not answered in the response, and at what was up to 24 hours per ping that became very irritating. The frequent use of opaque acronyms drove me bonkers too.

"Below is the Promise KB link to attach files in CRM"

"if the drive that your forcing online contains any errors that DDF information might corrupt the whole array"

Mind you, it's not just the support staff that love acronym soup: the case-raising process throws it at you with gusto too. I had no idea what a "TLA number was" - but I do now.

But the support staff do love to use tech speak, to show how clever they are, never mind how confusing it might be:

Them: "open disk utility from finder in your mac, select your disk and run a check filesystem"

Me: "I don't see an option for that. I did a Verify and then a repair with this result..."

Them: "Sorry, for the delay in answer yes verify and repair disk is what I meant"

And so on... it's almost farcical reading some of it back now (I was not always completely polite..) especially when a bit of internet research showed me the amusing stories people have of their Pegasus drives issues, including needing to rebuild the RAID within the first few days of ownership and arrays which unmount spontaneously when an iPhone receives a call near the cable...

So I packaged the whole thing up and initiated a return to the Apple Store. Phew?


Pegasus was a horse, right? And horses have tails. This one had a sting: before repacking for shipping I decided to boot the drive up and initialise it so that none of my data remained on it. It turned it on and it gave me a fan warning. I tried again several times and eventually got rid of this so I tried a Mac Disk Utilities secure erase, which failed. In fact at one stage the buzzer sounded and the red lights went on again, forcing another reboot. Finally I succeeded, by using the Promise GUI, to securely erase the drive.

I have rarely if ever had a more annoying tech experience: the product failed quickly and the documentation and support are unsatisfactory, to me at least. The high data transfer speeds may peak at well over 1,000 KB/s but the average, including downtime, was downright tardy.

I have replaced the unit with two 8TB G-tech units, each with Thunderbolt One and two drives in a RAID 0 array. One will be the main drive, the other  will be cloned and an old drive will do Time Machine backups for the safe while yet another will be kept offsite. And sure, the maximum data rate of the G-Tech will be around a third of the Pegasus but judging by my previous experience with the brand, it will keep it up for far more than the first 24 hours. It's a tortoise and hare thing, and the tortoise will actually be pretty quick.

Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, saw the Pegasus myth as (to partly quote Wickipedia) a profound symbolic esoteric in relation to the spiritual energy that allows access to the realm of the gods on Mount Olympus.

Sod accessing the Gods of Mount Olympus: I'm just a photographer and all I wanted to do was access my data.

Maybe if you're a videographer working with 4K or multiple streams, and you have bullet proof live backup strategies, this astonishingly fast unit is the answer to your prayers. But for me? I don't think so.  I will miss the extreme speed but actually, I think I need a Volvo and not a racehorse.


This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.




tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 2 Pegasus Promise R6 crash dead disk fail fault force offline poor problem return support https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/3/broken-promise Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:24:32 GMT
The Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS: Hallelujah! https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/3/the-sony-zeiss-vario-tessar-t-fe-24-70mm-f4-za-oss-hallelujah Expect the unexpected. If you do that, you'll love this lens: for, like the 35mm F2.8 I recently reviewed, it is a complex beast from which to extract the absolute optimum result. 

Such complexity relates to the trend for lens designers to work very closely with camera manufacturers to 'share the load' of overall image quality between the optics and the way in which their output is processed. Aberrations, distortion, even diffraction and peripheral sharpness are, these days, all 'fair game' for a little helping hand from the signal processing part of the imaging chain.

This is made all the more necessary when one considers the design and marketing constraints: for example, a 24-70 Zeiss lens for Sony's new FE range had to be not only a strong performer, but also small, light and correctly priced. Oh, and it has to 'do' video, too - though I will not be commenting on that aspect of its performance.

All this has to be achieved in the context of the fact that a lot of people (me included) simply will not commit to a system unless there's a good mid range zoom. And Sony is building a system here.

Shot at 55mm F5.6

In order to get the entire quart into the requisite pint pot, a lot of smart stuff has to go into the design - not just of the lens itself, but of the entire system for which it is designed. An example: this lens has almost epic levels of distortion. So much so, that for JPEG shooting you cannot even turn distortion correction 'Off' - the option is not available in the menu system at all. A low-distortion design such as the 55mm F1.8 triggers the camera to allow the user the choice of 'Off' for distortion but Sony plainly don't want to frighten the less experienced shooter with what would happen should they be allowed to select this option for their flagship mid-range FE zoom.

The short version is, this is a great lens, probably overall the best mid-range zoom I've used and certainly the single most useful lens I own. And Yes, it does let you get great results from the 36mp, AA-free sensor of the magnificent A7R.

_DSC2186Shot at 35mm F5.6

But the long version is  - complicated. There's a lot to cover. So for those who want to read about the complications in their quest to extract the last drop of performance, read on. For those who want to skip to the fun part, just buy one* and enjoy it: it really is great.

Let's look at the less good stuff first: distortion, color shading, nervy bokeh, astigmatism, field curvature, focus shift, sample variation and the odd and inconsistent behaviours that can occur when you combine these characteristics:


Wow. Here are frames shot at each major focal length (24, 35, 50, 70mm) and developed in LR from RAW (the camera does not apply the corrections to the RAW files).






Like I said, the distortion is close to epic. But the good news is twofold: for an awful lot of shots it simply doesn't matter - the distortion gets lost in the shape of the subject. And should you need to correct it, there's a profile in ACR's current release candidate that does a good job, though I prefer to correct distortion only, leaving some vignetting in place. Furthermore, though there is always a small hit to detail and micro contrast when lens corrections do their 'push and pull' thing on a file, there is plenty of detail to go around and the post-corrected results are still pretty damned good provided you shot optimally to start with.

Tip #1: if you're shooting a landscape or similar and the image has a strong horizontal line in it, composing (if it suits the subject) with the line close to the mid-height of the frame will mean you probably won't need to correct.

Tip# 2: if the you have the camera set to Live View Display: Setting Effect On (Cog symbol:2:item 5) you won't see the distortion in the finder and you will capture a slightly wider FOV than the finder displays, such that a RAW file corrected in post will have about the same FOV as the finder showed. So you have a little wiggle room built in - and I think, but cannot prove, that the camera is always shooting slightly wider than the focal length you have selected, such that a corrected file has a FOV appropriate to the selected focal length.

Color Shading and vignetting

Don't forget that the in-camera, menu-selectable lens shading corrections only correct for vignetting and NOT for color shifts. So, though shading corrections ARE applied to RAW files if ON in the menu, they help only with luminance issues and not color shifts. This is a pity because there are some color shifts. They effectively become 'not a problem' from about 35mm F5.6 or 8 but at wider focal lengths and all apertures, they might cause problems with some scenes, though luckily, because you will always have accurate EXIF information, you can always shoot a Lens Cast Reference Frame later, and use it with Adobe's Flat Field Plugin to get rid of the issue. Here follows an example of an uncorrected file at 24mm and F4 and if you click here you can see files at all major focal lengths and apertures:

24MM F4

Tip #3: shoot with lens shading corrections OFF and deal with both colour and luminance shading later if needed. And buy a Universal Lens Calibrator Sheet for peanuts, it will save your rear end one day

Nervy Bokeh

You're never going to get gorgeous bokeh from a mid-range zoom, especially one that is trying to do as much as this one. And in truth, the bokeh isn't actively bad: in fact sometimes it's just dandy - and for this class of lens, it's very reasonable. But I sometimes find it a little jarring. Here is a series of examples with fore and aft bokeh and different types of subject. It is worst with aft OFF subjects that have sharp lines.

Shot at 70mm F4

Shot at 70mm F4

Shot at 70mm F4

Shot at 49mm F4

Shot at 70mm F4

Shot at 70mm F4

Shot at 70mm F4

That last one shows the danger zone: it can get close to ugly with too many OOF lines in the background - but 'softer' subjects mask the effect enough, most of the time. In any event, this, for my use at least, isn't meant to be a lens used for extensive OOF work. If I want that, I'll choose the appropriate prime.

These are the three most obvious problem areas. But there are others that are less immediately evident and more difficult to pin down and work around - and I can't claim to have fully cracked this yet, however much I like the results I am getting.

This is what I think - and I might be wrong. I think the lens has a cocktail of quite mild hidden effects that can make it feel a little inconsistent. For example I think it might have a tendency to forward focus shift. My tests aren't quite conclusive but they seem to show this unusual phenomenon at 70mm and less so at 50mm, though it is hard to tell whether it is there at shorter focal lengths, masked by the extra DOF.

I think this combines with some field curvature and my feeling at this stage is that this tends to be forward curvature at shorter focal lengths, possibly switching to a gentle rear curvature at the long end. The trouble is, these things seem to come at go at different apertures, focal lengths and subject distances and shapes. One minute, the lens is sharp from edge to edge and the next, with the same focal length and aperture but a different subject distance, less so.

_DSC2291Shot at 70mm F5.6

Usually the MTF is a good place to start when trying to understand these things but it is my understanding that Sony's graphs are generated from calculations rather than bench tests and they are, in any event, pretty incomplete and poorly annotated. They show only the extremes of the zoom, at F4 and F8. This seems like a daft policy given that the best performance is from about 40mm thru 60mm. I'd like to see the MTF for 50mm for example, because the lens is really very good at that length.

All that said, what MTF data there is, screams "astigmatism and field curvature." The higher frequency sagittal and tangential lines look like they're trying to avoid each other and the general appearance is of a lens that has plenty of low frequency detail to the edges but less high frequency detail, and, what high frequency detail there is, is quite strongly astigmatic. 

The results of this in the final images is that if you pixel peep at 100% you'll see an odd mixture of detail and blur in the far peripheries - and the characteristic sense that there's more detail in some orientations than in others. The overall effect can be less of a blur (though that is there, somewhat, at the afflicted focal lengths) than of reduced contrast. But in any event, and I really want to stress this point, these effects are common to other lenses of this type and, when it comes to the final result on your screen at 50% zoom (to emulate a 200dpi print) they are rarely troublesome and, at some focal lengths and apertures, not even noticeable.

Shot at 70mm F4

Regular readers will be familiar with my usual harbour side aperture series and sure enough I have shot it (many times now!) and links to the files are here (all downloadable at 100% size). But I have to say that no one series gives anything like a full picture of the overall performance of this lens. I have shot many, many series at different focal lengths and subject distances and overall been very pleased with the results - they are nearly always at least useable and very often really satisfying BUT the areas that are less strong are very hard to pin down. An example: some frames shot at F5.6 and 35mm seem to have less sharp edges than F4 frames. In other shots with the exact same settings but different subject distances, the effect disappears. To me this suggests that the shape of the field curvature 'tightens' as you stop down at some focal lengths, meaning that planar subject edges can fall behind the field of focus at F5.6 but within it at F4.

I'm still working this out. For now, my rules are based on an analysis of a lot of frames shot of a lot of scenes, often using different placement of focus point within those scenes. Add some educated guesswork and these rules are as follows:

  • Best results are in the area between 40mm and 60, maybe 63mm. In this range, you have a very high chance of getting a 36" print that is sharp to the sides.
  • At nearly all focal lengths and subject distances bracket F5.6 and F8 frames to be reasonably sure of getting the best results but if you have time, chuck in an F4 when shooting at the wide end.
  • At 24mm you risk slightly soft edges and you'll be hard pushed to get sharp corners on a planar subject. Best shot at F5.6 or 8. Top tip: for 'deep' scenes, shoot at F5.6 and focus on one of the furthest elements of the scene. This tends to sharpen up the edges in the nearer parts of the frame, an effect I ascribe to a suspected combination of field curvature and forward focus shift.
  • At 28 thru 35mm, it's wise to bracket F4 thru F8 if you have time - sometimes the edges are better at F4 but if you follow the italicised 'Top Tip' in the above bullet point, you'll probably get the best results available.
  • At 70mm, avoid F4 - it is usually a bit soft, whereas f5.6 and F8 are very good on centre and fairly good at the edges.
  • F11 is noticeably (but not horribly) diffracted at all focal lengths and oddly seems not to offer much gain in DOF. I don't bother with F11 for these reasons.

You could go crazy working this all out and I also suspect that sample variation between individual copies of the lens (I'm on my third) might mean that no one set of rules will work for everyone. So if there is one golden rule it is this: if the shot really really matters, if you want the best chance of sharpness to the edges and corners, zoom with your feet and shoot at 50mm and F8. It works for me.

In fact it works so well for me that I recently posted two mystery frames on a GetDPI forum thread. One was the 24-70 shot at F8 and 50mm and the other was the 55mm F1.8 shot at F5.6 and only one person of many was able to identify the prime lens as 'better'. Really. If you want to play, here are the shots. Clicking them will load them in a gallery from where a 50% of original size version can be downloaded. I'm not saying which is which - they're both excellent, and that's what matters.

Mystery Lens A


Mystery Lens B

For another example, this time at closer range, of how good the lens is in the middle parts of its range, take a look at this one shot at 63mm and F8. Clicking the in-line image will take you to a gallery from which you can load a 100% frame into your browser.

Shot at 63mm F8

The file is sharp from edge to edge and corner to corner. I'd be happy with this from an very good prime - from a zoom, I am pretty much bowled over.

Looking at some of these files, you might notice the lovely Zeiss micro contrast that so many of us crave. Here's an example at 33mm and F4, which shows the very subtle, articulate way the lens handles transitions of focus, tone and colour. Again, click for a gallery with the full version but, as with all of these, try to drop the image from your browser into a viewer that lets you look at the file at 50% zoom so as to emulate a print.

Shot at 33mm F4


Landscape Use

This is of particular interest to me and I have shot quite a lot of landscapes with the lens already. Honestly, if I want a huge print of a particular scene I will at least use a prime, and probably a tripod. Most likely I'll use an IQ180 on a technical camera. But for casual, travel and walkaround landscape use I have been surprised at how good the 24-70 is. In fact most shots I've made with it could be used to make my standard fine art print size of around 22" and to the standard I require - near as dammit as good as the FE 35mm F2.8, for example. I have made a gallery to show this - they're not great shots, they're intended to show how, at a variety of focal lengths and apertures, the lens performs for this sort of work. Click on the below image to visit that gallery.

Shot at 38mm and F8

A word now on sample variation. I am now on my third copy of this lens. The first one had a tendency to be noticeably softer on the left side at the wide end, neutral in the middle of the zoom range and softer on the right at the 70mm setting. The second copy was almost the opposite of this. The third copy is better than either, still not perfect but I am certainly keeping it because in my experience, mid range zooms are hard to design and hard to build with perfect consistency. This applies to all manufacturers whose lenses I have tried to some degree. So if you purchase the lens and have the skill and knowledge to test it, do be prepared to keep a copy that seems a little less than perfect because you might have to run through a LOT of copies to get a truly excellent one. I also beg people not to run this 'test/return/repeat' cycle unless they know how to test properly. Manufacturers might deserve to get 'clunkers' returned but it's a real problem for some retailers. If you want to know more about how to test, this article from the excellent Lens Rentals blog will help. I will soon be writing up a simplified method that can be used by anyone with a rectangular room, a 12' cloth tape measure, a tripod and a piece of string. Watch this space!

Flare and aberrations

I did have a small number of instances of LOCAs and purples and so on, but I honestly haven't been bothered by them and now can't seem even to find them. A couple of clicks and they were gone, with only one brutal exception at 24mm and F4, fully against the light and right in the corners.

Flare is even better controlled. I have tried to provoke it again and again and this is the very worst I can do. Treat the T* coatings as one of the lens's strengths - they are very effective.

Shot at 24mm F8

Focus and OSS

One area where the lens has to bow to the inevitable compromises of its design brief is that it is a little slower than its pro-grade competition. A maximum aperture of F4 might be mitigated by OSS but the fact is that darker lenses make harder work for an AF system. Not only is there less light to work with, but the extra DOF makes for more ambiguity. The A7R does pretty well with this lens most of the time but I personally would not use it for dimly lit events - not even outdoors at dusk. Wedding and event photographers won't enjoy it. In fact, I tried to shoot (very casually) an outdoor hunt meet in very overcast conditions and I missed focus quite a lot. So this is not a 'run and gun' lens in anything other than pretty good light.

The OSS seems effective and non-temperamental. I mainly like it because it helps keep things steady for magnified live view manual focus but it really does help you to shoot at shutter speeds of around 1/FL (so I estimate about a two stop helping hand) and I have had a number of shots at much lower shutter speeds that imply up to four stops of help if you get lucky. I have also sometimes forgotten to turn off OSS when on a tripod and though this is bad practice, it seems not to matter. Similarly, diligent shooters usually turn off OSS if there's enough light not to need it. I haven't bothered and I haven't suffered as a result.

There are two issues that I haven't been able to bottom out, though: firstly, I think the OSS is best when given a moment to 'settle' - again, not ideal for run and gun shooters. Secondly, I have a suspicion that sometimes the OSS doesn't 'park' the lens elements perfectly. This is very common with lens-based stabilisation in zooms and can manifest as a mild softness on one side or the other which seems to come and go. It's hard to separate this out from other effects so I really can't be certain. In any event, with my current copy it is 'no biggie'.

EDIT: added 9th Feb 2014 After much handheld testing with the lens at 70mm I have been able to confirm, to my own satisfaction at least, that the infamous "A7R Shutter Vibration" issue is a challenge for the OSS. This is what I mildly suspected from my experience of the lens so far, and is also to be expected given the data that others have managed to amass on the subject. Handheld testing is by its very nature not exactly repeatable and not amenable to a proper scientific method.

My method was to test my hypothesis, garnered from much shooting experience with the lens that shutter speeds of less than 1/250th might be problematic. So I set up a very well lit test target outside and shot innumerable frames at 1/60th, 1/125th and 1/250th. All the shots at 1/250th were very sharp. About 50% of the shots at 1/125th were acceptably sharp. None of the shots at 1/60th were acceptable. YMMV - and I haven't applied this test yet to the other focal lengths, nor to very slow shutter speeds (where the vibration apparently dies down for 'enough' of the exposure) but my feeling is that though the OSS is doing a good job with the hand held component of motion blur, it isn't able fully to deal with the shutter shock.

Takeway? Go practice with your own copy but don't count on getting the shot critically right at less than about 2-2.5/FL even with OSS on, at 70mm and quite possibly at other focal lengths. It might work, but it might not! In real world shooting this has rarely been an issue for me  - I have had a few slightly blurry 70mm frames at 1/125th but nearly all at 1/160th seem fine. At shorter focal lengths I have seen no more of an issue than I would expect from any system.

Summary and Conclusions

Regular readers will know that I repeatedly, in anticipation of the arrival of this lens, stated that it was going to be a 'make or break' lens for the new FE system. I had already noted that the Olympus 12-40 F2.8 lens on an E-M1 could effortlessly get sharper edges on a 20" print than my copy of the famous 'Trinity' Nikkor 24-70 F2.8 on a D800E especially at the wide end. For that reason I was keen to shoot that lens, despite the less good sensor of the MTF system, rather than the Nikkor. It is a very good lens. So what I wanted from the FE 24-70 F4 OSS was a similar performance. If it proved capable of this, it would become my 'go to' lens, making the A7R my 'go to' system. 

Does it achieve this? Not quite. When you shoot it absolutely optimally, and re-size the images to match the resolution of the E-M1 (or make a 20" print), there is a tiny, tiny smidge more detail at the far peripheries of the Oly wide images. However, the margin is so slim that when I discount it against the other abilities of the lens (stellar performance in the middle of its range, gorgeous Zeiss micro contrast, nicer and larger files from the A7R) I find radically in favour of the Sony as a system. I will happily give up the small advantage the Oly has at the far edges in favour of a greatly better system performance overall.

I am also convinced that overall, the 24-70 F4 is a better and more useful lens than the Nikkor - I have looked at every aperture and every focal length and winning features of the Sony are better performance at the far wide end. In fact, on my subjective evaluation, the Sony system beat the Nikon system at the majority of focal lengths and apertures and, in the few instances where the Nikon system won, it was by a small margin and the Sony was in any event better than good enough. Sure, the Sony lens isn't for purists (what zoom is?) because it has more distortion. But for my use, it is just better, not to mention smaller, lighter and cheaper.

_DSC2298Shot at 70mm F4

​It is important to note though, that for some users, the Nikon or Olympus systems might be better. They both have faster AF, and IMHO the AF is more reliable in low light. I also have a sense that the Oly and Nikon lenses might be a bit tougher, and a bit more weather proof though I am not about to test this! So if I were a photojournalist I would likely choose one of those systems instead, probably the Oly because of its size and weight advantage and the fact that PJs don't generally need to make vast prints.

But I am primarily a fine art and landscape photographer, with sidelines in travel and portraits. For all these uses, I prefer the Sony system.

So this is what I have done, as a direct result of my testing of this great lens: I have made the A7R my main system. I have sent my Leica M240 and most of my M lenses to my dealer for consignment sale. I will, sadly, be selling the Olympus system. For now I will keep the D800E and lenses, mainly because I'll use some of the lenses on the A7R with adaptors and because I do sometimes need a system that can do action, sport, tracking type jobs. But if the upcoming Sony FE70-200 F4 OSS is good enough and if the A6000's tracking focus is as good as claimed, I will also get rid of the D800 and all the AF lenses I have for it.
This means that I will have an entirely Sony based system: RX1 for discreet shooting, A6000 for dogs and kids and sports and A7R for the rest. Sure, there will be some non-Sony lenses (my F1 Noctilux, my Nikon mount Zeiss 100mm Macro Planar and so on) but I will have made a radical switch that I was not expecting. And all of this hangs on the performance of one lens: the 24-70 F4 OSS.
​It's not perfect but I think it is the single most useful lens in the world right now. I really do. And it is a whole barrel load of fun.


* so simple to say 'just buy one' - firstly, they're rare as hen's teeth at the moment and secondly, I had to go through three to get a good one. That's not so unusual, it can happen with any manufacturer and complex zooms are hard to make.


This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.

Also I would like to note that on March 26th in London, Photovoice will be holding "PV10" - a very high-end auction of just ten amazing images by world-class photographers. Please visit the website for more information and do consider attending or bidding remotely: not only does it help fund the charity, it is also often a source of bargains prices for big-name work!

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 24-70mm A7R F4 FE OSS Sony T* Vario-Tessar Zeiss field lens on review the https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2014/3/the-sony-zeiss-vario-tessar-t-fe-24-70mm-f4-za-oss-hallelujah Wed, 05 Mar 2014 19:25:08 GMT
Camera, Lens, Accessory and Image Awards 2013 https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/12/camera-lens-accessory-and-image-awards-2013 As the shutter curtain of time snaps shut on the sensor of destiny, the time has come for this blog to give its second annual awards - for all that was finest in the photographic firmament of 2013.

Camera of the Year

First prize goes to… 

...the Sony A7R*. What a fascinating and infuriating beast this is. Capable of wonderful image quality, often close to Medium Format but in a tiny package, this camera is the first to break through what I considered the most significant barrier facing the industry: a full frame, high resolution sensor in a compact body with an excellent built-in EVF and a versatile interchangeable lens mount. It has not only broken that barrier: it has smashed it, and left the debris of other manufacturers' aspirations spinning in its wake.

There is a lot not to like of course:

  • colour casts across the frame with some lenses
  • a shutter that sounds quite loud and in the opinion of many people vibrates too much
  • an apparently compromised image processing pipeline that hides what it is doing from the user and produces results slightly less good than the same (or at least very similar) sensor in the Nikon D800E ("orange peel" and "jaggie" effect in RAW files when developed in Lightroom, less clean shadows, less impressive higher ISO performance) 
  • a piece of proprietary software to develop RAW files in (Image Data Converter) which I, and many people it seems, find infuriating and opaque
  • poor (but not disastrous) implementation of Auto ISO - no setting for focal length or desired focal length "multiplier"
  • no IBIS (a shame on a camera so well-suited to third party lenses via adaptors)
  • a menu system that has utterly confounded some users and confused and irritated a lot more
  • a manual that reads as if written by a fourteen year old for a ten year old

But this camera breaks serious ground, however much of the larger construction project remains incomplete.

Critically, the way in which it focusses is a huge step forward: in manual focus mode, magnified live view, it gives a clear, clean and precise ability to see where focus is best achieved in a way that D800/E users can only dream of. Combining this with a 36mp sensor is the 'killer app' for the camera. It lets those who want to use it with extreme precision, do so in a way that wrings the last drop from their lenses. In AF mode, it may be slower and less good at tracking than some of its DSLR peers but I, for one, find that for the first time ever, I can use peripheral AF points on a hi-res sensor with a very good chance of success. Nikon has remained silent on the subject of D800 peripheral focus (especially the infamous 'left side' issue) but in the final analysis I trust my eyes: and my eyes say, trust the A7R more.

So here we have a camera which seems to have a less satisfactory imaging pipeline than the D800/E but which I and many other users seem able to make better initial captures with - with the net result of, dare I say it, an average end-result win for the Sony. On top of that, it'll take a huge variety of lenses. I duly award it my much-coveted Camera of the Year Award, however much it also deserves a Could Do Better.

Oh, and a lot of people are having tremendous, creative juice stimulating FUN with it and seem very largely un-bothered by the bullet point list of woe above. They know an IQ bargain when they see one, and they love, love, love the form factor and accuracy of manual focus.

Second prize goes to 

The Leica M240. It is damned good, and whatever they did to the rangefinder makes a huge difference. In fact the RF focusses as well as does the A7R using magnified live view (with wide to moderate telephoto lenses at least) and it does a better job (as you might expect) of dealing with colour shading issues with M glass. But after shooting the A7R, the 240 feels portly, vulnerably expensive, and makes one think that its ticket price is an awful lot to sink into a fast-moving market. And its EVF comes close to sucking in comparison.

Third prize goes to 

The Olympus E-M1. What a lovely camera. What absolutely stunning IBIS. What a wonderful extraction of IQ from a too-small sensor. Ignoring (I can't forgive) it's pathetic Auto ISO system, which undermines the achievement of the IBIS at every turn, I'd say that this piece of kit will be all the camera most people will ever need, most of the time. But for me, a landscape-obsessed big print guy, MFT doesn't cut quite cut it well enough - especially when the full-frame A7R is about the same size and weight and has more than twice the pixels - and larger pixels at that.

However, if, as I think will eventually happen, an MFT sensor can one day deliver IQ similar to that currently obtainable from an A7R or D800E, even at higher ISO, then a camera like the E-M1 will trump an A7R because it is easier to make great lenses for smaller sensors. This is where I think the action will be in the long run and so, though I might sell my E-M1, I will be keeping the better lenses.

Lens of the Year

First prize goes to 

The Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 Pro M.Zuiko. I very rarely use a lens that immediately lets me know that it is excellent and doesn't later disappoint in some less obvious manner. This lens is the best mid-range zoom I have ever used on any system, if your criteria is that it should be at least good and often peaking at excellent across the entire frame at all focal lengths and apertures. I wrote in my review of it that it is so good that if my aim were a 20" print, I would prefer to use this lens on an E-M1 than a Nikon 24-70 F2.8 'Trinity' zoom on a D800E. I stand by that judgement. The Oly lens has no focal length at which it fails to satisfy and, on the basis that one should never sell a good lens, I will hold on to this even during periods when I have no MFT camera. Frankly, in my Camera of the Year section, any of the three candidates could have been the winner but in this Lens of the Year section, there is no question in my mind as to which lens most impresses.

Second prize goes to

The Nikkor 70-200 F4 VRIII. This lens is an extremely viable alternative to its F2.8 sibling. Smaller, lighter, with better stabilisation, a much better travel and hiking choice, the F4 gives about the same IQ and at a lower cost too. I switched.

Third prize goes to 

The Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM. Like many manufacturers, Sigma seems to have a bit of a QC problem: I had to go through several to find a copy that wasn't asymmetrically sharp and even now, with the best one I could find, there is some ambiguity. The lens also needs at least F5.6 and preferably F8 to get sharp edges. But it is great value, it feels lovely, and it has the most lovely rendering. If you want to shoot at F1.4 and get something really quite like the Leica Look on a more restricted budget and on a 36mp camera, this lens on a D800/E will tick your boxes. Great, if you're prepared to work at it.

Accessory of the Year

First prize goes to

The CaptureOne Complete Lens Cast Calibration sheet. It costs £49 and is almost indispensible  for owners of any system with colour shading issues  - this includes the Sony A7R and RX-1, the Leica M240 and many Medium Format backs when used with field or technical cameras. I am going to write more in future about how best to use this in conjunction with the Lightroom Flat Field DNG Plugin but in short, for a small outlay and a little extra effort, you can radically improve the fidelity of your colour when shooting any of these systems with certain otherwise wonderful lenses.

Second prize goes to

The Leica Disto D510. This is a recherché choice but fans of medium format backs on technical cameras would love to find that Santa had stuffed their stocking with one of these: with a lens suitably equipped with a High Precision Focussing ring, one can finally get over the fact that Medium Format live view in the field is generally somewhere between hard and impossible as a means of accurate focussing. Just point the Disto, press the button and get the distance readout to enter onto your HPF ring. It works and it has greatly improved the quality of my MF photography.

Third prize goes to 

​… a product that isn't even available yet. The Foldio. I joined the Kickstarter crowd fund for this the second I saw it and I can't wait for it to arrive. A miniature studio (think background AND lighting!) that folds flat and slips into an envelope. How cool is that? So hopefully, next year when I blog I will be able to include product shots that I am normally too lazy to set up and light, and too scrupulous to steal.

Best Photo of the Year

Over the years I have learned that the best way to finally snag an amazing shot is to buy one that someone else made. I have an insatiable appetite for the work of others and most of the stuff that hangs on my wall is either not photography at all, or is by other people. This year, I saw one image that I absolutely had to have. It cost me a small fortune but it was quite certainly worth it. Here it is:


It is Ilulissat Icefjord 7, 07/2003, 69°11’59’’ N, 51°08’08’’ W  by Olaf Otto Becker and my copy of it is around 117 x 95cm and beautifully printed - those ghostly shades of minty aqua are utterly beguiling. If I make one picture this good in my lifetime, I will be very, very happy.

It is my understanding that Becker takes a wood'n'brass 8x10 sheet film camera off up the coast of Greenland in a Zodiac inflatable, on his own (now that's what I call artistic commitment!) with a GPS device which is used to record the exact co-ordinates of the spot from which the shot was taken. These co-ordinates are part of the work itself: the idea is that in ten or thirty or a hundred years time, the exact same spot could be found and another, comparative record made, to show how much of the ice has melted and by how much the landscape has been changed by the changing climate.

Burtynksy, Lyon, Gursky and Becker are all concerned with the impact of human activity on natural landscapes. It's a genre I love and I have purchased work from all but Gursky (might have missed the boat on that one, price-wise!) but this one image above transcends any genre. It has the sensibility of a painter (Becker moved from painting to photography) and the romantic aesthetic of one of those gorgeous Edwardian explorer watercolours that showed people parts of the world which they could never hope to visit, and which they stood in wonder of. I stand in wonder of this image. It really is the best of the best.

Wish-List for 2014

The annual excuse for a grumble thinly disguised as a wish-list:

  • A MFT sensor that shoots a lot further above the format's weight, so I can use that gorgeous Oly 12-40mm zoom more often
  • Canon to show us that they can do a world class >40mp full frame sensor
  • Sony to do a version of the A7R with an electronic first curtain shutter, a true RAW file format with adjustment profiles in metadata, and a Pro menu mode that excises JPEG completely, along with all the modes and functions associated with it. And a proper Auto ISO system. And IBIS. Really, if they do this, I will perform unnatural acts for them.
  • Someone to make an excellent, expensive range of amazing primes in Sony FE mount
  • The upcoming Sony Zeiss FE 24-70mm F4 OSS to be really good

Hmmm, most of those seem Sony based. Don't tell Canikon: they might actually DO something.

A happy and successful 2014 to all


This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.

*It might seen odd to put in contention a camera that I have yet to review in depth, so I want to say a word on that subject first: the Sony A7R has been in my hands for the best part of a month so far and I have already published an article on how various Leica M lenses perform on it with adaptors, and a review of the Sony Zeiss T* 35mm F2.8 native FE mount lens. I had planned to publish a review of the camera itself before the end of the year but I am now going to wait. This is for several reasons. 

Firstly, I am trying to get an interview with a Sony engineer to ask various questions about what is going on 'under the hood': 

  • is it truly a 14 bit pipeline for RAW images - and if so, why are the files sizes so small?
  • what processing is applied to RAW files and when? (shading corrections, 'diffraction reduction', compression, and a few more…)
  • are there any significant bugs due to be ironed out in firmware updates and if not, are the things I suspect might be bugs actually 'features'?

Secondly, the first copy of the 35mm F2.8 lens I had was imperfect and I have yet to get hold of an FE 55mm F1.8 - and until such time as I have tried more 'native' glass, most importantly the upcoming 24-70mm F4 OSS, I don't feel ready to have a final view  A camera is part of a system, and until I can write it up as such, I'd rather not write it up.

Thirdly, my first attempt at finding a Nikon lens adaptor was a mild mis-fire. I have just received a good one, and want to shoot some more with it before I have an opinion on this important facet of the camera's potential.

My full review, therefore, will have to wait until January or indeed February of 2014. 

Nonetheless the camera has made quite a stir and so I have placed it on my shortlist.

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 2013 accessory award best camera lens photo photograph photographic photography https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/12/camera-lens-accessory-and-image-awards-2013 Mon, 16 Dec 2013 19:00:02 GMT
Sony FE 35mm F2.8 ZA on the A7R: The 'Bisto' lens. https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/12/sony-fe-35mm-f2-8-za-on-the-a7r-the-bisto-lens I have a friend who is an excellent professional chef (he's a pretty good photographer, too!) and he makes amazing gravy. I used often to eat Sunday roasts in his restaurant and every time, whether chicken or beef, this gravy was fantastic. Richly, thickly, meatily, lip-smackingly great.

Over the years I begged him to tell me the secret. "At home," I would say, "I do it all properly: I make stock the slow way, I add herbs and wine, I thicken and reduce and strain and generally mollycoddle the damned stuff, but it is never as good as yours."

Eventually he cracked. "I have a dirty secret," he said. "I use Bisto."

I was utterly shocked.

Bisto, for those who are not familiar with it, is the sort of thing that I imagine people in the 70's made gravy with. It comes most commonly in the form of granules and, when added to hot water, saves a lot of time and effort. But in the competitive world of new millennium home cooking where everything has to be either fresh, seasonal and local or exotically imported, it is the sort of ingredient that some advanced amateurs would not easily admit to using. To find that a professional chef, and one whose gravy was the sine qua non of gravies, the über gravy, used this stuff, was shocking.

"I make the gravy properly first," he blushed, "boiling bones or carcass with vegetables and herbs, skimming off the fat, reducing, the whole thing. And then at the end I add a little Bisto. Most professional chefs to it," he added, trying to reclaim his pride."They won't admit it - but we all do it."

So let's take a look at the ingredients on a packet of Bisto Chicken Gravy:

Maltodextrin, Potato Starch, Salt, Vegetable Oils, Flavourings, Colour (E150c), Flavour Enhancers (E621, E635), Dried Chicken (2%), Whole Autolysed Yeast, Emulsifier (E322) (contains Soya), Vegetable Extract, Spice Extract,, Pepper Extract, Onion Oil. 

Oh, and I should add that per 100g, it has sodium equivalent to 12.08g of salt. That's 12%.

Yum yum yum.

So what does this have to do with the Sony FE 35mm F2.8 ZA lens?


A few years back, when Hasselblad announced that their Medium Format system designs were now going to involve making corrections for certain lens characteristics in post capture processing, some photographers imagined the end of the world. Now, rather than designing a lens with low distortion and good control of various aberrations, the argument went, camera manufacturers would strap on any old bottle and then tweak the results in software. It was the beginning of the end of 'real' lens design, and This Was a Bad Thing. Instead of making gravy in the time-honoured way, the photographic industry was proposing to bang in the Bisto at the last minute. Shocking.

The Sony 35mm F2.8 is the logical extension of this process: it has a lot of help at the Bisto stage. In trying to be small, light, excellent and cost-effective on a camera with a short flange to sensor distance and therefore quite a steep peripheral ray angle, it needs all the help it can get:

Distortion, CA, Colour Shading, Luminance Shading, even 'Diffraction Reduction Technology'  (and of course Noise Reduction, Sharpening, Saturation and so on)...

...all remedial processes applied in-camera or in-post, to tweak the files for their public appearances. 

This makes it either very simple or very complex to use and understand. You can turn corrections on, select JPEG and shoot away in the knowledge that you'll get 36mp files of very good quality that, depending on aperture, are acceptably sharp at the edges and even corners, have moderate-to-no levels of colour shading, pretty much non-existant CA, and no discernible distortion. Alternatively, you can turn all the corrections off, take your time, expend some effort, and make gravy the hard way - and with very nice results.

I think this is largely a good thing.

We don't live in the past: we expect modern tecnological miracles from our equipment and we want this to come cheap. Sony is charging far less for this camera than, for example, the similarly-sensored D800E from Nikon will set you back. They are delivering it in a much, much smaller and lighter package and with much better Live View and a focus system which, if slower and less capable in the area of continuous and tracking focus, is IMHO the most accurate way of focussing a lens I have yet found in a high resolution system. And if, in order to achieve this bargain priced quart in a pint pot, they had to use some Bisto, so be it. The proof of the gravy is in the tasting, especially when the Bisto is largely optional.

So let's make some gravy.

I'm going to get the irritation (and it is a big irritation) out of the way first: it is hard to know which corrections are applied when, and to which types of file. The camera Menu options list has a Lens Comp tab, and under it there are choices for Shading Compensation, Chromatic Aberration Compensation and Distortion Compensation. Each of these is either 'Off' or 'Auto' and there is no mention in the rather slim camera manual of whether each or all of these applies, when set to Auto, to RAW as well as JPEG files. As it turns out, Shading Compensation (which covers both colour and luminance vignetting) is applied to both JPEG and RAW files when set to Auto, whereas the Distortion Compensation is applied only to JPEGs, leaving RAW file distortion to be corrected, if at all, in post. Chromatic Aberration Compensation is the same: it is applied to JPEG files only and, as an aside, is not fully effective.

This makes for some very complex decisions, best summarised as follows:

  • Shading corrections are adequate or not, depending on your taste and on aperture: many people, when shooting critical work, will prefer to do their own corrections using a Lens Cast Calibration shot, taken at the same time through a diffuser. The best way to do this would seem to be to leave shading corrections OFF and use Lightroom's DNG Flat Field plugin with an appropriately shot calibration file. It is possible to shoot with corrections on Auto (which means ON) and then apply a Lens Cast Calibration correction to that file in post, but adding corrections to corrections is intuitively sub-optimal: it feels like an unnecessary link in the imaging chain that will lead to a degree of degradation in the final result.
  • Chromatic Aberration Corrections are not applied to RAW files even when set to Auto and are incomplete as performed on JPEG files in camera (but 'better than nothing') and the problem is in any event rare. It is generally best, therefore, if you are shooting in conditions likely to provoke such a problem and you want the best possible results, to shoot with corrections turned OFF and then treat the problem in post: again, this keeps the imaging chain short.
  • Distortion Corrections are not applied to RAW files even when the camera has them set to Auto. This is problematic: the lens has mild but complex moustache style distortion and this does not correct well in post unless a lens-specific profile is used. Lightroom does not yet have such a profile. Thus, if you want a distortion corrected file, you will need to shoot a JPEG.

This is all rather tedious: I would like the option to apply or not apply each of these corrections to a RAW (or at least part-baked) file in-camera. Ideally, I would also be offered the choice to make separate choices for colour shading and luminance shading. Moreover, remembering which corrections do and do not apply to RAW files is onerous and prone to error.

That's my biggest beef with the system - the rest is quite good news. Let's look at various aspects of the lens in more detail.

Chromatic Aberration

Here are two crops, from the same frame, shot as RAW+JPEG and with corrections turned to Auto in camera. The first is from the RAW file and the second from the JPEG and I should add that this was a torture test, because CA is really quite hard to provoke. I had to overexpose and shoot directly into the sky. 

_DSC6525_DSC6525From RAW, camera CA corrections set to Auto

From JPEG, Camera CA corrections set to Auto

As you can see, the in-camera purple fringing correction is not applied to the RAW file and even in the JPEG file is not fully corrected. I am not a JPEG shooter, so I will be leaving this set to OFF and will correct it in post when needed.


Just like the RX1, the A7R has a short flange to sensor distance and this means that the light rays reaching the peripheries of the sensor arrive at an acute angle and this can lead to somewhat severe luminance vignetting  and to 'colour shading' effects too. This tends to be worse with wide angle lenses and at wider apertures and contrary to popular opinion, is not a problem only for users of adapted legacy lenses. The FE 35mm F2.8 on the A7R has both problems to a moderately severe extent and the in-camera corrections are only partial.

Here is a series of frames shot through a thick perspex sheet known as a Lens Cast Calibration sheet. They show how, at a variety of apertures, the problem manifests in a spectrum from quite severe to reasonably mild. They were shot with the lens focussed close to infinity and all in-camera corrections set to both ON and OFF.

A7R shadingA7R shading

As you can see, turning in-camera corrections ON makes a significant difference but doesn't eliminate the problem entirely. I have two theories as to why this is, bearing in mind that the Leica M240 has the same problem. The first is simply that applying a full correction will under certain circumstances 'stretch' the colour data in the file too far, leading to excess noise in those areas of it where the colour data has had to be pushed around the most, especially at higher ISO. The second is simply that in truth, the only calibration profile that fully fixes a colour cast is one made from a calibration shot taken at exactly the same time as the file to be corrected. The specifics of the calibration shot are affected primarily by aperture, then by focus distance and then by ISO and the colour temperature of the light under which the image is made. So making one profile that always works is simply not possible unless a truly massive number of permutations are made and stored in-camera. Even then, the slightly varying alignments of each individual copy of a lens would make the exercise of making a general library into more of a hopeful exercise than a completely successful one.

So we need to live with the fact that in-camera corrections will never be fully effective. This may be why Sony doesn't allow colour shading corrections and luminance shading corrections to be individually selected: often, the problem is less visible in a brighter sky (an "ETTR" sky can look quite clean even at F2.8) and is more pronounced in a darker one, and of course traditional vignetting gives darker corners which might exacerbate the appearance of the effect.

Let's see what this means for an average real-world file at F2.8, the aperture most badly affected. The following series of photos shows the same scene shot with:

In-camera corrections OFF:

_DSC6567_DSC6567With no in-camera corrections


In-camera corrections ON:

_DSC6564_DSC6564with in-camera corrections for shading only


The first frame corrected with its own bespoke LCC profile using Lightroom's DNG Flat File plugin for both colour and luminance shading:

_DSC6567_ff1_DSC6567_ff1With no in-camera corrections then corrected for color and luminance shading with LR Flat field plugin


The second frame corrected with its own bespoke LCC profile using Lightroom's DNG Flat File plugin - note: this is a 'double corrected file' because I have added Lightroom Plugin corrections on top of the in-camera corrections:

_DSC6564_ff1_DSC6564_ff1with in-camera corrections for shading only then corrected for color and luminance shading with LR Flat field plugin


Finally, the first frame (no in-camera corrections) corrected with LR Flat Field plugin but only for colour, not for luminance, shading:

_DSC6567_ff2_DSC6567_ff2With no in-camera corrections then corrected for color shading only with LR Flat field plugin

Please note: this series of images is available here and you can download them at full resolution in Adobe RGB for more accurate assessment: Zenfolio converts the images on my blog pages to sRGB and that makes proper assessment from this page alone somewhat difficult.

Added 9th December 2103: notice that the first and last images in this series look very similar: this bothered me again and again. A correspondent suggested that there was no colour correction going on at all when using the in-camera 'shading correction' option, merely luminance shading correction. Then Lloyd Chambers noted something similar. I took another look and I have a call in to Sony engineers to try to get a definitive answer. Having found no useful answer in the manual I searched for another resource and found the online HTML manual which contains somewhat more detail: you can find it here and I quote from it: 

"Menu item details

Auto (default setting): 
Compensates for darker corners of the screen automatically.

Does not compensate for darker corners of the screen."

In other words, it seems that there is no claim that colour shading correction is going on at all.

I think the reason that I and so many people thought there was is probably buried in the mists of time: the RX100 and RX1 both had shading correction and reviews of them at the time widely considered them to be applying some color as well as luminance correction. It is easy to allow the evidence of one's eyes to back up the idea that a partial correction is indeed taking place because as luminance is lightened, the appearance of the intensity of colour shading is ameliorated. I hope to bottom this out with Sony in the near future but in the meantime, I can only suggest that if colour shifts across the frame bother you, you learn to shoot and deploy calibration frames as discussed elsewhere win this article. If I can get Sony's confirmation on this matter, I will re-write the relevant sections of this piece.

Now, everyone will have their own takeaway from this depending on their personal preferences. Mine is informed by the fact that different scenes are affected to differing extents and that one example is just that: one example. No general practice can be drawn from it. But I do have some general observations:

It would appear from a theoretical perspective that best practice would be to always shoot with corrections OFF in camera, then to make a bespoke LCC calibration shot for each frame and apply it later. Additionally, it would seem best to apply this calibration only to the colour shading and not to luminance vignetting: some degree of vignetting is usually pleasant and it is better to work with the natural shape of the vignette of the lens in question than to add vignetting back in Lightroom.

But there are some significant 'howevers': it seems to me that I, and I think most photographers, will find the in-camera corrections satisfactory most of the time. It also seems to me that carrying an LCC diffuser sheet isn't in the gestalt of the camera. Nonetheless I will generally carry one but unless I am treating the A7R like a Medium Format camera (when I write my review of it I will explain this deployment in more detail) I will shoot with corrections on and where I am a bit concerned about the susceptibility of the scene, I might either shoot a calibration frame at the time (note: if shooting with corrections ON you must shoot BOTH the image and the calibration frame with them ON) or use one from my library (again you will need two libraries: one with corrections ON and one with corrections OFF) in post, bearing in mind that library corrections are never as effective as bespoke ones but will often help 'enough'.

This seems to contradict what I said above about not adding corrections to corrections and about keeping the imaging chain as short and pure as possible. It does. But the downside is so irrelevantly small (at least at lower ISO) in my experience so far as to be irrelevant.

The takeaway?

  • For most shots, leave corrections on but shoot an additional calibration frame if concerned
  • For very critical shots, shoot with calibration off and and shoot a calibration frame


Focus speed and accuracy are, of course, a function of a system and not of a lens alone. My takeaway is that the speed of Auto Focus is gentlemanly rather than acute, but perfectly acceptable to me. I very, very often use MF in any event and, especially when used with the EVF and magnification, this system of lens and camera is the best I have ever used. For AF, select the smallest of the three available focus frame sizes so as to get optimal accuracy but do be aware that even with the small frame, the camera will sometimes choose something behind the subject. In cases where this is a risk, switch to MF. 

Per tracking, I wouldn't bother with it myself. My preferred method is to turn peaking on and hit the shutter when the subject triggers the peaking.

Focus Shift

I won't bother to post the test results because at a few inches and a few feet, I see no measurable focus shift. There are shots in the gallery of a Spyder target and you are welcome to peruse them.


The weather here hasn't given me the cloudless sunny skies that one needs to fully test for flare but the following frame was shot with a very bright but slightly hazy sun in the frame. It shows that flare is very well controlled indeed. T* coatings are well known for their abilities in this regard but I give some of the credit to the weird and wonderful lens shade (shade rather than hood, because it fits more or less flush with the front of the lens) which is effectively a rectangular porthole through which the lens peers from a deeply recessed cavity. It is highly effective at protecting the front element of the lens, too.


Added 9th Dec 2103: I was shooting casually at a Christmas Fair this weekend and found the below effect, which is extremely unattractive: it is very reminiscent of the purple ghosting found when shooting the Panasonic MFT 7-14 F4 lens on an Olympus E-M1, which I am told is because of a difference in optical filtration approaches between the manufacturers, with Olympus filtering certain wavelengths in the lens and Panasonic choosing to do so on the filter pack. Whatever the explanation, I will be looking out for this in future with the 35mm F2.8 because not only is it irreparable in the RAW file, but in the Panny/E-M1 case it can show up in much less extreme circumstances (such as a church interior where purple ghosts of windows appear on walls some distance away) and can make the lens unusable in certain circumstances.




I save this most important aspect of performance almost to last because it is a thorny and complex question and I am not certain I yet have the answer. This is due to some inconsistent results in my field testing. But I do have some preliminary thoughts and suggestions.

First, let's look at the MTF:


  • The first thing to note here is the significant astigmatism between sagittal (here called Radial) and Tangential performance, especially in the MTF 40.
  • The second is the generally wavy shape of the MTF 40 and to a lesser extent the MTF 20.
  • The third is the fact that the general impression is of falloff towards the edges.

​These factors are symptomatic of a complex set of design objectives and compromises and indicative of a hard lens to understand and, potentially, to work with - probably with compromised edges and corners and quite possibly with a wave-shaped field of focus.

The good news is that most photographers, most of the time, will find the lens a joy to use: it is always sharp on centre, usually quite sharp at the edges and sometimes acceptably sharp in the corners. It has lovely colour and contrast, very nice micro-contrast (not quite up to classical Zeiss standards but pretty good). You can use it as a point and shoot and it will rarely let you down.

The bad news is that getting to understand how best to sharpen the edges is a a frustrating exercise, and that in the process of learning, you will encounter slippery behaviours that seem to come and go at different apertures and subject distances. For example, the effects of the curved and possibly wave-shaped field of focus seem more pronounced at distance than at close range.

My copy seems to have a mild de-centering, within my tolerance (though I might eventually get it looked at) and most often not noticeable at all, so please take that into account when you look at the examples.

First, a close-range series: the scene looks like this, and clicking on the image will lead to frames shot at all significant apertures, with no distortion correction. For reference I post immediately afterwards an out of camera JPEG of the same frame to show you what distortion correction looks like for the lens. In the gallery, every shot is followed by an in-camera JPEG version of exactly the same frame.



_DSC6532-2_DSC6532-2focus on centre, MF LV, re-focussed for F4 onwards

My takeaways from this series:

F2.8 is a reasonable if not stellar compromise across the frame. Centre sharpness is good, edges better than I expected from the MTF and corners not at all bad other than the effect of my possible de-centering (note: de-centering sometimes makes one side look better than it otherwise would, at the expense of the other, and that might be happening here) 

For the F4 frame, I re-focussed so as to be utterly sure that any residual focus shift was accounted for, and the centre is shaper but the edges are a touch worse. You might argue that this is due to the re-focussing but I don't think so: I think it is because the lens starts to exhibit field curvature as you stop down. Other series I have shot seem to bear this out.

F5.6 is great on centre and good or better elsewhere: the effect of extra DOF seems to fight the curvature, and win.

F8 is starting to show tiny, tiny diffraction effects over the frame but is still excellent - and my soft lower right corner is tightening up nicely with DOF

From F11 onwards diffraction takes more of a toll but F11 is still very useable if you need the DOF.


Now a more distant series (again, click for the full series, all downloadable at full size)

_DSC6307_DSC6307Shot with shading corrections, CA and distortion corrections on but only shading corrections apply to a RAW file, the other corrections are applied only to JPEGS.

At F2.8 the edges are a little soft but when viewed at 50% on a 100DPI screen or printed at 200DPI, they might just pass.

At F4 things have tightened up a touch across the frame and resolution on centre is excellent whereas at the edges it is merely good. This seems the best aperture for a larger print

At f5.6 the centre shows tiny, tiny loss of resolution from diffraction whereas the edges grow more noticeably softer.

At F8 the central diffraction is more notable but detail levels are still pretty good. The edges remain a little soft.

F11 and 16 are progressively more of the same, however F11 gets a good balance between DOF helping the edges (remember, we suspect field curvature) and keeping good levels of centre sharpness. F11 has, if anything, slightly better edges than F4 and depending on your intentions, might even make a better print than F4, even with the slightly lower centre sharpness.

As we can see from the above, the prognosis at distance seems slightly different from that at close range. I will throw in here a series as above shot at a diagonal angle (click to visit the series) so you can make your own judgements about corner performance at distance:


For my money, F8 is the best compromise here but F11 follows closely. Taken overall therefore, my surprising conclusion from all of the above is that F11, despite the diffraction, is the best overall aperture for those wanting to make print that are sharp to the edges and corners at larger sizes. A touch of Clarity will tighten things up a little and there is the added benefit of there being less of an issue with colour shading at this aperture. My only caveat is that I have yet to determine to what extent the camera's 'diffraction reduction' technology is applied to RAW files. I doubt that it is, but I will investigate this in more detail in my upcoming review of the camera itself. In the meantime be aware of the possibility that the relatively good performance at smaller apertures might be getting a touch of Bisto.

BUT. But but but. That recommendation is for frames shot with focus carefully made on centre and this means that the field curvature that develops at F4 and F5.6, where centre resolution is best, will as above affect the edges. I have found that focussing a little further into the frame on centre will often let you have 'the best of both worlds'.

Here is an example. These two frames were shot at F5.6 with focus in different places: clicking on each will load a full-sized version in your browser and you can drop in into LR or Photoshop for comparison. Focus in the first is on the facade of the red brick building centre, and in the second is on the rectangular mesh rooftop structure far behind and slightly to the right. It shows some moiré on the mesh.

_DSC6496_DSC6496Near focus (window arch right of round window) all corrections on

_DSC6502_DSC6502Focus far (on rectangular grid with slight moire, distant just right of centre) all corrections on

Overall, therefore, the lesson is 'know your lens' (or bracket focus!) if you want the best results. If you are mildly unfussy, any frame at F5.6 or F8 will likely give you great results. If you are very particular about your edges and especially your corners this might not be the perfect lens for you but with a bit of thought and effort, it could be.

I want to add here thoughts about two similar lenses. Firstly, the 35mm Zeiss F2 on the Sony RX1. This is an absolutely lovely lens, famous for amazingly sharp edges even wide open. I love it. But I would prefer to use the FE 35mm F2.8 for serious work because with effort  I can get good edges and corners and do so without the midfield weakness that often afflicts the F2 lens. Not everyone will agree but for me, the FE is overall the more useful lens.

Next, the Sigma F1.4 35mm Art lens that I use on my Nikon D800. This is a lens that has gorgeous rendering wide open, but can be a pig to extract sharp edges from. Again, unless I were going specifically for the 'look' characteristic of the Sigma, I would find the FE lens easier to get sharp edges from. Your copies might vary!


An F2.8 lens is never going to be outstanding in this respect but I think the FE 35mm F2.8 does very nicely. Here are some examples:





Field of View

The lens is billed as a 35mm but I have my doubts. It certainly has a narrower field of view than my Leica 35 Lux or Sigma 35mm Art lens, I would guess possibly about equal to a 37mm lens but I have no accurate way of measuring this absolutely rather than relatively. JPEG distortion corrections knock a little more off this, as will RAW processor distortion corrections, pushing it further towards 40mm. No biggie, but for those for whom 35mm is not quite wide enough, this could tip the balance.

Form Factor

Small, almost tiny, and very light, this lens is well-made and has a funky and effective shade. I can't imagine it being improved on in any of these respects.


This is a cracking little lens. A lot is asked of it: it has to deal with the highest resolution sensor in the 35mm world, and do so with good performance across a wide range of parameters. It has to be sharp, contrasty, have good colour and micro-contrast, nice bokeh, have low aberrations and high flare resitance and yet be small and light and not too expensive. That's a lot to ask. Sony and Zeiss between them have done a really nice job and I enjoy the way the lens handles and the images it produces. My reservations are minor and are to do with the complexity of thought and practice needed to get the very best results from the it. This is not, however, unusual at this price point and so I consider the lens to be not only good, but also good value. My fear is that many users might be initially put off by the tangible weaknesses of corners and edges at some apertures, preventing them from realising the more subtle and balanced range of abilities the lens posesses.

My one wish is that Sony had decided to make a more expensive, more ambitious, albeit possibly slightly larger and heavier lens; one that was sharp from the edges wide open and to the corners by f5.6 and maybe had an F2 aperture. But that's just me: the truth is, Sony have pitched the system a fair bit lower in price than the D800E and made a choice of lens design to match. What is very good news is that this lens on this camera produces results that stand shoulder to shoulder with the similar focal length options I have tried on the Nikon but for less money and at a far lower excess baggage charge. Some of this is achieved by diluting the purity of the lens design proposition in favour of sharing the load with a certain amount of help from in-camera processing. I don't care, the results are good.

Aaah… Bisto! My dirty secret. These days, I use it too...



This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.

please note: this review refers only to the use of the lens on an a7R. The A7, which I have not tried, has a different sensor with different 'toppings' and the in-camera corrections will be different as a result, as will the results of shooting tests. My guess, for what it is worth, is that the lens will be even better on the A7.

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 35mm A7R F2.8 Sony T* ZA Zeiss ashley field lens review tashley tim https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/12/sony-fe-35mm-f2-8-za-on-the-a7r-the-bisto-lens Thu, 05 Dec 2013 14:10:41 GMT
Sony A7R with a selection of Leica M lenses and a Novoflex adaptor https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/sony-a7r-with-a-selection-of-leica-m-lenses-and-a-novoflex-adaptor "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.

This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 18 35 50 90 Cron Elmar FLE Leica Lux M Macro Nocti Noctilux Summicron Summilux Super Tim Ashley adaptor blog color colour mm novoflex performance shading tashley vignetting https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/sony-a7r-with-a-selection-of-leica-m-lenses-and-a-novoflex-adaptor Wed, 27 Nov 2013 11:36:18 GMT
A Rant About Colour https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/a-rant-about-colour Today, in a thread on the GetDPI forum, I posted the following rant. It relates to an image posted by a forum member who, having posted some images from her new Sony A7r, had been told by some people that they could see colour shading in the sky and by others that they either could not see it at all or that it was normal or natural.

"Since we're all having our 2 Cents, here are mine:

Cindy's file does indeed seem to have a tiny, tiny, tiny magenta issue. It is absolutely within 'normal' variance for almost any system.

By 'system' I mean 'soup to nuts' - from lens to sensor thru RAW pp to display thru to eye and brain.

As other people have noted, normal vignetting can create small colour shifts, as can the natural variance of colour in a sky, and the uneven distribution of IR and UV across a sky, especially when taken into account with the amount of filtering on lens (screw-on and coating) and on sensor.

Then there is the fact that even very good monitors can have uneven display colour and brightness. I, like Jono Slack, have rather slacked off the frequency of calibrating my monitors because even when freshly calibrated, my 30" Cinema Display, when viewed next to my Eizo 30", gives the game away: the Apple display is blue and the Eizo is red, relative to each other. Viewed alone, each looks very good.

Next is the issue of the normal variance of human colour vision. Naturally the medical profession has decided to categorise and pathologise this, preferring to see it in terms of Norms and Abnorms rather than variance, though countless studies have shown that 'colour blind' people can determine patterns that 'normal' people cannot, and can often distinguish colour variations that 'normal' people cannot. Variations in abilities are what sustain populations, let's leave it at that.

Next, the fact that we perceive colours culturally and with gender bias. We are all familiar with the complaint that asian manufacturers favour certain skin tone renditions that look odd to western eyes. We are also aware that females, (and experienced male photographers!) are more likely to be able to use accurate language to distinguish between magenta and pink, or purple, mauve and violet. Using accurate language places a requirement on the speaker to perceive more diligently: my colour vision has become a lot more accurate since I started trying to see accurately, rather than seeing like a British boy raised in the 60's when knowing the names of anything other than red green and blue would cause a large pink question mark to appear over your head...

In every step of the imaging chain, in every situation, there is room for variance from what is 'true', 'accurate' and 'normal'. Your file is very comfortably within the sum of those variances IMHO. And when something is clearly wrong it is clearly wrong - such as the colour casts in this white frame from an 18mm Super Elmar M on an A7R - it will be obvious:

Additionally you will not, ever, accurately bottom out (let alone be able to eradicate accurately in post) a colour cast with a shot of a blank grey sky or a white wall. The light falling on a wall will be almost impossible to get perfectly illuminated and, unless lit by very accurately temperature controlled flash, will be subject to the same variances as a sky. To do this properly (and even then not 100% reliably or accurately) you need a Lens Cast Calibration sheet as used by MF shooters. They cost a few dollars and save a lot of time and yet very few people bother to source them. If you use one, you will see that, for example, a file from a Sony RX-1 with in camera colour shading corrections turned on still has some colour shading. And that is a camera with an extremely closely tuned ecosystem of sensor, lens and bespoke processing.

Most work does not require perfect colour accuracy. Photographers who work in fields where it does, do not use zooms with adaptors on what are fundamentally consumer cameras. 

Inaccurate colour renditions can be part of a photographer's style. 

There are highly successful artists, in both photographic and other media, with highly personal colour vision - and yet their work can be enjoyed, like the work of a deaf Beethoven, by a wider audience. 

Rant over. The file is fine."

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Colour shift LCC Sony A7R ashley color colour shading sensor tashley tim https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/a-rant-about-colour Mon, 25 Nov 2013 10:46:29 GMT
The Third Variable https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/the-third-variable In the good old, bad old days of film photography we were taught two main shooting variables: shutter speed and aperture. One entered the 'given' (ISO or ASA) into the light meter and it did the rest, with or without some help from us.

In truth, film speed itself was, though not generally treated as such at the shooting stage, a semi-variable: one made an educated guess at the time of loading the camera as to which film speed would likely suit the anticipated shooting conditions and took it from there.

Very experienced photographers would treat ISO as a much more freely altered variable. A film could be pushed or pulled during processing, for example, or it could be swapped for one of different sensitivity by rewinding a half shot roll and replacing it as desired. But it was never a truly variable variable. You couldn't change it immediately and frequently at will, on the fly, with the same ease as you would change aperture or shutter speed.

It seems to me that this mode of working, this mindset, has permeated the design of digital cameras and that the time has come to change this, for good, much more comprehensively than any manufacturer has yet been willing to attempt.

A recap:

Shutter speed is varied according to whether one wants to show or hide movement, and to reduce or eliminate camera shake, especially with longer lenses.

Aperture is used to control depth of field or to enable a lens to be used in its 'sweet zone' of sharpness.

ISO is not varied for its own sake: in the great, great majority of use-cases it is desirable to shoot at the lowest ISO possible given the requirements placed on it by the primary needs of shutter speed and aperture. One will almost never choose, on purpose, to shoot at a higher ISO than one needs. There may be rare decisions to shoot high ISO for creative reasons but they are rare indeed and largely obviated by post processing possibilities. Most modern sensors can be effectively regarded as "ISO-less" (shooting at base ISO and then applying push and pull to the processing of the signal to achieve apparent ISO variation) and in practice this means that for every extra step of ISO the photographer is forced to use, a step of DR and colour fidelity are lost. Very good sensors can hide this quite well up to what would, historically, have been regarded as impossibly high ISO levels but it is nonetheless generally true.

So though ISO is the 'poor cousin' of the three variables in terms of its apparent creative flexibility, it is the 'enabler' for the other two variables and as such, a system that allows it proper levels of automatic flexibility benefits them greatly. The trouble is, no one has yet come up with an algorithm for controlling this that adequately mirrors the decisions a photographer would make.

Of course there is now a fourth variable, Image Stabilisation, which can affect the required formula and I will take that into account as I describe the system I would like to see.

First, examples of the best and worst systems currently known to me.

The best is in the Nikon D800/E. The photographer has the option, in setup and menu, to choose a maximum ISO and to decide a minimum shutter speed. This can be a fixed speed, such as 1/100th sec, or a relative speed rated as Slower, Slow, Normal, Fast and Faster. Normal equates to approximately the old '1 over focal length' rule, so if the mounted lens has a focal length of 50mm, the shutter speed will be around 1/50th Sec. But wisely, Nikon allows for the fact that a high resolution sensor generally requires two or three times that shutter speed if used without a tripod and if optimal results are to be achieved. But the Faster/Slower system also allows a photographer to take account of whether stabilisation is being used, and to make adjustments based on personal factors such as whether the shot will be well braced or not and whether the photographer has steady hands, or is shivering with cold or being buffeted by wind. So the system is pretty flexible, but to my mind still requires too much intervention: if switching from a stabilised to non-stabilised lens, for example, one has to delve into menus to make parametric changes.

The worst I can currently think of is that in the Olympus E-M1. This otherwise excellent camera holds one major trump card over its larger sensor competition: In Body Image Stabilisation. Doesn't matter what lens you have mounted, IBIS gives you up to five stops of improvement - and it works. However, the Olympus Auto ISO system insists on using a minimum shutter speed of approximately 1/effective focal length. So for example, shooting a 40mm lens, which equates to 80mm in the traditional sense of Field of View, will cause the camera to select a higher ISO whenever the shutter speed threatens to drop below 1/80th second. However, shots can easily be made with excellent sharpness at 1/10th of a second (often lower) due to the IBIS. In effect, this means that the camera will often shoot at ISO 800 when it could be shooting at ISO 200 - and this completely wastes the advantages conferred by the IBIS and results in too many shots taken at too high an ISO, in which range of operation the E-M1 rapidly becomes less convincing than cameras with larger sensors.

I have noticed with the E-M1 that the effectiveness of its IBIS varies with focal length: with wide angle lenses it really does offer up to five stops of stabilisation but with the Panasonic 100-300mm zoom mounted and shot at the longer focal lengths, one generally does need to shoot at '1 over focal length'. In other words, the camera defaults to the 'worst case' scenario when it could quite easily be a lot more generous with some focal lengths than with others. I have explained, in my recent review of the E-M1, how to work around these problems but the solution is clunky and IMHO should not be necessary.

The Leica M240 suffers a different problem: it will often choose the nearest shutter speed to the 1/focal length formula but is quite capable of 'rounding down' to the nearest shutter speed it offers, even though the high resolution sensor generally requires around twice the shutter speed indicated by the 'old rule'. It really is as if the Leica engineers have not fundamentally thought about anything for about forty years.

The Sony A7r does not initially look promising: its Auto ISO system apparently also works on a 1/focal length rule though I hear that requests have already been put in to Sony engineers to look at this again. My guess after limited shooting time with the camera is that it will generally require twice the focal length as a shutter speed, possibly three times because the mechanical shutter has a hefty clunk to it.

However, it is possible to shoot the Sony in what might be called 'Shutter and Aperture Priority'. In other words, the photographer selects Manual Mode and sets the shutter speed where required for stabilisation and subject movement needs. The desired Aperture is then selected and the camera will vary ISO accordingly, taking all the strain of variability and acting, as it should, as the enabler for the two creative variables. But, and this is absolutely key, the manual Exposure Compensation Dial can be used in this mode (unlike with the E-M1 which requires a clunkier and more time-consuming workaround) so that one can choose to have the ISO automatically adjusted taking desired compensation into account. Excellent.

This Sony system is as close to what I would like as I have yet seen. But I still think manufacturers could do better. The system I would like is as follows:

The photographer sets 'broad use' parameters in the menu system. These include Max ISO and optionally Min ISO, and then, crucially, 'multiple of focal length' (similar to the D800 but more explicitly) for TWO shooting scenarios: with and without Image Stabilisation. The photographer can then choose to have, for example, '1/focal length' to be the rule governing stabilised shooting and, say, three times that shutter speed for unstabilised shooting. The camera knows whether stabilisation is present or not, and adjusts the shooting rule accordingly. Then, without leaving Aperture Priority mode the photographer can shoot, with or without exposure compensation, and always have the camera select combinations of shutter speed and ISO that achieve the desired aims.

This system would work best for systems with lens-based stabilisation because those systems are more finely tuned to individual focal lengths. For IBIS systems such as that of Olympus, where stabilisation seems to offer fewer stops of assistance at longer focal lengths, further parametric or automatic systems could be put in place.

For now, I am looking forward to shooting with the Sony system: it seems a good way of achieving my aims. But I do wish that camera manufacturers would finally get over their 'film hangover' and, instead of offering me an endless array of 'Granny by Moonlight' or 'Snow on the Beach' modes, get Auto ISO right

Doing so would very often save a stop or more of ISO and would, in so doing, add more to IQ than another year or two of sensor development.

What do you think?

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Ashley Auto ISO Tim algorithm implementation proposal suggestion system tashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/the-third-variable Fri, 15 Nov 2013 12:19:14 GMT
The Olympus E-M1: Micro Four Thirds comes of age? https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/the-olympus-e-M1-micro-four-thirds-comes-of-age A full review of the Olympus E-M1 would take many thousands of words and involve a discussion of many thousands of possible permutations of setup and deployment.

I'm not going there: I am not sure I understand the various dial'n'button combinations myself, let alone possess sufficient knowledge to explain and asses them in detail. So instead, this mini-review is going to take the course of a meandering stream, taking in various scenes and vistas but going nowhere fast. Sorry! But on the bright side, DPReview and various other sites have already posted pretty exhaustive analyses if you need to see a breakdown of the Menu structure or a comparative analysis of high ISO performance.


Let me begin with a mildly controversial observation: despite the fact that the sensor in the E-M1 is (one of) the best seen in any MFT camera to date, it is only, just, barely, 'good enough' for me.  Very often the files look great, really surprisingly good and a great testament to progress in sensor design. But sometimes, even at ISO 200 and correctly exposed, they are really straining to satisfy let alone impress. Like a teenager going to his or her first big 'do' they look convincing only from a distance: close-up inspection reveals a child in adult clothing, a pretender, a wannabe. In fact on some frames, a 100% view of the file looks more like an RX-100 file... more like a very good compact than a professional grade camera.


I have thought a fair amount about when and why this is a problem and I look at it like this: take the current 'best of breed' sensor in the sub-medium format sector, the D800. Then compare it to the E-M1. The E-M1 sensor is physically 26% of the size but has fewer pixels. I can't find reliably exact data but as a rough estimate, the pixel pitch of the D800 is 4.9µm and that of the E-M1 3.7µm but in addition, one in sixteen of the E-M1 pixels is given over to phase detect AF and has no recordable light gathering abilities. You might therefore argue that the effective pixel pitch is more like 3.5µm. In other words the 'adjusted' pixel size of the D800 is around 40% larger and, importantly, many people already regard the D800  sensor as a 'oversampling' device. Compare the Oly sensor to the pixel sizes offered by full frame sensors in the 18 to 25mp range and it becomes clear why it has a comparatively modest DXO score. You can't beat the current rules of physics.


ISO 8000 with a lot of processing!

Whatever the exact comparative numbers, it is clear that the Oly has notably smaller pixels than those of the true Pro category and that some of them are given over to AF, which means that processing the signal off-sensor requires even more interpolation than a traditional de-mosaicing algorithm. This doesn't mean that the results aren't impressive: they generally are. But it does mean that they can't be relied upon to be impressive when the going gets tough. And even with the wind in the right direction, there can be something a little unsettling going on 'under the hood'.

Here is a (rather boring!) example: this frame was shot at ISO200 and reasonably well exposed - it has a good looking histogram, though was not exposed 'to the right' because I wanted to preserve some sky detail. If you click through and download the larger, 2304 pixel (50%) size, you will see that the OOF grass areas are quite 'digital' looking - and not in a good way. Remember, this is when viewed at 50% size, equivalent roughly to a 23" print.


The file was developed in LR with sharpening of 50/07/70/20 which is my standard input sharpening for low ISO files from this camera and somewhat lower than I would like to be able to give it.

Clearly this is no train smash. It's pretty good given the constraints of sensor size and it would make a perfectly reasonable print at 20". It is, for me, 'good enough' - but not by a wide margin and as I have said above, that margin deteriorates fairly quickly as the shooting conditions worsen.

So that's the 'less than great' news. The good news is that this rarely matters at all, for several reasons:

  • Any subject matter with some detail for the sensor to 'get its teeth into' will mask this effect very well. I have any number of frames of complex, in-focus textures which could be from a cropped D800 frame. In fact I have a lot of wow! I had no idea MFT could look this good frames.
  • At a print size of 20" or smaller it is so rarely an issue as to be largely irrelevant to me.
  • The in-body IBIS is so good (there's a fly in this ointment that I will later come to) that even with an F2.8 max aperture lens in really quite low light, I have been able to stick to low ISO shooting nearly all the time. In fact with a very wide lens such as the Panny 7-14 or a fast lens such as the Panny 20mm F1.7 I have been able to shoot inside cathedrals on cloudy days at ISO 200. Sports shooters will see this all rather differently though!
  • The shadows in E-M1 files are much cleaner than I was expecting.

My final (for now!) take on the sensor IQ of the camera, therefore, is that for 90% if the conditions under which I am likely to shoot it and 95% of the print sizes I am then likely to want from it, it is at least good enough and often much better.


Sensor IQ is only part of the equation however: what about that other vital part of the imaging chain, lenses?

Readers of this blog might have already seen my review last week of the new Olympus 12-40 F2.8 zoom. It is a very fine lens indeed. In that review I observed that larger sensored cameras often have problems with the availability of good mid range zooms. There isn't a 'mid' for Nex that convinces me and after much experimenting with full frame, the best I have tried is the 24-70 F2.8 on Nikon. That is a very good lens in almost every respect but it has one major flaw, which is its performance at the widest end, which doesn't  sharpen up to the edges until after diffraction has dulled the centre. Even at 28 and 35mm it still needs stopping down to give what I consider acceptable sharpness across the frame.

People will no doubt observe that a slightly soft edge at 36mp is often very acceptable when down-resed. I have done it and in brief, for a 24mm FOV shot I would prefer to use the E-M1 with 12-40 than the Nikon system if my aim was for a 20" print with good edges. The system is better for this purpose. And whilst it is certainly true that at longer parts of the zoom range the Nikon system will give overall better results (more and bigger pixels and a lens that has hit its stride) this does, for me, mean that for most of the use-cases where I want a mid-range zoom I choose the Oly system and not the Nikon. My need for clean edges at 24mm FOV is more pressing than my need for huge prints in the rest of the zoom range.*

So for me, the E-M1 has ousted a D800E for really quite a lot of the time despite being less objectively capable most of the time. It is as simple as that. Olympus has worked out something that has evaded Sony and some others for ages now: a lot of photographers are buying an entire imaging chain, not just a great sensor and making a really good lens in a key focal length range can obliterate a host of other advantages. An imaging chain is only as good as its weakest link. You would think this to be self-evident.


On the subject of other lenses I will remain delphic, not out of hidden wisdom but out of almost total ignorance. People say that the 75mm F1.8 is wonderful and I have received a number of other tips which I am on balance not likely to follow: the scope of this system, for me, is for travel/casual/walkabout/bad weather use and that mostly means mid-range zoom. Honestly, if I am going to a particular place on purpose to take the best quality images of it I can, I will much more likely take a D800 or IQ180 system, depending on how far it is from the nearest car park...

I have, however, tried various of my legacy lenses and there are some interesting finds:

  • My Leica M 50 Lux with adaptor has very soft edges despite the large size of its imaging circle compared to the sensor size of the E-M1.
  • ADDED 7th Nov I have tried my treasured Leica M 90MM F4 Macro Elmar with a Novoflex adaptor and it is easy to focus and gives sharp corners and edges from wide open. Great result. This is such a tiny, light, high quality lens that it will make a useful travel companion but I will test if further for colour shading and CA before using it 'in anger'. I will report back in more detail.
  • My Panny MFT 100-300 is useful at a pinch but frankly is outclassed by the sensor. Often it gives very nice results but often it is visibly stretched. Emergency use only, really. 
  • My Panny 7-14 is as beautifully sharp and easy to use as ever, a lovely lens. It is, however, of limited use on the E-M1 because it is very prone to purple ghosts of bright light sources in the frame. To me, this gives the lie to the MFT consortium hype. I will return to this. This lens also first revealed to me the idiocy of the E-M1 Auto ISO system, a topic to which I will also return... 
  • My Panny 20mm F1.7 is also as sharp as ever, a great lens - but again, colour aberrations are strong and are not corrected in-camera though they can be satisfactorily dealt with in Lightroom.

I will probably try the Oly 9-18mm and I will certainly buy their new Pro 40-150 F2.8 when it launches but otherwise I have no desire to get into the rest of the lens range: for me this is not a broad system camera, it is a great way of covering the FF equivalent of 18-300mm with good quality stabilised zooms in a lightweight travel and walkabout system. For 'proper' systems, if you have the financial luxury of owning more than one, there are bigger and better choices with bigger and better sensors.

Let's take a quick look at the Purple Problem on 7-14mm Panny. Here are two examples:



Even at web sizes (and by clicking the images you'll go to a gallery that gives you the option of downloading them at 50% of original size) you can see the purple stains that this lens produces so often on the E-M1. It is really annoying because it is a tremendously impressive piece of glass but truth is, you just can't trust it on the Oly.

This leads me to a whine: the MFT consortium was originally set up with the apparent consumer benefit of interchangeability of lenses and bodies between participant companies. It just doesn't work and a lot of the glass I purchased in the belief that it would will now need to be sold. This is particularly annoying because MFTs design philosophy is to do 'less in the lens and more in the processing' - in other words, lens designers can, whilst making their usual set of compromises, afford some laxity on things like distortion and aberrations knowing that they will gain size and weight benefits or higher maximum apertures. But that does depend on the 'problems' being corrected in camera and the fact is that MFT cameras will correct other manufacturers' distortions but not their aberrations. The purples you see above are essentially uncorrectable in post. I don't know how Panasonic manages to do in camera what can't be done in Lightroom but for whatever reason it is very irritating. Beware, therefore of buying into the E-M1 if you are an existing Panny user with a bag of lenses (or vice versa) because it might not work well for you.


Next up: the farrago of the E-M1 Auto ISO system.

As noted above, a major saving grace of the E-M1 is the IBIS, which allows for much lower ISO values to be used than you might expect. This can, in many use-cases, do a lot to level the playing field with other, larger sensored systems where certain key lenses (the Nikon 24-70mm F2.8 for example) do not offer stabilisation. And yet Olympus has decided to use an Auto ISO system that seems determined to stop the user from benefitting.

The D800, for example, allows you to specify whether you would like normal, fast, faster, slow or slower as your shutter speed when you are configuring your Auto ISO behaviour. An example: with a 24mm lens it will allow a shutter seed of 1/25th if you set normal. If the light is too low, it will up the ISO for you. But if you set the option to Fast, it will allow no lower than 1/50th, and Faster allows 1/100th. Smart, eh? This allows the user to decide based on the size, shape and weight of the lens, on his or her own tendency to shake, and on the degree of perfection of stillness required in the shot, what level of shutter speed protection is required. The Oly offers no such option. Instead it relentlessly chooses shutter speeds far higher than are actually needed and therefore habitually selects too high an ISO, thereby pissing away the advantage that all that technology should be giving it. Madness. It generally selects a shutter speed of 'twice the focal length'  - so for a focal length of 40mm results in a minimum shutter speed of 1/80th**. In an unstabilised system high resolution digital system it is considered good practice to do exactly this - but the IBIS is claimed to offer several stops of benefit!


I have found a good workaround. I set the camera to Manual mode, then use the Button/Dial/Lever configuration to give me a setup that allows the front and rear wheels to control shutter speed and aperture. I then set the rear dial, when used in 'selector switch two' position, to give me control of ISO. I then choose my preferred shooting aperture, set the shutter speed to the lowest I can confidently get away with with IBIS on, then flick the selector to position 2 and use the ISO control to change the exposure. Doing it this way allows you to see in real time a readout of your under/overexposure and so you can effectively use the ISO wheel to control exposure compensation. But it shouldn't have to be this way: it is fiddly, stupid and annoying.

Talking of control wheels and switches and menu options... ugh. The camera is touted by its fans as being endlessly configurable. It isn't. It allows for about a billion different configurations of its many dials, switches and buttons and even for a very experienced photographer it can take a very long time to find one that suits them. Now this would be fine were it as configurable as one would like - a fair price of steep learning curve in exchange for ultimate personalisation. But I keep finding simple things that I would like to be easily able to do that I cannot easily do. For example, I always shoot RAW and I nearly always shoot AUTO WB, knowing that I am going to tweak in post anyway. Not wanting to control WB in camera often, I would like to configure the control wheels so that neither of them changes WB. But it can't be done unless you also lose wheel control of ISO. Which means that I spend my life accidentally changing WB. Grrrr. 

But the biggest 'switch and dial' gotcha is the positioning of the power switch on the left rather than the right of the body. If I ever give up on the E-M1 it will be for this reason. My muscle memory, deeply programmed by almost every camera I have owned, is to lift the camera to my eye with my right hand whilst simultaneously using my right index finger to turn it on. With the E-M1 this is not possible. Try telling that to my autonomous nervous system...


Finally, a mildly philosophical observation: the E-M1 doesn't know who it is for. In an effort at at capturing every possible user segment, it has piled in a load of stuff that I and a lot of other people will not use. In-camera HDR, 'Art' filters, Scene Modes, Picture Stories - all sorts of low-end consumer bollocks that gets in my way. It gets in my way on the buttons and dials and it gets in my way in the menus.

Now I know that this all costs nothing significant for Oly to add, and might well broaden the appeal of the device so much that the extra sales cause unit costs to plummet, benefiting me. I do understand. But it it still really irritating and it makes the camera rather schizophrenic: one minute it's a hardy, fast shooting, built-like-a-tank pro machine for those who want to travel light - and the next minute it's a Fisher Price device for near-children. Sometimes I just have to hold my M240 for a minute to sooth the irritation.


With all that off my chest, it is back to Praise Mode for my conclusion.

The camera is mostly gorgeous, mostly perfectly balanced and thought out, mostly excellent at what it does and mostly, as I have argued above, at least 'good enough' in terms of IQ. Paired with the excellent 12-40 F2.8 zoom it provides me with something I have never before found: A small and light camera that lets me do almost anything I want in any weather and get results that meet my minimum requirements.

Honestly, if it weren't for the above mentioned lens, I would enjoy but not keep the E-M1. And if the Sony A7R is as good as I hope (it might well be) and their stabilised F4 24-70 zoom is as good as I need (frankly I doubt it will be) then I might have a difficult choice to make. But at least for now, Olympus has provided a system that does, for me, things that no other system can do.

If, for this reasonably dedicated photographer, the E-M1 and its attendant cast of lenses can crowd out a Nikon D800 system for a lot of uses, then Micro Four Thirds can indeed be said to have come of age - for me. And I suspect for quite a few others too.


This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


* there's a thread on Reddit at the moment that clearly demonstrates how keen people are to shoot first and read later so please, if you are tempted, don't!

** an arcane workaround involving changing the default minimum shutter speed for flash shots can alter this slightly but I wouldn't bother. I should also note that the minimum shutter speeds it chooses for longer focal lengths seem to be more relevant possibly because IBIS offers fewer stops of benefit with longer focal lengths?

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Ashley E-M1 EM1 OM-D OMD Olympus Tim camera photography review tashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/the-olympus-e-M1-micro-four-thirds-comes-of-age Thu, 07 Nov 2013 00:43:02 GMT
Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 Pro M.Zuiko Review: "The Hammer" https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/olympus-12-40mm-f2-8-pro-m-zuiko-review-the-hammer I have nicknamed this lens "The Hammer" because it nails just about everything. It's that good. There's no need to read on really but it seems a shame not to fill that claim out a little...

From First Glance to Marriage in an Hour

You know the drill: first glance across a crowded room leads, if you're lucky, to first date. If that goes well, there's the first and subsequent bases to reach, then an engagement and then marriage, kids and finally divorce or death.


So it is with cameras and lenses. And I always know when I'm ready for us to live together when I stop worrying about getting any marks or dings on the item, forget where I put the receipt, start purchasing filters/spare batteries and so on - like I say, you know the drill.

The Olympus 12-40mm F2.8 for Micro Four Thirds and I moved in together after about an hour and now we're married and having babies. I never want to be parted from this lens. For the simple reason that it is the only mid-range zoom at any price, on any system, that I have ever owned that seems to have no notable flaws. It is sharp from edge to edge (and pretty much from corner to corner) from F2.8 thru F8 at every focal length. It has very little tendency to flare or ghost, it has no CA that I can yet find, its distortions are manifest only at the wide end and are well (but not completely) corrected in-camera, even for RAW shooting, and it looks, feels and behaves the the Pro lens its title claims it to be. It also seems to have very little field curvature that I have yet seen. Note: Ming Thein has suggested a slight differential curvature that can make the centre improve at the wide end as you stop down but the edges degrade, with the opposite happening at the long end. I am yet to see that, but these things can be quite scene-dependent and even variable between copies of a lens.


Now, all of that might be what one would hope for from a really good zoom but in truth, even with the most expensive glass, it is often hard enough to achieve in a prime lens. I spent a good part of the past eighteen months trying to get a good mid-range zoom for my D800E and after many failed repairs and replacements of the 24-120, I ended up with the 'trinity' 24-70 F2.8 lens, about as good as one can get but still not very convincing at the wide end. I recently tried the Sony 16-70 F4 OSS E-Mount for Nex and found it (or at least my copy of it) wanting. And my fond memories of the Canon 24-120 F4 are tempered by a look back at the images it made. Lovely but by no means perfect.

So on returning from a first dusk walk with my Oly I was really quite surprised, looking at the resulting files, to find that there was nothing wrong with it at all. No soft edges, no smeared corners, no odd field effects, no purple edged branches. Nothing. Now I do know that at least some of this is down to the famed MFT in-camera corrections and that these corrections do involve a certain amount of processing or 'half-baking' of the RAW files - but I don't see any strong evidence of it. The files, at least when viewed on a Retina screen or a normal monitor at 50% view, do not look stretched, tweaked or pushed about. Zooming in to 100% isn't exactly pretty but then, the EM-1, despite having reputedly the best MFT sensor yet, is never going to produce immaculate files at the pixel level. The sensor is too small for that and the technology has not yet smashed through that roadblock though in time I'm sure it will.


But for now, the combined efforts of the EM-1 and the 12-40 are utterly convincing according to my expectation of a system of this type, which is that it be able to produce a convincing print 20" on the long end, without needing remedial shooting techniques to tease an acceptable result. What is more, and I have tested this to my own satisfaction, for a 20" print at low ISO and 24mm FOV I would prefer to use the Oly system than the D800 system (with 24-70mm) for wide shooting because it gives better results on average across the frame with clearly better edges. Honestly.

And, because the IBIS in the EM-1 allows for stupidly low shutter speeds, you can shoot at low ISO even in low light as long as your subject isn't moving. Whereas on the Nikon's unstablised lens/body combo, much higher shutter speeds are needed. For example, a 24mm FOV shot on the Nikon requires 1/100th second when shot with the large and heavy 24-70mm F2.8 but the Oly combo can shoot the same scene pretty reliably at 1/12th or lower. Conservatively that's about three stop advantage, often four. Which means an Oly shot at ISO200 will be up against a Nikon shot at between 800 and 1600 -at which point the file quality is quite well matched but the Oly frame has sharper edges and corners.


Here is an aperture series shot on a tripod with delay, magnified manual focus, IBIS off. I bracketed this several times for focus and got the same results every time. I shot at 12, 14, 18, 25, 35 and 40mm at every F stop and my summary for the lazy reader is:

  • At every focal length F2.8 thru F5.6 will give sharp images edge on a 20" print. No need to finesse this, just shoot.
  • At every focal length F8 'will do' but the effects of diffraction are noticeable
  • At every focal length F11 is soft and F16 and F22 pointless, as you'd expect
  • At 12 and 14mm the centre and edges are best at F4
  • At 18mm the centre is best at F4 and the edge at F5.6
  • At 25mm the centre is best at F2.8 and the edges equally good at F2.8 and F4
  • At 35mm the centre peaks at F4 and the edges at F5.6
  • At 40mm the centre is best at F4 and the edges equal at F2.8 thru F5.6

I moved on to a flare test. Here are two shots, one with the sun centre, and one with it near the edge. Of course there is some visible flare and some more subtle veiling flare, but it is very well-controlled given the circumstances. Both these shots are at F2.8 and the situation improves as you stop down.




I can't show you any chromatic aberrations because I can't find any of note.

Distortion is not quite 100% corrected at the wide end but is so subtle that you are unlikely ever to want to take further steps. Here are shots at 12, 24 and 40mm.




Bokeh is generally quite nice though possibly a little nervy with very sharp edges. Here are some soft and hard subjects with fore and aft bokeh at 40mm and F2.8



As for the 'look' of the lens - it is very nice. Not a character lens at all, but not lacking in style. It has a 'gentle but firm' rendition that becomes more attractive the more you see it. It is calmly confident of what it can do, and rightly so.

The lens looks and feels lovely, and comes with a good cap and hood. And it has two big 'extras': the first is a clutch that lets you pull the MF ring to either set the lens on MF or AF, and if you set it on MF and focus it then go to AF, it will remember your previously set focus distance when you pull the clutch back to MF - great for videographers who need to 'pull' focus from one point to another. The second bonus is a programmable Fn button on the lens, which I have set to Magnify.

Vignetting is, for me, a non-issue because I quite like a little bit of it and that is all this lens has - but if you enable shading corrections in the camera menu, it will disappear. All my shots were made with shading correction off.

This being the tashley blog, I simply have to find at least one fault and it is this: for me, the lens is slightly less convincing with distant landscapes because it can't quite pull together the fine detail of far foliage. This is quite likely due to limitations imposed by the sensor and not the lens but I have a sense of there being a tad more detail extracted at close and medium distances than at infinity. This is far from unusual and in any event the results are at least 'good enough' and, given the problems that so many full frame wide lenses have with edge sharpness and distance landscapes, I think the Oly combination is overall surprisingly good. There is a short-form, handheld aperture series of the following scene here, and I leave it to you to decide if it will be good enough for your needs.


This landscape series highlights a problem with making broader assessments of the lens: which, of the lens and the EM-1 is the constraint on IQ? My feeling is that at optimum apertures, generally F4, the 12-40mm can outperform the sensor on centre and match it at the edges but that if MFT pixel densities increase, the lens will face a challenge but should be satisfactory for the same print sizes and might stretch to a 24" print on a 25mp sensor.

A brief word on Macro: this is not my special area at all but I thought I'd give it a quick go and was amazed: the following shot of a padlock hasp (unorthodox I know but it was too windy for flowers and insects!) was made with the lens hood literally touching the padlock itself. This doesn't claim to be a macro lens but I think that's pretty impressive. Nuff said.


Finally, AF is fast, accurate and decisive but I did have one or two mis-fires, especially with tracking subjects, though no more than with a good FF DSLR.

Sometimes I wish I was one of those guys that monetize their blogs: I'd make a click-thru bonanza from this lens. But hey ho, I'm the loser. You should buy this lens anyway, even if you don't like zooms. And if you don't have a Micro Four Thirds camera to put it on, you should buy one of those too - preferably the Olympus EM-1, which I am currently greatly enjoying and will soon review.

The various links you followed earlier in this article lead to a gallery with a few other shots in it. Please feel free to browse through them. They are random, but might give you a wider feeling for the performance of the lens under a range of shooting conditions and allow you to see some nice, sharp corners at various apertures and focal lengths.


This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 12-40mm Ashley F2.8 Olympus Pro Tim blog photo photography review tashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/11/olympus-12-40mm-f2-8-pro-m-zuiko-review-the-hammer Sat, 02 Nov 2013 20:11:53 GMT
Sony: E-mount 16-70mm opinion & some thoughts on A7 & A7R. https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/10/sony-e-mount-16-70mm-opinion-some-thoughts-on-a7-a7r  

There are two particularly tempting bones that the News panel of DPReview regularly throws us:

1) A new, better mid range zoom for a camera we already have.

2) A new camera that will offer improved IQ and resolution to users of much-loved legacy lenses - and for me that often means Leica M glass.

Sony has announced just such items of late and though they would appear largely unrelated, bear with me: there's a possible link that might make you think twice.

The Sony Zeiss 16-70mm OSS F4 for Nex E-mount cameras, announced a few weeks back, immediately grabbed my attention. It is no secret that some of the Nex range cameras (I have a Nex-7) offer terrific sensor IQ but have been somewhat hobbled by the lack of really good native mount glass. In particular, many of the zooms have failed to impress and have in my experience not unleashed the potential of the sensor. So when the 16-70 Zeiss was announced, I reversed the decision I had made to eBay the Nex-7 and sat back to await the arrival of the new lens.

Fantasy plays a large part in the anticipatory saliva evoked by a good press release. In my mind, this was going to be a really useful lens: it would be the Nex system's answer to the venerable Canon 24-105mm F4, covering exactly the same FOV, with the same aperture, stabilisation too, and at the same price point. I imagined a rosy future with a very small and light travel kit that would cover nearly all my bases.

At the same time, Olympus announced the OM-D EM-1 and the new 12-40mm F2.8 Pro lens. So of course, being a confirmed gear nympho, I ordered all of the above. Again with the fantasy: the Oly gear would have a less good sensor (smaller, fewer pixels, less DR, for me the 'wrong' aspect ratio, worse ISO performance) and the Oly lens would have a less useful focal length but probably perform to a roughly similar IQ standard. But unlike the Nex, the combination would focus very quickly and, joy of joys for those of us with active canines, would be really well weather sealed.

So I had a plan: get both systems side by side and see which, overall, best meets my needs for all occasions (dog walking, inclement weather use, travel, day trips) when I don't want to carry a D800 system but might well need results that are good enough to sell.

I can't make that comparison yet: the EM-1 has arrived but the 12-40 is backordered. However, I was able to pick up the Sony Zeiss lens earlier this week and I can tell you now that our love affair was about as short as this opinion (I can't call it a full review, I gave up part way through...) will be. I found the optic about as disappointing as an ordinary kit lens, but at a multiple of the price. It also has quite notable purple fringing. And it doesn't feel like a grown up lens should.

I will link below to a gallery with some sample shots and you can draw your own conclusions. Mine are as follows:

At 16 and 24mm the edge performance (I didn't dare look into the corners) is not acceptable, to me, at either F4 or F5.6. It tightens a bit (but not enough) at F8 but of course by then the overall performance is starting to take a diffraction hit.

At 35 and 52mm F4 is still unsatisfactory at the edges, F5.6 might just satisfy an unfussy user and F8 is ditto diffracted.

At 70mm I gave up: it started to spot with rain and I packed the lens away in the sure knowledge that I wanted to return it, ASAP, and that it would therefore need to be unsullied by rain marks. Please forgive my seemingly cavalier attitude to the completion of this test but as far as I am concerned, however good the lens might prove to have been at 70mm it would not have earned a place in my bag. In any event, I have used it informally at that focal length and it failed to impress me. My lens might be a bad copy, and it seems to have a slight de-centering, but I have heard of other users having similar issues to those I have identified above.

The link to the images is here and they can all be downloaded at full resolution as 92% quality JPEGs. Let me explain them briefly. Everything is shot in RAW and developed in LR with clarity to +12 and sharpening of 50/0.7/70/20. The wharf side shots are at every major focal length (bar the 70mm as described above) and F4 thru F11. They were shot using wireless remote with OSS off on an Arca Cube/Gitzo CF rig, with manual focus on the distant railing, centre made in magnified manual live view and re-focussed at each focal length. The subsequent images are informative if more informally shot, all being handheld with OSS and AF. The distant hillside was shot at 16mm and F4 thru 8 with focus centrally on the far line of trees. The shots of the tower were the same focal length and aperture but with focus made using flexible spot, with the spot located over the tower itself and with no recompose. Again, please draw your own conclusions... Finally, a random forest shot to show the fringing, which I have left untreated. It isn't terrible, it isn't untreatable, but it is not mild and it is more than I expected and is again, like the overall performance of the lens, quite 'kit'.

So back the lens goes for refund and, ever the optimist, I await the arrival of the Oly 12-40 to see how it performs. I don't mind really: despite the extra focal length range of the Sony Zeiss offering, shooting it reminded me of why I never really enjoyed using the NEX-7 with its slow start and wake times and clunky interface. The EM-1 may not have quite such an impressive sensor but Lord is it made by photographers for photographers... and I will write more about that when I get the lens.

So what is the link to the announcement of the Sony A7 and A7R, you might ask?

I see it like this: I am hugely impressed by Sony sensors. I have an RX-1 and a D800e and they give the best results I have seen, period. So the idea of seeing such sensors in tiny, interchangeable lens bodies is tempting enough for me to have ordered the R variant. But I am aware of the potential fly in the Sony ointment  -  not enough glass, not soon enough and possibly not good enough (for me). And I think the E-Mount Sony Zeiss I discuss above is a warning sign. Frankly, IMHO Zeiss is ill-advised to let optics of this quality out of the door under their brand name but the fact that they have chosen to do so means they they are willing to, and might do so again. And guess what a key lens in the new FE range is? A Zeiss 24-70 F4 OSS** at a price slated to be very similar to that of the E mount lens I found so disappointing above. I will proceed, but with great caution and a firm grip on my sales receipt...

Aside from the new FE lens range co-announced with the A7 and R, there's the promise of an adaptor fest: vintage, legacy, loved lenses of almost any marque can be dusted off and mounted on either of the slimline siblings. And for quite a few people, that means M lenses.

Of course, the adaption of M lenses to other cameras has a fraught history: due to flange/sensor distance issues of some historical complexity, M lenses very often give ray angles to the edges and corners of non-M cameras that can mean colour and luminance shading and poor edge resolution, even on cropped sensors. The forums are littered with posts from people whose hopes have only been partially met as they gamely bolted M glass onto Nex cameras, MFT cameras, all sorts of cameras. It often just doesn't work well. Case in point, I tried my treasured M 50 Lux on the EM-1 yesterday and the edges are mush.

To the hopeful photographer it's always going to be different this time, though. The current narrative is that the new micro-lens array on the R will be enough to alleviate the problem. Forum Folk are currently gleeful at the prospect of a full-frame camera up to 36mp in resolution that not only takes M glass but has a built-in EVF and the luxury of a flexible focus point. And at a fraction of the price of an M240.

Don't believe it until you see it. It might happen, of course: never say never. But always accept that it has to be a maybe. 

Firstly, even the M240 struggles to deal with the colour shading issues, as I have documented in my series of reviews on this blog. Note: I have not yet tested the latest firmware to see how much of an improvement it offers in this area but other users report positively. So, bearing in mind that the Sony can't possibly have in-body lens detection and pre-processing for M lenses*, so keep your hopes reasonable, despite the promise of a helpful micro-lens array on sensor. Unless of course you want to run Cornerfix on every shot. I don't. 

Secondly, unlike the EM-1, the new Sonys don't offer any in-body stabilisation. Not a deal-killer but it would have been nice to use M lenses in that way.

Thirdly, I have proved to my own practical and theoretical satisfaction that the M240 RF is very often a better way of focussing M lenses than is the use of the EVF, magnified, peaked, whatever. The reasons for this are extremely complex and are laid out in my various reviews of the M240 and its lenses on this blog and on the piece on field curvature that I co-wrote with Roger Cicala but I will reproduce a very brief summary for those who don't want to read much more of my interminable prose...


Nearly all wide and standard focal length lenses have a degree of 'field curvature' which means that the plane of good focus is not, as you would hope, a thin or thick (depending on aperture) zone, exactly parallel to the sensor and with its near boundary parallel to its far boundary. Instead, depending on the particular lens, aperture and subject distance, it is generally curved, of varying thickness, and may be wavy in shape too.

Even when wide open but much more so when stopped down, there is more than one distance from the camera at which you can satisfactorily 'place' focus if you want the central subject to be sharp. But it is possible to place it such that the edges (and/or other parts of the frame) are not in good focus because they may not fall within the 'shape' of the field of good focus. 

Thus, when focussing with Live View, it is possible to 'see' good focus in magnified view, and to activate the 'shimmer', at a range of focus distances. Wide open and close up, that range can be as little as half a centimetre deep. Stopped down and at distance, it might might extend to several metres. Some of those focus distances might get all of the subject plane in focus and some quite possibly will not. But there will always be one exact focus distance that is optimal and, with a well calibrated rangefinder and very accurately machined lens focus cams, the system will find that distance. But with Live View, you have little chance of finding that distance unless you always focus wide open and then stop down to shoot - because Live View will encourage you to place the central subject in the middle of the field of focus, rather than in the 'best' place overall when the rest of the frame is considered.

The only exception to this general rule is that lenses which suffer from notable focus shift as they are stopped down will give better focus on the central subject when focussed using Live View if shot when stopped down. Also, certain types of subject pattern (anything with regular repeats) is easier to focus using Live View.

In other words, EVF focus is not a universal panacea for focussing M lenses. It is an extremely helpful option, in most cases will be very satisfactory, and on the A7 and A7R will be super-useful because they will (unlike the M240) offer the ability to select the focus point. Which means that for lenses with significant field curvature such as the 35 Lux FLE, you will have a better ability to focus peripheral subjects accurately. But for planar subjects shot stopped down, IMHO the M240 rangefinder is still the king.

If you do buy one of the Sonys and, on trying it with certain M lenses find that you are getting frames where planar subjects seem to wander in and out of focus there is an easy solution: focus wide open then stop down to shoot.

This may all sound like angels on pinheads but sometimes, to get a shot just right, you have to balance on a pinhead - and knowing how many angels you'll be sharing it with can really help you work out where to stand...

A final thought: I know for a fact that an awful lot of photographers have been waiting for a small high resolution full frame camera that, in exchange for those benefits, offers a very high quality EVF in place of a mirror and prism assembly. It is a trade off that large numbers of us are clearly willing to make. Sony, ever innovative and ever able to see and fill a niche, looks to have come up trumps. 

So what I have to say to CaNikon is this: remember IBM, think about Windows. Laurels can be surprisingly prickly.


* after I first published this piece I noticed this forum post regarding a Sony app that will allow just such correction profiles to be made and applied in camera, though it is not yet clear if they work for RAW files and there will in any event be some extra work and expense involved to add this capability. Like I said, never say never...

** Here is a link to a sample file from the A7R shot with the upcoming 24-70 F4 OSS at F5.6 though it doesn't say what focal length was used. The edges look fairly good, the corners less so... but not too bad either.


This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 16-70mm A7R Ashley E-Mount EF-Mount F4 Leica M OSS Sony Tim Zeiss blog tashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/10/sony-e-mount-16-70mm-opinion-some-thoughts-on-a7-a7r Fri, 18 Oct 2013 13:17:50 GMT
Phase One IQ260 and IQ260 Achro Review https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/8/phase-one-iq260-and-iq260-achro-review My field review of the two latest digital backs from Phase One is now published in issue #62 of On Landscape, the subscription-only site catering specifically to landscape photographers. In it, I look at the ergonomics and performance of the two backs, compare them to my own IQ180 and look in some depth at B&W shooting and in particular Infra Red work with the Achro, describing the often arcane knowledge and techniques needed to get the best results.


As I noted in my last blog post, I will be writing for On Landscape from time to time - the fee they pay will got to Photovoice and I do hope that some of you will take a moment to look at those parts of the On Landscape site that are free of charge and decide to take the plunge and subscribe for at least a short while. It's a great publication, featuring world-class image makers and covering a wide range of matters of interest to landscape photographers. It also has a mature and pleasant community of readers whose discussions are a cut above the online average!

tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Achro Ashley IQ260 Landscape On OnLandscape Tim review https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/8/phase-one-iq260-and-iq260-achro-review Sat, 17 Aug 2013 22:48:30 GMT
One Year On & This Blog is Changing https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/7/happy-birthday-this-blog-is-changing A year ago this week, when I first started blogging, my idea was simple: I would share all aspects of what I was doing photographically that might be interesting to others. Better than that, if it accidentally produced any revenues then I would give them to my favourite charity, Photovoice, with which regular readers will be familiar.

Part of the subject matter would be gear views and reviews. I was in the middle of an exciting re-evaluation of my equipment needs involving a switch from medium format digital  to the Nikon D800 system and that meant two things: firstly, I would be buying a lot of new equipment and secondly, I would be assessing which pieces of gear were keepers and which were not. That meant testing. And what better discipline, I thought, than to have a reasonably rigorous real-world testing regimen and a place to sort and record my findings?

Besides, I was already sharing the results of whatever product evaluations I was doing in various online forums and would often find myself searching online for something I had written months or even years before, in order to remind myself of the attributes of some long unused lens or camera. It seemed more sensible to keep my own findings all in one place for future reference.

I decided that I would not accept 'freebies' - to this day I haven't accepted anything for free or any loan of equipment that I felt might compromise perceptions of my independence. I would not take advertising. I would not seek or receive click through revenue, again in order to protect my independence. And most importantly, the blog would be about a lot more than gear. There would be guest photographers, reviews of exhibitions, essays on creative approach and technique and a general effort to impose my own Weltanschauung on the readership. This lead to articles such as the one I wrote on the question of What is Fine Art Photography? - a piece that raised some eyebrows, some hackles and, I hope, some issues.

All very good. But what has in effect happened is that I have slowly and unwittingly (no one to blame but myself for this) become a slave to the web stats and to the self-imposed feeling that I should be providing weekly content.

Those web stats. Hmmm. They are a fascinating and frustrating thing.

Equipment reviews are the web stat winners. An in-depth piece or series of pieces on a high-profile camera or lens can get tens of thousands of readers. Very gratifying and something I am sure I could monetize if I wanted to. But the pieces on guest photographers receive much lower footfall, and if I venture into a subject as recherché as, for example, photo-ethics, the visitor count goes off the proverbial cliff. So after more than eighty articles I have learned that this blog is not going to become a free-thinking, holistic salon where creative types move effortlessly from deep tech to high art in witty and erudite discourse. It just ain't gonna happen and there's no point crying over it.

And, slightly disappointingly, the donations to Photovoice that have resulted from my occasional requests have been very, very few and far between. I calculate the revenue at less than 0.004 cents per page view, of which there have been many, many hundreds of thousands. 

It is curious, also, to see the seeming contradictions: on the one hand the stats tell me that writing about the Leica M240 or the Sony RX-1 will bang the visitor rates right up. Here's a list of the top ten articles in terms of footfall:

  • The M (Typ 240) - Leica's new baby reviewed
  • Sony RX1:prepare to be a lot amazed and a little annoyed
  • D800E and Moiré: What PP gets rid of it best?
  • Leica 50 R Cron on Nikon Mount with Leitax Adapter.
  • Sony RX100 Part 2: lens & ISO
  • Sony RX100 Part 1: A Viable Camera for Exhibition Quality Prints?
  • Six Months of the D800: did it deliver?
  • Leica M 240 with 35mm F1.4 FLE - some observations
  • The 24mm PC-E
  • Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM: Possibly Great

But on the other hand, some of the angriest emails and comments I get are from those who want to tell me, as if it weren't already perfectly clear that I know this, that 'good photography is about more than just the equipment'. I wonder if they might like to know that a thoughtful piece on visual memory garnered only 500 visits? Or that a world-class Guest Photographer can command as few as 1,100 views? That's about 2% of what a juicy piece on a sexy piece of gear can get.

In other words, people want to read about gear. And interestingly, very specifically, they want to read material about gear which has been written from a very particular perspective, that of the technically and contextually aware field user. They are not prepared to rely on the more lab-based tests popular on-line, and they want to think in terms of systems rather than of individual components.

For now, though, I have run out of new gear that I personally plan to buy. My big re-shuffle has ended up with a feeling that I 'need' a D800E system and an RX-100 and I love using and therefore want to keep my IQ180 with Alpa/Rodenstock, my M240 system and my RX-1. That is far too much gear already and my cupboards are full. There's also a Nex 7 in stock somewhere, a full 5D II system, a capsule Pentax SLR system, some micro four thirds stuff.... all that has got to go.

On top of the fact that I am now in disposing rather than acquiring mode and will consequently have less stuff to review, I have been asked to write from time to time for OnLandscape, a rather brilliant online magazine that I was already subscribed to. It does, commercially, much of what I originally wanted to do here and it will pay a fee, which can go to Photovoice. On top of that, I will no longer feel guilty about taking exotic loan gear because everyone knows the deal by now, both with me and with OnLandscape, and I hope both are well-trusted. So, rather excitingly, next week I will be taking delivery of both an IQ180 AND an IQ160 Achromatic for review. Very nice.

So where does it leave this blog? Well, I have decided to back off from providing weekly material. It might be called a 'blog' but it has become more of a micro-level review site and the only way to continue with that, which might be interesting, would be if I were to start to monetize the content in some way. At that point it becomes a business and that's just not what I want. It would distract from my being a photographer. 

Instead, I will revert to blogging in a more traditional sense. Comments on stuff that interests me, links to new photographers that excite me, brief thoughts if they strike me. Readership will drop like a stone but hey ho, on we go! This might all change with time, who knows, and when I do happen to purchase new gear and have something useful to say about it, I will do an in-depth review as ever - it is just that this will happen much less frequently.

Last word: Thank You to all the regular readers and correspondents who have been so full of encouragement and support and so generous with their thanks and praise. It has been a real pleasure writing for you and hearing your responses and I have learned at least as much as I have shared.






This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Ashley Tim blog photo photography review tashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/7/happy-birthday-this-blog-is-changing Fri, 05 Jul 2013 12:45:34 GMT
A Reader Writes https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/a-reader-writes My comments on lenses, especially those from the Leica M series, have evoked some confused and sometimes angry responses. I hope the following (non angry!) exchange of correspondence helps readers understand more clearly where I am 'coming from'.

Hi Mr. Ashley,

when I came across your blog and read your articles I was a little puzzled. The reviews all have a high technical standard and are written to be objective. But as a Leica shooter myself I asked myself by which standards you judge the lenses. After all Leica is famous for producing a lot of the finest lenses currently available and your reviews sometimes sound like you're from a future with a much higher standard.

Don't get me wrong, endless praise for Leica glass is neither my thing nor would I write that myself.

But I have a VERY hard time following your conclusions on 2 of the lenses I own (28 Summicron, 50 Summilux asph). Your observations on these lenses may be a bit subjective (28=boring e.g.) but I have tried to find the same things like you did and I couldn't. I'd have to work at pixel level (note: I'm shooting a M-E, not M240) to find a softness in the Summicrons corner and the "mid-field weakness" that the Summilux is supposed to have is not as pronounced with my copy.

I'd be more than happy if you could find the time and answer me, as it leaves not only myself but a whole section on a German forum puzzled (and currently arguing about 28 Summicron vs 35 FLE vs 50 1.4 asph which started with people bashing the 50 1.4 asph for being soft wide open).

Greetings from Germany




Dear Marc,

Thank you for your email. I will try to answer it as best I can.
I really am not from a future with a much higher standard!
My first comment: don't expect to find the same thing by looking at a different system. The ME clearly has not only a lower resolution sensor, but it is CCD rather than CMOS and has a different arrangement of micro lenses. Effectively, the performance of the lens at a pixel level will differ enough on these two sensors such that, though there will be some common factors, you really can't expect to find the same performance at a granular level. This highlights the reason that I always try to stress, in my reviews, that there's no such thing as lens performance and that what I try to do therefore is compare systems.
Secondly, having established as far as I can what is going on at the pixel level, I then look at the files either on a standard 100dpi monitor at 50% or on a Retina display. These both give quite good approximations to a 200 DPI print but if I am still in doubt I do make prints at 24x36" on a large format fine art printer.
Thirdly, if I find anything problematic or unexpected, I sanity check the result across a spectrum of sources: other reviews, the performance of the lens on other systems where possible, the experience of other users I know well and trust, and, most importantly, the Leica MTF. Clearly MTF has its own 'system' biases but it is still useful especially in doing detective work on field shape and sharpness and in establishing the effects of astigmatism.
Fourthly, my reference standard is - there is is no reference standard! I hold in my head experience from a variety of scenarios. In this case, the primary one is the experience I have of these same lenses on the M8 and M9. The next is my experience of lenses of similar focal length and/or field of view on other cameras. For example, I shoot a lot on a Nikon D800 so when looking at the Summilux 35mm FLE I am bearing in mind the performance of the 'best in breed' 35mm lens on that system, the Sigma 35mm F1.4 HSM. I also shoot a Sony RX-1 and that makes a good reference standard for 25mp full frame on a 35mm lens since it is almost perfect, due to the very smart  design of lens and sensor as one system. I also shoot a Phase One IQ180 system and, though it is not perfect, I have reasonable experience of two different 35mm technical camera lenses (FOV= approx 24mm) and a lot of 'SLR' style lenses on the Phase body.
But above all I have one criterion: that, unless I am using a lens purely for its artistic abilities, I expect it to have certain base levels of technical abilities. For example, any high-quality lens from 24mm upwards should be able to achieve acceptable edge sharpness at F5.6  and viewed at about 200dpi. I don't think that's unreasonable as an expectation but it is not universal in practice! I also look for strange field shape effects that can give, for example, mid-field weakness or edge weakness  with one focussing method and not with another.
Finally: if there isn't another lens I know in a similar price and quality bracket on a similar sensor size and resolution that can achieve my 'mental internal' target, I adjust the target. There is no point putting hope over experience!
A few years back, I was the first to publicly examine the issue of focus shift on the last generation 35mm Summilux. The threads ran for months and in the course of that experience I learned several things:
  • Some people dislike being told that an expensive thing they own and cherish is less than wonderful
  • Some people love the exact same thing because they have half noticed it and been frustrated
  • Some people will live in denial
  • Some people are not sufficiently qualified to form an accurate opinion
  • A small number of people really do have copies of the lens that don't have a problem (it seemed to be many chrome copies of the pre-FLE 35 Lux that were OK, for example)
  • Some people get very aggressive
  • Some people get very confused
  • Sometimes you, the reviewer, have a bad copy of the lens or have made a mistake
  • Sometimes, the manufacturer ends the argument by agreeing with your findings and redesigning the lens - which is what happened in the case I mention!
I stand by my conclusions about all three of the lenses you mention when used on the M240  but clearly I strongly expect other people to disagree. If I had a lens I really liked and which performed well, I would go with my own experience and not those of a reviewer. And if the reason for that was that I was not a very experienced or discerning user, I would think twice before 'raising my bar' because the only reason to do that is to guarantee a standard of output for certain audiences I might not have. In which case I would end up dissatisfied for no good reason. So generally, my reviews are to share my own finding with those thinking of purchasing a lens and with the same sort of expectations as myself. I would never want to tell existing happy users that they are 'wrong'.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
best regards
ps please feel free to share this response with the forum members to whom you refer. My German is very weak indeed!
This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Leica benchmark lens review summicron summilux test https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/a-reader-writes Fri, 28 Jun 2013 10:47:42 GMT
The Price of (technical) Perfection https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/the-price-of-technical-perfection Disclaimers first: we all know that creative vision is more important than technical perfection: Steichen would have been able to make a masterpiece using an iPhone, with or without Instagram. But take a look at the work of the Big Sellers in the art photo market and quite a lot of them major on huge images which are technically perfect. It's the usual gang: Crewdson, Gursky, Burtnsky, Kander et al. Another conversation might be to consider what it is about technical perfection that contributes to the impact of a work of photographic art. One might wonder whether its job is to remove any sense of there being a machine involved, for example, so that the viewer is simply 'in the scene' with no reminders or cues as to the involvement of technology. But for whatever reason, technical perfection is part of the tool kit of some very famous photographers and has been since Ansel Adams invented the Zone System - and maybe before.

Some of the Huge'n'Perfect crowd still use film but most seem to be headed digital. And whilst we have all seen definitive articles that 'prove' 10x8 film produces 'better' IQ than an 80mp digital back, we have also seen articles that prove the opposite. There are, as they say, many roads to Rome and I have seen amazing and very large prints made both ways. So this article is going to look at the equipment requirements of doing it digitally.

What does it cost to achieve technical perfection in, say, a 125 to 145cm wide print?

Let's take a look at the cost of a very high-end system from Phase One, Alpa, Rodenstock and Leica. I am specifying a system that allows movements (tilt and shift) because at these prints sizes, you generally need to be able to get your perspective and your field of focus right in camera. But I am also saving money where I think it makes sense by only selecting those options I consider to be of core importance. Brace yourself: you could spend an awful lot more than this and remember: this is a one lens system...

Used, low actuation Phase One IQ180 back (same sensor as the IQ280 but a lot cheaper) with 6 month warranty - I'm going to allow this one as a dealer-certified used purchase: that saves a good deal of cash up front and these backs are built like tanks so buying used makes sense. Comes with back plate, batteries, charger etc. £16,000
Alpa STC camera (as part of a kit: separate price is higher) £2,511
Generic nylon hand strap so as to avoid paying £££ for a Rosewood version from Alpa £20
Back adapter allowing Phase back to attach to Alpa body £899
Alpa/Rodenstock 40mm F4 HR Alpagon lens (short barrel version to allow use of Tilt Shift adaptor) £4,400
Alpa Tilt Shift adaptor (up to 5 degrees, up to 17mm) £975
Alpa High Precision Focus Ring (attaches to lens and allows fairly exact setting of focus distance) £215
Phase One Sync Cable (the most basic version, allows lens shutter to actuate IQ180 back but requires Zero Latency mode) £39
Leica D510 laser distance measure. This generally works reliably outdoors on 'nature' only up to about the maximum marked focus distance of this particular lens. If you want to add another longer lens later, you'll probably need a Leupold or similar: allow about the same cost again. £399
Lee Universal Lens Hood (much cheaper than the Alpa version, less elegant but takes filters) £116
Lee adaptor to attach hood to lens £35
Set of 3 Lee graduated NF filters (you'll need them sometimes even with the DR of the IQ180 £168
Capture One Complete Universal Lens Calibrator (two thick, white, optically correct perspex diffusers needed to make Lens Cast Calibration exposures to eliminate colour shading and vignetting) £49
Gitzo GT354 6X Carbon fibre tripod (no central column tripods allowed if you want guaranteed rock-steady results) £524
Arca Swiss Cube tripod head. I know, you'll think this is crazy but everyone who has ever purchased one thinks it utterly essential. £1,125
Cards, readers, cloths, shutter release cable, DOF and tilt angle apps etc. £200
Total (assuming no sales tax or shipping costs) £27,675

Of course you could spend a great deal more: you could go for the IQ280 at a cost of at least £10,000 more. You might want to add such basic niceties as an Alpa masked viewfinder at around £1,279 including shift mask. Or an Alpa Sync Release with appropriate cable, allowing 'one shot' use without having to put the back into Zero Latency Mode (which eats batteries) - at an additional net cost of £670. 

But staying nice and basic, economising where sensible, this cost of £27,675 ($43,422 or €32,390) is the entry level for technical perfection in very large digitally captured prints for certain types of subject matter. Assuming you're paying nothing for training and workshops.

So what can you make from it? Let's assume you're a world-class fine art photographer who can sell a limited edition fine art print for, let's say $10,000 - and as we all know it might be a heck of a lot more than that. The math is interesting. Let's take a theoretical but close to real world example: if the edition is in two sizes, one very large and one quite large (say 140cm wide at $10,000 and 90cm wide at $7,000 respectively) and each edition is of five, with one Artist's Proof which you don't sell, then you're grossing $85,000. Of course you'll be paying your gallery anything up to 50% and there are printing, framing and a host of other costs. But you could more or less the cover the cost of this system with one image - if you are lucky, famous and brilliant.

There's another way: Marcus Lyon, for example, has seen one of his limited edition prints sell for $79,406 at Christie's. The original edition size of the Lyon print sold at that price was 7 (you do the math!) but, interestingly, Marcus does nearly all his work on Canon 35mm cameras and then stitches and composites them in post - a method that doesn't work for all subjects and circumstances but of which he is master. In fact he is so good at it that it took me a lot of convincing that the images weren't captured with medium or even large format systems.

So what can you do with a medium format digital system that you can't achieve in any other digital way?

Given that you can get any sized print by stitching and any kind of DOF by focus stacking, the answer is simple: anything that has to be captured in just one exposure and then printed very large cannot be made on 35mm. For those circumstances, there is only one option. And it doesn't come cheap.

Finally: for those who haven't seen a full sized image from one of these systems, here are three example shots using the exact same combination shown in the table above. I am sorry not to share un-watermarked images I consider to have possible future potential (the second and third)  - with appropriate treatment those might always prove saleable so I won't give away high quality files of them just in case. But these files are technically reasonable (I am new to this system so still bottoming it out) and each in its way would have been difficult to achieve in any other manner if a very large print were required.

Clicking on the images will load a full-sized version. The first two images were shot using the Leica Disto to establish focus distances and depths and the second one additionally used the excellent iPhone app OptimumCS-Pro by George Douvos that I reviewed a couple of weeks back. This, combined with the Disto, allowed precise placement of the DOF such that only the items I wanted were in focus, specifically the foreground rock and the cairn placed above and slightly behind it.

The third image was shot using a little tilt and some rise, so as to get the DOF to cover pretty much everything from foreground to distance. Additionally, the second and third images have been treated with the Photoshop Alpa Lens Corrector plugin.








This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 40HR Alpa Disto IQ180 Leica Phase One STC camera digital medium format photo photography rodenstock https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/the-price-of-technical-perfection Fri, 21 Jun 2013 10:11:07 GMT
Leica M240 - The Final Inspection: Does it Pass Muster? https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/leica-m240---executive-summary-final-thoughts-conclusion-is-it-a-keeper After many weeks and thousands of frames shooting with the M240 - and having thoroughly tested the performance of every M lens I own on the new camera - the time has come to make The Decision. Any system that costs this much has to be exceptional if it is to find an ongoing place in my bag: the fact is that were I to sell my entire M kit, it would raise a lot of cash.

Honestly, I was fairly certain at the outset that the M240 would not be a 'keeper'. I didn't like the speckled and banded higher ISO sample files I'd seen and my first few days' shooting indicated that it was full of ergonomic errors, annoying oversights and necessary but unattractive compromises.

Another flawed beauty, I thought. Fun for a few dates but after that...

L1002801 18mm Super-Elmar

Question: if I thought the camera likely wouldn't please me, why did I buy it? Answer: because I own a lot of Leica glass and because, having put my Phase One IQ180 up for sale and making the switch to the Nikon D800E, I was frustrated by the extreme difficulty involved in finding wide lenses for that camera that could resolve, across the frame, the resolution the sensor promised. So I hoped that somehow the new Leica would pull a rabbit out of the hat. There were, after all, several perceived and potential benefits to the the system that might make it work well for me:

  1. Access to not only M lenses but also pretty much any lenses via adaptors.
  2. Small size, low weight, amazing ratio of these things to image quality.
  3. No shutter slap.
  4. A 'current market standard' pixel count.
  5. Better high ISO performance than previous Ms
  6. More DR than previous digital Ms
  7. Weather sealing.
  8. Better battery life than previous model.
  9. Live View and EVF for focus rather than the (in my experience) unreliable rangefinders in previous digital Ms.
  10. Live View focus means that rangefinder's weakness in dealing with focus shift is no longer an issue.
  11. Live View means no parallax when composing and therefore no problems with exact alignments in composition.


18mm Super-Elmar

Let me now list, briefly, the notes from my M240 original review that fell on the negative side, along with some irritations and problems that have emerged since then:

  1. Need to remove baseplate (and therefore tripod plate) to get at battery and card.
  2. Terrible ergonomics of exposure compensation.
  3. Poor Auto ISO programming in firmware: insufficient shutter speed ratio options, useless operation in Manual mode.
  4. Poor Auto WB and odd colour profiles.
  5. Inability to move the zoom/focus spot away from centre when using Live View.
  6. EVF 'shimmer' focus mask hard to see.
  7. EVF does not show exposure warnings in Review mode without additional button presses - inconsistent with LCD review operation.
  8. EVF (I use the Olympus version) shows incorrect framing thereby reducing the hoped-for compositional benefit of using it.
  9. Rangefinder hard to use for framing wider than 35mm.
  10. Colour cast corrections not good enough on some lenses.
  11. Still some evidence of magenta cast on synthetic black fibres.
  12. Single pixel noise in shadows when boosted, and higher ISO banding.
  13. Clunky Live View operation and switching, complex and deceptive metering options.
  14. Metering sometimes gets it 'totally wrong' - as if metering a completely different scene.
  15. Colour aliasing resulting from the lack of an AA filter is still a problem sometimes despite the smaller pixel pitch.
  16. Really mucky sensor - seems to pick up and retain dust a lot and be hard to clean.

In addition to the above impressive list of 'issues' I have ascertained that the legendary M lenses are not, technically at least, a 'magic bullet' compared to the glass available for the Nikon system. In-depth tests of each of my lenses on the M240 revealed the following headline points:

The 35mm F1.4 Lux FLE has an odd, unpredictable and inconsistent shape to its curved and wavy field of focus such that F5.6 or even F8 can be required to get a planar subject sharp to the edges, even when very skilfully focussed. Bokeh is nervy, OOF areas a little hectic. Technically, I would rather use the Sony RX-1/Zeiss combination or the D800 with a good copy of the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art lens. Creatively, however, the 35 Lux has a beautiful look and lovely clarity. Overall, a great lens but not reason enough in itself to stick with the M system.

The 50 Lux has soul, beauty, biting but delicate separation of planes of focus, and gorgeous bokeh. But the new sensor has started to make the technical abilities of the lens creak a little: it has some mid-field weakness and, even when focussed very skilfully, this requires an aperture of F8 to eradicate and by this time, there is a touch of diffraction kicking in. Still a beauty, but the blush is fading from the rose.


18mm Super-Elmar

The 18mm F3.8 Super-Elmar has strong and complex distortion and requires F11 to tighten up the corners, by which time diffraction has taken its toll on the rest of the frame. Fairly strong astigmatism means that the Leica Look is not at its strongest in this lens. Everything else is good: bokeh, correction of colour shading and fringing, predictability of focus. Overall, useful but not wonderful.

The CV 15mm is useless on the M240. Whichever lens coding I try, every shot is ruined by extreme colour shading. For B&W use only.

The 28mm F2 'cron is boring on the M240 and the optical design is starting to show its age: F8 is required for sharpness across the frame but diffraction is kicking in at this aperture. Even at F5.6, astigmatism in the design means that images lack Leica Look micro contrast and sparkle. Colour shading is not fully controlled. The lens is, however, predictable in terms of field shape and is well behaved in use.

On the subject of the 50mm F1 Noctilux, I quote myself: "This lens is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. But nightmares too, if you want it to be a consistent and reliable friend. Learn it inside out and it will reward you more than any other optic I know. Use it as a point and shoot, and you will shoot yourself in the foot." You'd have to read the whole article to see why this is the case but in short, a very wavy field of focus combines with focus shift to create a brew that is creatively fascinating but technically hard to master. But no other lens has this astonishing look.

The 90mm F4 Macro-Elmar is a joy. Oddly, corrections for colour shading aren't very effective but otherwise, the quality of this lens is just lovely and its tiny size a boon for travel use. 

So overall, my testing of this selection of lenses on the M240 has given the lie to the idea that I might want to keep a hand in the M game purely because of the lenses. Some are starting to show their age on the new, high resolution sensor and some are simply 'tricky'. Many require F8 to give a good planar result - and my frustration with the Nikon system was that I kept on needing F8 to get good planar results. So the Leica system offers no real benefits there. In fact, the Sony RX-1 is still the best game in town for frame-wide sharpness at wide apertures on a wide lens.

In addition to the startling revelation that Leica is not immune to the laws of optics, I have learned one further thing from all this testing and this one thing is utterly key to getting the best from the M240. And that key is: you should nearly always focus using the rangefinder, rather than Live View, with nearly every lens*.

That's right. Bold, italic and highlights. This startling fact is completely unexpected, utterly unintuitive, impossible to explain simply and absolutely vital.

L1002732 35mm Summilux FLE

To get the full picture you will need to read my piece on 'how to focus a tricky lens' and all of the individual lens reviews linked to above. But here goes an attempt at a brief explanation:

Nearly all wide and standard focal length lenses have a degree of 'field curvature' which means that the plane of good focus is not, as you would hope, a thin or thick (depending on aperture) zone, exactly parallel to the sensor and with its near boundary parallel to its far boundary. Instead, depending on the particular lens, aperture and subject distance, it is generally curved, of varying thickness, and may be wavy in shape too.

Even when wide open but much more so when stopped down, there is more than one distance from the camera at which you can satisfactorily 'place' focus if you want the central subject to be sharp. But it is possible to place it such that the edges (and/or other parts of the frame) are not in good focus because they may not fall within the 'shape' of the field of good focus. 

Thus, when focussing with Live View, it is possible to 'see' good focus in magnified view, and to activate the 'shimmer', at a range of focus distances. Wide open and close up, that range can be as little as half a centimetre deep. Stopped down and at distance, it might might extend to several metres. Some of those focus distances might get all of the subject plane in focus and some quite certainly will not. But there will always be one exact focus distance that is optimal and, with a well calibrated rangefinder and very accurately machined lens focus cams, the system will find that distance. But with Live View, you have little chance of finding that distance unless you always focus wide open and then stop down to shoot - because Live View will encourage you to place the central subject in the middle of the field of focus, rather than in the 'best' place overall when the rest of the frame is considered.

The only exception to this general rule is that lenses which suffer from notable focus shift as they are stopped down will give better focus on the central subject when focussed using Live View if shot when stopped down. Also, certain types of subject pattern (anything with regular repeats) is easier to focus using Live View.

L1002772 90mm Macro Elmar

Luckily, the rangefinder in the M240 is way, way better than on any previous digital M I have used. Mine is so perfectly calibrated that it focusses all my lenses absolutely optimally all the time at every distance. And after several months of ownership and thousands of frames shot, after several journeys packed and jostled in a bag, after the temperature and humidity changes brought about by the shifting seasons, it has not budged a micrometre.

To me, this is almost miraculous. I, in my early fifties and with well-corrected but typically compromised eyesight, can rangefinder focus lenses from 18mm to 90mm (and as fast as F1) with extreme and repeatable precision. Much, much more accurately than Live View on any system I have ever used, much more accurately than Phase Detect AF on any system I have ever used and much more accurately than a Rodenstock Medium Format lens with a High Precision Focus Ring and a Leica Disto laser finder with tested accuracy of +/- 1mm.

And this is worth an awful lot, because the best lens on the best sensor is nothing without great focus.

What this means is that there is something different about either the design, assembly or tolerances of the RF in the M240 as compared to previous models. I don't care if anyone believes me - and I don't care if Leica has said nothing to this effect (why would they admit that earlier versions were less than wonderful?) - it is absolutely the case. This rangefinder rocks. I use it to focus, and then I compose in the EVF if I need greater accuracy or am using lenses wider than 35mm. And it seems that quietly, this is what a lot of experienced photographers are doing, too.

So I find myself in an unexpected position: I bought the camera because I had the glass, and because the introduction of Live View and and EVF would finally mean I could use it properly as compared to the duff and drifting rangefinders that had so frustrated me before. And now I find that the glass, though nearly all very good, is not the reason to keep the camera. Neither is Live View and neither is the EVF. The reason to keep and cherish the M240 is the rangefinder. And that is not what I expected at all.

I shot for two days recently with M240 and 18mm, 35mm and 90mm lenses. Over the course of over 150 frames, all shot with the rangefinder, not a single one was out of focus. I will leave it at that.


The M240 has another trick up its sleeve too: phenomenal IQ at low ISO. Get a shot correctly exposed and well focussed on one of the better lenses and I think, at a pixel level, it gives better results than anything I know. Really. When Mark Dubovoy recently wrote over at Lula that on screen and in print, he preferred the M240 files to the D800 files, there was a sh!t-storm of disagreement. But he was right. And I have slowly realised that even the Sony RX-1, a camera that I thought had the finest pixel level detail I have ever seen, is not always the winner - especially when compared to the best parts of a frame shot on the M240 with its best glass. The M240 files are rich, smooth, very very free of noise despite the base ISO of 200, and have wonderful clarity and depth. Sure there is some banding and speckling at higher ISO but in real world use it is very rarely a problem. So I will go out on a limb here and say that the sensor is the best I have used. Maybe not overall (it could do with better ISO performance and a stop more DR) but for a well lit, well exposed scene it can't be beaten, unless you want to print larger than about 30".

The Final Word

The M240 was going to be all about the glass and Live View. The the sensor would be 'good enough' and the rangefinder would be halfway to obsolete. But with the exception of my prediction that the ergonomics would be the usual Leica mix of amazing and daft (they are) I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

I have never been this wrong about a camera.

The M240 is all about the extreme accuracy of the rangefinder and the gorgeous performance of the sensor. Together, they make an unbeatable combination. And given that this combination is very small and light too, I now use it more than anything. I can live with all its quirks and rough edges: most of them are 'dealable with' in firmware and none of them is a deal-breaker.

The D800 is relegated to jobs for which it has very specific skills (speed of focus, higher ISO work, long or zoom lens work) and the IQ180 is back from my dealer unsold, now married to an Alpa STC and Rodenstock 40HR and used for whenever I need huge output size and have the time to work for it. The RX1 also has its niche purposes and I continue to carry it from time to time.

I am very lucky to have all of these cameras; but I know which one will be getting the most use in the foreseeable future.... except, it has to go back now, to have its strap lugs replaced.

Well, this is Leica.

* based on the reasonably broad range of lenses I have tried but assuming that I am talking about only Leica M lenses, since other brands may not specify their focus cam shapes in the same way as Leica seems to.



This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Leica M240 Tim Ashley decide decision field review keep photography review tashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/leica-m240---executive-summary-final-thoughts-conclusion-is-it-a-keeper Fri, 14 Jun 2013 14:39:21 GMT
Depth of Field - Apps with Depth of Function https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/depth-of-field---apps-with-depth-of-function I have tried almost as many DOF apps as I have camera bags. Really. It's that bad/sad. And as with camera bags, DOF apps never really seem to get it quite right. Either they are not sophisticated enough, or are insufficiently flexible, or they work from assumptions that went out with the Ark. Sometimes, their developers just give up the ghost, failing to update their apps in the face of an onslaught of new cameras, lenses, sensor sizes and resolutions.

So what was needed, from my personal POV, was an app that had the following two chief characteristics:

  • Parametrically independent of specific equipment (no need for camera specific app updates).
  • DOF definitions that can be tailored to the user rather remaining mired in the past.

Browsing the App Store recently I found a new candidate, TrueDOF-Pro and, even more useful, its sibling OptimumCS-Pro. I have been trialing them extensively and, though they are not yet perfect (compared to me 'dream team' fantasy) they are already very useful to me on a daily basis. Even better, their Author, one George Douvos, is astonishingly friendly, knowledgeable, responsive and keen to engage with his customers. So things can, as they say, only get better.

Before looking in a bit more depth at each app specifically, I want to make a few points which are general to both and which indicate the originality of thinking involved in their conception.

Traditionally, DOF has been defined in terms of Circles of Confusion. I won't go into the theory, you probably know it already and it is too long a subject to trot out again here but in short, old-style DOF calculations looked at what precision of level of detail the human eye could not discern beyond in a print, given certain assumptions about what distances the print would be viewed from, usually in terms of a multiple of the diagonal dimension of the print. Hence the laughable but widely held belief that people in galleries automatically step back to a viewing distance in proportion to the size of the image. They might well do for a moment. But then they will get up to as close as they can comfortably focus, probably a foot or eighteen inches, and stare intently before stepping back again. This behaviour is particularly evident in experienced, big-budget purchasers of high end fine art photography.

Now this is absolutely NOT to say that they won't buy an image that is less than technically perfect at nose-distance: they are a sophisticated audience, quite capable of discerning whether the creative intent of the image does or does not require enormous resolution. But there are photographers out there (Burtynsky, Crewdson, Kander, Gursky and many, many others) who make and sell very large prints at very high resolution.

These large print sizes (say, over a meter on the long side and sometimes much larger) do not just test the peak resolution of the imaging chain: 'print big, look close' also places enormous strain on the DOF in the image. DOF needs to be treated by both makers and consumers of photography as part of the creative intent of the image, and as such it needs to be understood, controlled and accurately deployed. For some images it is in effect a production tolerance.

Which is where Mr. Douvos comes in: his apps let the photographer set their own parameters for what is 'acceptable' DOF rather than relying on ancient tables or meaningless scales engraved around the edges of lenses. Better still, they allow for those parameters to be conceived of and entered in terms either of traditional COC or, IMHO more usefully, print size and resolution. And all this in a system that, uniquely, factors the effects of diffraction into the equation - so finally COC is truly useful again.

This diffraction accounting is very important: with high resolution digital systems the photographer can no longer count on stopping down to F22 (let alone F32 or F64) to get the required DOF. F16 is a desperate measure for most of us and many won't even stray beyond F8 unless we really have to. The Medium Format Rodenstock 40mm HR lens that I will use in some examples later in this piece comes with the manufacturer's recommendation to shoot only at F5.6 and F8 for best results. But traditional DOF scales just keep on in a linear fashion to F64 with no concern for diffraction. 

Not any more: both these apps will take diffraction into account and I do believe that is 'a first'.

In detail:


Screenshots tell most of what you need to know:


photo copy 8 The main working screen allows you to enter your lens focal length, aperture and the shooting distance that you have set. These, calculated according to the parameters you have chosen in the settings screen, determine the DOF readout. In the example above, my 40mm lens and aperture of F8 combine with my the shooting distance I have set of approximately 2.5 metres to suggest that everything between two and three meters will be in 'acceptable focus'.


  • By pressing the 'S2' or 'S3' buttons, you can choose to show the distance scale with more of an emphasis on mid or far distance work.
  • Pressing the 'HF' button sets the focus distance to its optimal hyperfocal distance: in other words the 'far' focus range (top red line) is set to infinity and the 'near' (bottom red line) is set to wherever the app calculates it - assuming you set your camera's focus to the distance indicated by the blue line, which is the indicated hyperfocal distance. The numerical readout windows are self-explanatory.

Simple, eh? Let's take a look at the setting screen:

Using my preferred parameters, it looks like this:

photo copy 7 This requires more detailed explanation.

  • The key choice is to select between 'Blur Spot Diameter' and 'Print Quality'. The above screenshot shows 'Print Quality' mode selected. I will come back to this.
  • Next, using the top left buttons, set the physical width of your sensor.
  • Then mid left, your intended physical print width.
  • Finally, bottom left, your desired print resolution.

This is all simple with the exception of that final point: print resolution. It is expressed in terms of Line Pairs Per Millimetre and this is not a measure that will be familiar to all (or even most) users. It took me quite some time to calculate how to enter this value, taking as a starting point the measure of resolution with which I am most familiar. Let me explain.

When I make an image with a view to making and selling a fine art print, I generally shoot with a final print size in mind. Of course sometimes I can't know this in advance, and sometimes an image made on a 35mm sensor might be good enough as a piece of work for me to want to print it larger. But in general I shoot with the following in mind:

  • 35mm sensor 18 to 25mp  - 22 inches (equal to between about 250 and 272dpi).
  • 35mm sensor 36mp - 34 inches (equal about 216 dpi).
  • Medium format 80mp - 100cm (equal to about 258 dpi) but with the possibility of up to 125cm (equal to about 206 dpi).

The above list is absolutely full of human inconsistencies and quirks: the smallest print size is for historic reasons that I have almost forgotten but relates to a show I had where most of the images were shot on a 5DII but some were on smaller format cameras and I needed a compromise print size that worked across the board. It then became my standard size for editions of prints from frames shot on 35mm. Then along came the Nikon D800 and, if I was showing only work from that camera, I would go as far as 34" on the long side because that gives an image about as large as I can print with margins on my 24" roll printer.

The medium format print size is determined by the fact that from experience, when I send these frames out for commercial printing on larger format printers, 125cm is about the largest I can go and get a print to the quality that satisfies me when viewed up close,  at a distance of around 12-18 inches. On top of all that, I flip flop quite happily between inches and centimetres, having been educated in both systems. This is useful because common photographic calculations also flip flop between imperial and metric.

In other words, my criteria are a mess. And I don't think I'm alone in that. 

However, there is one clear message that comes through: for a good camera with no AA filter and assuming a good capture, I know, reliably, that I will be happy to print to around 210 dpi (actually if pushed, I will go as low as 180 dpi as long as the capture is really good and I am printing on textured fine art paper, which is more forgiving than gloss). And it is that base level of  resolution that I need to use in my DOF calculations. In other words, if an object in an image appears acceptably sharp when printed at around 210 DPI* from an un-cropped frame, then I consider it to be 'in focus' - which means 'within my DOF'. So a DOF calculator which lets me specify print size and resolution is absolutely perfect for me.

Trouble is, my head for resolution, like most photographers', works in DPI (accurately, PPI but for this purpose they are the same thing) but these apps work in line pairs per millimetre.

Here is an example of how to convert:

I know that I can get a good print at an output resolution of 210 DPI

1 inch = 25.4mm

210 PPI /25.4 = 8.26 pixels per mm

8.26 pixels per mm = 4.13 line pairs per mm (two adjacent pixel columns, one black and one white, equal one 'line pair').

In other words, to get DPI translated into Line Pairs Per Millimetre, I merely take my preferred DPI for printing and divide it by 50.8  - and then enter that value into the app.

Eagle eyed readers will spot that though my 210DPI equates to 4.13 LPPMM, I have entered a value of 5 into the screenshot above. This is because the maximum print width that can be specified is 1000mm but I want to print to 1250mm: so to get the 'right' value I have to adjust the 4lppmm in the ratio of 1:1.25 and that gives a value of 5 (trust me, I have checked all this with the app's author and he agrees my arithmetic).

This is a very long-winded way to describe what value you should choose to enter into one parametric window - but it is necessary. Once you understand it, it won't need to be changed often at all.

BTW there is also the option to work with Blur Spot Diameter rather than Print Quality. This will please those who are happy with traditional COC values as a way of thinking of resolution. I am not going to cover this because it isn't how I prefer to work but I will say that the difference between Blur Spot Diameter and COC is irrelevant when it comes to knowing which value to enter: just dial in the COC that you are happy with as if they were the same thing. The true difference is that BSD will take diffraction into account without your needing to think about it any further. Again, I checked this with the app's author.

For those wanting to establish the BSD value to enter into the app, simply calculate a normal COC by taking your sensor's pixel pitch (width of sensor in mm divided by number of pixels on that side), doubling it and multiply by 1000. For example, a D800E's COC calculated this way is 10 microns, though a D800 might resolve slightly less well due to the AA filter. You get the idea.

Having set those parameters according to the above explanations, you can just go back to the main screen, set your shooting distance and fire away in the knowledge that whatever objects fall within the distance parameters of the two red lines will appear in acceptable focus at your chosen print size and resolution or COC settings.

Or can you? Does it work?

Mostly. There are some problems though.

  1. Firstly, very few camera systems let you set shooting distance with the requisite degree of accuracy. I used a High Precision Focussing Ring on my Rodenstock and even that isn't quite precise enough.
  2. Secondly, even if your lens were to allow you to set focus distances to the exact millimetre, the means of entering and reading data in the app are not refined enough for truly accurate use: the scales are simply too course for you to read a very accurate value from.
  3. The inaccuracies in 1) and 2) above might cancel each other out - or they might stack up. To get an accurate system, every component must be as accurate as possible individually.
  4. There are some aspects of optical systems that no calculator (except possibly made by the lens manufacturers using data they don't share) can help you with. Focus shift (residual spherical aberration) can blow all this out of the water, for example: the app has to assume no focus shift because it is a parameter that varies from lens to lens and behaves differently depending on how that lens is deployed. And the individual shape of a particular lens's field of focus, which will vary with aperture and distance, means that the placement and depth of the field of focus varies across the frame. Finally, individual lens designs (asymmetrical for example) can change the math a little, especially at macro distances. Again, nothing is going to help you with any of that other than 10,000 hours of practice and a sharp eye.

Nonetheless I have already found the app very useful in the field - and far more useful than anything else I have tried. I will give some examples below. I want to add this though: the thing that sets experienced photographers apart from the 'my cousin's got an SLR and can do it for half your price' crowd is the 10,000 hours of practice we have. That 10,000 hours means that we have a sixth sense for DOF and can often judge it very finely. So I think this app is of most use to the less experienced user, or to the expert who is using some new equipment and wants a short cut, or to those who want a sanity check or require greater precision than usual and need the best starting point for some bracketing. All that said, I have been using it blithely and getting really nice results.

All of this is a very useful update to a fundamentally traditional way of using DOF. For something more revolutionary, there is another app: OptimumCS-Pro has a very neat special trick: you tell it the distance to the nearest and furthest objects in your field of view that you want in acceptable focus and it will tell you if it can be done and, if it can, exactly where to focus and what aperture to set. Neat, eh?

It basically works in a way very similar to the above description but there are some wrinkles so let's take a more detailed look.

Here's the main screen:

photo copy 11 You will recognise the left hand input dial for lens focal length. But in the central panel, instead of you entering your shooting distance you enter your near and far object distances. The app then calculates the optimal focus distance, indicated by the red triangle marker. It also tells you, in the left-hand panels, which aperture to set and, with the blue triangle marker, what resolution you will get expressed in either line pairs per millimetre (shown) or optionally in Blur Spot Diameter (if that's how you roll). The keen eyed reader will see that though this suggested combination gives you a suggested F10 and indicates that within the zone indicated by the distance markers, a resolution of around 22 line pairs per millimetre will be achieved in a 250mm wide print. The very observant reader will also notice three little dots below that, and they refer to the resolutions that would be achieved were you to opt for apertures of one, two and three stops lower than suggested.

Now all of this is excellent in theory but there are some problems.

  • For those who think in DPI rather than LPPMM, some math is required to understand what the resolution numbers mean. Effectively, it is the reverse of the process I described for the first app, above, but with the additional need to convert for the print size, which in this app cannot be set parametrically and is fixed at 250mm. In the arithmetic above I showed that 210DPI is, for a 1250mm print, 4.13 lppmm. So for a print one fifth that width we translate that into a requirement of around 21 lppmm. But this is an irritating further step when working quickly and the inconsistency between the two apps is notable.
  • The slider blobs for entering distance are hard to set accurately (they move as you lift your finger) and they are so big that you sometimes can't get them close enough together to set the distances you want to set. Also, the scales are too impressionistic to either set or read a distance to the degree of accuracy required.

Before we look at how well this works let's take a look a the setting screen, where some other neat possibilities are revealed.

photo copy 4 Firstly, you will see that this is the place to set your sensor width. Next, aside from the buttons for Info (help) and useful external links, you will note two further options: one is to work with Blur Spot Diameter (I described this above in reference to the first app and the implementation and implications are similar here). But more excitingly for users of technical cameras, there is the option to work in Image Space rather than Object Space. If you don't know what that means, it won't matter - but if you do, then it might prove extremely useful to you.

Does it work?

I have played, used and tested - three different activities. In play mode, it's a hoot, I really like it despite the niggles. In real world use, it provides at worst a very useful close starting point to getting things exact and it will now be a part of my normal workflow. In fact on a challenging shoot today it just worked, every time. You can't say better than that. Here's an example, and clicking it will load a 50% resolution image in a new window. The aim was to get the front of the desk and everything on the desktop in focus and everything else out of focus. Not easy at close distance and with 80mp... but it worked perfectly: in fact, if you look very closely you will see that the right hand table leg (square carving at top) is sharper than the left - and that is because the one on the left was very slightly closer because I was very slightly off perfectly square to the subject. Now that really is precise!


But in testing, the app doesn't quite prove itself as well,  performing more as a great guide than an indisputable oracle. I have my theories as to why this might be but first, let's look at two quick tests.

For these, I used an IQ180 on an Alpa STC technical camera with a Rodenstock 40mm HR lens fitted with a High Precision Focussing ('HPF') ring. In order to measure the exact distances involved I used a Leica Disto D510, an extremely accurate laser distance measure. I also used as much care as I could muster. Theoretically this combination should give about the tightest results currently possible. 

The first test involved two barcodes placed at 2 and 3 metres distance. For reference I put two further barcodes in frame at 50cm before and behind my main subjects. I then used the Disto to focus on the 2 metre subject and shot it accordingly at F10, then repeated the exercise for the 3 metre subject. These provide good benchmarks for 'the best the system can do'. Next, I used the app to determine the optimal focus distance and aperture (f10) then I shot at that distance as marked on the lens's HPF ring. Then I looked at the results at 50% zoom on a 100dpi monitor, which emulates my required DOF quite well, especially given that this combination of shooting parameters should have given at least 22 lppmm resolution for both near and far targets compared to my requirement of 21 lppmm. Then I also shot a frame at F8 which should have given me resolution just below my requirement. The results are below in the order stated and they clearly show that for the F10 shot, whilst the 3 metre target is close to acceptable when compared to its benchmark, the 2 metre target isn't. 

(All frames reproduced at exactly half of shot pixel dimensions. If you are unsure that your browser is rendering them inline at the right resolution, clicking any of them will load the image into a new window from which you can drag it into Lightroom or similar for reliable viewing)




CF002517 I put these results in 'close but only a cigarillo' territory:  not quite accurate enough for critical use. But this is quite a close range test, and at close ranges all inaccuracies are magnified by the fact that DOF is much narrower at close distances. And clearly, I was trying to shoot with as little headroom as possible to see how the system performed at the margins.

So I ran a 'close to real world' test, with two Reikan targets at more or less random distances but significantly further away. The nearest target is at 4.73 metres and the furthest (hard right) is at 6.473 metres. Behind that, for blur reference, is a Rodenstock box at 7.1 metres.

Entering 4.73 and 6.473 gave a suggested focus distance of around 5.4 (it is impossible to read this distance exactly from the app's scale) and an aperture of F6.3 so I set the camera accordingly at that aperture, at which I should have achieved a massive overshoot of over 30 lppmm compared to my required 21 lppmm. So I also shot a frame a stop wider, which should have given me 26 lppmm - still a significant overshoot.

The results are as follows and in the following order:

  1. Disto focus near target at F6.3
  2. Disto focus far target at F6.3
  3. App suggested focus distance and aperture (f6.3)
  4. App suggested focus distance but shot at F4.5




CF002523 It is clear to me that the results are acceptable but not perfect, despite the indicated resolution overkill. In fact the near target appears slightly closer to its benchmark frame in the F4.5 shot than it does in the F6.3 shot, which is initially counterintuitive. In any event, the results are better than in the first, closer range test, as we might expect.

So what's going on? Here are my theories (and remember, the app is performing as part of a complex system with many other parts which all contribute to the result):

  • I screwed up ( I don't think so but hey, it happens).
  • The Disto measurement should be taken from the diaphragm rather than the sensor plane, as I did (try finding the answer to that one in a hurry but I believe I did this correctly).
  • The math or the theory in the app is wrong (I seriously doubt this).
  • The input and readout scales on the app are not usable with sufficient accuracy (I am quite certain that is true and I suspect this to be the main, but not the only, cause of end-result inaccuracies).
  • The High Precision Focus Ring on the Rodenstock is either not perfectly placed (I installed it myself, standard practice, but I was very careful) or not perfectly accurate or is insufficiently finely calibrated (quite possible: the near and far benchmark frames are pretty good but they might well not be absolutely optimal).
  • The lens has some focus shift when stopped down (I tested it, it does, a little - and this is probably why the near target is a touch better in the F4.5 frame).

For whatever reason or combination of reasons, the imaging chain of which the app was a part in these tests wasn't quite able to 'nail it' in either of these tests. I think there are too many steps in the process which are vulnerable to minor imprecision for the end result to be perfect. But this might well not be the fault of the app at all and at the very worst, its suggestions work as a very close starting point. At greater distances and in my real world use it is proving extremely useful.

I have been in contact with George about these issues and he is actively considering making updates that address some of them. In particular, he is interested in making the transition to using DPI as the resolution measure, rather than LPPMM. And he is keen to make the input and readout accuracy more refined. He was also very responsive to some suggestions I had regarding the sorts of FAQs that might be addressed in the already excellent Info/Help section.


Neither of these apps is a quite a miracle - but they are both a true blessing. I haven't found anything nearly as useful elsewhere, and they are hardly expensive. Any serious photographer would find them useful but, for users of lenses with impressionistic distance scales, the results might be less predictable. For my purposes, both apps taken together constitute about the best value 'bang for your buck' of any photographic purchase I've made. Everyone should have them.

* this 210 DPI is a very convenient number: it makes good prints and it is also very close to both a traditional 100dpi monitor displaying an image at 50% zoom or a Retina screen showing an image at 100% zoom - in other words, it lets you preview your resolution and your DOF quite accurately before you print, with no effort)




This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) App DOF Depth of field George Douvos OptimumCS-Pro TrueDOF-Pro ashley calculator diffraction iPhone tashley tim https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/6/depth-of-field---apps-with-depth-of-function Fri, 07 Jun 2013 17:22:52 GMT
Leica M240 with the 90mm F4 Macro Elmar - Some Observations https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/leica-m240-with-the-90mm-f4-macro-elmar---some-observations The tiny 90mm Macro Elmar (AKA 'the pocket rocket') is one of my favourite lenses of all time and was one of the reasons I wanted to buy an M240 - and it seems very happy to raise its game to match the new sensor: despite its sometimes slightly wobbly feel (due to the collapsible design) it performs very nicely indeed once extended and locked into place.

I have now shot enough frames on the M240 to believe that it takes second place, in the interchangeable lens sub-medium format category, to no camera but the D800/E when judged by overall IQ alone. But when system size, weight and flexibility of focussing method are taken into account it is actually a better camera in most of the respects that matter to me, for prints up to about 30" wide.

A close 'D800 system' competitor lens in terms of image quality is the Nikon 85mm F1.8G. It is huge in comparison to the Macro Elmar, albeit benefitting from being over two stops faster. So if you, like me, sometimes want to travel light without compromising on quality, then the difference in bulk between these two lenses is very material. A really nice travel kit is the 35mm Lux FLE and the 90mm M-E, a setup that can cover a huge number of bases in terms of subject distance, field of view and light gathering ability if used carefully. Carrying a D800 system with lenses of similar ability (say, the 85mm 1.8G and the Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART lens) will  incur a very significant penalty in terms of weight and bulk. So, as long as you don't mind the added mugging risk (perceived or real) then the Leica system wins hands down for travel. IMHO.

Let's take a look at the Macro Elmar in detail.

Bad news first: the colour shifts endemic to the digital M system are not fully dealt with in current firmware for this lens. You would think that by a focal length of 90mm this problem would be long gone but it isn't, and it remains sufficiently significant to risk being visible in real world use. Here is the F4 frame and clicking on it leads to a gallery with frames shot at all apertures. I expect this behaviour to improve with further firmware updates but for now, it is the main fly in some otherwise effective ointment.


An aperture series follows. The F4 frame is shown here and clicking on it leads to frames shot at all apertures. These are available from that gallery at full resolution, should you want to peep in detail. They were shot with focus made with the rangefinder wide open and then not changed throughout the series and, in common with most of the lenses I have tested on the M240 this is the best way to focus if you want the best average performance across the frame, particularly if you value sharp edges on planar subjects. I will come back to this.


My observations are as follows: performance from centre to edge is already more than acceptable at F4 and the best average across the frame is at F5.6 with diffraction setting in at F8, just. F11 is still pretty acceptable and beyond that, I would not stop down further unless there was a pressing DOF need because diffraction becomes a real issue. 

The field of focus seems only very slightly curved and the MTF suggests that this is the case. However, it is just sufficient (and visually it is clear that the effect is due to the MTF 40 astigmatism between sagittal and tangential) for the edges to appear a touch weaker when focussed in certain ways. For more information on this very complex subject, you might want to read my articles on the 35mm Lux FLE and on Field curvature but in short, if you focus the Macro Elmar with the rangefinder you will probably get better edges at F5.6 and F8 than if you focus it using the EVF when stopped down. That is my experience of the lens and it accords with both theory and with the MTF. It results, in brief, from the effects of moving the overall zone of good focus into slightly different positions when focussing wide open versus focussing when stopped down. In any event, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and I have made very nice 34" prints, sharp from edge to edge, by focussing the lens with the rangefinder alone.

In terms of focus shift, there may be a very slight tendency for the field of focus to shift backwards as you stop down but in my usual series of close range tests, it isn't at all clear and in any event, the point of focus always remains in good focus. However, the above-noted tendency of the lens to focus distant planar subjects better in terms of edge sharpness when using wide open focus rather than stopped down focus might indicate a the slight focus shift - it's just that the centre remains in good focus either way, so the edge behaviour is the 'tell' that might indicate this behaviour.

One point to make: the M240 is of sufficiently high resolution to mean that the old rule of 'shoot handheld at 1/focal length' is no longer enough to guarantee good results. I find that many shots at 1/90th second show a little motion blur and unfortunately the M240's Auto ISO settings don't let you specify any other ratio (as of this writing: I expect this to change in future firmware) so I suggest using a minimum shutter speed of 1/125th.

On to colour aberrations. I rarely see any, at least not of any significance. This is at least in part due to the fact that the modest maximum aperture puts the lens into safe territory in this regard. Below is a shot at maximum aperture taken into a bright sky and you will have to hunt very  hard to find any 'purples'. Click the image to load full a resolution version in a new window.


If the lens seems impressively immune to fringing, the story regarding flare is slightly less rosy. Most of the time it's just fine (the hood is deep and I always use it) but if you shoot into the sun, even with the sun out of the frame, you can get images that look like the following - and no, it wasn't a foggy day!


The upside of this veiling flare is that for contre jour portraits, it can provide a creatively desirable effect. Which raises a philosophical/psychological point: if a lens (or camera, or outfit, partner, holiday...) has enough about it that you love, its flaws become not just forgivable, but something you commit to working with until you can find a way of enjoying them. Here endeth the lesson.

Distortion is quite well controlled but there is an oddity, which is that to me, an image corrected using the 'official' profile in Lightroom, looks less good than an uncorrected version. Here follow uncorrected (first) and corrected versions of the same shot.

L1002641 L1002641-2 Bokeh characteristics are very 'pleasant' but not utterly stellar. Here is an example of bokeh both near and far in one shot, wide open:


One useful trick the lens has up its sleeve is the indicated by the 'Macro' designation: it used to be available without the Macro adaptor and that is how I purchased it, so I am limited to a close focus range of .77m but with the adaptor, you can get to .5m and a magnification ratio of 1:3. However, even without the adaptor, the lens can make pleasant close up images and for these, a tripod and EVF can guarantee the sort of accuracy in focussing which is harder to achieve with the rangefinder alone.



I consider the look of the lens in general to be very 'kind' - it is a medium-high rather than high contrast optic, it is very (but not surgically) sharp -  and the 'pleasant' bokeh rounds out the gentle but accurate style in which it renders. It is also extremely versatile and makes a great portrait lens (I am sorry not to include a portrait shot here, time and unavailability of beautiful people at close hand has not allowed me to make one I like). It also absolutely keeps up with the advance in sensor resolution offered by the M240, though I suspect that it will show a graceful decline at ever higher resolutions, probably remaining truly useful not much beyond 30mp for those wanting sharpness across the frame. But for now, it packs all the power of much larger, heavier lenses into a tiny package, with the added bonus of macro ability should you want. I use it for a really wide variety of subject types and as noted above, it is perfect for travel.

The 90mm F4 Macro Elmar is so small and unassuming, so quirky in form and in action, so unlike any other lens, that it can sometimes be tempting not to take it altogether seriously, to assume that it trades quality for convenience. That would be a mistake. It is an absolute gem.

Here are some more shots, all available at larger sizes in the gallery

note to readers: this is the last in my series of reviews of a variety of lenses on the M240. Soon I will be publishing a global roundup review of the entire system, with several thousand frames under my belt, and an answer to the question I posed a the outset: "for those who love their M lenses, is the M240 a great way to use them or does it start to show their weaknesses?" In other words, given that I, personally, purchased the M240 as a way to use my existing glass, will I keep the system now that I have looked at all the lenses I own in some depth?

L1002179 L1002034-Edit-Edit L1002196 L1002150 L1002044 L1002175



This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 90mm Elmar F4 Leica M M 240 M240 Macro field review lens observations review tashley test tim ashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/leica-m240-with-the-90mm-f4-macro-elmar---some-observations Fri, 31 May 2013 10:00:00 GMT
Leica M240 with the 50mm F1 Noctilux - Some Observations https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/leica-m240-with-the-50mm-f1-noctilux---some-observations Historically I have thought of this lens as The Dream Weaver. Shot at wider apertures it can make the most poetic of images from the most prosaic of subjects and yet, when stopped down, it becomes a gritty realist, a lens of more serious technical ability.

It is simply not possible to make lenses that perform perfectly at the enormous maximum apertures possible with the Noctilux and whilst some of the 'issues' that occur with very large apertures are an integral and indispensable part of 'the look', others are merely troublesome. I received an email yesterday from a reader who has just proudly put his new F0.95 version (a lens I do not own) on his M240 and, shooting wide open against the light, been very put out by the resulting coloured fringes around the highlit edges.

So the key to these lenses is to know what they can and cannot do and to use them accordingly. And of course, these abilities will vary from camera to camera: for example, the F1 lens has a very, very odd field of focus when shot wide open and how this interacts with a particular camera will depend on the method of focus and the exact point at which the size of the sensor crops the image circle of the lens. This makes the 'feel' of the lens very different on, for example, Micro 4/3rds sensors, APS sensors and full frame. Whether you have sharp edges or midfield weakness will vary accordingly. In addition, the lens has notable colour shifts and these will appear in different places and with differing intensities according to the micro-lens configuration of each particular sensor.

In other words, like all lenses, it is not possible to summarise the F1 Noctilux in a general way. It is a different lens on each different camera model. So today's piece will look in particular at how it performs on the M240 only.

The first two uncropped images, both shot at F1, are very instructive. Click on them for larger versions.

L1002258 L1002284 The thing that is immediately apparent in both shots is the 'doughnut vortex' shape that results from the interaction between the lens's wave-like field of focus, bokeh characteristics, and highly detailed subject matter. That swirl, so pronounced in both these images, can be accompanied by unexpected placement of focus, too - as in the first image. Planar subjects will show this very clearly, subjects with depth will hide it but its effects can be felt rather than very explicitly seen.

It is this effect that lies at the root of the dreamy feel of shots made wide open. Understanding how to place and use it lies at the root of using the lens well. Other contributors to the effect are the high degree of astigmatism wide open, veiling flare, the very shallow DOF, the slew of colour aberrations and the high degree of vignetting. In fact the vignetting can be so strong as to make full correction an impracticality and, at F1 through F2.8 it can affect metering quite significantly.

So let's look at the colour and vignetting issues in more detail.

The M240, with coded lenses, (which mine is) will apply corrections to the colour casts so often found in the interactions between M lenses and M sensors despite careful design of the micro lens array on the sensors. Each lens is different and the effect depends on the FOV of the lens (wide angled lenses tend to be worse), the aperture, and the distance of the rear element of the lens from the sensor. These factors, taken together, create a 'ray angle' at which the light coming through the aperture is directed towards the sensor. This angle is 90 degrees on centre, but a lot more acute at the edges and it is at the edges that the problem is most evident as different wavelengths of light are transmitted and bent to different extents.

Wide open, (and with current firmware version even with corrections applied, the F1 Noctilux on the M240 is not perfectly corrected for colour shifts:


Click on the image above to go to a gallery that has a full aperture series. What is and isn't acceptable for colour shooting will vary from photographer to photographer but for me, if I want acceptable colour accuracy from the lens, F5.6 or F8 is required. That is 'no biggie' because this is primarily a creative lens and I tend to use it in B&W (do we dream in colour?) or on scenes where colour accuracy isn't important. The shots also show the extent of the vignetting, which again does not clear until F8 and which has a characteristic sharp edge, making it hard to correct. Again, use the lens creatively and not technically when shot at wider apertures.

The lens is also prone to standard chromatic aberrations of the types that lead to fringing. Indeed at wider apertures, these fringes can be so wide as to be very hard to correct without affecting colours in the rest of the frame. But in B&W the effects are merely part of the soft glow of the lens, and are therefore welcome. Here is a crop from the centre of a frame shot at F1 against the light. Clicking on it will lead to a series thru F4, at which aperture it is well enough controlled for my needs.



A quick look at distortion: I consider this a non-issue with the lens - it is not extreme and it is easy to correct. Here are uncorrected and (largely) corrected frames, though there are no profiles available in Lightroom so the tweak must be done manually.



An aperture series with the lens is very instructive. Here is an F1 frame and clicking on it will lead to the entire series. When viewing that series you will, by clicking to view a larger version and then by mouseover, be able to load full-sized versions.

L1001580 For the lazy reader here are my observations:

  1. Between F1 and F2.8 the scene retains the dream-like feel for which the lens is famous but the centre is pretty sharp even from F1.4 and given that there is no strong back-lighting, from F1.4 colour fringing is not as intrusive as it can be. Colour shifts are clear in the sky but hey, this is a dream, right?
  2. F4 and F5.6 appear superficially to have tightened up but closer examination shows that there is still notable midfield weakness. This is still visible to the careful eye even at F8.
  3. F8 is the first aperture at which the lens should be considered capable of a more 'technical' performance but the midfield weakness doesn't really clean up to my standards until F11. However, at F11, diffraction is a little less than I would expect and I would happily shoot the lens at either F8 or F11 from the point of view of cross-frame sharpness, colour shift and fringing and vignetting if I wanted a clean image. F16 is too diffracted unless one really needs the DOF.

But the story doesn't end here. At close range, the lens has very notable focus shift on stopping down from F1 thru F5.6. Indeed, whether you focus with either EVF or RF wide open (and on my M294 the results are about the same) near-field subjects will move radically out of focus at F1.4 thru F4 and not really get back into full focus until F8. This is evident from the series linked to from the below crop, which was shot with RF focus. But don't worry about the fact that initial focus is at somewhere between -3 and -2 on the scale: I did that on purpose so that you can see how the focus moves rearwards.


Piecing the above series of findings together is complex but there are strong shooting implications to be drawn from the exercise.

  1. The focus shift does not affect the series shot across the harbour to any significant degree. The DOF at distance is enough to 'contain' the focus shift. But at close range the shift can lead to a carefully focussed subject being totally OOF. 
  2. The harbour series was shot by focussing once, wide open, with focus agreeing between the EVF and the RF. But I also shot another series in which I used the EVF to refocus every frame as I shot down and that series was a mess. This is because the RF is very well calibrated to take account of how the field of focus moves and changes as you stop down. You will need to read my article on field curvature and on the 35mm FLE Lux to appreciate in full why this is (I won't repeat all that complex material here) but in short the rules for successful shooting of the F1 Nocti on the M240 are:
  • At close range use the RF to focus if shooting wide open but use the EVF to focus if shooting at apertures between F1.4 and F5.6
  • At distance shoot using the RF to focus

These suggestions really work for me in the field. But of course there are distances somewhere between close and far and I am still working on that! My provisional suggestion is that 'close' runs up to about three to four meters. However the wave-shaped field of focus, which clearly asserts itself even at F5.6, makes the issue more complex so I add rule three:

  • If you want to focus and recompose, bracket like crazy at any distance and any aperture under F11 when at close range.

So we have established that this lens is one tricky customer, right? But it has a serious upside: it can make images that I, personally, really love. Here are two.

L1002318 (the above frame is very cropped, the below frame only slightly so. Both shot at F1)

L1002599 This lens is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. But nightmares too, if you want it to be a consistent and reliable friend. Learn it inside out and it will reward you more than any other optic I know. Use it as a point and shoot, and you will shoot yourself in the foot.

Finally: for the non-Leica shooter who wants to emulate this look at a far lower cost, try the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art lens in most popular mounts. It will give you a fair dose of the dream (but without the F1 and without the swirl, both of which I personally treasure) for around an eighth of the cost and it will do so with AF, though given the choice between focussing the Noctilux at F 1.4 with the EVF and the Sigma on a D800E with AF, I would take the Nocti every time for focussing accuracy as long as the subject was on centre.

Here are two very similar shots, both at F1.4, one with each of these lenses... don't try to guess which is which, just ask yourself if you prefer one to the other.

L1002631 _DSC1987



This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 50mm F1 Leica M M 240 M240 Nocti Noctilux field review lens observations review tashley test tim ashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/leica-m240-with-the-50mm-f1-noctilux---some-observations Fri, 24 May 2013 11:07:13 GMT
Leica M240 with 28mm Summicron - Some Observations https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/leica-m240-with-28mm-summicron---some-observations Boring.

This was never an exciting lens on the M8 or M9 - always very useful, always a little dull. Its virtues are many: it has a reputation for good flare resistance, medium high contrast that can handle a bright day, fairly low distortion, good sharpness, low field curvature and no notable focus shift. For these reasons and for the fact that it has a very reliable placement of DOF in use, and that it is a useful focal length for travel, street and landscape, it was one of my most used lenses. But on the M240 it has gone from 'slightly dull but useful' to 'not as good as it used to be'. Consequently it has also slipped from 'most used' to 'little used'.


In short, it isn't sharp enough across the frame until F8 to fulfil the 'bigger prints' promise of the M240 sensor. I put this down to the peripheral falloff in the sagittal and tangential MTF 40 even at F5.6. It also seems to lack sparkle and micro-contrast across the frame - a phenomenon that I put down to the wave in tangential MTF 40 and the astigmatism between sagittal and tangential. Also, colour shifts across the frame are evident with current M240 firmware, even when the lens is stopped down. It is still far better than most lenses on most cameras, of course, but it is no longer a must-have, for me at least.

The aperture series tells all: the lens just doesn't get its act together at the edges convincingly until F8 and that is where diffraction is just starting to take the shine of the cherry on centre. Click the image to go to a gallery which has all files from F2 thru 16 and take a look.L1002080

For me, that just isn't interesting enough: it's not as if the lens has enormous character or sparkle to compensate, either. But it does have enough micro-contrast on centre to provoke moire on the M240 - see the following file (click for full size or merely look at the provided crop below).

L1002426 L1002426 As you can see, it is not just the colour artefacts that are clearly evident: there's also the 'maze' shaped pattern moire so familiar from the M9 and so very hard to process away convincingly. I once lost a shot that really mattered to this effect.

On the M9, the lens corrections for the Cron weren't perfect. I don't have test frames from that combination to show a comparison but what matters here is that as a system, the M240/28Cron combo (with current firmware as of March 2013) doesn't do quite well enough and there are some residual shifts, even when stopped down, that will sometimes show up in the sky and possibly in other types of subject. Here is the F2 frame  - click on it to go to the entire series.



Moving on to distortion - below are uncorrected and corrected frames and for me, they show that this is a non-issue.

L1002512 L1002512-2 Onto flare. Generally, the lens handles it very well if shot with the hood on, but its reputation for being bullet proof in this regard is misplaced: you can provoke it quite easily though I must say that few lenses can cope with having the sun in the frame like this and that generally the lens performs well as long as this situation is avoided. Here's what happens when it goes wrong:

L1002135 On the plus side, it is really very hard to provoke colour aberrations of the fringe variety. The above file, when viewed it a 100%, shows almost no purple problems, when most fast wide lenses would be afflicted.

So there are some moderate problems with the lens but there are also silver linings and they are not to be underestimated. It performs in a generally well-mannered and predictable fashion on the M240 and, unlike with some other lenses, I do not see strange interactions of focus shift and field curvature (despite that mini-tsunami MTF) that can lead to anomalous results when using stop-down EVF focus. Instead I find, as I always previously did, that it lets me very reliably place the field of focus where I want it. That may also partly be a result of my long experience with it but for whatever reason, it is very useful. Scenes such as the following are deceptively difficult to handle with some lenses but with the 28 Cron, you can get pretty much everything, near to far, in great focus handheld and with no sweat, albeit at F8 - click for full size.



Should you want to do the opposite and explore the lens's bokeh characteristics, a few examples follow. I add more shots than usual here because this is one of the Cron's stronger points: wides often have an obviously 'nervy' bokeh but this one is relatively smooth. Click for larger files. All shot at F2 and F2.8.

L1002493 L1002437


I might have become mildly hooked on tricky lenses (such as the 35 Lux or the Nikkor 28mm F1.8G) because here, with the 28 Cron, I have a solid, reliable lens that doesn't mess me about. With the exception of the potential for some residual colour cast issues and the need to stop down to F8 for certain kinds of scene, it does pretty much what you want pretty much all of the time. But I don't expect it to remain current much longer than the current or next generation M: it needs a makeover at some point. Not urgently, but soon-ish. It should achieve edge sharpness by F5.6 and the colour shifts should be better controlled.

And it's boring.



This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.


tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) 28mm Cron F2 Leica M M 240 M240 Summicron field review lens observations review tashley test tim ashley https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/leica-m240-with-28mm-summicron---some-observations Fri, 17 May 2013 16:35:51 GMT
Burtynsky, Bailey, Becker, Carlos Clarke, Danziger, Friedlander, Jones Griffiths, Kander, Maisel.... https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/burtynsky-bailey-becker-maisel-kander-roberts-swannell-carlos-clarke-danziger ....Roberts, Swannell: some really big name bargains to be had!

There's an amazingly rich and varied auction of contemporary landscape photography coming up next week to raise funds for Positive View, the highly influential 'new kid on the block' charity for participatory photography in the UK. Some of the contributing photographers are listed above and, rather than reproduce all the images here, you might want to have a look at the catalogue because, whether or not you are able or willing to support the charity by bidding on a print, it contains some amazing images from many of the world's elite photographers and represents a veritable tour d'horizon of what is hot in the genre.

Positive View (run by the very well connected photographic expert Andrew Page) was founded in 2011 and has already staged some fascinating exhibitions. It aims to make significant grants to other organisations with the established methodologies to run participatory photography projects with young people. This auction (on Wednesday 15th May 2103 at Christie's in London) will see the formal launch of the Positive View Education Program, through which these grants will be made. Global auction house Christie's have very generously waived all fees - which will make acquiring one of these amazing images even more of a bargain.

As regular readers will know, I am an ambassador for Photovoice, an amazing charity that has for many years been honing the participatory methodologies that Positive View seeks to encourage and support.

Photovoice 'does what it says on the tin' which is:

"PhotoVoice’s mission is to build skills within disadvantaged and marginalised communities using innovative participatory photography and digital storytelling methods so that they have the opportunity to represent themselves and create tools for advocacy and communications to achieve positive social change."

The charity has been doing this since 2003, with roots stretching back a further five years. I personally give proceeds from some prints sales to them and support them in other ways too - including encouraging visitors to this site to donate! I have also worked on one of their projects, for users of mental health services, over the course of many weeks and can testify to the transformative powers of the method. I watched people who have been dealt a very poor hand in life blossom before my eyes as they gained the skills and confidence to document their own lives and to allow other people to see those lives from an inside perspective. Many of the participants also made work that put my own to shame, in terms of honesty, originality and sheer creative zest.

Photovoice gets its hands dirty: its dedicated staff and volunteers have worked with street gangs, victims of sex trafficking, children's rights groups, sexually exploited children, and a host of other projects with vulnerable and disadvantaged children and adults in the UK and around the world. They do this in circumstances that are often uncomfortable or dangerous and they do it with very limited funding.

So if you are a photographer with any belief that image making with a camera has the power to transform the way that you, and others, see the world - and if you would love to combine your passion with some directly relevant charitable giving, please consider looking at the auction lots. You don't have to be there on the night: there are instructions on the Positive View site as to how you might bid in either the Live or Silent auctions from anywhere in the world. But if you do want to be there, let me know via this site and I will try to arrange tickets - I can't promise, they are the hottest tickets in town at the moment, but I can try.

And for the gear heads: I have two images in the auction and they were both shot on a Sony RX-1 (which I have previously reviewed on this site) so, as you can see, that diminutive camera really is capable of results that can hang in any company.

Thank you for listening.



tim@timashley.com (Tim Ashley Photography) Auction Christie's Photovoice charity participatory photography photography positive view foundation' Landmark show exhibition landscape https://tashley1.zenfolio.com/blog/2013/5/burtynsky-bailey-becker-maisel-kander-roberts-swannell-carlos-clarke-danziger Thu, 09 May 2013 09:00:59 GMT