The 35mm f1.4 pre-aspheric Summilux on the A7

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Mel Snyder
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The 35mm f1.4 pre-aspheric Summilux on the A7
4 months ago

Back in 1984, on a layover in Frankfurt on the way to Tokyo, I saw a shopkeeper pulling down the steel grate on his camera shop, and caught a glance of this Summilux and a price in Deutschmarks I quickly calculated at $325. I rushed into his shop, bought it - and the following morning, used it to shoot some photos before boarding for Tokyo. Its serial number suggests it was manufactured in Canada in 1981, when all M mounts were being built there.

I shot lots of images in Tokyo with the lens at a boy-girl kendo competition, but mostly at f5.6-f8 in Tokyo's well-lit Budo-kan arena. I discovered when I got home that the lens wasn't very good at f1.4, and for the next 10-15 years, I was afraid of using it except in well-lit circumstances. It would vignette pretty heavily in the corners, and was pretty flat across the frame.

Fast forward to 2013, and acquisition of an NEX-6. On an APS-C sensor, it was still flat across the frame at f1.4, none too sharp - but by f2-2.8 it was great. No vignetting at all.

And so, a few days ago, I set up my outdoor test of the lens on the A7. And it was 1984 all over again. The issues seen 30 years ago are still there. I believe the issues are not, as some have suggested, issues in the A7/r sensors with "wide angle" old M lenses. I see nothing I didn't see in film, only now, thanks to digital and computers, I see it much better. And we're spoiled by much superior software-correctable lenses at lower cost.

Collectors have driven the cost of this lens up to astronomical prices that have no connection to it utility as a mirrorless camera lens. It is not now, and never was, a lens for landscapes - it was for low-light journalistic shooting on the virtually silent-shutter M cameras of the 1980s.

So how does it perform on the A7? What follows are the OOC jpegs and the best I could do without rigorous LR with the corresponding raw file. At the end I show the LR settings of the corrected image at f2.8

OOC jpeg at f1.4

@1.4 with LR

OOC jpeg at f2

@ f2 with LR

OOC jpeg @ f2.8

@f2.8 with LR

OOC jpeg @ f4

@f4 with LR

OOC jepg @ f5.6

@f5.6 after LR

OOC jpeg @ f8

@f8 after LR

Screen shot of LR setting at f2

Conclusion: This lens is performing on the A7 roughly as I recall it from the film days. The difference on the A7 is that I can see and avoid issues that I didn't appreciate until I got the negatives into the darkroom.

Would I recommend buying it today for digital? Absolutely NOT! This lens is a perfect example of why wide-angle rangefinder lenses are a poor investment vs. modern computed-for-digital lenses. The old lenses were never designed to be used as amateur photographers want to use them - e.g. landscapes. Even by f8, after LR of raw images, the corners and edges aren't the equal of my 16-50 PZ on my NEX-6 at f8.

I know nothing personally of the FE 35mm f2.8 except for the DPR review, which didn't impress me as being light years ahead of the old Summilux at f2.8-f4. And I really like the fact that my A7 with the old Summilux is much smaller than my M4P with the same lens (although the shutter is much louder).

And unlike the FE 35mm f2.8, I own the Summilux. So I will shoot with it, aware of where its shortcoming will be apparent, and where they won't.

Please note - Leitz was fully aware of the shortcomings of this lens, and eventually replaced it with the much more expensive aspherical model. I have no experience or knowledge of that lens, but I would suspect it is much superior.

I hope this adds some visual information useful to the discussion of M lenses on the A7. The first few images with my 50mm f2 Summicron, 1982, show a totally different result - it is VERY good at f2 and spectacular at f2.8-f4. A few tests of the 90mm f2.8 Tele-Elmarit suggest the same. 50-90mm and up, M mounts are probably all great on the A7.

And the 90mm f2.8 has a front objective of just 39mm, smaller than that of the 16-50 PZ, and fits easily on one's palm. Those who demand Sony produce a small, fast short telephoto should check out that lens - it costs less than what a modern Zeiss would cost.

Lightroom note: As many know, I am red-green color blind, and cannot see magenta. I am totally dependent on the dropper in LR for color correction. For this scene, I used the white from the bright snow bank in front of, and to the right of the big tree in the middle of the frame., and for black, the small bush on the far left lower corner of the frame. Please judge these images for issues other than color, in the likely event I am off due to colors I cannot see.

 Mel Snyder's gear list:Mel Snyder's gear list
Sony Alpha NEX-6 Sony Alpha 7 Sony E 16mm F2.8 Pancake Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 DX Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 +13 more
Sony Alpha 7 Sony Alpha NEX-6
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