Tom D. you spoke the truth. this lens is a pip. Guess my macro problems are solved.
Tom D. you spoke the truth. this lens is a pip. Guess my macro problems are solved.
A few years ago the answer to this question would have been everything. Especially for the new full-frame 7 series cameras, the line-up was woefully poor. In the last three years Sony (and Zeiss) have really stepped up to the plate and launched a goodly selection of high end lenses for the FE (full-frame e-mount) cameras. In fact at this point the wide angle options are pretty much complete. For the normal range there are several excellent options including a 50mm f/1.4, an 85 f/1.4, a 100mm macro and the recently added 70 – 200 F2.8 G Master zoom.
What is left? Telephotos. Now, Sony has added a 100-400mm zoom. But I would say that Sony is lacking a telephoto zoom that reaches 600mm. If I were a sports photographer I’d be looking for a 600mm F/4. But that is a very expensive lens. I think what would be appropriate is for someone like Sigma or Tamron to produce an e-mount version of their existing 150 – 600mm zooms. This would provide the compromise between price and capability that a large number of amateur wildlife and sports shooters would be willing to pay for. In fact I know that if Sony produced this lens it would probably be too expensive. So it is a natural fit for these two third party manufacturers.
The other thing that I would like to see Sony produce is a 200mm macro. I currently use the Minolta version with an adapter but since it’s a screw-drive focus system it either has to be used as a manual focus on the LA-EA3 or with the “translucent mirror of the LA-EA4. Both of these are compromises. I also think the chance of Sony manufacturing this lens is zero. So once again I think this is a good opportunity for Sigma. They already have a long focal length macro and this would probably only require adapting it to the e-mount. This lens probably won’t have as many buyers as a 150-600mm zoom. But I throw it out there because I’m greedy and annoying.
There is a rumor on Sonyalpharumors.com that Sigma is about to announce a major effort to break into the FE market. The initial offering has been guessed to be a 35mm f/1.4. This is a lens that Sigma has done a good job on already in their Art Lens series. Whether it would require a major modification to work on the e-mount is a question.
So if we assume Sigma is looking to get the maximum bang for their buck in the Sony ecosystem then they should go for some of the open focal lengths that they already have technology for. In that case both the 150-600 and 200mm macro are lenses they already make and represent gaps in the Sony line-up.
If you’re listening Sigma, get busy. You make money and I get to stop complaining. A win-win.
You’re welcome Sigma!
A couple of years ago the lament among Sony A7 series users was that there were no lenses for their cameras. It would be hard to make such a claim about wide angle lenses for the A7 cameras today. If you set aside the cine lenses there are 25 e-mount full frame lenses from 10mm to 35mm. Looking only at what Sony manufactures themselves you would still have fifteen lenses. Adding in Rokinon, Tokina, Voigtlander and Zeiss, that number increases to 25.
As mentioned above, this does not count the specialized lenses used for motion picture shoots called cine lenses. Counting all the models from Rokinon, Sigma and Zeiss this adds up to 18 wide angle cine lenses available for full-frame e-mount cameras.
Luckily for me I don’t shoot motion pictures so I’ll take that as an excuse not to say anything about cine lenses. Which is lucky for the reader since I don’t know anything about these lenses and anything I said would be highly suspect.
The fifteen FE lenses manufactured by Sony are divided into several groupings. The supposedly highest quality are the G Master (GM) lenses. Next in quality are the G lenses. After that are the ZA lenses which are produced under quality standards provided by Zeiss. And finally, there are the just plain FE lenses. Honestly, I am of the opinion that the actual qualities of a lens should be determined on a case by case basis. Because of the higher prices for the highest quality classes it’s reasonable to compare equivalent lenses and determine whether the more modestly priced lens gets the job done for you. In general, the biggest advantage of the Sony brand lenses is the alignment of firmware in the lenses and cameras to provide optimized autofocus. It’s possible this also applies to the Zeiss Batis lenses since Zeiss and Sony are linked by cooperative agreements. But that is only speculation on my part. In general, the reputation of the Sony brand lenses is good. The only caveat is that none of the Sony lenses are warranted as water proof. There is mention of weather sealing but I do not believe they are as resistant to moisture as some of the professional grade Canon and Nikon lenses. If water proof ability is needed then check the manufacturer’s warranty.
The next series of lenses I’ll talk about are the Zeiss Loxia and Batis series. Zeiss is an old guard German lens manufacturer with a reputation for producing excellent lenses. And the Zeiss lenses are known to be weather resistant. Up until very recently all of Zeiss’s lenses were manual focus. The Loxia lenses are manual focus lenses. I currently use the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 for landscape and general outdoors shooting. I can attest that it is extremely sharp and has an excellent look to it. I’ve also tried the Loxia 35mm and 50mm focal lengths and found them equally excellent. So, if manual focusing is not a problem (landscape applications) then the Loxia lenses are highly recommended. The Batis are the first Zeiss autofocus lenses. They have the same excellent sharpness and look of Zeiss glass but they come with the advantages of autofocus. They aren’t cheap but they are actually less expensive than the Sony GM equivalents. If you have plenty of money then the Batis line provides another quality choice.
Voigtlander is another old German lens maker. However, I believe the current company is really a Japanese company using the name. Voigtlander provided some lenses for the Leica M-mount that were much less expensive than Leica glass. They weren’t touted as highly as Leica lenses but they had a reputation of being very good. Also, some of their designs were extremely compact. For some types of shooting, like street shooting, this was an advantage. Two lenses that Voigtlander produced in the past were the 12mm and 15mm Heliar designs. These had a good reputation for compact size and low distortion in an extremely wide focal range. Recently Voigtlander re-issued these lenses in e-mount and added to the niche by designing a 10mm wide angle for e-mount. I have used the 12mm and found it to be an excellent lens for its kind. I own the 10mm and also think it’s excellent. But let me give full warning, 10mm and even 12mm are very odd focal lengths. . Even a slight raising or lowering of the of the camera out of the horizontal will cause wild distortions of the objects in the field of view. So, don’t expect to use these lenses for portraits unless you’re in a fun house. I believe Voigtlander will be issuing their 35mm f/1.2 lens in e-mount. That would be an interesting lens to experiment with at f/1.2.
Rokinon makes extremely inexpensive lenses. In the past there were quality problems associated with poorly centered lens components. Lately I’ve heard that the quality control has improved quite a bit. However, it is important to realize that the components and the construction techniques are not built to last forever. Taking that into account you can get excellent results from some of Rokinon’s lenses for comparatively little cost.
Tokina currently has a 20mm e-mount lens. I have not seen it. However, Tokina makes very good lenses. It would be nice to see both Tokina and Sigma get into the full-frame e-mount lens business. It would be good for the competition and good for pricing.
So that’s a rundown on what’s out there. What does it mean? It means you have choices. Even if you have a limited budget you have choices. Because in addition to the lenses I’ve mentioned, if you don’t mind forgoing autofocus you can manually focus almost any lens in the world by using an adapter to put it on your A7 family camera. In addition to adapted manual focus lenses some of the more modestly priced Sony wide angle lenses are actually quite good. The Sony FE 28mm f/2 is $423. I’ve used it and it’s actually extremely good. For another $477 you can add the Sony 16mm Fisheye Conversion Lens and Sony 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens to it and get three focal lengths for a total of $900. The Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Sonnar is the kit lens that’s usually included with the A7 camera. If you buy it separately it’s $700. It’s a good lens and very compact. And now that high ISO really works it’s a perfectly useful lens for indoors too. The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is $300. The autofocus version $550.
If you have more money you have more choices. Voigtlander lenses are between $800 and $1,000. The Zeiss and pricier Sony selections run into the $1,200 to $2,200 range for the wide angle lenses. Are they worth the extra money? To some people. Landscape photographers want the sharpest lenses they can get and they want the nicest colors. They worry about chromatic aberration and distortion. They want a 3-D look where the details pop off the print. They will pay the extra money to get the look they want.
Bottom line, you can get the wide angle lenses you want for the A7 (or A9) cameras. If only the telephotos were so lucky.
For a long-suffering victim of the notorious Sony (A mount/E mount) bait and switch, lenses have been both a sore point and an important topic. Specifically, much thought had to be given to what strategy would allow you to get the kind of photos you wanted now but minimize the cost of eventual lens duplication when Sony finally got their act together and produced a native version. I could go on and on about adapters for every lens mount known to photography, manual lenses of all description from the cheapest old 50mm nifty fifties made with radioactive thorium coatings to top of the line Leica glass costing in excess of $10,000. We could discuss the perils of using wide angle rangefinder lenses on the very short e-mount registration distance and we could discuss the tradeoffs between the slower AF speed of the LAEA3 vs the light loss of the translucent mirror in the LAEA4. We could talk about these things but let’s not. All of these work arounds are like those very old moving pictures from the turn of the 19th century that chronicled the failures in aviation that preceded the Wright Brothers. There were planes that flapped their wings like birds. There were giant corkscrews that pitched around like a top until they toppled over and vibrated apart. And there was that glider with three levels of wings mounted on a bicycle that collapsed as soon as it reached the bottom of the ramp it was on. All these horrors are relics of the past. The only reminders for me are a few modified Contax G lenses and a few adapters for them still hanging around my photography room (very sad).
Now that Sony has gotten around to filling out the FE lens line up to a pretty convincing degree the lens decisions that a Sony photographer has to make are much closer to the decisions that a Canon or Nikon shooter makes. Native or third party? Manual or autofocus? Fast, large, heavy and expensive or slow, small, light and cheap? Interestingly, if you’re short of cash and go for the more reasonably priced choices you sometimes end up with a very satisfactory lens. For instance, the Sony FE 55mm and 28mm lenses are among the least expensive in the line-up but are both very good performers. But there is no getting around the fact that gear acquisition syndrome (G.A.S.) is a very common and seductive disease. I know because I am a sufferer of this disorder. Oh well.
So how do you go about choosing the lenses you should buy? Well, even before you talk about budget, decide on what lenses you do and do not need to do the kind of photography you plan on doing. If you’re a portrait photographer, you won’t need a 10mm wide angle lens. If you shoot high speed sports like motor cross racing you probably want good autofocus capability and a manual focus lens will have limited application. One thing I find interesting is what I find myself using in real life as opposed to what I own. I have a Minolta 200mm macro lens that I typically use on a manual focus adapter. Well actually it’s an LAEA3 and can autofocus but not with a screw drive lens which the Minolta macro is. Anyway, although the primary mission of this Minolta lens is for macro, I find myself using it for all sorts of things. It’s a very sharp lens and I like it for landscape, portraits and even cityscapes. Another example of what I actually use vs what I have is the 35mm focal length. I have the Sony f/1.4 and f/2.8 35mm FE lenses. Without a doubt, the f/1.4 lens is the better lens and in a darker indoor environment it should be my preference. But it is a much bulkier and heavier lens. So, suppose I’m going to a family occasion and want to enjoy myself but still take a few photos. I take the f/2.8. It fits much more conveniently in my jacket pocket and along with the high ISO capability of the Sony A7S does a very nice job without the extra stop of light. And how about autofocus for landscape photography? You might say who needs it? Just set it to infinity and have at it. An interesting question comes up. What if the infinity stop is off by a small amount? Would a good mirrorless autofocus camera be able to correct for this? These are questions that come up. There are some very high quality manual focus lenses now available for Sony e mount. Zeiss and Voigtlander both have some interesting wide angle manual choices. These lenses tend to be much smaller than the autofocus lenses of the same focal length. Should they be an alternative for you?
So, I’ve made some broad statements here that taken alone are pretty meaningless. In the succeeding parts of this sries of posts I’ll concentrate on specifics and some things I think I’ve learned about lens choices for Sony FE cameras.
All but the last three photos were taken with the Loxia 21mm lens on the A7S. This lens has proven to be sharp wide open and corner to corner (of course it gets even sharper when it’s stopped down). The colors are excellent and the lens does not suffer from chromatic aberration or other faults. It is a fantastic lens for any photos that conform to a 21mm focal length. I highly recommend it to any A7-type camera users.
The final three photos in the group above were taken with the Voigtlander 10mm. This lens cannot compare to the Loxia 21mm with respect to corner sharpness, or flare resistance or chromatic aberration. This is not to say that it is bad in these respects. On the contrary for an unbelievably wide 10mm focal length it’s actually amazingly good, just not in the same league with the Loxia. What it does excel at is providing the ability to juxtapose a foreground and background in extremely creative ways that only ultra wide angles can provide. And so if you need that type of composition I wholeheartedly recomment this Voigtlander (or the 12mm version too).
Back in August I took some close-ups of flowers around the yard using the Voigtlander 10mm on the A7S. I confess it’s an odd combination for that application. But it produced some interesting (but odd) results. Here they are.
I thought it might be interesting to Sony Shooters to read about the perspective of someone who came to the brand from the Sony DSLR entrance. Prior to 2009 I was using Pentax DSLRs for my hobby photography. I had a few specialized lenses but other than a good macro lens and a decent mid-range zoom I hadn’t committed much in the way of funds to the system. In 2009 I purchased the Sony A-850. It was the budget full-frame 24 megapixel from Sony and it was a very interesting camera. 24 megapixels was the top of the line at the time for the whole industry and I liked the colors it produced. Mechanically, the shutter and mirror were quite noisy. The auto-focus wasn’t up to Canikon standards. The usable ISO range really didn’t extend beyond 400 unless you were willing to do a significant amount of post processing. But the fact that Sony had not one, but two full frame models available made all Sony users happy and excited about the future.
Then it happened! Sony pulled the rug out from under the users. They announced that there would be no more DSLRs. They introduced the DSLT (digital single lens translucent), basically a beam splitter was added to the light path and the optical viewfinder was replaced with an electronic viewfinder (EVF). In a roundabout way they had gone to the mirrorless side without admitting it. The uproar was long and heated. Many users decided to go to other manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Pentax, etc.), others stocked up on older Minolta and Sony DSLR models and hoped to wait out the changes. Some bought into the DSLT concept.
Personally I wasn’t sure what to do. I read about the ~½ stop light loss caused by the translucent mirror (beam splitter) and the possible image degradation that could entail and decided I didn’t want to go there. I looked at the full frame Canon and Nikon offerings available and felt that professional options were shockingly expensive ($5,000 – $7,000) while the semi-pro models were uninspiring. What was a hobbyist to do?
So I decided not to worry and instead enjoy my A-850 until I decided which way to go. But a funny thing happened. I was shooting some indoor occasion events for my family and was unhappy with the low light capability of the A-850. I wanted usable 3200 ISO. It wasn’t there. I rented the Nikon D3S and liked what it had. That camera produced usable 6,400 ISO. But it cost $5,000. At about this time Sony launched some true mirrorless cameras. These cameras were branded as the NEX series. They had a new mount (e-mount) that possessed a very short registration distance that would allow the NEX cameras to utilize lenses for almost any other lens mount by means of adapters. It also had a very small body size. I watched the several iterations of this camera line until I found one that caught my interest. This was the NEX 5N. It had an APSC-E sensor but it was claimed that it had usable 3200 ISO. So I bought it. Well, the ISO claims were exaggerated. I estimated that good noise performance didn’t extend above 800 ISO. On top of that the auto-focus was extremely unreliable. Using magnified view and manual focus it was possible to produce extreme sharpness but as is obvious to anyone trying to photograph moving objects or even people indoors it is impossible to get a static object as a target every (or even most of) the time. So this was a limited camera.
Fast forward to 2013. Sony introduced the A7 cameras. These were full frame mirrorless cameras. They were slightly larger than the NEX cameras (but still very small). Initially two models were introduced. A 24 mpx A7 and a 36mpx A7R (R = resolution). The cameras are very interesting. The sensors are excellent but the cameras have their quirks. Both cameras have mediocre auto-focus even though the A7 added on-sensor phase detect sensor pixels. Also the A7R suffers from a very powerful shutter mechanism that introduces vibration into a number of different shooting categories. These problems continued to irritate Sony users. Also the new full-frame mount had a very limited range of native full-frame e-mount lenses (designated FE by Sony).
In 2014 Sony launched the A7S. This was a full frame (like all the other A7 cameras) but it had a 12 mpx sensor that had ISO settings that went all the way up to 400,000! Also it was the first full frame camera to shoot 4K video (although requiring an external recorder to handle this high data storage rate setting). This camera was something of a sensation. It became the king of low light photography and video. Sony was onto something good here. The auto focus was still not great but it was improving slowly. In the case of the A7S the camera’s low light capability seemed to improve the ability of the AF to work in low light conditions.
In 2015 Sony started to roll out the Mark 2 versions of the A7, A7R and A7S. These cameras featured improvements over the original versions that showed that Sony was actually listening to complaints. The A7 II had much improved auto focus (still not great but almost good). The A7R II got rid of the crude shutter, added on-sensor phase detect auto focus and boosted the pixel count to 42 mpx. And all three cameras introduced 5 axis stabilization to the line. This was a very popular feature. And over the last year and a half, Sony (and Zeiss and several of the 3rd party lens manufacturers) have released a large number and a good range of focal length lense (many of them of a very high quality). This has been enthusiastically applauded by Sony’s customers. Finally, Sony has begun to refine auto focus to allow for motion tracking. Maybe it is starting to look like Sony might someday provide a truly capable sports camera. This better auto focus capability started out in the A6000 and A6300 crop frame (APSC-E) cameras but the phase detect on sensor auto focus is starting to approach DSLR phase detect capability. Finally! Admittedly, Canon and Nikon far exceed what Sony provides in this department. Some have speculated that Sony is holding off on releasing the true state of the art until they’re ready to unveil their A9 professional model. I hope that is true. Rumors say that may be in September at Photokina. Time will tell.
So let’s recap. Sony has been torturing their camera customers since abandoning the DSLR model in 2010. After many disappointments and false starts their A7 cameras have finally reached a point where professional photographers can use them for most (but not all) photographic styles. To me it seems that 2016/2017 should answer the question of whether Sony can solve the remaining short comings in the systems. My opinion of what those shortcomings are:
1) General auto focus capability.
2) Tracking auto focus.
3) Battery life.
4) Gear durability (for professional duty).
5) Support service for professional users.
If Sony handles just the first two items they will ensure that their market share will increase substantially. If they take care of all five Canikon will be in big trouble.
Portland Head Light located in Portland Maine. Two extremely different perspectives provided by the Voigtlander 10mm f\5.6 on the A7S.
So, this post is also about the Minolta 200mm f\4 macro lens. Honestly it’s one of my favorite lenses. It is incredibly sharp and I love the colors and rendering. It’s excellent for macro, close-up, portrait, landscape and wildlife. What else could you ask? An interesting thing I find is because it’s a macro lens and also a 200mm I can get some respectable isolation even at f\8. Now I’m sure the folks very savvy about optics aren’t surprised by that but I was. Anyway it’s another bonus of this Minolta “golden oldie.”
I’ll be writing a series of posts on lenses that I use with the A7 cameras (and other Sony mirrorless cameras as they appear). In addition to e-mount lenses, there are a-mount lense that can be used with the Sony adapters (LA-EA3 and LA-EA4). And as everyone is aware almost any other lens that can be found has some kind of an adapter to put it on the A7 cameras.
The first lens I’ll look at is the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro.
One of the things that the Sony a-mount (and also of course the e-mount) lacks is a native 200mm macro lens. When I was shooting a-mount cameras I found the out of production Minolta 200mm f\4 macro available on ebay for what I thought at the time was a ridiculous price of $1,500. Of course I bought it and it was one of the best lenses I’ve ever used on the Sony cameras. I use it for both typical macro shots and also to chase butterflies and dragonflies. The lens is a screw-drive type so back when I was using the A-850 dslr I could autofocus it but on the A7 cameras the LA-EA-3 provides only manual focus. The LA-EA-4 will autofocus but interposes a “translucent” mirror into the light path. Well life is full of compromises. I don’t think Sony will be releasing an LA-EA-* adapter that autofocuses screw-drive lenses without a translucent mirror (although I’d really love that option). But even with the restrictions on its use, I feel the 200 macro is one of the best lenses available on the Sony system. Of course there are probably Nikon and Canon equivalents (which in some cases could be used as autofocus lenses) and the Sigma 180mm for Canon could be used with a metabones adapter on an A7 (I think). But I intend to keep the Minolta. I find it excellent and I love the photos it produces. I’ve used it for macro, portraits, landscapes, short telephoto, wildlife and general interest. It never lets me down.