Leica Some Thoughts About the Sony A7R as a Leica M Replacement

Amin

Hall of Famer
I've been shooting a loaner Sony A7R alongside a Leica M (240) for a couple days and figured it was time to share some early impressions. I'll keep this thread updated over time with more thoughts and observations.

Here are the two bodies side by side, the Sony shown with the Novoflex adapter I've been using:

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P1010002
by Amin Sabet, on Flickr

As you can see, the Sony is a good bit smaller than the Leica, although the grip and viewfinder together make it a bit thicker. It's also a fair amount lighter. The Leica exudes quality, the Sony less so, but both feel well made. My main issues with the Sony build involve the plastic doors covering the card slot, battery, and especially the mini USB charging port. Of note, the A7R follows Sony's recent practice of not including a dedicated battery charger. The battery charges in the camera. Tastes will vary, but the Leica is far better looking to me. The orange metallic ring marked "35mm FULL-FRAME CMOS IMAGE SENSOR" is a particular eye sore on the Sony.

On the top of the camera, the main difference is that the Leica has a shutter speed dial, while the Sony has an exposure compensation dial. As someone who shoots mostly with aperture priority autoexposure, the exposure comp dial is more useful to me. Since configuring the Sony to assign my most commonly used settings to the dual control dials and custom buttons, there has been no need to enter the menu system other than to format the SD card. Both cameras have built-in thumb grips, but the Sony lacks threading for a cable release / soft release. Importantly (to me), both cameras lack in-body image stabilization, a feature I've come to appreciate with my Olympus Micro Four Thirds bodies.

The biggest difference in use is that the Sony isn't a rangefinder camera. For some, this is a deal breaker. Not to me. The Sony electronic viewfinder (EVF) is excellent, and I find that I can focus even the f/0.95 Noctilux accurately without even making use of the focus aids, which include focus peaking and magnification. The EVF is high resolution, and I can see a subtle shimmer at he point of focus. Nevertheless, I keep focus peaking assigned to a custom button (useful for seeing a graphical representation of zone focus/depth of field) and magnification assigned to a different custom button (useful for critically accurate focus with static subjects). Another key difference from a standpoint of seeing the subject is that the Sony rear LCD tilts up/down (Leica LCD is fixed), and the Sony rear LCD is higher resolution. The Leica has an accessory port and the ability to use an optional EVF.

The Novoflex adapter I used performed very well. No complaints. However, one of the advantages of using the Sony with Leica M lenses is that you can choose to use a close focus adapter (Hawk's or Voigtlander), which gives you the option to shorten minimal focus distance on the fly by increasing the distance from the lens to the sensor.

In use, I found the Sony comfortable to hold, and the Leica M lenses all felt natural in use. The Leica M shutter sound is wonderfully muted. By comparison, the Sony is very loud. However, I don't find the Sony shutter sound to be grating at all. It's more subtle than a Nikon FM2N shutter release. It also seems a decent tradeoff for the 1/8000s shutter speed capability of the A7R, which coupled with a base ISO of 100 allows one to shoot fast lenses wide open without an ND filter in all but the brightest of light.

So how well does the A7R work with Leica M lenses? Does it deliver the goods? The answer depends on your use case, and the particular lenses you choose. I had no problems whatsoever using the 50/0.95 Noctilux for photos of my 11-week-old daughter:

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DSC00029
by Amin Sabet, on Flickr

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DSC00039
by Amin Sabet, on Flickr

Likewise for the 50mm Summilux ASPH:

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DSC00137
by Amin Sabet, on Flickr


On the other hand, there are definite drawbacks to using the M lenses when edge/corner sharpness and color accuracy are desired. This was most pronounced with the 24mm Summilux ASPH but also very obvious with the 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE and even noticeable with the 50mm lenses. The issues are most notable with the lenses wide open but still very much present after stopping down.

For example, note the color shifts and smearing present in the following 100% crops (center followed by corner) taken from the 35mm Summilux ASPH (FLE) at f/8, Leica M on the left and Sony A7R on the right:

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Another example, this time of the Leica 24mm f/1.4 ASPH at f/5.6:

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These color and smearing issues were consistent across a variety of tests, and I am confident that they are unrelated to the adapter I used given that center sharpness was consistently superb and there were no signs of decentering in any of the test images.

Other than the aforementioned compatibility issues with Leica M lenses, the Sony files are gorgeous. I didn't notice any of the orange peel effects that some have described. Of course with no anti aliasing filter, aliasing effects are present, but the higher resolution sensor mitigates these somewhat, and RAW converters now feature good tools to address such issues. Capture One Pro in particular has an excellent tool to remove color aliasing.

So bottom line, is the A7R a good replacement for a Leica M? If you shoot a variety of Leica M glass and value image quality in the periphery of the frame, I'd have to say no. On the other hand, if you're mainly using 50mm lenses and shooting photos of people, it may well be. Of course there is a virtually limitless array of both M and non-M lenses to choose from other than the ones I've used so far with the A7R, and many of those will do better than the M lenses I've tested here with the Sony sensor.

Sony has been able to shoehorn an amazing full frame sensor into an extremely small body which costs only one third the price of a Leica M. However, because the A7R (and to a lesser extent the A7) sensor is not optimized for incident light at an angle which varies greatly from the optical axis, native lenses for the Sony are for now likely to remain much larger than Leica M lenses if they are to deliver good edge sharpness.
 
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a very good evaluation, and certainly shows the work that Leica and CMOSIS put into the unique CMOS sensor in the M T240. In addition to the offset microlenses, I believe they thinned down the sensor as well. This may have cost them something in "well capacity" which is 2/3rds that of the M9 CCD and 1/3rd that of the Nikon 16MPixel sensor.

I considered the A7 as an alternative to the Df, as the CMOS sensor is better suited to SLR lenses. In the end- went with the Df.

Have you tried the Sony with any SLR lenses?
 

Amin

Hall of Famer
Not yet. I'm sure they'll have less issues, I just don't have any on hand to test!

Makes me wonder if SLR lenses would also get a slight boost in edge sharpness when used on the M240.

Sent from my SCH-I535 using LeicaPlace mobile app
 
The SLR lenses that I've used on the CCD based Leica's do quite well. The Canon 50/1.4 FL is wonderful on the M Monochrom. It has a long optical path with very low spherical aberration.
 

serhan

Hall of Famer
Location
NYC
Thanks Amin for the comparison. From what I read and saw that A7R has thicker glass on the sensor compared to nex-5n/6 which shows more infrared similar to Leica m9/m. So Sony increase the toppings on the sensor which resulted in more color accuracy. Also I saw some postings w/ flare on night shots similar to what we saw with 7-14 on OMD. So far it performs similar or better then the D800e. Also the new Sony prime lenses are performing much better then most of the existing lenses, so it is a long term high performance system...

Roger at lensrentals has got 2 good articles w/ fe 35mm comparisons:
http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2013/12/a-bit-of-a7r-sanity
http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2013/12/sony-a7r-a-rising-tide-lifts-all-the-boats

Simply remember the optical bench tests are fairly pure tests of just the lens with no camera attached, while Imatest is a test of the lens-camera combination.

Imatest results and optical bench results in the center for all three lenses (Sony 35mm f/2.8 with the Zeiss 35mm f/2 and Canon 35mm f/2.8 IS) are about the same. which isn’t surprising. Off-axis, though, the Sony on the optical bench is, if anything, a bit weaker than the other two lenses. On the camera as shown by Imatest, though, it’s at least as good as the Canon lens and a bit better than the Zeiss.

So why would the Zeiss 35mm f/2 fare worse on the camera, while it is probably the best lens of the three tested on the optical bench? Well, it could be the adapter, but remember I matched best adapters for the camera and lens out of a large box full of name brand adapters. Plus Zeiss is affected a lot more than the Canon 35mm f/2 IS.

The logical answer is that the location of the exit pupil is fairly far back in the Zeiss lens. People who talk in mathematics I can’t really follow tell me that the further back the exit pupil, the more off-axis resolution (and color shift) will be affected by a thicker cover glass on the sensor. It’s the same reason so many wide-angle M-mount lenses have problems when adapted to NEX cameras.

Also B&H has 4% rewards now on A7R for the interested ones...
 
I tested the IR leakage on the M9- and it is "miniscule". The M8- lots of leakage. The sense bar of the Wii game console was used for my ad hoc test. The M9 uses a 0.8mm IR cover glass, the M8 uses 0.5mm. Kodak/Truesense must have used a new cover glass, as the IR absorption is much more efficient.

Sony using a thick coverglass will not impact the use of Legacy SLR lenses. It is a problem for corner performance of most RF wide-angle and normal lenses.

First attachment: M8 with IR cut filter, 1/4th second, Nokton 50/1.1;

Second attachment: M8 without IR cut filter, 1/8th, Nokton 50/1.1;

Third is the M9 without IR cut filter, 1/4th, Nokton 50/1.1.

All wide-open, handheld for a quick test.
 

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usayit

Veteran
Yes.. thanks for the write up.

Did you get the 28-70 Sony FE lens with the Sony A7R? For me, I'd probably use the Sony as intended with FE lenses with an occasional use of M lenses adapted. If so, how is it? It looks a bit large which is a little concern.



Yup Brian. The M8 is much more sensitive to IR which is why I shoot IR with it. In bright sunlight, I can actually get hand-holdable speeds but I can't get anything workable with the M9. Some samples from the M8:

Leica M8 w/ 24mm Elmarit + IR filter 092

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Amin

Hall of Famer
I didn't get the zoom but have read it is an average performer. I will be getting the Sony Zeiss FE 35/2.8 and 55/1.8 soon and will be posting impressions of those on the Sony site (TalkEmount.com)
 

asiafish

All-Pro
Location
Bakersfield, CA
Real Name
Andrew
I thought about the A7r, but decided that I really prefer to use native or seamlessly adapted lenses to whatever platform I'm shooting with. Back when I had the Sony NEX7 I bought adapters for Leica glass, but in end found it more satisfying to shoot with my two Sony lenses (Zeiss 24/1.8 and Sony 50/1.8). The only exception was extreme telephoto, which did not exist for the E mount. I used a very thin and lightweight (though long) Minolta MC Rokkor 30mm f/5.6 on the NEX7 for an effective field of view of a 450mm lens. Since I shot it wide-open only, I didn't really worry about aperture controls.

Since that lens and others like it are easily adaptable to Canon EOS, I saw no real advantage to the A7 over the 6D. For M lenses, I still think an M9 would be a better match than an A7r, and prices are coming down. Once the M9 hits $3500 used I'll probably pick one up.
 
I have two Infrared digital cameras, the first one is "the first one"- Kodak made it custom for me 20 years ago. The second is a full-spectrum EP2. I don't think that Spencer's would do it, but I'm tempted to have the M8 IR converted. ALSO- for IR work, check the M8 RAW thread that I started. The High ISO is at least 1 stop better using 16-bit raw on the M8. I have not tried with IR, but the ISO2500 is much improved over the compressed DNG.
 

usayit

Veteran
I didn't get the zoom but have read it is an average performer. I will be getting the Sony Zeiss FE 35/2.8 and 55/1.8 soon and will be posting impressions of those on the Sony site (TalkEmount.com)

I hope this is not the case across the board when it comes to FE zooms. Reason being, I'd most likely reserve the Sony A7 to zooms and adapted M lenses rather than FE primes.
 

asiafish

All-Pro
Location
Bakersfield, CA
Real Name
Andrew
Really? I haven't seen any in decent condition under $4000. The other problem with buying an M9 is knowing how much lovely glass I can get for the same money as I'm pretty happy with my Canon 6D for color.
I've fallen in love with the rendering of the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, and would also love a faster than f/2.5 35mm lens for my Monochrom.

Decisions, decisions.
 

VINCETAN

Top Veteran
Amin, great review. My experience is similar to yours. I find that with the Sony, I get better result with my 50 lux Asph and 85 Sonnar than with the 35mm lux Asph. I also tend to take only pictures of my kids so it really fits well to my subject. One thing I do like with the Sony is when I use my Nikon 105 DC with it, the ergonomics just felt better than with the M 240. The design of the body having that grip makes holding a heavy longer lens felt more balance. The EVF on the Sony is also so much better than the Leica. I don't understand why Sony can't include a decent charger with their A7.

Oh, one thing going for the Sony is the ability to use AF len. I have yet to try the Zeiss 35 and 55 yet but looks good from the many review. Just don't know which one to get (budget dictates that I can get one. heart tells me that I need to get both). I was initially leaning towards the 55 as I like the faster lens but since the 50 lux perform so well with this and the 35 lux not so much, I might go with the 35. I wished the 24-70 Zeiss is a F2.8 instead of F4.
 

VINCETAN

Top Veteran
Yeah, there are several M9's that recently sold under $4K. I almost bought a M9 converted to P in mint condition from RFF just recently for $4K. I did not get it because it was a black body and I really wanted a silver one.

Really? I haven't seen any in decent condition under $4000. The other problem with buying an M9 is knowing how much lovely glass I can get for the same money as I'm pretty happy with my Canon 6D for color.
I've fallen in love with the rendering of the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, and would also love a faster than f/2.5 35mm lens for my Monochrom.

Decisions, decisions.
 

Amin

Hall of Famer
Really? I haven't seen any in decent condition under $4000.

I sold mine for $3600 including a Thumbs Up, shipping, and PayPal. It was in great shape in box with everything and recently calibrated focus by DAG. Maybe I could have gotten more if I were willing to wait, but I wanted a relatively quick sale. Even at that asking price it took a few days to sell.
 

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