New Life Of a Lens - Canon 1:0.95 50mm TV

by Dirk Moeller

Years back I've read an article about the Leica Noctilux and was mighty impressed about the infamous F 1.0 lens. The photos I saw were wonderful, but given the price point these lenses are sold at, even second or maybe sixth hand would be out of the question.

A couple of weeks later I saw a photographer from somewhere in Scandinavia (can't remember who exactly), who found an alternative - not as precise and sharp stopped down and maybe not as creamy bokeh, but a fun lens at F0.95. He used to post shots from misty landscapes and those looked wonderfully gloomy.

I tried to find out more about that lens and it turned out, there were two versions produced some time in the sixties (?): one for the Canon 7 camera and one version for TV cameras. The versions for the Canon 7 seemed a better fit, because the modifications needed to put it on a M rangefinder were supposed to be minor.

I looked around for months and finally found a TV version on eBay, for what I thought a reasonable price.

It turned out that the price was very reasonable, because the lens came "New, in Box". Apparently the eBay seller was some kind of wholesales person, bought larger lots and sold them seperately. This was from an actual TV station, where it sat on a shelf for years. Just in case one on the camera broke. At some point they got rid of the cameras and then, years later, of the overstock.

So, here it was - now I only needed to find a lens smith worthy of transforming my lens to M-mount. I found him in Paris, a reputable expert and he had converted several of these lenses successfully. It took a month or so and then it came back. He was in awe about the quality of the lens and said it was the best specimen he'd seen so far.

And here comes the sad part: I was happy to have that lens, but wide open the focus area is so narrow that I hardly ever used it on my rangefinders. I was happy to "have" it, but almost never used it.

Now, with the Sony A7r, that might change. For one it looks quite cool on it, because the camera has that old school viewfinder bump:

 Serious Combo.

Serious Combo.

A rangefinder is wide open always a bit guesswork. You get to know your lenses, know which one has a bit of back focus and which one is spot on.

The general consensus for a great working set of lenses and camera is to send them all to Leica and have them synchronized for focus. That costs a bunch. I've never done that. It was important to me that I know where my focus is and I can adjust accordingly. That is all well and my 1.4 Summilux was always the lens I needed to have spot on (and so I adjusted the camera to it), the other lenses were close and to be adjusted.

Now, with the A7r I have the ability to zoom in to check focus. I look through that lens like through a SLR. And that works 100x better than rangefinder guesswork :)

Here are some demo shots from this late afternoon, wide open.

 Magnolias, focussed on the closed ones left.

Magnolias, focussed on the closed ones left.

 Tulips, focussed right in the middle of the middle.

Tulips, focussed right in the middle of the middle.

 Another Magnolia in the late afternoon sun.

Another Magnolia in the late afternoon sun.

So, after years in the cupboard, this old but still fresh lens might see some more action in the future. I'm glad I didn't sell it.

Sony A7r and glass

by Dirk Moeller

I finally decided on a new camera. It took some time.

For a couple of days I entertained the idea of a Nikon D800, maybe even the D800e variant with the lowpass filter removed. But then I took some kitchen scales and started to weigh my setup to see how much difference there is. 

Turns out, it is quite a lot. Size is another factor, it is quite huge compared to a Leica M. 

So it was back to my initial idea of the Sony A7r.

There were three things people didn't like about it and which made me start to think about other cameras in the first place:

  • loud clunky shutter that potentially produces shake
  • horrible menus 
  • lack of glass

While the first two points were easily checked in a store (yes, it IS a loud shutter and no, I don't find the menu horrible, but then I am not used to so many functions, either), I wasn't sure whether the somewhat limited choice of full frame glass by Sony/Zeiss would come back and bite me in the behind at some point.

The most important part was that I wanted a standard zoom lens. Nothing fancy, but something to walk around and cover a bit of focal range. The Zeiss 24-70/F4 was my choice on the Sony and the more I read about the lens and looked at the photos it took, the less I liked it. 

A price of 1,200 Euros for a mediocre F4 lens seemed preposterous. I started to look for alternatives. I wanted to use M glass on it anyway, but there is no M-Zoom.

True, but there are zoom lenses for the Leica R.

The Leica R series was the SLR line of Leica cameras. There is no current model and people were waiting for a new model for years. The latest M features live-view and that was Leica's idea of using SLR-glass on a M. 

This meant that there is used glass available. A day of research and I was back on track. The idea was to get an R-Zoom and an adapter for the camera. Ok, this would be manual focus, but that's what I do with the M-lenses anyway and I want good/better quality for that huge sensor.

Turns out that you can get a Leica R 35-70/F3.5 in A quality and a Leica R 24/F2.8 prime lens, also A quality, for 1,020 Euro. Put the adapter on top and you are basically in the same price range of the mediocre Zeiss zoom. The only downside: it's manual focus.

I still like it though.

 Leitz Vario Elmar R 1:3.5/35-70 at 35 mm

Leitz Vario Elmar R 1:3.5/35-70 at 35 mm

 Leitz Vario Elmar R 1:3.5/35-70 at 70 mm

Leitz Vario Elmar R 1:3.5/35-70 at 70 mm

The dog kept it's afternoon snooze, so the shutter can't be that loud, can it? 

 Leica Elmarit R 1:2.8/24 into the sun (upper left corner)

Leica Elmarit R 1:2.8/24 into the sun (upper left corner)

The corners of the 24 are soft, but that was to be expected, they appear sharper than the Zeiss lens at 24 though. All the above shots are uncorrected and straight from RAW. 

I already love the way I shoot with the Sony A7r, here are some shots when I took it for a test spin this afternoon with the Leica M Elmarit M 1:2.8/28.

 Leica Elmarit M 1:2.8/28

Leica Elmarit M 1:2.8/28

 Leica Elmarit M 1:2.8/28

Leica Elmarit M 1:2.8/28

I really look forward to use this camera a lot more. The dynamic range alone is staggering.