A few weeks ago I received a message from Sony Artisan of Imagery Gene Lower, team photographer for the Arizona Cardinals. Gene is one of those guys that gives freely of his knowledge and has been offering up very special opportunities to shoot NFL games to his fellow Sony Artisans. As an advisor to the Tokyo based product team, he was also an unsung force in the development of the acclaimed Sony a9. So when Gene presented the chance to shoot the Cardinals at their away game in Houston, I didn’t hesitate.
You know that moment when it’s time to pack your camera bag and you can’t decide what to take so you grab everything? I know this feeling well but this time I committed to the simplicity of one camera, one lens.
My default vacation lens kit usually consists of a traditional 35mm, 50mm and 85mm combo. To pare down to one lens, I would choose either the 35mm or the 50mm; but, what if there was a magical fov somewhere in between, say a 40mm? And what if that 40mm was also super fast, like f/1.2 fast? Luckily, the new Voigtlander 40mm Nokton f/1.2 manual focus lens does exist and it graced my doorstep just a few days before leaving for a quick recharge at Hotel San Cristobal outside Todos Santos, Baja California Sur.
As a self professed classic film compact camera junkie, the ability to use some of the lenses that were originally affixed (not interchangeable) to those cameras, is intriguing. In the past I’ve written about converting the Summarit 40mm f/2.4 from the Leica Minilux and even using the converted lens with the Techart autofocus adapter. Today we have another personal favorite – the 35mm f2 lens from the legendary Konica Hexar AF.
July in Central Texas, 14 days of triple digit temperatures with no break in sight and someone had the bright idea to throw a music festival. It may sound like a level of Dante’s Inferno, but the Float Fest producers have it figured out, with a leisure float down the cool San Marcos river, on-site camping, a carnival, helicopter rides and stages headlined by Cage the Elephant, Weezer, Zedd and MGMT.
One of the most unique features of the Sony mirrorless platform is its ability to mount, and in many cases autofocus, almost any legacy lens. I’ve written in the past about the Techart Golden Eagle (CONTAX G) and Techart Pro (Leica M) adapters. Next up is the Fringer CONTAX N/645 Sony E mount adapter.
With each new digital camera release we move further away from the dirtier elements of photography. No longer do digital sensors struggle with anemic dynamic range and poor low light performance. Everything is “clean” these days.
At the same time, lenses are being polished and aligned, exotic elements added and AF systems improved until they are the ultimate in optics. Sony’s GM line (or G Master) is their play at this high-end of lens design. I was lucky enough to get some pre-release time with their newest entry in the GM line, the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. The questions I wanted to answer were whether this new lens was going to be too clinical, or was there going to be some glaring deficiency that I couldn’t overlook.
From the earliest days of the mirrorless movement, photographers have enjoyed the ability to adapt manual focus lenses made for various legacy camera mounts to their new systems. With their electronic viewfinders and focusing aids, mirrorless cameras are uniquely suited for the task of manual focusing older lenses. As one of those early adopters, I adapted every rangefinder or legacy SLR lens I could get my hands on.
The results were satisfying but manual focusing can be challenging for moving subjects or for those with poor eyesight. Thanks to the technology in the new Sony Alpha series mirrorless cameras – specifically those cameras with on-sensor phase detection autofocus – and the ingenuity of a small company in Hong Kong, we now have the ability to autofocus almost any manual focus lens manufactured over the past 75 years for the 35mm format.
This wizardry is delivered via a new smart adapter called the Techart Pro – I’m calling it TAP for short – for Sony’s latest generation of phase detect autofocus (PDAF) cameras: the a7RII, a7II and a6300. Don’t bother trying it with any previous Sony models but we might assume that future Sony PDAF cameras should be compatible. Out of the box, the adapter supports lenses made for Leica M mount, but due to the short flange distance of that platform, there is plenty of room for an additional adapter to stack on the TAP, thus increasing the mount compatibility to support: ALPA, Canon FD and EF, Contarex CRX, Contax/Yashica (C/Y), DKL, Exakta, Leica R, M42, Minolta MD, Nikon F, Olympus OM and Pentax K. These additional adapters can be purchased from Techart or perhaps more cheaply on eBay or Amazon. The TAP itself costs $349 and can be ordered directly from the manufacturer.
The manufacturer claims that TAP can focus a lens as large as 700g but for my purposes, I’m primarily looking at small and light rangefinder lenses as they maximize the compact potential of mirrorless. For this review I’m using the following selection of Zeiss ZM lenses:
- Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM
- Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM
- Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 C Sonnar T* ZM
- Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar T* ZM
- Zeiss 85mm f/4 Tele Tessar T* ZM
In 1988, The Sugarcubes debut album “Life’s Too Good” was getting heavy rotation in my cd player and served as an introduction to the quirky band’s native Iceland. Over the years other Icelandic bands like Sigur Ros and Of Monsters and Men, continued to sonically and lyrically paint an enticing canvas of their native homeland, further cementing the small country on my bucket list of places to visit. So this fall, while friends planned their winter vacation to warmer climes, I pitched the family on an adventure in the land of Ice and Fire. My wife has come to accept my odd predilections and the kids were just happy to get passports so we booked the flights and began our planning.
These days Sony users are feeling the love from Zeiss with the company’s highly regarded Batis lenses and the smaller rangefinder style manual focus Loxia line. While the Batis and Loxia (Zeiss names their lens lines after bird species – due to their visual acuity) are excellent native options, the beauty of the Sony mirrorless system is that we can mount nearly every lens developed for a 35mm sensor. So when I was looking for a 21mm loaner from my friendly Zeiss rep at Precision Camera, he advised that I give the new Milvus 21/2.8 a try.
Over the past few years Sony has disrupted the DSLR industry with their full frame a7 mirrorless line, but the camera that started it all was the original RX1. Regular readers will know that I’m a longtime user of the Sony RX1, – I’ve written about my extensive history with the original here on the blog. Even with the excellent a7 bodies in my bag, I still prefer the concept of a compact, FF camera to have by my side for those definitive moments. Since its release in 2012, the RX1 has been labeled a modern classic – a full frame compact that you could use as your main tool without compromise. But technology moves fast and today there is competition in the space from both the Leica Q and the just released update to the RX1, the RX1RII.
Click through for thoughts on how the Q stacks up to the Sony cameras.