About 4 years ago, Sony introduced a camera model that seemingly shook the photography world: the full-frame a7. Maybe that statement is soaked in a bit of hyperbole. Maybe not. I’m not here to argue the point either way.
Anywho, I decided to buy the original Sony a7 in December 2013, along with a Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1. I was hooked. An M lens? At f/1.1, nonetheless? On a camera I could afford? WOO! Unfortunately, I also became obsessed with finding the “perfect fifty.” That obsession introduced me to a lot of lenses. Way too many. Really. It was an ugly rabbit hole to dive in to. I got caught up in equipment, and stopped actually using such equipment for its intended purpose: taking a photograph. I would like to say I grew out of this phase completely, but it comes around every now and again. But I definitely realized something. The only variable that produces a bad photograph is the photographer.
That might sound high-brow. Yet, I think it’s a reality the photographic world largely ignores in this age of cheap, feature-packed digital photography equipment. I feel the challenge, craft and intimacy of photography is so diluted that “photographers” spend more time on message boards than actually becoming a better photographer. “Is XYZ lens better than ABC lens?” Yadda yadda yadda. Yes. I know that’s calling the kettle black. But my obsession with equipment, specs and the such led me to that conclusion.
I’ll cut to the chase: differences in lenses don’t equate to better or worse lenses. Yes, few lenses are so-called “optical perfections.” That is, they have very few flaws and can effortlessly produce nice photos. Likewise, many lenses have many “flaws,” and take more forethought when being used. Whatever. All lenses do what they’re supposed to do. A $40 lens and a $2,000 lens both are capable of taking great photos. Taken further, a crummy photographer will take crummy photos with a $2,000 lens, and an excellent photographer can take excellent photos with a $40 lens. Just spend a few minutes on Flickr and you’ll see what I mean. I’m a mediocre photographer, and I try not to use things such as shallow DOF and expensive lenses as a crutch for my shortcomings. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t. My quest for “the perfect 50mm” helped me realize this.
Where was I? Oh yes, because I was obsessed with finding a “perfect fifty” for my then-Sony a7, I clogged many memory cards with various worthless photos. Here are a few. I know the rabbit hole is hard to crawl out of.
I chose a fairly static location to waste my ti… eerr… test these lenses: the fountain outside of Union Station in D.C. These photos were taken on sunny days, ISO @ 100, WB @ 5300K and aperture wide open. Files are RAW and converted to JPG. No corrections or adjustments were done.
Full Size: Canon 58mm f/1.2 FL | Canon 50mm f/1.2 FD | Canon 50mm f/1.4 FD | Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM | Konica Hexanon 57mm f/1.2 | Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux M (VII) | Pentax 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar | Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 FE | Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 LTM | Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 M | Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar M
I’ll let you come to your own conclusions. I will say that lens age, design, construction and the such will of course lead to different results. Most of these can be mitigated in post-processing. I wouldn’t say any lenses are “crap” or soft. Some aren’t as clear as others, but that doesn’t mean they’re soft. Some have a lot of “character,” but I wouldn’t say they’re crap. I will say, however, the Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 FE is the best 50mm(ish) lens for an a7.
Lens testing is only part of understanding how a lens performs, however. In fact, I would say lens testing isn’t even an accurate method of understanding how a lens performs. Taking real-world photos is a much better method, IMHO. Because… in the real world… it’s difficult to tell a handful of lenses apart. So, here ya go:
If you would like to look at more photos, visit this album on my Flickr page.
Here are a few ad-hoc comparisons done over the years. These aren’t scientific, at all. If anything, they should show that testing lenses is not worth a hill of beans.
Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 FE vs. Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar M:
Leica 50mm f/1.4 ‘Lux (VII) vs. Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM (Japanese ‘Lux):
So, that’s that. This post is more of a personal rambling than anything else. I seriously doubt there anything of substance here that will (or should) influence anyone. Maybe there this. Who knows. If you’ve taken the time to read this post to the end, thanks for taking the time to do so. Until next time – happy shooting.
I’ll leave you with one my personal favorites, taken with the Sony a7 in New York, New York: