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Pentax 645Z: Does Not Have EFC Shutter (Electronic First Curtain)

An electronic first curtain shutter (EFC shutter) is needed for vibration-free exposures.

According to Pentax, the Pentax 645Z does not have an electronic first curtain shutter. The 645z does have the the same excellent mirror lockup feature as the 645D, and its shutter is generally well-damped (quite possibly no medium format camera has an EFC shutter). But a focal plane shutter is not and cannot be vibration free.

Like all DSLRs lacking an EFC shutter, longer lenses can be an issue: see Blur from the Shutter at 300mm in the review of the Pentax 645D.

Pentax 645z, rear view
Pentax 645z, rear view

Sony A7R: A Practical Effort to Mitigate Shutter Vibration at 90mm

Sony A7R
Sony A7R

Thinking about the Sony A7R shutter vibration, I wondered about whether applying mass to the problem might help mitigate the Sony A7R shutter vibration issue, a supposition that Joseph Holmes evaluated in detail and found to be true. By F=mA it ought to.

But I wanted to know if something simple using the hot shoe might offer benefits. For example, a relatively heavy flash like a Nikon SB800: inserted it into the hot shoe, would it show any benefit?

A simple solution requiring stuff I already have is appealing. With the hot shoe often not needed for flash use, it’s a convenient place to add mass. And while it’s regrettable to have to even consider such awkward solutions, if one has an A7R and anything of mass that can go into the hot shoe, bowing to reality and looking for mitigation is practical. Because my obstacle to using the A7R for lens evaluations is ruling out or at least minimizing blur from the shutter. Mitigating, not eliminating.

In Guide to Mirrorless:

Sony A7R Shutter Vibration at 90mm with Mass Mitigation (Chart)

The findings here are of practical, actionable value to any Sony A7R shooter.

Also analyzed is whether the vibration remains visible when the 36 megapixel image is downsampled to 24 megapixels (with and without extra mass), noting that the resolution difference between 36 and 24 megapixels is 1.22X: √(36/24). Extracting full detail from a 36MP sensor thus requires that absolutely everything be at its best to capture that modest difference.

Get Carl Zeiss Test Chart for Cinematography Lenses.

Carl Zeiss Test Chart for Cinematography Lenses
Carl Zeiss Test Chart for Cinematography Lenses

Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar for Sony NEX, Fujifilm X (and Sony A7 / A7R)

The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar is arriving very soon. It will be added alongside my review of the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Planar and Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 Distagon.

The Touit lineup is available in Fujifilm X or Sony E-mount (NEX or A7/A7R).

I’ll be testing the Touit 50/2.8 on the Sony A7R in crop mode (it’s an APS-C lens), but also exploring if it covers more of the sensor than APS-C at some distances and whether that is actually useful from an image quality point of view.

The MTF page for the Touit 50/2.8 includes and discusses MTF at infinity focus, 1:5, 1:2 and 1:1 reproduction ratios.

Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar
Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar

Future Sensors: Will they be Friendly to Rangefinder Lenses? (Ray Angle)

Zeiss ZM 21mm f/4.5 C-Biogon
Zeiss ZM 21mm f/4.5 C-Biogon

Neither the Sony A7 nor its A7R sibling are particularly friendly to rangefinder lenses; it’s the ray angle at issue and it causes all sorts of image quality losses, from color shifts to sharpness to white balance.

Moreover, DSLRs have too great a backfocal distance to be useable at all with rangefinder lenses, so mirrorless is the only hope for a wide range of some very fine lenses, Leica M Typ 240 aside, with its out of reach price for most photographers.

So where does that leave outstanding Leica M and Zeiss ZM lenses in the changing landscape which is shifting heavily to mirrorless cameras of all stripes?

Suppose the landscape were to change, e.g., what if sensor technology were to evolve such that a 36 or 50 or 60 megapixel mirrorless camera were to appear with a sensor that by design is far more friendly to ray angle, perhaps even made usable for the worst case lens, the Zeiss ZM 21mm f/4.5 C-Biogon with its demanding 44° chief ray angle?

After all, the Leica M9 and Leica M Typ 240 already do have sensors that are relatively friendly to rangefinder lenses. That further improvements might be in the pipeline is well worth pondering for anyone with a stable of Leica M or Zeiss ZM lenses, e.g., some patience might be worthwhile.

Not so friendly ray angle behavior  (Sony A7R)
Not so friendly ray angle behavior
(Sony A7R)

Sony A7R: Is Shutter Vibration an Issue at 50mm?

The 50mm Leica M primes (with lens adapter) are highly appealing for use on the 36-megapixel Sony A7R for multiple reasons: compact size, ergonomics, ultra high performance, that wonderful high-res Sony EVF for focusing precision and best of all, recording that performance to a 36-megapixel sensor is more rewarding than the 24 megapixels of the Leica M Typ 240.

Sony A7R
Sony A7R

Prompted in part by a few recent reader inquiries and my own interest in the foregoing, I set out to answer a straightforward question: I wanted to know whether in the field it would be possible to mount a world-class 50mm lens and obtain peak-quality images with the A7R. Or whether I would need to be concerned with the A7R shutter vibration. And/or whether the limitations would be acceptable to migitate, somehow.

That Sony A7R sensor is a first rate performer, and at 36 megapixels, any Leica M owner should ask the above, because why not get state of the art image quality at 36 megapixels instead of 24, and with far superior focusing capability (EVF)? In other words, could the Sony A7R be considered a superior platform over the Leica M240 on the basis of a better EVF and notably higher resolution (and at 1/3 the price)?

In Guide to Mirrorless:

Sony A7R Shutter Vibration at 50mm (Chart)

(This is not a lens test, it is a camera test). Included are thoughts on deciding how to approach the A7R, given the results.

Reader Comment: Sony A7s

Winfried H writes:

What could be the reason, that the Sony A7s has “just” 12MP?

Something to do with the 4K and video optimization?

DIGLLOYD: By using a sensor that is just over 4K video resolution (minimal cropping), the image can be read natively off the sensor with no need for resampling, and the sensor can be optimized for video use knowing that no resampling is needed, and quite possibly optimized in other ways also. A higher-res sensor would require more cropping (self defeating) or more complex resampling (more CPU power needed to do that also) and would pose other optimization and operational challenges.

I don’t know what is state of the art now, but one need only look at the mangled Live View (magnified) of the Nikon D800 to see that the every-3rd-line line-skipping approach makes an awful mess of things (resampling was probably too CPU intensive and still would lead to artifacts). While extracting 4K video out of the 24-megapixel Sony A7 or 36-megapixel Sony A7R presumably is technically feasible (somehow), the issue might be as simple as heat/power and resampling speed (CPU speed).

The 12-megapixel state of the art sensor resolution in the A7s dovetails with 4K resolution demands, but it also extends the brightness (darkness) range for video and stills into previously problematic territory. I see it as part of a natural trend to build cameras that fit into certain usage needs better than jack-of-all-trades solutions.

See also Hits and Misses: Ultra Low Light Photography—Sony A7s vs Nikon Df.

Pentax 645Z 51-Megapixel Medium Format DSLR, 13 Pentax Lenses Now Avail in USA

The medium format Pentax 645Z (about $8498) is a successor to the Pentax 645D. That price is a very aggressive one for a medium format camera.

See the review of the Pentax 645D and lenses in DAP.

With a 51-megapixel CMOS sensor supporting Live View, the 645z is by far the most cost effective way to get into medium format.

The Pentax 645z sensor is a 44 X 33mm sensor (4:3) and is thus not the same sensor as would go into a new Leica S with its 3:2 aspect ratio. However, it does appear to be the same sensor as in the new Hasselblad H5D-50c. Which of course does not mean “same”: electronics and sensor make a package that can vary in various ways.

A slew of 645 lenses is listed on the B&H web site, suggesting that Pentax is aggressively committing to the medium format market (lenses were a sore spot with the 645D). That is good news, but it is extremely unlikely that these lenses will approach the quality of Leica S glass (at 1/2 to 1/6 of the price, this is is expected). Still, the pricing on the 645Z camera body is far lower than that of the Leica S, and so if there are two or three good lenses it might fit the bill for many a landscape shooter looking for more than what the 35mm format can deliver.

On the other hand, 51 megapixels is only marginally more than 36, and so a really good lens like the Zeiss Otus on a 36-megapixel DSLR will perform awfully close to 50 megapixels (or better) than a pretty good lens on 50MP. See the Leica S vs Nikon D800 comparison made some time ago.

I have a request in for a loaner camera and the 25mm f/4 and a few other lenses. If I can get them, I’ll be doing a detailed review of the 645z as soon as they arrive (June looks to be the release date). The lenses I have in mind are the high performers (by my guesstimate): 25mm f/4, the 35mm f/3.5, and the 90mm f/2.8.

Pentax 645z, rear view
Pentax 645z, rear view
Pentax 645z, front view
Pentax 645z, front view

Ricoh USA announcement

Pentax is part of Ricoh as of August, 2013.

Two features regrettably absent: no EVF option and no 4K video.

According to Pentax, there is not an electronic first curtain shutter (EFC shutter) for vibration free exposures, but the 645z has the same mirror lockup feature and mirror damping feature as with the 645D.

An optical viewfinder on such a camera is a plus, but for critical focusing a high-res EVF would have been ideal for critical focus, which one must have to reliably exploit the sensor resolution.

Achieve Photographic Distinction with the Medium-Format PENTAX 645Z

Ricoh Imaging’s new PENTAX 645Z medium-format DSLR features a 51.4 megapixel CMOS sensor, Full HD video and a responsive shooting experience with three frames-per-second

DENVER, CO, April 14, 2014 – It is not often that a camera can be referred to as a game-changer. One that can provide photographers with the tools that not only enrich their craft but are capable of producing images so distinct they are easily set apart from the competition.  Today, Ricoh Imaging Americas Corporation is pleased to announce the game-changing PENTAX 645Z medium-format DSLR, thus altering the landscape of professional photography.

Developed on the multi-award-winning legacy of the PENTAX 645D and the historic PENTAX 645 film cameras, the PENTAX 645Z improves upon one of the most lauded cameras in the company’s 95 year history. Featuring an amazing 51.4 megapixels on a high-performance CMOS image sensor, the PENTAX 645Z assures super-high-resolution images with a stunningly realistic sense of depth combined with vivid colors and rich shadow detail. The resulting images feature a uniquely distinct look and an unmistakable brilliance that clearly differentiate professional photographers to their clients. The thoughtful inclusion of a CMOS image sensor enables live view on a tiltable LCD panel while also making the 645Z the first and only camera in the medium-format category to offer video recording capabilities, resulting in footage that captures amazingly lifelike reproductions with tangible depth and incredible dynamic range.

“Our diverse lineup of DSLRs enables us to offer professional tools like the 645Z at a price point within reach of many photographers,” said Jim Malcolm, Executive Vice President, Ricoh Imaging. “Today’s photographers are looking to differentiate their craft and the 645Z offers the perfect option as an exceptional medium-format camera that does not sacrifice in quality or specification, with affordability.”

The new PENTAX 645Z has also received several significant enhancements including an improved and highly responsive shooting experience that can capture an incredible three frames per second—a significant benefit when compared to other medium-format cameras featuring CMOS sensors and an equivalent resolution—with a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second. The 645Z is equipped with an amazing top ISO of 204,800 for images with exceptional quality, even in situations with very low light or pushing for higher shutter speeds in all lighting conditions, providing the photographer with totally new creative options far beyond the scope of existing medium-format photography. Additionally, the 645Z is compatible with the recently introduced FLU Card, providing  remote operation of the 645Z including the ability to release the shutter, view a live-view, and browse and download the images recorded on the card using a wireless connection to a smartphone, tablet, computer or any web browser enabled device.

Widening the 645Z’s already diverse applications for shooting is an articulated LCD with a 3.2-inch LCD monitor with approximately 1,037,000 dots, ensuring even the most agile photographer captures waist-level, high and low-angle images with precision and ease. Finally, the PENTAX 645Z features an incredibly sturdy and dependable body with a magnesium alloy frame and  a diecast aluminum chassis, complemented by 76 weather-seals for a cold-resistant, weather-resistant and dustproof shooting experience.

In conjunction with the launch of the PENTAX 645Z, Ricoh Imaging is also excited to announce the availability of 13FA 645 lenses to support an even wider variety of optics providing the perfect system that spans numerous shooting scenarios.

Pentax 645z, oblique rear view
Pentax 645z, oblique rear view

Pricing and Availability
The PENTAX 645Z will be available for purchase in June 2014 for a category-low retail price of $8,499.95 for the body only.

The newly available FA 645 lenses are available now for the following prices:

SMC-FA 645 75MM F2.8 $839.00
SMC-FA 645 45MM F2.8 $1,319.00
SMCP-FA 645 150mm f/2.8(IF) $1,679.00
SMC PENTAX-FA* 645 300MM F4 ED(IF) $4,799.95
SMC-FA 645 400MM F5.6 EDIF $3,479.00
SMC-FA 645 ZOOM 45-85 F4.5 $2,879.00
SMCP-FA 645 120mm f/4 MACRO $1,679.00
SMCP-FA 645 200MM f/4 (IF) $1,319.00
SMCP-FA 645 80-160/4.5 $2,519.00
SMCP-FA 645 33-55 f/4.5 AL $3,239.00
SMCP-FA 645 ZOOM 150-300MM F/5.6 ED $3,239.00
SMCP-FA 645 35mm f/3.5 $1,919.00
SMCP-FA 645 55-110 f/5.6 $2,039.00

Main Features
Super-high-resolution images made possible by approximately 51.4 effective megapixels — The PENTAX 645Z features a high-performance CMOS image sensor, with an imaging area (43.8mm x 32.8mm) approximately 1.7 times larger than that of a 35mm full-size sensor. By combining this sensor with the PRIME III imaging engine — with its advanced image-processing and noise-reduction capabilities and anti-aliasing filter-less design — the 645Z makes full use of the imaging power and approximately 51.4 effective megapixels to deliver super-high resolution and exceptional depth rendition.

Since the 645Z effectively minimizes annoying noise during high-sensitivity shooting, the photographer can comfortably take pictures even at super-high sensitivities up to ISO 204800. This provides the photographer with totally new creative options beyond the scope of existing medium-format photography.

Responsive and high-speed shooting experience accommodates even the demanding professionals — The 645Z continuously records as many as 10 images in the RAW format (or up to 30 images in the JPEG:L・★★★) at a maximum speed of approximately three images per second. It also offers quick-view function, UHS-1 speed class compatibility for high-speed data storage (in the SDR104 bus speed mode; with a compatible SD memory card), and USB3.0-standard data interface for easy transfer of recorded images to a personal computer. Thanks to its high-speed response, rivaling that of 35mm-format SLRs, the 645Z assures active, flawless shooting in a wide range of applications required by professionals.

Articulated, 3.2-inch LCD display with approximately 1,037,000 dots — In addition to its wide-view design, the 645Z’s 3.2-inch high-resolution LCD display with approximately 1,037,000 dots (in the 3:2 aspect ratio) has a tilt mechanism to adjust the monitor angle, making it easier for the photographer to capture low- and high-angle images. Its front panel is made of tempered glass for extra protection. To optimize visibility during outdoor shooting, the LCD display features a unique air-gapless construction that eliminates the air space between the LCD layers to reduce the reflection and dispersion of the light, with an AR (Anti-Reflection) coating to minimize reflections on the screen.

High-precision AF system — The 645Z incorporates a newly designed SAFOX 11 phase-matching AF module with 27 sensor points (including 25 cross-type sensors). It also detects the light flux of an F2.8 lens to optimize focusing accuracy when using a large-aperture lens. Its wide AF working range of –3EV to +18EV (at ISO 100; at 23oC) to assure pinpoint focus with dimly illuminated subjects, which are difficult to focus on accurately with the naked eye. Thanks to the new CMOS image sensor with high-speed data readout, it even provides a live-view function allowing the photographer to make more minute focus adjustments using the contrast-detection AF mode on the live-view screen, or by magnifying the on-screen image. Full HD movie recording at 1920 x 1080 pixels and 60i frame rate

The 645Z captures beautiful Full HD video clips (1920 x 1080 pixels; 60i/30P frame rate) in the H.264 recording format. Its large image sensor is effective in recording shallow-depth videos with an effectively blurred background. In addition to the built-in stereo microphone, it also provides a stereo mic terminal for external microphone connection and an audio level control function. It even provides interval video recording of 4K-resolution images (3840 x 2160 pixels; in Motion JPEG or AVI video format) to add a new dimension in creative imaging.

Solid, dependable body — Both the 645Z’s exterior housing and the LCD monitor frame are made of sturdy yet lightweight magnesium alloy, while the chassis is made of diecast aluminum to optimize kinematic accuracy and thermal stability against excessive heat. The LCD panels — one on the camera’s top panel, another on its back — is covered with tempered-glass plates for extra protection against scratches. The 645Z is also designed for a durable and dependable shooting experience even in harsh outdoor conditions. It’s not only weather-resistant and dustproof with 76 seals applied around the body, but it’s also cold-resistant against temperatures as low as –10°C, while its dependable shutter unit has withstood a punishing operation test of more than 100,000 shutter releases.

High-precision exposure control supported by PENTAX Real-Time Scene Analysis System — The 645Z features the innovative PENTAX Real-Time Scene Analysis System, which consists of an RGB light-metering sensor with approximately 86,000 pixels and a fine-tuned algorithm. This system not only assures much-improved exposure-control accuracy, but also utilizes the data obtained by the light-metering sensor to further enhance autofocusing accuracy and white-balance adjustment. By accurately assessing the type of scene or subject using the light-metering sensor, the 645Z not only selects the exposure settings that are more consistent with the photographer’s creative intentions, but it also makes a clearer distinction between the subject and the background to assure more accurate control of a discharge level in flash photography.

Large, bright optical viewfinder — The 645Z features a trapezoid-shaped glass prism, in place of a conventional pentaprism, to assure compact dimensions. Its optical viewfinder provides a field of view of approximately 98% to facilitate image composition, while the time-proven Natural-Bright-Matte focusing screen offers a sharp, clear viewfinder image for easier focusing and reduced eye fatigue, even during extended shooting sessions.

Smartphone-support functions*
By installing the optional FLUCARD FOR PENTAX 16GB O-FC1 memory card in the 645Z, the user can release the 645Z’s shutter, check the live-view image, and browse and download the images recorded on the card using a smartphone.

* This software supports smartphones operating on iOS6 or later and Android 4.2 or later.

DR II to eliminate dust from the image sensor — The 645Z comes equipped with the highly effective DR (Dust Removal) II mechanism to eliminate annoying dust spots on recorded images. By shifting the UV/IR-cut filter placed in front of the image sensor at supersonic speed using a piezoelectric element, this mechanism effectively and efficiently shakes dust off the image sensor. The 645Z also provides the Dust Alert system, which helps the user detect any dust particles clinging to the image sensor prior to shooting. Thanks to these user-friendly features, the photographer is assured of beautiful, spotless images, even when the lenses are changed in dust-prone outdoor settings.

Advanced, professional-grade features

  • When the camera is positioned upside down such as in copying work and bird’s-eye-view photography,  the user can select “Auto Image Rotation mode” that allows the automatic rotation of the image 180 degrees on the camera’s LCD monitor or on a computer screen for easier viewing based on the selected position data.
  • The fine square grid on live-view helps you confirm the subject’s position in the image field during live-view shooting. The user can select grid color from black and white.
  • Lock button disables the camera’s control buttons and dial to prevent the accidental shift of settings.

Other features

  • Dual SD card slots for memory card flexibility (compatible with SDXC, SDXC UHS-1 speed class in SDR104 bus speed mode)
  • Flexible white balance control, with a newly added Multi-Pattern Auto mode
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooting mode, with RAW-format data filing
  • PENTAX-invented hyper control system for quick, accurate response to the photographer’s creative intentions
  • Attachment of copyright credits on recorded images; detection of image tampering using the accompanying software
  • Automatic compensation of lens distortion, lateral chromatic aberration, brightness level at edges, and diffraction
  • Compatibility with Eye-Fi wireless LAN memory cards
  • Compatibility with USB3.0-standard interface accessories, with HDMI (type D) terminal
  • Digital Camera Utility 5 software included, to provide enhanced image-processing performance and speed using its newly designed engine
  • Compatibility with IMAGE Transmitter 2 software, for easy transfer of recorded images to PC (optional; available soon)
Pentax 645z, top view with 55/2.8
Pentax 645z, top view with 55/2.8

Hits and Misses: Ultra Low Light Photography—Sony A7s vs Nikon Df (and of sleeping gorillas)

It might be a “miss” on price, but the new Sony A7s with its 12-megapixel state-of-the-art sensor poses an interesting contrast to the traditional form factor of the other full frame low-res / low light cameras on the market, the Nikon Df (and D4/D4s).

In Thoughts on Nikon Df back in November, I articulated all the things the Nikon Df lacked or did wrong that precluded it from being a convenient contender for all-around carry. Now along comes the Sony A7s and from what I see it hits the nail on the head, and adds 4K video to boot (which appears to be its primary selling point).

In a nutshell, the Sony A7s offers a much more compact form factor, compatibility with a vast array of lenses of many brands including two high-performance native lenses, a high-res EVF, superior rear LCD, ultra high ISO capability, on-sensor contrast-detect focusing (avoids phase-detect AF errors as with Nikon DSLRs), 4K video.

The A7s will have its issues, but will Nikon and (Canon) see what dinosaur cameras they are building any time soon, or just let Sony be the only innovator and walk away with their business over time? The form factor and EVF factors alone can hardly be underestimated.

Readers know I am unhappy with the shutter vibration of the Sony A7R (it’s why I have not bought one; it undermines viability of all lens tests) and a few other issues, but those are current-offering issues. Over time, flaws usually are removed and with Sony’s aggressive move into professional areas (4K video), some good sense is bound to leach across and improve the lineup.

But with Nikon and Canon, nothing happens: the D800/D800E are now 2+ years old with zero updates that could drive new sales (optional EVF support, fix the mangled Live View, current-tech sensor, time exposure modes, higher-res time lapse). Canon’s DSLR offerings are really 5+ years old now (the 5D Mark III hardly counts vs the 5D Mark II, and both are lower resolution than even the Sony A7). This is the way to abandon a market to a vigorous competitor. Meanwhile, Sony innovates with three new mirrorless full-frame cameras spanning the usage scenarios from low light to high res to 4K to better “hit rate”, etc. The Sony offerings are (mostly) not for sports and the support network is essentially non-existent (for pros), but so what—the action is in the prosumer market.

Merits of an Aperture Ring on the Lens

Today’s example with the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS on the Leica M240 and the prior Olympus 50/1.2 example on the Sony A7R speak to a point that matters to me: it’s all about lenses. It is why lenses like the new Sigma 50/1.4 disappoint in one key way: with no aperture ring, there is no way to control the aperture without an electronic adapter, which might not exist and/or the quality and/or reliability of a suitable lens adapter might not be there for any particular camera + lens combination.

The Sigma decision to omit the aperture ring is probably founded on cost savings, how-it-has-always-been-done, and the mount-swap goal. But the Sigma 50/1.4 DG HSM A and Sigma 35/1.4 DG HSM A1 would be *so* much more attractive if they could be swapped between cameras in the field just by carrying a simple mechanical adapter. Whether for stills or video, a lens without an aperture ring is inherently more limiting.

Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon with mechanical aperture ring  
Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
with mechanical aperture ring

A decades-old Nikkor or Olympus lens with its manual aperture ring can be fit to just about any mirrorless camera system with a simple mechanical adapter. The Nikon F-mount is the closest thing to a universal mount because it is easily adapted to Leica M, Canon EF, Fujifilm X, Sony E-mount, Micro Four Thirds.

Ditto for the wise choice by Zeiss to continue building aperture rings into even the newest designs for Nikon F-mount, like the fabulous Otus line. It makes an investment in any Zeiss ZF.2 lens a long-term value no matter what camera platform is used. And that will be true a decade or two decades from now.

As Richard Schleuning of Zeiss puts it:

Yes, quite true. At NAB, we were swapping lenses and adapters on all different type of cameras, including the Sony A7S and VG900, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema, Panasonic AF-100 etc.

The ability to control aperture without using a 'smart adapter' definitely has its benefits. For filmmakers, the aperture can also be 'de-clicked' to allow for continuous control - which is a popular retrofit from companies like Duclos lenses.

The long focus throw and hard stops of the Otus is also a consideration.

The beauty of the Zeiss approach is that the manual aperture ring is there when it’s needed or wanted on other systems, yet a Nikon DSLR still exercises 1/3 stop control electronically. Sadly, Nikon has chosen to degrade the versatility of its own lenses, even the high-end ones, moving to the “G” style lenses lacking an aperture ring, unwittingly reducing the value proposition; it has certainly given me pause more than once and kept me from buying: why invest in a lens stuck to one system, especially today.

Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS Aperture Series, DeChambeau Sidelit Barn

Added to my review of the Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS in DAP an aperture series that shows just how nice some older designs can be with a little stopping down:

Aperture Series: DeChambeau Sidelit Barn (Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS, Leica M Typ 240)

The Nikon 50/1.2 was previously included as a 3rd lens against two Leica M 50mm optics in Guide to Leica.

The point that keeps getting driven home to me is that it’s all about lenses. This old Nikkor with its manual aperture ring is trivially adapted to just about any camera system with a simple mechanical adapter. It was the M240 here, but could have been Fujifilm X or Sony E-mount, or Micro Four Thirds or Canon EF.

DeChambeau Barn Leica M Typ 240 + Novoflex adapter + Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS @ ƒ/2.8  
DeChambeau Barn
Leica M Typ 240 + Novoflex adapter + Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AIS @ ƒ/2.8

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM 'Art' (for Canon, Nikon, etc)

     Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Pre-order the Sigma 50/1.4 DG HSM 'Art' at B&H Photo:

Note that there is no Sony E-mount for A7/A7R/A7s. The lens is heavy enough that stressing the lens mount could be a problem, but also, the optical design is for a DSLR flange focal distance, which means it would not be any shorter on Sony E-mount.

If the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM performs at a level with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM, then it might turn out to be my 50mm autofocus lens of choice, the manual focus Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Distagon being my #1 normal lens.

I’ll be reporting on the Sigma 50/1.4 A of course.

Emerging lab tests on performance versus the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon are all well and good but such tests yield a circumscribed story, so while I expect the Sigma 50/1.4A to eclipse the Canon and Nikon normal lens offerings, performance over a range of focusing distances and shooting conditions is where a real understanding of performance comes.

Still, with Sigma’s aggressive pricing and the autofocus functionality, the lens has undeniably huge appeal—as one reader wrote today:

Right now, I don’t see any reason to save my hard earned money for the Otus.

If one uses video and photography, then the Otus might be a good choice.

For photography, 1/4th the price, autofocus and similar optical performance..
The choice is made.

Count me out on lab-test evaluations of a lens (extremely misleading in some cases), but there is no denying that price and autofocus will be a deciding factor for many.

No aperture ring

I also wish the Sigma lens had an aperture ring for greater versatility, e.g., on mirrorless cameras with any mechanical adapter, Nikon on Canon, etc, because shooting more than one brand camera can be handy. But unlike Nikon or Canon, Sigma offers a mount conversion service should one switch camera body brands (of no use in the field of course).

The Sigma decision to omit the aperture ring is probably founded on cost savings, how-it-has-always-been-done, and the mount-swap goal (same parts). But the Sigma 50/1.4 and 35/1.4 would be *so* much more attractive if they could be swapped between cameras in the field just by carrying a simple mechanical adapter.

     Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM A optical construction
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM A optical construction


The MTF chart for ƒ/1.4 shows high central contrast which drops off steadily to the edges and corners. At least at the center, it should perform extremely well, but note that 30 lp/mm (green lines) cannot be compared directly to the 40 lp/mm used in Zeiss and Leica MTF charts, nor is the spectral weighting designated. Moreover, Zeiss charts are measured results from real lenses (not computed idealizations).

The drop-off away from center is likely due to increasing aberrations off-center, but it could also be a field curvature effect. Probably some of both.

Sigma supplies only wide-open MTF, so not much more insight can be gained about what happens with stopping down (much better the performance, whether focus shift anf field curvature ramp up, etc). That absence is odd given the recent Sigma commitment to delivering diffraction-incorporating MTF charts, diffraction being a non-issue at ƒ/1.4 and being most relevant when stopped down to ƒ/4 and beyond. Moreover, Sigma has not made clear whether the chart is a measured MTF of a real production lens, or a computed result from the lens design, e.g. real lenses have production variances.

     MTF for Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM
MTF for Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Features and specifications

Sigma calls out some appealing qualities:

● Astonishing rendering performance — Utilizing know-how and the latest design technology accumulated through the past developments, it corrects the aberration thoroughly and achieves high resolution and astonishing rendering performance even near the edge of the image.

Achieving both high resolution and beautiful bokeh — While pursuing a high level of resolution on the focused point, bokeh in front and behind the point of focus is carefully maintained to have soft rendering. Aberrations including sagittal coma flare and color distortion that affect the image quality are thoroughly corrected. From open aperture, high-definition rendering without blur is achieved. Moreover, by ensuring vignetting at the minimum and preventing color blur around the front and back of the focus point, it also achieves natural bokeh.

Excellent correction of sagittal coma flare — It is ideal for a wide aperture standard lens to have a high rendering performance from open aperture throughout the entire image. For instance, the molded glass aspherical lens elements provide excellent correction to sagittal coma flare. It is perfect for astronomical photography and shooting of illumination because of the reduced blur on the point light sources near the edge of the image. It also creates an attractive bokeh in portraits and indoor shooting.

Correction of axial chromatic aberration — For axial chromatic aberration that is hard to correct even during the image processing, SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements are incorporated, ensuring high image quality throughout the entire focusing range. The lens achieves sharp and high contrast image rendering.

Minimized distortion — It is not possible to compensate for distortion just by changing the aperture values. Thus, the lens development stage was vital in ensuring minimized distortion. The "SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG HSM" has positioned each glass element to optimize the power layout at respective positions, and succeeded in minimizing distortion.

Rich peripheral brightness — It secures very rich brightness in the peripheral areas, which can be a common problem for a lens with a large diameter. By positioning wide elements in the front group, it has improved the efficiency at large apertures. Since it is capable of minimizing vignetting, very clear depiction across the image is ensured.

Designed to minimize flare and ghosting — Flare and ghosting were thoroughly measured and monitored from the lens development stage to establish an optical design which is resistant to strong incidental light such as backlight. The Super Multi-Layer Coating reduces flare and ghosting and provides sharp and high contrast images even in backlit conditions.

Minimum focusing distance of 40cm — The lens incorporates a floating system that adjusts the distance between lens groups while focusing, thereby reducing the amount of lens movement required. This achieves a minimum focusing distance of 40cm and maximum magnification ratio of 1:5.6. As there is less variation in aberration at different shooting distances, the lens delivers high rendering performance throughout the entire focusing range.

3. Hyper Sonic Motor ensures High AF Speed — The HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) ensures a silent, high-speed AF function. Optimizing AF algorithm, smoother AF is achieved. It also enables full-time manual focusing capability which allows sensible focus adjustment by simply rotating the focus ring.

Incorporating Rounded Diaphragm — The 9 blade-rounded diaphragm creates an attractive blur to the out-of-focus areas of the image.


Specifications for Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art series
Focal length: 50mm (nominal)
Aperture scale: f/1.4 - f/16, rounded diaphragm blades
Focusing range: 40cm / 15.7in
Angular field: 46.8°
Image ratio at close range:            1:5.6
Number of elements/groups: 13 elements in 8 groups
Filter thread: 77mm
Weight (nominal): 815g /28.7 oz
Dimensions: 85.4mm x 99.9mm / 3.4in. x 3.9in
List price: $TBD


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