Are We Being Fleeced

Sony A7r
Sony A7r

As some regular readers may be aware, I have recently added to my equipment with a Sony A7r. It’s an impressive piece of equipment and is capable of resolving an amazing amount of detail with the right lenses. If you’re not aware of the specification, the sensor is 36Mpixels and it has no antialiasing filter so that you can achieve optimal sharpness. The image you see at the top of this post was captured using the Sony.

Of course, all this resolution places huge demands on your lenses so that any softness will become immediately evident. I’m sure if you are a Canon or a Nikon user you will have heard the comments that with the top of the range cameras you need top class professional lenses. I recall when I bought a Canon 5D MKII a number of years back it was deemed necessary to use L series lenses. With the Nikon D800, I read similar comments about needing the best Nikkor lenses.

Now take a look at the image below. Be sure to click the image to review it at full resolution. It’s of a section of the above image viewed at 100% magnification. There is also a second image shown, also magnified to the same location. Before reading on I would like you to decide which image has resolved the best.

Lens Comparison
Lens Comparison

Both images have been sharpened and processed similarly. The one on the left was shot using a Canon 24-70L f/4.0 at f/11 mounted onto the Sony (zoomed to 35mm). The full retail price of this lens is £1,100. The other image was shot using a Canon 35mm FD lens bought on ebay for less than £35. This isn’t even a late version of the lens. It’s an early example and it’s only single coated.

Now you might be thinking surely this is a fluke but we repeated the experiment using an old 24mm FD prime and also a 70-210 zoom. The results are all similar. Even the zoom lens matched up to the 70-200L zoom.

So, what was that line we were all being fed about needing top of the range lenses.

10 thoughts on “Are We Being Fleeced

  1. It’s a gorgeous image. I love landscapes that are totally natural and this image of the Lakes is just that; it captues wonderfully the drama, beauty and colours. You do feel like you are there and reminds me of the reason we climb up hills and take photos!

    The lens comparison is very revealing (pun intended). That a lens from the 70s/80s without computer-deisgned asherical elements etc can stand up to Canon’s recent finest makes you think. I am tempted to get an A7 to see what my Pentax primes can reveal!


    1. Wow my conclusion was the image on the right was sharper. Were you using autofocus? If not it could be focusing was a bit off on the left image. Just a thought.

      1. Both images were carried out using manual foucs on the windows in the house. This is more accurate than auto focus as I was zommed in at full magnification on the LCD to check the focus point. The result is also repeated across multiple images.

    2. I’ve recently been on a “vintage” binge. Let’s see:
      1 Canon AE-1 with mint 50mm/f1.4 SSC for $56 delivered
      1 Canon FTb with 50mm/f1.4 (silver front), both in VG condition, for $24.50 delivered. I got it for the awesome neckstrap.
      1 Nikon Nikomat FT N with 50mm/F1.4 and leather case, all in factory mint condition (really), for $51 delivered. EXC+++.
      1 Nikon F with 50mm/F1.4 in excellent condition…WITH ORIGINAL BOX!!!!!! $114 delivered. EXC+
      1 Exakta VX-1000 with Pancolar 50mm/F2 and leather body case..a showcase piece…mint…$111, delivered. EXC ++.
      1 Canon silver front 50mm/f1.4 for $25 delivered. VG condition. Perfect optics/mechanics.

      Tack on a 200mm/f4 Super Takumar for $39, a 135mm/f2.5 Canon FD for $31, a 21mm/f4.5 Tamron for $67, a Vivitar 21mm/F3.8 for $31, Vivitar-Kiron 75-205/f3.8 for$16, OLY 28mm/f2.8 for $52, Jupiter 9 for $35, Jupiter 8 for $25…all of these lenses with excellent optics (no show stoppers).

      I’m having an absolute BLAST using these legacy lenses on my mirrorless cameras. The results are pleasing and at these costs…it’s hard to pass up.

      Of course…it’s back to manual focus with these babies…but this also makes me take the time to set up my shots.

      1. That’s a great collection of lenses. Since I wrote this I have picked up a Canon FD 50mm 1.4, a Canon FD 28mm and Canon 70-210mm f/4.0. The 50mm is excellent although a little soft in the corners until you stop it down. The 28mm isn’t up to much but the 70-210 is excellent until you get to around 150mm when it softens.

        What surprised me was just how easy it is to work with manual focus lenses on the Sony. The focus peaking makes it so easy. I also purchased an adapter for the Micro 43 to try the canon FD lenses on the Olympus EM5. Immediately I found myself lost without the focus peaking. Despite this I was able to make a good job of focussing the 50mm lens. The quality is superb and the soft corners have been cut off. If anyone is looking for a great portrait lens then the 50mm FD canon on an adapter is about 1/10 of the price of the 75mm Olympus.

        This is great fun but I’m a little jelous of your collection.

  2. A few photographers , in the states, like the Sony but use Sigma or other lenses, the thinking is Sony does not offer the range of lens that Canon, Nikon etc offer. A few use adapters to legacy lenses. I have a few Canon FD lenses, the most recent is a 28mm 2.8, on my mFT it is amazing. I can’t wait for the adapter for my Fuji X-E1. Legacy lenses were assembled with brass and less plastic, their coatings were state of the state for their time. But they were designed to expose film, now is film or a digital sensor harder to make a sharp image with? I would think film emulsions would have a range of particulate size whereas a sensor is a uniform x by y size and each RGB receptor is uniform. Also consider the ‘exposure ring’ that the lens projects on the sensor. A legacy lens illuminated the full frame at 35mm. Now with cropped sensors the center is captured, usually the area of sharpest image. Whichever lens or camera a good image is one that pleases you and you memory of the place. Jerry

    1. Up until this point I had never thought about using a legacy lens with my MFT kit but I will now buy an adapter. OK I won’t have a wide angle but a Canon 50mm 1.4 lens will give an amazing 100mm lens on the Olympus at a fraction of the cost of a long prime. As you point out he image cicle on the FF lens when fitter to the Micro 43 means even the corners will be in the sweet spot of the lens. I’m going to experiment more with these old lenses.

  3. The image on the left appears – on my monitor at least (Mac 27-inch 5k) – to be of lower-resolution in terms of number of pixels. This is most obvious when looking at the edge of the outhouse roof to the right of the images – the pixels in the left-hand image appear considerably larger than the right-hand.

    I’m no expert – can lens resolution manifest itself in this way?

    You are also comparing (in the image presented) a prime lens vs. a zoom – we are lead to believe that prime lens are inherently “better” than zooms. The price difference is obviously affected in no small part by the age and lack of automation on the FDs. How much would the Canon L zoom fetch on eBay in 30 or 40 years time?

    In any event, it’s certainly thought-provoking. Obviously, before reaching any firm conclusion there would have to be a proper set of lab tests encompassing not only resolution but chromatic aberration, distortion, etc.

    I have a couple of Nikon prime lenses which I intend to use on the Sony for macro work. I might also consider the shorter focal length ones for landscape work, too now.

    1. The two images are identical resolution but the positioning may be off slightly. They are both being displayed side by side in Lightroom and what I have shared is a screengrab.

      You are quite right about the differences in the lens comparison. The L series lens is sharper into the corners when wide open and exhibist less CA in the corners. Nether the less, its surprising that the old prime stopped down is sharper than the new lens. If you are shooting on a budget, the cost of the primes is affordable. Additionally, we did another comparison between a 70-200 f/4.0 L lens and an old 70-200 f/4.0 (cost £25). They seem to be on a par at f/8.0.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.