Bokeh test A7r and Elmar 50, Summicron 50, CV 21/1.8, FE 55/1.8 and Sigma DP3M

Discussion in 'Sony E-Mount (incl. NEX, A7, A7R, A3000) Forum' started by biglouis, Dec 3, 2014.

  1. biglouis

    biglouis SC Veteran

    Aug 4, 2013
    Last week I took delivery of my 5th M-mount lens, a last version Leica Elmar 50/2.8 to use on a Sony A7r.

    I've owned this lens 3 times (when will I ever learn!). I love it for its simplicity and beautiful out of focus rendering at f2.8.

    I was intrigued though to compare how it performed against a Version 3 Leica Summicron 35 and for a wilder comparison, a Voigtlander 21/1.8. Then I thought I'd throw in a Sigma DP3M, which for my money has one of the most beautiful out of focus renderings I have come across. Finally, I also decided to test it against the FE 55/1.8 which has outstanding characteristics wide open.

    The subject is a flower, a winter Camelia with the background being a Victorian lampost in an alley. My vision for bokeh is to create an impressionistic background, if that doesn't sound too pretentious.

    These are the results. All were shot RAW, imported in LR for minor adjustments and then saved as original sized jpegs and smaller ones for posting in a thread. As already stated, all M lenses on an A7r and all at f2.8

    Sony FE 55/1.8 at f2.8 (original)

    Leica Elmar 50/2.8 at f2.8 (original)

    Summicron 35/2 at f2.8 (original)

    Vogtlander 21/1.8 at f2.8 (original)

    Sigma DP3M at f2.8 (original)

    To my mind the FE 55/1.8 is too perfect - the bokeh is remarkably smooth but so smooth is lacks a little character. However, if I owned this alone I would always be satisfied with its performance. In fact, I originally shot the photograph wide open at f1.8 but the lampost was completely consumed by the background. I could only bring it into shape at f2.8 and indeed might have done better to choose f3.2 or f4.

    The Summicron 35 v3 at f2.8 is surprisingly harsh. This is a shame because wide open I know it has a wonderfully fluidity and I am surprised that it presents this way at f2.8. Perhaps it has to do with the background subject itself? I still find this lens superb for landscape work at f8 and did not buy it for its performance wide open.

    The CV 21/1.8 is intriguing. I love this lens. Especially designing photographs which exploit the photographic contradiction of UWA with background blur.

    The DP3M is and outstanding performer in terms of separation. It is arguably the best shot of the flower and the background blur is also pleasing. Better than the Summicron but not quite on a par with the lens which I still think does the best job.

    My feeling is that 50 Elmar is the most superior for this subject. The blur of the lampost is just enough to give the impression but not so much that it is almost lost in the background or too little that it is a harsh outline.

    I also feel that manual prime glass gives very fine results, even if the lenses are not native FE mounts. The flower in the Elmar, Summicron and Ultron lenses has a subtlety to the colours and textures which is very attractive. The DP3M renders an absolutely pixel perfect image and like all Foveon sensors the texture - especially of the flower petals is outstanding.

    Of course my feelings are entirely subjective and you may feel differently. In fact, I am very pleased to own such a range of lenses which can each one be used for creative photography and each with their own strengths (and weaknesses).

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  2. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name:
    The two Leicas both seem to be a bit backwards i.e. foreground OOF objects are smooth while the backgrounds are harsher.
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  3. christilou

    christilou SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2010
    Sunny Frimley
    Thanks :) I like the FE55 1.8 the most (luckily, as it's the only af lens I have for the A7R). I find the same as you, that using it wide open sometimes blurs the background away to nothing and it benefits from stopping down to f4 at times. The Voigtlander I like very much, it renders the background really nicely, highly recognisable without being intrusive and useful for getting some context. My 35mm 1.2 II is quite similar in this regard. I used that one for my last graveyard pics where I wanted the headstones to help to tell the story. The others I'm not keen on, the Summicron is very busy and distracting to my eye and the Elmar a little harsh and contrasty whilst the Sigma has a pleasant and mellow draw. Very interesting comparison, thanks for going to the trouble of doing this for us Louis.
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  4. tomO2013

    tomO2013 SC Rookie

    Oct 19, 2014
    I prefer the 55 1.8 the most personally too. It's as close to optically perfect as you can get this side of an Otus. Sometimes (like the Otus as well) it can be a little 'too' optically perfect. This is something that I have also said of my Oly 75 1.8. But it's easy to play around in LR and add some vignetting back in;) For that reason alone the Zeiss 55 1.8 get's my vote.
    However, I'm a little surprised at the Summicron results - I would have expected them to be a LOT smoother. Particularly the Summicron F2 version 4 is often affectionately referred to as 'the bokeh king'. There is no arguing with your images though. I'd have loved to see the Summicron also shot at F2; in your sample it is at F2.8. I wonder if there is a big discrepancy in OOF between F2 and F2.8 on this lens. Certainly at F2.8 it looks very harsh.
    The Voigtlander results (obviously at a different field of view making it harder to directly compare) is an interesting result. To be honest, I would have expected to see the reverse of what you found between the Leica and Voigtlander. I would have expected the Voigty to be slightly busier and harsher in the OOF.

    The Foveon is a lovely image too (my second favourite) - but it also looks to have a very different field of view to the other shots making it hard to directly compare bokeh.
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  5. pinholecam

    pinholecam SC Regular

    Aug 3, 2012
    Same feelings about the FE55.
    Its technically very good, but that lack of character in most cases and lack of the tactile engagement doing MF has made me put it aside in preference of just any other 50mm that I have.
    I just keep it for the AF in case I get lazy (so far that has not happened)

    FE55 bokeh does get bad imo at half body shots in some situations, but in this case, it did the best.

    Yes, that V21/1.8 Ultron is really superb.
    I am still amazed by it.
    21mm but still able to give separation using DOF control.

    Thanks for sharing.
  6. mattia

    mattia SC Regular

    Dec 20, 2013
    Why would AF be 'lazy'? I mean, I enjoy manually focussing to a degree, but the A7r has very competent AF in decent light, and generally more accurate than I would get with manual focus and the 55...
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  7. lenshacker

    lenshacker SC Regular

    Nov 21, 2014
    That means they are over-corrected for spherical aberration. Most fast lenses are like this.
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  8. El Guapo

    El Guapo SC Regular

    Feb 3, 2014
    This post is heaps of fun. IMVHO, I like the FE55 best but I'd put the Elmar second with the DP3 third.
    I would put the 21mm second but I think you are comparing apples with raspberries, nonetheless the 21 is nice.
    The 35 I'd put last, its bokeh is distracting.

    An interesting question is would everyone's choice change on a different subject.

    Right not I am saving for either a Loxia 50mm or the FE55. The Loxia might get the nod, need to look at more samples.
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  9. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    You can check these Loxia reviews with comparisons to Sony 55mm:

    Last edited: Mar 1, 2015
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  10. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    I find the Sigma and the Elmar images the most pleasing overall, but that is just a gut reaction.

    Cheers, Jock