Samyang 24 f2.8

Having sold all my APS-C gear and having spent all my money on ab A7RII body, I was in desperate need of a lens. So I had a look, read some reviews and finally bought a Samyang 24 f2.8. why not the 35mm version I so adore? Because the 24 was cheaper and I always liked 24mm as wide angle focal length.

Autofocus

Is silent enough for me, but I’m no video shooter. It’s not superfast per se, but as a WA – it doesn’t really need to. That being said, you can still get a fast picture with Eye-AF of your wife.

Sharpness

Reviews are a bit mixed in that respect. So here’s my take: is it tack sharp at f2.8? No. Can it outresolve the 42mp sensor at f11? Not really. But is it unsharp? Also no. For a prime it may a bit lacking in sharpness. But it’s sharp enough for bigger prints if stopped down and still better than most zooms. Centre sharpness is good from wide open, get’s very good stopped down. Corners need a bit more stopping down, but at f8 or f11 you get a nice even corner-to-corner sharpness.

Aberrations

CAs are well controlled, as is distortion, but Vignetting is quite severe. Although it’s corrected in the jpegs and most raw converters, it still might be a bit problematic when shooting wide open in the upper ISO range. The correction will raise the shadows in the corners even more and introduce lots of noise. If you’re not doing that, everything is peachy. Flare resistance is ok. Not bad, not especially good. Ok.

Handling/built

It is plastic and lightweight, so, yes, it feels a little cheap. On the lensbody there’s just the focus ring, no button or switch, but it’s a tiny lens so – that’s ok. But having it in your pocket and completely forgetting about it’s presence because it’s so small – that really is a great feat.

Conclusion

No raving accounts of it’s superior image quality. But I still can’t stress enough what a great piece of kit this lens is. It’s just so tiny! Couple that with it’s price ( I paid about 180 Eur brand new) and you get a lens too convenient to pass up. Yes, it’s a little flimsy. It’s also probably not a real 24, more 25mm. And it’s not as sharp as it’s 35mm brother. But still good enough for most use cases. And so tiny! Did I mention it’s tiny???

f14 – sunstars not great but nice enough

Back to the Fu… …ll frame

Yepp… I did it. I ditched my A6400 and bought back into full frame. An A7RII, to be precise.

“But why?? Is the A6400 a bad camera? Was it’s autofocus to slow? The image quality lacking?” Well – not really. One big reason is GAS, to be honest. But there’s more!

When the light gets dimmer, I was a bit bothered by the noise levels. Yes, it’s a good camera, also in high ISO. But it’s about the same level as my old A7I. The A7RII is a clear advancement, here.

Although the camera is compact, good lenses aren’t. The Sigma 30 f1.4 is optically a beast of a lens – but also quite hefty in size and weight. A 45mm f2 for full frame is basically smaller and more lightweight. So what’s the point of owning a small camera when the lenses are either lacking or big? And if I want to travel really light I’m going to use my phone, anyway.

Good lenses cost good money. Doesn’t make that much of a difference if it’s FF or APS-C. And vintage glass makes so much more sense on a FF sensor.

All this combined with the fact that the A7RII is at a price point where I can afford a used one lead to this decision. Am I happy, now? For the moment… Until a used A7RIII is in my reach…

Vilt-rocks?? Viltrox 23 f1.4

Back when I still had my A7, the Samyang 35 f2.8 was essentially glued onto that cam. I love that focal length, it’s just so universal. And the Sammy is sooooo small!! Perfect combination.

For APS-C one could use the Samyang 24 f2.8. But too me, it just never was fast enough. So I was quite excited when Viltrox announced their lens-lineup which included a fast 23. Unfortunately, it took it’s sweet time until it was finally availiable.

But after what felt like about a century of waiting I finally could buy one for about 280 EUR. So how was it??

Autofocus

Well, neither especially fast, nor slow. OK, I’d say. Eye-AF working, focus motors not too loud (I’m no videographer so it’s not really important to me). But – I had quite a number of misfocussed pictures. Not many, but enough to bother me. I guess one or two firmware updates will fix this. But until that you have to live with it.

Sharpness

To be blunt: My copy just wasn’t sharp. One could argue I was spoiled by my Sigma 30. But I’m not talking about corner sharpness at f 1.4, but instead centre sharpness at f4. It just lacks sharpness, and that’s one of the points of buying a prime lens. Sure, at f8 everything was peachy, but at f8 – so is the kit lens!

Bokeh

Really liked it, pleasing!

Haptic/Ergononomics

For the price: Excellent. Feels in no way cheap, very nice lens hood (have a long and hard look at that, Sigma!!). And I adore the aperture ring although I really would prefer it clicked. It’s not a especially small or lightweight lens – about the same as the 30mm Sigma.

So – did I keep it?? No… Although I really suspect a bum copy I did not exchange it for a new one but rather sent it back. Somehow it didn’t evoke the magic of the A7 with the Samyang 35. It just fortified a thought in me that was nearly inevitable. I guess the next blog entry will tell…

“poor man’s SEL1655G”

Ever since Sony created it’s APS-C line of mirrorless cameras there where people demanding a fast standard-zoom. The full frame lineup got two f4 (24-70/24-105) versions from Sony and one f2.8 (24-70).
The years brought quite a range of standard-zooms for APS-C, as finally there where seven of them if i’ve not miscounted (18-55, 16-50PZ, 16-70Z, 18-200 (2 versions, not counting the tamron-version), 18-105, 18-135). Alas, only two of those can be called fast in the broadest of senses with a constant aperture of 4.

But in August 2019 that changed when the eighth standardzoom was announced: The SEL1655G with a constand aperture of f2.8. Everyone was in uproar. Finally, Sony has heard the calling and now it will deliver. And it did, indeed. It’s fast, considering the aperture it’s also light and compact and image quality leaves little to be desired.
It did bring a few caveats, though… First of all, the price: current going rate here is about 1250 EUR, which is pretty steep. And on top of that: No OSS. If you want this fast zoom stabilized you’ll clearly also spring for the new A6600 (about 1400 EUR). Which would be 2650 EUR combined. An A7III plus the 2470Z costs less(!).

Needless to say I was at first excited about the new lens, but after it hit the market? Not so much. I already stressed my budget with the A6400, so the 1655G is a bit out of my price range. I got me a 18-135 instead which is in fact a very good lens. But not a fast one…

But when I look at older pictures of mine, a lot of them were taken with 24mm focal length on my A7 (either the Minolta MD 24-35 or my 20 EUR Tokina 24 f2.8). So being restricted to 18mm I began to look for something in that range.

Being extremely satisfied with my Sigma 30 f1.4 the 16mm version naturally springs to mind. It reportedly combines excellent image quality with a very fast AF. So after some consideration I ordered one at amazon for about 370 EUR.
So how went that? Well first of all: It wasn’t as sharp as I expected. Don’t know really why, in fact I suspect a bum copy, but it’s nowhere near as sharp as my 30mm Sigma. Next is the size: It feels really enormous on a small mirrorless camera. And it’s quite heavy, too. So after two days I decided to return it.

What now? If it’s gonna be so big and heavy, I can also go the zoom way, so I acutally considered selling all my lenses to spring for the 1655G after all, but not only is it ultimately over budget, for this price I kind of expect an OSS.
But then I realized something: For about 1000 EUR less you can get a good copy of the old, fast standard zoom e-mount users were always jealous of: the SAL1650f28. I did some digging and bought an LA-EA3 Adapter for 100 EUR and a SAL1650 for 180 (with a minor scratch on the front element). I then also bought a SAL55300 for 105 EUR. So for about 30 EUR more than the Sigma, I got a fast 16-50 standard zoom (and a telezoom, to boot).

After a few days of using the SAL1650, here my thoughts:
It’s heavy and feels a bit unwieldy at first, but not very different from the Sigma. It clearly isn’t the daily driver you take on the occasional stroll with you, but handling is surprinsingly good. On the 6400 you get nearly all the AF goodies including tracking and Eye-AF, both of which work very well. Only in very dim light the AF starts to hunt, other than that it’s fast and silent. One drawback is the lag you experience when shooting stopped down. Like on the A-mount bodies the focus is aquired whide open and the aperture only closes directly before the exposure – but there’s no lag if you shoot at f2.8. Which you can do a lot, because: image quality is generally excellent already wide open. Only the corners need a bit stopping down and never reach excellent levels.
Of course: Still no OSS so in the dark my Sigma 30mm f1.4 still reigns supreme.

Till now? Im quite satisfied with this whopper…

SAL1650 on A6400

Tele on e

Looking for a tele lens on e-mount? That’s an easy thing if you have about 1000 EUR lying around. If not, it can be quite the hassle… I personally have not too much need for teles and am always looking for the cheap way out. As a result I tried quite a few options… Cameras used Sony A7 and/or A6400. Some experiences with older Nex Cameras.

Sony SEL55210 f4.5-6.3
The logical choice. Downsides: APS-C only (OSS doesn’t work on the full frame cameras), only f6.3 on the long end. Some seem to be very content, others not so much. I always thought image quality to be lacking, especially on the long end (where it’s needed on a tele lens IMO). I think there’s also quite the sample variation. Used price is unbeatable and AF is fast, though.

Minolta MD 70-210 f4 (MD-Nex Adapter)
Excellent lens, can be had cheaply and is easy to adapt. Alas – only manual focus and quite heavy. Left it at home most of the time. Sold.

Minolta MD 75-150 f4 (MD-Nex Adapter)
If you can find one cheap – strong buy! Even better than the 70-210, very compact and lightweight. Should’ve kept this…

Sigma 600 f8 mirror (needs Adapter)
Either my copy was terrible or it’s just a bad lens. Lightweight and compact but IQ was’nt satisfactory. Bye!!

Tamron SP 60-300 f3.8-5.4 (23A) (Adaptall Adapter)
“The zoom that wants to be a prime”. Handy focal length, excellent build quality, available in many mounts (Adaptall), legendary image quality, very good macro mode. But too heavy… Sold it…

Canon EF 70-300 IS USM (EF-Nex Adapter)
Said to be very good. My copy wasn’t, I gather it was defect. Sold it ‘as is’ for a mark-down. A little heavy but nice handling and very good IS.

Canon EF 70-210 f3.5-4.5 USM (EF-Nex Adapter)
Lightweight, cheap, fast. Found it a bit lacking on the long end. Depending on camera and adapter the AF ranges from not-working-at-all to Okish. Sold it.

Canon EF 100-300 f4.5-5.6 USM (EF-Nex Adapter)
Basically the same lens as the 70-210, just a bit longer focal length. So off it went.

Canon EF-S 55-250 IS STM (EFs-Nex Adapter, so no Sigma MC-11)
Fast AF, good IS, a little flimsy built but a cheap and versatile lens if you use a modern camera and a good adapter (Metabones and the likes). Why didn’t Sony build the SEL55210 like that one?? Sold it only to fund the SEL18135.

Sony SAL55-300 f4.5-5.6 (AF-Nex Adapter)
Although quite a modern lens, no IS (the A-Mount Cameras had IBIS). AF is generally OK (no Sports-lens, though), Image Quality quite good for a kit-lens. Decent range, compact and lightweight. Sold it to buy the Tamron SP

Samyang/Walimex 500 f6.3 Mirror
Nice build quality, lightweight for the focal length, but very difficult to nail focus. Also kontrast is lacking as with most mirror lenses. Had it for a few days.

Tamron SP 70-300 F4-5.6 USD (AF-Nex Adapter)
A-Mount Version has no OSS, bit on the heavy side, but other than that: IQ is very good and AF fast enough. A keeper!

Sony SEL18135
Honorable mention. Not a tele lens but the very good centre sharpness on the long end makes it handy for cropping.

What in the world is a ‘crop factor’??

Always a source of confusion: the so-called crop-factor. “On APS-C a 35mm lens becomes a 50mm lens. Because, well, crop, you know.” Why that’s not true at all but not that wrong either is a thing I’ll try to explain.

Some decades ago, when the hobby of photography reached the masses, there was mainly one kind of film (you know film? These rolls they used to put into a camera): the 135 or 35mm film. This went into the leica, the canon, the zenith, the minox 35, or simply put: when an amateur put a roll of film into his camera you could bet it was a 35mm roll. The negative of a 35mm film was about 35mm x 24mm and there you already have the name explained.

Now imagine: the year’s 1972. You’re walking around with your shiny new Canon F-1 and a 35mm lens attached . Suddenly you spot a beautiful Ferrari Dino at the gas station on the other side of the street. You take the camera to your eye and shoot. But you can already see in the finder that the image won’t be a keeper: In addition to the Dino there’s also a fat dude on one side of the car and a heap of empty oil canisters on the other side. So you take off the 35mm lens and put a 50mm lens on the camera and take another picture just before the owner (remember the fat dude?) get’s into the car and takes off.
At home you go into your darkroom and develop the images. Yep, the image taken with the 35mm lens is no keeper, too much clutter on it. The 50mm one would by perfect, but it’s blurred! What now? Well, not all is lost. You are a master of the darkroom and develop only part of the negative of the image taken with the 35mm lens. Let’s say an area in the middle – about 15mm x 23mm, cut (or crop) the rest and blow it up to the same size as your other pictures.

You then put your zoomed-in, new image alongside your blurry 50mm image and realize: except for blurryness the images look astonishingly similar! The field of view of theses two images is nearly identical, you can’t distinguish the 35mm image of the 50mm one.

So did you just magically transform a 35mm lens to a 50mm one? Of course not, the lens is still the same, the physical properties didn’t change. But because you only developed part of the negative with a side length difference of 1.5 to the original negative, the field of view also changed by a factor of 1.5. The ‘cropped’ (that’s what it’s called) image taken with the 35mm lens looks like it was taken with a 52mm lens.

So, let’s get to APS-C vs full frame. When digital SLRs came to be, sensors were very expensive. A bigger sensor was not only more expensive, it was also a lot more difficult to build without defects, so a DSLR with a full 35mm x 24mm sensor would have been prohibitly expensive. Solution? Build smaller sensors, name them APS-C size and call it a day. These smaller sensors were used behind the same bayonets as the analogue films, and thus behind the same lenses. But as the side lengths of the light sensitive area was about 1.5 times smaller, the field of view also changed by the same factor of 1.5. If you used a DSLR and an analogue SLR side by side, the images with the 35mm lens on the DSLR showed roughly about the same field of view as one shot with a 50mm lens on the SLR.
And so the crop factor was born.

Should you mind the crop-factor? Well, not really. Problems arise only if you want to compare different camera systems because the field of view und thus the resulting image derives from a combination of sensor size and focal length. On point-and-shoot cameras it became custom practice not to print the correct focal length on the lenses but the equivalent focal length of a 35mm camera. And as sensor sizes are different the nomenclature also differs. Whereas a 35mm lens is considered wide angle on a full frame camera, it’s a normal lens on an APS-C and a portrait lens on a Micro-Four-Thirds camera (crop factor 2 ).
But if you’re just looking for a new lens – don’t bother. Just make sure the lens will work on your camera and shows the field of view you desire.

So, why are there full-frame and APS-C lenses anyway? Well, the focal length is one thing, the image circle another. A lens that can project an image onto a 35×24 mm surface area needs wider lenses then one that only has to project onto a 23×15 mm area (see the tiny lenses on your mobile phone? That’s because it also has a really tiny sensor). So an APS-C lens can be build smaller, lighter and often also cheaper than a full frame lens.

SELP1650 – Sonys worst kitzoom… …and why I love it

Well, it seams like everyone hates the little thing. Because of it’s powerzoom, because of it’s terrible distortion, because it’s so slow, because of it’s soft corners. And how shall I put it: Yup, it’s true. All of it. But alas – I love it!

The Powerzoom:
There’s no other way to put it: I hate the pz. I love a good mechanical zoom. But how are you going to get a zoom AND focus ring on the collapsed lens?!? You can’t, that’s how…
So I can live with it and for filmers it might even be a plus (I only do stills).

The Distortion
… is electronically corrected so there’s that. Of course: That costs resolution. But if you play with the distortion correction you get even a little more than 16mm (it’s 16mm corrected).

The corners
Yep, they’re bad. In the uncorrected image they are completely black, corrected there’s still vignetting. Corner-to-Corner sharpness improves by stopping down, but even at f11 the sharpness is not really there. But if yo move up to 18mm (where the other, bigger and more expensive kitzooms tend to start) the situation notably improves.
And the centre sharpness is quite good.

Slow
Yeah, it’s slow. What do you expect? It’s no prime, you know!

So up until now – not a raving review. The SELP1650 has lots of disadvantages, not only is it outclassed by it’s competition but also by it’s predecessor, the 18-55.
But still: I love it. Why? Because if I put that thingy on my A6400 (or my wife’s Nex-5t) it transforms my mirrorless into a point-and-shoot that’s got 24mm eq lens, OSS and superfast AF. And all that for a 80 EUR premium!

Sony SEL18135

I like the little 1650 Powerzoom. Not because it’s a particularly good lens (Spoiler: It’s not), but because it’s so damn small and affordable. But sometimes a bit longer reach could come in handy. Which is a bit of a dilemma for budget oriented Sony shooters who would like to buy a tele lens for the occasional shoot:
There’s the 55-210 which is quite cheap but slow and optically mediocre at best (also severe sample variation). There are also lots of other tele options – the cheapest of these being the 70-350 at about 900 EUR… No third party zoom options, either. I don’t need long reach very often, so I’m not inclined to spend vast amounts of money on a tele lens. I already had a 55-210 but it wasn’t satisfactory to me. But for about half of a 70-350 you could get the new SEL 18-135 f3.5-5.6 OSS Kit zoom which gets raving reviews around the interwebs and gives you a handy 28-200 35mm equivalent zoom range.
So I gave the 1650 to my wife for her Nex 5t and bought me a SEL18135.

Build
For its zoom range very compact and light weight. Not cheap, but a bit plastic-y. Lens hood locks very firmly and does a good job, the lens feels very well balanced on my A6400. I like it a lot.

Autofocus
Fast and silent. I don’t know if it’s fit for motocross races but it’s fast enough for everything I need. Eye-AF works very well.

Image quality
The reviews are exceedingly good. But it’s still a midrange kit superzoom, so: Outstanding for a superzoom, but don’t expect prime territory. Distortion is severe at the short end but electronically corrected as usual nowadays. It handles flare quite well and can knock the background out of a portrait ok enough on the long end, but bokeh isn’t as creamy as I’d like (again, it’s no prime). Sharpness is also very good, even wide open at 135mm. At first I was concerned about the 18mm (Really would liked to have 16…) but I think it may be a bit wider than 18, especially if you play with the distortion correction a little (landscape images usually aren’t hurt by a little distortion).

Price
Current retail amazon price is 529,99 EUR which is no bargain but really adequate for what you get.

Conclusion
I like it’s reach, I like it’s compactness, I like the image quality. It’s no bargain but not too expensive, either. All in all a very good kit lens.

Sunset near Tel Aviv
135mm f/5.6

From APS-C to full frame and back

I’m a bit of a gadget and technics nerd. So it may not come to a surprise that I don’t keep cameras for a very long time – there’s always something better waiting!
So after some dabbling with point-and-shoot style cameras I quickly made the jump from a Minolta dimage 7i to a string of Sony system cameras.
My first one was an Alpha 230 which was an excellent camera – problem was the finder; I couldn’t see very good with my glasses (dioptre range is never enough), so off it went and a (used) A700 landed on my doorstep. To this day I have very fond memories of this camera. Biggest downside: The camera is quite big and after I married I couldn’t really go on photo-tours like before. So the camera stayed home quite often. In the end I sold it and had a quick venture back to point-and-shoot – a Sony RX100 (Mark I). Which really is a great camera – but you can’t change the lens… I replaced it with a used Sony Nex 3n. Which in turn got sacked for a Nex 5r.

But I’m a sucker for good bokeh and knocked-out backgrounds. So I bought a used A7 (Mark I), which served me well for some time. I mainly used old manual Minolta lenses and the Samyang 35 f2.8 pancake lens (love that thing!). As time went by it felt like it was time for an upgrade and I began thinking about what I could improve:
– sensor reflections in night shots really began bugging me
– IBIS is nice to have
– quicker Eye-AF for photos of my nephews and portraits of my wife would be awesome
– overall the AF of the A7 is a bit lacking

So at first I thought of an A7II as a replacement. But the A7 Mark I is a quite small and lightweight camera whereas the A7II does add a siginificant heft. It’s got IBIS but the AF isn’t up to par with newer cameras. So I began reading reviews of the then-new A6400 and their magnificent autofocus which was in the same price bracket as an A7II (A7III was completely out of budget). Lens options are also a lot better for APS-C as they used to be (with the Sigma trio p.e.). IBIS is nice but the lack of it is no dealbreaker, either (you get stabilized kit lenses anyway). And so in the end I went back to APS-C and bought a A6400 (brandnew from the dealer, to boot!).

Am I satisfied? Well, yes. But the grass is always greener on the other side and I miss playing around with vintage manual lenses (their field of view usually doesn’t fit with APS-C Cameras). So maybe I’ll return someday to full frame.
But at the moment I enjoy being able to carry a small and lightweight camera around that focuses blazingly fast and produces gorgeous images.

Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC DN Contemporary

After getting rid of my full frame equipment (the what and why maybe in another post) the big question was: Which lens should be my first one (besides the 1650 kit) for my A6400?
One has always need for a normal lens, so round about 30-40mm it has to be. A fast lens, of course, not to big, not to expensive. In the end it was a neck-and-neck between the Sony 35 f1.8 OSS and the Sigma 30 f1.4. Two things decided: the Sigma is bit wider – what I prefer and cheaper (always preferable). So how is it, then?

Build
A bit of a handful, it’s not an exceedingly compact lens and there’s a certain heft to it. It does feel like an expensive item, but I’m not one of those who need a pricy feel – as long as it’s good, I’m fine with evident plastics. The lens hood doesn’t lock on as firmly as it should and increases the size furthermore. But all in all it does feel well balanced on Sonys APS-C cameras.

Autofocus
Is really fast enough, although it’s not a sports lens. The infamous f2-problem (do a google search) doesn’t concern me because my A6400 is always in AF-C tracking mode. Might be a problem for some people on older bodies.

Image quality
Well – excellent. Centre sharpness is already excellent wide open, the corners need a little stopping down but then they’re excellent, too. Creamy bokeh (bokeh balls stay round if you stop down a little), beautiful sunbursts stopped down to f11 or f16. Some chromatic aberrations and quite the barrel distortion which is corrected electronically.
Flare resistency is good, although not on Zeiss level.

Price
299 EUR I paid for this little gem which is a bargain in my book.

Conclusion
On my full frame A7 I loved my Minolta 45 f2 although I also had an 50 1.4. But the 5mm wider field of view really appealed to me. So it’s quite logical that I also like the images of the 30mm APS-C lens. It’s good for knocking background out of a portraits and also a corner-to-corner sharp lanscape image. It’s affordable with excellent image and very good build quality. Downsides are the flimsy lens hood and the size/weight.
Recommend it!

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