Sony a7 torture test with Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander rangefinder lenses

UPDATE – January 26, 2014

I was finally able to run the test I originally wanted to back in October. Please click the link to read the Sony a7R vs. Leica M9 shootout with 20+ Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander rangefinder lenses.

Continue reading below for the Sony a7 with various rangefinder lenses. Note, if you’d rather access images one by one instead of a large zip file download for each lens, please see the images posted on my Flickr page.


I was able to briefly borrow and test a preproduction Sony a7 camera along with the new Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.8, Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm F1.8 and Sony 28-70mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS FE lenses. Unfortunately it wasn’t the a7R, in which I am more interested for the purposes of adapting rangefinder lenses. But this provided a good opportunity nonetheless to generate some images to help me (and hopefully also you) determine whether or not the a7 is a possible platform for rangefinder lenses.

First off, the images presented here are in no way intended to be examples of creative photography. Given I had 1.5 hours with the camera on a gloomy morning, and the burning question in the minds of many is how well this new Sony camera will work with adapted rangefinder lenses, an infinity focus test was in order. Why an infinity focus test? Because when a lens is focused at infinity, the rear element of the lens is typically closest to the sensor, meaning for certain lens designs, the light rays traveling to the sensor arrive at a strongly non-perpendicular angle, rather than straight at the sensor, which results in image quality degradation if the sensor isn’t well optimized for such types of lenses. The results tend to be edge color shifts and/or edge/corner smearing of the image.

This generally isn’t a problem with lenses adapted from SLR systems because such lenses must be design with the mirror box in mind, meaning the lens sits farther away from the image plane and the light rays arrive at a more perpendicular, and preferred, angle. Rangefinder systems never had the mirror box and the lenses were made to sit much closer to the image plane. Not such a big problem with film (other than perhaps light falloff into the corners), but definitely not desirable with digital sensors due to the many sensor ‘toppings’ that contribute to image degradation when light rays arrive at a strong angle.

Anyway, there are much better technical explanations available online, particularly in this PDF from Zeiss. See page 12, points 2 and 3.

I’m required by Sony to state that the camera and Sony lenses used to create the images presented here were all preproduction models and the image results are therefore not necessarily indicative of results that will be obtained from production units once they become available.

However, unless Sony makes major revisions to the sensor package itself, I doubt results with the rangefinder lenses tested here will improve considerably once production units are available.

The lenses tested, in order of focal length and maximum aperture:

Voigtlander Ultra Wide-Heliar 12mm f5.6 Aspherical (LTM version which is identical to the current M mount version) (referred to as CV12)
Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f4.5 Aspherical M (referred to as CV15)
Leica Summilux-M 21mm f1.4 ASPH. (referred to as 21 Lux)
Zeiss Biogon T* 21mm f2.8 ZM (referred to as ZM21)
Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f3.4 ASPH. (referred to as 21 SEM)
Leica Summicron-M 28mm f2 ASPH. (referred to as 28 Cron)
Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 Aspherical VM II (referred to as CV35)
Canon 35mm f2.0 LTM (a lens from the late 50s-early 60s)
Zeiss C Biogon T* 35mm f2.8 ZM (referred to as ZM35C)
Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f2.8 (newly announced with the a7/a7R)
Voigtlander Nokton classic 40mm f1.4 (referred to as CV40)
Leica Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 ASPH. (referred to as 50 Lux ASPH)
Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM (a lens from the late 50s-early 60s)
Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.5 Aspherical LTM (optically identical to the current M mount model, though apparently there may be some coating differences) (referred to as CV50)
Zeiss C Sonnar T* 50mm f1.5 ZM (referred to as ZM50C)
Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f2 ZM (referred to as ZM50P)
Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f1.8 (newly announced with the a7/a7R)
Sony 28-70mm f3.5–5.6 OSS (newly announced with the a7/a7R)
Leica Summarit-M 90mm f2.5 (referred to as 90 Summarit)

Test scenes include one view overlooking downtown Hamilton, Ontario, from the escarpment brow, one intended to show ‘bokeh’ differences between the 35mm and ~50mm lenses, and one ‘brick wall’ test of foliage with the wides and up to ~50mm lenses (though not including the LTM 50s, CV40 and Sony zoom due to time and weather constraints).

I had also intended to shoot the exact same scenes with the same lenses on the Leica M9 (though obviously not including the new Sony lenses), but I ran out of time, and it started to rain. This would have provided a ‘control’ reference against which to compare the results from the a7. I’ll spill the beans now – none of the rangefinder lenses performed as well on the a7 as they do on the M9, specifically referring to image smearing into the edges/corners. Some are not so bad and are good enough when stopped down sufficiently, but some are outright horrible (ZM21, 28 Cron), to the point where one would think the lens was defective.

Naturally there were some variable that couldn’t be tested, such as whether the Novoflex NEX-Leica M adapter I used was perfect. I had a Kipon adapter as well, but no time to run a duplicate set of test images to see if, or how much, the adapter influenced the results. Therefore, take these results for what they are and weigh them against other tests that will certainly soon appear online.

Everything was shot on a tripod with the two second timer at ISO 400. While perhaps not optimal, I wanted to keep shutter speeds somewhat reasonable considering the gloomy weather (even though a tripod was used). Images presented here were taken directly and uncorrected from in-camera Jpegs. I also shot RAW, but don’t have a way to convert those yet. While it certainly would be possible to improve color and tonality, nothing could possibly improve image rendering into the edges/corners with some of the lens combinations. In-camera lens corrections (vignetting, chromatic aberration, distortion) were disabled, in case some or all of these might also apply to non-native lenses. ISO noise reduction was also disabled, though I suspect it never entirely turns off. The camera was set to manual focus and each lens was focused on the steeple in the center of the frame using 11.7x magnification. No attempt was made to correct for focus shift, which was certainly a problem with at least the ZM50C.

Infinity Focus




By lens:

21 Lux
21 SEM
28 Cron
Canon 35mm f2.0 LTM
Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f2.8
50 Lux ASPH
Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM
Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm f1.8
Sony 28-70mm f3.5–5.6 OSS
Leica Summarit-M 90mm f2.5

By scene:

infinity: 12mm-21mm
infinity: 28mm-40mm
infinity: 50mm-55mm
infinity: 28-70mm zoom and 90mm

bokeh 35mm
bokeh 50mm-55mm

foliage 12mm-15mm
foliage 21mm
foliage 28mm-35mm
foliage 50mm-55mm

Note, the download links will take you to zipped files hosted on Google Drive. These are quite large, and at full resolution (though compressed somewhat more after applying the watermark shooting information, than what came out of the camera). The full set of links is several GB, so be warned.

My take on the results: I’m hoping these lenses will fare better on the a7R. Results on the a7 are for the most part disappointing. All I can surmise at the moment is that the toppings on the a7’s sensor work against achieving optimal (or in some cases, good enough) results with the rangefinder lenses I had available for this test.

What may also be the case with this new system from Sony, as was with the Nex cameras, is that compatibility with adapted lenses will be model specific. Future cameras may work better, but some may be even be worse…

Those looking to adapt SLR lenses will probably achieve much better results with the a7 and the new Zeiss lenses look to be quite good, especially the 55. Sure, it’s pricy for an f/1.8 lens, but it looks great right from wide open.

And of course a short pitch at the end to encourage you to kick some cash my way, in thanks for this information, by making any purchase at B&H Photo Video through the affiliate link and search box below…

Or send me a donation via PayPal:

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

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85 Responses to “Sony a7 torture test with Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander rangefinder lenses”

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  6. henry Says:

    Hi Ron,

    thanks for putting this together, I appreciate the work. The news is somewhat disappointing, but not totally unexpected.

    Please see my post at for some of my insights.

    I feel strongly that the A7r will perform worse than the A7. The problem is not in the sensor topping, but in the pixel site sensitivity and how the steep ray inclination propagates. The A7 (not the A7r) was my main hope for using some of the RF glass, alike on a Nex-6.

    I am a long term Nex user, and have seen the color shift on Nex-5, Nex-7, and then the elimination thereof in the Nex-5N and Nex-6.

    The only true remedy, in my mind, is to make the pixel pitch larger, as in reducing the resolution to well below 20Mp.

    I have to look for the link (I referred to it in one of my posts) which explains the smearing effect in terms of pixel-spreading. Leica may or may not have correcting software, (going from the 18Mp M9 to the 24Mp M240), as the angles get so steep that digital sensors no longer appear as pixels. The smearing effect makes it very hard to correct, or even down-sample. to overcome this (but stopping down does help, of course). The hint that Leica has convolutional software that understand this smearing is a tough one to understand, for it gets very complex quickly.

    Without this, the smaller pixels will in fact show more smearing than the larger pixels. Magenta shift just deals with light-ray efficiency dropping as the angle of inclination steepens, but the corner smearing worsens for smaller pixels. Removing the AA filter and the offset micro-lens array grid will not help.

    The reports from China regarding the A7r seem to confirm this – I see higher levels of magenta shift as well as corner smearing in the few images that have popped up so far.

    I would be more than thrilled if the A7r would surprise us, but I am not keeping my hopes high. I do hope that you can shed some light on this before our pre-orders convert into order.

    I think that Sony has to reduce pixel count, to well below 20Mp, to make this problem manageable.

    Thanks again for the effort, keep up the good work,


  7. Ron Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Henry. I do think the sensor toppings play a role, and this was explained by Dr. Nasse of Zeiss in this PDF publication. See page 12, points 2 and 3.

    That said, I don’t disagree with you about pixel density being related to edge color shifts.

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  11. Johan Says:

    But with this general optics and sensor limitation when using rangefinder lenses, how come the native e-mount lenses perform well when they are even closer to the sensor? What makes the manual lenses so special that they cannot deliver good performance on these types of cameras?

  12. Ron Says:

    It’s not just how close the optics are to the sensor, but also the distance of the exit pupil to the sensor. Many of the rangefinder lenses were designed for use on film, with exit pupil positions close to the film, to which digital sensors respond poorly. The E/FE lenses are designed with the very short flange distance in mind. But even then, it doesn’t mean the optic are all that close to the sensor. The new Sony 28-70’s rear element is recessed quite deep in the lens when I took a peek at it yesterday. Some of the RF designs that appear to be more telecentric, such as the 21 Lux, 21 SEM and CV35 perform fairly reasonably on the a7. More symmetrical designs, such as the ZM21, had worse results.

  13. Nuno Says:

    Hi Ron,

    Thank you for the amazing test. Any chance that you will be running something similar with A7R? I was hopping to get this camera for using M lenses almost exclusively.

    If the A7R doesn’t manage to avoid the corner smearing then it is a no for me.


  14. Ron Says:

    Hi Nuno,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I can’t promise I’ll get my hands on a preproduction a7R soon. Apparently there are currently only a few in Canada and it was somewhat a matter of sheer luck that I was even able to get a couple hours on my own with the a7.

    As mentioned in the article, the a7R is the camera I’m more interested in and I definitely want to test it with the same set of lenses.

  15. Raul Says:

    Hi Ron, phenomenal work here! Thanks for the stupendous effort getting this out to an anxious data impoverished audience. It would be great if you can share your early thoughts on the A7 with the native 35 and 55 vs the Leica M9 with Summicrons. Thanks!

  16. Ron Says:

    It’s going to be a greatly different shooting experience with the a7 vs. M9. I guess with the native FE lenses on the a7, it will be pretty fast and possibly intuitive. But there are a lot more dials and buttons to use, and some of them I found not optimally placed for easy/quick use. Perhaps it’s a matter of time to get used to the camera, but my initial feeling is I prefer the M9.

    In terms of image quality, I think the new Zeiss lenses look very, very good. The 35mm I had was possibly a bit off in terms of across frame sharpness at wider apertures and infinity, but remember also that these were preproduction units. The 55 should be a great lens. Bokeh quality is definitely Sonnar in feel and pretty similar to the ZM50/1.5. Not quite as super smooth as the 50 Lux ASPH, but very close.

  17. Jonas B Says:

    …and thank you for the publishing the results! I know tests like this one means work and every time somebody puts them together I’m grateful.
    Many of us are now waiting for a similar test but with the A7r instead. The results from your A7 test reminds me very much of what I got from my old Nex-5 when I, in an enthusiastic way, mounted my 50mm Summilux ASPH – great wide open in the center, not so great when looking around the borders. The new Sony 55/1.8 does much better. This was not unexpected but thanks your work it is now confirmed.

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  21. AlexDROP1984 Says:

    Ron, many thanks for your efforts and time spent.

  22. Says:

    Although I highly appreciate your work, this test is not very helpful. The conditions were not good (low contrast) and for the infinity wide angle test you see either sky or leaves very close to the lens in the edges which do not really allow to judge the edge performance.

    If you look at the samples wider open than f/8, you mainly see flaws of the lenses but not of the sensor anyway.

    If you want to judge how it compares to results from the M9, you also must show comparable examples taken in the same situation and settings and scaled to the same resolution.

    If you want to rate for rangefinder lenses in general, you also have to test them in gerneral. Where is the Ultron 21/1.8? Where is the WATE 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH? Both of these I expect to performa also on the A/ and A7R very well.

  23. Ron Says:

    I agree it wasn’t ideal, but I only had very limited time with the camera and ran out of time to shoot the same scenes with the M9.

    For the infinity scene you can get some idea of infinity edge detail at each side of the frame. Wanted to keep some sky in the wide shots to also show if there was any color shifts

  24. lu Says:

    very nice shots and comparison! thank you!

    IMHO, the 21-lux performs best from f2 and the 50-lux asph is simply splendido!

    can not stop imaging their performance on A7r and waiting for your next report.

  25. Arctic Fox Says:

    Great work! Thanks!

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  29. Hari Says:

    Hi Ron!

    Thank you for taking the time to do these meticulous tests with such a wide variety of lenses. Very helpful.

    However, google is not playing along ->

    “Sorry, you can’t view or download this file at this time.

    Too many users have viewed or downloaded this file recently. Please try accessing the file again later. If the file you are trying to access is particularly large or is shared with many people, it may take up to 24 hours to be able to view or download the file. If you still can’t access a file after 24 hours, contact your domain administrator.”

    Thought id let you know as i havent seen anybody else inform you


  30. janne höglund Says:

    A bit sad to hear about this, but what cameramaker makes cameras for other lenses than their own 😉
    I think Sony will build furher here on the success with Nex and Nex-Zeiss lenses.
    Maybe Sigma will build some well working lenses like the 19 and 30mm :-)
    No doubt the A7r will be a great camera for aerials!

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