Alright, welcome back to Part 3 of my Sony a7R lens selection report. This part will discuss telephoto, wide and ultra-wide options. If you skipped parts 1 and 2, I recommend you read them for a breakdown of my thought process when selecting lenses for a7R, as well as recommendations on standard zooms and primes.
Ok, let's get started. Originally I was going to keep the wide angle discussion for last, but since it's the hottest and longest topic I figured that I'll kick this report off with it.
Before we do I would like to refresh what I have written in Part 1:
Using some 3rd party lenses on the Sony results in image quality issues. This is true mostly for wide angle lenses. Any lens wider than 35mm, that doesn't have aspherical design will exhibit significant image quality issues. Lenses of focal lengths 35mm and up are less affected. Even aspherical lenses, such as Zeiss Distagon, experience some of the issues mentioned below.
In technical terms, wide angle spherical optics design positions the focal point of the lens too close to the sensor, causing increased light falloff and astigmatism. As a result, image quality suffers.
Wide angle issues include:
Wide and Ultra-wide Angle Zooms
Now that Sony released the SEL1635Z Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA, there is finally a native wide to ultra-wide option. Overall it's a great lens, I wrote a review for it HERE. It's not a small lens, but it does the job very well. Honestly, it makes the rest of this post a bit absolete if you can live with f/4.
Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm f/4
Wow, what a lens! It is great on the Sony - there is no image quality issues, it is as good as on the Leica. It is however prohibitively expensive, costing about $6,000. If you have it or have the money - I would highly recommend using it on a7R.
Other than these two lenses, and the standard zooms discussed in Part 2, there is no wide zoom options for the Sony E-mount unless adapted from the SLR world. While SLR lenses are good and perform great on a7R, they're usually too big for my liking.
Wide Angle Primes
Wide angle focal length is generally considered to be between 24mm and 35mm. The only native option available at the moment is Sony SEL3528ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 35mm f/2.8 ZA.
This lens have raised some comments and discussions. Many think that it is too slow and that Sony should've released a faster option. Personally, I don't think it's a huge problem at 35mm, plus a7R has a good ISO performance. It could be faster, but it is not a deal breaker. And if it is - well, there are plenty of alternatives.
Now that Zeiss announced their Loxia 35mm f/2 we might see SEL3528ZA becoming less popular.
About the performance of 35mm ZA. It is a neat little lens. Very light and compact. Fast focus. Sharp. Not as sharp as 55mm f/1.8, but in most situations it's not that noticeable. I mentioned in part 1 that I have an issue with the looks of Sony FE lenses... If this lens was as good as the 55mm - I would get it. But it is not, so I opted for a Leica 35mm Summarit-M, which I got “like-new” from Ebay for £100 cheaper than the Sony. I lucked out, I have not seen another Summarit-M go for so cheap since.
In any case, SEL3528ZA is a good lens and if you don't mind the slowish aperture and the looks (especially the hood) then you should get it. You can also get a custom hood from Fotodiox for $60. Its made for Sony RX1, but it fits SEL3528ZA perfectly.
There are a lot of rangefinder lenses in the 24mm-35mm range. I will be providing brief descriptions and reference any sources of data confirming performance of these lenses on a7R.
So let's begin with Leica lenses. You have the 35mm, 28mm and 24mm primes. All of which are described on HERE, including all their variants. At a high level 35mm lenses are the least affected by wide angle image quality issues and when mounted on a7R perform closely to performance on a Leica body. Next surprisingly are the 24mm lenses, that exhibit image quality issues to a lesser extent than 28mm ones.
35 Summarit-M f/2.5 (or the newly announced f/2.4) is a lens I have and I highly recommend. I have posted a separate review of the lens on a7R here. Overall, this is a fantastic lens - it is small and not prohibitively expensive like most Leica lenses. My main beef with it is a poorly dampened focus ring that's too easy to knock out of place by accident. The good news are the price and performance on the Sony - no wide angle issues whatsoever.
35 Summicron-M f/2, like the 50mm Cron, is the sharpest rangefinder lens available at this focal length. It is not as expensive as the Summilux, but even pre-ASPH version can set you back $2,00 or more. Unfortunately it doesn't fair as well on Sony as it does on the Leicas. Based on reports the corners are quite soft, even at f/8. Nevertheless, it doesn't loose its Leica character and unless you are shooting landscape or another subject requiring sharpness across the frame it can produce some stunning photos. Also, according to the reports, aspherical version fairs somewhat better than older pre-ASPH variants.
Although faster than the Summarit, it is not as sharp on the Sony and too expensive for me.
35 Summilux-M f/1.4 is another fantastic lens from Leica. Similarly to the Cron, the pre-ASPH version is not perfect on a7R. Newer, aspherical designs are much better and images turn out as good as on a Leica body after some post processing. Unfortunately it is also very expensive, $5,000 for a latest ASPH model. Thus I prefer the Summarit, but if cost was not a factor I would take 1.5 stops of light any day.
So, the 28s... Slowest of the two is 28mm Elmarit-M f/2.8. Not a bad lens on a7R and the smallest of all Leica lenses (weighting merely 173g), but it is affect by most of wide angle issues to some extent. I wouldn't recommend it, just stick to 35mm.
Similarly to Elmarit-M, 28mm Summicron-M f/2 produces magenta casts and exhibits other image quality issues on a7R. Again, I wouldn't recommend it. The difference between 35mm and 28mm is not that significant, I recommend going with 35mm options that ensure good image quality.
24 Elmar-M f/3.8 is one of the smallest and sharpest Leica lenses. It is not bad on a7R, with some cast and smudging in the corners. I would not get this lens because for the same price you can get a 24mm elmarit-M f/2.8, that experiences similar issues, but is one stop faster. The Elmarit also can be cheaper if you go for pre-ASPH model, that surprisingly is just as good on a7R as the ASPH. Again both variants exhibit image quality issues, but not to an extent that can't be worked around.
24 Summilux-M f/1.4 is the last on our wide Leica list and is one of Leica's sharpest lenses. It is an amazing glass and it works very well on a7 cameras. There are minor casts in the corners as well as some softness, but overall if you are looking for a 24mm lens this is the best M-mount option. Unfortunately, it is also quite big and very expensive - $7k territory. Considering the price and size you might as well get a Zeiss 25mm f/2 ZF or ZE, or another fast 24mm DSLR prime. With adapter it won't be much bigger than the Lux.
Ok, done with wide Leica lenses. Let's quickly look at Zeiss and Voigtlander.
First things first - don't look at Zeiss Biogons. All the Biogons are not good on a7R to varying extents due to their design. I know that some might say - "..so what - Leicas are not good either". Personally I prefer the Leicas, plus they have some decent albeit expensive options that work well on the Sony. Zeiss Biogons however all suck from 35mm and down. To be fair, the 35mm Biogons is ok-ish, but again I would go for the Summarit.
The only wide ZM lens that performs well on a7 is the newly announced 35mm Distagon f/1.4. Appears to be a great lens and it is cheaper than the Lux! Preview by Steve Huff
Similarly to Zeiss Biogons, Voigtlander Skopars and Heliars do not perform very well on the Sony. The wider the lens - the stronger the effect is. Ultrons and Noktons on other hand are pretty good. Both 35mm being great options, personally I prefer the 35mm Ultron 1.4 - it's tiny and very comfortable to use. The 28mm Ultron is pretty good as well, although it does get some cast and smudging at the wide end. The only drawback of both is that they don't get sharp across the frame until about f/4, but is it really an issue?
Lastly, Konica have 28mm and 35mm M-mount lenses. Both are decent performers on a Leica. On the Sony they are so-so. The 28mm gets plenty of cast and softness due to its design and the 35mm is ok, but for some reason sells for as much as the Summarit, making it less desirable.
Ultra-wide Angle Primes
And we are finally on to the ultra-wides. This turned out to be a long post and I still have tele-photos to cover, so I'll try to speed things up.
So in ultra-wide rangefinder primes we are looking at four focal lengths: 21mm, 18mm, 15mm and 12mm. This article by Ron Scheffler covers a lot of them.
Starting with 21mm, Super-Elmar f/3.8 is not a bad option on a7R, but edge detail is poor until f/11 (REF). Zeiss Biogon 21mm f/2.8 ZM is again, as all Biogon designs, performs poorly. Similar to Super-Elmar it has smired corners and a heavy cast. Same goes for Biogon f/4 and Voigtlander Color-Skopar 21mm f/4.
21mm lenses that work well on a7R are the Summilux, which is by far the best option if you have the money, and Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8 Ultron. Ultron is a fantastic lens, but the built-in hood is a disappointment and it limits usability - especially if you want to use a filter system.
One lens I wasn't able to find information on is the 21mm Elmarit-M f/2.8. My guess would be that it performs similarly to 24mm Elmarit-M.
In 18mm group there are two lenses - Leica 18mm Super-Elmar f/3.8 (REF) and Zeiss 18mm Distagon f/4. Both supposedly are decent performers with some minor issues on a7R (REF). I personally tried the Distagon and wasn't impressed - vignette is very heavy and corner performance is poor. Plus the focus plane is so curved on a7R that it's practically possible to keep both the corners and the center of the frame in focus until you stop it down to f/11.
Finally in 15mm and 12mm group there are only two lenses, both from Voigtlander - 15mm f/4.5 and 12mm f/5.6. Both are Heliar designs and as such they exhibit all the issues listed above when mounted on a7 cameras. 12mm is the worst of the two, it is simply unusable unless you shoot black and white and your subject does not require any corner detail. The 15mm is tricky, I have this lens and reviewed it here. You can work around the issues, but is it worth it?.. I love this lens and am having a hard time saying goodbye to it, so I guess for now it's worth it.
This is it for wide and ultra-wide rangefinder options for a7R, I've covered most of the options leaving only less relevant lenses out. One of the rangefinder options that I left out and is worth mentioning is Contax G line-up. All of Contax G wide angle lenses experience fairly strong cast and loss of detail on a7 cameras, as such i would not recommend using them unless you already own some.
A quick word about legacy SLR lenses. There are seven directions you can explore - Canon FD, Nikon (any manual F mount lens, especially AI and AI-S), Leica R, Zeiss C/Y, Olympus Zuiko, Minolta Rokkors and SMC Pentax. Many of these lenses offer good performance and are very viable options for a7 cameras. I will be reviewing a few of them, check out the gear section.
Tele-photo Zooms and Primes
Finally some good news, adapted telephoto lenses work very well on a7 cameras. Both rangefinder and SLR/DSLR glass works as well as on their original bodies, and better.
First is the native Sony SEL70200G FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS. This is Sonys own G branded lens that was released shortly after the a7R. Based on reviews it is a great lens, albeit a bit slow with maximum aperture of f/4. It got some excellent reviews on the net and needs no further introduction. The good news are it's pretty small and light, although similar focal length f/4 lenses from Nikon and Canon are not much bigger. If you are looking for a lens longer than 135mm this should be your first choice, unless you are looking for f/2.8.
On the shorter end of the telephoto spectrum are all the options between 75mm and 135mm. My personal preference are again Leica M lenses. Any lens that you pickup in this range will be a great performer. I prefer the Summicrons for that extra creamy bokeh, but Elmarit-M and Summarit lenses are fantastic as well - and much smaller. These lenses are so good and well balanced on the a7R that I don't think there is a point to look any further, unless you either own some other lenses already or are looking for an auto-focus.
Besides the Leicas, Zeiss 85mm f/4 ZM and Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8 are great options as well. Zeiss is a bit slow, so I would skip it, but CV75 is great and a lot cheaper than the Leica equivalent.
I tried to jam a lot of information into this post and I hope someone finds this helpful. I struggled myself to decide on the right lenses for my a7R kit - so there must be folks out there who are having similar issues. If this helps even one person to make up their mind then I believe my effort wasn't wasted.
You probably noticed that I have skipped super-tele lenses. I really don't see a point discussing those as there are no native nor rangefinder options available, and when adapting DSLR super-telephoto lenses there is really no right and wrong for a7R. Most of those lenses will perform as well on the Sony as they do on their respective brand bodies.
Thank you for reading folks and feel free to share.