Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1 MTF Curves

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OK, here we go again, with what has become a regular routine. Sigma announced another new lens doing what nobody has been able to do before. My expert friends, technical people I ask questions of, all say, "I don't know this time. I just don't see how they can pull this one off. Not at that price point. When are you going to test it?"

And then I test it, and tell everyone Sigma has done it again. (That groan you just heard is the blog editor who HATES when I don't build up suspense and make you read to the end.) And yes, I realize I'm starting to be called a Sigma Fanboy. But that's kind of like shooting the messenger, isn't it? I'm just putting the lenses on the machine and writing up the results.

Let's face it, Sigma is just hitting one home run after another. I don't really have any use for a 20mm f/1.4 lens myself and I'll never buy one. But I'm a geek and there's nothing cooler to me than a company who likes doing stuff nobody has ever done before, and then does it better than anyone believes possible. So, OK, maybe I am becoming a Fanboy.

Anyway, let me show you what Sigma has accomplished as far as making a f/1.4 lens wider than any other SLR manufacturer has been able to do. Before you minimize the difference between a 24mm f/1.4 and a 20mm f/1.4, let's just mention that's a really big difference. So my expectations going in were that the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM A1, even if it was great, wouldn't be quite as good as either the Canon or Nikon 24mm f/1.4 lenses.

MTF Curves

As always, we are showing the average of 10 copies of each lens, each copy shot at 4 rotations to give a complete cross-section of the field of view of the lens.

Roger Cicala, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


Roger Cicala, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


The bottom line here is pretty obvious. Despite being a wider field of view, the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 clearly has a higher resolution than either the Canon or Nikon 24mm f/1.4 lenses do in the center half of the image, and are at least the equal of the others in the outer half. That's just flat amazing. Even more amazing to those of us who have in the past shot the old Sigma 20mm f/1.8 lens, which could be charitably described as 'artistic', but never described as sharp.

Of course we checked the variation between copies, too. Again, given the wider field of view I wasn't going to be surprised at a lot of variation between copies. We always expect wider lenses to vary more than standard range.


Roger Cicala, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


Roger Cicala, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


The variance plots for the Sigma look decent, certainly as good as the Nikon although perhaps not quite as consistent as the Canon. Still, I think it's an excellent performance for a lens that's significantly wider than the two we are comparing it to. Not to mention significantly less expensive.


With a wide-angle, wide-aperture prime lens, MTF is probably not the main consideration in whether you buy the lens or not. Theses lenses are used for different things by different photographers and bokeh, handling, vignetting, and dozens of other things I don't test for will make a bigger difference in whether you like the lens, rather than simply how sharp it is.

Everyone's first comment seems to be, "Well, I don't need a 20mm f/1.4 lens". I said that myself. But then I realized, well, I've never had the opportunity to use a sharp 20mm f/1.4 lens before, because there's never been one . Will I like it? I have no idea. But I think I'll at least check it out, it might be fun. Especially at this price point.

But the geek in me, at least, is totally impressed. Wider, faster, sharper, cheaper. What's not to be impressed by?


Roger Cicala


November, 2015


A Comprehensive Guide to Getting Started in Automotive Photography

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Automotive photography has reached a broader audience over the past several years with car enthusiasts on social media showing off tastefully modified cars. It seems car photographers are a dime a dozen nowadays, but the good ones have a certain style about their images that can be spotted a mile away. Many feel cars are difficult subjects to photograph, with their huge reflective panels of metal and plastic. However, cars really aren’t too difficult to photograph once you have the proper gear and mindset in place, which is what I'm hoping to help you with today.

I started photographing cars about 10 years ago when I first joined a Mitsubishi Evolution car group and decided to take photos of everyone's cars. At the time, the car forums were the only place to show off these images, so naturally I took to them to show everyone my photography. As more and more people appreciated the photos I decided to take things more seriously. The rest is history.

There are a couple things you want to keep in mind when photographing cars. The location is a big one, deciding whether you’ll be using strobes or natural light is another, and lastly, what gear you’ll be using is also incredibly important. Being prepared and understanding your clients needs is a top priority and will definitely make your life easier and your clients happy.


Location Location Location. Clients usually have a certain aesthetic they’re trying to keep. Some don’t like nature backgrounds, others don’t want flashy buildings in the background. Finding a good location is key. Scout locations, and more importantly, scout them around the time you’ll be shooting, or keep in mind where the sun will be at the time of your shoot. Most places are private property or government owned, so having a permit in every scenario would be amazing, but sometimes the budget doesn’t allow it. Shooting on empty roads is ideal, parking lots are great, but be ready for security to boot you within 15 minutes. I’ve probably been kicked out of around 100 spots over the last 10 years. While I don’t advise to use private property without permission, sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. Remember, being polite and courteous can get you a long way.

The majority of the time you can make a simple location look much better than it might seem, but remember that the images are about the car. The client's number one concern is that the vehicle is getting the attention is deserves. Knowing which angles to capture body lines will bring out the car and make it pop.


I’ve been a Canon shooter since the beginning. I remember shooting with my first Canon Digital Rebel XT since then I’ve always stuck with Canon. With that being said, my current workhorse is a Canon 5D Mark III, however, a Nikon D800/D810 or Sony a7RII would be more than capable of producing the same images. Automotive photography gives you the freedom of shooting many different angles at varying focal lengths. For the past couple years, I’ve really enjoyed the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II. The sharpness it gives you is amazing, and when you can play with it’s shallow depth of field it gives you some really pretty images. If you want to open up that aperture and still use some strobes, you’ll need a Neutral Density Filter, Circular Polarizer, or both. I’ve found myself stacking filters to open up to 1.2 or 1.4.

One of the most technical aspects of shooting automotive comes when you add strobes into the mix. I’ve shot with AlienBees for the past 7 years and have found them easy to shoot with and reliable. My kit usually consists of my AlienBee B1600 and 2 AlienBee B800’s. I’ve heard of many different ways to light up a car, however, the majority of car photographers I know use the bare bulb as opposed to soft boxes or whatnot. The bare bulb gives you a nice contrasty light with a small white highlight in the reflection that makes it easy to take out in post production. I can't even count the number of times I’ve been asked how many lights I use on my car shoots. I’ve seen car shoots done with 1 strobe, walking it around the car with several exposures and compositing them all in post production.

Personally I always shoot full body car shots with 3 strobes, covering every car panel with light. Placing one in the front, side and back usually has you covered. You can play around with the positioning of the lights, however as long as you have light all over the car you should be fine. I’ve shot for several different wheel manufacturers and getting light on the wheels is very important, keep in mind what you’re trying to have the viewers eyes attracted to.

Going wide in your focal length can really bring the car front and center. When going with wider shots I usually stick with my trusty Canon 35mm f/1.4L, you really can’t go wrong with this lens as it produces beautiful vibrant images and a desirable focal length. I shoot primes as frequently as my projects allow me to.


By now, you’ve already decided if you’ll be doing a naturally lit shoot or a strobe shoot. If you’re shooting with strobes, make sure to give yourself extra time to change lighting between each shot. The luxury of shooting strobes should only come when you know you have a good amount of time to yourself. I love shooting sunrises, but shooting with strobes would put you in a considerable time crunch. Snapping off frames at different focal lengths and angles is key. You’ll notice light getting better and better until POW! you have the perfect lighting.

However, you can shoot a car at any time of day. Shooting mid-day with strobes and having the background slightly underexposed will give you a great sense of depth and really bring out your subject. Don’t think that just because you’re shooting at high noon that all your pictures will be crap. Obviously the color of the car makes a difference, but any color is capturable at any time of day. Personally I think darker color cars are more difficult to photograph, and I know other photographers would agree. Black cars are going to be your most difficult, as black has a tendency to eat up light, and is really reflective on an automobile, giving you hard to control light mixed with hotspots. Bringing out the body lines on a black car is key as the darkness of the car swallows up any available light, even artificial light (strobes).

Focusing on different angles of the car is also important, no one want’s to see the same thing over and over. Make sure you’re capturing what your client is selling. If it’s wheels, then focus on the wheels, if it’s a front lip and grille, then make sure you’re shooting the hell out of the front of the car. Keeping the client happy should be your number one concern.

Creative shots will always keep people's attention, in today’s day and age it’s important to grab a person's eye off that Instagram or other social media feed. It’s important to capture a car from angles that are interesting, so always snap some shots from an angle that an average person doesn’t usually get. You want to get down by the ground or up on something high. There are other ways to spice up a photo as well, interesting backgrounds, and creative lighting can help show off the vehicle creatively.

Light Painting

One of the more creative ways to get a great night shot is to light paint. It gives your photos a surreal look and depending on your light source, you’ll have some really even lighting. Most of my light paintings consist of a base image for the background and about 3-5 photos for the different panels of the car, which were lit independently. The light source is important, and I’ve tried the following: 4 foot fluorescent light tube, modeling light on AlienBees strobe, and a dimmable 198 LED video light (the type that go on top of a DSLR). I’d say the LED video light was the easiest and gave me the best light, it being dimmable was nice as well. I’ve heard amazing things about the Westcott Ice Light, but have never used one personally.

Lightpainting A Car

The most important part about light painting is your location being dark enough to drag that shutter long enough to walk around a panel of the car. If your location is bright or has a lot of light spill hitting the car, your camera will catch it and it’ll be more time in post production removing them. I’ve found 5-8 seconds being my sweet spot. You’ll obviously need to get an exposure for the background as well. Keep in mind the long hours in post production you’ll be taking per photo to composite your best shots together.

Alex Stone

LensRentals.com Guest Contributor

What Amateur Filmmakers Can Learn From Professional Sets

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Before I chose a life of safety and stability as a Video Technician at LensRentals, I was a Production, Locations, and Camera Assistant in Wilmington, North Carolina. For the most part, people know Wilmington and the surrounding area as the setting for countless Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but local crews have been shooting movies there since Screen Gems built sound stages in 1985. Some of the stuff I worked on in the three years I lived there included Eastbound and Down, The Conjuring, and Iron Man 3 (for one day on Second Unit but who's counting?). I also worked on some deservedly less well-known films - A Smile as Big as the Moon and Arthur Newman come to mind - and a couple dozen commercials. The long hours and lack of job security ended up forcing me to make a career change, but I learned lessons on all of those sets that I think are applicable to any production. Your micro-budget film probably doesn’t entail hundreds of extras, a small army of crew members, or trailers full of impatient actors, but there are steps you can take to make your set a more pleasant and professional place to be, and I think these three are a good place to start.

Safety First

Those of you who’ve worked in the film industry are probably familiar with Sarah Jones. She was an experienced Camera Assistant in the Atlanta area who was struck by a train and killed on the set of Midnight Rider in 2014. While I didn’t know her well, I worked with Sarah on a handful of occasions and never heard anything but praise from people that were close to her. There is a detailed report about the incident here, but even with director Randall Miller serving a two-year manslaughter sentence it’s difficult to pin down who was at fault. This much is clear: leading members of the crew including the Director, Unit Production Manager, and Locations Manager, were aware that they were denied permission to film on a narrow bridge. They sent about a dozen crew members onto the bridge anyway, leaving them with no time or room to get off the tracks when a train arrived unexpectedly.

Obviously this is an extreme case (Miller is the first director ever to face a felony conviction for an on-set death), but the lesson is clear: Don’t put your cast or crew in danger to get a shot. If you’re going to be on train tracks, get a permit. If you’re going to be working with prop guns, make sure the police know. If you’re going to be driving, make sure everyone knows where the car is going and when. Taking precautions like these will keep everyone safe and make your set feel professional regardless of how much money you’re spending. If anything good came out of Sarah Jones’ death, though, it’s a precedent for ensuring that these kinds of concerns are addressed before anyone starts working. Film crews all over the country have taken to calling the first shot of the day “The Jonesy” in Jones’ honor. The idea is to have everyone on set discuss safety concerns, make sure permits are in place, and get everyone on the same page before shooting a frame. You’ll never regret taking the time to do this, and a safe crew can work that much more efficiently.

Come Prepared

I got screamed at on my first Production Assistant job for not having a pen on me the first day I showed up to set. Later, when I asked a friend why they took things like that so seriously, he explained the intensity of the work environment in a way that really stuck with me. “Say you’re working on a 100-million dollar movie. Over thirty shooting days, that’s about 3.3 million a day. If you’re working 15 hour days, that means you’re spending about $220,000 an hour. That’s $3,700 a minute. No one has time to for you to run to your car and grab a pen. Save the production one second a day and you’re doing your job.” I’ve never worked with that kind of pressure, but the math works for any budget. Being on set is expensive and any time taken searching for basic supplies instead of shooting can add up quickly. If you get caught without a tool you need and have to waste time to borrow or buy it, then you’re going to look like an amateur. If that shoulder-mount your camera operator brought needs an Allen key that you just happen to have in your kit, you’re going to look like a genius.


Image provided by photospace Denver. Used with Permission


The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to just buy a big duffel bag and fill it with everything you think you’ll need. Inevitably you’ll forget something, but when that happens you just buy whatever you’re missing and toss it in the bag with everything else. Make that bag the first thing you pack when you’re getting ready for a shoot and you’ll eventually be ready for any situation. Here are a few of the basics I keep in mine: pens, pencils, Sharpies, gaffer’s tape, electrical tape, painter’s tape, work gloves, extension cords, Allen key sets, multiple sizes of Phillips and flat head screwdrivers, a lens cleaning kit, a level, zip ties, a multitool, a headlamp, a first aid kit, and just about every type of disposable battery known to man.

Your kit will vary depending on the type of work you do, but having one and maintaining it really is a huge part of doing more professional work.

Everybody Eats

This last tip is the only one I didn’t steal wholesale from the Boy Scouts, although I guess they all eat too. Just about every film set in America employs at least some unionized crew members, mostly from the Teamsters, IATSE, and DGA. There are a lot of rules when it comes to working with a union crew, but the meal guidelines are the ones that I think amateur filmmakers can learn from the most. A union crew, without exception, gets a meal every six hours. If the Director needs extra time at the six-hour mark, say to get a shot under specific lighting conditions, they’re permitted a 20-minute “grace period.” Any longer than that and the whole crew is paid time-and-a-half until the lunch break, which isn’t cheap. Work longer than 12 hours in a day, which is more common than not, and you’re buying the crew two meals.

I’m going into detail on this, not as some film union history lesson but to try to impart how important meals are to the dynamic on set. As an amateur myself, I’ve worked for free countless times and asked others to work with me for free just as often, so I can tell you from experience that the best way to make sure that everyone involved feels valued is to feed them. It doesn’t have to be anything out of the ordinary. Pizza or sandwiches will do just fine. The important things are to keep everyone together, take some time to relax before the second half of the day, and express your appreciation to your crew even if you can’t pay them. If a hundred bucks or so a day is stretching your budget too much, then make meals yourself and bring them in if you have to. Whatever you do, just feed your crew. It’s literally the least you can do. All this may seem like basic stuff, but devoting the time and energy to doing these things correctly can make a huge difference in the level of comfort, efficiency, and overall professionalism on your set. Feel free to comment if there’s anything you’d like to add, especially if you’re adding sad PA stories. Those are always welcome.

Ryan Hill

LensRentals.com Video Technician

Black Friday Sale Details

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Our annual Black Friday sale starts next week! Beginning at 8:30 AM CT on Wednesday, Nov. 25th, you can save 25% on any rental, and and save an additional 10% on our already low priced used gear at our sister site, LensAuthority.com. This is our best deal of the entire year!

The Details:

  • Sale begins at 8:30 AM CT November 25th, and ends 11:59 PM CT November 30th.
  • 10% discount on purchased equipment from LensAuthority will be applied in the shopping cart
  • Use the code BLACKFRIDAY to get 25% off any single rental
    • One use per customer
    • Rental must begin by March 31st, 2016

LensRentals Reviews the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II Lens

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A few weeks ago, Roger was able to get his hands on a few copies of the brand new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II lens, and ran it through a series of tests comparing it to the competitors. He found, that the new lens from Canon is among the sharpest and most consistent in its class, beating the beloved Sigma 35mm Art Series lens in the process. However, not all lens reviews are just running the lens through a series of machines to test the glass quality and sharpness of them. So I decided to get my hands on the Canon 35mm 1.4L II as well, to give it a more practical run of tests and trails. I found, that the newest from Canon is incredible, and quite likely, my next personal purchase.

Build Quality

The build quality of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 II is exactly what you've come to expect with Canon's L series lenses. The lens itself feels incredibly robust and durable, with all metal build and a good weight at 26.8 oz, a full 6 ounces heavier than its predecessor. That isn't the only thing that has changed in the mark II version. Not only is the lens a bit longer, (4.2" compared to 3.4"), but also is the first lens with "Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics". To put that in simple terms, the Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics is a glass element designed to drastically reduce color fringing, and maintain contrast during all lighting conditions. While I'm a little bit of a skeptic when it comes to this new lens technology, I did find that this lens handled flaring far better than any other lens I've tested; providing a nice haze factor to the images, without going overboard or giving you that devastating flaring.

Canon also promises better weather sealing with the newest model in their 35mm line. Alongside weather sealing, the lens also has some small, but useful design elements changed, such as the AF switch being flush with the lens barrel, and a larger focusing ring when shooting in manual focus mode.

Using the Lens

My time spent with the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II was certainly a pleasant one. Using the lens in a variety of shooting conditions, I was able to test the lens to the max, giving me a full range of uses. When it was nearly pitch black out, the lens was focusing fast and accurate. When I was shooting against a setting sun, the lens was able to combat flaring with ease, and when I was simple shooting with it in my hands all day, the lens felt well balanced and a nice compliment to my camera body. I went into shooting with this lens with some excitement, and the lens was able to meet all the expectations I had with it. The autofocus was incredibly accurate, allowing for fast tracking and quick focusing in a variety of shooting conditions. The robust build of the new 14 element lens lineup felt nice too. Throughout shooting with the lens, it always felt sturdy and solid, a feeling I sometimes lost in the original Canon 35mm.

MTF Charts

As stated above, resident tech guru Roger Cicala was able to run multiple copies of this lens through our Olaf Optics tests to get both an MTF chart on the lens (averaged over 10+ copies) as well as a copy to copy variation score. When placed up against the original Canon 35mm f/1.4L, the new Mark II version easily win the battle in terms of overall sharpness. the new Mark II version also beats the Sigma 35mm Art series in sharpness, by only my a small fraction that you likely wouldn't be able to tell the difference in. These scores, make the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II the new king of the 35mms in terms of both sharpness and consistency, but is also priced considerably more than some of the competition.

MTF Charts for Canon 35mm

Roger Cicala, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


The greatest (and only) shortfall I found with the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II came in the price of the lens. At $1,799 new, the Canon 35mm f/1.4 II is a staggering $300 more than its now dated predecessor, and double the price of the Sigma Art series lens - a strong competitor to the Canon 35L II. So is it worth the massive price difference?  If you're a loyalist to Canon, then yes - the Mark II version is a considerable upgrade to the original, and well worth the price difference between the two. However, if you're willing to venture over to Sigma, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art series lens is still the best buy for the money. At $799 retail price, the Sigma 35mm Art series will put you right in between the two Canon lenses, and at a considerably lower price than both of them.


Zach Sutton


We're Hiring!

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We're growing, which means we're hiring! Lensrentals is a fantastic place to work. We believe in working hard, having fun, and giving our customers the best possible rental experience. Our team members get great benefits, including health, dental, paid vacation, and 401(k), not to mention - FREE RENTALS!

Please see below for a list of job descriptions. To apply, please send your resume to jobs@lensrentals.com

Phone calls not accepted.

Digital Marketing Manager

We’re looking for the right person to fill our Digital Marketing Manager position. In this position, you’d develop, implement, track and optimize our digital marketing campaigns across all digital channels, as well as assist and contribute to the overall Lensrentals.com marketing effort.

Responsibilities include:

  • Assist in the creation and execution of the annual marketing plan and budget
  • Plan and execute all web, SEO/SEM, email, social media and display advertising campaigns
  • Measure and report performance of all digital marketing campaigns, and assess against goals
  • Develop and implement new and creative growth strategies
  • Collaborate with the product and development teams to improve user experience and identify site areas that need to be improved, removed, or replaced
  • As part of the integrated marketing team, assist in the planning and execution of trade shows and other live events
  • Establish relationships with bloggers, affiliate bloggers,  and influencers



  • BS/MS degree in marketing or related field
  • 2-5 years experience in digital marketing
  • Interest and knowledge in the photography and videography fields is a huge plus
  • Demonstrable experience leading and managing SEO/SEM, marketing database, email, social media and/or display advertising campaigns
  • Highly creative with experience in identifying target audiences and devising digital campaigns that engage, inform and motivate
  • Experience in setting up and optimising Google Adwords campaigns
  • Solid knowledge of website analytics tools
  • Strong analytical skills and data-driven thinking
  • Up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices in online marketing and measurement


Photo & Video Technician

We are looking for photo & video technicians to join our team. As a member of our receiving department, you will be on the front lines to ensure customer quality. A technical mind, a passion for gear and how it works, and customer service skills are all important for this position. Like all positions here, an attention to detail and an ability to work fast and under pressure are extremely critical.


  • Punctuality
  • Extreme attention to detail
  • Ability to work under pressure and/or deadlines
  • Ability to do repetitive tasks without going insane
  • Ability to stand for long periods of time and lift up to 50 lbs
  • A passion for photo and video gear. Both the technical side of the equipment, and the practical
  • Customer service skills & general friendliness
  • Photo or video experience of some kind


Fulfillment Associate

As a member of our fulfillment department, you're responsible for making sure our customers get a perfect order every time. As such, an attention to detail and an ability to work fast and under pressure are both extremely critical.


  • Punctuality
  • Extreme attention to detail
  • Great memory/memorization
  • Ability to work under pressure and/or deadlines
  • Ability to do repetitive tasks without going insane
  • Ability to stand for long periods of time and lift up to 50 lbs
  • An interest or experience in photography and/or videography

Zeiss Milvus Optical Bench Tests

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When Zeiss announced the new Milvus lens lineup, there was a mixture of excitement and yawns. In part, I blame Zeiss' marketing department for the yawns. OK, I shouldn't be harsh. I shouldn't, but I will. I'm certain a lot of people are perfectly comfortable just knowing that the new lenses will 'redefine the limits of my creativity' and provide me with 'freedom to use the focus position as an artistic tool' while having great 'haptic appeal'.

lensrentals.com, 2015

There's no question the new housings are much nicer than the old ones. That certainly makes a difference in how the lenses handle. It might also make a difference in how much copy-to-copy variation there is since newer housings may allow more accurate assembly or greater ability to optically adjust the lenses. New optical coatings can't hurt, and Zeiss has always done great things with coatings.

Me, I'm a geek, so I want to know things like are these really different than the previous lenses? We know that the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 Milvus are completely new optical designs, replacing two of the lenses in the ZE/ZF lineup that really were due for an update. The other lenses in the Milvus lineup have new coatings and are in completely new housings. It doesn't appear they have been changed optically, although I'm not absolutely certain they haven't been modified.

We don't have any method of quantifying the lens' haptic appeal for you, and can't provide you a numeric example of how much the limits of your creativity will be redefined, but we sure can put some of these new lenses up on the optical bench and see if there are optical differences we can detect. We expected to see big changes for the Milvus 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses. We weren't expecting to see optical changes in the other Milvus lenses when compared to their ZF/ZE predecessors but thought we'd double check by testing the Milvus 100mm f/2.0 Makro.

Testing Methods

By now I think that most of you who read these articles know the drill: we tested 10 copies of each lens, each copy tested at 4 different rotations. Before starting the testing, we did trials with and without optical glass in the path of the lenses. The only one of the lenses that showed any difference with glass was the 85mm f/1.4. It was slightly better with 2mm of optical glass in the pathway and was tested that way. The others were tested with no glass since it made no difference in their MTF and it's simpler to test without glass.

MTF Results

Milvus 50mm f/1.4

The new optical design of the Milvus 50mm f/1.4 is readily apparent when comparing it to the ZE/ZF 50mm f/1.4. The Milvus has a slightly better resolution in the center and maintains that resolution further out into the image circle than the older design.



Just because I know someone's going to want to call the Milvus 'just as good as the 55mm Otus' or something else silly, I'll post that comparison, too. The Milvus is a clear improvement on the older 50mm design, but it's just as clearly not as good optically as the Otus, either.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, OlafOpticalTesting, 2015


Milvus 85mm f/1.4

The new design for the 85mm lens shows a similar improvement. At the higher frequencies, the improvement is even more dramatic than it was for the 50mm lens.

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, OlafOpticalTesting, 2015


Milvus 100mm f/2

If I understood all of Zeiss' release verbiage correctly, we would not expect any major changes in the MTF chart of the 100mm lens, and indeed, it is basically identical to the ZE/ZF MTF. The MTF graphs aren't quite identical, but that's nothing other than the slight variation we'd see if we tested another 10 copies of the ZE or Milvus and compared them to each other.

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, OlafOpticalTesting, 2015


Sample Variation

With MTF, we had expected to see some differences in the 50mm and 85mm lenses, but not in the 100mm, and that was indeed the case. With sample variation, we really didn't have any expectations. The original ZE/ZF lenses were all quite good as far as having copy-to-copy consistency, but these are entirely new housings and that could make a difference in variation.

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, OlafOpticalTesting, 2015


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, OlafOpticalTesting, 2015


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, OlafOpticalTesting, 2015


Remember the absolute numbers we use for the Consistency score are a very blunt tool and only evaluates the 30 lp/mm (green) variation. I encourage you to look at the actual graphs rather than just spout the number. But as far as the Consistency number goes, the Milvus lenses do seem to have slightly less variation (higher consistency number) than the ZE/ZF lenses. I can't say if this is because the optical design is more tolerant, the optomechanical housing more consistent, or a combination of both factors.

Particularly with the 100mm and 50mm lenses, the graphs seem to show less center variation, which indicates center sharpness is very consistent from copy to copy. In both cases, the differences when looking at the graphs seem even more impressive than the numeric differences. The 85mm has the biggest improvement in Consistency number, but I think this sort of demonstrates the shortcomings of the 'one number' summary measurement. If you look at the graph, it is much more consistent at the lower MTF frequencies, but doesn't seem much better at higher frequencies. Still, it is clearly improved over the ZF/ZE versions.


The new Milvus lenses are going to appeal to a lot of people because of their more elegant housing. I poked a little fun at the term 'haptic appeal' but I think it's a very real thing and a lot of people are going to love these lenses for that. But that's not something I can measure; you'll learn a lot more about that from actual lens reviews and handling them yourself. Although I will say even simply setting them up for optical bench testing I love the feel of the focus throw. It's remarkably smooth and precise.

Optically, there's no question the new 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 lenses are improved over their predecessors. We'll get around to testing the other Milvus lenses one of these days, but I expect they're going to be pretty much identical to their ZE/ZF counterparts, just like the 100mm f/2.0 was in these tests. From an optical standpoint only, then, there's no real reason to upgrade, Although as I said, there may be some very good non-optical reasons to do so.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz


November, 2015


A Look into the Video Quality of the Sony A7sII

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Well, we didn’t see the Sony a7sII coming. Just kidding, yes we did, from a long way off in fact. That’s OK though because it turns out it’s everything we wanted. As a recent Sony convert and a photographer that dabbles in the video world, this was an easy camera for me to get excited about. On paper, it just seemed to check all the boxes for me. Full frame? Check. 4k? Check. Slow-mo, dynamic range, and low-light? Check, check, check.

When the Sony a7sII’s finally hit our shelves, I jumped at the opportunity to take one to New York City for the 2015 PhotoPlus Expo. Here’s some quick review footage and some initial thoughts on the main features. I’m going to affectionately title this footage “Hey Sarah, stand there and look casual."

For anyone curious here’s the ungraded footage

Internal UHD 4K Video
There’s honestly not much to say here. It works greats and looks greats. Like many people, I’m still not delivering final projects in 4k yet, but I love the flexibility and sharpness that shooting in 4k offers. The first generation Sony A7s can shoot in 4k resolution, but it requires a compatible external monitor/recorder like the Atomos Shogun. While the footage looks great and the monitor is beautiful, having an additional device, plus batteries, cables, and chargers can sometimes force you to choose between shooting 4k and keeping your rig light and nimble. Now you can have the best of both worlds!

Internal 5-axis Image Stabilization
This is the third Sony camera to be released with their excellent 5-axis IS built into the body. As anybody who works at LensRentals can tell you, Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction systems are one of the higher areas of failure in lens designs. Cramming it into a compact, full frame camera body is both risky and impressive. So far, to date, we haven’t had too many problems with any of the Sony A7 series and I really hope that streak continues because the 5-axis IS is incredible when shooting stills! Videographers have always had a special relationship with IS and now having that assistance on any mountable lens setup can only produce good things.

The entire video above was shot handle-held and I think it looks pretty good as long as I’m standing still. The IS did a great job with basic panning and tilting moves and even handled the vibrations from a taxi ride really well. Will it replace your Movi? No, no it won’t. I briefly tried to follow Sarah walking down the sidewalk and quickly realized that no amount of heel-toe stepping was going to make that footage usable. Still, I can definitely imagine a few scenarios where even a small gimbal or steady cam would be too big and the Sony’s internal 5 axis Image Stabilization would save the day.

Slow Motion /HFR
Again, nothing special to report here. While other companies are struggling to get 1080 at 60P into some of their cameras (I’m looking at you, Canon), Sony has been playing with high frame rates for awhile. The Sony A7sII gives us full 1080 at 120fps and it’s a lot of fun to use, especially if you come across a creepy man-sized dancing baby. The additional benefit of being able to shoot 120fps while using the same XAVC S format @100Mbps that you can use to shoot 4k means that it was a pleasure to grade together in post production. Sometimes it’s the little things, you know?

Low Light Performance
The Sony a7SII claims to be marginally better than its predecessor, the original A7s when it comes to low light, high ISO performance. I really can’t comment on that because New York City is really not the best place to test these things. There’s light everywhere and even at ISO 1600, I wasn’t able to shoot any lens that I had wide open. To even look at some of these higher ISOs that the camera is capable of, we had to find a dark enough patio area, put on 4 stops of ND filters and then start stopping down like crazy. To my non-expert eyes, this camera performs amazingly well and I would be comfortable using any footage up to ISO 51,200 without hesitation. Maybe even 102,400. Above that is not really usable in my opinion but it’s certainly cool that you can get there.

Dynamic Range/Edit-ability
For me, this is one of the most exciting parts; shooting using Sony’s new S-log 3 gamma curve. It is literally the first setting I changed on this camera and I can’t really think of a reason I would change it to anything else. 14 stops of dynamic range and the footage is so flat and boring looking that it’s actually exciting to think about how easy it will grade. The above video has a slight boost in contrast, a slight curve in saturation levels and a tiny amount of sharpening. That’s it. Grading took all of 1.5 minutes to get a look we were happy with. The one thing to remember if you’re going to be shooting this, especially in S-log 2 or 3, is to OVEREXPOSE LIKE CRAZY! Seriously, 1.5-2 stops over is where I’m starting next time. For a brilliant read on gamma curves and exposure, check out all the work and research that Alister Chapman has done on the subject.

Although some people will have a problem with it's small ergonomics, it's hard to argue with the vast feature set packed into this little guy. This is just one man's opinion, but since this camera wraps up the "version II" line of the Sony A7 series, I don't think we're going to be seeing major upgrades to these features anytime soon. I look forward to a long time of highly recommending this camera to people.


The DxO ONE Real World Test

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Recently I had the opportunity to travel light to Seattle with the DxO ONE. The DxO ONE is a tiny camera designed for use with your iPhone or iPad. The ONE allows you to attach a 20.2MP 1" BSI-CMOS sensor to your apple device via an integrated Lightning connector. Using the phone as a viewfinder, it’s possible to manually control your settings while shooting with the 32mm f/1.8 equivalent lens.

It was fun to carry around the DxO ONE in Seattle. I kept it in my jacket pocket and was excited every time I had an opportunity to take it out and use it. My first moments with the camera were about midday. After taking a few photos, I couldn’t really see well enough in the sunlight to check them over. Nothing new here, but would be very cool if there was an electronic viewfinder so I could have known that I missed focus on this photo of my bosses in front of the Space Needle. It would also make it easier to use the camera on its own (otherwise it's blind shooting).

ISO 100 F/1.8 1/4000


When the camera does hit focus it gives a surprising amount of detail, allowing investigation of every pore and hair follicle. (Sorry, Chase.)


ISO 100 F/2.8 1/4000

Later that evening I brought the DxO One out for some drinks. Normally I wouldn't bring a camera out in a crowded drinking establishment for social and financial reasons but the DxO is small and unassuming.  Soon after sitting down at the bar my group was approached by a portrait opportunity (i.e. two clowns.) I took the camera out of my jacket pocket and attached it via the Lightning port to my phone. The app came up quickly and I snapped a photo.

ISO 100 F/1.8 .8 sec


Oops- It was still set for sunlight from earlier in the day. Manual settings first drawback. Luckily the clowns sat down to chat and I had time to switch my flash on.

ISO 100 F/1.8 .5 sec (with flash)


Better, but still blurry. After setting the ISO to auto and opening up, it did pretty well.

ISO 3200 F/1.8 1/40 (with flash)


And even better when I turned the flash off for a more ambient look.

ISO 8000 F/1.8 1/30


It was nice that I was able to get so many looks and have so many options compared to just using the automatic settings on the phone. Shooting on my phone definitely would have been quicker and easier, but I’m happy with the quality of the DxO images. I was able to get better low light performance with much more detail. To me, it doesn't make much of a difference with the tiny Instagram photos, but if you have bigger plans the DxO ONE yields much clearer results.

To use the ‘selfie’ mode on the camera just unplug it, turn it around, and plug it back it. This part is a bit annoying because the app disconnects when you unplug. It's quick to come back, but I would prefer being able to rotate the camera all the way around without unplugging it. When you press the shutter the screen will go white to illuminate your face and give nice catchlights in your eyes. Be careful, though, not to get your fingers in the way of the lens- its very easy to do since you have to hold the combination with both hands.

Compared with the 1.2mp camera on the front of the iPhone 6, this is very impressive selfie detail.

ISO 6400 F/2.0 1/60


The DxO app makes it extremely fast and easy to share your images. While I was shooting RAW in camera, my phone was automatically saving a shareable jpeg to my phone. While this isn’t faster than just shooting with your phone, it is far and away better than any of the other apps for sharing photos from your camera.

The ONE can also record files in proprietary SuperRaw which composites four successive images to gain increased sensitivity and reduce noise. While the default DNG + JPG is widely compatible, the SuperRaw format can only be processed with DxO software. Downloading this software is a tedious and lengthy process involving connecting the phone and camera, going into settings to redeem software licensing, setting up a DxO account, and checking your email to finally begin downloading the software. After this is complete and you have the camera attached to your phone and computer simultaneously you can wait for a download time of about 2 minutes per sRAW image.

Here are some photos taken with low ISO at f/8 to show an example of detail captured in bright sunlight:

ISO 100 F/8 1/400
ISO 100 F/8 1/125
ISO 100 F/8 1/640


What I Liked:

The DxO ONE is very small with a comparatively large sensor. It allows capture of larger files with better detail than the iPhone and allows much more control over the look and quality of images with manual settings. In addition,  the DxO application allows for quick and easy mobile sharing. It's a great compromise when you want to take great photos but don't have room to bring gear along.

What Could be Improved:

The ONE is a little slow to respond,  kind of awkward to hold, and has a potentially inconvenient connection.

When it came to quick candid shooting, I often couldn’t get both the phone and camera out and connected in time to get the shot I wanted. Maybe if there was a stronger connection between the two I would be able to store them together. Even so, I often had to turn the camera off and on again to wake it up, and the shutter lag was slightly annoying. In addition, my phone case prevented a connection with the camera so my phone was vulnerable for a few days. It was too big of a hassle to remove and replace my LifeProof case for every shot.

Compared to using an iPhone it is a great way to take higher quality images and share them instantly. Also, it’s tiny and really fun to use. While I would like to see some changes, I would definitely use it again.

Sarah McAlexander


Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ED AF-S VR Sharpness & Optical Bench Testing

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Like a lot of people, we were pretty excited to get our hands on the new Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED AF-S VR lens. Compared to the other brand's 24-70mm zooms, the original Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ED AF-S wasn't quite as good at the outer part of the frame, and just wasn't as good at 70mm. I expected the new lens would be at least correct those problems.

As always, this is an optical bench test of 10 copies of the lens. The MTF curves we present are the average of the 10 copies, each tested at 4 rotations. I would like to reduce the number of fanboys that are going to glance at the graphs and then head straight to the nearest forum without passing GO (by "go", of course, I mean actually having a basic understanding of what we're doing here) and tell everyone I just said a bunch of stuff I didn't say. Again. So in case you don't understand why these results are going to be different from that other site that said this was the greatest or worst lens in recorded optical history, let's summarize.

  • Optical bench tests are done at infinity. Imatest and DxO tests are done at distances of 8 to 30 feet for a lens of this focal length.
  • Optical bench tests don't use an image from the camera, they test only the lens. Other methods are camera-dependent.
  • We've tested 10 copies and averaged the results and show the variation. Other sites tested one copy and present the results of that copy.
  • We just tested the optics. Other sites did complete reviews of lots of factors.


If you don't understand all that, or you want to know 'so what's the rating score', you'll be better off not reading this and going to a site that knows everything. If you do understand that this is a limited test that gives different data compared to what review and testing sites write about the lens, read on.

Specifics of the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 ED AF-S Tests

'Glass in the path', between the lens and image sensor is a variable that sometimes has a big effect on the image quality of a lens. With certain lenses (those with wide aperture and a short exit-pupil distance) it makes a big difference. In other lenses (smaller aperture and longer exit-pupil distances) it makes very little difference. It is our practice to check each lens to see if glass is needed to give the best MTF results. Testing with glass in the path is a bit more difficult and time-consuming, so if it makes no difference, we perform the tests without it. The other 24-70 zooms, including the previous Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 AF-S did just fine with no glass.

The new version did better with 2mm of optical glass in the imaging path. This is absolutely not a negative or positive thing since the sensors in Nikon cameras already have that glass in place. I mention it only because I try to be completely transparent as to our testing methods.

MTF Comparisons

So let's get on to the results and see how the new Nikon stacks up against the old one and the other recent 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms.

Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 MTF Comparison

At 70mm there is no question the new lens (left) is significantly better than the old version (right). At 10 and 20 line pairs it clearly has higher MTF, even in the center of the image. Off center, it's dramatically better at all frequencies. The old version has a bit higher MTF at the highest frequencies right at the center, but that's the only place that isn't improved on the new lens.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


At 50mm (hold on to your hats, fanboys), it become pretty clear Nikon has made a design choice with the new lens, and the design choice wasn't 'let's make it look great for the bench testers'. They've given up the absolute best center resolution in exchange for good resolution across the entire image field. So in the center 1/3 of the image, the old lens had better MTF results, but across the remainder of the field the newer lens is far superior. Not just that the resolution is better, but there is very little astigmatism, which the old lens had in spades.

I'm certain there will be screaming about 'not as sharp' both from Nikon shooters and from other brand fanboys who will gleefully visit the Nikon boards. But this seems to have been Nikon's design philosophy lately. The will give up some absolute center resolution to get a nice corner-to-corner image. Lenses are always a trade-off, always. And this is a great example of that.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


At 24mm what we see is similar to 50mm, although not quite as dramatic. Center resolution is slightly decreased compared to the old version, lateral resolution is improved, and astigmatism is reduced. Actually, the area of greatest astigmatism is also shifted out towards the edge of the image, wherein the old lens it was about 2/3 of the way from center. The new lens is dramatically better at the very edges of the image.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


Sample Variation

24-70mm zoom lenses tend to be just average lenses as far as consistency. All of them seem to have a fair bit of copy-to-copy variation, which isn't shocking. These lenses are retrofocus at 24mm, changing to telephoto as you zoom out; they tend to have extending barrels rather than internal zooms, and they are complex optically. All of those 'features' means there are a lot of things that can vary from one copy to another. The Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 VR isn't really any better or worse than the others we've tested (Nikon, Canon, and Tamron); it's similar to the others as far as sample variation.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


MTF Comparison to the Other 24-70mm f/2.8 Zooms

The logical comparison, of course, is with the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 Di VC since many Nikon shooters will be choosing between these two lenses and because both have vibration reduction. I'll add the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 Mk II to the comparison since we've called that the MTF gold standard of 24-70 zooms. We'll compare by focal length like we did above.

At 70mm, where historically all 24-70s have been weakest, the Nikon VR is at its best. While it's not quite as good as the others in the very center, it's quite close. Away from center, the Nikon really is awesome, and better than either the Canon or Tamron in the corners and edges.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


At 50mm, as mentioned in the Nikon comparison, we see Nikon's design difference. It's not quite the center resolution of the other two lenses but is the best out on the edges. At 50mm, it shows more astigmatism in the middle third of the image than the other two, but that's still very well controlled.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015


At 24mm, we again see what we saw at 50mm. Center resolution isn't as good as the others two lenses; it's been traded for a very flat field that gives the Nikon the best edges of the group.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015



Well, this will be a bit different, but my conclusion is that for those of you interested in this lens, optical testing probably shouldn't sway your decision very much. It tells you that if you want the absolute best center resolution at the mid and wider ends of the lens, then you probably don't want the new Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 VR. And it also tells you that this lens has been designed to be about things other than absolute resolution. It's about having a flat field with very equal sharpness from side-to-side, and fairly equal sharpness throughout the zoom range.

Whether you love this lens or don't care that it exists will depend on how you think the pictures look. The MTF charts suggest that it should have nice bokeh, a very smooth image with good sharpness from side-to-side, and may actually give you images that look a little different than those made with the other 24-70 f/2.8 zooms. The MTF charts suggest it, but only actual images are going to show it. The real keys are going to be how you like its size and the way it handles, how much of an advantage the VR makes for your kind of shooting. Those are all things you're going to see in real-world test reports and reviews and they're what will make up your mind about whether this is a worthwhile upgrade for you.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz


October, 2015