Equipment

Guide to Leica Wide Angle Lenses on Sony a7 Series Bodies

It’s been known for some time that wide angle M mount lenses have issues on Sony mirrorless cameras because of the way the sensors are designed, but there’s never been a very good list of what lenses work best, much less a visual reference to see how bad things can really be. So I took it upon myself to fix that. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s at least all the M mount lenses we stock that are shorter than 35mm. This includes Leica, Voigtländer, and Zeiss lenses in our inventory. Below you’ll find images I took with a Leica Typ 240 body and a Sony a7R II body with Voigtländer M mount to E mount adapter. To keep things compact, I’ve cut the corners and centers out of test chart images to show the impact on corner sharpness and/or color shift that the Sony sensor has, compared to how the lens is meant to perform on Leica bodies. In each sample, you’ll see the Leica image on the left and Sony on the right, with wide open performance on top and stopped down to f/8 on the bottom. Because of the higher resolution on the Sony a7R II (7952×5304), I resized the original images to match the M Typ 240 (5952×3968) before cropping for convenience in showing side by side images. The effects of the sensor stack are still plainly visible even at the slightly reduced resolution.

01voigt12at5.6-Thumb 01voigt12at8-Thumb 02voigt15IIat4.5-Thumb
02voigt15IIat8-Thumb 03voigt15IIIat4.5-Thumb 03voigt15IIIat8-Thumb
04zeiss15at2.8-Thumb 04zeiss15at8-Thumb 05leica16-18-21at16and4-Thumb
05leica16-18-21at16and8-Thumb 05leica16-18-21at18and4-Thumb 05leica16-18-21at18and8-Thumb
05leica16-18-21at21and4-Thumb 05leica16-18-21at21and8-Thumb 06leica18elmarat3.8-Thumb
06leica18elmarat8-Thumb 07zeiss18at4-Thumb 07zeiss18at8-Thumb
08leica21luxat1.4-Thumb 08leica21luxat8-Thumb 09leica21superelmarat3.4-Thumb
09leica21superelmarat8-Thumb 10voigt21at1.8-Thumb 10voigt21at8-Thumb
11zeiss212.8at2.8-Thumb 11zeiss212.8at8-Thumb 12zeiss214.5at4.5-Thumb
12zeiss214.5at8-Thumb 13leica24luxat1.4-Thumb 13leica24luxat8-Thumb
14leica24elmarat3.8-Thumb 14leica24elmarat8-Thumb 15zeiss25at2.8-Thumb
15zeiss25at8-Thumb 16leica28luxat1.4-Thumb 16leica28luxat8-Thumb
17leica28elmaritat2.8-Thumb 17leica28elmaritat8-Thumb 18leica28elmaritIIat2.8-Thumb
18leica28elmaritIIat8-Thumb 19leica28cronat2-Thumb 19leica28cronat8-Thumb
20leica28cronIIat2-Thumb 20leica28cronIIat8-Thumb 21zeiss28at2.8-Thumb
21zeiss28at8-Thumb

 

To draw some quick conclusions from the above images, every lens we stock is affected to some degree, but there are at least a few I would consider still very usable wide open. The Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 Heliar III, Leica 16-18-21mm f/4 Tri-Elmar, Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, and Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH Elmarit-M II are all what I would consider good enough at maximum aperture, with the Tri-Elmar being the absolute best of the bunch, and the Summiluxes very close behind. Almost all of the tested lenses improve corner performance when stopped down to about f/8, where a lot of these lenses really shine for landscape work anyways. One curious thing to note, though, is that often when stopping down, you can improve corner performance by adjusting your focus so that the center isn’t at its sharpest, but still within the depth of field. Check out this example from the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 at f/8:

04zeiss15at8-Resizezeiss15at8brefocused-Resize

On the left is the corner and center when I focused on the center, and on the right is the corner and center when I focused on the corner. There’s negligible difference in the center, but a world of difference in the corners. This is at chart distances of only three or four feet, so at infinity, the results may not be as positive. That’s something to keep in mind for all of these lenses. At or near infinity corner performance on Sony bodies will diminish some as the rear elements of these lenses get closer to the sensor. The Tri-Elmar and 21 and 28 Summilux are still top performers, even at infinity, though, and they’re my regular go-to lenses for wide work on Sony bodies.

So is it worth it to even try adapting these lenses? Well, with the still limited lens options available for Sony a7 bodies these days, I would say…maybe. New E-mount options seem to be coming out all the time, like the Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 Hyper-Wide Heliar and 15mm f/4.5 Super-Wide Heliar, as well as the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 and 25mm f/2. These are great options, and much more reasonably priced compared to offerings from Leica. If you already have an M mount system and are looking to try Sony, this list I’ve made is meant for you. If you’re a Sony owner looking to find some good wide angle alternatives, now you have a visual reference for your best options. And let’s be honest, nothing looks as good as that 21mm Summilux, and for $7400, nothing else really should.

Author: Joey Miller

I’m Joey. I love cameras, especially old film cameras, and I can’t remember the last day I didn’t take a photo. Digital cameras are great, and they keep me employed, but I also still like processing my own film. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. I shoot every single day, no matter what.

Posted in Equipment
  • Albert

    What about a test of a Kolari thin filter modded A7 (or A7R)?

  • Kolari Vision

    Hi Joey,

    We just released a new ultra-thin conversion for the A7 cameras. If you are interested in trying it out, I would be happy to loan you one or mod one of yours, I think you’ll like it! We have a lot of requests to see side by side tests like this and this new filter is the fourth generation and blows the first generation one you tested out of the water.

  • DDT

    Thanks for the effort. However, wide angles are often used focused at infinity, and unfortunately at infinity the performance of some of the

  • Dennis W

    A Kolari modded camera comparison would be great, but if you don’t have one you can’t compare…Maybe someone from Kolari would lend you one? If not it would still be great if you added the varrios 35mm lenses to the article above.

  • Joey Miller

    Unfortunately we don’t have one of those cameras around anymore. If I could test it, I would.

  • Dennis W

    Please do. The test I read showed a marginal improvement.
    Also, please include some 35mm lenses.

  • Ronak, the adapter doesn’t make much difference (assuming it’s a well made one), they’re just spacers.

  • Ronak S

    Yes please. I’ve been wanting to buy the Elmarit 28mm for Sony A7r II for a small, light weight kit but all the previous reports were really discouraging. This gives me some hope. Would love more results too.

    P.S. Will a different but a high quality adapter vary the results by much? eg. novoflex?

  • Ronak S

    Thanks Roger. After your comment, I found a ton of information online about the sensor glass thickness. Solved my query. Thanks. 🙂

  • S.Yu

    I can’t remember where I read it but I think the Zeiss still had some smearing in the corners, wide open.

  • Knijsterbek

    I thought a lot of the Leica 35’s have problems like corner smearing at the wider apertures. At least the tests I did with M240 vs A7R2 showed this for the 35 summicron ASPH and the 35 summilux FLE.
    The WATE and the MATE were fine though, as were the higher focal lengths (50 noctilux 0.95, 50 APO summicron, 90 APO summicron, 135 elmarit.
    Elsewhere it is stated that only the 35 summilux pre ASPH performs well on A7 bodies, but that’s an old design with other optical restrictions (I don’t own one so I did not test it).

  • frit

    I have an A7. The Zeiss 21mm 4.5 zm had problems. The 28mm does not – as far as I can tell. Is it reasonable to assume the the lower pixel density might be more forgiving? All these tests are done on the A7 R, but not the A7 or the A7s.

  • Joey Miller

    If there’s enough interest, I could try testing the rest of the M mount lenses in a similar manner.

  • Joey Miller

    I did some testing of a Kolari modded camera a while back, and I didn’t notice any difference in performance. I didn’t do any extensive testing, though, so that might be worth investigating again.

  • Joey Miller

    Sorry, I purposefully didn’t test the 35s because we haven’t had any real issues with them. Personally, I prefer the Zeiss over the Voigt, unless I’m looking for that dreamy look.

  • Charlie Webster

    Best thing I ever did to my A7 was have Kolari mod the sensor for Leica wides.

  • S.Yu

    Its such a shame that the 35s weren’t tested, I was really interested in the ZM35/1.4’s results compared to the CV35/1.2II.

  • Ronak, the problem isn’t the distance correction, the adapters do that fine. It’s the thickness of glass over the sensor. Leica lenses are designed for none, or a very thin bit of glass. Sony sensors have thicker glass cover on their sensor. There’s basically a thin, flat, extra lens in the pathway that Sony lenses account for in their design, but that Leica lenses do not.

    It doesn’t affect all adapted lenses equally, but in general wide-angle lenses tend to be most affected.

  • Ronak S

    Hi. I’ve been researching mirrorless camera for my purchase & have an adapter related query that seems appropriate to ask here.

    1.) Hypothetically speaking, if one were to measure the distance of a Leica sensor from the lens mount plane on a M-body, one would arrive at the appropriate distance at which all the Leica lenses are manufactured to be used at with the Leica bodies. If an adaptor manufacturer was to manufacture an adapter for say a Sony A7R II to precisely distance the Leica lens from the Sony sensor to match the Leica M-body specification, would the Leica Lenses still have the colour cast & soft corner issues? (I understand the pictures will never be the exact same due to the software optimisation by each manufacturer for their respective bodies & lenses)

    2.) Since so many people are adapting Leica lenses for Sony bodies, why haven’t we yet seen an adapter that activates the manual focus assist (viewfinder magnification) when the manual focus ring is turned al la Zeiss Loxia? Is it the property of Leica lens & its lack of any electronic circuitry?

    I’m sorry if these questions sound stupid or aren’t technically sound. I don’t know much about optics & electronics and have been wondering about the same for a while.

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