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Battle of the manual 35mm on Sony A7 : Canon FDn, Zeiss Contax, Voigtlander Nokton

Contenders

  • Canon FDn 35mm f2.8, very cheap, very small, light
  • Canon FDn 35mm f2, very affordable, small, light
  • Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4 MC, more recent, tiny, metal build, Leica M mount
  • Zeiss 35mm f2.8 AE C/Y, affordable, small, metal build
  • Zeiss 35mm f1.4 AE C/Y, expensive, big, heavy metal build

The test

Nothing very scientific. A simple photo shot from the window, with a changing light unfortunately, full stops until f11. On a tripod, 2 second timer, and try to aim at the same point with the right focus. Only one shot per aperture. So I’m going to talk mostly about the sharpness here, it’s surely NOT a full test.

Results

Center

On a 8×11 inches print equivalent, all the primes can be considered as sharp, even wide open. Let’s pixel peep a bit :

  • The Canon 35mm FDn F2.8 is quite sharp at F2.8, lacking a bit of contrast. At F4, it’s very sharp, and F5.6 improves things marginally.
  • The Canon 35mm FDn F2 is a bit soft at F2, and lacking contrast. At F2.8, contrast is back, and sharpness is much better. At F4, peak sharpness is already reached.
  • Voigtlander 35mm F1.4 Nokton MC is a bit soft at F1.4 and lacking contrast. Sharpness is already very good at F2, and the peak is reached at F4.
  • Zeiss 35mm F2.8 C/Y AE is a bit soft at F2.8, but the contrast is already quite good. At F4, the maximum sharpness seems already reached, and contrast improves a bit.
  • Zeiss 35mm F1.4 C/Y AE is a bit soft at F1.4, but is more lacking contrast than sharpness. At F2, sharpness is already very good with a contrast boost. At F2.8, peak sharpness seems to be already reached.

Border

  • The Canon 35mm FDn F2.8 is already decently sharp at F2.8, and contrast is not bad at all. It improves until F5.6, to reach a quite good sharpness, even if not matching the center.
  • The Canon 35mm FDn F2 is soft at F2, and lacking contrast. It improves gradually until F8.
  • Voigtlander 35mm F1.4 Nokton MC is really soft at F1.4 and needs to wait until F8 to reach a good sharpness.
  • Zeiss 35mm F2.8 C/Y AE is soft at F2.8. Sharpness gets a strong boost at F4, and reaches its peak at F5.6 already.
  • Zeiss 35mm F1.4 C/Y AE is a soft at F1.4 and gradually improve, at F5.6 we reach a good level, and peak is met at F8.
  • Canon EF 17-40mm F4 L is a bit soft at F4, and needs to wait until F8 to reach a good sharpness.

Corner

Note : the corner was not in the focal plane, so it’s not the best test case at big apertures.

  • The Canon 35mm FDn F2.8 is already not bad at F2.8, and improves to reach a good sharpness at F5.6.
  • The Canon 35mm FDn F2 is soft at F2, and needs to wait until F8 to reach a good sharpness.
  • Voigtlander 35mm F1.4 Nokton MC is really soft at F1.4 but mostly lacking contrast. At F4, the sharpness is quite good and it gets better until F8.
  • Zeiss 35mm F2.8 C/Y AE is soft at F2.8, but mostly lacking contrast. It needs to wait until F8 to reach a good sharpness.
  • Zeiss 35mm F1.4 C/Y AE is a soft at F1.4 and gradually improves but needs to wait until F8 to be really sharp.

Conclusions

All those primes are really good in the center. Details are often already there even wide open, but contrast is lacking. Stop down a bit, and it gets really very sharp. No worry with any of those lenses. The ultra fast lenses are softer wide open, but the difference with the F2.8 ones is not that big at print size. Of course, if you want to crop a lot or pixel peep, differences are more noticeable.

On the border, it’s a different story. The little Canon F2.8 is quite impressive, the ultra fast primes are clearly suffering more, the Zeiss F2.8 is a bit disappointing, and the Voigtlander shows typical weakness of a rangefinder lens put on the A7 : light is bleeding a lot, contrast is terrible.

In the corner, the little Canon is again really good even wide open, the Zeiss F2.8 just needs one stop to be really good, and the fast primes gradually improves to reach a very good sharpness later than their F2.8 companions. The Voigtlander is doing surprisingly better than on the border.

So, to summarize on the sharpness and my everyday use :

  • The Canon FDn F2.8 is REALLY great for the price ! Sharpness and contrast are reached very quickly, and even wide open it’s already good. Plus it’s crazy small and lightweight. A no brainer really, as it’s crazy cheap.
  • The Canon FDn F2 is not as good as his little brother, sharpness and contrast needs more stops to be as good. But it’s a full stop faster, and still really good and very affordable. To consider if you need the extra stop compared to its little brother.
  • The Voigtlander Nokton is a cheap F1.4 lens, and tiny. It’s so small that it took me some time to find where to put my fingers. The center is already quite good at F1.4 and quickly improves. The border is another story. You need to wait until F8 to use it as a landscape lens… But it’s probably not why you want this lens. Its subject isolation is quite nice, and it definitely has some character. Close focusing is a weakness though. But for discreet street shooting, it’s a really interesting choice.
  • The Zeiss F2.8 is a bit disappointing wide open, especially on the borders and corners. But it keeps some contrast, like most Zeiss lenses. Stopped down, it’s getting really really good. Strong contender, as it’s quite affordable and very solid with its metal build, without being too big and heavy. To take some street and landscape photos without a need for subject isolation, it’s a good choice, the Zeiss character is here.
  • The Zeiss F1.4 is expensive, but you know why. It’s built like a tank, and the center is already solid wide open. Borders and corners need a few stops to be really good. Not the best choice for landscape photos, but again, it’s a F1.4 lens with terrific isolation skills. Close focusing is really really nice also, so it’s my first choice when I need subject isolation and some character.

There is no real bad choice among all those primes. Depending what you want to do and your budget, the choice will be much different.

To be added

The newer Sony Zeiss 35mm F1.4 ZA will be tested against those lenses, but on a A7RII… So it’s not that scientific and fair, even by resizing to the 24MP of the A7 (the A7RII has no anti-aliasing filter). And I’m probably too lazy to reshoot everything on the A7RII, providing I still have all those lenses under hand… But a direct comparison between this big beast and the Contax F1.4 is definitely needed.

Wait wait wait

But where are the photos of this test ?

I’m a bit lazy and I would like to find a good solution to display all the cropped images on a nice table showing the aperture and lenses names. Would anybody have a solution to suggest ? Manually it would take some time, and I honestly prefer to use this time to take REAL photos 😉

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