Tempest in a Teapot? Leica Lenses on Sony’s A7s

Here’s a short synopsis of Michael Evans’ essay Leica Lenses on Sony’s A7s: The Big Controversy. At first take, writes Evans, the A7(R)s open up a fairyland of opportunity for owners not only of Leica glass but all M mount lenses including those from Zeiss, Voigtländer and others. Tantalizing thought, isn’t it, but the basic message is that mounting Leica lenses on the Sonys is not as straightforward as many think, writes Evans:

On the one hand we have the purists who believe that Leica lenses are made to work with Leica cameras and none other will do. They can get tetchy and will trot out all manner of horror stories to underpin their arguments. At the other extreme are the optimists, those keen to try new things, who have ordered an A7 or A7R in the belief or hope that there will be few problems.

Mike Evans
Mike Evans
The author examines the topics manual focus, crop factor, value for money, bodies vs. lenses and the performance of an M lens on a Sony A7 in general. He suspects that while the experts will detect technical problems there will be a horde of M lens owners out there who cannot wait to try the marriage out for themselves. They are likely to be pleased. The mere fact that an old Leica lens can be bolted to an A7 and be used at advertised focal length is an achievement in itself.

Just don’t ignore the unpredictabilities. For instance, did you think an adapter is an adapter?

Much talk, also, has centered on adaptors. Back in time I used to think an adapter, which is a simple ring of metal without optics, was just a means of mounting the lens. Not so. Tolerances are critical and some cheaper adaptors can loosen over time and, even, damage the camera or lens mounts. Forum members have complained that they have gone thorough umpteen models and variants before finding one that actually worked well. They talk of shimming with silver foil, all of which is far above my head and I will leave them to it.

And Michael goes on:

Because M lenses are purely mechanical, they last and last and last (…) The second advantage lies in the short travel and ultra precise focus ring. Most M lenses have a maximum travel of about 40 degrees. Those who invest in mechanical M-mount lenses have none of these worries. Their lenses sail on serenely across the seas of time, appreciating in value all the while, and can be bolted on to a wide range of systems, present and future.

At the heart of the problem whether M lenses will ever be truly compatible with a non-Leica camera lies what Evans calls the “Leica dilemma”: the specter of cannibalization of the M. Leica wants its bodies and lenses to be strictly proprietary.

A true “mini M” with M mount and a built-in EVF instead of the rangefinder mechanism could more easily be developed by the competition and would surely impact on sales of the more expensive M camera. Purists will continue to argue that it cannot be an M because M stands for rangefinder (Meßsucher in German), so you cannot have an M with solely an electronic viewfinder.

Even if Leica were to produce such a cheaper M system camera (whether an M or not an M) it would be welcomed, not just as a second body among Leica enthusiasts: it would encourage many to take the cheaper body and forego the traditional rangefinder.

For the moment, to see whether a thrice-cheaper Leica alternative challenges the M, we have to wait for the results of some serious testing. We will get this only after Sony releases the finished product with final firmware, something that should happen by mid-November.

Ever being the optimist, Evans ordered one of those hot Sony properties. He would prefer the purist’s solution, using an M body with Leica lenses. The alternative is nonetheless fascinating. And that’s the essence of what Evans is saying:

If the Sonys proves to be an acceptable alternative, the Leica M success model could be in trouble.

Addendum: It doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out that the Sony will likely outperform the M in the noise and skin tones department and make focusing easier for those with impaired eyesight. Soft corners? Add the colors looking wonderful, which seems to be a strong point for the new Sony cameras. These factors alone may outweigh the precise synergy between what Leicaphiles call “marriage in heaven”: between the lens, its optics and the expensive M body. As Michael says: “In my view any problems with lenses longer than 28mm will be minimal.”

+++ Read Michael Evans’ whole essay on Macfilos.