Sensor Comparison of 5 Cameras - the Canon 5D Mark IV, Leica M10, Leica SL, Nikon D850, and Sony A9
Again, I've jumped the sharks. I've just been informed that I would be getting my Sony A7r Mark III in ten days. In other words, I could have included the newest iteration of the A7r into this already crowded field. If only I had waited just a little longer. But, could you blame me? Originally, I was informed I wasn't getting my copy on Sony's first shipment to Hong Kong - which was why I went ahead with this comparison. But now that I am, the obsessive compulsive in me isn't happy. Now, this comparison seems awfully incomplete to me.
Yes, comparison - something I haven't done since the spring. I know, I've been on a different narrative arc for quite some time. Rather misguidedly, I thought it would be easier to refrain from doing these ambitious comparisons, which is why I've been avoiding them by traveling and writing these insight pieces (as I call them), since the summer. But how wrong I've been. Whatever convenience I gain from not having to deal with multiple cameras, I lose in having to use more effort to write something worth reading.
Mind you, it's not as if these comparisons write themselves. I still need a topic of discussion. So for this blog post, I've decided to compare the sensor between five of the most popular full frame cameras at the moment. That includes the following cameras, paired with the following lenses:
- Canon 5D Mark IV + Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM and Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
- Nikon D850 + Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G and Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G
- Sony A9 + Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH "FLE"
- Leica SL + Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH "FLE"
- Leica M10 + Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH "FLE"
As always, methodology of the comparison is to photograph as consistently as possible (or at there very least, as much as I can reasonably manage based on the typical practice of an enthusiast). That means:
- Exposure is manually set to produce similar rendering, with shutter speed as the only variable to compensate for differences in exposure bias.
- Focusing distance when shooting the Leica 24mm Summilux or 35mm Summilux is set by distance, verified by a measuring tape - seriously!
- Auto focus of the Nikon D850 and Canon 5D Mark IV acquired on Live View.
- Color balance is set at auto.
- Use of a tripod when possible (even if it doesn't appear that way).
- Light source was dependent on indirect sunlight, which may account for a ±½ stop of variance in the resulting image.
With regards to lens selection, there were no combinations which would allow me to collectively optimize performance for each camera. In theory, the 50mm focal length would have probably been more ideal. However the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and the Canon 50mm f/1.4 would put both the Nikon D850 and the Canon 5D Mark IV at a disadvantage, given that the Leica SL and the Sony A9 have more contemporary versions. Plus, it should also be noted the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH isn't exactly new anymore, and would likely put the Leica M10 at a disadvantage.
Of course, it also doesn't help that my version of the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL ASPH is currently being serviced in Wetzlar.
As for the decision to adapt a Leica lens onto the Sony A9, I figure adapting lenses on Sony is a common practice. Admittedly, this puts the Sony at a disadvantage. But, I wasn't about to go out and get a Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art lens, nor was I about to get a Sony 35mm FE f/1.4 ZA lens.
Set #1A - ISO 100
Set #1B - ISO 100 - 1:1 Magnification
At normal ambient light and low ISO, the following observations can be made.
- There seems to be some light falloff on the Sony A9 and Leica SL. This is likely because both the Sony A9 and the Leica SL are no longer paired to a lens with an optimal flange distance specific to their respective sensor. Instead, they're both adapted to accept the new flange distance required by the M mount lens. Consequently, it only makes sense the resulting image capture will be noticeably flatter in rendering.
- The color balance of the Sony A9 is clearly off, as already noted on early blog entries using native Sony lenses.
- The Leica M10 sensor appears to have better micro-contrast, which results in a more three dimensional rendering that appears comparatively less flat. As a result, the whites appear more white, while the blacks are more black.
Set #2A - ISO 400
Set #2B - ISO 400 - 1:1 Magnification
At normal ambient light, lower ISO, the following observations can be made.
- Light falloff can be confirmed in both the adapted Sony A9 and the Leica SL.
- The color balance of the Sony A9 is clearly off.
- Better micro-contrast can be confirmed on the Leica M10.
- In comparing the Canon 5D Mark IV to the Nikon D850, the Canon appears to render slightly warmer than the Nikon. I would say the colors rendered by the Nikon appears similar to the Leica M10, albeit with less micro-contrast (but more resolution).
- The Leica SL appears to render slightly warmer than the Leica M10.
Set #3A - ISO 1600 - Underexposed
Set #3B - ISO 1600 - Pushed 2 stops
Set #3C - ISO 1600 - 1:1 Magnification
With the subject underexposed under strong backlighting at moderate ISO, and increased depth of field, the following observations can be made.
- The dynamic range of all five camera sensor can sufficiently pull out details, even when pushed 2 stops.
- The Sony probably can retain more details if it were paired with a comparable native lens, seeing there would be no light falloff and optimization in rendering.
- The sensor on the Leica SL is either showing its age or is suffering from light falloff, given noticeable loss in details at higher magnification.
Set #4A - ISO 1600 - Overexposed Background (minus M10 😖)
Set #4B - Overexposed Background - Pulled 2 stops (minus the M10 😖)
With the background overexposed at moderate ISO, then pulled 2 stops, the following observations can be made.
- Each camera were able to pull details back - even up to 2 stops - as long as the highlights were not blown.
- Interestingly, the color rendering of the outside wall is similar on the Nikon D850 and the Sony A9.
- Given that the Leica M10 was not included in this set, this comparison is inconclusive.
Sample images of the Leica M10 will be added at a later date. Actually, I will probably redo this set, given that I should have overexposed Anna instead of the background.
Set #5A - ISO 25000/25600 - Usable Low Light
Set #5B - ISO 25000/25600 - 1:1 Magnification
At low light and high ISO, the following observations can be made.
- The Canon 5D Mark IV appears to have the cleanest image files at high ISO.
- Both the Leica SL and Leica M10 appears to suffer from pixelated artifacts at high ISO.
- The color balance appears to be more accurate on the Leica SL and Leica M10, with the Canon 5D Mark IV and Sony A9 tonally warmer and the Nikon D850 cooler.
Set #6A - ISO 25000/25600 - Unusable Low Light
Set #6B - Unusable Low Light - Pushed 2 stops
At near no light, high ISO, and pushed two stops, the following observations can be made.
- The dynamic range of the Nikon D850 and Sony A9 appears to pull out sufficient details without as much resulting artifact and banding.
- Slight color banding is evident on the Canon 5D Mark IV, moderate on the Leica SL, and strong on the Leica M10.
- Evidence of lens flare on the Leica SL and Sony A9. I assume this has something to do with the increased flange distance between the rear element of the adapted lens and the sensor plane.
Summary of Observations
Clearly, all five cameras performed well, under normal ambient light conditions. Under incorrect exposure at normal ISO setting, all five cameras were able to sufficiently pull out detail in post. However, under low light and high ISO, both the Leica SL and Leica M10 did not perform as well as the other three cameras in this comparison.
Also clearly demonstrated in this comparison, adapting lenses on the Sony A9 and Leica SL diminishes performance. It will invariably result in light falloff, which reduces micro-contrast, making the images appear flatter than it would with native lenses.
In comparing the Canon 5D Mark IV with the Nikon D850 on the basis of its sensor, I believe it's a dead heat. In my opinion, the color balance of the Nikon under normal ambient light at low to moderate ISO appears slightly more complementary than the Canon. However, the Canon appears to retain detail better under high ISO - albeit with a slightly less forgiving dynamic range, when underexposed at near no-light conditions.
Also worth noting, if the Sony A9 were paired with a comparable native lens, it would probably perform better than both the Nikon and Canon. Personally, I believe it would outperform the Nikon and Canon in low light. Unfortunately, it has that color balance issue.
Given all my observations from this comparison, I can't decided between the Nikon and the Canon. This may not be immediately clear, but this marks a significant improvement for Nikon from a year ago. Personally, I believe it comes right down to preference. So, if I were to pick between the two based on subjective criteria, I would opt for the Nikon. I prefer its color rendering under most normal shooting situation.
Still, I maintain under normal ambient light at low to moderate ISO, the Leica M10 is better. In my opinion, it has better micro-contrast, which results in a more three dimensional rendering.
Unfortunately, this comparison is inconclusive, since I forgot to take one sample image with the Leica M10. Moreover, the Sony A7r Mark III was not included in this comparison. With that said, if I ever do an updated comparison with the Sony A7r Mark III, I will definitely use a native Sony lens.
All images have been not been edited in Lightroom, unless otherwise mentioned. No images have been cropped for composition. Only the title image has been edited and cropped.
PS: If you're wondering why Anna is wearing a bathrobe, it's because of wardrobe malfunction. The bathrobe was the lesser of the evil.
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