24mm f/1.4 Challenge - Between Leica, Canon, and Nikon
For the longest time, I didn't bother with the 21mm and 24mm Summilux when shooting with Leica M bodies. It didn't make any sense to do that, given the issues those lenses would have with framing. Not only would the girth of the lenses cover the viewfinder, the viewfinder itself wouldn't be ample enough to accommodate the 21mm and 24mm framelines. You would need to affix an external finder, if you wanted a general idea of what you were photographing. To me, external finders have never made sense to me. It's just one more thing to bring and lose.
Of course, you could zone focus with the 21m and 24mm Summilux - and altogether do away with having to use the viewfinder. This I do with the 21mm Super Elmar (and 24mm Super Elmar, if I were to have one). But if you zone focus, you wouldn't be able to get accurate focus shooting wide open - which essentially is the only reason to get the Summilux version.
For fast wide angle shots, I usually resort to using a Canon or Nikon body, paired with a 24mm f/1.4 lens (and by the way, there's no fast 21mm in the Canon and Nikon universe). When you think about it, it's not exactly a bad compromise, given that either a Canon or Nikon pairing with a 24mm f/1.4 lens would be more economical than a single 24mm Summilux. However, if you travel a lot, the extra weight of a DSLR and lens isn't always ideal. I mean I suppose I could just carry the 24mm Lux instead. But then the frame line situation stops me from doing that.
Then I got the Leica SL. That did away with the frameline problems. From the perspective of carrying less equipment, not having to bring an extra DSLR body is great. It was literally a load of my back. But then I got a little curious. Was it worth it getting the 21mm and 24mm Summilux? With regards to the 21mm Summilux adapted to the SL, it was worth it, given that Nikon and Canon doesn't have a fast 21mm f/1.4 lens. But since both Nikon and Canon have a 24mm f/1.4 lens, did it make sense for me to also get the 24mm f/1.4 Summilux.
So... how am I going to determine whether it was worth it to get the 24mm Lux? What to do, what to do, what to do... I suppose a challenge... but what kind of challenge?
I'm glad you asked.
In order to test which 24mm f/1.4 lens is better, I had to be in a situation where I was forced to shoot wide open. The way I see it, it only makes sense to test these lenses at f/1.4, given that the extra stop of speed is the only reason to get these lenses. You wouldn't need to get a fast 24mm lens if you're going to shoot stopped down.
The next question was where to conduct this test. The thing is, I can't grow a third arm, and I really didn't feel like shooting on the street with three cameras. Plus I needed low light, so it had to be indoor. But I didn't want it to be somewhere boring either. Then, Anna's friend Olga invited us to her Muay Thai training session. It was perfect.
The venue was at Soho Fitness, just off PMQ. The training session was with Tony Chu, a most rad MMA Kickboxer professional fighter, here in Hong Kong. You can check out the Soho Fitness site here.
As for the methodology of the comparison, it will be simple and straightforward. Photograph Olga and Anna's training session, and whichever lens ends up with the most images in support of this visual narrative will be the winner. Simple and fair - just like last time, wouldn't you say? Okay... I admit it is still not scientific this time around, and seems arbitrary again. But just like last time, I will be fair. Images will be selected on an as-need basis.
Admittedly, I know that this comparison cannot exactly be fair, given that both the Nikon and Canon have autofocus, while the adapted Leica M mount lens doesn't. In order to level the playing field, I handicapped the DLSRs to shoot only on automatic selection autofocus mode (which I regret in hindsight). As a result, it made getting tack focus very difficult, since it was impossible for the Nikon and Canon to automatically lock onto the subject's lead eye for focus.
However, autofocus in itself isn't an advantage - something which I quickly discovered. In depending on autofocus, your framing is limited to the camera's focusing points, which never extend out to the edge of the frame. As a result, it was very cumbersome to frame the subject's lead eye near the edge of the frame, on both the Canon and Nikon. This meant that getting tack focus was somewhat impossible to do, which was made all the more difficult by the constant movement of the subjects and the thin depth of field (which I'll touch on later).
In that way, the Leica SL with the 24mm Summilux was better. On the SL, you could select a focusing point near the edge of the screen. Therefore you can frame your image more optimally than on the Canon and Nikon. On the Canon and Nikon, it requires an additional step of framing after acquiring focus with focus and exposure lock. And in that split second of reframing, one can lose tack focus, in that situation.
Another issue I also soon discovered was how quickly the buffer filled up on the Canon 5D Mark IV, when shooting raw. I had originally been shooting at continuous high bursts. but given the limitation of the buffer, I started to restrict myself to single shooting mode.
Mind you, the buffers was also at risk of filling up on the much older Nikon D800E. Strangely, that never happened. Since the D800E was using older focusing technology, I was more careful in acquiring focus, and therefore shot more methodically. As a result, I shot less, and never filled up my buffer. The same can be said of the Leica SL, given the manual focusing process slowing down my shooting, which resulted in less shots filling the buffer.
Obviously depth of field was an issue in this comparison. Normally when photographing fast action sports, I like to leave a little depth of field wiggle room. But rules are rules - and the terms of this challenge is to see how well these lenses perform wide open. Besides, even without the impediment of my rules, the lighting in the studio wasn't ideal.
As such, I was forced to shoot wide open, with or without the rules of this challenge. In order not to exceed ISO 6400, and still freeze the action at 1/2000th of a second, I couldn't stop down to increase depth of field. From my perspective, I would rather risk not getting tack focus on the subject than risk getting motion blur. I hate motion blur.
Still, I would prefer tack focus on the lead eye. But with high ISO, a little out of focus in the subject isn't the end of the world, since the noise of the high ISO lessens the impact of not acquiring tack focus.
But what of the lens? I've been going on and on about the methodology and process of conducting this challenge, and I haven't once discussed about the lenses on it's own. In truth, you cannot isolate the lens from the camera body and the experience. It's a package deal. The lens cannot perform without it's native camera body. I mean I suppose I could have adapted all the lenses onto a Sony A7, in order to level the playing field - but honestly, who wants to see that. We're only interested in seeing how each system camera performs with their own system lenses.
With that said, I found the Nikon 24mm f/1.4 to have a somewhat more forgiving depth of field wide open. I don't know this for certain. But it does feel that way. I also found the vignetting to be more noticeable on the Nikon too. And for some reason, I found the Nikon to render with the most color saturation.
As for the Canon, it appeared in the challenge to be the opposite of the Nikon. The image seemed to be least saturated with color. And in analyzing the images, I get the impression that the Canon 24mm f/1.4 maybe comparatively sharper. Perhaps that is why unwanted out of focus areas are more noticeable on the Canon.
It should be noted that I did underexpose by a stop in shooting, in order to gain a stop in speed. This meant that I had to push one stop in Lightroom, which could have affected the saturation and contrast of the image. Since the Canon has a newer sensor with better high ISO, the change in saturation could have been less compared to the much older Nikon sensor, which seemed more noticeable.
Overall, I prefer the rendering of the Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux. There is something very three dimensional about the images it produces. In addition, I also feel that the Leica's rendering of skin tones is noticeably more flattering.
Despite my obvious preference for the Leica, this writeup isn't about that. It is a challenge to see which 24mm f/1.4 lens setup gets the most images posted in support of my visual narrative. Based on the rules, the Canon 5D Mark IV won the challenge - fair and square - with a final tally of 12 for the Canon (including the title image), 10 for the Leica, and for 7 the Nikon. So the Canon is the best fast 24mm lens to use!
Okay, I admit. This isn't scientific at all - but results are results... and I had fun doing this... and I needed an excuse - I mean a challenge - to post the photos I took.
Still, I am encouraged by how close the Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux came. If nothing else, this challenge demonstrates that you don't necessarily need to use a DSLR if you want to shoot a 24mm lens wide open at f/1.4. I'm satisfied with how well the 24mm Lux performed. This means I will no longer travel with my Canon 5D Mark IV and 24mm f/1.4L. How very liberating it is. I feel all of a sudden less burdened, with the weight of my concern lifted from my shoulders.
All images have been optimized in Lightroom. Only one image had to be cropped for framing.
Special thanks to Anna and a big thanks to Olga for bringing us to her training session at Soho Fitness. Also a big shout out to Tony for being just the most excellent Muay Thai trainer!