A Tale of Adaptation - The Leica SL with R and Canon EF Lens Mounts
Adaptation is the cornerstone of innovation rising from the well spring of curiosity. It pushes the limits of what's possible in expanding the reaches of imagination. If only my imagination were as ambitious. To be painfully honest, my ambition is more in line with the scope of my curiosity - not exactly high praise, indeed. Though to be fair to my modest expectations, answering my curiosity is never quite modest, and would likely require a leap of effort... and possibly even a measure of imagination in forethought and execution.
So what's piquing my curiosity? It has to do with the Leica SL. To be specific, it has to do with the lens mounts that I haven't adapted to the SL. Up to now, I've been pretty consistent in shooting with M-mount Leica glass, preferring it to even native SL autofocus lenses. And to be honest, I've been having such a wonderful time with Leica M-mount lenses on the Leica SL that I haven't even considered the other possibilities. But that all changed, on one fateful visit to the Leica Store New York Soho, when Craig burst my comfort zone with the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R.
Having the M-mount version already, I had never considered the possibility of getting the R-mount version. It would seem redundant. However, that was about to change very soon. Craig has this wonderful no-nonsense way of communicating his knowledge of Leica products, past and present. So when he extolled the virtues of R-mount lens, as we chewed the fat by the pre-owned lens section, I leaned in a little closer with increased interest.
Craig understood why I had overlooked the R-mount option. As a Leica photographer, initially by way of the M-mount system, I didn't think much about the R-mount system. It didn't even register in my mind. And by extension, now as a Leica SL photographer, I was still thinking like a Leica M-mount photographer. For one thing, I couldn't get over the size. In comparing the M-mount version 35 Lux to the R-mount version, it's obvious that the M-mount version is superior, given the savings in both size and weight.
But size isn't necessarily a disadvantage. There are benefits to being bigger. Unbeknownst to many Leica M-mount photographers, larger R-mount glass are remarkably sharp. It's just a matter of physics. However, the characteristic that got my attention was the closer minimum focusing distance of the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R. With the M-mount version, the closest you could go is just under 28 inches. With the R-mount version, it is just under 20 inches. That means that the R-mount version can focus 8 inches closer than the M-mount version.
To provide me visible verification, Craig took out both the R and M mount version 35 Lux to show me the focusing distance scale. I was clearly surprised. It made an impact on me, because I've always been unsatisfied with how awful Leica M glass are in focusing close-up. Don't believe me, try taking a good picture of gratuitous food porn with a Leica M-mount lens. You can't because you cannot focus close enough to exclude the mess surrounding the plate.
Needless to say, I was anxious to take the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R back to Hong Kong to see what 8 inches closer looks like.
Unfortunately for me, I goofed again with my initial close focusing test, when I was back in Hong Kong. First of all, I forgot to bring my M to SL adapter - instead bringing along a Leica M240 with the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE for the comparison. That meant that the sensor was different. And second, I didn't have the learning curve to compose extremely close-up in a flattering way.
Up close as a portrait lens, the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R was a difficult lens to use. It was unforgivingly sharp, making evident any signs of imperfection on the skin. Furthermore, at the closest focusing distance, the 35 Lux-R was extremely prone to distortion. Anything front and center, like a nose would become exaggerated in a comical way. I had considered posting some of my initial closeup portraits of Anna, but then decided against it. It wouldn't be right. Instead, I opted on a closeup comparison of her teacup.
Still, I was determined to take a proper closeup portrait of Anna with the 35 Lux-R. The bokeh alone at 20 inches is significantly better than the bokeh at 28 inches. So I decided on a follow-up day of shooting after this.
When compared to the M version, this R version performs just as well. It is just as sharp to the naked eye, and renders bokeh just as exquisitely, when shot wide open. The main difference between the two versions is that the R version lets you focus 8 inches closer, but at the cost of extra size and weight.
If it weren't for the size of this lens adapter combination, I would say that the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R is probably the most versatile Leica lens that you could put on the Leica SL. It does everything you need it to do, from landscapes to group shots to portraits to closeups, from normal to low light situations.
So as you can see, you don't have to limit yourself to just Leica M-mount glass when using the Leica SL. Adaptation lets you expand your choices. With that being the case, why stop at R-mount Leica lenses. If you're going to adapt, why not go all the way to a Canon EF lens? Could you imagine all the possibilities a Leica SL has with the entire Canon EOS ecosystem?
The big question on everybody's mind, with regards to adapting Canon EF lenses, is how it would autofocus on the Leica SL. Well... it's not bad if the situation isn't under duress.
On the Leica SL, you have two autofocus options. You can select your own focus points on static mode, or you could let the camera select on auto mode. On auto, it actually isn't bad if the subject is still, and the setting is relatively free from competing autofocus targets. In fact, I thought it was better than expected. There wasn't any noticeable hunting, from my user experience. But the minute you have competing targets entering the frame, you would have better luck going on static mode. As for dynamic mode, that option isn't available when adapting Canon lenses onto the SL.
On auto mode, you don't have any options for the autofocus field size. On static mode, your field size can be single point, zone, or field. But given the haphazard nature of autofocusing in normal unpredictable situations, I opted for the single point autofocus field. I figured I needed all the help I could muster up in increasing accuracy.
Manual focus makes no sense at all with Canon EF lenses, since focus magnification isn't available.
With regards to tracking on autofocus continuous mode, that option isn't available. As a result, you will have to track the old fashion way - manually that is, on autofocus servo. It can be done, but it's not reliable at all. In my own sorry attempt, my hit rate was only 20% when Anna was moving. Though to be fair, I was shooting wide open, which made the focusing experience all the more precarious - if not impossible.
To test tracking properly, I will do that on that follow-up shooting day - obviously with the lens stopped down. Having said that, without continuous autofocus mode to track a moving subject, it is safe to say that the Leica SL is not going to replace Canon anytime soon. Mind you, I was never delusional to expect that. But at the very least, my hope was for the autofocus to be relatively quick and accurate, if the subject wasn't moving.
Overall, I cannot say that adapting Canon lenses to the Leica SL is good or bad. It does work relatively well, when circumstances are more controlled. The only notable issue I had with adapting Canon lenses were the odd glitches I experienced from the Novoflex adapter. For some reason, the shutter would freeze. I don't know what causes this to happen. But it can be very irritating, since it required me to turn off and on my camera, in order to unfreeze the problem.
By the way, I've already conducted my follow-up shooting day. Below are three sample images of Anna shot at the closest focusing distance with the two version 35 Lux. You can tell that this was taken on a different day, since Anna is without her lovely braids.
Still, it wouldn't be me if I didn't goof up on something. I love how the first image turned out. I was going to compare the Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R at close focusing distance with the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE, at that location. Only problem is - I accidentally brought the wrong adapter for my 35 Lux-M. As a result, I had to redo that comparison again at my office - being the next two images - which was such a pity, given how well that first image turned out.
Well, it has been fun for me to resolve my curiosity in this way. I can only hope that you feel the same way.
All images in this writeup have been optimize in Lightroom, None of the images have been cropped. Images were all shot wide open on the Leica SL.
Thanks again to Anna. You're the best!
PS - Happy Thanksgiving!