REMATCH: Techart Autofocus Accuracy Challenge vs Leica M240 with Noctilux Lenses
I have to admit on my first challenge that I was very disappointed by the performance of the Techart Autofocus adapter. I mean, I really wanted this adapter to work well in low light. To me, that would have been the perfect application for this adapter. It would be the dream of getting cleaner files with Leica glass, especially for street photography at night. But the results of my first focus accuracy challenge did not go well. The M240 with the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux ASPH performed better than the Sony A7r MKII with the 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux AA.
In retrospect, perhaps that challenge wasn't exactly fair. Maybe the Techart adapted Sony wasn't competing on a level playing field with the MP240. I thought I was fair with my methodology, but thinking back, I can see flaws. For starters, setting both the Leica MP240 (with the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux) and the Techart adapted Sony A7r MKII (with the 50mm f/1.2), set at f/1.2, may have given the MP240 an unfair edge in focus, in that at f/1.2, the MP240 with the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux had one stop depth of field breathing room for a little focusing error. This enabled shots from the MP240 to look comparatively sharper than the images from the Techart adapted Sony.
In addition, the Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux isn't as sharp as the newer version Noctilux. The first generation Noctilux wasn't designed to render on digital sensors, let alone high resolution sensors. It was designed to render on film. Furthermore, the Techart adapted Sony had the burden of a 42 megapixel resolution sensor. That meant it was more prone to camera shake, especially when shot in low light.
I had seen the error of my ways. So I tweaked the methodology of my challenge on this rematch. I switched lenses, so that the Sony body had the more modern 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux, and the M240 had the vintage 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux. In addition, to further level the playing field, I got the normal resolution Sony A7 MKII for this rematch. And because the 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux was notoriously difficult to focus in low light, I set the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux at f/0.95, in order to give the MP240 a focusing handicap.
The requirement of the rematch was the same. In total there were five different contest for each setup to photograph. Both setups were given five shots each per contest. Whichever setup had the most focused shots wins the contest. And the setup winning the most contests wins the challenge. Tie breakers will be determined by the quality of focus.
And like last time, both setup will be set at ISO 400 for cleaner nighttime files.
Right from the start, in changing the camera body from the Sony A7r MKII to the Sony A7 MKII, I noticed a problem. I didn't like the reduction of menu options on the Sony A7 MKII compared to the A7r MKII. More importantly, I did't like the differences in focusing area. The A7 MKII had a less generous focusing area compared to the A7r MKII. That meant that I had to recompose after focusing, which can lead to an out of focus subject. I really didn't like the fact that Sony made the A7 MKII deliberately worse than the A7r MKII. But this is not a writeup reviewing the differences between the Sony A7 MKII and Sony A7r MKII. This review, or rather rematch, is an autofocusing accuracy challenge.
So onto the rematch:
On the first contest, the Techart adapted Sony x Leica 50mm f/0.95 wins 3/5 vs 1/5. However, it should be noted that I was focusing a little closer up with the Sony than the Leica M240, which gave the Sony a slight advantage in acquiring focus. Still, I was surprised at how much better the Techart was this time around with a normal resolution sensor and a more modern lens.
On the second contest, the Techart adapted Sony x Leica 50mm f/0.95 wins 4/5 vs 3/5. The area was relatively well lit, so it wasn't too difficult to get focus. Still, the need to reframe the MP240 for composition resulted in focusing error that cost it the contest. Then again, I kind of gave the Sony an advantage by focusing slightly closer again.
On the third contest, the Techart adapted Sony did score a 3/5 vs 1/5. However, the Leica M240 did get tack focus on the recessive eye, and relatively decent focus on the lead eye. In addition, the bokeh is awesome on the MP240 image. Even though I cheated on that image, meaning that I didn't reframe after focus, and merely cropped the image for composition, I am giving the win to the Leica MP240 setup. It's that kind of image that makes photography worthwhile.
On the fourth contest, there was a tie, with both setup scoring 1/5. It was a full body length image under extremely difficult light. Both image files required an additional two and a half stop of exposure in post. However, it should be noted that the Sony's EVF was better to use than the Leica's rangefinder focusing method. If I were allowed to shoot more than five times in the contest, I am confident that the Techart adapted Sony would have performed better. It would have also helped if the subject stood still for the pose. But I cannot blame her for trying to make the shoot more interesting.
On the final contest, the Techart adapted Sony won 2/5 vs 0/5. The MP240 failed to get focus. However, I still posted the image from the MP240, given that I was able to reasonably save the image with Photoshops Shake Reduction filter.
So the final tally is a 3/5 win for the Techart adapted Sony setup.
In examining the post mortem, I am relieved that the Techart adapter wasn't as bad in the rematch. With that said though, it should also be noted that using the Techart adapter wasn't an automatic thing to do. It took some figuring out with regards to the best way to use it - and there's no instructions telling you how to optimize usage.
On the Sony A7r MKII, it was pretty bad at night. With the higher resolution, it really required more available light in order to increase shutter speed to stop the action. With less resolution, the Sony A7 MKII was much more forgiving.
Customizing your A7 settings is a must do, in order to optimize focus under low light. Because the focusing area is smaller on the A7 MKII, you need to set the focus hold function on an easily reachable custom button. I use the OK button in the middle of the scroll wheel.
It should also be reiterated that for some reason, the aperture of the Sony A7 MKII and Sony A7r MKII both cannot be set below f/2.0. Perhaps there's instruction from Techart to expand native aperture setting wider than f/2.0. Either way, whether there is instruction or not to allow the aperture to be set at f/0.95, using any fast prime including the Leica 50mm f/0.95 requires additional attention. That's just too much to expect. For me, my solution is to compensate exposure by two stops.
Overall, I'm reasonably pleased with the Techart adapter. It's far from perfect, but it does autofocus, and it does work within reason in most normal situations. It requires some figuring out, and requires some reconfiguration on your Sony A7 body. But in the end, it does work better than manual focusing a Leica M Body under difficult rangefinder situations, just as long as you set up your A7 to optimize autofocus accuracy for the adapter.
Still, the autofocus is much too slow and unpredictable for street photography, and the Techart adapter cannot be turned off. In other words, with this adapter fitted on your Sony A7 MKII, you cannot be on manual focusing mode, and therefore you cannot zone focus, or focus peak, or use focus magnification. Therefore, street photography is out of the question. The only time you can do that is if your Techart adapter stopped working, which it did, on my Sony A7r MKII.
Yes, my Techart adapter stopped working on my Sony A7r MKII. It makes no sense, and I don't know why. But because it has stopped working, it makes you wonder how reliable this adapter is, or whether it somehow damaged the contacts on my Sony A7r MKII.
So do I recommend the Techart adapter? Not for street photography, that's for sure. But if your shooting subjects that will stay still and pose for you, it's much better than manual focusing, especially in low light. The Techart adapter enables you to get cleaner image files with a Leica M-Mount lens while shooting wide open. But then again, so does using a normal adapter and shooting manual focus with focusing aids like focus peaking and focus magnification. If anything, the manual focusing aids on the Sony is still more accurate, and faster, requiring less so-called additional insurance shots to insure that one is in-focus.
Personally, I prefer using a normal manual focus adapter, since without autofocus, I can still zone focus and benefit from the focusing aids of my Sony A7r MKII. The only wrench in this setup is the 42 megapixel sensor which requires solid shooting technique. The normal resolution Sony A7 MKII has ergonomic problems which makes it less ideal for street shooting, stemming from its reduced menu options. Moral of the story: I should really check out the Leica SL.
Special thanks to Oxana!