Techart Sony to Leica M Autofocus vs Leica M240 Manual Focus Challenge
All I can say is OMG when I first put my manual focus Leica M-Mount lens on the Techart Autofocus adaptor for Sony A7 bodied cameras. I mean it worked! I mean, why shouldn't it work? The fact that it's out there in the market means it should work? Shouldn't it?
I've bought many gadgets over the year, and many of them really didn't work well at all. From the first generation Lytro camera, to the encrypted Blackphone, to even the Google Glass, I've had many disappointments over the years.
With this Techart Autofocus adaptor, it actually autofocused. But then it got me thinking. Maybe it's just another white elephant. I mean sure it can autofocus a manual focus M-Mount Leica lens on a Sony A7 and A7r body in a controlled environment, but can it do it under duress. Can it autofocus quickly on the street, faster than zone focusing.
Admittedly, that is a loaded question. Of course it cannot be faster than zone focusing. Zone focusing by definition is not focusing at all. It's walking into focus and clicking. No focusing is required. However, the tradeoff of zone focusing is a slower shutter speed and/or higher ISO, in order to accommodate a more generous depth of field for focus wiggle room.
With autofocus, would it be possible to do street photography without having to stop down? Would it be possible to open up the aperture wider all the way, in order to have cleaner files with less grain? To test out that question, I decided to go out onto the street, and give it a go. Long story short... my autofocusing technique on the A7r MKII was not sufficiently proficient. In other words, it might have been okay, except human error was just too much of an issue, especially in the case of this human - yours truly.
So then, I decided on a different approach for this challenge. I decided to pair off two different camera and lens setup: the Sony A7r MKII + Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux on a Techart Autofocus M-Mount adaptor versus the Leica MP240 + Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux. Both setup will be set at f/1.2 aperture, and at ISO 400 for cleaner nighttime image files. That's right, nighttime image files. You thought I was going to make this easy? In order to make this more interesting, I conducted this challenge at night, and thus under suboptimal lighting conditions. Besides, bokeh looks awesome at night - especially in a neon lit city like Hong Kong.
The challenge was simple. Let me break it down. 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.
The only thing I did to simplify this challenge was the use of a model. I thought about doing this completely with street subjects, but that might have been a hard sell given my time objective. I don't think that I would find five street subject willing to be inconvenienced a total of ten shots, for the sake of a camera tête-à-tête challenge - especially not my kind of stylish street subjects. This is not a cop-out *ahem* I'm just being realistic.
Before I started this challenge, I had done some nighttime street photography with the Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH. And even though I had someone posing for me, I found it excessively difficult to find focus wide open, and even more difficult to remain in focus after I reframed for composition. Already my money was on the Techart adapter. But then I remembered just how awful I was earlier in the afternoon in getting focus with the adapter. Thankfully for tonights shoot, I had a subject willing to stay still and pose for me. And with that, my confidence was buoyed.
So onto the contests.
On the first contest, the manual focus Leica x Leica setup wins 4/5 vs 3/5. Although ergonomically, the Sony A7r MKII with the Techart adapter was faster to focus, since it didn't require reframing.
On the second contest, the Leica x Leica manual focus setup wins again at 3/5 vs 0/5. It's almost as if the Sony AF system or the AF adapter couldn't get enough detail to get focus. Given how insufficiently focused the images were from the autofocus setup, I'm not posting them up here.
On the third contest, both the manual focus Leica x Leica setup and the autofocus Leica x Sony setup scored a 3/5. However, the manual focus system of the Leica appeared more tack focus than the autofocus setup. As such, the win goes to the manual focus setup, which means the Leica x Leica setup wins the challenge.
On the fourth contest, the subject was poorly lit. Because of that, it was very difficult to make out any details on the subject, in order to manual focus or autofocus properly. In the end, it didn't matter. Both setups were able to get focus 3/5 times. However, the manual focus setup was able to get tack focus, whereas the autofocus setup only came close.
On the final contest, neither setup were able to get focus, let alone tack focus. It was a full body length shot under poor lighting. Both setups scored a 0/5. As such, I won't be posting up any images from this contest. But since the manual setup already won 4 out of 5, this final contest will not be a deciding vote. Hey, I'm not going to lie and tell you I started out with 4 contests only. If the fifth was a failure, I'll always be on the level with my readers with my reviews.
In examining the post mortem, I don't know how the Techart could have handled so poorly. I suppose you could blame the photographer, but I don't see what else I could have done to improve the performance of the Techart autofocus setup.
To be fair to my relative newness towards the Sony Alpha system, I found their autofocus system to be counter-intuitive. What really frustrated me was the fact that I couldn't focus magnify. I suppose I couldn't, because I was using a third party lens, and not a Sony lens. And because my Sony A7r MKII was set on autofocus, I couldn't focus peak, which I found very effective when I was manual focusing with my Noct in Tokyo just a couple of days earlier. Maybe I'm missing something in the Sony menu?
Without focus magnification, there was no way for the Sony to fine tune its focus. I mean it can clearly get tack focus, as seen on the first contest. But that's only because the subject was close enough to the camera, enabling the autofocus to get sufficient detail to confirm focus on the lead eye. Getting focus when details are harder to judge for focus - whether because of poor lighting or subject's distance from the camera - is a different story.
With that said, the Techart adapter did it's job. It doesn't autofocus on it's own. It relies on the autofocus system of the host camera, being the Sony A7r MKII, in my case. And as far as I can see, the larger blame is on Sony, and not Techart. But again, Sony has no incentive to make it easier to use third party lenses on its product.
On reflection, perhaps I didn't design this test fairly enough. Perhaps I should have put the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux on the Sony. As much as I adore the 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux, the more modern version has an advantage in sharpness. Can you say rematch? Stay updated. I'm telling you... this is funs stuff!
Final thoughts -- From what I can see from this challenge, I am of the opinion that the autofocus probably works best if the lens is not wide open. Mind you, you don't need to stop down as far down as if you were zone focusing. You just need to stop down to f/2 in order to provide a workable margin of error for the autofocus to hit focus within the depth of field. I'll try that out and see if it's true.
Interestingly, I think that this is what Techart had in mind - given - for the life of me - I couldn't set my aperture in the Sony A7r wider than f/2. If that is the case, then perhaps this was not an appropriate comparison. If that really is the case, if you can accept having to shoot with some depth of field breathing room, in order to get focus, then the Techart autofocus adapter may not be a bad idea. I will have to see how it performs with a 35mm Summicron instead.
Special thanks goes out to Nora again!