Sony A9 vs Leica M10 and Leica SL - Part III
It may seem rather chauvinistic to assess the photographic world from a Leica perspective. There is after all an entire world of camera systems outside of Wetzlar. But in the case of this blog, it does make sense. Most of you, being the readers of this blog, are Leica enthusiasts. So when a camera like the Sony A9 is released into the world, the first question many Leica photographers have is whether it's worth consideration?
Again, I'm addressing Leica enthusiasts, when I write about the Sony A9. It's a phenomenally high performing camera that checks off all the proverbial boxes. It performs significantly better than Leica's own SL with regards to all quantifiable measures. Its autofocus is better. Its high ISO is better on spec. It has the option of a silent electronic shutter that is faster. It has a larger selection of native autofocus lenses. And its lens system is not as ergonomically taxing. So on paper, the Sony A9 just makes sense.
It also makes sense to adapt Leica M-mount lenses on the Sony A9. After all, it's almost as compact as Leica M-mount rangefinders. And like the SL, the A9 offers all the in-body electronic creature comforts to adapted M-mount lenses, like focus peaking and magnification in the viewfinder.
On paper, the Sony A9 seems to be the more sensible choice, either as a Leica M-mount substitute or complimentary autofocus system when compared to the Leica SL. However, the real world doesn't exist on paper. What the specs cannot do is demonstrate the rendering of the image capture. Admittedly, it is safe to assume that there will be loss of optimization in adapting M-mount lenses on a Sony sensor. But the question is how much?
To truly evaluate the difference in rendering, I've been conducting a series of test over the course of the previous week. In this test, I used the following gear:
Sony A9 + FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA
Leica SL + 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL ASPH
Leica M10 + 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
The first sets of images are just straight color rendering comparisons, with only white natural light, between the three cameras using their own native lens.
On the next set, I decided to test the rendering of each camera's high ISO. And just for fun, I also included the following:
Sony A7r Mark II + 50mm FE f/1.4 ZA
Sony A7s Mark II + 50mm FE f/1.4 ZA
I decided to include some of the A9's predecessors because I thought it would be interesting to see how the A9 compared to to them. I didn't include the Sony A7 Mark II, because its highest ISO setting is 25,600.
For the third set of images, I decided to test how each respective camera and lens setup rendered a mix of natural and incandescent light, with varying degrees of tonality, against a deeper background of varying colors.
Included in this test are:
Sony A7 Mark II + 50mm FE f/1.4 ZA
Sony A9 + Metabone E to M + Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
Sony A7 Mark II + Metabone E to M + Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH
The adapted Leica M-mount lenses were added to this comparison because I wanted to evaluate the spread in rendering between native and adapted lenses.
So what do I think?
This is the part of the review I don't like. After a while it all looks the same. But if I have to make an assessment, I am of the opinion that the Leica SL + Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL appears to retain the most detail in rendering. With that said, they all look pretty much the same under normal light conditions. Whatever differences there are, they're incremental at best. Then again, it's in the increments that separates the men from the boys, so to speak.
So I guess I'm just too much of a boy to see the difference, like 99% of you out there. As such, I believe it's safe to say that in the absence of an overwhelmingly clear favorite in rendering, relying on specs is the natural fallback methodology of evaluation. With that being the case, the A9 appears to be the rational choice.
I mean, come on! Compared to the Leica SL and the M10, the A9 has better high ISO, faster electronic shutter speed, in-body 5 axis stabilization, and shoots 20 frames per second. Moreover, it has an in-body EVF, so you don't need to fiddle with an external EVF like the M10. And best of all, it can be adapted to autofocus M-mount lenses. To forego all these advantages, the rendering had better be noticeably better on the Leica SL and M10. But clearly it isn't, as demonstrated by this comparison.
If you look close enough or if you know what to look for, I am sure you can make a case that Leica is better. But is it really? Is it really that much better?
Admittedly, this will not sit well with Leica enthusiasts. I myself am one. However, I am also pragmatic. Perhaps Leica values rendering over functionality. But from what I can see, Leica's rendering just isn't good enough to justify hamstrung functionality and performance with the Leica SL and its M-mount rangefinders. Everything that the A9 offers is something that Leica can surely introduce in the upcoming SL update.
The way I see it, the A9 is a wakeup call. Perhaps the rendering may be flatter with native Sony lenses or off with adapted Leica lenses when compared to the Leica SL or M-mount rangefinders. But if functionality helps take better pictures, does rendering really matter? Is anyone really going to care about it if the A9 can get the decisive moment?
Just to prove a point, I will compare the autofocus between the Leica SL with the Sony A9 fitted with a Techart AF adapter. The final set below is a preview of my next review.
So, what's holding me back? Why am I still sticking to the Leica M system? I did after all receive my second M10 two weeks ago on the same day I received my A9. Again, it's really a matter of size. Fast Sony FE lenses are too big compared to Leica M-mount lenses - albeit not ridiculous like the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL. With that said, if Sony introduces some faster full frame pancake lenses for their Sony Alpha system, that would be a game changer for me.
Although, the A9 is giving me pause to reconsider my preference towards my Canon 1Dx Mark II and 5D Mark IV for anything that requires autofocus - especially with a fast lens. If only the Sony A9 were weather sealed and more rugged. But to be fair, I just dropped my A9 by accident at the moment of writing this edit, while coming out of a cab in the rain. Other than a couple of scuff marks (sniff sniff) and getting somewhat wet, it really doesn't seem worst for wear.
I should be more careful. This is my second drop this month.
Some images had exposure edited by +/- 0.5 stops in Lightroom. Only the second last image had been cropped. Images were left as close to RAW as possible.