Biking in the sun with the Leica M10 and Sony a7III
I was tempted to take a week off from Macfilos because of the continuing hot weather, which will be confirmed by readers in the UK. It’s far too tempting to be out in the sun, walking, grabbing the odd shot, instead of sitting behind a desk pounding out blog posts. I’m almost wishing for a day of torrential rain so I can get down to some real work. Still, I’m tempted to take a break later this week. it's a wonder Steve Huff manages to stay so chipper with the heat in Phoenix.
Last Sunday was another blistering day in what so far as been the best summer I can remember. It was the annual motorcycle event at Brooklands Museum and, since I love capturing the detail of motorcycles and their engines, I made the supreme effort of going, despite the muggy heat. I decided the event would be a good opportunity to do some back-to-back testing of manual focus lenses with the aid of an electronic viewfinder. It was also a full-frame fest with the Leica M10 and the Sony a7III.
To provide a choice of focal two lengths, I mounted the Voigtländer 40mm Nokton f/1.2 on the Sony and the 75mm Apo-Summicron f/2 on the Leica. The Leica was also wearing the Visoflex EVF to provide a similar experience to using the Sony. With the 75mm and longer focal lengths, I find using the EVF is easier than the rangefinder since it’s easy to forget to keep the scene within the rather small 75mm framelines. The bigger frame of the EVF makes the job easier, all things being equal.
In general, however, I much prefer using the M10 in rangefinder mode; it seems quicker to achieve focus. And, after experiencing more modern and snappy EVFs such as those in the Leica SL, Panasonic Lumix G9 and the latest Sonys the performance of the Leica Visoflex (which was probably designed four years ago and came to the market with the original Leica TL in 2015) is now poor. In particular, there is a frustratingly long blackout after every shot. It’s probably less than a second but feels more like three seconds. The Sony’s viewfinder, by contrast, is bigger, brighter and the blackout following a shot is so short that it is virtually undetectable.
I had installed the latest M10 firmware and the camera is now able to report a full set of exposure details, including a very good estimate of the chosen aperture.
The Voigtländer Nokton is the E-mount version which works impeccably with the Sony. Not only does it transmit full exposure details to the camera, it senses movement in the focus ring to bring up focus aids — which in my case, by choice, is magnification only. The experience with the M10 and the 75mm f/2 is similar in that movement of the focus ring brings up magnification. It’s worth bearing in mind that only Leica rangefinders can perform this trick. If you use a manual Leica-M lens on any other mirrorless camera, including the Sony, the SL and the CL, it is necessary to initiate focus aids by pressing a button. It’s a complication that I can do without — so Sunday's experience was made a lot easier by the choice of cameras.
The Sony and the Nokton-E turned out to be much easier to handle, quicker to focus and ergonomically perfect. However, while the M10 with the Visoflex is a bit of a kludge and cannot compare with the Sony experience, the Visoflex does have one important trick — it can be tilted upwards for the TLR-style view which is particularly useful for capturing low scenes such as the motorcycle engines in this article.
At the end of the session I was dismayed by the lacklustre performance of the ageing Visoflex. It just cannot compare with the latest finders. In practice, apart from that tilting trick, I much prefer using the M10 with the rangefinder. I think I would have enjoyed the experience much more.
The Sony A7III continues to impress with its performance, even though I have not tried it with any autofocus lenses. I’ve used it with a number of M-mount lenses, including the 21mm Super-Elmar and the compact 50mm Zeiss f/1.5 Sonnar and have no complaints. I’ve heard reports of incompatibility with some older (especially wider) lenses, but I am quite happy. The only snag, as I highlighted earlier, is that you need to press a button (which you can choose and programme) to bring up the magnification. That said, the viewfinder of the Sony is so bright and usable that magnification is not as necessary as it is with the Visoflex.
I love manual focus lenses and thoroughly enjoy using M lenses on both the rangefinder (especially) and on mirrorless cameras from m4/3 up to the SL. But the integration of the Voigtländer Nokton (and the 65mm f/2 Macro Apo-Lanthar which I am also using) is just sublime. While both these E-mount lenses are large in comparison with equivalent M-mount lenses, the ease of use with the Sony’s EVF is in a different league.
As for the Leica Visoflex, it is now outgunned on all fronts. It is hard to see how it can hold out for the current M10 life cycle. Since there is no proprietary plug (as there was on the M240) it should be possing for Leica to introduce a much-improved version of the Visoflex for use with the M10. It is needed.