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Lots of people come to PhotoFair and are amazed at all the fabulous lenses from yesteryear that make wonderful images on modern cameras. For years the micro 4/3 system offered an array of adapters for mounting old school classic lenses. The thrill at the time was the fact you got a 2x crop. You can mount a rather affordable old 100/2 on a 4/3 camera and the 2x crop yields a field of view similar to a 200mm on full frame. It became super easy to shoot high speed teles on these cameras. But when confronted with the notion of standard or wide angle lenses that became an issue. The same 2x crop that was fun for tele-photo kills all the joy of vintage wide angles.

But early on full frame cameras were just too expensive. And most of them were also DSLRs which are not as flexible with mounting older lenses. Sony charged ahead in 2013 offering the first system of modern autofocus full frame mirrorless cameras. The a7 and a7R. The a7 featured a 24mp sensor and the a7R featured a 36mp sensor. The 7 and 7r has remained to date with upgrades carrying a II, III, and IV. moniker. The newest models are an a7III 24mp, a7s III 12mp, and a7R IV 61mp.

It is hard to beat Sony if your primary desire is to use vintage glass. The system is well established and has a large user base, allowing for manufacturers to support a wide variety of adapters for just about any mount ever made.

The title of this article is “budget” and I feel that most of the brand new full frame mirrorless cameras really don’t fall into a reasonable person’s idea of budget. You know, it’s like that budget Lamborghini, the Huracan; those are only $205,000 😉 But if we take $1000.00 as the budget there is at least one brand new camera and several excellent used models that fall under that threshhold.

Here is a list of excellent budget full frame mirrorless bodies:

  • $999 NEW: Canon RP 26mp 2019-date. Squeaks under that budget mark but it is brand new. It features a 26.2mp sensor and Canon’s DIGI 8 processor. It can do both 1080p and 4k video. It has a rather pedestrian 2.36m-dot EV and a 1.6 m-dot rear display that is fully articulating. The real advantage to the Canon is its seamless integration with the DSLR EF lenses as well as the native RF lenses. There are a wide variety of adapters for mounting vintage glass such as Leica LTM and M mount and most old school SLR mounts. It does not have nearly the range of third party adapters as rival Sony.
  • $400-$600 Used: Sony a7 24mp 2013-2018. This is the best price you’ll find on the list. I wouldn’t pay more than $500 unless it comes with a lot of cool extras. The A7II has 5 axis IBIS and that is worth a few hundred more. Especially for use with vintage glass! This is a very compact camera. Sony managed to nudge the size up a little with each new variant. The original is noticeably smaller than the current models.
  • $600-$800 Used: Sony a7R 36mp 2014-2018. This camera has a higher resolution sensor than the standard a7. This comes at the expense of dynamic range and ISO performance. That said 50% more resolution may be a fair trade off if you like to do large crops or giant prints.
  • $600-$900 Used: Sony a7 II 24mp 2014-date. The second gen Sony a7 cameras got a refreshed body that was slightly larger but widely cheered for better ergonomics and more buttons and dials allowing for less menu diving. The real feature was the world’s first five axis sensor stabilizer in a full frame camera. Totally worth the price jump. Even the brand new Canon up top of this list does not have IBIS. Sony still sells new for 1399.
  • $900-$1200 Used: Sony a7R II 42mp 2014-date. Basically the same camera as the standard a7 II with substantially higher resolution. The camera gives up a little dynamic range and ISO performance for the extra pixels. Sony still offers this camera new for $1599. It’s going to be hard to find one under $1000. Any you do find under may be well-worn models or high use cameras well in excess of 50k shutter actuations.

Nikon recently released the all new Z5 which sells new for $1299. It has 24mp sensor and some upgraded software to allow for eye detection AF and new focusing hardware that uses nearly the entire frame. This camera exceeds the budget, but it is worthy of mention none-the-less.

The best value on the list is the Sony a7 II. It is easy to find a super clean, low shutter click unit well under the $1000 and it has a good IBIS system. Again, IBIS stands for “In Body Image Stabilization” which means lenses that do not have an optical stabilizer will still get stabilization. This allows for slower shutter speeds hand held providing the subject isn’t moving around. IBIS can be a life saver in low light situations.

You can find most of these cameras used at PhotoFair and other camera shows around the country, just as soon as the pandemic subsides of course. Once you have yours you will have a world of amazing vintage lenses to play with. There are some good quality and fun lenses for under $50 on tables at PhotoFair. But you can also shoot legendary glass like Leica M lenses on these cameras. These won’t be cheap but they will delight!

I can’t wait for our shows to reopen!

I have always been a sucker for the wide aperture world of delicious bokeh. My wallet has been stretched many times for some pretty amazing cameras and lenses, but my pockets are not deep enough to get crazy exotics like the Leica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95. I am constantly watching EBAY listings for the famous Canon “Dream” lens, 50mm f/0.95 but never have pulled the trigger on the current prices that run in the $2500-$4000. That’s an amazing lens but it is now 60 years old! I have owned a 35mm f/0.95 ‘Speedmaster’ lens for my Canon EOS M5 and reviewed it a year or two ago. That was a decent lens, but the 50mm f/0.95 Speedmaster lens for Canon RF mount has not been as well reviewed and it is rather large. I do not believe that Zhong Yi Optical actually redesigned the Mark III for the Canon mount but likely revised the Sony E-Mount version to fit it. The Zenit 50/0.95 has been hit hard in every review I’ve seen, so that was never on my ‘buy it’ radar. I recently ran across the TTArtisans 50mm f/0.95 lens available for the Leica M mount. It got my interest up because it is relatively small, nowhere near as compact as that classic Canon ‘Dream’ lens, but smaller than the Speedmaster. Leica M mount lenses can be used on of course, Leica M mount bodies both film and digital but also virtually any mirrorless camera body from micro 4/3 to full frame. Why is that important? Well sometimes I use lenses for a year or two and then sell them to buy some other lens or camera I am jonesing for but can’t justify buying outright. M mount has one of the widest resale markets because it can be easily adapted to so many cameras. So I went out into the internet and starting reading and watching reviews of this TTArtisans lens. Generally it faired well against the Speedmaster. So did I buy it? At $700… of course I did 😉

TTArtisans 50/0.95

Leica Noctilux

This wide aperture lens appears to be a shameless copy of that famous and ultra expensive Leica Noctilux. They not only look very similar, the optical design is suspiciously similar. This of course should be a good thing, right? After all the Noctilux sells for $12,000, yes I typed it correctly; 12 grand! Well I have never shot the Leica version, but I have seen many reviews and images made with it; the TTArtisans is not an exact copy by any means, but it is a solid lens, well made, and decently sharp at that very wide f/0.95 opening. Since one can buy roughly 17 of these TTArtisans lenses for the price of one Leica Noctilux, I think it is fair to offer a wide latitude in judgement of its build quality and optical performance.

This lens is modestly sharp in the center wide open, but very soft on the edges. Stopping down as one might expect results in dramatic improvement, even at f/1.1 the lens shows significant improvement. By the time you hit f/1.4 the lens is solid and at f/2 it is genuinely sharp in the center. This lens never really cleans up in the corners, it is rather soft on the edges at all apertures. I will not be shooting corner to corner images with this lens anyway. From what I have read about the Noctilux this lens is not that far off the mark set by the billionaires version from Leica.

The lens is well made with an all metal build, excellent focus damping and a very nice clickable aperture ring with near perfect detents on 1/2 stop increments. I have owned many Leica M and LTM lenses over the years and this lens does not have that ultra fine build detail typical of the Leica brand. It does offer much better build quality than most lenses out there including many camera maker lenses. The printed details are engraved into the lenses and filled with paint which is a premium feature versus and standard surface print. This is a nice piece of gear.

The 14 blade diaphragm yields beautiful round bokeh balls even stopped down. About the bokeh, it renders out of focus areas quite smoothly with a delicious blend from sharp to soft that yields a wonderful disappearing background act. This lens suffers from a bit of spherical aberration from wide open to about f/1.7 after which it becomes much less present and is more or less gone by f/2.8. The spherical aberration is what gives the “glow effect” and that can render nicely in the bokeh but softens the image.

Be advised that a 50mm f/0.95 has depth of field measured in millimeters at any tight portrait range. You will have a fair number of soft images because you missed focus, not because the lens isn’t sharp. Yes breathing normally can shift the focus enough to render soft at the point of focus. This is life at f/0.95. When you nail it, the effect is fabulous and portraits become almost ethereal in look. I have a train load of lenses that offer a variety of unique looks because I just love the wide open separation of faster lenses. This lens does not disappoint in that regard. Do not buy this lens if you want to pixel-peep. It is sharp, but not that sharp. These lenses are about the look, the character, the style, and for that this lens is sharp enough.

Here is a list of some other lenses I have that offer “character” for reasonable prices:

Here is a gallery of some images I have made with the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 shot wide open and a video review I did on YouTube:

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