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The All-in-One Question

For several decades now, the so-called “all-in-one” lens has been a tool in the world of lenses. In the beginning back in the early to mid 80s, these lenses were 35-200mm and later 28-200mm for full frame (35mm) SLRs. These lenses were never particularly sharp nor did they make images that could be used in a serious or professional manner. The biggest problem the lenses had was distortion typically severe barrel distortion at the wide end and heavy pincushion distortion at the tele end. In the film days there really wasn’t much you could do to “correct” distortion. But the modern era is different, digitally we can correct these issues. Has the modern lens manufacturing and engineering coupled with high tech digital cameras  made these lenses a viable and quality alternative to multiple zooms? I bought a few to try out.

I got started on this notion as I reckoned back to a trip I took to Europe last year. Prior to that trip I had to decide whether to take my EOS-R and maybe two lenses or my M5 travel kit that is well described on this blog. It which includes five or six lenses depending on my loadout. I opted for the compact M5 set up and had just about every focal range covered. The only complaint I had was the few times I had to fumble around for either a tele lens when a standard zoom or prime was attached or vice versa. I started thinking that an all in one like Canon’s EF-M 18-150mm might have served me well even though I’d have given up that 50mm at the tele end. (I have the Canon EF-M 18-55mm/55-200mm tandem among the lenses in that kit). Of course Tamron has an 18-200mm for the EF-M mount as well. Honestly both of those EF-M lenses are a bit spendy. They are small and compact, that is for sure.

I decided to pick up two lenses. The first was the Tamron 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Aspherical, LD, IF for EF mount, full frame. This was a lens that was introduced late in the 35mm SLR cycle just as DSLRs were coming around. It was a pretty aggressive range for the era. The second lens is the Sigma DC 18-250mm F/3.5-6.3 Aspherical OS for EF-S mount. This is a modern lens in fact it is still sold new. It is designed for APS/c cameras, not full frame.

My thinking was centered around the EOS M5 which is of course an APS/c camera. The older EF lens has the advantage of being compatible with my full frame EOS R and my EOS M5. Honestly it is unlikely I’ll shoot that lens on the EOS R, I use the EOS-R for my more “serious” work. So why the full frame version? Ah, great question. I have a Metabones adapter for my EOS-M5 that applies a speed booster to full frame EF lenses. That 28-300mm effectively becomes a 20-213mm and the speed drops from F/3.5-6.3 down to pretty bright F/2.5-4.5. I figured it would be a pretty slick lens, if it holds up optically.

The Tamron is an older lens but it had similar issues to the modern lens as far as aberrations like barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion at the tele end. Both lenses are pretty awful at those two issues, the much older Tamron was worse. The modern solution is in post processing or in the case of the Sigma maybe even in camera (depends on whether your camera supports custom lens corrections). These are not to hard to correct in post. Back in the film days you just had to live with it. The Sigma has two glaring advantages over the Tamron. It is much more modern and frankly, noticeably sharper across the range, plus it has optical image stabilization. Both lenses are reasonably sharp especially considering their ridiculous zoom range. 

So which was best? Well for me it was easy, the Sigma is smaller, much smaller, and faster focusing, much faster. The optical image stabilizer cannot be overlooked either. I want to spend a bit of time with each lens however so I’ll start with the Tamron.

Tamron EF 28-300/3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical

Tamron 28-300mm @ 300mm f/6.3 with Metabones effective 212mm f4.5

This lens has so much to overcome. A wide to super tele in one zoom with an image circle large enough to cover full frame and still remain somewhat compact. That is a tall order for even today’s engineers let alone those at the turn of the millennium. This Tamron lens is actually a decent performer optically between 28-200mm then gets fairly soft as you close to 300mm. It is not however unusable at 300mm. For the Instagram and Twitter peeps it’s pretty solid. The lens is fairly compact all things considered but on a small Canon EOS-M body it is just too big. On a DSLR or full frame mirrorless it’s totally manageable. This lens incorporates an older Tamron AF system and on my Canon it is really slow compared to even Canon lenses of the same era. It also tends to miss and rack back and forth a bit at times. On the M5, with the Metabones adapter the 28-300mm lens (full frame equivalent 45-480mm) becomes a more well rounded range at 20-212mm (full frame equivalent 32-340mm). The extra stop of lens speed is what really makes it shine. F/2.5-4.5 is a respectable F stop for that zoom range. The lens however is heavy all by itself and added to the heavy Metabones adapter you have a beast that weights in at 860 grams (647g lens only). That’s quite a bit MORE than the EOS M5 body that weighs in at 445 grams. 

Sigma DC 18-250mm/3.5-6.3 Aspherical OS

The Sigma is a better performer all the way round. The focus is fast and rarely misses. It is not quite as snappy as a Canon EF-M native lens, but good enough for most shooting. On the EOS-R with APS/c crop OFF, I shot a few images and the image circle is significantly larger than needed for a 1.6x crop. That no doubt helps keep the corners a little cleaner and sharper but likely leads to a bit more distortion and vignetting which at 18mm is severe wide open. Of course distortion is typically easier to correct than soft photos 🙂 On the M5 the lens and EF adapter are still a tad unwieldy compared to the Canon EF-M 18-150mm or the Tamron EF-M 18-200mm. But compared to the Tamron 28-300 with the Metabones the package is notably thinner and lighter. The Sigma lens alone weighs about 504 grams and with the EF adapter attached it is still just 611g, that’s lighter than just the Tamron lens alone! I think I would have liked using this setup on that Europe trip. In that little travel bag I carry, that lens mounted on the EF adapter and the camera fits in the center and I can still get one of my fast primes like the EF-M 32/1.4 and both the EF-M 11-22mm and the Samyang 8/2.8 fisheye.

Optically I feel like the Canon EF-M 18-55 performs better and the EF-M 55-200mm as well but less so. Having that entire range plus an extra 50mm up top however would have allowed me to spend less time swapping lenses and more time shooting photos on most of my travel shoots. If you shoot straight out of camera to JPG, then the two lenses are better as they have less distortion. If you use post processing in Lightroom or Photoshop then the Sigma holds its own. One thing I did notice in a side by side between the Canon EF-M 18-55mm and the Sigma 18-250mm is that the Canon at 18mm is noticeably wider than the Sigma. I would have rather had Sigma trim a bit off the tele end than sacrifice a millimeter at the wide end. That is about what it seemed like the Sigma might really only go to 19mm. But it could be that the Canon is a tad wider than 18 and the Sigma is a tad longer something like 17.5mm vs 18.5mm. Anyhow it’s a minor gripe. My EOS M5 does not have IBIS and I will not likely buy a future M5-Mk II since I have an EOS R5 pre ordered and that tapped the camera budget pretty hard.

I took some photos with the lens on my M5 to test it out. I have several shot wide open. Overall the lens is not as sharp as the two lenses it effectively replaces across the whole range but at some focal lengths it may be sharper (EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3). I still have the EF-M lenses and the jury is out on whether this will be a permanent change.

The Interstate Bridge over the Columbia River, Sigma 18-250 @ 18mm f/3.5

People along the waterfront, Sigma 18-250mm @ 250mm f/6.3 ISO 100

Wifey on the waterfront, retouched 🙂 Sigma 18-250mm @ 37mm f/4.5

Grant Street Pier, Sigma 18-250mm @ 61mm f/5 ISO 100

A small blackbird in the bushes nearby, Sigma 18-250mm @ 250mm f/6.3 ISO 100 at 1/50th sec. Stabilizer!

A strings trio along the waterfront. Sigma 18-250 @ 128mm f/6.3

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Before I dive into the title subject matter: I bought a Fotodiox EOS R to 4×5 Graflok adapter for shooting a series of stitched images with a 4×5 camera. I am testing it out now on my Linhof, so far it is really cool. It has several “modes” the one I will certainly get the most traction out of is the 6 shot panoramic that is a 2:1 ratio similar to a 6cm x 12cm roll film back. The unit allows you to take 6 horizontal images on two rows with precision alignment. This is done by moving the camera on a slider to preset locations. You end up with a final stitched image that covered a 44mm x 88mm image area on the 4×5 inch image plane. Very cool, I’ll write that up maybe next time 🙂

OK the subject today is the often maligned Leitz Summitar 50mm F/1.5. The lens was produced from about 1949 to 1960 when Leitz introduced the Summilux design still in use today. People often talk about how this lens is not sharp and if we are honest about it, it is not a particularly sharp lens especially by modern standards. But this lens has so much charm, character, and a gloriously delicious bokeh. It should not be overlooked. You can watch my video on this lens, here.

You can find these lenses at camera shows like the PhotoFair or on EBAY for around $400-$600. A comparable early Summilux is at least 3 times that amount and the modern Summilux Aspherical versions fetch well north of $2500. Those lenses are optically superior in nearly every measure except the intangible measure of intrinsic artistic value. It is here in the subjective that this lens becomes legendary.

The pre-aspherical Summilux lenses had what was often referred to as the “Leica Glow” which was caused by an optical aberration called ‘coma’ that caused out of focus highlights to seemingly “glow.” This in itself had some artistic value but like my Canon LTM 50/1.2 it can be a bit busy at times. This Leica Summarit has a smooth and creamy bokeh that is almost never distracting.

So is the lens as many claim, soft? Well yes a little, but for portraits wide open it is sharp enough. Stop it down to f/2 and it becomes sharp and at f/2.8 it is really sharp. So if I’m taking a landscape am I likely to shoot wide open? No probably not in fact probably more like f/4 or f5.6. This is a useful lens for most things a photographer would ask a 50mm lens to do on full frame.

First I have six bokeh shots showing an out of focus background with some highlights. Three lenses were used at two f/stops. The Leitz Summitar 50/1.5 at f1.5 and f/2.8; Canon LTM 50/1.2 at f/1.2 and f/2.8; Canon EF 50/1.2L at f/1.2 and f/2.8. Take a look:

So that is the basic bokeh look but that doesn’t tell the whole story. How is the lens to use in the real world? I love it actually. Here are some shots made recently on my EOS-R with the lens wide open.

Now here is a shot stopped down to f/2.8:

The background truly melts away, even at f/2.8! At 2.8 it is pretty darn sharp at the point of focus. At f/1.5 it is reasonably sharp as well. I love the way this lens renders the background. The lens is also very compact, a tad heavy for its size, but compact. Now full disclosure, I edited all of these in either Lightroom or Photoshop, that means I essentially enhanced to image to help the lens perform better. Below is a selfie shot of my ugly mug, you’ve been warned 😉 The image is hand held with the flippy screen out, 800 ISO 160th sec @ f/1.5 on my EOS R with a macro focusing M mount adapter. (This is an LTM lens with M adapter as well) It was taken right out of camera no edits other than a resize to 2000 pixels wide. You will see the contrast is pretty flat. The lens has a single lens coating that is 70 years old and the design was for a B/W film era so color and contrast are both pretty flat. Below the straight out of camera image is a screen shot of the same image with some minor camera raw adjustments, then finally a completed image with some additional localized enhancements around the eyes. You be the judge, is the lens any good?

Straight out of camera

Some Camera Raw tweaks in Photoshop

Final image after additional tweaks

So I think the lens is pretty awesome. I love the bokeh, love the overall look and it is easy to correct its shortcomings save for the softness wide open. Remember this is a small lens originally designed for small rangefinder cameras like the Leica IIIg. It only weighs 345 grams with my metal lens hood on it. It is small enough to close my hand completely around it. And it renders delightful images, that might need a little TLC in software, but that’s OK by me.

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