Sony a6300 and Techart LM-EA7 II

20160904_171503

Sony a6300 with Leica 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and LM-EA7 II

Sony a6300: love to hate you

There may not be any point, six months after the fact, to writing anything about the Sony a6300 compact camera. Well, maybe there is. Sony APS-C cameras are something that Fuji fans love to hate. And what’s not to hate from their perspective? Sony doesn’t make cameras that look like old rangefinders or SLRs, Sony lords it over Fuji with sensors that are slightly ahead (Fujifilm buys sensors from Sony, so it is not going to get the pathbreaking product immediately), Sony lenses are supposed to be terrible, and despite all this, Sony still outsells Fuji by an order of magnitude. How could this be?

— Sony strengths relative to Fuji in the mirrorless arena

The two possible answers are video and AF performance. Video on the a6300 is nothing short of phenomenal: 4K, 120fps HD, and just about every type of video gamma geekery that you could want. The Multi-Interface Shoe allows for some interesting snap-on microphone options, including XLR and wireless. The worst thing anyone has said about the a6300’s video is that it has rolling shutter problems, and the answer to that is really, so what? It’s an artifact of any mirrorless camera when used for video. And since Fuji sources its sensors from Sony, you’re not going to do any better. In fact, no one outside the Fujisphere considers Fuji’s video in any way significant.

The focusing speed and accuracy a NEX/Alpha has always been somewhat incredible. Even back to the old NEX-5, Sony could make lenses that silently and smoothly achieve focus on faces. The a6300 with its kit lens posts some insanely fast times, and Sony’s claims about continuous focus tracking are largely true, at least as far as this author has been able to reproduce the right photographic, ahem, “needs.” In fast action, a camera with poor lenses but a responsive system does much better than a more ponderous camera/lens combination that misses the forest for the trees.

One thing that is clear from the dpreview.com tests is that with whatever mystery lenses the site used to test the X-Pro2 and A6300,* there is almost zero difference in image quality, anywhere on the frame.

*Never disclosing the lenses used is dpreview’s second-biggest failing. The first is retconning itself into the time before the internet and digital cameras existed. Sorry. That was a mistake. The first is allowing itself to be bought by Amazon. Then the second is retconning. Then the third is mystery lenses (apologies to Steve Martin).

— Handling

The A6300 is fairly easy to handle. The grip section of the camera is substantial, and in general, it is easy to operate. No one, though, understands what the second command dial is doing on the top deck. It’s not comfortable to use with the camera at your eye. Controls are snappy and solid, as is the general build.

— Viewing

The A6300 has the latest OLED high-density electronic viewfinder that features a 2-axis level (pitch and roll) and more information display possibilities than you want to admit you want. Battery life is helpfully provided by percentage (and if there is one nice thing about Sony batteries, they are good communicators. Shooting does not black out in continuous mode. The EVF senses heat (infrared radiation); hence, its eye sensor does not react to glass-lensed glasses or sunglasses. If you don’t like the EVF, there is a big LCD on the back. Knock yourself out.

— Shooting

This is mostly unchanged since the a6000. The big thing is silent shooting, which uses a front and back electronic curtain (you can also choose electronic front or mechanical front). Silent shooting has two failure modes: first, in any situation with fast-moving objects, the progressive read of the sensor will cause typical “rolling shutter” artifacts. Second, dimmed LED lights (dimmed at the wall switch) flicker, even at full brightness, and can cause light banding in the finished frame (rolling shadow).

— Legacy lenses

One big note is that it is not particularly easy to engage viewfinder magnification on a shot-to-shot basis. You either have to learn to live with focus peaking or slow way down if you want to focus older SLR lenses, for example.

— Accessories and cutting corners

If you are accustomed to older NEX cameras, you will marvel at how Sony expects you to charge this camera with a USB connection to something else. The better solution is the Sony BC-TRW, which is a microscopic dual-voltage charger. It actually has four charging indicators (1-3 and off – meaning “fully charged.”). But yes, you still get a useless camera strap in the box.

 

An exit from the closed system

The problem with APS-C camera systems, whether Sony or Fuji makes them, is that they are closed, highly proprietary systems. You can’t stick a Fujinon on a Sony; you can’t get a Sony Zeiss lens onto an X-Pro2. Change systems? Get ready to pay the price when you sell your old system’s lenses.

There are two tired retorts:

  1. But the system has all the lenses you’ll ever need.
  2. Why don’t you just mount legacy lenses on an adapter?

The first argument is disposed of easily: what if you don’t like the one lens with your preferred angle of view and preferred maximum aperture? What if you don’t want to shell out for new lenses? What if you need the money for booze?

The second fails due to the kludge factor. Yes, it’s possible to mount other lenses on these bodies for use with cheap Chinese adapters and your old lenses. It’s also generally miserable. Both Fuji and Sony allow focus magnification, but Sony makes it difficult to use when a non-Sony lens is mounted. Both makes have focus peaking, but that’s not as definitive as you think. And although Fuji offers a phase-detect driven split-image manual focusing function, it’s not that much fun and not that fast to use.

The “out” provided by Sony was to enable phase-detect autofocus with third-party lenses. This enabled things like the TechArt LM-EA7 II adapter, which in theory allows the autofocusing of any M mount lens (or lens that can be adapted to M, provided it physically fits the adapter). If this works, it would be a game-changer, since it would bypass the usual foibles of adapted lenses (focus difficulty and inaccuracy of focus peaking being two big ones). Is this true?

The good, the bad, and the ugly with the LM-EA7 II

The adapter comes in a nice, foam-padded box and includes a NEX/E-mount body cap and rear lens cap. This is a nice touch, since people who bought the a6300 with a kit lens will have neither.

20160903_185104.jpg

50mm f/1.5 ZM C-Sonnar with LM-EA7 II

The good news is that with the sweet spot for Leica lenses: 35-50, the LM-EA7 works like a charm. The noise is a faint whirring, and the Sony phase-detect system fairly effortlessly computes and reaches the focus point (provided, of course, that your lens would ordinarily need 4.5mm or less of travel between infinity and minimum focusing distance).

Some observations:

  1. Focusing is through the lens, at shooting aperture. ***This forces the camera to automatically adjust for focus shift on fast lenses, again making the a6300 more accurate and repeatable than a Leica M body, which can only have accurate focus at one aperture.
  2. The camera plus adapter can focus on an off-center subject using (for example) wide AF. Face recognition works with this adapter, even though the adapter supports phase-detect only. ***This is significant because it means that the a6300 can more accurately focus fast Leica lenses on off-center subjects than a Leica body can.
  3. The camera plus adapter rarely misses, even off-center. In fact, the focus with things like the 50/1.5 ZM Sonnar (the modern version) is better than can be achieved with a rangefinder (naturally, due to focus shift).
  4. The adapter is serviceable with 75mm and longer lenses, provided that you pre-focus to somewhere at least near the expected focus point.
  5. The adapter, by virtue of its inbuilt extension, gives you slightly closer close focus with 35mm and shorter lenses.
  6. There is little or no color shift with adapted wides. Depends on the lens, but even the ZM Biogon 4.5 seemed to do ok.
  7. Flash works with the adapted lenses.
  8. The multi-shot vibration-reduction mode works (JPG only).
  9. The weight limit for the objective assembly (lens plus any adapters to M mount) is 750g. This is well beyond what you need for almost any Leica-mount lens and covers most DSLR prime lenses (if you go lens – to M adapter – to LM EA7 – to camera.
  10. The artistic effects, such as “Sad Clown with Single Tear Airbrushed onto Sweatshirt” still work with adapted lenses.

Now, what’s the catch? Well, there are seven.

  1. PDAF does not work for video, and the adapter does not do contrast-detect.
  2. Due to some clear limits in the Sony PDAF software (which is probably set up to look for big focusing changes), wide lenses (≤21mm) and lenses with maximum apertures of f/4 or smaller do not focus well. Granted, why do you need AF with these lenses?
  3. The motor part of the adapter hangs below the camera, making it hard to set the camera down. This is not entirely negative because it also makes a nice grip.
  4. Not all SLR mount to M mount adapters work. In general, you have to use the Leicaist versions because they taper enough to miss the motor unit. Konica AR is one of the couple that work with the adapter, and even then, it’s just the typical Chinese adapter with a relief milled into it to clear the autofocus adapter.
  5. Taking the camera’s aperture setting off f/2 or 2/8 tends to cause overexposure.
  6. The system for selecting and recording lens-specific metadata is confusing, pointless, and possibly both. Your best word may be to record everything as 15mm.
  7. It does take a toll on your battery.

Tips and tricks

  1. Disengaging AF. For some reason, there is a lot of internet kvetching about how it is difficult to disengage AF. This is probably based on old firmware that requires you to use Aperture Priority and turn to a small f/stop. It is actually very easy to disengage the AF temporarily. If you press and hold AE/AF-L on the a6300, the adapter will park at its “infinity” setting, the focus peaking will come on, and you can then focus manually. When you let go of the AE/AF-L button, the adapter goes back to normal AF operation (make sure the lens is set to infinity before you do this!).
  2. Quickly overriding face-detect or wide area AF. If you have the camera set to wide AF, and you press the center of the back wheel, it will go into spot AF, center area only. It will also automatically focus in that zone. There are many possible green boxes, so it’s not like spot AF – but it suffices in most situations where you need an arbitrary focus point.
  3. Minimum focusing distance. With a travel of 4.5mm, and the lens set to infinity, the adapter does not have extension enough to reach minimum focusing distance with any lens over 50mm. The slight exception appears to be some zooms, since their designs often obviate a direct relationship between focal length and extension while focusing. Minimum focusing distance, though, is all in your mind with the A6300, whose narrower angle of view causes you to back up to get the same field as with an FX/35mm camera.
  4. Prefocusing longer lenses. With long lenses the quickest and easiest way to get to a range where you can achieve focus is to press AE/AF-L (which parks the lens), turn focus peaking on, and focus to a point where focus is just behind the intended subject. Once you are there, let go of the AE/AF-L button to reactivate AF. Because you focused behind the subject, and because the adapter extends (thereby moving the focus point closer to the camera), you have now put your lens exactly in the right place. Needless to say, the longer the lens, the less frontward subject movement this technique will tolerate.
  5. Marking your close-focus point with long lenses. If you habitually shoot at 1-1.5m, find the right “parked” focus distance (see above) and then mark it on the focusing ring with a dot of colored paint.

Compatibility

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Konica 57mm f/1.2 Hexanon AR, shot by the Konica 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Hexanon AR ($50), the “plastic fantastic” in its quasi macro mode, on the LM-EA7II.

Yes. In general the performance of this adapter depends on two major variables: lens weight and maximum aperture.  The former degrades focusing speed; the latter, certainty of locked focus. As noted above, Hexanons were tested due to the availability of an ulterior SLR adapter (plus I had a bunch sitting around).

  1. 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH M (pre FLE)
  2. 40mm f/2 M-Rokkor
  3. 50mm f/1.1 MS-Sonnetar
  4. 50mm f/1.5 ZM C-Sonnar
  5. 50mm f/1.5 Jena Sonnar (prewar)
  6. 50mm f/2.0  M-Hexanon
  7. 50mm f/2.4L Hexanon
  8. 50mm f/2.8 Jena Sonnar (with Amedeo dual-mount Contact to Leica adapter)
  9. 50mm f/2 Jena Sonnar collapsible prewar
  10. 50mm f/2 Carl Zeiss (Opton) Sonnar, postwar
  11. 75mm f/1.4 Summilux-M (prefocus)
  12. 90mm f/2.8 M-Hexanon (prefocus)
  13. 10.5cm f/2.5 PC Nikkor (LTM)
  14. 40mm f/2 Hexanon (AR) (Konica mount via Leicaist adapter)
  15. 57mm f/1.2 Hexanon AR
  16. 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom-Hexanon AR
  17. 85mm f/1.8 Hexanon AR

Kinda. For wide-angle, medium aperture lenses the adapter does not do so well because Sony’s phase-detect AF isn’t set up to split hairs.

  1. 24mm f/2.8 Hexanon AR

No? Here, the details are too small and/or the depth of field too much to get an easy lock (or sometimes, any lock) with the A6300 [edit note: this appears to be due to the camera’s having difficulty in deciding where the focus point should be – and even in its “spot” modes, the a6300 is picking a focus point]. The behavior on these is more deliberate focusing, almost as if the camera had switched into contrast-detect].

  1. 18mm f/4 ZM Distagon [too wide, too small an aperture]
  2. 21mm f/4.5 ZM Biogon [too wide, too small an aperture]
  3. 21-35mm f/3.4-4.0 M-Hexanon Dual [too wide, too small an aperture]
  4. 50mm f/1.5 Carl Zeiss (Opton) Sonnar [aberrations that Sony AF can’t understand?]

Conclusion

The Sony A6300 is a pretty formidable camera for video and not a slouch for stills provided either that your style does not exact ultra high performance from kit lenses or provided that you are willing to invest in better Sony or Sony/Zeiss glass.

The LM-EA7II may never be good for sports or high-intensity moving work, but it provides some fun with old lenses, or as much of it as you can take! It’s actually a bit irritating that I did not have an A7-series camera on hand to try it.

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10 responses to “Sony a6300 and Techart LM-EA7 II”

  1. David Babsky says :

    You say “..wide lenses (≤21mm) and lenses with maximum apertures of f/4 or smaller do not focus well..”

    I use this Techart adaptor with a Sony A7RII and I have no trouble focusing (..pretty much instantaneously..) with a Leica 16-18-21mm lens (at its f4 max aperture), Konica 21-35 (max aperture 3.4 or 4), Kobalux 21 (though its max is f2.8), Cosina ‘Voigtländer’ 21mm f4, and CV 15mm f4.5 ..and I use a teeny-weeny central focusing spot, and shoot mainly indoors in poor-ish light!

    But I set each lens’ own focus to about 5 feet (or 1.5 metres), and I think that helps in avoiding focus hunting.

    The adaptor’s great, too, with the Leica 50mm Dual Range, in its close-up position, giving fast focus on anything a couple of feet – or less – away.

    But I first had great trouble ..a mainly black screen.. when I had the camera in its usual (MENU) ‘cog wheel’ option 3 “Live View Display – Setting Effect ON” and choosing the appropriate aperture (..as in the adaptor’s pretty poor instruction leaflet..) of f11 for use with a 15mm, f14 for use with 21mm (if I remember correctly) and f25 for use with 50mm. (These settings apparently write the right info to the EXIF file, and maybe tell the camera things, too.) ..I just had a black screen / viewfinder!

    So “Live View Display” must be set to “Setting Effect OFF”.

    I still have trouble – I assume I’m doing something wrong – with having the camera choosing an inappropriate ISO when using this adaptor. I did set the appropriate aperture on the camera’s aperture range, as described in the minimal Techart leaflet, and either left the camera on ‘A’ so that it chose a shutter speed (usually the wrong one with this adaptor) or else I chose the shutter speed myself in ‘M’ (manual) setting ..but I find I always have to choose the relevant ISO setting because the camera usually hopelessly over-exposes if left to choose for itself (..perhaps it really reads those tiny aperture settings, and exposes for those, instead of for the actual lens aperture).

    Apart from that ISO problem – which may be my mistake for not having reset some abstruse camera Menu option – I find this adaptor’s great ..far better than I imagined it would be (..having had sometimes-it-works-sometimes-it-doesn’t problems with the previous Techart adaptor for Contax G lenses).

    It certainly works with 21mm and shorter lenses – for me, anyway at f4 or smaller. But I’m using it on a full-frame A7RII, so I can’t speak for its behaviour on an APS-C 6300.

    P.S: I also found it absolutely brilliant with a Leica 75mm f2.5, and fabulously wonderful and very snappy with the (slightly old) Leica 90mm Elmarit-M f2.8 (..the very, very sharp 90mm with the slide-out-and-lock lens hood). Maybe that’s because they both have wider apertures than f4.

  2. dantestella says :

    David – I added a note on this. I think that the a6300 issue is due to the fact that the camera doesn’t let you pick a single center AF point, and it gets confused when too many things in the frame look like they are in focus (or might be a subject). Changing to the narrower modes (Center Spot and Flexible Spot) helps a little, but the a6300 always reserves the right to pick one of 25? focusing zones within that center box (which on the a6300 is not that small – certainly not the center AF box of old SLRs). As to the differences with the A7RII, it’s a different sensor and presumably a different/bigger CPU (and the lenses subtend a much bigger angle of view). I’m not ready to give up on short lenses, but the difference is truly night and day between a fast 50, 85, or 90 and things shorter than 35mm. This issue merits some further exploration. Certainly not intuitive that this is going on. It’s less pronounced outdoors, but it’s definitely there in indoor scenes.

  3. David Babsky says :

    Ah ..letting the camera choose the focus ..never a good idea..

    • The Machine Planet says :

      To a large degree, if not completely, letting the camera decide is a choice that Sony made. I was a little surprised to see that the zones are always there in the center box. My guess is that this is related to getting a lock on “something” so as to get the shot. Otherwise, as you could imagine, you could point the single reticle on something with no contrast and have the camera freak out and endlessly hunt (like a Maxxum 5000 or an N2020 from 30 years ago). World’s fastest autofocus will not necessarily translate into the world’s most accurate autofocus.

      If the goal is to focus in the center with wides, an adapted Sony system is going to be somewhat un-fun compared to using the same lenses on a Leica M. It is extremely hard to beat the focus accuracy of an M rangefinder with <50mm lenses, and because the M's focusing mechanism doesn't care about the selected aperture, you can shoot at will. The sense I get with the Techart is that the smaller the shooting aperture (with anything), the harder a time the camera has figuring things out. The crop factor also makes focusing wides on an a6300 less compelling.

      But as pointed out, way above, face-detection is a big draw for plugging these lenses into a Sony because there is no focus-and-recompose necessary for people shots. That's where you can lose a lot of sharpness with fast lenses because they are not focused to the same point all the way across the field.

      • David Babsky says :

        My comment above was with tongue in cheek ..maybe I could have added a bit of new-style punctuation, such as 😉

        I haven’t used the 6300 – my nearest to that is an old NEX 3n (I think it’s called) – but here’s what I see with my A7RII ..erm, I can’t quite remember properly how to embed images – and I don’t know if this page would accept them anyway – so I’ve put three images here: http://tinyurl.com/hqj4mro

        The top one is what I see through my viewfinder (..slightly fuzzy at bottom-left, but that’s what happens hand-holding an iPhone up to the A7RII’s finder..) and the two central small right-angled brackets are what I aimed at (the edge of the CV 15mm in the middle of the picture), and the single very teeny green(?) square within that is the focus confirmation square, which shows “this tiny area is what’s in focus”.

        This gives *very accurate* focus, with the A7RII, on EXACTLY what you’re pointing at. The camera cannot make its own choice (..when it’s set to “Flexible Spot: Small”, which is where I keep it).

        The lower two pics are (a) what the camera shot when I set the ISO to 2000 for indoors, and (b) what the camera had shot when I first came back indoors, having been shooting outdoors at 100 ISO. Darn it, I forgot that I needed to manually set the ISO when shooting with the Techart!

        The lens is a Leica 16-18-21 “Tri-Elmar” at its max aperture of f4 and focal length of 21mm, with focus on the lens itself set to 5 feet (1.5 metres).

        (Yes, the aperture readout in the viewfinder shows f25, because I forgot to set it back to f14 in order to show 21mm in the EXIF file.)

        So that’s what I see in the finder, and that’s what the lens(es) can deliver: spot-on focus (as long as there’s enough contrast or detail to discriminate with); very fast focus, even with apertures of f4 or smaller – though, as you say, the smaller the aperture the longer it may take the system to lock onto accurate focus – and working OK with 21mm, 18mm, 16mm and 15mm lenses: I haven’t bothered trying it (yet) with the CV 12mm, as I don’t often use that, except with APS sensors.

        Outdoors, it works just as well ..so (c) I added another 21mm pic at the bottom: focus was on the black umbrella in the distance on the wooden seat, and it’s pin sharp, neatly avoiding all the clutter of out-of-focus foliage nearby. I had to turn down the ISO to 100 for that, otherwise everything was hopelessly over-exposed.

        I may try it with APS, but I’m going to be rather busy over the next few days – next week, perhaps..

  4. David Babsky says :

    Darn ..should have made the photos SO much bigger so that you can see what’s sharp and what isn’t, especially the bottom one: I’ll fix it in the next day or two (..iWeb automatically shrinks everything for small file sizes, and for fast loading).

    • David Babsky says :

      Okey-doke ..I’ve now reloaded the garden photo at a proper size – with a crop of the central area, too – so that the accuracy of the Techart+A7RII phase-detection focusing, with a 21mm at f4, is properly visible.

      http://tinyurl.com/h3njc2v

      That’s just to show how it works on an A7RII ..I’ve never used it on a Sony a6300.

  5. schuaust says :

    Does the af work on the 35-70 at all focal lengths without precious, and is the Konica 35-70 the same as the Minolta (not sure if you know the answer to the second…if it makes a Minolta MD 35-70 AF well that would be…awesome).

    • David Babsky says :

      As Dante hasn’t replied yet, I can say that – as I don’t have a Konica 35-70mm – I tried to fit my Olympus OM 35-70mm onto the Techart, via a series of adaptors; Olympus OM-to-Canon EOS with an EOS to Sony FE.

      My EOS-to-FE adaptor has a bulge which prevents it attaching to the Techart (which also has a bulge at the bottom which holds its teeny motor).

      But I have used the Techart, instead, with my (Leica M fit) Konica 21-35mm, and that works perfectly with my Sony A7RMkII camera (see above). Focusing is slower with the only-contrast-detect A7S, and doesn’t work at all – for me – with an older NEX 3n. I don’t have a Sony 6300 to test it with.

      Dante says above, number 16, that it works OK with “35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom-Hexanon AR”. He also says “..For wide-angle, medium aperture lenses the adapter does not do so well because Sony’s phase-detect AF isn’t set up to split hairs.” But that’s, apparently, with the Sony 6300. With the A7RII it works great for me with pretty much all lenses, and it even autofocuses well with a 15mm f4.5 lens indoors in dim light (..although there’s no need to use autofocus, as the depth of field of the 15mm, at normal distances, means that just about everything the lens sees is in focus anyway!)

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