Last week I took delivery of my 5th M-mount lens, a last version Leica Elmar 50/2.8 to use on a Sony A7r.
I've owned this lens 3 times (when will I ever learn!). I love it for its simplicity and beautiful out of focus rendering at f2.8.
I was intrigued though to compare how it performed against a Version 3 Leica Summicron 35 and for a wilder comparison, a Voigtlander 21/1.8. Then I thought I'd throw in a Sigma DP3M, which for my money has one of the most beautiful out of focus renderings I have come across. Finally, I also decided to test it against the FE 55/1.8 which has outstanding characteristics wide open.
The subject is a flower, a winter Camelia with the background being a Victorian lampost in an alley. My vision for bokeh is to create an impressionistic background, if that doesn't sound too pretentious.
These are the results. All were shot RAW, imported in LR for minor adjustments and then saved as original sized jpegs and smaller ones for posting in a thread. As already stated, all M lenses on an A7r and all at f2.8
Sony FE 55/1.8 at f2.8 (original)
Leica Elmar 50/2.8 at f2.8 (original)
Summicron 35/2 at f2.8 (original)
Vogtlander 21/1.8 at f2.8 (original)
Sigma DP3M at f2.8 (original)
To my mind the FE 55/1.8 is too perfect - the bokeh is remarkably smooth but so smooth is lacks a little character. However, if I owned this alone I would always be satisfied with its performance. In fact, I originally shot the photograph wide open at f1.8 but the lampost was completely consumed by the background. I could only bring it into shape at f2.8 and indeed might have done better to choose f3.2 or f4.
The Summicron 35 v3 at f2.8 is surprisingly harsh. This is a shame because wide open I know it has a wonderfully fluidity and I am surprised that it presents this way at f2.8. Perhaps it has to do with the background subject itself? I still find this lens superb for landscape work at f8 and did not buy it for its performance wide open.
The CV 21/1.8 is intriguing. I love this lens. Especially designing photographs which exploit the photographic contradiction of UWA with background blur.
The DP3M is and outstanding performer in terms of separation. It is arguably the best shot of the flower and the background blur is also pleasing. Better than the Summicron but not quite on a par with the lens which I still think does the best job.
My feeling is that 50 Elmar is the most superior for this subject. The blur of the lampost is just enough to give the impression but not so much that it is almost lost in the background or too little that it is a harsh outline.
I also feel that manual prime glass gives very fine results, even if the lenses are not native FE mounts. The flower in the Elmar, Summicron and Ultron lenses has a subtlety to the colours and textures which is very attractive. The DP3M renders an absolutely pixel perfect image and like all Foveon sensors the texture - especially of the flower petals is outstanding.
Of course my feelings are entirely subjective and you may feel differently. In fact, I am very pleased to own such a range of lenses which can each one be used for creative photography and each with their own strengths (and weaknesses).