Solving My Sony 50mm Conundrum, aka Cony, aka Frankenmacro Part II

Three things:

  1. I LOVE 50mm lenses.
  2. I LOVE (ok really, really like) Sony mirrorless cameras.
  3. Finding a proper 50mm lens for Sony mirrorless has been a struggle up to this point.

But “What about lens XYZ?” you may be saying. My criteria may be considered odd by some. My expectations for 50mm lenses are informed by my early experiences with 35mm film. Namely:

  • Bright. f/1.8 or better.
  • Small. Barely larger than a pancake if possible.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Quick to focus.
  • Special. Possess that something special that delivers images far better than size and price would indicate.

I have tried some and eliminated others.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8

Pros

  • Small and light.
  • Capable of great images.

VW Bus

  • But…

Cons

  • Sloooow focus.
  • Lacking contrast or that pop to go with the bokeh.
  • Build quality is lacking. Looks like the all metal 85mm, but this is all plastic except for the mount.
  • Really wanted to like it. But bought it twice and ultimately sold it twice. There won’t be a third try.

Rokinon 50mm f/1.4

Pros

  • Capable of very good (never reached great with me) images.
  • But…

Cons

  • While faster to focus than the FE above, one could not call it quick.
  • Larger and more expensive than I like in a 50mm.
  • While I found nothing really wrong with it I never warmed up to it.
  • Had this lens so briefly that I cannot find a single image on my flickr and it took me a good chunk of time to find the image above on instragram.

Minolta Maxxum 50mm f/1.7 w/ LA-EA4 AF adapter

Pros

  • Does stuff like this

Cons

  • Nothing optically. Requires LA-EA4 adapter which loses a stop of light due to the translucent mirror and has quite the ungainly chin underneath working against the compact nature of a 50mm lens.
  • Combined not what one would call silent or quick with the old school screw drive AF.

Contax G 45mm f/2 w/ Techart AF Adapter

Pros

  • Produces images so wonderful I will always keep these two on hand.

Techart Contax G to Sony A7 Adapter

Cons

  • While serviceable this combo is slow and a bit fiddly. This is a lens combo to get a certain look, but not really meant to be used on the regular.

Other adapted manual film lenses.

Pros

  • Great images.

Cons

  • Manual focus. Great for fun, but not optimal for regular use.

Lenses over $500? (Sony Zeiss 50mm/55mm, Zeiss (manual focus), Art, and the like)

  1. 50mm lenses are not supposed to be that expensive in my universe.
  2. Many are too large and heavy to fit my needs even if they were affordable.

What now?

Recently went on an old EOS full frame jag. The 1Ds Mk II impressed, but not enough to keep. But what really impressed me was the Canon 50mm f/1.8 plastic fantastic I bought with it.

Impressed me such that I considered getting an MC11 adapter for my Sony when returning the 1Ds Mk II.

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But in the end the usual MC11 asking price seemed stiff to mount a lens that can be had for $50 or less. And while fun on an old DSLR I was really not interested in mounting something so plasticky to Sony.

Then sale happened. Over the Turkey Day break Sigma marked the MC11 down $100 to $150. (Sale seems over now but hopefully, it will return.) That sent me on a jag to find a suitable Canon lens to go with. Did not want to go too big and expensive and did not want to go too cheap and plastic either. No bad lenses were to be found, but I decided on getting the least expensive lens with a metal mount and a modern focusing motor. That would be the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM which can be had all day for $125 or so. Combined was looking at about $275 for brand new gear. About the same as the non-sale price of the Sony FE (nearly the same size)

IMG_20181129_184745_135

…and way less than the by all accounts awesome Sony Zeiss 55mm (which I am too cheap frugal to buy). So what happened when it all came together? Given the size/price/spec similarities the FE will be used as the main comparison.

Let me get the minuses out of the way first:

  • You lose focus modes and are left with Wide, Center, and Flexible Spot.
    • I missed the 10/2018 v2.0 firmware memo when I wrote this. Once installed this adds all AF modes. Adds (my favorite) Zone, Expand Flexible Spot, and Lock-on AF to already present Wide, Center, and Flexible Spot. Thank you Sony. So a draw with the FE.
  • Only get AF-S and AF-C modes. AF-C only works in stills mode. No continuous focus during continuous stills or video unless I am missing something.
    • Correction: Just now realized that using AF-C w/ Flexible Lock focus mode allows for tracking continuous focus. Works well in Continuous Focus Lo. Seems to struggle to keep up Mid speed and faster. I’ll take it.
    • AF-A and DMF are not available. Never use either so not a big hit for me, but may bother others. MF is also greyed out, but not an issue since the lense offers a better solution with the on the, preferred by me, body AF/MF switch which works perfectly.
    • The FE does both, but badly. Now not completely a show stopper for the STM.

What of the positives then? There are plenty:

  • Build. Sigma MC11 is all metal and the Canon 50mm f/1.8 50mm STM is built of higher grade plastics than the Sony FE. Combine the two and you get quite a solid feeling and visually fetching pairing. (Or a Cony as my friend and photographer Anthony Smith dubbed it.)
  • While we are on this shot take a look at that AF/MF switch. Feels quality and works perfectly. No AF/MF switch on the FE.
  • IQ. No surprises here. One of the best 50mm lenses I have ever used. Better than the FE in every way in my experience.
  • Focus speed and accuracy. Here is the main failing point of the FE. After a few days with the STM Southeastern Camera happened to have an FE on the counter. Perfect for a quick back to back. Yep. Still slow and still a bit noisy with old-school focus tech. This was the STM shocker for me. Within its limited wheelhouse of single focus or continuous focus single shot stills, it is both accurate and zippy. And face detect and EyeAF work flawlessly! I just do not throw around exclamation points. Those two features are a huge draw to Sony for me. No constant focus with continuous? Things moving? Press the shutter repeatedly. Optimal? No. Serviceable? Yes

Do I recommend? Yes. Yes, I do.

Still there? Let’s talk about that Frankenmacro bit in the blog title.

Frankenmacro Bonus round.

The Canon Extension Tube EF12 II. There was no plan here. Never heard of this. On the same Southeastern Camera visit mentioned earlier, I dove into the used Canon lens shelf and found this (recalled my previous Frankenmacro experience) and asked Chris, the manager, will this work with the MC11? Mutual shrugs followed. Hoping it did not brick the works I put it all together and it worked fine.

 

Another quick before and after test at lunch.

 

Price? $60. Goes for $82 new. Did I buy it? Yes. Yes, I did.

This setup is all new to me so there will be many more photos to come. Took it out to a parade today so there are some out and about sample shots out in the ongoing album here.

I am a very happy camper right about now.

Happy shooting.

-ELW