Saturday, July 4, 2009

the 50 summilux tale of woe update

Being constrained to f2 and smaller is bad enough, considering the price differential between a Summicron f2 and a Summilux f1.4 is times two - and around US$2000. Nevertheless, a lens is better than no lens, however small the aperture might be. I was out shooting with the busted Lux yesterday morning because the light was awesome, and I don't have another 50 - I had to sell them all to fund the Lux.

Long story short, it not only has a busted aperture diaphragm, but it seems the optics of this lens were assembled on a Friday just before biergarten time, too. It isn't at all like the black one Fuzzbucket has. It's soft wide open, draws like the Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton (which isn't a bad thing, but there's a reason we're paying ten times the price for this lens) and suffers from a whole host of optical ailments. What you're looking at are 100% crops converted from M8 DNG files via ACR.

1. Corner softness - well, make it more like at close distances, only the center zone is sharp. And this on an M8's 1.3 crop sensor, at f2. The black lens is sharp all the way out to the corners, even at f1.4. Point of focus was the row of fountain jets in middle frame. You'd expect them to be sharp, considering they were pretty much perpendicular to the camera and far away, right? No. It's fine in the middle - and the fountain droplets are nice and sharp (left crop, at 100%) - but what the hell is going on in the right hand side of the frame? There's nothing sharp there at all! Just a spherically distorted mess.

2. Chromatic aberration. WHAT?! It's an apochromatic lens, for crying out loud. This should be optically impossible. But yet, here it is. And what on earth is that greenish blob in the foreground? It doesn't look like any known sensor artefacts. I'd say it's something funny going on inside the lens itself.

3. Veiling flare. Contrast is just plain low, and the edges of things aren't nicely 'sliced out' from the background in the way the black 50 lux does.

First, the good 50 Lux: even at longer distances, the subject is almost a cutout against the background.

Once again: nothing is particularly sharp, nor have I front or backfocused it - look at the ground. And the shot was at 1/2000s, so there's no way it could have been camera shake. Point of focus on the kid's tshirt. Verdict? Soft. Just plain old soft, and low contrast, too. (This result only obtained after heavy curve adjustment). The subject was even closer than the woman with the bottle, so you'd expect more bokeh/ separation, right? I don't see it. I also don't see the fine microcontrast structure evident in the first shot. Both were shot under similar conditions - late morning, overcast but bright sky, near the equator. Should have produced similar results. They were processed the same way. But to my eye, the first looks Leica-like; the second looks like it came out of a cheap point and shoot. Simply unacceptable.

The distributor here - Schmidt Marketing - has said categorically that there are no lenses in the country with which to replace this one, so the only option is to send it to Singapore or Germany for an extended service. This is simply unacceptable - for a $4k lens to effectively arrive broken, and then tell me it's going to take three months to fix? Hello, quality control? If this were Nikon, I'd have either swapped it out straight away (likely, given the volumes they produce - but okay, we'll let Leica off the hook here) - or better still, been taken care of well by NPS and either had it fixed on the spot, or been given a replacement loaner and told to come back in a couple of days.

In any case, I'm going to call Leica Germany first thing Monday and see if their much vaunted customer service lives up to reputation. The mark of a good company is not just the quality of the products it produces when things go right, but how it deals with it when they go wrong. In all fairness, QC glitches are to be expected when dealing with what is effectively a handmade product, but this doesn't mean the customer should have to sit around with a busted lens for a few months while the company gets its act together.

No comments:

Post a Comment