40 mm/45 mm (or 43 mm) is one of my very favorite focal lengths: in fact it corresponds very close to the diagonal of the 35 mm still photo format!
… and it is the perfect focal length for street photography – and it may be the best, which can happen to you for all situations in which you have just one focal legth to choose, which means: you have no choice really …
The first camera, which very early „socialized“ me for Single Lens Reflex Cameras was the Contaflex II with Tessar 45mm f2.8 of 1953.
It was the time before the German photo industry „suddenly“ collapsed and when the local camera dealer still could repair a Contaflex II mechanically just within a day! (And there was nothing else really but mechanics – you will not seriously call a Selen photosensitive cell „electronics“?!)
This history may have strongly influenced me in my preference for this focal length – but you may also find one thousand good reasons for this focal length, which is the „real normal focal length = the diagonal of the 24 x 36-format“ indeed: longer than 35mm, shorter than 50mm.
In early times most of the point-and-shoot-cameras with fixed (built-in) normal lenses had 38mm to 45mm lenses … and there are still some today.
In fact this focal length was ALWAYS present in the photo industry for system cameras – and I own some of them:
Tessar 45mm f2.8 as fixed lens in the Contaflex II of 1953
„New“ Tessar 45mm f2.8 for Contax/Yashica-Mount – a 1983 design based on new glass
MD-Rokkor 45mm f2.0 – a pancace-type standard lens for Minolta SRT cameras of 1978
Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f2.0 with Leica-M bayonet (for the 1973 „CL“ Leica/Minolta)
Olympus 40mm f2.0 – an ultra compact pancake design of 1978 for OM cameras
Planar 45mm f2.0 for Contax G1/G2 of 1994
… and the modern available to-date lenses:
Fujinon 27mm f2.8 pancake design for APS-format X-trans sensors (correspond. to 43mm)
Panasonic 20mm f1.7 for Micro Fourthirds (corresponds to 40mm at FullFormat)
Batis (Distagon) 40mm f2.0 for Sony E-Mount (FullFormat) of 2018
Sigma 40mm f1.4 for Sony-E-Mount (FullFormat) of 2018
Fujinon 50mm f3.5 for Fujifilm GFX50/100 with sensor 44mm x 33mm
From this list of 11 lenses you can make the conclusion how important this focal length is to me!
… and there is an interval of 65 years in making betweeen all of these lenses!
There are other famous historical lenses, which are not available to me:
I once owned a Nikkor 45mm f2.8 pancake-lens of 1977 on the Nikon F3M – it was a just average Tessar design. The Pentax DA 45mm f2.8 Limited is famous (a Gaussian!). As far as I know, Canon never played around with something like that … nor did Leica! What a pitty!
There is as far as I know also a modern Voigtländer lens 40mm f2.0, which I never tried! As it is an „Ultron“-design (and also includes an aspherical lens) it should also be of top notch performance. About the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f1.2 aspherical I know nothing but that it probably is a „Distagon“-type lens as my Batis is …
Now here is my odd couple of the week:
–> look at the Olympus 40mm f2.0 pancake vs the Sigma 40mm f1.4 !
The Olympus 40mm f2.0 is a modified (6 lens – 6 groups!) double Gauss design – but extremly sophisticated due to the extremely short physical length combined with a very respectable speed of 2.0 at a length of 26mm and weight of 146 grams – Filter diameter 49 mm … and the close-focusing ability to 0.3 meters in spite of its compactness! You must however consider, that the OM is made for an SLR: that means, to put it on the same mirrorless Sony-E-Mount-Camera, the adapter adds another 28 mm. But in spite of that – the optical construction is actually pressed into the 26 mm length – including space for a filter-thread… Sitting on my Olympus OM 3Ti camera body it is as perfect package!
The Sigma 40mm f1.4 DG HSM / Art for E-Mount is a monster weighing 1,200 grams and stretching over a length of 157mm. It is composed from 16 lenses, which are stacked nearly face-to-face in the volume of the assembly – including all types of modern glasses … and even one aspherical lens! And it uses 82mm diameter filters … You could call this a „stretch-limousine“ of modern photo-technique … When you put it on a Sony A7R you feel crazy – and in the street everybody thinks, you are peeping into the crowd with a super-telephoto! That is somewhat embarrassing.
And no: it has NO tripod-thread somewhere near the lens+camera-center-of-gravity. So you have to balance the massive lens on one hand while you take care of that tiny miniaturized camera at the near end of it…
Could there be any rational sense in the making of the Sigma-Monster? Serving exactly the same purpose on the camera: taking a picture with an angle of view of circa 57 degrees?
O.k., lets try:
The lens has a very high speed – I do not know personally any other 40mm-lens with f1.4 so far – at least for FullFormat. (There has been a 40mm f1.4 for Olympus Pen HalfFrame-Cameras in the nineteen-sixties and yes: there is even a Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f1.2 now for 35mm) … and this Sigma is the best photographic lens I know at present for 35mm-format (independent of focal length and brightness) – a fact that might justify even the price … Beware: this is my personal ranking – nothing more nor less.
The optical qualitiy of the lens is overwhelming … I instantly saw the brilliant performance of this lens – just through the finder of my Sony camera! An extraordinary situation! At f1.4 !!!
So now let us look at the resolution facts measured with IMATEST. For this I use generally the Sony A7RM4. How much better is the super-ambitioned super-modern Sigma against the antique Olympus gem of 1978?
The spreadsheet shows some other historical and modern lenses for comparison purpose.
(Remark: As I cannot measure resolution with a fixed lens in an analog camera like the Contaflex II, I chose a typical 50mm-Tessar of the nineteen-fifty/sixties from Zeiss-Ikon for the first comparison-position. The „old“ Tessar from 1961 is what you expect from it (based on 1902 invention by Paul Rudolph): good anastigmatic design but a little bit soft.
Bild2 / picture 2: Resolution, edge-profile width, distortion and CA for a group of 40/45mm-lenses for 35mm-FullFormat (plus corresponding Fujinon 27mm-lens for APS-sensor format)
(Bemerkung zu der hier neu hinzugefügten Spalte 4 – „Kantenschärfe“: das ist die Breite des Übergangs an einer standardisierten Hell-Dunkel-Kante von 10% bis 90% (in Bildmitte) – siehe untenstehendes Bild 2
Remark in reference to the column 4 width of „edge-profile“: this is the width of the transition from white to black at a standardized edge between 10% and 90% of brightness (in the center) – see picture 2 below, upper graph:
Bild 3 / picture 3: Edge profile (10-90% rise) – upper picture) and MTF-curve (lower) for Sigma 40mm f1.4 fully open (f1.4). Absolute perfect performance! Remarkable MTF-result: MTF is stunning 0.403 at Nyquist-frequency and drops slowly stopping down! Excelent lenses like the Batis 40mm f2.0 start at 0.3 and reach 0.35 at optimum f-stop (f4.0).
Note: n this comparison I left out the potential options for 40-45mm focal length in zoom-lenses! This is a focal length, which is available in many zoom lenses, of course. And once you are using zoom-lenses, this is a viable option, too. But it would have led to an epic length of the article (adding about the same number of zoom-lenses to the test-field of fixed focal-lengths …)
The optical quality-results of the Sigma 40mm f1.4 / Art (on the 62 MP Sony A7R4 – Nyquist frequency: 3.168 LP/PH):
- At f1.4 the weightet mean resolution of MTF30 over full frame is 93% Nyquist-frequency (center 102%, corner 78%)
- 10-90% rise of edge profile is 0.96 pixels at f1.4 – which is lowest at this f-stop
- MTF at Nyquist-frequency is 0.403 at f1.4 – going down to 0.34 at f5.6.
- Center resolution is max. at f2.0 with 110% Nyquist-frequency (3.472 LP/PH)
- weighted mean is max. at f5.6 with 99% Nyquist-frequency
- at this f5.6 f-stop the corner-resolution (average over 4 corners!) reaches 88%
- The differences of resolution between f2.0 and f8.0 are irrelevant under practical photographical aspects: 3.017 – 3.141 LP/PH weighted average over the full frame!
- Distortion is -0.01% to -0.1% – at most f-stops around 0.05% – let’s say: „ZERO“
- Lateral Chromatic Aberration (CA) is max. 0.1 mostly ca. 0.03 pixels around f5,6
- Autofocus is excellent!
- Due to the high image-contrast, manual focusing is very easy, fast and precise with this lens!
(LP/PH means: Line pairs per picture hight – picture hight für Sony A7R4 is 6336 pixels.)
Conclusion: The Sigma 40mm f1.4 is a highly convincing lens opticaly and in build quality. A bit closer focusing range would have been nice for its price (like the Batis 40f2.0 – and even the pancake OM-40mmf2.0 focuses closer!) – the handling on the Sony mirrorless camera is a serious task … I cannot recommend to put the camera with this lens on a tripod for day-to-day-work – just using the tripod-thread of the camera-body! (For my IMATEST test-frames it worked just o.k.). I would recommend to use this lens on a massive and solid D-SLR to be really happy with it! Personally I would use it for Street Photography and for Architecture – if there were not the handling restrictions.
And what about the optical merits of the compact side of the „Odd Couple„? —- The Olympus OM 40mm f2.0?
The merits are fantastic – even in comparison to modern lenses – especially under the aspect of its compactness. I was very amazed, when I read, that the lens was considered by Olympus as a low-cost alternative to other standard lenses (entered at just below 80 Dollars!). In spite of that (and the quality!) there were not so many sold … (good for the price on the second hand market!).
This lens was designed just a few years before the exciting new glass-types (like ED-glass) entered the industry – delivered from 1978. In the center it is just about 3% behind the Batis – even open at f2.0. In the corners it starts low – typical for the time (see the MD 45mm f2.0). Stopped down to f8 it improves dramatically in the corners (at 90% of the FOV!) – resolving ca. 7% close to the corner performance of the Batis 40mm. This resolution-perfomance of the OM 40mm f2.0 is much better than it could be used practically on the normal analog film-emulsions of the 1970s times (or even today) – with good contrast at the same time.
The price, this Olympus OM-lens has to pay for its compactness is obviously the distortion (at -1.5% still really acceptable for the time) and the CA – twice as big than contemporary „standard-Lenses“ and 20 times larger than typical today (not to forget both properties could be corrected afterwards today as well!).
Stopped down this ultra-compact Olympus OM-gem 40mm f2.0 reaches results in practical picture-taking, which use the resolution of the 62 MP mirrorless sensor seriously! Look at the two comparison-shots of a Montbretia-colony below, which are taken free-hand, manual focussing. The depth of the scene allows to judge, where the sharpness-plane really is. And with a large number of similar objects you have the chance, to hit one of these with the focus-point exactly. At least you can tell: no – it is not the lens, which is not sharp: it is you, who focused wrong …
I chose a „nature-scene“, because in this you have the chance, that below the larger structure of the object there is still a sub-structure … and below that another sub-structure … and so on! The picture of a bicycle-frame does not offer too much of that … I did focus at the stamens of the highest upright blossoms near the center. (Natural sunlight came from the right side.)
Bild 4 /picture 4: The scene for the comparison shot – here with Olympus OM 40mm f2.0 at f8 – distance ca. 0.9 m (on Sony A7R4) – MANUAL focussing
Following are sections at 100%-view-level (no corrections made on the data-file):
Here with the Sigma-lens I exactly hit the target, which I focused (blossom in the middle of the three) – on a big screen you see the wonderfull plasticity of the stamens-details even on this level of enlargment. Red is a difficult colour and the contrast within the blossom-leaves is very low.
Bild 5 /picture 5: Detail of this scene – here with Sigma 40mm f1.4 at f8 (H:1325 pixel)
Next is taken with the Olympus OM 40mm f2.0: the focus sits about one cm more in front compared to the Sigma-shot: here it is the right blossom with stamens – nearly as sharp as with the sigma. I had not noticed, that a wasp had settled on the Montbretia flower – exactly in the focal plane …!
Bild 6 / picture 6: Detail of the scene with Olympus OM 40mm f2.0 at f8 (H: 1300 pixel)
Next picture: Look how the insect pops out from the picture with the Olympus OM-lens at 0.9 meters focusing distance, with a surprising plasticity even at 100% viewing-enlargement (see picture 7) – even the fine hairs on the insects body starting to show.
Bild 7 /picture 7: Detail of a second shot with the wasp taken with Olympus OM 40mm f2.0 at f8 (height: 763 pixel) – at 100%-enlargement (picture taken at distance 0.9 meters!)
Conclusion: if you like to stay nearly „invisible“ in the street (where corner-resolution rarely matters!) and if you are well used to and experienced with manual focusing (MF), this more than 40 years old Olympus lens-design still is a valid option to use – even on the Sony A7R4! My copy still is clear and contrasty (obviously!). Near the center, the detail-resolution is really comparable to the Sigma monster-lens stopped down (f5.6 … 8.0). The merits of the Sigma-lens are its phantastic performance between f1.4 and f2.8 and into the corners – at practically zero distortion and CA!
The closest modern competitor to the Sigma 40mm is the Batis 40mm f2.0 (Distagon), which is just slightly behind the Sigma in every single optical property – fortunately it is also somewhat behind in price … and very-very-much lower in weight. As mentioned already it focuses very close! In practical picture-taking situations, you would probably not be able to tell which picture is made with the Sigma and which with the Zeiss-Batis – if close focusing is not part of the game…
The optical properties of all the other historical lenses in the comparison show very well the typical development in optical quality of standard-lenses over the time since just shortly after World War II (from 1953 – when I was 8 years old).
Two of these lenses ar made not for SLRs but for Rangefinder-Cameras, with the typical short distance between the rear of the lens and the film/sensor (rear focus). Especially at wider field of view this leads to light-rays, hitting at very flat angles onto the picture-plane. That is no problem with analog film – but a desaster with digital sensors!
These RF-lenses are the Minolta-M 40mm f2.0 (for Leica-M-Mount, coming with the Minolta CL in 1973) and the Planar 45mm f2.0 for the legendary (Autofocus!) Contax G1/G2 – early 1990s. Both are suffering severely under the oblique-ray-problem on the Sony-Sensor leading to very low corner-resolution in my measurements! This does not reflect the real performance on analog film!
The Planar 45mm f2.0 was famous as one of the best standard-lenses of its time – and I can confirm, that there is no such corner-resolution issues on analog film with my Contax G2. Interesting, that the issue vanishes stopped down to f8. Together with the Sonnar 90mm f2.8 on the Contax G2 you had one of the best lens-sets of the 90s (plus autofucus!) on one of the most beautiful cameras EVER… That you could additionally have a crazy HOLOGON 16mm f8 on this camera makes it even more remarkable.
Sensational is the „New Zeiss Tessar“ 45mm f2.8 for Contax SLR – an extreme pancake-lens (length 16mm !) based on the new glass-types of the early 1980s. In this Zeiss has extended the performance of the famous 4-lens-Triplet (invented 1902) to the level of the best double-gauss designs (Olympus 40mm and Contax-G-Planar 45mm). Only the edge-profile-sharpness did not arrive at the level of the Gaussians. It was also edited as aniversary-lenses for both Contax-aniversaries 1992 (60th) and 2002 (70th) – the latter one together with the Contax Aria: a much beloved combination, which I owned once.
Stopped down (to f8-f11) it nearly reaches the performance of the modern Batis 40mm! This lens was very expensive for a 4-lens design (starting at DM 698,00 – later € 449,00)! Due to this probably not too many should have been sold – however, still today it is legendary! The legend is justified by the measured data.
The Angénieux-Zoom 45-90mm f2,8: I could not resist to put this first Photo-Zoom of Angénieux (designed ca. 1964 – delivered exclusively for Leica SL/Leica R from 1968 to 1980!) into this comparison. The reason: in the 1960-70s in Germany, the so called „German doctrine“ was common sense, which says: „No zoom-lens can ever reach the performance of a fixed-focal-length lens!“ I can testimony this myself: that is what I thought at that time, too. And it was unfortunately confirmed, after we bought the first cheap zoom-lenses for amateurs.
For the professional cine-lens sector, this was not true any more since 1956/1960 – when Pierre Angénieux launched the first 4x-cine-zoom-lenses in production … and 10x-zooms since 1964. (More details about this in my article about Pierre Angénieux – a detailed analysis about his photo-zooms will follow soon in this blog.)
Look at the resolution-data of the 45-90mm-Zoom at 45mm: it reaches 96% of Nyquist-frequency on the 62 MP-Sony in the center. It is on par with fixed-focals of that time – and even wide open it surpasses them in the corners!
Finally I put in at the end of the comparison list, the (in my opinion) most under-rated Fujinon-X pancake-lens 27mm f2.8 (corresponding to 43mm at full-frame). It reaches 125% Nyquist at f4.0 on the Fujifilm H-1 (24 MP), has low distortion and perfect CA and corner-sharpness values. It is a bit soft in the corners wide open. Perfect for street-photography!
Berlin, 7. August 2020
fotosaurier – Herbert Börger
P.S.: I personally own all lenses and cameras, about which I am writing here in my blog. There are no lenses, which the maker or distributer has given to me for free or temporarily. And as you see, there is no advertisement in my blog… and I do not ask for other „support“ from you than that you tell me, if you have found an error. Of course, you are welcome to share your own experience with us in comments.
PPS: Parallel to the Sony A7R4 I shot the same scene with the 50mm f3.5 lens on the Fujifilm GFX100 (also stopped down to f8.0) – which corresponds exactly to the 40mm focal lenth on 24x36mm. See the following detail of the Montbretia blossoms – here again the rightmost blossom with stamens is exactly in the focal plane. The structueres are recorded here even with higher smootheness and plasticity, which is the advantage of the 100 MP sensor, an excelent algorithm and a very good lens as well, which resolves up to 5.051 LP/PH (at f5.6) in the center!
Bild 8 / picture 8: Detail of same scene with Fujinon 50mm f3.5 on Fujifilm GFX100 at the same distance of 0.9 meters. (height: 1439 pixel)