NEX: Manual-focus lens comparison for 35mm to 50mm

There are lots of legacy lens choices for the NEX in the 35mm to 50mm range, ranging in price from $70 up to $1400. What’s the best bang for your manual-focus NEX buck? I’ve compared the following lenses on my NEX-5N:

Voigtlander 35mm Nokton f/1.2 Version I (sells for $1000 new)
Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5 (sells for $500 used)
Voigtlander 40mm Nokton f/1.4 (sells for $400 – $500 used)
Minolta 50mm MC X-Rokkor f/1.4 (sells for $70 used)
Contax Zeiss G 45mm f/2 (sells for $300 – $400 used)

The Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 I is no longer available but there is a new version that is optically very similar and slightly shorter and sells for $1,400 new.

Conclusion: The Contax Zeiss G 45mm is the sharpest of the bunch, but compared to the Minolta 50mm the Contax only holds an advantage at f/2 and mostly for contrast rather than sharpness. At f/2.8 and beyond the Contax and Minolta are basically identical. It’s pretty clear the Minolta is by far the best value of this bunch.

The following ISO chart comparisons were shot a focus distance of 5 feet for the 35mm Voigtlander, with the tripod moved back as the focal length increased for the various other lenses I compared. In other words, equal framing. All were manually focused via the EVF on either the center (center comparison) or right edge (edge comparison), shot with timer release and electronic first curtain. They were shot raw and processed in LR3 with all default settings except white-balance and some exposure adjustments to match all the images.

Click on each image for a 100% crop. After clicking once you may need to click again to get your browser to display the full 100% view (most browsers will fit the enlarged image to your browser’s width first, so you need to click again to get the 100% view).

Center Comparison

f/1.4
Center f/1.4

f/2.0
Center f/2.0

f/2.8
Center f/2.8

f/4.0
Center f/4.0

f/5.6
Center f/5.6

f/8.0
Center f/8.0

Extreme Edge Comparison

f/1.4
Edge f/1.4

f/2.0
Edge f/2.0

f/2.8
Edge f/2.8

f/4.0
Edge f/4.0

f/5.6
Edge f/5.6

f/8.0
Edge f/8.0

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