Novoflex Canon EOS EF lens to Leica SL (Typ 601) AF adapter

I was very interested in this when it was announced some months ago. I put in a pre-order and got one of the first batch into the country. I had some Canon lenses for sale on eBay when it was announced and I immediately cancelled all that to see how they worked with the adapter. I also got my hands on some other EOS lenses and since getting the adapter last week I have tried these EOS EF AF lenses.

FULL FRAME

17-40mm f/4 zoom

28-135mm zoom*

40mm f/2.8 pancake 

85mm f1.8*

APS-C

24mm f/2.8 pancake

* lens does not AF

This is a new adapter from a company that is a long established supplier of photographic and film accessories. They are German, as are Leica and there is obviously some collaboration between the companies since the firmware updates for the SL have included support for the adapter and the lens selected (in most cases) is 'spotted' in the camera menu. Novoflex unfortunately have been somewhat vague about what lenses work with the adapter and it has become clear in the week that I have had it, that some do and some most definitely do not autofocus with this adapter. It has also become clear that this adapter is certainly not capable, in it's current state, of providing Canon DSLR type performance with regard to AF nor even capable of matching the performance of Leica AF T-mount lenses. What has also become clear however (and surprisingly so) is that EOS lenses, with the benefit of the SL sensor having no AA filter, provide the Camera with a range of lenses capable of capturing very impressive image quality, particularly in terms of sharpness. So, if you are looking at the adapter for fast AF for sports or action, forget it. It simply does not work well enough. However if, like me, you are looking for lighter, smaller, alternatives to the two heavy, huge and VERY expensive Leica 'native' lenses for the system to shoot landscape, location, studio work and even weddings and portraiture then you may well be in for a surprise regarding potential image quality. And also like me, may come to the decision that there is no point whatsoever in even considering the Leica lenses (one of which apparently has been patented by Panasonic!!!) for use on the SL. 

THE AF

Dealing with this first. It has become clear that the AF isn't particularly good. It simply doesn't work with some lenses. The older lenses in the list above i.e. The 18 year old 28-135mm zoom and the 85mm f/1.8 just 'flap' about when coupled with the adapter and only ever achieve accurate focus lock about once every 20 times (if that). So completely useless then. However manual focus is achievable very easily, of which more later. The other lenses do AF quite quickly, though there are far too many misses and the adapter occasionally locks up, requiring the lens AF switch to be turned off and on again to reset it. It is also necessary to fit the adapter and lens to the camera and then turn it on so that the Novoflex can recognise the lens being used. Performance is very similar to the original Metabones AF EOS lens adapters. i.e. Not that great. In fact in many cases I switched to manual focusing, because it was quicker and more accurate. However, since the SL is by far the best camera I have used for MF that is no real hardship. 

So if you are looking for a fast AF alternative for your Canon lenses on the SL. This isn't it. Hopefully this can be improved in firmware updates, but we will have to see about that. There is however full aperture control over the lens and (with one exception) full exif data, detailing the lens used and all other details. Also if you want to use Canon lenses on the SL there is no other alternative at the moment and I can't see that companies like Metabones will ever provide an adapter for this camera. So flawed it may be, but it does work and if you don't need instant, 100 % reliable AF then it does allow useful AF functionality with some lenses. 

MANUAL FOCUSING

The Leica SL (Typ 601) is the best camera I have ever used for manually focusing lenses, courtesy of the very clear viewfinder. Even though the Novoflex adapter doesn't allow focus magnification (Novoflex claim it does but the toggle switch that triggers this on the SL switches to an AF switch when the adapter is fitted and I can find no way to reassign the magnification to any other control) the focus peaking is so good that I was easily able to get 100% spot on accuracy. And to be honest manually focusing a lens is often quicker than using the AF with the adapter! (I should also point out that as is well known this adapter DOES NOT allow Canon IS to be used)

I should point out that there is good communication between the adapter, camera and the lens and aperture, shutter speed etc. can all be changed electronically from the camera. Full exif data is also available and it's a bit strange to see this coming from the camera.

As you can see below the adapter passes on the GPS info also.

From my tests I suspect that it may well be the case that older EOS lenses may struggle to provide AF and have to be used MF only. It would be useful if Novoflex could provide a list of what works and what doesn't. 

 

IMAGE QUALITY

There is however one thing above all that the lenses provide that has got me very exited about using this adapter. 

I have in the past been somewhat rude about Canon EOS lenses. Particularly regarding their sharpness. However I now realise why that is. Because of Canons professional profile, they have a fairly strong AA in place on their cameras. Moire, which is particularly commonplace in fabric and clothing, is not a good thing for news, sports, portrait, fashion and wedding photographers. Therefore Canon (and Nikon also) seek to eliminate this. Other manufacturers, like m4/3 and Fuji claim to have no AA filter, but just do the same thing in software / firmware or with the X Trans sensor in Fuji's case. However Leica, with their image sharpness priority genuinely don't AA filter their images allowing the full image quality to emerge. Now even with the Canon lens profiles applied, which I can do to the raw files in Photoshop, all of the above lenses I tried with the SL are seriously sharp. Quite surprisingly so. Sharper than my Leica R lenses, sharper than my APS-C Leica T lenses and sharper than the sample raw files I have downloaded using the SL 'native' lenses. Now this I didn't expect. In fact I was quite stunned (in a good way!) by the 'bite' from all the lenses, with the 85mm f/1.8 being particularly impressive. I cannot say why this is, but my guess is that Canon make their lenses sharp to counteract the AA filter 'softening'. However, whatever the reason this is very impressive. 

I would also point out the strange case of the 17-40mm f/4 zoom. On the Canon 5Ds I had it performed pretty well. But when I used it on the Sony A7r II I had for a while the corners and edges were very soft, in fact it looked like the lens was out of focus in the corners. I even thought that there was something wrong with lens and/or the Metabones adapter. However that problem didn't occur with the 5Ds or with other lenses I used on the Sony, which were fine. That did concern me when I got the adapter. However, I needn't have worried. the results on the SL are incredibly good. No soft edges and incredibly sharp in the centre.

I have to say that I was actually pretty disappointed with the performance of Canon lenses on the Sony A7r II anyway and using these lenses on the SL shows what they are really capable of. Plus Leica lenses are often 'flattered' by Leica sensors.

SO IS THE ADAPTER WORTH GETTING?

As I indicated earlier, if you need fast reliable AF, then I would have to answer no. It's just not that fast enough or reliable. Things may improve with a firmware update (via Leica) but I wouldn't hold your breath. If however you don't mind a bit of 'mixing and matching' between auto and manual focus and would like to access the huge Canon lens range than this could be for you. However, you need to be aware that not all lenses will even AF on the SL. Here's what I got from the lenses I used.

17-40mm f/4 zoom - AF is OK and relatively fast. However it does miss focus quite a bit and I often have to do it twice. For all these lenses I have focus peaking permanently switched on to give me confirmation that I've got focus lock where I want it to be.

28-135mm zoom* - Doesn't work. It can achieve AF but only once every 20 times or so. And Elvis would have definitely have left the building before it worked!!

40mm f/2.8 pancake - Same as 17-40mm.

85mm f1.8* - Same as 28-135mm

24mm f/2.8 pancake -APS-C lens - Best of the lot. Actually works very well.

Now some of you might think it's strange that I used an APS-C lens on the SL, but unlike my Leica T APS-C lenses I can use this lens 'full-frame'.

As you can see, by cropping out the vignetting, I get a useable image. Now unlike switching to APS-S mode, which is only 10MP because of the 'need' to get a 3:2 image, the image on the right is an 18MP file, Since I really like square and squareish images anyway, I've actually bought one of these 24mm f/2.8 'pancake' lenses for myself. Its small, light and cheap and produces nice sharp files that get away from the 'tyranny' of the 3:2 format and also the AF is pretty close to 100%. So a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

CONCLUSION

I should mention first off that, like all Novoflex adapters, this one is beautifully made. They are the best quality adapters (reflected in their price!) and Leica would have nothing to do with them if they weren't. Also this adapter only works with the SL and not the Leica T. In practical terms his adapter is going to be very useful for me. But then how typical a user I am is open to question. I'm used to MF, I use adapters a lot, I don't need fast AF speed, I usually have the time to manually focus and I love to experiment anyway. And there is no doubt that it helps get over the 'lens gap' that the SL has currently. But then Leica aren't mass producers of lenses anyway and there will a very slow roll out of big, heavy and phenomenally expensive lenses for the SL. And while I like to think of myself as not a 'Leica snob' (Though I probably actually am!!) there is this. 

http://www.43rumors.com/panasonic-patent-proves-designed-leica-sl-90-280mm-full-frame-lens/

Now I'm never going to buy the Leica SL 90-280mm lens anyway, since when I tried it out I had real trouble actually lifting the camera / lens combination, but if I could would I really pay £4000+ for a Panasonic lens? If that's what it is. 

Anyway, there will be more posts about using this adapter, but for the moment, I'm glad I bought it. But I will repeat yet again, if you are considering it, do be prepared to make some compromises. It's a long way from the 'real deal'.