We recently had the opportunity to try out the ultra high end cameras made by bespoke Swiss maison Alpa. And one of the cameras we tried was the Alpa 12 TC (Travel Compact) with a GFX mount to attach to our regular Fujifilm GFX 50S II. We used this opportunity to compare the Alpagon/Rodenstock Digaron HR 4.0/50 to our workhorse Fujinon GF 3.5/50mm lens.
TGIFridays: Comparing 50mm lenses – best of the best Alpagon/Rodenstock HR 50 vs value king Fujinon GF 50
Alpa 12 TC with Fujifilm GFX mount
Retail price for the Alpa 12 TC is CHF 2,121 and the GFX Adapter is CHF 865.
The camera used for this test is the Alpa 12 TC (Travel Compact), which in this case is utilised as a lens adapter to allow the Fujifilm GFX 50S II owned by us to be used with the Alpagon HR lens. The TC is a very compact Alpa body with no movements. The entire body is a thin plate with the standard mounting blocks for a front and rear standard. It is a small and relatively light, while offering full integration into the modular ALPA 12 camera platform. Shown here, it is seen with a rosewood right hand grip attached and mounted with the Alpagon/Rodenstock HR Digaron-W 4.0/40mm lens and Hasselblad CFV II 50C back.
As the GFX is a mirrorless camera with the sensor mounted some ways into the camera body, the entire system has to cater for this. Relatively, mounting a GFX to the rear standard of the TC will place the sensor plane somewhat behind that of a similarly mounted digital back like the Hasselblad shown above. And the lens will have to be moved back so that proper focus can be achieved. This will require the lens needed to be mounted as short barrel. See this discussion on the Alpa website for the reason why this is a requirement. As shipped, the lens protrude out from the TC body, and somewhat into the cavity of the lens opening in the GFX. The GFX is attached to the back of the TC via the GFX Adapter made by Alpa. In this combination, the camera can be operated just like a standard GFX outfit. Without the lens on a short barrel, the GFX combination will not be able to achieve focus at infinity. Yes, we tried!
Once attached, the camera system operates like a regular GFX setup, albeit with a largish adapter and lens attached. The focus is manual, but as noted in earlier Alpa articles, is very smooth to operate and very precise.
Alpagon/Rodenstock HR Digaron W 4.0/50mm lens
The retail price for the Alpagon/Rodenstock HR Digaron W 4.0/50mm lens is CHF 7,700 before taxes.
The base lens is manufactured for Rodenstock for Alpa, but carries the HR Alpagon designation as the lens is mounted with the Alpa HPF focusing helicoid and on an Alpa mount. This is done in the Rodenstock factory to Alpa specifications. The specific lens which was loaned to us only has an aperture unit, and does not come with a shutter. Rodenstock (and Alpa) can specify for the same lens to be mounted with a Copal shutter (difficult to come by these days, but I understand Rodenstock still have some NOS), or with the e-Shutter. The e-Shutter will be the same as the one mounted on the HR Digaron W 4.0/32mm mounted on the Alpa 12 Plus we reviewed recently.
Rodenstock 50mm f/4 HR Digaron-W Lens is a wide angle large format lens designed specifically for use with digital backs, which require a smaller image circle with the highest resolution, colour fidelity, and optical performance with all apertures. This lens is recommended for use with backs with a 40 x 54mm sensor size or smaller and when used with the 33 x 44mm sensor of the GFX will produce an angle of view of about 40mm in full frame equivalent.
The lens is one of the very high end, highly respected lenses. The HR Digaron series in particular boasts near text book optical performance with excellent linearity and high resolution resolving capability of up to 100 line pairs/mm on sensors with pixel size up to 5 μm.
Fujinon GF 50 F 3.5 R LM WR lens
The retail price of the Fujinon GF 50 F 3.5 R LM WR lens is SGD 1,519 with GST, which converts to about CHF 1k before taxes.
The Fujinon GF 50 is one of the great value buys in medium format digital. The lens is very small, very compact, and very light. The retail price is also very competitive, even when compared to third party lenses for the GFX system which do not offer electronic contacts or autofocus.
The lens performs very well, and is my go to lens for daily use as an EDC. And he’s been our workhorse for general purpose photography, as well as with an extension tube to shoot the occasional watch.
So on to the comparison between this little Japanese made lens and a German made lens costing more than 7.5 times more.
Comparisons – David vs Goliath
Here are two shots taken almost one after the other. The camera is mounted on the tripod and not moved between exposures. The mount is through the SmallRig Arca-Swiss plate bolted to the bottom of the GFX. From the first shot, taken with the Alpa 12 TC and Rodenstock mounted on the GFX, the Alpa body was released from the GFX, and the GF 50 lens attached while not moving the GFX nor tripod position. The slight difference in perspective is due to the fact that with the GF mount and Alpa body mounted, the nodal point of the Rodenstock is further into the scene than the nodal point of the Fujinon lens. As a result, the bicycle is slightly larger in the frame of the Rodenstock than with the Fujinon.
Exposure was metered, and the camera switched to manual before taking both shots.
Here are the 100% pixel peeping crops. The left is the Rodenstock, the right is the Fujinon.
First the center of the frame, on the Dura-Ace logo on the crank.
Higher up on the saddle, focusing on the Selle SLR’s Dynamic lettering which is embroided on.
And on the frame right, on the QR code on the Fulcrum rim.
Examining the three 100% crops, it is clear that the Alpagon/Rodenstock out performs the Funinon lens. The difference is not apparent in the full image, especially displayed on the web, here shown at 1200 pixels across with the down resolution done in Photoshop. On prints, the difference is noticeable on sizes larger than perhaps an 8×10 inkjet 300dpi glicée print, but not noticeable on smaller prints.
So the question on value pops up. Is the Rodenstock HR 50, at 7.65 times more expensive than the Fujinon GF 50 worth the money? On top of that, to use the Rodenstock, there is the additional expense of the Alpa 12 TC body and GFX mount, these costing CHF 2,121 and CHF 865 respectively, totalling about another CHF 3k. Only you as the photographer can decide that. Based on image quality comparisons alone, the conclusion seems to point to negative. However, we must not forget the joy of ownership and the satisfaction of use of a high precision tool that is offered by the more expensive system. The GFX with the GF50 are fully functional, industrial tools, while the Alpa 12 TC/Rodenstock and GFX combination attempts to marry the utility of the GFX to the artisanal beauty of the rest of the system.