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Archive for June, 2017

cameraI mentioned last time that I had purchased a Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 and that I would write it up in a later issue. Well later has arrived, so here it is.

You may recall I wrote up the Canon 50mm F/1.2 rangefinder lens several months back, click here. That Canon lens had fabulous bokeh and beyond F/2.0 it was razor-sharp. Wide open was a tad soft and my example was rife with issues including some serious internal haze. But it still made wonderful images. That lens however was heavy and required the use of an adapter to fit my EOS M cameras. It also suffered from a long 3.5 foot minimum focus which is bad even by rangefinder standards. That Canon 50mm f/1.2 is an AWESOME lens but should you choose to use it, get a helicoil macro focusing mount for it! I wanted a native mount lens that would focus close and I didn’t need the full frame coverage. So I started looking for a fast fifty to fit my EOS M5.

My search found me looking at the Olympus Pen 60mm F/1.5, a 1960s half frame lens and the modern Rokinon 50mm F/1.2, which is available in most mounts for APS-c and micro 4/3. The Olympus 60mm is tough to find and also pretty spendy when you do find one. Collectors covet that 60/1.5. The Rokinon is extremely well reviewed but they are somewhat proud of it as the pricing runs in the $400 range. I was prepared to purchase the Rokinon but I was a little disturbed by its relatively bulky size and weight. Part of my desire to get a native mount was to avoid the bulk and weight associated with the old school big build plus an adapter. The Rokinon offered no such relief, but was rated so well that I new it would be optically superior to my 60-year-old Canon lens.

picture of person holding camera

Selfie in the mirror (reversed in LR) EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 @ F/2.0

Whilst poking around the internet for possible lens options, I stumbled across a Chinese made 50mm F/1.1 from a company called “Kamlan”. These are selling in the sub-$200 range if you shop it. I had never heard of them, but I decided to see if anyone on the planet had ever reviewed the lens. Much to my dismay I found very little about this lens other than a small assortment of dealers offering them for sale. I did run across a man in Thailand that has a camera blog written entirely in Thai; lo and behold he had an article about this very lens! He had a number of high-resolution images and commentary about the use of the lens. I was delighted to have hit the google jackpot and proceeded to read the entire article using my friend, Google Translate. Google translate is pretty good, but far from perfect, as there were more references to dragons in their translation than a D&D novel. Disassociated dragon references aside, the article was fairly deep, and the images told a solid tale. This lens isn’t half bad!

So I ordered one from Amazon! As a prime member I was delighted to see my box just two days later and my bill was a dainty $159. How could I possibly go wrong with this lens at that price? I immediately began snapping away with the little Kamlan and when I say little, I mean “LITTLE”. It is amazingly compact for a 50mm F1.1 lens. It weighs just 259 grams compared to the 325 grams plus the extra 58 grams for the adapter! The fact that it only needs to cover 1/2 frame is a big part of its minimal size. The lens is all metal construction except the cheesy petal shade which is plastic. It seems to have a solid lens coating. Flare is almost non-existent unless you try to deliberately induce it by pointing into a bright light source. The focus ring and aperture ring are well made but not very well damped. They are a bit stiff, and not exactly buttery smooth. The aperture control ring is a cine style with no click stops. But for $159 they work FABULOUS.

picture of lens hood

Factory petal type shade

A note about the factory shade. Some knucklehead at Kamlan thought it would be peachy to ship this lens with a stupid wide-angle style flower petal shade. Seriously? This is a portrait tele lens equivalent to an 80mm on my M5 and 100mm on a micro 4/3 camera. I bought a metal lens hood for it that provides much better shade. This is the hood I used when describing the lack of lens flare. The factory shade does bayonet on the edge of the lens allowing the use of 52mm screw in filters unobstructed by the hood. My third-party shade threads into the 52mm filter mount so use of filters is a bit cumbersome with the third party hood.

picture of woman's face

Wifey. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F1.1 @F/1.1

Optically this lens is a tick sharper wide open than my previous 60-year-old Canon 1.2 rangefinder lens and focuses to a nice and tight 18 inches. Unlike the old school Canon lens which got crazy sharp when stopped down to F/4 this lens only gets a little better stopped down. The lens is never really tack sharp at any F-stop. It is decent at every stop but never truly outstanding. The reality is that I don’t mount this lens on the camera to get shots at F/4 or 5.6. I have razor-sharp lenses with stabilizers and auto focus for shots at F/4. No my friends, what matters is the shots at 1.1 and those are a little better than the same shots on the old school Canon at 1.2. At 1.1 the lens does a fair job. I have owned lenses that cost three times this price that are no sharper wide open.

The real problem getting sharp photos at F/1.1 is the simple fact that depth of field is so shallow, very little is ever in focus. You find yourself searching for the plane of focus to find that tiny sharp patch in a sea of soft, out of focus areas. Such is the nature of ultra fast lenses. The shot of my wife shows a sharp area right at the eyes and then just a couple of millimeters of relatively sharp before everything else falls into fuzzyland.

This little charmer delivers a nice pleasing bokeh. Now you might think, of course it does! It is an effing 1.1! But the bokeh stays soft and dreamy all the way down to F/5.6. The lens diaphragm features 12 curved blades that create a near perfect circle at any setting. The bokeh is the soft non distracting type for the most part. It doesn’t have the wild character type bokeh of say a Leica Summilux or the aforementioned Canon 1.2, but it is deliciously soft.

For those thinking they are getting a 1/2 stop faster lens than a 1.2 let me stop you right there, pun, pun, pun 😉 Lens stops are a geometric calculation based on the area of a circle. F/1.1 is only about 1/3 stop faster than F/1.2. F/1.0 is a 1/2 stop faster than F/1.2. It isn’t so much about the low light ability as the extra tiny bit of light gathering advantage isn’t even noticeable. It is about the amazing isolation you can create between subject and background even when the background is annoyingly close to the subject like the picture of my wife up there, where she was right up against the bookshelf behind her.

Below is a 5 shot range from F/5.6 to F/1.1. Each shot is cropped about 4x to show detail in flag.

So in short, this is a fun lens that delivers very good images for its tiny price tag. This is not a lens for pixel splitting fiends. It is noticeably deficient without major magnification. But it is reasonably sharp for most applications and actually quite pleasing for shots of people where you want a soft background with excellent subject separation and the slight softness wide open will make anyone over the age of 40 quite happy with the results 😉 The lens has snappy contrast and good color rendition. Almost no flare at all and built with all metal components. Finish is good but mechanicals are not as smooth as they could be. That said they are excellent when considering the quality of materials against the super-low price. I am quite happy with this little Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 and had made dozens of nice images with it in the short time I have owned it. I think it is a keeper 🙂

Here are some other random shots with the Kamlan 50mm F/1.1.

picture of flowers

Spring Blossoms. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 @ F/1.1

picture of man's face

My friend Graham. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 @ F/1.1

picture of cat yawning

Socks yawns again. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F1.1 @ F/1.1

picture of money on bar

The Tip. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 @ F/1.1

picture of man holding camera

Graham and his Sony A7. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 @ F/1.1

close up of woman's face

Wifey. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 at F1.1

picture of annoyed cat

Muffin “You are in my personal space Jerk!” EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 @ F/1.1

picture of decorative bridge

The Bridge. EOS M5 with Kamlan 50mm F/1.1 at F/1.1

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