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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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A Little Tele Talk

Today I am going to chat up a couple different Canon lenses. The Canon EF USM 70-300 IS DO and the EF-M 55-200 IS STM are my newest acquisitions. I also picked up a sweet little Kamlan 50mm f/1.1 for my M5. Yes 1.1 :D. I’ll save that for another day. I have been busy spending my son’s inheritance on some tele lenses and I figured I could present a few observations.

First the EF 70-300 USM DO. This is a much maligned product that Canon launched way back in 2004. The idea was that they wanted a high quality tele-zoom lens for full frame that was ultra compact and relatively free of common lens aberrations. Canon had already experimented with “Diffractive Optics”, which is where the “DO” comes from. That was the 400mm f/4.0 L DO. This lens is basically a “pro” version of the already spendy 75-300 USM IS which retails out in the $600 range.

Diffractive Optics are just a fancy name for modernised Fresnel lenses. That said, Canon has done a great job making a very short (albeit quite chubby) lens for such a long reach. The positives are that indeed the lens is nearly free of any disturbing aberrations, is built very well to nearly “L” standards (but no weather seal), and truly is compact when zoomed to the widest setting. The negatives are mediocre sharpness at the tele end, sub-par performance for the image stabilizer, and a price tag that makes Warren Buffett say, “How much was that again, really”? Yes Canon is quite proud of their 21st Century adaptation of the Augustin-Jean Fresnel 19th Century invention that bears his name. The lens currently retails for around $1400.

But I got mine for a sweet deal used, frankly a bit beat up. The optics however are in perfect shape so there is no excuse for any optical issues. Yet there are some optical issues. The 200-300mm range is a tad soft. It isn’t unacceptably soft if not for the gold-plated price. As I mentioned the IS is not up to Canon’s typical amazing standard. It does work mind you, but I don’t think it is much better than 1.5 to 2 stops on my DSLR and on the M5 it just sux. Honestly a lens with a f/5.6 opening at the tele-end needs a good stabilizer. It is however sharper than many people in the photographic review business suggest. I read several reviews that rated this lens pretty dismal on tele sharpness. Perhaps the expectation based on the King Midas list price effected the “sharpness” they did or didn’t see. I don’t know, but I found it to be moderately sharp at the tele end and razor-sharp at the 70mm setting. I have images at the bottom of the page from all the lenses in this post.

I do like how small the lens is when zoomed to 70mm. It fits nicely into my Real Estate photo bag. That is a Tamrac 612 with an EOS 5D Mark III and Grip, 16-35mm L, Samyang 12mm, EX 580 flash, and this lens. Optically it is good enough but again, at $1400 Canon needed this thing to be sharper. If it had to be soft somewhere, it should have been at the short end where fewer shots will be made. I got a sweet enough deal that I don’t mind its short comings. This lens, unlike the non ‘DO’ version has the true ring type ‘USM’ that offers full-time instant manual focus and a whole lot of that legendary Canon focus speed. Honestly unless you ‘steal’ one of these by sniping it on an eBay auction for less than $350, I’d stick with the cheaper non ‘DO’ or step up to the 70-300 L which other than size, is better in every measurable way, and only about $50 more money..

Before I start this next segment, I have to issue a Capitalism Alert! I do have a couple of lenses for sale right now on my ebay store that I may just mention in this post. OK, fair enough, I WILL mention in this post 😉 Some time back when I got my first EOS M camera, I bought one of those old Canon Rebel 35mm series compact tele lenses. The EF 80-200 f/4.5-5.6 USM. This was a lens that back in the 90s no one liked because it was an early adopter of the plastic lens mount. Ew, Yuck, plastic, so cheap… blah, blah, blah. Well plastic is a big part of our lives now and that doesn’t seem to bug people like it did back then. Well I bought one on the cheap to use on my EOS M body. It is so small and light and at that time Canon still had no native tele-zoom. Even with the bulky EF adapter that little lens was super handy. The lens is awesome for what it is. And these things can be had online or at camera shows, like the upcoming PhotoFair in Newark, CA on June 3rd. I issued a capitalism alert earlier that covers this shameless plug for our Camera Show 😉 Oh yes, I am selling the 80-200 here.

Eventually I decided I wanted a stabilizer. Serious once you go ‘stable’ there is just no going back. So I found another fantabulous deal. It’s a word, I just invented it, so it’s real. I bought a Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS. This lens had already been replaced with a Mark II version so it was around a hundred bucks used in minty condition. In all fairness it was nearly twice the size of the 1990s full frame 80-200 but this lens had a stabilizer and 20% more tele-reach as well as some additional room at the wide end. This lens of course is only APS/C so it would not work on my full frame DSLR. I tossed the old 80-200 rebel lens in my Realtor® bag as an emergency back up tele in case I needed some reach on a shoot. I never like carrying my relatively bulky and heavy 200/2.8 L in the small real estate bag. Anyhow, that little 55-250 is a truly amazing lens. Sure it is cheaply made and there is no USM, but this is a lens that can be found under $100. It is very sharp, I mean genuinely sharp. I have three L lenses, I know sharp! The stabilizer works amazing. It gave me legit 3-4 stop performance and remember on a crop sensor camera like the EOS-M, any Rebel or xxD bodies it shoots like a 400mm. BAM! I could nail tack sharp shots at 1/30th at least 1/2 the time and almost every single time at 1/60th fully zoomed in 🙂 But this lens needed to be mounted on the EF adapter to work on the M series cameras and that made to overall package chunky in the little travel bag I use with that body. I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to bite the proverbial bullet and just buy the native lens for the body. This amazing 55-250mm is for sale here.

The native tele-zoom for the EOS M series cameras is the ridiculously small, EF-M 55-200mm STM IS. Canon is quite proud of this little plastic fantastic and now that I own one, I see why. First, it is sharper than the Rebel 80-200 but not quite as pin sharp as the EF-S 55-250mm. That 55-250 is ridiculously sharp for a econo lens. But this lens needs no adapter, so it is smaller by far than either of the other tele-zooms mentioned above for the purpose of using on an EOS M series body. I waited a long time because frankly the biggest turn off was the stupid slow f/6.3 at the tele end. f/5.6 is slow enough. That was my major hang up other than Canon’s USA list price of $350. I kept justifying the bulkier EF-S lens because it was faster and longer, there for better. It was also cheap 🙂 The native lenses however come with their own advantages. First they do focus quicker than a EF or EF-S lens on the adapter. They also have the full-time manual focus override that automatically zooms the focus window to 5x and activates the focus peaking feature (you have to enable these in the settings first). No need to switch a button or change modes, just twist the focus ring (while keeping light pressure on the shutter release) and presto! That is very cool. The IS works nearly as well as the ridiculously good EF-S 55-250mm. This lens is so crazy tiny that I can get an additional lens in my travel kit. What the hell was I waiting for?

So there is a tele-zoom bonanza and I will be reviewing the Kamlan 50mm f/1.1 lens that is available for a variety of mounts including NEX, 4/3, and EF-M in the future. Photos with the lenses in this post are below.

dog barking

Maggie barking at the wind. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 70-300 USM IS DO

picture of cat yawning

Muffin is tired, again. EOS 5D Mark II with EF USM 70-300 IS DO

picture of dog

Maggie on the back stoop, EOS 5D Mark II with EF 80-200 f4.5-5.6 USM

man cutting hair

Hair cutting demo at trade show, Canon EOS M5 with EF-S 55-250 IS

picture of cat

Socks, EOS M5 with EF-M 55-200 IS STMpicture of cat

Muffin, EOS M5 with EF-M 55-200 IS STM

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