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New lenses: Optical exotica

One of the characteristics of the contemporary photo industry has been the emergence of a new cohort of lens manufacturers, most but not all out of China.

While the Nikons and Canons and Sigmas and Tamrons have the resources to get news out of their latest and greatest products, we’ve been struck recently by the sheer number of lenses from smaller manufacturers which barely see the light of day. Many of these are remarkably affordable manual lenses, while some manufacturers such as Samyang while starting with a manual range are now offering AF as well. Others, such as the Laowa Macro Probe, are delightfully different. The smaller lens makers have been quick to come out with options for the new full-frame mirrorless formats.

We’ve gone back over the last six months or so to put together a loose complilation of second tier manufacturers and their new releases:

Irix 150mm Macro ‘Dragonfly’ (Full-frame DSLRs)

Boutique Swiss lens manufacturer Irix has moved from specialising in wide lenses to a weather-sealed, full-frame telephoto macro lens; the 150mm F2.8 Macro 1:1 ‘Dragonfly’. It’s a manual lens.

The 1:1 reproduction lens is available for Nikon F, Canon EF and Pentax K mounts and claims to have ‘close to zero distortion.’ Irix is claiming just 0.1 percent thanks to the optical construction consisting of 12 elements in nine groups.

Irix promotes the long focal length as a boon for macro photographers: ‘No shadows are cast on the object and it is also possible to use lamps dedicated to this type of photography.’ Its internal focusing mechanism means the lens won’t move forward when focusing.

The construction of the lens features a new ‘Dragonfly’ finish: ‘The aluminium frame has been enclosed in an external structure made of aluminium-magnesium alloys and composite elements, giving the lens lightness and solidity while maintaining high mechanical strength and resistance in difficult weather conditions.’ It has 11 aperture blades and weighs around 800 grams and has been extravagantly praised in reviews.

The Irix Dragonfly is priced at just US$595. There is no Australian distributor.

iZuger 3.5mm super fisheye (M4/3)
Hong Kong-based company iZugar has announced the MKX22, a 3.25mm f2.5 super fisheye lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras that offers a huge 220-degree angle of view – allowing it to almost seen behind itself. Kind of.

iZugar says this fisheye lens – 7mm in 35mm terms – offers ‘edge-to-edge sharpness’ with 4K video compatibility, a 0.6m minimum focusing distance, fully circular 10mm design, and extra-slim build for better parallax control.

The lens can be used with a range of M4/3 cameras including the Panasonic range. The company offers a full reference guide showing FOV for these cameras at various resolutions.

iZuger does have an Australian distributor, and the 3.5mm super fisheye has a local RRP of $598.

Kamlan 7.5mm f3.2 (M4/3)
Chinese optical manufacturer Kamlan Optical has also announced a Micro Four Thirds fisheye, this time a 7.5mm f3.2 lens, which joins an existing range of manual focus primes for APS-C and MFT systems.

The Kamlan FS 7.5mm f3.2 provides an angle of view of 160 degrees with seven elements in six group construction. It focuses as close as 10cm and has a minimum aperture offF16. It measures 48x58mm, weighs 250g  and has a price of just US$169. There’s also an 8mm f3 Micro Four Thirds in the line up, along with another US$169 lens Kamlan calls the ‘Bokeh Master’, a 50mm f1.1 in Sony E, Fuji X, M43 and Canon EF-M mounts.

Kamlan doesn’t seeem to have a local distributor.

Laowa 9mm f2.8 Zero-D (M4/3, APS-C, other mounts)
Chinese-based Laowa has only been manufacturing lenses since 2013, but has been responsible for some quite ‘out there’ lenses, mainly wide-angle, in that time. It’s been pretty prolific with new releases in the last six months or so, and as Laowa lenses are available in Australia (via distributor, Radbitz), we will look at a range of new models from this maker.

A recent release was the Micro Four Thirds variant of the Laowa 9mm F2.8 Zero-D lens, adding to the Fuji X, Sony E, Canon EF-M and DJI DL versions. Like Laowa’s other ‘Zero-D’ lenses (‘D’ for ‘distortion’ ), the lens is designed to have minimal distortion despite its short focal length.

The 9mm F2.8 Zero-D lens features 15 elements in 10 groups, including two aspherical elements and three extra-low dispersion elements, and a seven-blade aperture diaphragm.

The M4/3 version features a 100-degree angle of view, differing 13 degrees from the 113-degree angle of view on the APS-C mounts. It weighs 210g and street price is under $800.

Laowa 15mm f2 Zero-D (Full-frame mirrorless)
Laowa claims the 15mm f2 Zero-D is the ‘widest f2 rectilinear native lens for full-frame mirrorless cameras’ – and who would have the gall to dispute that?

The Laowa 15mm f2 Zero-D is now available for Canon’s RF mount and Nikon’s Z mount and features 12 elements in 9 groups, including two aspherical elements and three extra-low dispersion elements. It has a minimum focusing distance of 15cm, five aperture blades (there are seven found in the Sony E mount version), a 72mm front filter thread, 500g weight and 82mm length. The new models also feature the ability to ‘de-click’ the aperture ring.

The Canon RF and Nikon Z mount versions of this lens have a street price of $1270 and are due in the next few weeks.

Laowa 10-18mm F4.5-5.6 Zoom (Nikon Z, Sony FE)
The Laowa 10-18mm F4.5-5.6 Zoom is ‘currently the widest full frame zoom lens in the market’ and is ‘the smallest in its class,’ according to the Laowa spinmeisters. This model is only available in Nikon Z and Sony FE mounts so far.

It’s constructed 14 elements in 10 groups, including two aspherical elements and one extra-low dispersion element. It has a minimum focusing distance of 15cm, five aperture blades, a 37mm rear filter thread, weighs 500g and measures 87mm in length. It also has the ‘de-clickable’ aperture ring.

The rear of the lens has a 37mm filter thread for adding filters to, as well as a 100mm magnetic filter holder system for the front of the lens.

The full-frame Laowa 10-18mm retails for around $1360.

Laowa 24mm f14 Macro Probe (full-frame DSLRs)
Here’s something different – the Kickstarter-funded Laowa 24mm macro lens captures 2x life size images down a 40cm barrel. The Laowa 24mm f14 Macro Probe lens is designed to produce extreme macro on full frame bodies, and to reach subjects that are hard to approach with conventional macro lenses.

The tip of the lens measures just 2cm across and houses a ring of USB-powered LED lights for focus assistance and for lighting the subject. Animals in burrows and underwater can be photographed as the end of the probe lens is water- and dustproof, and the LED lights can be used. The closest focus-distance is 2cm, for the maximum reproduction ratio of 2:1.

A wide angle focal length has been chosen to deliver more depth of field, while the size of the front element allows for a truly ground-level view.

Constructed using 27 elements in 19 groups Laowa claims this is the first lens of its type to be available on a consumer level. It uses a 7-bladed aperture and apertures from f14 to f40. The unit is 408mm long and weighs 474g. It is available in Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony FE and Pentax K and Arri PL mounts.

The lens is available from $2349 – probably by special order in Australia.

Laowa 100mm f2.8 ‘Ultra Macro’ (full-frame DSLRs)
The Laowa 100mm f2.8 Ultra-Macro APO lens  can achieve 2:1 magnification and joins the company’s 60mm f2.8 with the same magnification ratio to create a solid range of macro optics.

The lens will be available for Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony FE mounts. The Canon model is chipped and has an aperture motor to enable body-controlled aperture changes, and for EXIF data to be stored in the image. The Canon version will also has a nine-bladed iris, while the Nikon model features a seven-blade aperture diaphragm. The Sony FE version, on the other hand has no less than 13 aperture blades.

Street price is around $750.

Lomography Petzval 50mm f1.7 (full-frame mirrorless)
European back-to-the-future merchant Lomography has announced that is is taking orders for the Kickstarter-funded Petzval 55mm F1.7 MKII, its first lens designed specifically for full-frame mirrorless cameras.

According to Lomography, the lens ‘is created with discerning photographers and filmmakers in mind’ and ‘designed to allow full creative flexibility, with its 7 levels of Bokeh Control and Dual Aperture system.’ Like other Lomography lenses, the Petzval 55mm f1.7 MKII comes with various plates to shape the bokeh in images.

The lens is available Sony E, Canon RF and Nikon Z mounts and comes in three varieties: black brass (US $499), satin-finish brass (US$449) and black anodized aluminum (US$399). Pre-orders are open now; the first units are expected to ship this month, with brass versions in August.

Lomogon 32mm f2.5 Feb 2019

Apertures are dialled in via a wheel on the side of the Lomogon.

Another odd one from Lomography: the Lomogon 32mm f2.5 is a compact lens with full frame sensor coverage and a unique wheel of aperture stops (f2.5, f4, f5.6, f8, f/11) that protrudes from the barrel.

The Lomogon uses 6 coated elements in 6 groups, has a 62mm filter thread and a closest focus distance of 0.4m. Developed with Russian manufacturer Zenit and built in China, Lomography says the Lomogon uses ‘the finest glass optics’ and is hand-built. The result is high ‘micro-contrast’ and ‘enhanced colours’. It will be available in Nikon F and Canon EF mounts, and adapters can be used for other camera fittings.

Lomography has limited Australian distribution including Michaels in Melbourne and Leederville Cameras in WA.

Meike 85mm f1.8 (Sony FE)
Hong Kong-based Meike is among a group of lens makers coming out with Sony FE-mount models, in this case the MK 85mm f1.8 manual focus lens.

The lens includes EXIF information transfer and is constructed of nine elements in six groups, with a nine-blade aperture diaphragm. It features a 67mm filter thread and a field of view of 28.5 degrees. Mieke has a large range of manual focus lenses at the budget end of the market from fisheye to 85mm, and so far one 85mm full-frame autofocus lens (Canon EF – at just US$220!). It manufactures in a broad range of mounts, including a Canon RF and Nikon Z-mount 50mm f1.7 for just US$270. Hard to find much in the way of local vendors, though.

Meike 50mm f1.7 (Canon R, Nikon Z)
Meike was quick to launch a 50mm f1.7 lens for the Canon EOS-R and Nikon Z full-frame cameras. This manual focus full-frame lens features 6 elements in 5 groups, 0.5m minimum focusing distance, a nanotechnology multi-layer coating, and 310 gram weight.

It sports a dust- and water-resistant design with a brushed metal housing and metal bayonet. The model is available  front and rear lens caps, a lens hood, pouch, and cloth for US$140.

Mitakon 50mm, f0.95 III (full-frame mirrorless)
Lenses MitakonZhong Yi Optics has launched the new Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f0.95 III lens with Sony FE, Canon RF, and Nikon Z-mount options. The new Mitakon lens features an f0.95-16 aperture range, with 10 element-in-seven-group constructions, including four extra-low dispersion elements and one ultra-high refraction element, and an 11-blade aperture diaphragm.

This wide-aperture compact prime lens is designed for low-light scenes, with a new optics design to improve flare resistance. The 50mm f0.95 lens features a metal body, 50cm minimum focusing distance, 67mm front filter thread, and weighs 720g.

Mitakon lenses are available in Australia if you shop around, although if there local distribution, they are trying to keep it to themselves. ZY Optics currently lists the Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm F0.95 III lens on its website for $799 USD. The older Mark II version of the lens is still available to purchase at $519 USD from select online retailers.

MS Optics Sonnetar 73mm f1.5 (Leica)
MS Optics is super-niche, hand-building Leica M-mount lenses in the style of Zeiss from a basement in Chiba, Japan. Latest release is a Sonnetar 73mm f1.5 FMC.

Inspired by his love for Zeiss’ Sonnar lenses, MS founder Mr Miyazaki created this medium telephoto lens with five elements in four groups and multi-coating on every surface for a 97.5 percent transmission rate.

The lens is 50mm in diameter, 56mm in length, and weighs just 197g. It uses a 49mm filter and hood thread size and can focus from 80cm.

All MS Optics lenses are limited release, with generally long waits for delivery as the lenses are effectively one-offs.  There is a range of other interesting lenses Zeiss classics.  Main outlet seems to be Japan Camera Hunter. It has the Sonnetar 73mm F1.5 FMC on sale for for US$1100. – For the Leica owner who wants to stand out from the other dentists?

7Artisans 60mm f2.8 Macro (all mounts)
7Artisans, another recently-established Chinese lensmaker, has announced a new 60mm macro lens which will be available in just about every lens mount available (although in smaller than full-frame formats it will have obviously have a longer focal length – eg, 120mm in M4/3). Previoulsy, 7Artisans has concentrated on the M4/3 and APS-C formats.

The maximum aperture is f2.8 and with the help of an optional extension tube users can expect to achieve 5x magnification for extreme macro photography.

It has a 10-blade aperture, weighs 550g and contains eight lens elements in seven groups. 7Artisans says the floating system on the front glass guarantees excellent image quality at infinity and 1:1 magnification.

It’s a manual focus lens, and the aperture ring has been de-clicked. Close focussing is 26cm. The lens has a street price of just US$159. If there’s local distribution, then once again its very hard to find.

Samyang MF 85mm f1.4 (Nikon Z)
Korean manufacturer Samyang (aka Rokinon) established itself with affordable manual focus lenses and has lately been releasing AF lenses as well.  Here are a few announced in April this year

The Samyang MF 85mm F1.4 Z is a fast manual focus portrait prime for Nikon’s Z range of full-frame mirrorless cameras. The lens has as minimum focus distance of 1m and a magnification of 0.09x. It’s also sealed against dust and moisture.

There’s also an Canon RF version (manual) and AF 85mm f1.4 models for Nikon F mount and Sony FE mount.

Manual versions of the 85mm f1.4 have a street price under $500. AF versions go up to around $1000.

Samyang MF 14mm f2.8 (full frame mirrorless, DSLR)
The Samyang MF 14mm f2.8 RF is a wide-angle manual focus lens for Canon’s full-frame RF-mount. There are also version for a range of other mounts: Canon EF, Canon RF, Nikon F, Nikon Z, Sony E, and Pentax. The minimum focus distance is 28cm, with a maximum magnification of 0.08x. The lens is sealed against dust and moisture.

Weight is 810g. It’s available in  at a street price of $500. Samyang also offers AF versions in Sony, Canon and Nikon mounts for around $900.

Local distributor is Maxxum:

SLR Magic
Cinema lens specialist SLR Magic has announced it will offer its MicroPrime range in the Fujifilm X mount. Designed for full frame sensors, the lenses will have a 1.5x angle of view shift when fitted on the APS-C Fujifilm X cameras.

The lenses have been available for some time in the Sony E mount (except for 12mm) and SLR Magic also offers a M43 range as well. All the lenses have the same external design and similar weight. They all have an 82mm filter thread and use the same 0.8 MOD gears.

The lens line up will consist of: 12mm T2.8, 15mm T3.5, 18mm T2.8, 25mm T1.5, 35mm T1.3, 50mm T1.2 and 75mm T1.5.

Local distributor is CR Kennedy:

The new lenses aren’t yet listed locally, but it appears they will have a local street price around $1200.

Techart Sony – Sony E-Mount > Nikon Z adaptor
Chinese lens adaptor specialist has announced the TZE-01, billed as the first autofocus adapter for using Sony E-mount lenses with Nikon’s Z series cameras.

With just 2mm difference in flange distance between Sony E and Nikon Z mounts, the Techart adapter to convert lenses in Sony E mount into Nikon Z had to be exceptionally thin.

The adapter has a PCB sandwiched between the electronic connectors on both sides of the adapter, making it possible to use both the Sony E-mount auto aperture and AF lens functions, even when using the Nikon Z’s Face and Eye detection.

Techart also claims its adapter allows the use of phase-detect AF to offer autofocus accuracy and speed close or better than native Z-mount lenses, and that EXIF and lens-based image stabilisation is also supported.

The adapter works with Sony E-mount AF lenses from Sigma, Sony, and Tamron (but not Samyang). The adapter is shipped with a lens dock for firmware upgrades. It looks like there are some local retailers stocking Techart, including Digidirect and Camera Electronics in Perth. The TZE-01 adaptor is US$249 on the Techart website

Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 (Canon EF, Nikon F)
Long-established Japanese lens manufactuer Tokina has launched the second lens in its Opera series, the Opera 16-28mm f2.8.  It is available in two versions for Canon EF and Nikon F DSLR mounts.

The lens joins the previously-released 50mm f1.4 in the Opera series.

Using 15 elements in 13 groups the Opera 16-28mm F2.8 weighs 940g and measures 89 x 133.5mm. It also offers a nine-bladed aperture and an upgraded AF system that is claimed to be both faster and more accurate than the AT-X 16-28mm F2.8 PRO FX. Tokina’s One-touch Focus Clutch Mechanism allows the photographer to switch between AF and MF simply by snapping the focus ring forward for AF and back toward the camera to focus manually.

Tokina 20mm f2 (Sony EF)
The Tokina Fírin 20mm f2 FE AF adds autofocus to its wide-angle prime option for Sony full-frame cameras. There’s a MF version as well. It  features three super-low dispersion elements alongside a pair of aspherical elements, an f2 to f22 aperture range, and a nine-blade diaphragm. In addition to full-frame Sony E mount cameras, this lens can also be used with APS-C models.

The new Firin lens range sports a multi-layer coating for minimizing ghosting and lens flare, as well as printed distance and depth of field scales on the lens barrel.

Electronic contacts are integrated into the mount design to permit communication of distance and aperture information to the camera body in order to support the use of focusing aids, in-camera image stabilization, and an EVF distance scale. The aperture ring can be ‘de-clicked’.

The AF version of this lens has a street price a little over $1000, the manual focus version – available in other mounts as well – is a little under $1000.

Viltrox 85mm Sony E
Yet another Chinese manufacturer,
Viltrox which has a prodigous selection of lens adaptors and extension tubes featured on its website, entered the lens market in late 2018 with a couple of Sony FE mount manual lens, an 85mm f1.8 and a 20mm f1.8, along with an 85mm f1.8 for Fuji X-mount.

It’s now added autofocus to the Sony 85mm, which is constructed of 10 elements in seven groups, including one extra-low dispersion element and four specialty elements. A ‘HD Nano’ multi-layer coating on individual elements minimises ghosting and flares.

A stepping motor (STM) is used to drive the autofocus and the lens features a minimum focusing distance of 80cm. The front filter size is 72mm and Vitrox says that integrated contacts power the aperture mechanism and deliver EXIF data to compatible Sony cameras.

The lens has a microUSB port for firmware upgrades. It weighs weighs 636g and has an offshore retail street price of under US$400.

Voigtlander 21mm f1.4 Sony EF May 2019
Voigtländer, a venerable European brand under which Cosina manufactures,  has announced its 21mm f1.4 Nokton lens for the Sony E mount. Although manual, the lens will have electronic contacts to transfer EXIF data to the camera and distance information from the lens will help the camera’s image stabilization system. Turning the focus ring on the manual focus lens will activate focus assist modes in the camera, and the aperture ring offers click-less operation for shooting videos.

The lens is constructed of 13 elements in 11 groups, features a 12-blade aperture diaphragm, and a shortest focus distance of 0.25m. It weighs 560g, measures 70.5mm x 79.5mm and takes a 62mm filter.

Distributor Mainline Photographics has the EF-mount Nokton 21mm F1.4 at $1695, with fresh shipments due in August. There is an extensive – and affordable – Voigtlander range available in Australia via Mainline.

Zenitar 50mm .95 March 2019
That old Russian brand Zenit has re-emerged with a 50mm F0.95 manual lens for Sony full-frame cameras.

The Zenitar 0.95 | 50, is fully manual. It features a fast aperture and a 14-blade diaphragm that Zenit says makes for perfectly round bokeh.

The lens is constructed of nine elements in eight groups and constructed entirely of glass and metal. It’s a heavyweight at 1.2kg.

The lens is stil on pre-order from the manufacturer for around US$800. Zenit doesn’t seem to have any local representation.


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