Monday, April 24, 2017

Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art Lens for Micro Four Thirds Review

Image © Sigma


I'm going to be very straight forward from the get go on this one.  I've had some pretty bad experiences with Sigma DSLR lenses in the past.   Hunt focusing issues, back and front focus and if you ready any of the forums - plenty of reports of compatibility issues.

However, this is a new era and the mirrorless cameras use a slightly different focusing system.  So, lets say we give Sigma another chance.  How does it fair now with a Micro Four Thirds System?

All images taken with the Olympus PEN-F.

1/320, f/2.8, ISO 200


A medium size lens when compared to other m43 lenses.  The focus ring is large and smooth.  There are minimal markings on the lens as well.  The copy I have is the black version.

There is not much weight to the lens.  

When not attached to a camera and powered on, there is a clunking sound.  This is because Sigma is using a floating elements system to align the glass.  This sound is normal and stops once the camera is powered on.

1/125, f/4, ISO 250
1/250, f/4, ISO 200

Image Quality

Even wide open the optical quality for this lens is superb.  While I will not go out there and say that the lens is just as good as the legendary Olympus 75mm f/1.8 to which it is often compared.

Used, I picked up this lens for $130.  When compared to the Oly 75/1.8, which is up near $600-800, this lens is a bargain performer for sure.

Shooting at f/2.8 is great and usually more than adequate.   Colors are rich and contrasty and flare seems well controlled.

Sigma has had a good modern reputation in optics, being as good or better than the OEM equivalents, so seeing the IQ here being so high is no surprise.

1/1600, f/4, ISO 200

1/500, f/2.8, ISO 200


The elephant in the room for me.  So how does it perform?

As many know, the benefit of the mirrorless contrast detect AF systems eliminates a lot of the focusing issues that plagued the Nikon F-mount Sigma lenses I've experienced in the past.  This is a great thing!   I've not even noticed any hunting issues.

Kudos for Sigma making this lens perform to a level that I find acceptable.

1/125, f/2.8, ISO 2500

1/1250, f/3.5, ISO 200

Bottom Line

The only major issue that I see with this lens is the roughly 2 second delay from a cold camera start.  While not a deal breaker, it is definitely an annoyance.
The one minor issue I found was the smooth focus ring can make using manual focus a little difficult sometimes.  A  bit of texture for a more positive feedback would be nice.   Even so, not many would probably use this lens in its manual focus configuration anyway - there is not much need to do so as the auto focus works just as you'd hope it would.

The lens is a bargain and a good longer focal length and field of view (roughly 120mm).   For those looking for an alternative to the Oly 75mm this Sigma is a good first choice if you want a lens that retains auto focus. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nikon 55mm f/3.5 pre-AI Micro-Nikkor Lens Review


A very capable and sharp near 1:1 macro lens, this sharp wide open gem is inexpensive and another great legacy lens.  Read on to see our impression of this pre AI lens.


Very similar in size to the Nikon 105/2.5 AI lens, this lens is missing the AI or aperture indexing ridge on the aperture ring.  This means that it may not be able to be mounted on some cameras safely without modification.  I'm using it adapted on the Olympus PEN-F and the Nikon Df.

On the Df, you need to flip the aperture indexing tab up, so as not to damage it.

1/100, f/3.5, ISO 250 - Olympus PEN-F
You then enter the lens info into the camera as a non-ai.  Then in order to register accurate EXIF, you turn the aperture ring to the desired size, then also spin the command dial to match

It is all metal construction, so it does have weight to it, but not something that I would consider "heavy".
1/400, f/3.5, ISO 200 - Olympus PEN-F

Image Quality

Even at f/3.5, this lens is super sharp. Stopping down increases sharpness a bit.
I'll let images speak here.

1/1250, f/3.5, ISO 200 - Olympus PEN-F

1/80, f/4, ISO 100 - Nikon Df


Being a macro lens, the focus throw is longer than a standard optic.  It is not too bad, but going from infinity to close focus takes more than one turn.  I still found it easy to manually focus the lens on either body I used.

1/100, f/3.5, ISO 100 - Nikon Df

1/125, f/3.5, ISO 100 -  Nikon Df

Bottom Line

Not the fastest 55mm lens, but it's hard to beat the price to quality ratio here.  A solid build, excellent optics and a used price that is worth the experiment.  An experiment for me turned into a keeper lens.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Zhongyi Creator 85mm f/2 Lens Review


This was an impulse buy at a local camera store.  For the sub $100 price tag I took a chance.  I already have the Nikon 105/2.5 AI lens, but something told me to give this lens a chance.

Read on to see how it performs

1/100, f/2, ISO 1000 - PEN-F


A much heavier lens than you'd think, but this Zhong Yi Mitakon Creator 85mm f/2 lens is all metal and glass.  It seems very non-descript when looking at it.

The aperture ring is click-less, with slight detentes to let you know when it has gone from one aperture setting to another.  It is a very smooth operating ring.  Aperture range is f/2 to f/22.

It is roughly the same size as the Nikon 105/2.5 AI lens, but might be just a slight bit wider in diameter.

The focus ring is smooth as well.

This lens is a native Nikon F-mount, but I have been using quite a bit on on the Olympus PEN-F.

1/640, f/2, ISO 200 - PEN-F

Image Quality

What can you expect from this sub $100 lens?   Well, I think you get more performance out of it than the cost would suggest.

It is a little dreamy at f/2, but as soon as you go to f/2.8 or f/4, the minute amount of haze is gone and it sharpens right up.

The bokeh is fairly good as well, rendering smooth backgrounds on all the sample images I've taken.

1/250, f/8, ISO 200 - PEN-F

1/160, f/4, ISO 200 - PEN-F


This is the real Achilles Heal of this lens.  Yes, it is very smooth and you can be accurate for sure, but it takes almost 3 full turns on the focus ring to go from close focus to infinity.  It is a bit of a pain in that regard, but it might be of benefit for someone looking to use it as a video lens.

1/125. f/4, ISO 200 - PEN-F

1/1250, f/4, ISO 200 - PEN-F

Bottom Line

I've not had the lens long, but the images I've gotten from it I really like.  Would it be my first choice, not really...but it is fun to use and I like the rendering it produces.  New, these lenses run $200, so color me impressed by Zhong Yi.  So much so by this lens that I sprung for a Mitakon Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95 in micro four thirds.

One last thing of note.  I tried running this lens on my Nikon Df.  In theory it "should" work in both manual and aperture priority mode.  However, after doing some extensive testing - the Df metering system does not play well with the ZhongYi.

It does work fine in live view mode in aperture priority, though.  In straight up aperture priority mode, when shooting with the optical viewfinder - it always massively over exposes.  full manual mode is the only way to get it to work reliably.That is not an optimal way of shooting for me.  So, this lens will most likely be used for video on the Nikon D500 or as an adapted lens for the Olympus PEN-F.

Monday, April 17, 2017

ZY Optics Mitakon Speedmaster 25mm f/0.95 Lens Review

Image ©ZYOptics


Dubbed the "Speedmaster" for its fast, f/0.95 aperture, this Micro Four Thirds mount manual focus lens provides a small size lens with fast aperture.  It's main competitor is the Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f/0.95.  All images here are taken with the Olympus PEN-F.

1/100, f/0.95, ISO 6400


Even given it's diminutive size, this lens is all metal and glass, making it a bit heavier than you would expect.  When compared to its main competitor, though it is smaller, lighter and half the price brand new.  The ZhongYi Optics comes in around $399 new, while the Voigtlander will put you back $799.

Many other reviewers have compared the 2 and I'll let you explore the internet for those.

The aperture ring is clickless, which, when used for photography can be a bit of a struggle.   Moving the aperture by feel is no longer possible and there are no electronic contacts in the lens, so the actual aperture value is not visible in the EVF.  Having the option to turn the clicks on and off, as in other lenses similar to this one would have been great.

1/6400, f/1.2, ISO 200
The focus ring is in the back and the aperture ring is toward the front of the lens.  They are close together and initially I found myself accidentally turning the wrong ring.  We'll see how long it will take for muscle memory to kick in and rectify that.

Focusing is well dampened and smooth.   Getting exact focus is quite easy for me.   I use a high intensity yellow peaking on the Olympus PEN-F.

Overall the lens feels quality, even with the very basic engravings on it.

For those who subscribe to the Micro Four Thirds ethos of small size matters, then this lens will definitely fit that.

1/640, f/4, ISO 200

3 Image stitched panorama
1/1000, f/4, ISO 200

Image Quality

Some people think that older lens designs, even prime lenses, are not as good as the modern equivalents.  There might be some truth to that statement if we get into a "measurebating" analysis.  I, however, do not fully agree.  While it might be true that on paper one lens may be sharper than another, there is more to a lens than the overall sharpness.  My belief is that there is a threshold of "sharp enough" or acceptable sharpness that is good enough for me.  The 105mm/2.5 AI lens certainly falls into that category and then some.

If we look at the lens at f/2.5, this is probably where the lens is at its weakest.  Even with that, the wide open performance is still plenty acceptable.  Stopped down even a little bit to f/4 and it is very sharp.

I find that I like the rendering of the Nikon 105mm lens as well.

Looking to the Speedmaster f/0.95, I found center sharpness was good to exceptional at all apertures from 0.95 through f/11.  The corners progressively get better as you stop down.

At f/0.95 I expected the lens to be a bit dreamy, like the other ZY lens I have the Creator 85mm f/2.  That does not seem to be the case though.  Optically, this appears to be quite a good performer.

1/4000, f/4, ISO 200

1/2500, f/4, ISO 200


As stated previously, I use yellow focus peaking on the Olympus PEN-F.  That can be a challenge when shooting hand held at f/0.95 in low light situations.   Challenging - yes, impossible - no.  Use the zoom function to assist you as well.

The smooth focus ring makes getting exacting adjustments easy to do.

Close focusing distance is useful.  You are not getting macro close, but it should suffice for most peoples usage.

1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 200

1/100, f/1.2, ISO 640

Bottom Line

This is a fun, fun, fun lens to use.  For some people this would be a specialty lens, used for special occasions and most likely wide open.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI Lens Review


Considered by most Nikon lens aficionados as one of the must have manual focus lenses, I took the leap and snagged this lens up from a local camera store.

1/400, f/4, ISO 200 - PEN-F


This lens covers the FX sensor size.  Given that fact you might think that a 105mm f/2.5 lens should be rather on the large size.  That is not the case with this lens.

An all metal build gives the lens some heft to it, but I would not consider the lens to be "heavy".

Used on the Nikon Df and adapted to the Olympus PEN-F, the balance feels right on either camera, although it is a little more lens heavy on the PEN-F, as one might expect.

Being an AI (aperture index) lens, setting up the Df in the menus to accept the lens allows the aperture index lever to accurately report the cameras settings in the EXIF data.

1/125, f/4, ISO 1000 - PEN-F
1/200, f/2.5, ISO 200 - PEN-F

Image Quality

Some people think that older lens designs, even prime lenses, are not as good as the modern equivalents.  There might be some truth to that statement if we get into a "measurebating" analysis.  I, however, do not fully agree.  While it might be true that on paper one lens may be sharper than another, there is more to a lens than the overall sharpness.  My belief is that there is a threshold of "sharp enough" or acceptable sharpness that is good enough for me.  The 105mm/2.5 AI lens certainly falls into that category and then some.

If we look at the lens at f/2.5, this is probably where the lens is at its weakest.  Even with that, the wide open performance is still plenty acceptable.  Stopped down even a little bit to f/4 and it is very sharp.

I find that I like the rendering of the lens as well.

1/125, f/2.8, ISO 3200 - PEN-F
1/160, f/2.5, ISO 200 - PEN-F


The focus ring on my copy is very smooth with a hard stop at infinity.  I'm able to go from closest focus to infinity with one turn.  The front element does move in and out when turning the focus ring.

The focus throw is great, giving one the ability to be very accurate with minute adjustments.

1/125, f/4, ISO 1000 - PEN-F

Bottom Line

Having this as my first experience with a manual focus lens was a great choice.  It ticked all the boxes for size, portability, image quality and ease of focusing.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A New Rabbit Hole - Manual Focus Lenses

From left to right
Zhong Yi Mitakon Creator 85mm f/2, Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI, Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Micro Nikkor pre-AI

I started my photography journey in that time period right as film SLRs were being surplanted by the DSLR.

I had and used a Nikon N90s with a 35-70/3.3-4.5 lens.  Not the cream of the crop to be sure, but it did quite well for me in that transitional period until I was able to afford a Nikon D50.

Even at that time, the predominant lens type to use were ones with auto focus.  Other than a few times needing to override a tricky shooting situation, AF was always accurate enough for what I needed 99% of the time.  Manual focus only lenses were not something I thought about or considered.

Chatting with some friends, the discussion took to manual focus lenses, specifically of Nikon F-mount variety and how great primes from the bygone era are available used and inexpensive in most cases.

So I did a little research, stopped by my local camera stores and did a little snooping.

I walked out of the one store with a Nikon 105/2.5 AI.   I had already toyed with adapting Nikon F lenses on my Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, so I already had an adapter purchased, a Fotodiox brand.

I'm now hooked on the fun, functionality, and image quality of these lenses.  You might be asking yourself, "Why did the other Nikon F mount lenses you tried before not peak your interest in manual lenses?"  That is a good question, and the answer is simple.  Even the older AF D type Nikon lenses sacrifices manual focus ergonomics for auto focus speed.  I found that, at least with the lenses that I had access to, the AF throw was very short and often did not allow for enough precision to make using them in a manual focus mode practical.  Not to mention that a lot of the lenses would have a very small and difficult to find/use focus ring.

This is not the case with the lenses purpose built to be used as manual focus.  The focus rings are buttery smooth.  The focus throw is long enough to make exacting adjustments, without being too long.  Going from closest focus to infinity is not impossible to do with just one turn of the focus ring.

The Nikon Df is a great platform for using manual focus lenses.  You can setup the non-AI and AI lens types in the camera menu for accurate EXIF data input.
It has an adjustable aperture indexing tab.  This allows lenses with the aperture indexing notch to accurately report the aperture in use when you turn the aperture ring on the lens.  For the pre-AI lenses, the aperture indexing tab folds back to prevent it from getting damaged.  Note that a pre-AI lens does not have the proper clearance for a lot of the modern DSLRs indexing tab.  I bring this up because you'll want to make sure that you do not damage your camera mounting a lens on incorrectly or one that is not compatible with your camera body.   Before mounting a vintage lens, do your research and make sure that the manufacturer has the lens on their compatibility list.

Another great feature of the Df is the focus confirmation lights in the viewfinder.  Older and entry level Nikon DSLRs have just one light to confirm focus.  The Df contains 3.  The same dot as all the others, but 2 additional indicators, arrows, to show in which direction you should turn the focus ring to be in focus.  This, along with what you see through the optical viewfinder, helps you nail that focus.

A great option for using these Nikon lenses is to adapt them to a  mirrorless camera.  My mirrorless of choice is the Olympus PEN-F.   Using a Fotodiox Nikon to m43 adapter is easy.  The PEN-F also allows an option to register your non-native lenses in the camera for accurate EXIF.

Bonus on the adapted lens route is the fact that you do not need to be concerned with hurting anything like the AI lever because there is none.

After thoroughly enjoying the Nikon 105/2.5, I do more research.

The favorites seem to be the 105mm ,135mm, and the fast 50mm/1.2 AIS lens.  For longer focal lengths, the Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AIS ED is touted as a must grab.  The Nikon macro range lenses are also much appreciated, like the 55mm/3.5 and f/2.8.

Back into the camera stores I go...and I walk out with 2 more manual focus lenses for under $100 each.  The Nikon 55mm f/3.5 pre-AI and a surprise lens - still in F mount but not a Nikon branded lens.  It is the Zhongyi Creator 85mm f/2.  I recently shot both these lenses in Yellow Springs, OH.   Decided to do some street photography with them, to good effect.

I've been bitten, and bitten hard by this manual focus lens bug.  While I would not necessarily use these for my paying jobs (I require speed/accuracy of the AF systems I use), they are a great, often over looked optic that are really fun to use.

I did not delve deeply into the actual lenses themselves in this post.  I plan on doing a review of each lens separately.  Going over the pro/con of each with sample images.  I'll add more reviews of additional manual focus lenses as I acquire them.