The Kamlan 50mm f1.1 version II is an ultra-fast full manual all-metal constructed 50mm f1.1 lens designed for the APS-C mount. The fast f1.1 aperture with the 75mm equivalent focal length produces a very shallow depth of field that is great for portrait photography. The lens also maintains a wide-open sharpness even at far distances making it a great choice for low light photography.
Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II Review
This review of the new and improved Kamlan 50mm f1.1 version 2, will be a little more portrait heavy since that is the primary purpose for such a lens as this. I’ve also worked in some night street photography.
|Focal Length: 50mm (75mm equiv)|
Focus System: Manual
Aperture Blade: 11 Circular Blades
Aperture: f1.1 – f16
Aperture Ring: DeClick
Elements: 8 elements in 7 groups
Coatings: I’m assuming it’s multi-coated.
Minimum Focus Distance: 40cm
Filter Threads: 62mm
Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II
What’s Good – Decently Sharp wide open, sharp at distance wide open, nice corner sharpness, great bokeh, beautiful rendering, great build quality, 11R aperture produces great bokeh even stopped down, very little cats eye bokeh, well priced.
What’s Bad – Some lateral CA, it will flare, only 180-degree focus ring.
Table Of Contents
- Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II Review
- Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II Impressions
- Build Quality
- Technical Overview
- Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II vs Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 Sharpness
- Art & Character
- Kamlan 50mm f1.1 Sample Photos
Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II Impressions
I have a lot to say about this lens and a lot of it stems from this idea constantly being pushed online that faster lenses are somehow better or more professional. In reality, faster lenses only offer you a different look – shallow depth.
Slower lenses also can often offer a different look, higher-micro contrast, usually better IQ, yet this is disregarded. I think this comes from this strange perception people get that because faster lenses are more expensive (since they require more materials to make right), they must be better. When really, you’re getting a tool that offers a different look, not necessarily a better look. Just because this lens is an f1.1 does not make it better than an f1.2 or f1.4 lens, but it is capable of producing very shallow depth with a good low light performance which is great in some situations.
The only reason I bring this up is that when you have fast lenses like this, you, or at least I have a tendency to shoot wide open all the time and with a manual focus lens, it completely kicks my ass. I shoot manual a lot, I’m good at it, and this lens still kicks my ass and miss out on a lot of shots because of this.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that shooting with an f1.1 manual focus lens might not be in your best interest. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, but also rewarding when you get it right. So know what you’re getting into. Yes, you can always stop down, but then you’ll get better image quality out of a lens designed for slower apertures.
I would say the ideal aperture for a 50mm APS-C street low light photographer would be f1.4. However, there are no f1.4 lenses that are as good and as cheap as this lens is even at f1.4 which makes this lens very appealing right now.
Ideally, you’ll really want this lens for shooting things that are still. Portraits and some low light travel stuff. The 180-degree focus ring makes it a little difficult to track subjects moving with precision. However, if you’re good about shooting at the appropriate aperture for the given situation, because of the 11R aperture blades, you really can take advantage of the great-looking bokeh even at slower apertures.
You can shoot street photography at night wide open with it but it’s very challenging and takes a lot of practice and patience. I found that I had to eventually change my style and really start shooting people that were not moving so much.
The look of this lens produces is incredible though. I love the way it renders, I love that it flares, I love the build quality, Kamlan just got so many things right. And by the way, I bought this lens like I do most of my lenses for my reviews.
Kamlan lenses have always had incredible build quality and the 50mm f1.1 version II is no exception.
There are few places in China that make really high-quality professional optics aside from the factories the big brands have set up.
I’ve heard some of the Kamlan lenses are assembled in the same facilities that Kipon uses and as you know, Kipon has some of the best mounts with the highest precision in the world and they also make very high-quality lenses as well.
I say that because I don’t want you to look at Kamlan with the same stigma as some of the cheap made in China products. Made in China is not always a bad thing, there are very high-quality products coming out of there like many of the new Nikon Z lenses. Even the Fujifilm X-T3 is made in China.
I’m not exactly sure what you will get when you order this lens, but my lens came with a metal lens hood and has a metal body. My lens also came with a 3-stop ND filter.
I’m not sure what you’ll get because Amazon says it comes with a plastic lens hood and says nothing about a 3-stop ND filter.
The lens has an all-metal construction, whether that’s a good thing or bad thing is debatable. Technically it’s better to make the outer shell of lenses out of plastic since it won’t ding as easily and it won’t hold heat as well. But, metal lenses feel cool and are more fun to use.
I have Samyang 50mm f1.2 lens that uses the plastic shell, and while the lens is technically better than this lens in some areas, it’s just doesn’t feel as cool and isn’t as fun to use.
Size and weight is good. It’s a little heavier than the 56mm f1.2 but the extra weight still isn’t cumbersome. I shot for four hours straight with it and never felt like it was an issue or too heavy.
Without the lens hood attached on either lens, it’s a touch smaller than the 56mm f1.2, with the hood it’s quite a bit smaller.
Focus & Aperture Rings
Both focus and aperture rings have the perfect amount of stiffness to them. They are very smooth, I would say the aperture ring is a little tougher to turn than the focus ring, but often this kind of thing is slightly different from copy to copy. This is even true for Fujifilm lenses.
My One Complaint
The focus ring only has a 180-degree rotation. I feel like it needs to be at least 200 degrees because trying to fine-tune focus or pull the focus to track with objects that are moving is just too difficult with this sensitive of a focus ring on a lens this fast.
The rear element comes right up to the edge of the mount to maximize the capabilities of the mirrorless design.
The front element is massive.
Overall the build quality is very high quality. No shortcuts were taken and everything feels very precise and well-tuned.
Sharpness actually blew me away. Those that read my first Kamlan 50mm f1.1 review, the version 1 review, probably saw that I didn’t really like that lens. I never really recommended it simply because it was only sharp in the very center. It was more of a micro four thirds lens that just happened to work for APS-C and it was a bad design.
By making the lens bigger, Kamlan was able to improve the sharpness across the frame and the lens has very impressive sharpness and it’s even decently sharp in the corners at f1.1. Although when dealing with the depth of field at f1.1 you’ll likely never notice even if it wasn’t sharp. Even the slightest tilt in my resolution chart causes the corners to go out of focus.
This lens also maintains it’s sharpness even at far distances. This is rare for lenses in this price range. That’s the big problem with most of those fast 7Artisans, Neewer and Meike lenses, is they don’t hold their sharpness at far distances.
At f1.1 you can see a little bit of a misty effect, however, you can still make out the details of the fine print, you can even slightly make out the little 10 at f1.1 which is very impressive. This haze clears up by f1.4 and the lens progressively gets sharper. At f4 sharpness is very good.
Corner sharpness is also good, no astigmatism either. You can’t really make out the little 10 until about f2, which means the corners at f2 are as about as sharp as the center is at f1.1. Which is pretty good. It’s possible I could get it better too, I just don’t focus for the corners, I only focus for the center of the chart so my alignment here isn’t necessarily perfect and what we could be seeing is a slightly out of focus at those lower apertures.
My lens does have a very slight decentric issue where the top is slightly sharper than the bottom. So it’s possible different copies could have slightly softer tops and slightly sharper bottoms with more balanced field curvature than what you see here.
Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II vs Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 Sharpness
It’s always difficult to tell just how sharp something is unless there is something to compare it to. So I’ve pulled up some patches from the might Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 charts to see.
Sorry, I couldn’t get white balance matching perfectly, I’ve since upgraded my chart to include a Kodak Color Control Patch and Kodak Grey Scale which I now use to get white balance. I’m also missing the f1.8 patch on the Fujifilm which I never shot.
I am also unable to tell you which lens is actually brighter at the moment. I just moved into a new place and can’t get a controlled enough environment for that yet.
Overall the Fujinon is a little sharper up until about f4 then it’s pretty close. I would argue that you are getting a little bit better tonal detail (micro-contrast) in the Fujifilm 56mm.
Still, the Kamlan is very good by comparison.
Here are some patches from a corner.
Does it matter that the Kamlan is not as sharp as the Fujinon?
Under studio conditions, it might, and probably at those longer distances when shooting wide open it the extra little bit of sharpness might help a little, but in the real world with more casually photography, there are so many factors that will prevent you from having perfect sharpness and detail that you’ll never be able to tell the difference in sharpness.
For example, motion blur will likely reduce sharpness, both with camera shake and subject motion, and high ISO / low light no matter what lens, what sensor, what camera, will always show a reduction in detail since there is less photonic resolution in low light (yes, I just made that term up), but it has to do with the spatial coherence of the light.
You’ll also likely rarely nail perfect focus if you’re shooting anything that moves. This is why I try to encourage people to not get too hung up on sharpness.
There is surprisingly very little vignetting with this lens. Here is a sample at f1.1.
Pretty much almost no distortion.
There are some chromatic aberrations in the out of focus areas that renders purple and green. I’m not seeing much CA on high contrast edges.
One big thing I notice about most third-party lenses or lenses from companies that haven’t been doing it for 100 years, is the flaring. It seems like all the big companies have their own proprietary coatings that almost completely eliminate flaring. Like with most Fujifilm lenses.
There is more to lens coatings than just flaring reduction though. All the internal elements are usually coated with something to help light transmittance and to reduce inner lens light scattering and reflecting which can cause serious issues in bright environments.
I haven’t had too many issues with this lens not performing well in bright environments and the contrast is actually decent even when getting hit with lens flares.
To see what madness I could unleash, I took off the lens hood and shot towards the sun. Some of the effects are really cool and you can’t get those with the higher quality coatings from the bigger brands. Also, I did tint the look of these a little orange with the split tones to compliment the effect.
I think this look is awesome and I love that you can still buy lenses that do this.
Art & Character
This is where the rubber meets the road and this is actually the main thing I really care about with lenses. Sure a lens has to be sharp, especially at distance and especially if it’s advertised as a fast lens, but a weakness at any of the above characteristics is more of a nuisance as long as the images still look cool.
A lens needs to be decently sharp, and too much distortion or vignetting can be annoying. While it’s great to see the Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II get within 90% of optical perfection, lenses have to still render cool looking images that are inspiring.
This is actually one of the problems I have with a lot of new modern lenses. The new Nikon 85mm f1.8 Z is pretty much perfect technically. I mean, it’s insane what that lens is, however, it’s a night and day difference between it and the Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 which has just a prettier rendering to it. The Fujinon is not nearly as good technically, but the images have more life. This is a real thing and significantly more important than corner sharpness and is why I spend so much time on this section in my reviews.
Depth Of Field / Bokeh
One thing nice about the Kamlan is the bokeh stays fairly circular as you stop down (close the aperture) and there is very little cats eye bokeh. This is something that can be very distracting. Some people don’t mind it, some people hate it.
Often when people look at the bokeh they get distracted by just the bokeh balls, but there is a special rendering that can happen which you will see in some lenses and not the other.
It’s hard to describe this and I always refer to it as focus falloff. This is the way the lens transitions from what’s in focus to what’s out of focus. Some lenses are very smooth and some lenses have a harsher fade.
The falloff with the Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II is actually really smooth. The images shot at f1.1 have this very soft and elegant look to them even more so than the Fujinon 56mm f1.2 and it’s very unique and pleasing.
And it is a different look. That’s what’s cool about all these fast lenses, you get something different from them. The Fujinon 56mm has like this puffier bokeh whereas the Kamlan seems a little more creamy. The Kamlan also maintains a nice bokeh when stopped down because of the 11R aperture, whereas the Fujifilm gets pretty gross once you get to about f2.
So if you had the Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II or the Rokinon 50mm f1.2, or the Fujinon 56mm f1.2, they’ll all have slightly different looks you can take advantage of.
The Kamlan 50mm f1.1 II just has fairly decent micro-contrast.
It’s important for lens designers to find the sweet spot for what their customers will accept. With big companies like Nikon, they have to bend knee to the sharpness and IQ keyboard warriors that run most of the big blog and youtube channels. That’s all anyone talks about anymore and is all anyone has been trained to be concerned with regarding lenses. What’s cool about smaller companies like Kamlan, is they aren’t scrutinized nearly as much and at their price point they’re able to get a little more experimental with their designs. Hopefully, there is an awaking and one day the big companies can make cool lenses again that aren’t just a solid barrel of glass designed solely for perfect corner sharpness at their widest aperture.
Compared to Fujinon lenses like the 56mm f1.2, the Kamlan looks like it has slightly less pop.
Here are some straight out of camera RAW files from the Fujifilm X-T3. Since the lens comes with an ND filter the first three shots have the ND filter.
Colors are good with this lens. No strange or strong shifts even with the ND filter. No color ring patterns. Highlights render well even in bright environments and the contrast is better than most of the less expensive third-party brands.
Kamlan 50mm f1.1 Review | Bottom Line
This lens is simply awesome. It has such a perfect balance between technical performance and its art and character. The only thing it’s missing that wouldn’t compromise the design is a little more throw on that focus ring. While 180 degrees is still good, I feel like I could use a little more, especially when trying to fine-tune focus on distant objects that are moving.
Other Lenses Like This One
Rokinon 50mm f1.2 – My review of the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 isn’t as pretty but it’s also a really nice lens. When it comes to IQ, for a third-party brand making lenses for APS-C cameras, Rokinon gets the closest to the quality of Fujinon, except they just don’t feel as cool and aren’t as fun as the Kamlan lenses. There is something about the Kamlan 50 that makes it fun that you don’t get from the Rokinon lenses even though their lenses are really good now.
Kipon 40mm f0.85 II – If you really want to get crazy with low light and have cash to burn, don’t forget about the Kipon 40mm f0.85 II. Kipon lenses are very high quality. This lens CA’s like a monster though, so bright light / high-contrast scenes aren’t going to be your friend. I think it could have benefited from using a few ultra-high refractive polymers instead of the all-glass design to keep the size down a little. I know the owner of Kipon is a purist so what he did makes sense and the lens is still pretty cool.
7Artisans 55mm f1.4 – This one didn’t quite hit it for me, but a lot of people like it for the price. Like a lot of the cheap lenses, it does struggle with sharpness at distance wide open.
BrightStar 50mm f1.4 – I just go this lens, I’ll be reviewing it soon. So far I think I like it more than the 7Artisans 50mm f1.4. It just has a little bit nicer colors, a little better contrast and bokeh. But I’ll need to do some more side-by-side comparisons.
Kamlan 50mm f1.1 Sample Photos
These samples are all shot with the X-T3 using RAW compressed. I limited the shutter to 1/200. That’s one thing great about the f1.1 aperture is you can keep that fast street photography shutter without digging too deep into your ISO.
These are all colored with my presets. I have a few new looks I’m experimenting with which is why things are a little more orange than usual. If you click the images there should be an option to view full size. WordPress now only lets us upload 2,500px sized images since the latest version for some reason so that’s all I can give you right now.