After collected more than a few lenses over the years and learning the hard way that some lenses can be great buys and others can be complete garbage, I wanted to report on my worst experience with a lens company and their lenses.
So what lenses are good and what lenses are terrible?
The Worst Lens Company Is . . .
Of all the lenses that I’ve been using, there is one clear looser . . . SLR Magic.
Be sure to read the this whole article because there are also a lot of really good things to say about SLR Magic and their lenses.
I really hate being a negative Nancy and calling out SLR Magic for their crap, especially because their lenses look so cool and feel so nice, I’ll even trying to show the best side of their lenses with the sample photos in this post.
SLR Magic has done something really cool with their lens design by making lenses for mirrorless cameras that are unlike anything else and have tons of character. For that I have to give them credit.
So what’s the problem?
It’s almost impossible to get a good copy!
I’ve ordered three of their lenses, the 35mm f1.2, the 50mm f1.1 and the 75mm f1.4 for my Sony A7rIII, the only lens that actually works as it’s suppose to is the 50mm f1.1, so I’ve sent the other two back. Now, the replacements are even worst. The new 35mm f1.2 has crap all over on of the inner elements and the 75mm f1.4 is even more decentered than the last one.
SLR Magic lenses feel tough and look cool with their amber lens coatings, but they are put together very poorly. I was showing one of the lenses to my wife who is Japanese, and you know how Japanese don’t buy Chinese stuff ever, she said, “It’s probably made by kids.” She’s probably right. Kids, Chinese slave labor, who knows, but it’s really bad and that sucks because these lenses are actually pretty cool.
Not only do these lenses have virtually no craftsmanship, they are also optically designed very poorly when it comes to filling a full frame sensor. Of course they are video lenses and aren’t really intended to fill a full frame photography sensor, since video usually crops to 16:9, but they are advertised as full frame lenses, so that’s how I’m reviewing them.
This is a pretty shot, but look at those edges!
SLR Magic Lens Design
Designing lenses is sort of like building a character in World Of Warcraft. You can’t have one lens that does it all and you have to specialize in certain attributes. It would seem the SLR Magic lenses are going for a very smooth bokeh with rich saturation, while sacrificing sharpness, edge and corner performance. I’ll admit, the bokeh on these lenses is very pretty, as it should be, they are cinema lenses and they do render some rather beautiful images and I’m impressed.
From a technical perspective, everything else about them just sucks. Especially the 75mm that just has no sharpness even when stopped down. The 50mm and 35mm aren’t so bad but still have very bad distortion and vignetting wide open.
When shooting video, a lot of the crap in the corners will get cropped at 16:9, and I’m sure SLR Magic really intended these as Super 35mm lenses and ok, that’s fine. Plus, typically in cinema, corner sharpness doesn’t matter as much. I’m ok with that too and the bad corner performance is forgivable in lenses like these.
While some of their lenses are fast, some of them have very poor performance wide open. Like the 50mm is really kind of pathetic at f1.1. The image almost looks like your shooting through a car windshield, losing all micro contrast and longitudinal chromatic aberrations become an issue. The 35mm f1.2 is however rather petty and I almost always shoot wide open with it when I can.
The 75mm lenses just isn’t sharp. It actually reminds me a lot of my Russia Jupiter 9. Beautiful bokeh and rendering, just no center sharpness.
These are easily the worst full frame lenses you can buy at the price they are listed at, and they are actually kind of expensive. Not because they lack character, but because quality control is really bad. One good lens out of five is just unacceptable. My first 35mm f1.2 was terribly decentered, my replacement has contact cement smeared all around one of the inner elements. The first 75mm I had was slightly sharper but the elements were decentered. This replacement is unusably decentered and not even remotely sharp.
Should You Buy SLR Magic Lenses?
If you want to play the roulette of trying to get a good copy of an SLR Magic lenses, I would say only get them if you’re using them for a super 35mm crop, like the A7r III or the A6500. I wouldn’t use these shooting full frame video on the A7s in a professional setting. For a student film or just shooting for fun, yeah sure, they render beautifully. Or if you’re like me and want an a beauty lens for street photography and don’t care about corner and edge performance, they are great.
I would also say, only buy these lenses if you can easily send them back for replacements as it might take you a few tries to get a good one.
Or, maybe buy three of them at once, keep the good one and send the other two back. That’s probably what I’ll do next time.
I’m going to keep my 50mm f1.1 and do a full review on it, maybe there is some sort of hidden magic the lens is waiting for me to unlock, but of all their lenses, I actually really like the 35mm f1.2 on my Sony A7rIII for stills. I’m going to keep trying to get a good copy of this one. The 75mm lens for me is just kind of worthless. I get it, when shooting video you don’t need super sharp lenses, but if you shoot with the Anamorphot 50 or 40, then it’s going to soften the image even more and you’ll be left with no detail.
So SLR Magic makes the worst lenses. What are some other options?
If you want cheaper Chinese lenses, there are a few brands worth looking at and I’ll go over everything I know.
The best Chinese lenses are made by Mitakon. They’re so good that Meyer Optik Görlitz was using their designs. Remember that Meyer Optik lens that was a 35mm f0.95, yep that was Mitakons, just rebuilt in Germany.
Next, I would say look at Handevision. Their lenses are built in cheap Chinese sweat shops, but the optics and the design of the lenses are very nice. It’s worth playing the good copy roulette with these lenses and I actually think the Handevision 75mm f2.4 is a really nice lens . . . if you get a good copy, and when I say good copy, it’s usually not the optics that are the problem, but poor craftsmanship. Oil on the aperture blades, bad flaking, noticeable tooling marks, etc.
Vending Machine Lenses
Next there are what I like to call the vending machine lenses. You know the cheap plastic jewelry you can buy with a quarter at Pizza Hut? Yeah, these lenses are like that, but unlike SLR Magic, they’re at least price accordingly and some are actually worth taking a look at because of these cheap prices.
These lenses are usually so cheap that they are fun to buy just for shits and giggles, or if you’re in need of a lens to thrash. Like if you’re doing a color run, or going to burning man or something.
These lenses would be 7Artisans, Meike, and KamLan. Of the three KamLan is the best.
The 7Artisans 25mm f1.8 lens is actually insanely sharp in the center with fantastic micro contrast. It’s flaws are build quality, considering it won’t stay in focus and will eventually fall apart. Corner and edge performance is also terrible.
You can get the hang of the drifting focus and I have gotten some really nice shots with this lens. There is also a new 7Artisans 50mm f1.1 that’s not terribly priced either.
The KamLan 50mm f1.1 is another winner for cheap vending machine lenses. It’s fast and actually usable wide open. I’ve had a lot of fun with this one.
Meike is basically the same a 7Artisans. I haven’t really started collecting their junk yet.
Then There Is Samyang
The last cheap brand I am also very familiar with is Samyang / Rokinon. They are Korean lenses and while not being good compared to say, Voigtlander, they are good enough for entry-level photographers looking to get their feet with prime shooting. I have a few Rokinon lenses like the Rokinon 14mm and while they are not perfect and the build quality is sub par, they will get the job done. Most people I know that own Rokinon lenses are fairly happy with them knowing that they are not great lenses.
I would also say in terms of the cinema lenses, Rokinon / Samyang does have better quality control than SLR Magic, but those SLR Magic are designed for cinema, where as Samyang just adds a cinema focus and aperture rings to their photography lenses.
Lately Samyang has stepped up their game and their latest lenses are a little better.
Really Good Lenses To Consider
Before you go out and spend $400 – $500+ dollars on a Chinese lens like an SLR Magic, consider that there are also very good options out there for better lenses at a sometimes similar price. See all lenses for Fujifilm, Sony Full Frame or Sony APS-C.
For example, if you’re a mirrorless shooter, you can adapt the incredible Voigtlander 58mm f1.4 Nikon lens to your Sony or Fujifilm camera. This lens goes for around $600 and is insanely good. That’s just one example, Voigtlander has a lot of really cool lenses that are reasonably priced.
Voigtlander lenses are up there in quality with Zeiss and Leica and are sometimes only a little more expensive than some of these Chinese lenses. Sure, they’ll be a bit slower, but when lenses like the SLR Magic 50mm f1.1 suck wide open anyway, you might as well go for a lens that will last you the rest of your life.
So far SLR Magic is my pick for the worst lens company. There is potential here for APS-C shooters but they are a risky buy for full frame shooters at least at this price and with this current production issues. Remember, any decentered element will be even more noticeable on a full frame sensor.
If they clean up their quality control, they could have something interesting and really cool here, especially for videographers. But when 4 out of 5 lenses are bad, it’s just not worth buying one of these and dealing with the headache of returning lens after lens or not catching a mistake only to realize your lens has serious issues later on.
I’ve had a really good time shooting with these lenses and the bokeh is really pretty. It’s just too bad they are put together so poorly.
One last thing. I bought these lenses during the holiday sales. Part of me thinks SLR Magic is trying to offload all their returned, flawed lenses at a cheaper price to dump inventory hoping nobody will notice. This could be why I’m having such bad luck. This would make sense but that may or not be the the case.
Maybe SLR Magic reach out and tell us what is going on with their quality control.
If you like to gamble, here are a few links. I’ll have full SLR Magic Reviews up soon.
SLR Magic Sample Photos
Sample photos using the SLR Magic 35mm f1.2, the SLR Magic 50mm f1.1. The anamorphic shots are done using the Anamorphot 40 on the SLR Magic 50mm f1.1 and the SLR Magic 35mm f1.2.