Interesting optics don’t have to cost a fortune. Andy Westlake tries out some inexpensive lenses to stimulate your creativity - and finds some to avoid, too
Kamlan 50mm f/1.1
At a glance:
- For mirrorless
- Covers APS-C
- Cannon EF-M, Fujifilm, Sony E and Micro Four Thirds mounts
At £170 the Kamlan 50mm f/1.1 may be the most expensive lens here, but this is still a staggeringly low price for such a fast maximum aperture. It’s half of what you’d pay for the Samyang 50mm f/1.2 AS UMC CS, which is itself remarkable value, or indeed for a film-era 50mm f/1.2 manual-focus prime.
The Kamlan is also surprising small, measuring just 60mm in both diameter and length and sporting a 52mm filter thread. Something’s got to give, of course, and a quick glance at the specifications reveals a surprisingly simple optical construction of 5 elements in 5 groups. Even classic 50mm f/1.8s use 6 elements, while the Samyang employs a 9-element, 7-group design.
The lens is nicely-constructed though, with an all-metal barrel and smoothly-rotating focus and aperture rings. The latter is clickless, with wide spacing between stops that allows fine adjustment. The 12-bladed diaphragm is a particular highlight, giving a near-circular opening right down to its f/16 minimum setting. A yellow ring around the barrel provides a cosmetic flourish, while a shallow plastic lens hood and chunky grey caps complete the package.
So how about the optics? Well let’s be clear, this isn’t the best lens to use when you need ultra-sharp detail right across the frame; a cheaper 50mm f/1.8 will do that job better. But that’s not why you should be buying an f/1.1 lens anyway. Instead this optic is all about selective focusing, with vanishingly shallow depth-of-field and beautifully blurred backgrounds. It has the characteristics of a classic portrait lens, with some flattering softness wide open due to spherical aberration, and noticeably crisper detail on stopping down to f/2. There’s a touch of chromatic aberration at large apertures, but less than I’d expect. Play to its strengths and it’ll give lovely images.