Oh the simple times of DSLRs, when all you could use were your brand’s lenses, two or three third party manufacturers and very few options for adapting any of the legacy lenses. With the rise of mirrorless cameras, suddenly a world of possibilities opened with regards to adapting and the businesses saw that even those manual lenses with no electrical connection to the body whatsoever are treasured for their specific rendering. As a result, those manual lenses often increased steeply in price.
Many new names entered the arena, such as Samyang from Korea, but lately the Chinese production is increasingly notable with names, such as 7artisans, Meike, Zonlai and Sainsonic, which I’m going to focus on in this post.
Sainsonic debuted in the end of 2017 with a 169 USD 50 mm f/1.1 lens, which created a minor sensation in the the mirrorless crop camera world.
In the first half of 2018 Sainsonic took to Kickstarter to promote their new lens, the Kamlan 28mm f/1.4, which, after some delays, I was able to purchase for myself, so I consider this review independent.
Build quality and feel
The lens arrived well packaged, with a screw-in metal hood and a lens cloth included. Now, I have to note, that the Kickstarter stated it would also come with a plastic bayonet hood (which I would prefer for reasons of convenience) and my box did not have that. However, it turns out, the plastic bayonet hood from the previous Sainsonic product - the 50mm f/1.1. fits the 28mm as well.
The lens itself is all metal end glass, with precise finishing and a stylish yellow stripe along the diameter of the lens, which vaguely reminds of Nikon. The lens is all mechanical, with no electrical contacts and therefore no information exchange between the body and the lens. On the flip side, such lens could probably, with due care, work well for decades, unlike its counterparts, which are filled to brim with electronics. The lens is about 30% longer than the 50/1.1, which makes for a fairly compact counterbalance on my Fuji X-T20.
Focusing is smooth and with just the right amount of friction. The aperture ring, as is a norm with most of the new Chinese manual lenses, is declicked. I’m sure that’s great for videographers, myself, I would prefer a clicky aperture ring, but it is not a big problem. The aperture ring sits at the back of the lens and has quite a lot of resistance to overcome, so you probably won’t change the aperture inadvertently. The one bone to pick with the aperture ring is how close f/5.6 and f/8 are. I am never quite sure whether to set the aperture to the . in 5.6 or to the 6, which is already almost at the f/8. It is, however, a minor point for practical use.
Disclaimer: On my Fujifilm X-T20, as far as 28mm lenses go, I previously used the XF 18-55mm, which is a wonderful lens, which I don’t use much due to the fact I prefer primes, and Voigtländer Ultron 28mm f/2, which is amazingly sharp in the centre, but without the PCX filter (which I don’t have) has abysmal corners. It is still, however, my favourite close focusing lens (with the helicoid adapter). I got the Kamlan in hopes of getting good universal lens with useable corners.
The lens is surprisingly contrasty even wide open. Especially on a nice day, you almost don’t have to do anything in the postprocessing. Colors are well saturated and the rendering temperature is quite neutral. I have to say I quite like the colors coming out of this lens straight out of the camera. Especially the blues get quite deep. These pictures have had no post processing. Straight out of camera shot with Provia (standard) color film simulation and daylight white balance.
Sharpness wise, this is not a bad lens at all. The centre is very sharp already wide open. The midfield is decent and by f/2.8 gets quite good. The corners get useable and, dare I say, even good at f/5.6, where the sharpness is quite satisfying across the field. At f/8 I believe the lens is useable for landscape photography as well. The two images below show the Kamlan, where it shines - at f/5.6. As you can also see, the distortion I get from this Kamlan is negligible.
The six images below show the improvements as you stop down. I plan to shoot another such test at infinity, but for now I think this comparison is quite illustrative of the Kamlan’s qualities.
Bokeh is not bad at all! With eleven bladed aperture, which stays quite circular, even as you stop down, the bokeh stays nicely smooth throughout the aperture range. The lens focuses down to 25 cm (0.82 ft), so minimum focusing distance should not be a limiting factor for a non-macro lens like this. I have to say I like how the lens renders close objects, it retains good sharpness and I would be even more satisfied, if it could close up to 18 cm, as it is just so good, but you can’t have everything, I suppose. At the minimum focusing distance, you can see some spherical aberration in the bokeh, which to my eye, is an original effect and not a fault. Moreover, it does show only under certain conditions, such as below. The added perk of 11 bladed aperture is that it renders very nice starbursts.
I have not observed any major chromatic aberrations or purple fringing, the manufactured did a very good job at correcting the lens even at quite wide apertures. As for flaring, I advise to have the hood on at all times. Kamlan 28 is somewhat prone to flare even with it, but you can work around it. However, in night shots, I advise you not to use the lens wide open if there are point light sources in the image, or you get ghosts, like in this stress test I did:
The good news is, some of the flares and ghosts disappear after stopping down beyond f/2.8, but that defies the purpose of wide aperture lens to be used at night.
As I mentioned before, Kamlan 28mm f/1.4 became my new favourite normal lens for Fuji due to its fairly compact size and very good image quality. At 199 USD, it is more expensive than most Chinese lenses, but in my opinion, it is well worth the premium. With this quality, it is still a steal at this price point. It is a very good and useful tool, which won’t fail you. Below are some images from my Instagram, which were already edited in Snapseed, so you can see, what can be done with this lens and a little postprocessing.