Sainsonic Kamlan 21mm f/1.8 Review - A lot of lens for very little money

First of all a disclaimer. Despite this being the second Sainsonic lens review on this blog, I am in no way affiliated with Sainsonic and have purchased both the 21 and the 28mm. I have previously won the Kamlan 50/1.1 Mk I in a giveaway, but frankly, it is not my cup of tea, so I do not feel swayed one way or another to the company.

I used to use and love Pentax cameras and they made an awesome pancake Pentax-DA 21 mm f/3.2 Limited. Granted, the max aperture was nothing to write home about, the corners could have been better and perhaps the distortion was a bit too pronounced for some, but the images it produced were magical to me and it was my absolutely favourite walkaround lens. Ever since switching to Fuji, I found myself missing this focal length. Yes, Fuji makes two awesome 23mm lenses, but the f/1.4 is a bit too large and the f/2.0 didn’t really entice me. Fast forward to the Chinese manufacturers emerging: The 7Artisans 25/1.8 was a fun toy effect lens and I would recommend it to anyone for the price/fun factor ratio. Then I had a brief affair with Zonlai 22mm f/1.8, which I might review as well, but as you can already guess, I didn’t become a fan. 

Having used the Kamlan 28 mm f/1.4 for some time now and liking it to the extent that it became my default walkaround lens, I was thrilled to find out that Sainsonic is preparing a 21mm f/1.8. It was surprising there was no Kickstarter campaign, as there was for the 28mm and until recently ongoing 50mm f/1.1 Mk II. In fact, they released the 21mm with no fanfare, zero advertising. If it wasn’t for Fujirumors, I wouldn’t have known it was released at all. Didn’t they want the 21 stealing the limelight of the 50/1.1 Mk II Kickstarter? Or do they know it’s going to be a treasure and the word of mouth is enough to make this one sell? Let us see. All pictures are jpgs straight from Fujifilm X-T20, Sharpness -2, Highlights -1, Shadows -1, other values default.

Build quality

If you have owned any Kamlan lens, you can skip this part. It is essentially the same good build quality of metal and glass, with the only plastic part being the bayonet lens hood (which is interchangeable with the 50mm f/1.1 Mk I and 28mm f/1.4). The focusing ring is nicely damp and smooth. The aperture ring is declicked (as all the Kamlan lenses to date) and unlike the 28mm I own, is not as stiff.  That being said, I would still prefer a clicking aperture ring (or declickable option). One thing nobody mentions: Kamlan makes the best Fuji rear lens caps. Period. They are smaller than any other ones, while locking securely and protecting the rear element snuggly. No accidental falling off the cap ever.
With regards to dimensions, the lens is quite small. Not a pancake, but definitely smaller than the 28mm and even slightly smaller than the 50 mm Mk. I, which is a good achievement. Weighing only 264 gm the lens sits nicely balanced on my Fuji X-T20. The aperture count stops at 11 blades, which make a nice circle and should add to the bokeh being nice and smooth. However, I couldn’t coerce the lens to produce any decent starbursts

The lens is fully manual with no electrical connection to the body. Make sure you enable the appropriate mode on your camera, so you can use it. 

Image quality


If I had to sum up - really good, similar in its character to the 28mm f/1.4. The center is sharp already wide open, giving a nice shimmer in the viewfinder even without focus peaking, making the manual focusing easy. Wide open the corners are somewhat softer, which is to be expected, but there is a good improvement at f/2.8 and f/4. At f/5.6 the sharpness is really good across the frame, with only the extreme corners not being the same sharpness, but still good. At f/8 the resolution is really even. The good thing is, that even at wider apertures, the wider center of the image has good sharpness, so you can put your subject within the rule of thirds without fear of losing  much resolution.

Many modern wideangles suffer from a midfield resolution dip caused by the lens optical construction. The Kamlan 21 has it to only a tiny degree and I had to go looking for it. The lens rivals the Kamlan 28mm and I have a feeling the uniform resolution at f/5.6 even surpasses it in the corners, which is a great success, given that designing a wider lens is always more challenging. Sharpness-wise, it is definitely useable for landscapes.

Colors are rich, but not oversaturated and contrast after f/2.8 leaves nothing to be desired.

To give you an idea, as to how the sharpness improves, have a few 100% crop comparisons showing the improvement between f/1.8 and f/4.


As expected with the large aperture wide angle, there is some vignetting at wider apertures, which is visible wide open, but not disturbing and easily correctable. By f/4 the illumination evens out considerably and at f/5.6 even a pixel peeper would have trouble spotting it.


There is visible distortion when shooting at shorter distances, but it looks easily corrigible in PP. When shooting near infinity, I was hard pressed to see any distortion, but your mileage may vary. Overall, I do not think distortion is a big issue with this lens. 


Shooting around infinity, wide open and in high contrast situation, you will get some minor purple or blue fringing at the edges of objects, which are not in focus, but it is really really minor. By f/2.4 the aberrations clean up nicely. Wide open and focusing close, the depth of field is rather thin, so the out of focus fringing is visible when zooming in, but in really contrasty areas, the purple fringing only clears up around f/4. One big plus is, that the lens is really well corrected across the frame. I gave the lens a real stress test with big milky glass window in the frame. In the corner and under such extreme contrast, the purple fringing never went away even at f/5.6, but there are not many lenses, which could do better and it is still easily corrigible. Compared to Kamlan 28, there is also a good correction to coma, which doesn’t show at all, compared to the aforementioned lens.


Flaring is present, especially if the light source is in the picture frame, but again, it is quite well controlled. While you do get some lens flare effects sometimes, the veiling flare is almost nonexistent and may I add, the Kamlan 21 represents a big step forward from Kamlan 28 in terms of flare resistance. Lens hood is definitely recommended at all times.

Close focus

The Kamlan 21mm focuses as close as 12 cm, giving it a respectable magnification of 1:3.4. As someone who likes to get close to my objects, I appreciate that a lot. The center resolution holds up really well even when close focusing, so I can only recommend this lens for it. 


As I said before, the 11 circular blades should make for rather good bokeh, but how is it really? Smooth out of focus areas have not been a priority with wideangles in the past, but given the big maximum aperture and close focusing capabilities, bokeh should be one of the priorities. Long story short, bokeh is quite smooth even stopped down. Really no complaint from my part, you can see a few examples below.

Compared to Zonlai 22mm f/1.8

As the Zonlai is probably the closest lens to Kamlan in terms of focal length and price (around 150 USD for the Zonlai), I decided to show you a few comparative shots from both lenses. As you can see, the Kamlan has greater resolution already wide open in the center. The corners are a whole different league at any aperture. As other reviews mentioned, the Zonlai can come with decentering issues, and I admit, I bought two copies, but not even the second one can really hold a candle to Kamlan.


So, what’s not to like? Kamlan 21 is a focal length I’ve been fond of for a long time. With really good sharpness across the frame, good close focusing abilities and remarkable aberration correction, this lens can be a very versatile workhorse for all genres, including landscapes and street. At 179 USD, it is an absolute bargain, if you don’t mind manual focus. Any alternative is simply worse or much more expensive.

Sainsonic Kamlan 28mm f/1.4 Review

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.

Image quality

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.

This site has been dead too long…

Photographically, the last at least year and half were not that great for me. I have a huge backlog in my Lightroom catalogue and sometimes it feels like I only buy new gear to fill the void of my growing restlessness over my photographic stagnation. So the time has come to turn things around. Tidy up the catalogue, update the website and most importantly, as part of photo therapy, turn the news section of my website into a blog. Although nobody really reads it, it would be nice to sort out some thoughts.

In any case, here are some straight out of camera images from the last vacation. I am hopeful, the edits will follow soon, just like some more rants of mine on various photography related topics I’ve had in mind for some time now.

So, to all of you, may your 2018 be fruitful and bring you the pictures you’d only carried in your head before.

Edit in December 2018: aaaaand, I’ve never done it. So hopefully in 2019?

New External Gallery posted

After a long time with no new update, it is my pleasure to present to you the results of our latest photoshoot with the lovely Nik. A few words about how it came to be. In my apartment, there is a semi transparent glass wall partition between the rooms, which I have always thought to be interesting for shoots and Nik once agreed to give it a try. I’m indeed very happy with the results.

I will be posting selected images into the artistic nude gallery soon. In the meantime, make sure to visit the External galleries section.