Evaluations By Bjørn Rørslett
For general rating criteria, please see the Lens Survey Page.
I do test lenses for other cameras than Nikon, although this occurs less frequently. Most are reviewed here, others are listed under Speciality lenses.
|Voigtländer 12 mm f/5.6 Ultra-Wide Heliar||
lens, equipped with 39mm Leica thread for the new line of
Bessa rangefinder cameras is the widest of all rectilinear
wide-angle lenses. It
comes with a removeable minute, scalloped hood, which
protects the bulbous front element from damage and might
cut down on lens flare simultaneously, so should be left
in position all time.
No less than 121° is encompassed by its huge angle of view, far more than the user possibly can relate to. Thus, using such an extreme lens can be an intriguing lesson in how such broad views may be arranged to provide meaningful images. You do have some assistance using the huge and impressive finder delivered with the lens. The finder is aspherical and offers a good, but tiny-sized, impression of what the final image may contain.
On axis, the sharpness is excellent even when the lens is set wide open to improve even further a couple of stops down. Off-axis, however, the inevitable light fall-off gives very strong vignetting and the situation improves just slightly unless the lens is stopped down beyond f/11. The lens is designated "Aspherical", but no details on the optical design is available in the leaflet accompanying the lens. A marked decline in off-axis sharpness may be annoyingly visible even at f/11. Residual chromatic and coma aberrations contribute to the loss of corner sharpness.
On the plus side, colour rendition is vivid and image contrast is excellent. There is detectable, but scarcely important, barrel distortion of the image. Lens flare and ghosting are kept under adequate control.
Rating this extreme lens is difficult, because the design is a cutting-edge optical achievement and thus the user has to accept inevitable sacrifices in performance. However, I have to downrate this lens because of the very uneven light distribution across the frame. If a 121° angle of view tickles your imagination or suits your photographic style, by all means get the 12 mm Heliar. Otherwise, it's enlightening to learn such an extreme lens exists.
|Voigtländer 15 mm f/4.5 Super-Wide Heliar||
and lighter than its 12 mm cousin, the 15/4.5 Heliar
bears the famous German Voigtländer label, but really is
a Japanese Cosina product in disguise. It has a 39 mm
Leica thread making it useable for a broad array of
screw-mount cameras such as the Bessa or Leica
rangefinders, and comes with a non-removable and minute
scalloped lens hood. A small, bright finder is included
Covering 110°, the Super-Wide Heliar captures nearly everything in front of the camera and does this with quite excellent quality. Light fall-off into the corners is pronounced at f/4.5 and still detectable at f/8, but the 15 mm behaves much more gentle than the 12 mm in this respect. Image sharpness is excellent on-axis and varies from useful to very good into the corners. Stop down to f/11 for the best all-around performance.
|Canon 20 mm f/2.8 EF||3
|This wide-angle is difficult to score with a single number. There is a dreadful corner fall-off at f/2.8 that needs stopping down beyond f/5.6 to be reduced to acceptable levels. Central image sharpness, dead on the optical axis, is remarkably sharp even wide open and really excels at f/5.6-f/8. However, even slightly off-axis, image quality drops drastically. There are visible colour fringing (I've seen worse, however) off-axis and a softening of the image towards the corners that lingers all the way beyond f/8-f/11. At f/22, the whole field is getting fuzzy. Had the central image qualities extended over the whole frame, this would have been a killer lens. As is, this is a lens strictly for non-critical use.|
|Canon 17-35 mm f/2.8 L||3
|A lens obviously targeted for the 'pro' market, this expensive zoom lens is let down by pronounced vignetting at all focal settings unless it is stopped down beyond f/8. Image quality in general increases at the long end, but I for one found the results quite disappointing. True, the image centre on-axis is good at f/2.8 and excellent at f/8 @35 mm. However, the strong light fall-off in combination with very visible colour fringing (lateral colour) off-axis and soft corners don't suit my ideas of a professional lens. I'm pleased to learn the newer model, 16-35 which replaces the 17-35, is far superior, but I haven't tested that lens as yet.|
|Canon 28-80 mm f/2.8-4 L||4
|I used this lens on an EOS-1 and optical results were very good. There is moderate light fall-off towards the corners and a slight softening of the image here at large apertures. At f/8-f/11, the image across the frame is very good. The lens flares easily and ghosting can be a big problem under adverse conditions.|
|Canon TS 35 mm f/2.8||
offered an excellent tilt/shift lens for their F1 camera
and this lens can be modified to work on Nikon cameras as
well. The modified lens retains full tilting and shifting
capabilities. The 35 TS is sturdily built and is quite
easy to operate under field conditions. If the near limit
of 0.3 m is insufficient, a K1 ring brings the lens into
even shorter focus. Excepting its greater tendency
towards flare and ghosting, the Canon TS performs on an
equal footing with its Nikon 35 PC rivals. However, there
is a slight difference in colour rendition between these
lenses with the Canon TS rendering a distinct although
weak yellowish cast to the images compared to the Nikon
lens. One tends to use such TS lenses stopped down far
beyond the optimum range of f/5.6-f/8.
In common with several other lenses, the 35 TS shows decreased sharpness and much more colour fringing on high-resolution digital cameras (D1X).
|Canon FD 300 mm f/2.8||
|Very high quality both in optics and in workmanship characterises this medium telephoto. Even wide open excellent images result. I haven't tried newer 300/2.8 designs from Canon, but they have a strong and obviously well-deserved reputation for high optical quality.|
|Canon EOS 300 mm f/4 L IS||
|Equipped with an image-stabilization (IS) system, this compact telephoto lens lends itself to hand-held nature photography. It delivers sharp and contrasty images, but the IS feature can produce some evident colour fringing and occasionally a lack of detail sharpness. This is plainly evident when the lens is used mounted on a tripod. The newer generation of IS lenses are said to be improved in this respect.|
30 mm f/5.6
and grossly expensive wide-angle has an aspherical design
to help cover the entire panorama format of the XPan with
excellent image quality. The lens kit includes a quite
plasticky and bulky accessory finder that mounts into the
flash shoe on the XPan, a sunshade with a spring-loaded
lock (so you won't lose it as fast as the shades of the
other XPan lenses, if at all), and a 58 mm-threaded
centre-spot filter. This filter by the way should be
attached to the lens for all normal shooting to avoid
serious corner vignetting, even for the smaller 24x36
The 30 mm finder is a simple design, so serves only for framing the picture. A smallish read-out of a built-in level is conveniently located in the viewfinder. There is no parallax adjustments except for some tiny indications for the near limit at 0.7m. Focusing is by the ordinary viewfinder and moving the eye back and forth between two viewfinders doesn't exactly speed up shooting with the 30 mm. A pity, because the lens commensurate with it steep price delivers brilliant and very sharp images. Colour saturation is exemplary and it tackles shooting against the light with ease. Flare is well controlled, too. However, for such a wide lens to cover the corners of the panorama format without any image deterioration is an impossibly tall order. Thus, close scrutiny will show some sharpness loss into the extreme corners of 24 x 65 images. Light fall-off is mimimal when the centre-spot filter is applied, however.
The 30 mm isn't part of my standard XPan kit so my shooting experience with it is limited. I obtained, however, high quality images from f/8 to f/16, with some image softening outside that range. Image contrast appeared to be slightly higher than of the other XPan lenses.
45 mm f/4
|This is the
standard lens shipped with XPan and a superb performer in
terms of the sharp and detailed images it can deliver. It
renders all colours with a vibrantly pleasing rendition.
Its contrast and bokeh contribute to give images with a
pleasing roundness to them. There is just a trace of
additional softness into the extreme corners of the 24 x
65 format. Vignetting, however, will be quite visible
unless you add the dedicated, 49 mm thread centre-spot
Flare is very well controlled and the propensity of ghosting is quite low. Handling this lens can be slightly awkward for those with big hands, because of the close proximity of the aperture ring and the focusing collar.
With the centre-spot filter into position, its effective speed become f/5.6 so isn't exactly a speedy performer. This is partly offset by the fact that it delivers sharp images even wide open, given the filter is used. Even better images can be acquired with the lens set to f/8-f/11. Slight softness creeps in beyond f/16 and f/22 results are only average.
90 mm f/4
features of the 45/4 XPan lens are found in the longer 90
mm sibling. It handles much easier, however, because
there is ample distance between the aperture and focusing
collars. Plus, the centre-spot filter isn't needed for
the 90 mm and in fact can degrade the image if the lens
is stopped well down. The main issue with this lens
relates to the rangefinder frame for it being quite
small, so framing the image is quite difficult.
The 90/4 exhibits slightly lower contrast than the 45 mm lens, but is entirely capable of delivering very snappy and sharp images indeed. Performance wide open is good and around f/8 it gives outstanding results. It stands stopping down less well than the 45, so settings beyond f/11-16 should be used sparingly. Its resistance to flare is good, but ghosting is a bigger problem with it than for the 45/4.
35 mm f/2.8
Ukraine, this third-party lens belongs to the uncommon
group of tilt and shift lenses. It can be had in a number
of mounts; I tested it on my Nikon F5. Compared to the
offerings from Canon and Nikon, it is ridiculously
inexpensive, but the workmanship and finish of this lens
is commensurate with the asking price. Handling is on the
rough side, and this goes for tilt- and shift movements
besides the focusing action.
However, even if the Arsat is cheap, it still delivers quite respectable images. Centre sharpness is quite good wide open and is very good between f/8 and f/11, and this applies to image contrast as well. Colour fringing is well under control in the centre of the frame, less so towards the corners. There is a good deal of field curvature, too, but this is less of an issue when shooting with the Arsat under real field conditions. The lens flares quite easily and ghosting can be nasty so the front element should be carefully shaded.
The Arsat 35 can be delivered in different mounts for 35 mm SLRs.
cannot resist. In this case, shown a 1.5 kg hunk of glass
with a humongous front element to be given away free for
a worthy cause, my only option was, on the fly, to
develop a wildly impossible application for it. Thus, I
broke the f/1 speed barrier.
This speed monster has "exotic" written all over it, from its 8 cm wide front element to a fixed f/0.75 aperture and lack of a focusing collar. The image circle is too small to cover the 35 mm format at infinity, but this is of no consequence because the short back focus wouldn't allow mounting the lens for infinity focus anyway. Thus, the only possible use on an SLR is for shooting at close distance, which suits me just fine.
Having had this marvel for just a short time, my shooting experience is limited and I plan to press it into service when the first spring flowers arrive. Test shooting has revealed that useful images can be obtained at f/0.75.
Evaluated purely for image sharpness the Heligon cannot be highly ranked, possibly because it is pressed into service at too close distances and thus you are rewarded with heaps of spherical aberration and other optical gremlins. However, exactly the same features make the f/0.75 lens a wonderful item to play around with, so for image creation it surely deserves a high rating. I found more uses for this lens than I ever imagined possible.
|Tamron AF 28-105 mm f/2.8||
this third-party lens on a Canon EOS-1N, since the Nikon
version hadn't arrived at that time. This zoom is quite
bulky thanks to its high speed necessitating a filter
thread of 82 mm, and build quality is good. Optically, it
delivered surprisingly good results over the entire focal
range. Quality images were produced at f/5.6-f/11. There
is a close-focusing facility that actually works, giving
useful 'macro' images. Beware however of strong residual
spherical aberration at f/2.8 in the macro setting. This
flaw quickly disappears upon stopping the lens down.
Due to its large front element, the 28-105 is very prone to flare and ghosting so always needs to have a sunshade attached to its front end.
|Itorex 300 mm f/5.6 Mirror||
lenses are typically slow, soft and vibration-prone
optics. This petite offering from Itorex is much smaller
and lighter than the ordinary crop of 500 mm f/8 mirror
lenses, not surprising given its mere 300 mm focal
length. It also could be bought dirt cheap and I
succumbed to the temptation, reminding myself that mirror
lenses may be useful for UV work. What you wouldn't do
The lens is nicely finished and all lettering is engraved, something left off from many high-end lenses these days. The focusing action is a little on the rough side, though. A 67 mm filter thread and a ridiculously short lens shade round off the picture.
The 300 mm Itorex proved to be a capable performer on my D1H. It delivered as expected soft images with muted colours, but detail sharpness was very good indeed. It even managed to do UV in a satisfactory way. I'd wish for more such pleasant surprises.
|1000 mm f/10 MTO-11CA||
|A very big,
very impressive mirror lens which is capable of producing
quite sharp and detailled images. Being a mirror design,
it gives slightly lower contrast than refractive optics.
However, you do have the benefit of virtually no
chromatic aberration. The tripod mount is adequate, but
impractical as there is no built-in rotating lens mount
on the lens. To compensate, 4 different mounting points
are found on its perimeter.
The lens comes with an M42 thread allowing many different cameras to be attached to it. You can even replace the mount with any T2 adapter, or, as I did, put a rotating "F" mount onto its rear. With a matrix chip added, the 1000 MTO meters quite reliably with D1-series cameras.
In common with other Russian equipment, the 1000 MTO lens can be purchased dirt cheap. So if you just want to have a long lens for the occasional super-tele shot, this is the lens to get.
Last Update 25 February, 2005