Howdie, it’s me Le Minh Bui again.
If you didn’t read my previous review of SLR Magic 25mm f/1.4 CINE, I recommend you to do so by following this link, it has some information that can support the content of the article I want to share with you today. In case you read that article already, I’m glad to provide you a follow-up review of other two lenses in the same series with SLR Magic 25mm f/1.4 CINE, the 35mm f/1.2 and 75mm f/1.4.
In order to do this review, I got lots of supports from SLR Magic sale department and marketing team, especially Adelina Lee, to arrange the lenses very quickly for me. And also, it’s the positive feedbacks from SAR readers and admin that motivated me to contact the company and borrow the lenses even though the promoting period had finished. Unfortunately, among the new four lenses from SLR Magic, I can’t get the 50mm f/1.1 since the demo product was out of stock.
This time, I will review both two lenses at once, and the contents will be slightly different from the last one. Moreover, I will compare these 35mm and 75mm with their counterparts from Samyang/Rokinon, the 35mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4. These Samyang lenses have been popular in the community of Sony shooters due to their affordable price and reasonable quality, so it’s interesting to see how the newcomers from SLR Magic can do against the Korean competitors.
1. TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS AND HANDLING
Before the battle, let’s take a look at the design and handling of SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 CINE and 75mm f/1.4 CINE. One of the selling points of these lenses is the compact size that is suitable to be used with a gimbal, so the main targeted consumers are cinematographers. However, since they’re built with native E-mount, optimized for the short flange distance of this mirrorless system, it’s attractive to photographers like me, too.
These 35mm and 75mm are designed resembling to the 25mm I reviewed that sometimes it’s very confusing for me to reach a specific one in my camera bags without looking at them. They are all metal, compact, very well made with gear type rings, nice markings and have 52 mm filter size (the same applied to the SLR Magic 50mm f/1.1 CINE). It’s a nice afford for users to build a lens system with interchangeable filter and lens hood, as the same approach that Sony and Zeiss have done with FE (49 mm filter size) and Batis lenses (67 mm filter size). In addition to the similar appearance, these lenses share a common internal design, the round-shape 13-blade diaphragm or iris. This iris can maintain the bokeh ball in nearly perfect round shape regardless of the aperture setting, and can be stopped down to as small as f/16.
The handling of these lenses on Sony A7ii is quite pleasant and convenient thanks to the compact design that the lenses are fitted to my palm, the precise and well dampened gear rings, and the fantastic manual focus supports like focus peaking, magnification and in body 5-axis image stabilization. All the three SLR Magic lenses I’ve tested have the focus throw of roughly 120° and a precise hard stop at infinity. When the focus barrel stops at infinity, I can notice a small hole with a screw inside that is located right on top of the infinity mark (you can see in the photo above). Probably that’s the limiter to adjust the focus throw of the lens. Hard stop is a nice feature that has been disappeared in many lens line like Samyang/Rokinon, mainly due to the thermal expansion, so even though I appreciate the precise infinity points on this lenses, I’m not sure if using them under hot temperature I still can reach the focus at infinity or not.
These SLR Magic lenses are very compact, as you can see in the first photo I put them side by side with the Samyang counterparts (on the left is the 35mm pair, on the right is the 75-85mm pair), and that means more portability and flexibility in operating my camera, especially on travel. The compact design and the lack of special glass element, nevertheless, may hint some compromise in the quality, so let’s find out whether the prices that the designers had paid for shrinking the optical systems is still acceptable to you.
2. OPTICAL PERFORMANCE AND COMPARISONS
2.1. Color rendition
As I explained in the review of the SLR Magic 25mm f/1.4 CINE, you may have different impression of the color rendition of a lens if you’re using auto white balance AWB (like most of the camera users, I guess) as it’s affected by the colors of the scene. Therefore, instead of showing the AWB colors of all the candidates in the comparison, I will show only AWB result of the SLR Magic lens and fix the temperature and tint value of that shot to apply to other shots, so that you can easily spot the difference regardless of the scene. Note that these images were shot using the same settings and I adjusted the temperature and tint in CameraRaw.
SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 lens renders color significantly colder than Samyang 35mm f/1.4, and while stopping down the lenses doesn’t change the color characteristics, it’s less vibrant at small aperture settings.
In contrast, SLR Magic 75mm f/1.4 renders photos warmer (more yellow-purple) than Samyang 85mm f/1.4, especially at wide open. Interestingly, I noticed that at f/1.4, SLR Magic 75mm lens produced photos warmer than stopping down while photo captured by Samyang 85mm lens are in reverse, they’re slightly colder at smaller apertures so that the color renditions of the two lenses are more similar at small aperture settings. However, these differences are not that noticeable as the 35mm pair.
2.2. Light transmission – T stop
T-stop is very important for cinematographers to equally expose between shots using different lenses, but somehow it’s not indicated on SLR Magic cine lenses. As I estimated in my previous review, the T-stop of the 25mm f/1.4 lens is roughly T1.6, and now I want to know how much light can go through these 35mm and 75mm lenses.
By comparing the time required to expose the shots using SLR Magic lenses to that of their counterparts (using aperture priority mode), I can approximate the T-stop of the lenses. Luckily, each of the Samyang lenses used in the battle has its cine version, which uses the same optical designs, so I actually can use that value as the standard, T1.5, for both lenses.
Well, at f/1.2, SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 required the same shutter speed to expose the same as Samyang 35mm at f/1.4 (T1.5) so I can tell that SLR Magic 35mm lens is T1.5. From f/1.2 to f/2, SLR Magic 35mm lens always transmits less light than Samyang 35mm lens, maybe due to the vignette at fast aperture (which will be discussed in the coming section), and only from f/2.8, SLR Magic lens is as fast as Samyang lens. Since it’s only 1/3 stop from f/1.2 to f/1.4, you may not see the difference in shutter speed if you set the aperture step of 1/2 EV instead of 1/3 EV. In the case of SLR 75mm, it works perfectly the same as Samyang 85mm, so I can say it’s actually a T1.5 lens. Note that the two pairs were compared under different conditions so the brightness of the scenes was not the same, so as the shutter speeds.
2.3. Minimum focus distance
Even though we knew the maximum magnification of Samyang lenses, there is no information about how much SLR Magic lens can magnify an object. Therefore, I compared the size of an object at the minimum focus distances (MFDs). As you can see in the photo below, in this category, Samyang 35/1.4 has a huge advantage over SLR Magic 35/1.2 although they have the same MFD of 0.3 m. However, you can shoot close-up photos quite better with SLR Magic 75/1.4 than with Samyang 85/1.4 due to the shorter focal length and closer MFD of the 75/1.4. As I estimated, here are the maximum magnification ratios these lenses can achieve:
- SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2: 1:7.3
- Samyang 35mm f/1.4: 1:4.9
- SLR Magic 75mm f/1.4: 1:7.6
- Samyang 85mm f/1.4: 1:9.5
In this category, I shot the same scene with each pair of lenses on Sony A7ii, using a tripod to fix the camera position. With all the shots used for comparisons, I shot in RAW and turned off all the quality enhancement functions in the camera and also the sharpen function in CameraRaw when I edited the photos. Only with the 75-85mm pair, I had to move the tripod closer to the object when I used SLR Magic 75mm due to its wider angle, otherwise the shooting conditions were the same in each test. I used the aperture priority mode to make sure the shots were similarly exposed and the magnification function to assure precise focus. With each pair, I shot at a close and far distance (at or near infinity) and examined small areas in the center and edge of the photos. Particularly, at close distances, I shot an object in the center of the frame, then moved the subject to the side of the frame to evaluate the sharpness in the edge. In the case of focusing far away, I can use the same photo to analyze both the center and edge sharpness.
2.4.1. SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 vs. Samyang 35mm f/1.4
First, I shot using these lenses at a close focus distance (about 0.4 m) and you can see where I examined the sharpness at the green boxes I marked on the two photos below: the first one was used to compare the center sharpness and the second one is for the edge sharpness.
Both SLR Magic 35/1.2 and Samyang 35/1.4 are quite soft at wide open but from f/2 (SLR Magic) and f/2.8 (Samyang), they’re reasonably sharp in the center, then the 35/1.2 maintained a slight advantage over the counterpart all the way to f/11. At f/16 or smaller apertures, both lenses showed a degraded quality when the diffraction came in, but it’s still usable. In the edge area, SLR Magic lens can be disappointing with its wide open performance, and until f/2, it’s always softer than Samyang. However, from f/2.8, SLR Magic lens is similar or even better when stopped down to f/16.
But how sharp the SLR Magic 35/1.2 really is? Since I already have few other 35mm lenses, I decided to make a quick comparison with Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4 and a newly released Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 and see the details in the center shot at f/2.8.
The Sigma Art 35/1.4 is among the sharpest 35mm lenses currently on the market, so I wasn’t surprised to see it win this small battle. The quality of SLR Magic 35/1.2 seems to be in between those of the Sigma Art (very close) and Samyang lenses and the new Samyang AF is slightly better than the previous manual focus version.
Next, the center and edge sharpness were examined using shots from a far distance. In the following photo, the two green boxes mark the positions of the center and edge areas.
From this distance, 35/1.2 lens seems to be sharper at wide open than shooting at the close distance, and it was actually better than 35/1.4 lens at f/1.4. However, when I stopped down both lenses, they were almost the same. The maximum sharpness can be achieved within the f/5.6-f/11 range. Considering the edge, the Samyang lens was better until f/5.6, then their sharpness were almost indistinguishable. If you want the sharpness in the edge to be close to that in the center, you need to stop down to at least f/5.6 with both lenses.
2.4.2. SLR Magic 75mm f/1.4 vs. Samyang 85mm f/1.4
The same method was applied to the battle between SLR Magic 75/1.4 and Samyang 85/1.4 and the examined areas are marked with red boxes.
At a close focus distance, 75/1.4 and 85/1.4 lenses are very similar in term of center sharpness. They’re both a bit soft at wide open, but the focus point is sharp at smaller apertures. Throughout the test, the center part of images taken by SLR Magic lens is slightly better than Samyang shots from f/4 to f/16. However, the SLR Magic 75mm lens is definitely not a good lens to sharpen any object in the edge or corner at fast apertures. The details are soft until f/2.8 and you have to stop down to f/4 to match the sharpness of Samyang lens. Noticeably, from f/1.4 to f/2 you can observe some lateral chromatic aberrations around the high contrast details.
At a far focus distance (near infinity), these lenses are not good wide open performers, and you have to stop down the lens to f/2.8 or smaller apertures to get sharp details. In the edge area, it’s very easy to see the weak resolving power of SLR Magic 75mm lens, as it can’t be sharp with any aperture (only acceptable at f/11), while details in the edge that Samyang lens captured are usable at any aperture.
The wall shots revealed that SLR Magic 35mm lens has a slight barrel distortion and it’s a bit less than the Samyang competitor. It’s not serious and I can fix the distortion (also the vignette) mainly by using Samyang/Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 profile in CameraRaw.
With the second pair, SLR Magic 75mm lens didn’t show any considerable distortion while Samyang 85mm exhibited a modest barrel distortion.
The two 35mm lenses showed worse vignette at wide open, and while it’s almost gone by stopping down Samyang lenses to f/2.8 or smaller apertures, the vignette persisted in SLR Magic 35/1.2 shots even at the minimum aperture. The only way to get rid of the vignette with SLR Magic 35/1.2 is applying the vignette removal tool in the lens profile correction. However, in normal shooting conditions, it’s not easy to notice the vignette as long as you have sufficient lighting. With the 75-85mm pair, the vignette is very negligible and Samyang photos looked slightly better. In fact, I usually have to add more vignette in portrait shots to emphasize the subject.
2.7. Field curvature, lens de-centering and focus shifting
As you may know, in the SLR Magic 25/1.4 lens review, I had a method to visualize the field curvature at close focus distances and partly evaluate how curvy the field curvature of a lens can be. By shooting at a very small angle and make the focus plane in parallel to a horizontal line, I can see whether the sharp zone forms a straight line or not. I found out that the in-focus field of 35/1.2 is relatively curved while the Samyang 35mm field curvature is almost straight. A curved field curvature means at fast apertures, it’s hard to have both details in the center and edge/corner in sharp focus (if they’re on the same flat focal plane). That explains why in my test, SLR Magic lens showed a weaker edge at f/1.4-f/2, but stopping down can solve the problem.
With the mid-telephoto lenses, even though the focus plane seems to be straight with both lenses, they’re both tilted! And when the focus plane tilts, it hints a de-centering problem caused by an element(s) inside the lens. That might happen during the manufacturing process or when the lenses were being delivered and it’s normally different from lens to lens. It’s not a serious problem to a portrait lens, especially when there is only one model in the frame, but you might notice unpredicted sharpness areas when you shoot a group. In my test, it probably attributes to the bad off-center performance of SLR Magic 75mm lens, beside its weak resolving power at the edges. Your lens, however, can be different, so it’s better to check for that issue.
Interestingly, when I tested the center sharpness of the SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 lens, I experienced focus shifting. In my initial tests, I fixed the focus point at f/1.2 and kept the lens unchanged when I stopped down, but then I realized that the further I stopped the lens, the closer the focus point was pulled toward the camera so that the images looked soft. Later, I adjusted the focus point every time I changed the aperture to make sure that it’s correct. However, I didn’t notice that kind of issue with the details on the edge. It suggests that the field curvature actually changed to be flatter with smaller apertures. The same phenomenon was observed with SLR Magic 75mm lens too, but it’s very negligible and occurred only from f/1.4 to f/2.
2.8. Flare and ghost resistance
Despite the SLR Magic lenses entered the camera lens market later than Samyang’s, I was surprised to discover that they can tolerate flare better than Samyang counterparts, thanks to their secret coating formula. When a strong light source like the sun is behind an object, SLR Magic lenses can manage to maintain better contrast and saturation in the area nearby the light source while images taken by Samyang lenses are quite washed out and less saturated. In general, I don’t have to worry when shooting backlit photos with these SLR Magic lenses and that’s great. However, similar to SLR Magic 25mm f/1.4, these 35mm and 75mm lenses produced a quite strong ghost effect. It’s not a bad thing but this may be more suitable for video works rather than still photography.
2.9. Chromatic aberrations
Among the four lenses, the 75mm and 85mm are a bit weaker in term of correcting chromatic aberration and it’s hard to find any purple fringing with the 35mm lenses, as you can see partly in the sharpness test. In real-life shootings, I only could observe some lateral chromatic aberrations at details with strong contrast (like in the backlit shots) when I used these 35mm lenses at f/2 (or f/2.8 with the other two lenses) or faster apertures.
Considering longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA), I set up a scene that had high contrast areas (aluminum foil) both in front and behind a subject to see how well the lenses can control the issue. It’s shown that LoCA of the 35mm lenses is also negligible and it’s more noticeable with the two longer lenses. LoCA disappeared completely when I stopped down the 35mm lenses to f/5.6 and stopped down the 75mm and 85mm lenses to f/8 or smaller apertures.
2.10. Bokeh characteristics
Thanks to the 13-blade round aperture, all SLR Magic lenses will produce round bokeh at all aperture settings. However, 75mm lens will show strong cat-eye effect with the bokeh balls from the mid-center to the edge of the frame, and 35/1.2 lens will also make some cat eyes at the far corners. If you don’t like cat-eye effect or polygonal bokeh shape (when you stop down the lens), you may prefer SLR Magic 35mm lens over the Samyang competitor.
Moreover, another characteristic of the Samyang 35mm that I don’t like is the onion-like pattern visible in some bokeh balls (which is caused by the grinding process of the aspherical element?).
Another bokeh characteristic of the 35/1.2 that you can see is the bokeh balls are better defined than the 35/1.4, with brighter edges. It hints that the lens is overcorrected for spherical aberration. Moreover, you may wonder if the SLR Magic lens is actually f/1.2. Well, I was confused when I didn’t see any significant changes from f/1.2 to f/1.4, but then I realized in some scenes, I could see the bokeh and brightness in the center of an image slightly changed. It’s only 1/3 stop difference, so it’s not that easy to notice, but I also think the lens is not a true f/1.2, it’s somewhere between, maybe f/1.3, and the aperture value was rounded up for marketing purpose.
With 75-85mm pair, you can see that the situation is different that the Samyang lens shows more defined bokeh and its bokeh balls are a bit rounder at the mid-center frame. However, when I stopped down the lenses, the 75mm bokeh was more favorable than the polygonal shape of Samyang bokeh, as it’s one of the main features of a portrait lens.
2.11. Spherical aberration
How well a lens was designed to cope with spherical aberration can be seen by comparing the bokeh balls in front of and behind the focus plane. If the back bokeh (behind the focus plane) is more defined with a visible bright edge, while the front bokeh (in front of the focus plane) is smoother, it means the lens was overcorrected for spherical aberration. Vice versa, if the back bokeh is smooth and the front bokeh shows bubble effect (bright edge), it means the lens was undercorrected for spherical aberration and the designer focused more on better bokeh than sharp focus. The third case is when both back and front bokeh are not very defined nor diffused, then we know that the lens was properly corrected for spherical aberration.
Well, by examining these bokeh balls, I can tell that SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 was designed for a sharp focus over smooth bokeh. Samyang 85mm lens was made with a similar strategy but to a lesser extent. Samyang 35/1.4 lens was undercorrected for a smooth bokeh and SLR Magic 75mm was corrected quite properly to balance the sharpness and bokeh. That may be not important to most photographers but it’s nice to know.
2.12. Sunstar / starburst / star effect
Sunstar effect can be important, especially with landscape photographers, to consider choosing a lens. With the round 13-blade diaphragm, SLR Magic lenses were designed to prefer the bokeh to the sunstar effect, as a smaller number of blades is better for sunstar effect. It’s predictable that both SLR Magic lenses will make a 26-point star at small apertures. In this category, I really like the Samyang lenses with their sharp 8-point stars from f/8 and the effect is really nice at f/16 or f/22. Even though to me the 26-point stars of SLR Magic lenses are not that bad with the symmetric shape, some users may not like that many points.
2.13. Lens breathing
In spite of targeting mainly to the market of video gears, the SLR Magic 25mm f/1.4 breaths a lot, so does the 35/1.2. As I estimated, SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 shrinks the angle of view to 87% when it changes the focus from infinity to MFD, and the Samyang counterpart behaves exactly the same. Interestingly, the SLR Magic 75mm was the first one I tested in this series and it didn’t show much breathing. The angle of view of the 75/1.4 reduces to only 93% when changing the focus point from infinity to MFD, while it’s 86% in the case of the Samyang 85/1.4. It’s still not great in controlling breathing, but acceptable as a budget lens.
2.14. Coma / comatic aberration
Coma issue is mostly concerned by astrophotographers to know how well a lens can control the level of detail smearing at the edges and corners. In this section, Samyang 35/1.4 was a bit better than SLR Magic 35/1.2 that you can use even f/1.4 for shooting stars and the dots in the corner are just slightly smeared. For a better performance, you need to stop down Samyang lens to at least f/2, or f/2.8 with SLR Magic lens. The weakest lens in this test is the SLR Magic 75/1.4. You have to stop down this lens to f/11 to make sure that the coma is gone, but it’s not practical, so it’s a big no no to use this lens for shooting stars. In contrast, the Samyang 85/1.4 controls the coma issue very well and it’s the best one in this test.
2.15. The usage for cinematography
Unfortunately, I don’t have experience in video recording to know what is the best for video gears. However, base on what I observed and information from Andrew Chan – the man who directed the development of SLR Magic lenses, there are some advantages of choosing this series as your video lenses:
1. The small size and weight are suitable for using on gimbal and it’s not heavy on the front.
2. The uniformity in lens dimensions, especially the gear rings, can make the lens switching on follow-focus system to be fast and there is no need for re-adjustment every time.
3. The same length and weight also reduces time required for re-adjusting the gimbal balance while swapping lenses.
These lenses are the result after years of listening to cinematographers to optimize the design so I’m glad that they have come to this point. Their competitor, Samyang, also makes cine lenses, but the bulky and varied sizes among lenses are not very idea for video recording. However, their markets are just overlapping each other, not the same, so it’s great for users to have more choices when they pursuit different directions.
3. SAMPLE PHOTOS
All the photos were taken with Sony A7ii and the colors were edited in post and only slight sharpen function was applied in CameraRaw. For high-resolution images, please check out the samples in my Flickr albums of SLR Magic 35mm f/1.2 and 75mm f/1.4
4. CONCLUDING REMARKS
Up to now, I’ve reviewed three SLR Magic full frame E mount lenses: 25mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.2, and 75mm f/1.4. These lenses exceeded my expectations in some categories e.g. sharpness, distortion, and chromatic aberration control but they also exhibit some limitations due to their compact design. With the price range above Samyang counterparts, what you will gain is mostly miniaturized lenses specifically designed for E mount, with the advantages of the short flange distance. In term of sharpness, these lenses are quite soft at wide open, but still usable in the cases of 25/1.4 and 35/1.2, and they become equally sharp or even better than Samyang lenses by stopping down 1 stop or more. Only the edge/corner performance of the 75/1.4 lens is clearly weaker than Samyang 85/1.4 so it’s not recommended to use apertures larger than f/2.8 to shoot anything from the mid-frame to the corners. These SLR Magic lenses were primarily designed for video recording so some features for still photography are compromised. Among the three, I like the 35/1.2 the best because it’s only half the size of Samyang 35/1.4, it’s sharper, it tolerates flare better, and it’s just $50 more expensive (even if it’s not a true f/1.2 lens). The 25/1.4 is also an attractive alternative for Samyang 24mm T1.5 as it’s $200 cheaper, around 4 cm shorter, but still can perform well. However, the 75/1.4 is the weakest one of the bunch and its advantages over the Samyang 85/1.4 are not many. If you don’t mind stopping down the lens when you put an object off-center and you can pay $220 more, this 75mm lens can be a nice alternative to carry around and record videos with a modest level of breathing. If you’re using APS-C cameras, the weaknesses in the corner of SLR Magic lenses can be harder to see and you can find these compact lenses perform even better than the Samyang/Rokinon lenses in most aspects. I was thinking that if SLR Magic can make non-cine versions of these lenses with non-gear rings, 9-blade apertures, less weight, a bit cheaper price, and even slower apertures (i.e. 25/1.8, 35/1.5), they would be really competitive in the market for still photography.
One more thing from my experience for which I rate SLR Magic lenses better than Samyang is the build quality. I’ve used Samyang 35mm f/1.4 (both still and cine versions), 85mm f/1.4 (both versions and even the first Polar version), 24mm f/3.5 TS, 135mm f/2, and XP 85mm f/1.2. Except for the premium XP lens, I don’t really like the plastic feeling and the possible issues these Samyang lenses may have. One of these lenses lost a blade during transportation, another reached infinity at 1 m after a trip, and the TS lens had a light leak when I shifted it. These Samyang/Rokinon lenses have been on the market for a while and they’re circulated around, so be careful to check whether they have these kinds of problems before purchasing. Even though it’s too soon to say anything about the durability of SLR Magic lenses, at least their full metal design and the compactness feel more reliable and seem to last longer than the big, plastic ones.
With a reasonable amount of information on these SLR Magic lenses that I’ve provided, I hope that this review can be useful to you while searching for a lens(es) suitable for your needs.
I’d like to express my appreciation to SLR Magic team for lending me the lenses and thank everyone for reading.