Review Kamlan 50mm 1.1 mk1

Taurahe

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Brandon
I spent some time today out in the woods with a lens i dont use often, the Kamlan 50mm 1.1. A good number of photographers deride this lens, but i have always found it enjoyable, as long as you know what to expect, and keep your expectations realistic. This lens is definitely not for everyone though. for the truly discerning photographer, it is an abomination. However, if you can see past the limitations, and use it for its strengths, you can have a neat little lens that can actually be quite the performer !!!!

Note: All images were shot on an Olympus Em1mk2 and are SOOC, JPG Vivid with custom settings. My lens copy is in MFT mount. Keep in mind, this lens is not microchipped, and does not talk to the camera to provide exif data.
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2019-10-27_01-50-57 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr

Lets start with the lens itself. The Kamlan 50mm 1.1 lens is, in itself, a very sturdy and well built lens. The focus ring is smooth but firm, allowing for precise focus control. The aperture ring is also smooth and well damped, but is clickless, so there are no hard stops for aperture. This is of benefit to video shooters, but as a photographer, i am indifferent to this is a lens. Tlens is a bit on the larger side, but feels right at home on my Em1mk2. It has some heft, but is not heavy. Shooting with the kamlan is very easy and enjoyable. It feels solid in hand, with excellent fit and finish all around. The lens is not weather sealed, for those who may be wondering, but for under $200 USD, its not reasonable to ask it to be.

The performance of the Kamlan 50 1.1 is where opinions begin to differ quickly. There are several things to be aware of before deciding if this lens is a good fit for your kit. Lets jump in and discuss them!!!

The first performance note i want to talk about is fringing.... it is pretty terible in the Kamlan. Shooting wide open, the fringing is so bad i wouldn't waste my time if it occurs. Stopping down, it begins to go away, but does not disappear until typically f5.6, depending on the scene. If the sun is too close to the frame, or in the frame....you may have to stop down significantly more. fringing comes in two colors with the kamlan...green and purple. They are removable in post, but keep this in mind when shooting scenes where fringing will be of concern. If you are able to keep the sun at an angle where it is not near the frame, fringing virtually diappears, and shooting wide open is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, i didnt think to get a photo of the fringing... sorry.

Kamlan 50mm 1.1, F 2

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LEAVES by knapptimephotography, on Flickr

The second performance concern that gets often brought up, is sharpness. with the Kamlan 50mm 1.1, this is a very contentious performance point. Overall, this lens is considered by many to be soft. If you compare it to Any of the current Olympus or Panasonic lenses, it fails in comparison. Wide open the lens lacks sharpness and contrast, exhibits some ghosting on hard edges, and to many is unpleasing. As you stop down, the lens does indeed perform better, but still falls behind current manufacturer lenses. That said, I personally do not feel it is a negative aspect of the lens, but is merely one to be understood. I typically shoot at f2 with the Kamlan 50mm 1.1. My shooting preferences do not demand absolute sharpness, instead i try to focus on a good composition with interesting subject matter. At f2, i find the Kamlan to be more than sufficiently sharp for my needs. For portaits, it has a pleasing softening of skin tones and colors, while maintaining good detail when shot at F2. Stopped down to f2.8 or even f4, it continues to sharpen, given well rendered images with good contrast and pleasing colors.

Kamlan 50mm f1.1, f2
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OI000057 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr

The second aspect of sharpness is where for many, this lens comes unraveled. Edge to edge sharpness is..... not a strong point. At any given aperture, the Kamlan 50mm 1.1 exhibits extreme fall of of sharpness on the edges, so much so it can make this lens unusable for some. This extreme fall off severely limits the functionality of the lens. It is not possible to compose an image with your subject at the edge of the frame, as they will never be sharp. This lens requires you to bring your subject to the center of the frame. Also, this fall off of sharpness limits your ability to shoot flat surfaces, as the fall of is very apparent in this situation. These factors have a limit as to what this lens is useful to photograph, and for some, sings the Kamlans death knell.


Kamlan 50mm 1.1, f1.1
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OI000058 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr

kamlan 50mm 1.1, f2
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OI000059 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr

Kamlan 50mm 1.1, f2.8
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OI000060 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr

In the images above, you can clearly see the falloff of sharpness across the from the center. As the lens is stopped down, this fall off does not change. Because of this, the center is the only usable portion of the lens, typically speaking. the falloff is more extreme going left and right than it is going up and down, though, so i still find it acceptable when this is taken into account.

So if the Kamlan 50mm 1.1 has extreme fall off of sharpness, is not super sharp, and is generally considered a mediocre lens, what is it good for then? Thats a great question, and I am glad I asked !!!!

The first thing to keep in mind about the kamlan 50mm 1.1, is its price. At under $200 USD, you get a lens that is incredibly fast for low light. Shooting at an aperture of 1.1 with this lens is not terrible, its just not ideal. That said, reasonable expectations are important here. You are not going to find a sub $200 USD 1.1 aperture lens anywhere that has outstanding performance wide open. it doesn't exist. You have to give a little to get a little here. While it may be soft, it is still a 1.1 aperture lens, and it is still usable.

The second thing to keep in mind is that sharpness means nothing without good composition and good subject matter. A sharp, boring picture is still boring, but a less sharp picture that is visually engaging will still attract good attention, if you have good composition and good subject matter. So with that, the kamlan 50mm 1.1 is sharp enough to get the job done, albeit not perfectly.

One thing the Kamlan 50mm 1.1 does exceedingly well, is blowing out the background to separate your subject. This lens is a Bokeh monster, and will do a great job of giving you creamy delicious bokeh. Its ability to deliver delicious bokeh, with a decently sharp center, is where this lens begins to turn its life around. It breathes some life into this apparently dead horse.

When you combine these elements of performance, you have a lens that is capable, with proper use, of being a very good lens for tight head shot portraits or as a tight cropped walk around lens. When shooting with shallow depth of field and a centered subject, the fallof off of sharpness is irrelevant as it disappears in the blurry background. This lens can really make a subject pop when used to its advantages.

Overall, the Kamlan 50mm 1.1 is not a bad lens in my opinion. It is a lens that needs a creative eye behind it, who understand its weaknesses and how to exploit its strengths. If you can do that, this lens has a lot to offer for such a low price . Its not for everyone, but it is a lens that i think is a lot of fun to use.

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OI000064 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr

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OI000063 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr
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OI000062 by knapptimephotography, on Flickr
 
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