*All images in this article were taken on the Kamlan 50mm manual lens
Ever since getting my trusty Fujifilm X-T2 I’ve been on the hunt for a creamy 50mm lens to pair with it. After forking out over a grand on the camera I wasn’t quite prepared to drop the best part of another on the Fuji 56mm f1.2 (though it is still on my wishlist!) As I was building up a new kit I was very apprehensive to spend a lot of money on a lens unless I was totally sure I was going to use it all the time. Fujifilm lenses are known for their spectacular image quality and eye watering prices! I also knew that I wanted a compact size 50mm that I could use while travelling, the 56mm is much bulkier and would have cost a lot more to replace if anything went wrong! I was looking for a lens that could deliver beautiful results and also take a bit of a beating.
After some research into manual lenses I came across the Kamlan 50mm. Costing around £150 this seemed like an absolute bargain. I just want to say now that this isn’t a particularly technical review, rather a love letter with lots of example photos for anyone thinking of trying out a lens like this.
When the lens first arrived I was really impressed with the build quality, it’s all made of metal and doesn’t feel cheap at all. And let me tell you, the max aperture on this lens is just plain SEXY. It sits nice and snug on the X-T2 and balances well, however you can see the edges of the XT-2 mount with this lens on so this is definitely not a weather proof setup!
I primarily bought this lens for portrait work and just to have some fun with. I find with some portrait shoots it can help to slow down and spend more time with your subject so the manual focus really lends itself to this process. The manual focus certainly slows down the workflow, so I don’t think this lens would be as suitable for street or live event work as it can feel like it’s taking a long time to pull the focus to where you want it. Obviously this is still much better than having a loose focusing ring that can be easily knocked out of place. With such a fine aperture on this lens its much better to have the extra stiffness to the focus ring, giving you extra control over that wafer thin 1.1 focus point.
One feature that it took me way too long to discover with my Fujifilm X-T2 is focus peaking. This is an amazingly nifty little feature that highlights in focus areas through the viewfinder of live view with a coloured halo, you can literally see this halo move through your scene as you adjust the focusing, it helps to get each shot spot on when its hard to see with your bare eyes whats going on. I’m not sure how it works on other cameras but with Fujifilm you can even change the colour of the peaking, its worth having a play around with as some colours will work better than others depending on the lighting situation, high contrast areas will be easier to pick out but this feature wont work so well with low light, which is where you would probably need to switch to an autofocus lens. It’s always going to be very hard to get the focus perfect when shooting at f1.1 but when you do, holy macaroni does it look good!
Whilst I absolutely love a lens that has a bit of character to it, the Kamlan does have certain optical issues that would make it a no no for some photographers. While it is easy to achieve pin sharpness in the centre of the image there is a blurriness to the edges that cant really be fixed in post production. While this isn’t a problem for me as I don’t lose sleep over things like this, it may not lend itself well to your work, just worth mentioning. Also sometimes I find the bokeh doesn’t get that stereotypical bokeh ‘balls’ look, you will get more of a swirly look. This is just worth experimenting with as you can see in this article alone I’ve had a variety of results. I find the images have a dreamy, magical feel to them.
Below is a quick comparison of the exact same location and model. On the top image I used the Fujifilm kit lens at max aperture, and on the bottom is our lovely little Kamlan wide open at 1.1. The difference is just phenomenal and I hope this will help anyone considering whether or not to buy the lens! As I’m shooting on a Fujifilm X-T2, the lens shoots at a 75mm equivalent due to the APS-C sensor. One day Fuji will bless me with a full frame camera, one day!
So to conclude this little review, if you’re looking for a nifty, fun lens that wont break the bank then this is the lens for you! You can achieve similar optical quality to high quality kit at a fraction of the price, if you’re willing to sacrifice auto focus and weather sealing.