A pessimist review of Zenitar 50mm f/2

First of all, do read what I mean by ‘pessimist review‘.

A boring history lesson about Zenitar.

Cheap Zeiss? Quite close. Zenitar, is a lens series by the Russian/Soviet optical company named Krasnogorskiy zavod (KMZ) developed to fulfill the needs of USSR for optical precision equipment. For simplicity, I prefer to say it is a Russian optical company with a little bit of German engineering past (they began producing photographic lenses in 1945 to the specifications of the Carl Zeiss corporation; Zorki camera – a close copy of the German Leica II and the Soviet FED; as well as Moskva – a copy of Zeiss medium-format cameras).

Build quality? Way to go.

This lens is cheap. Super cheap. And the it feels like one too. You can get it less than MYR200 (~USD60). The build quality either equal or less than cheapest Canon prime, EF 50mm f/1.8 II. Your very first experience with this lens is it is like a toy, made for nothing serious in mind. The aperture ring is almost click-less and feels like a screw so does the manual focusing too. Not to mention, mounting the M42 to mirrorless camera (I’m using Sony NEX) needs an extra long adapter to fulfill that longer flange focal distance that make it protrude from the camera. I thought I’m OK with the idea of using the adapter for manual focus lenses, no, I’m not. Maybe not in the moment unless it is M-mount.

This not your usual cheap lens optical performance.

My philosophy of using open wide prime it to use it at wide open as long the shutter permits it. I am surprise to know that at f/2, the sharpness is pretty good and increase performance at f/4 to f/5.6. Another surprise thatpurple fringing is very well controlled in this lens even when compared to my Zeiss ZF 35/2! This is unusual for the lens at this price. I know, this suppose to be a negative review, but hey, if it is good, it is good right? However, the photo produced is quite blend or less contrast. You need to push up a little bit of contrast which means post processing is necessary.

These two are straight out of camera JPEGs. Forgive the first photo, I should use faster shutter speed.

No, it’s not macro lens.

Another good news to those who like to shoot close-up. This might not be a macro lens, but the ability to focus as close as 0.35m at f/2 is probably thing that non-macro shooters want to praise to achieve that clean and beautiful background blur or bokeh. From this point following on, the photos has been push up a little (maybe a lot!) the contrast and post-processed in lightroom to see how the end results could be.

We love bokeehh..and it is bokeh-licious!

Zenitar 50/2 has a little bit of that Zeiss-bokeh, busy and cluttered blur background – which the way I describe it. It doesn’t have Zeiss-3D look as far as I experienced no matter what condition the lighting was. If you got a way somehow to achieve that, do let all of us know in the comment below. This kind of bokeh that give the lens character is probably the main reason why I bought this at the first place.

To conclude..

Zenitar 50/2 surprise me in a way on how its perform regardless of its cheap plastic feels. The thing I did not like using this lens is to use M42-NEX adapter that makes my Sony NEX looks protruding from my camera and I am no longer able to keep the gear into the Sony’s LCS-BBF camera pouch. No biggie about that if you have bigger case or simply in your beg. Overall, it is a piece of excellent optics wrapped around cheap plastic components which is usually a philosophy of Russian products in my honest opinion. For casual shooters, take it as a nice addition to your lens collection. For professionals, I think worth to give it a shot on how it’s perform in your assignment.

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