A couple of weeks ago a company called Shenzhen Dongzheng Optics approached me and offered me to test out their first ever SLR camera lens. I’ve never heard about Shenzhen Dongzheng Optics before, but since they were about to release a 35mm lens with an aperture of f/1.2, which they claimed would deliver very good sharpness and a beautiful bokeh, I was immediately hooked. Their promises seemed to be very bold and I was curious to find out wether they could deliver or not. Two weeks later I got my pre-production sample for Sony E-mount but the lens will be offered in different mount options.
All words written here are reflecting my opinion only and that might not fit your style of shooting, please keep that in mind. Of course, I am going to try to be as objective as possible. All images have been processed in Lightroom CC.
The first thing I’ve noticed is that the KERLEE 35 is fairly large, especially with the build-in E-Mount adapter. That doesn’t come as a surprise since the lens isn’t designed specifically for mirrorless cameras and to compensate the difference in flange distance it has to stick out even longer. Therefore on my A7rII it looks a bit odd and at the moment it might be the longest 35mm lens that is available for E-Mount.
The lens is made out of metal and glas and that makes it feel very well made. The focus ring is well damped and is a joy to use. The lens has a very long focus throw which is good for precise focusing and comes in handy for video work as well. Something videographers will also like about the KERLEE 35 is the de-clickable aperture. The aperture ring has some nice resistance to it and you will most likely not change the aperture by accident, something I appreciate a lot. Talking about the aperture, besides being a f/1.2 lens the KERLEE 35 features eleven aperture blades, which should result in a very pleasing background blur.
The provided lens hood is made out of metal as well, the only issue I have is that it doesn’t click into place. But I’ve been told that this issue should be fixed until the lens hits the shelfs.
Image quality is certainly the most important factor when people think about the purchase of a new lens and you’re probably curious whether the Kerlee 35 delivers or not. Please keep in mind that my copy of the lens is still pre-production like I mentioned in the beginning of this review. When I’m testing a lens, rather than photographing test charts, I prefer to take it out in real world scenarios or even on assignments.
After using the lens for more than a month I came across two major issues in terms of image quality. However, let’s talk about the positive aspects first.
I was shooting the lens at the fastest aperture most of the time and I was really impressed with the sharpness it is capable to deliver. Especially the image center looks very good. The corners are soft wide open but that’s to be expected. I was curious how the corner sharpness would improve when stopping down and that’s when I realized that my copy is de-centered and the right side of the frame remains soft even when stopping down to f/11. For me personally that is not that big of a problem but for a landscape shooter that would be a deal breaker.
Overall sharpness is important but even more important to me is how a fast prime lens is rendering the out of focus areas a.k.a the bokeh. That is where the Kerlee 35 really shines. For such a short focal length the bokeh is very pleasing but that is very subjective and your mileage may vary.
However, that’s not about it, there is another thing. My major complaint about the KERLEE 35 is the flare issue. After a couple of days of shooting I noticed some severe lens flares in some of my images and that took me by surprise. (e.g. images above) I’ve never seen anything that bad before and after contacting another tester of the lens who is using an f-mount version I came to the conclusion that the problem could be caused by the adapter the lens came with since the problem doesn’t occur when shooting it on a Nikon camera. When the light source is directly in the frame, flaring is good controlled but if the light source is slightly outside of it then it can get really bad. Even when shooting outside with trees in the background and an overcast sky just slightly outside the frame gave me some problems. That is a huge bummer and makes the lens unusable in a lot of scenarios. Hopefully, Shenzhen Dongzheng Optics will address this issue before starting mass production.
(loss of contrast visible at the tree in the upper left corner, not a big problem in this case but there shouldn’t be a flare to begin with.)
For me personally, the focal length in the range of 35mm is perfect for street photography, reportage and portraits were you want to incorporate the surrounding environment in your frame. So in theory, the KERLEE 35 would be a perfect match for these tasks, but for taking candid shots out on the streets the lens is simply too big and obtrusive. However, I used the lens for a couple of weddings and concerts where the sheer size was not a big problem and there it could shine and was a breeze to use. Like I mentioned before the focus ring is lovely and it is easy to get precise focus, but there is a catch 22. The focus throw is very long and it gets really tough if you need to change focus distances rather quickly. During concerts, where a lot of movement was involved, it was very hard to keep up with the action.
When I first heard about the KERLEE 35 f/1.2 my expectations weren’t very high to begin with but I wanted to give Shenzhen Dongzheng Optics the benefit of a doubt and the chance to prove me wrong. And in a way they did exactly that. After using the lens for a couple of weeks I loved the results I was getting. For me personally, 35mm is almost the perfect focal length and the look, the KERLEE 35 is capable to deliver, is lovely and doesn’t fall short in comparison to other offerings in this class of prime lenses. The center sharpness wide open is on a very high level and the bokeh is very pleasing. However, on the downside, there is this huge flare issue which makes it hard to recommend the KERLEE 35 to anyone. For this review, I’ve learned to adapt to it and I worked my way around the problem, but for most regular customers this wouldn’t be acceptable at all.
Nevertheless, if you take into consideration that this is the first lens they’ve ever made then without a doubt the result is rather impressive and I am definitely looking forward to further products.
More images taken with the KERLEE 35/1.2
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