When I heard about the new Kerlee 35mm f/1.2 lens, I immediately got in touch with Shenzhen Dongzheng Optics in China to get hold of one to try. Very graciously, they obliged. Here are few of my first impressions and photos…..
I don’t really do gear reviews. I don’t live on ‘rumours’ websites. I’m not sitting waiting for the next big announcement from camera companies. I use what I have until it’s dead. Sometimes I see something super cool and find the money for it. But, mostly, my philosophy comes from what mum and dad taught me: use what you have, make it last, don’t always sit around wishing for something new.
I was lucky enough in 2015 to have Hasselblad to make me an ambassador. That means I get to play with a few of their toys now and again.
Now and again people send me stuff out of the blue, to try. That’s always exciting.
Recently I found a post online about a new lens from a Chinese manufacturer, Shenzhen Dongzhen Optics [maker of custom and industrial lenses]. Anything f/1.2 catches my eye as I have had a Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 since I was a kid and I still use that lens every week. So when I spotted news of a new 35mm f/1.2, I wondered if it would be possible to get hold of one to try.
Sigma’s f/1.4 Art 35mm lens is something I used recently, when a friend who was back in Holland for a while left me his gear to look after in Tokyo until he came back. I was impressed with that lens and still am. But, 1.2? That had to be worth a look.
First thing to realise is that the Kerlee [yes, that really is Lei-ca backwards when you say Leica in Chinese] is manual focus. So, it’s not really an alternative to the Sigma or to any other large aperture 35mm autofocus lens. This is a lens for people who don’t mind focusing manually. I don’t.
It’s not physically tiny or featherweight. I don’t really mind either of those things but, again, if you are looking for a tiny, super-light 35mm lens.. this is not for you.
I contacted Kerlee and their marketing lady was super nice, very helpful and a lens was dispatched to me almost immediately. The one I got sent is a pre-production copy, so it has a few little foibles that have all been engineered out of the production versions.
When it arrived, i was immediately impressed with the box and packaging: very nice indeed.
I don’t do unboxing videos, sorry. Not my thing. You’ll just have to make do with their photo of the box etc
The lens feels very nicely built. Weighty, yes, but the sort of weighty that feels like quality and metal. Not plastic and cheap.
It was pretty obvious straight away that someone at Kerlee is a fan of Leica, as the fonts on the lens, the numbers and markings are really similar. Looking at the lens from the front of the barrel, it looks really like the older range of manual focus Zeiss lenses. I don’t mind that either. I’m not really into looking at my gear. I’m into shooting with it. But, if it looks nice too then that’s a bonus. And the Kerlee looks nice.
The lens comes with a hood. Mine is a little loose. But that’s one of the issues that’s been dealt with on production versions.
Enough about all this though… how does it shoot?
I’ve used it on five jobs but until I get permission from those clients, I can’t show any of the images. Some of the projects are still under embargo for a while.
So, when I have had the chance and the time to shoot the lens for my own work or fun, I have and I have been very happy so far.
Focus is smooth. Lens is well balanced. I’m not into shooting much video with my SLR but I did shoot a little with this, again on a job that I can’t share right now, and the ability to have a ‘click’ aperture or smooth aperture with no click, via the ‘click’ switch on the lens: that was very handy.
Bokeh is lovely with the lens at 1.2 and if you are good with focusing lenses manually, the Kerlee is perfectly sharp where it’s sharp and the focus falls off really nicely. Bokeh can also look a little ‘swirly’ on occasions. Which is also nice.
The aperture has 14 blades, which give a lovely round bokeh at any aperture.
So far I’ve shot the lens for portraits, fashion, street and editorial. I found it easy and fast to focus and I’ve had no errors with the lens not working perfectly on my Nikon F mount cameras.
Lots more shooting to do with the lens but so far I am really happy and if you’re into manual focus and want a wide, fast 35mm with great bokeh then I would happily recommend this lens.
I’ll try to keep posting about the lens regularly from now on.
You can buy the lens on Amazon at the links below:
Here are some photos:
All photos have had minimal edits. RAW adjustments like shadow and highlight recovery. White Balance changes. Most were shot with custom Picture Controls which I’ve made for my Nikon: ‘Ektachrome 2’, ‘Ekatachrome P’ and ‘Monochrome 2’.
The red model/blue background shots are straight out of camera: WB at 2500K and a red gel on the flash.
The shots of my kids camping at Lake Motosu came out really well.
At the bottom right of each shot when it opens, there will be a link that says ‘full size’. Click on that and you’ll get not a totally full-size image of over 4000px [most were shot on the D3S]. But at least something that is large enough to make value judgements about.