Review: Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Fish-eye


A.k.a. “The lens which came in from the cold”

Russians have a way with glass. Assuming your sample has not been assembled by a still drunk worker on a Monday morning (or so the legend goes), the quality is often way better than it should, especially when you factor in the price.

Continue reading “Review: Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 Fish-eye”

Review: Voigtlander Super Wide-Heliar 15mm f/4,5

Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm

First of all: please note that I don’t currently own a full-frame camera (hello Sony? Still waiting for that 50 Mpxl, Nex7 form-factor camera…), so this lens has been tested only on (and specifically bought for) an Aps-c Sony Nex 7.

That said, from the full-resolution images I saw online shot on the A7r it looks still a pretty good glass, just with not-so-exceptional borders.

Second: there are actually two versions of this lens, and old one (the one reviewed here) and a newer model that you can spot instantly because it is bigger and with a front ring to mount filters.

Optically they are exactly the same; the only differences, above the aforementioned possibility to mount filters, are that the new lens is rangefinder coupled (important if you ever want to use it on a Leica) and has natively a Leica-M flange, instead of the Leica screw m39 of the older model (not a big deal, adapters are good and cheap).

The different flange may still be a matter of preferences, though: the new model does not require an adapter for use on modern (post 1950) and digital Leica M cameras. The older model, on the other hand, is more of a jolly that you can use on a modern or digital Leica M with a cheap adapter or directly on an old Leica / Canon etc. screw-mount camera. All depends by the kind of gear you already own or plan to buy one day.

Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar: river in black and white

The review

Mechanically this lens is an absolute jewel, almost Leica-quality like, and in my book the archetype based on which all other lenses for mirrorless or rangefinder systems should be designed.

It is unbelievably tiny. You cannot understand simply from looking at the pictures how small it is. I can toss it in a pocket and forget about it, much like my car key.

But at the same time the controls (focus and aperture) are well spaced and easy to grip; wearing heavy sky gloves as well, just with a bit of more trouble. More, the aperture ring clicks positively in each position, almost silky smooth.

However, all this mechanical prowess would mean nothing if the lens should not deliver optically.

The good news is this little one really packs a punch!

Keeping in mind that I’m using it on a Aps-c camera, albeit a really taxing one, it is very sharp up to the extreme borders. Normally with a lens this short (even if on an Aps-c it is really just the equivalent of a 22-24mm) on film you wouldn’t even bother to focus, not even at full aperture. That’s the reason why Voigtlander decided to forfeit a rangefinder coupling with this lens back in the days, to cut costs.

But on digital, and especially on a taxing 24 Megapixels sensor, even at f/8 you can still easily tell when your subject is not perfectly in focus.

Oh, by the way: this minuscule lens is so sharp that at the center it tops the chart at f/5.6, and at f/8 you can already witness quite clearly the effects of diffraction!

If you’re not so sure this is a lens for you, keep in mind that lured by the new model many people is avoiding buying the first one, so you can find one for ridiculously low prices.

If, on the other hand, you plan to use it on a film camera, especially for landscape and b/w films, grab the new one because the filter ring will definitely come in handy.

The only problem with this lens is the extensive magenta / purple coloration at the borders if used on some cameras, like for example the Nex 7. If you shoot in b/w it doesn’t matter, obviously. And if you shoot in color it is easily correctable anyway using the Lightroom Flat Field free plugin (you can get it at the AdobeLabs) or the also free CornerFix. So no big deal in my book, but I’ve lowered the rating half a point just because of that.

Rating: ★★★★½ on Aps-c

Review: Hasselblad Zeiss Distagon 50mm f/4 C T*

Hasselblad Zeiss Distagon 50mm f/4 C T*

This lens gets a lot of bad press.

From the moment its younger sibling, the FLE version, hit the shelves the older version became regarded automatically almost as if it were trash.

Don’t get me wrong, the CF FLE is better, just look at the MTF charts. The FLE has two more elements – 9 vs the 7 of both the C and the CF models, which share the same optical scheme. Thanks to them the FLE manages to gain one full MTF point at the borders, and supposedly it is better at close distance.

Now, especially if you do a lot of handheld or fast, reportage style, work (but then: why you use an Hasselblad for this?) sure go for the FLE. Quality aside, the focus ring of the newer style Hasselblad lenses is way faster to operate, and it may well justify the steeper cost alone. If you use a digital back go for the FLE as well. For crying out loud, after you spent 30.000€ or more on a Phase One, you don’t want to cheap out on the lenses!


Hasselblad Distagon 50mm - massiccio del pollino sopra Frascineto

Instead let’s say that you use your Hasselblad, as I do, mostly for landscape work, on film, tightly screwed on a tripod thanks to an awesome ClearSight Arca-compatible replacement foot.

If that’s the case you will find the older model not only a bargain, but a real jewel.

From f/4 to f/22 this dense chunk of glass will give you pictures really really sharp border-to-border. The only details “mushy” will be the ones out of the focus zone (obviously).

But they will not be very numerous, because other that being sharp this lens has a really extended depth of field too, and it reaches infinity pretty fast.

Frankly, the only drawback I can think of is the focus ring, pretty tight as usual for the C series. If you are concerned by this just buy a CF for a few bucks more and you will still be saving big money compared to an FLE.

How much, you’re asking? Well, I paid for mine 150€, and the more modern – in body shape, not optics – CF doesn’t change hands usually for more than 200/230€. In comparison the CF FLE variant starts around 500€ and goes only up from there, depending on personal luck, period of the year, astral connections etc.

Hasselblad Distagon 50mm - massiccio del pollino sopra Frascineto

My version, the C T*, should use some weird 63mm filters, kept in place by a special ring. But, thankfully, you can use plain 67mm filters and they will screw in all the same, just not very smoothly – the pitch is different – or up to the end. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference, though.

The only filter I use is a pretty thick Leitz yellow-green – Leica, Zeiss and Hasselblad, a threesome made in heaven! Even with this one the vignetting is limited to just a bit of a corner – yes, corner not corners. It seems to affect only the upper left side, I frankly don’t know why. Probably this has something to do with how beaten up my sample is… Anyway, dodging or cropping the affected bit in post is trivial.

Summing up: it’s a Zeiss for Hasselblad, you were really believing the people saying it was unsharp, the very same people who treat photography like it was optical engineering instead of art?

And if you don’t believe me: just try for yourself. It has become a really cheap lens nowadays. If you don’t like it you can always sell it later for pretty much the same money.

Rating: ★★★★½ on film


Review: Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3,5 UD

Nikon 20/3,5 UD

Today we’ll talk about an old timer, the Nikkor 20mm f/3,5 UD. It is a pre-Ai (or non-Ai, if you prefer) lens from the late ’60, and it certainly shows. It is beautifully crafted, something you have to handle to fully appreciate it. Even the lens cap is amazing: a single piece of what I think is aluminum that screws on the filter ring…

 Nikon 20/3,5 UD lens cap

If you look at pictures of the lens it appears to be quite big, especially compared to its more modern 20mm Nikon counterparts. It is not. It is a really compact lens, the size more or less of a 50mm; it is just not extra tiny like its modern AF sibling.


For the sake of clarity: the UD in the name stands for the number of the elements used, not for some special kind of glass. U for Unus, or one in Latin, and D for Decem, or ten. So 11 elements in total (1+10). It was usual for various manufacturers in the 60s to indicate the number of the elements used with some kind of alphabetic code; for example Minolta and Olympus too did a similar thing using the relative place of the letters in the alphabet – so G = 7 elements, H = 8 elements etc.


I’m quite sure that, in order to mount it on a relatively modern – less than 30 years old, film or digital – Nikon camera you should have it converted to Ai, this in order to avoid damages to the electrical contacts on the lens mount.


To mount it, as I do, on a full-frame Canon body, and possibly even on a APS-C sized body, you will have to do an easy, but more invasive, modification. On the rear of the lens there is a small metal leap.


Posterior metal leap Nikon 20/3,5 UD

Picture courtesy of


You will have to remove this with a Dremel – much faster – or a file. The metal is pretty soft, so, presuming you are using a power tool, it will take maybe 10 seconds top. Just be sure to pack the lens in aluminum foil or cellophane to avoid the possibility of specks of debris entering inside it. After the modification the back of your lens should be flush with the lens mount, so should look like this.

Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3,5 back after modification


Now, how the lens performs? It is worth all this trouble?

The answer is most definitely a yes. I paid for mine a bit more than 100€. In return I gained a beautifully crafted, though and, yes, sharp lens that will fit comfortably in my pocket when not in use.


It is sharp, straight from full aperture. It is very sharp from f/5,6, and landscape-ready, meaning perfectly sharp all over, from f/8 – with minimal differences from f/5,6. The best aperture for the borders is f/11 – but again, here we are pixel peeping.


The biggest flaw is the amount of chromatic aberration. It is quite a bit more we are used to nowadays, but it is easily fixable in PhotoShop or Lightroom. And if you profile the lens – with the free Adobe Lens Profile – or if you use the automatic fix in RawTherapee the solution is literally one click away.


Another interesting feature of the Nikon 20mm f/3,5 UD is that its quality doesn’t crumble at the closest apertures. It looses sharpness because of diffraction, obviously, but it is still plenty usable even at f/22, the closest aperture.

Paths in the snow Nikon 20/3,5 UD

Maybe one of the last incarnations of the Nikon 20mm, one of the f/2,8 versions, is a tiny bit better optically, especially in the chromatic aberration department. Frankly I don’t know, because the last time I used one of those was on film. But all in all, at 1/3 the price of an used Nikon 20mm f/2,8, and with pretty much the same quality, this is an hell of a lens to have in your arsenal.

Nikon Nikkor 20mm f/3,5 UD

If you are curious to see how it performs against other, more modern, lenses you can check this post of Ken Rockwell (watch out, he compared the extreme borders only):

20mm Sharpness Comparison


And please, consider that here it has been compared against some of the best 20s out there. If your alternative is some kind of zoom, even a pro one like the 16/17-something Canon does, this lens will probably win hands down, in both the quality and the price department.


Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: Pentax 67 45mm f/4

Pentax 67 45mm f/4

I wish I could say great things of this lens, because I like it a lot.

But, despite the quite useful focal length that brings a lot of space in your photos, this Pentax lens is not even near to the quality that we are accustomed to in the wide-angle range nowadays.

foto con pentax 67 45mm f/4
Not that is a bad lens, but the sharpness is optimal only at the center of the image, no matter how much you close the aperture.

And the borders are, quite frankly, mushy…

All in all a solid performer, but not a great one.

Rating: ★★★½☆ on film