KERLEE 1.2/35 (35mm f/1.2) lens review

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-22

***After the review was published, I’ve done a 35mm prime lens shootout test which I’ve compared the Kerlee 35 1.2 with a few other 35mm prime lenses. You can read the comparison review here ***

 

The Kerlee 1.2/35 is a manual focus lens from DZOptics (Dongzheng Optical Technology), an optics manufacturer based in ShenZhen, China. This is the world’s first 35mm f/1.2 (D)SLR lens.  (Yes Voigtlander makes a 35mm f/1.2 lens but that’s for M mount only) If you have never heard of their name it’s because the KERLEE 1.2/35 is their first photographic camera lens even though they have been creating industrial lenses for quite a while.

The official price of the lens will be $629 USD although there will be discounts during the launch period.

***** 20 Aug 2016 – this review were initially based on the 2 pre-production samples I’ve received from DZOptics. But it  is now updated after I’ve received the production version sample from DZOptics. .  *****

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-30Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 400 f/1.2 1/125s

The Kerlee 1.2/35 is completely made of metal, including the lens hood. At just under 700g, the Kerlee 1.2/35 feels heavy, but in a good way as this is what a good manual focus lens should feel like, dense, metal and solid.
The metal lens hood is a reversible one but not very easy to put on as there are multiple positions you can clip it on and not everyone works. It took me a bit of time every time I want to install the lens hood but eventually I did get the hang of it and can do it without even looking.
The inside of the lens hood is flocked to reduce lens flare. This may seem a trivial thing but a good sign indicating the company is putting lots of efforts into creating their first photographic camera lens. The development of the Kerlee 1.2/35 was started back in Jan 2015. The very fast f/1.2 aperture and the fact that they want to make the lens available for SLR cameras created a lot of challenges and limitations to their optical design. The final design they got now is the result after they built 7 various prototypes.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-20The inside of the metal lens hood is flocked to reduce lens flare

I guess it’s fair to say exterior design is heavily inspired by Zeiss and some other Germany design. The Kerlee 1.2/35 looks like a little Zeiss Otus with hints of Leica flavour. Although I am not a big fan of the big orange KERLEE 1.2/35 words on the lens, I can’t deny the Kerlee 1.2/35 is quite a beautiful lens.
The focus ring is very smooth, very well damped and the resistance seems just about right. Focus ring travel is about 180 degree from closest to infinity to allow precise control. The maximum focus setting is actually slightly beyond infinity, will talk about that a bit more later in this review.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-41

If you have read some of my Mitakon lens reviews, you would know that while overall I like the Mitakon lenses, two things I don’t quite like is that the Mitakon lenses has a de-clicked only aperture ring and the placement of the aperture ring is very close to the focus ring. So it causes a bit of problems when taking photos using the Mitakon lenses. Luckily the Kerlee 1.2/35 has none of these problems. There is a little switch next to the aperture ring which allows you to quickly change between normal (for photo) and de-clicked mode (for video). Hooray!
One quite unusual thing with the aperture ring is that clicks are not linear. At maximum aperture, one click represent around 1/3 F-stop, then it gradually changed to around 1 click per f-stop, and at small aperture setting, it’s one click for 2 f-stop. Since the lens has no electronic contacts, you can’t really tell what is the aperture value from the camera’s viewfinder or LCD screen, so you have to look at the aperture ring to find out what exact aperture setting you have just changed to when shooting. The lens also does not have the auto stop down design. It means the viewfinder will become dimmer when you are reducing your aperture size.
The focus ring and aperture ring are placed quite far apart so it’s very unlikely you would turn the wrong ring by mistake. I noticed there is a tiny amount of play in the focus and aperture ring which I’ve reported to DZOptics and I was told the mass production version should be much improved in this area.  I’ll look at that again once I received the final mass production sample and report. But apart from that, the build quality is very good and it’s really a pleasure to hold and shoot with this lens.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-19

With the pre-production sample, I found there is a bit of play with the focus and aperture rings. When I told DZOptics about that, they said they would fix it in the production sample. Frankly I was a bit skeptical about the fixes as they were about to start the mass production when I reported this and a couple other issues back to them. But now I’ve received the production sample, I’m very excited to tell you that they have really fixed it! The focusing ring and the aperture ring fits precisely and perfectly on the lens body, there is absolutely no play at all. The focusing ring is also buttery smooth and feels absolutely fantastic. I was going back and forth between the Kerlee and my Zeiss Distagon 35mm zZF.2 and playing with the focusing ring and the aperture ring. Honestly I can’t say if which focusing ring feels better than the other one.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-18You can switch between normal and de-clicked aperture ring easily

The optical design is quite complex based upon 11 elements in 10 groups, with one low dispersion element and two High refractive index elements. It is a non-CPU lens and have no electronic contacts with the camera. There is no automatic aperture as well.
The manufacturer claims the optimum shooting distance is between 1-5m for best image quality, which is the typical focus distance for portraits, and a lot of everyday photos. To see how good the image quality is, I compare the image quality with two other 35mm lenses, the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G and the Nikon AI-S 35mm f/1.4.
The Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G is the latest autofocus 35mm fast prime from Nikon and retails at around $1500 USD
The Nikon AI-S 35mm f/1.4 is a much older manual focus lens, but Nikon is still making them and the retail price is around $800 USD
Note: I’m now working on a 35mm prime lens shootout review, which compares 5 different 35mm prime lenses. It’ll be available very soon: 35mm prime lens shootout.
Both lenses are a bit more expensive than the Kerlee 1.2/35 (or a lot in case of the AFS 35 1.4G), so let’s see how the Kerlee stack up against these two 35mm lenses.
First I want to compare to image sharpness, how is my test scene setup. Thanks to Jabba the Hutt for being my model

kerlee-sharpnesscomparison-centre-uncropped

Let’s look at the 100% centre crop first:

kerlee-sharpnesscomparison-centre

Kerlee 1.2/35 is a bit soft at 1.2/35. But it is useable even when paired with the 36MP sensor. It gets slightly sharper at f/1.4 and the sharpness improves noticeably from f/2 onwards. Compare to the two Nikon lenses, the Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G is the noticeably sharper at f/1.4 and f/2 but from f/2.8 onwards the difference between the three lenses still exists but becomes quite small.
At f/1.4, the photo from the Nikon AIS 35mm is really lacking contrast, looks quite hazy, this does not happen on the Kerlee 1.2/35 even at f/1.2.

Next let’s look at the 100% corner crop.

kerlee-sharpnesscomparison-corner

Kerlee’s corner sharpness is really good. At f/1.2 the Kerlee is a bit soft but definitely useable. Kerlee’s corner sharpness is almost identical to the Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G.  The Nikon AIS 35mm f/1.4 is noticeably the worst out of the three lenses, it’s soft and has low contrast until it reaches f/2.8.
From my current results, the Kerlee’s overall sharpness at close focus distance isn’t bad at all. While the centre sharpness couldn’t exactly match the Nikon AFS 35 1.4G, it’s corner sharpness is extremely good. f/1.2 is a bit soft but actually very useable.
The Kerlee 1.2/35 focus ring’s maximum setting can actually go slightly beyond infinity. But for the photo below, which I took at f/2, I actually set the focus distance to halfway between the 10m mark and infinity mark. This gives me the best centre image sharpest. But if you look at the edges, you may notice the edges are actually a bit blurry and doesn’t appear to be in focus. If I set the focus distance to infinity, or past infinity, then the edges would be a lot sharper but now the centre of the photo appears to be slightly out of focus. This suggest the Kerlee has a bit of field curvature. This is not a problem for taking portraits or most kind of everyday photos. But if you want to shoot landscape photos, you really should shoot at a slighly smaller aperture to increase the depth of field. You also need to choose your focus distance carefully to get the best overall sharpness.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-40Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/2 1/4s

The Kerlee 1.2/35 has 14 curved blades, I can’t remember any lens from 21st century has that many blades? What it means is the bokeh should be very round even when you stop down. And let’s see whether the bokeh is good or not.

bokeh-kerlee bokeh-nikonafs bokeh-nikonais

Kerlee’s bokeh is round and reasonable smooth even when stop down to f/5.6 and beyond thanks to it’s 14 curved blades. In comparison, the Nikon lenses, especially the AIS, the bokeh turns into polygon shapes with straight line edges once you stopped down a bit. One special thing about the Kerlee is that when you open up the aperture from f/1.4 to f/1.2, not only you get bigger bokeh, the edge of the bokeh suddenly becomes a lot softer as well. You don’t see a very hard edge and instead there is a soft transition from the background to the bokeh area. This can gives the image a unique look which the two Nikon lenses don’t have.

The Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.4G has a bit of onion ring bokeh at f/1.4 which is absent from the Kerlee. On the other hand, look at the sample photo below, Kerlee’s bokeh can turn into a rugby ball side at f/1.2 when focus on a close object. This is probably due to the lens’s very large aperture opening. The rugby ball shape bokeh becomes less obvious once you stop down slightly or if you focus at objects slightly further away.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-29Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 250 f/1.2 1/125s

Vignetting is quite visible from f/1.2 to around f/2. But to be fair, heavy vignetting is pretty common for any fast 35mm lenses so the Kerlee isn’t doing too bad when compare to them.

 

Kerlee 1.2/35 is multi-coated. DZOptics hasn’t give the coating any fancy name but the coating seems to work well under lighting condition. Lens flare is reasonably well controlled in general and contrast only drops slightly even when you shooting directly into the sun like the photo below.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-3Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/5000s
With direct sun light brutally shinning straight into the lens, lens flare and contrast is still acceptable.

When shooting very high contrast scene at large aperture, you could see some noticeable colour fringing. But just like vignetting, this is pretty much unavoidable for large aperture lenses, let alone a f/1.2 lens. Below is probably one of the worst example I’ve seen in terms of chromatic aberation. Most of my other photos has a lot less colour fringing than that.

By the way, I’m right now working on a 35mm lenses comparison review which compare the Kerlee 1.2/35 with a few other 35mm prime lenses, some old and some new lenses, so if you are interested, stay tune and come back here later for the comparison results.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-4Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/4000s

The simple fact that no one has made a 35mm f/1.2 for (D)SLR cameras before tell us how hard it is to create such a lens. DZOptics not only managed to do that, but as you can see from my comparisons above, the picture quality from the Kerlee is really not bad at all and it is very useable even at f/1.2.
If you are a landscape shooter, the field curvature would be a real problem and the Kerlee 1.2/35 probably isn’t the best 35mm lens for you. But for most other usage, the field curvature should not affect you.
The bokeh from the Kerlee is round and nice even stop down to f/8 or beyond thanks to it’s crazy 14 curved blades design. (something very usual for a lens from 21st century) and at f/1.2 the bokeh is soft and nice even though not completely circle.
So while there are certainly things the Kerlee 1.2/35 can improve, and I hope the lens has auto stop down which allows me to shoot at small aperture easier. (Having said that, I almost never stop down more than 1-2 stops when shooting with a fast prime lens) I’m truly delighted to see what DZOptics have delivered as their first photographic lens, and a very ambitious one.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-42

There are some minor build issues I want to check again in the final version. But even in the current form, the Kerlee 1.2/35 is a solid, beautiful lens that is a pleasure to use. If DZOptics managed to reduce the fix the few minor issues in the mass production version (will check once I received the mass production copy), the Kerlee 1.2/35 will easily be one of the best made lens from a non premium German/Japan camera manufacturer.

The build quality of the Kerlee is just fantastic. It is a very solid, very metal lens. Everything fits perfectly. The focusing ring is buttery smooth and a pleasure to use. Apart from the strange non-linear scale on the aperture ring, the handling of the lens is almost perfect. It’s not only easily the most well made lens from Chinese manufacturer, I would even say the build quality can challenge some of the premium Japanese or Germany brands.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-21

During the review, I’ve been regularly contacting DZOptics and I’m really impressed by their quick response and reaction. I had some issues at the beginning of the testing (which is not uncommon when you are testing pre-production samples) and they did everything they could and quickly to help resolve the issues. What I’m even more surprised is that the final mass production copy I received has fixed pretty much every single issue I reported to them when I was testing their pre-production unit. While this is not something most consumers have to go through, it does show the company works very hard to improve and support their products.
I’ve asked if they can share us any future product plans? They told me they do have a few more “ordinary” lenses under planning, but pretty much everything depends on how success this lens is.  Unfortunately it’s unlikely they will bring out any autofocus lenses in the near future due to the cost. While the Kerlee 1.2/35 is definitely targeting a very small group of photographer who love fast lenses and don’t mind manual focus,  I believe lens would be quite successful and I’m looking forward to see what other products will come from DZOptics.
A lot of people would still shake their head when they heard a product is Made in China. But if you have a chance to try out the Kerlee 1.2/35, you will probably think differently from now on.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-1

 

Sample Photos
All samples are converted from RAW to JPG using Adoble Lightroom CC 2015.5. Adjusted to taste but with ZERO vignetting, CA, distortion correction.

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-24Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 180 f/1.2 1/80s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-26Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 5000 f/1.2 1/60s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-27Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 720 f/1.2 1/125s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-28Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 140 f/1.2 1/125s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-32Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 1000 f/1.2 1/125s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-33Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 10000 f/1.2 1/125s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-10Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/400s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-34Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/30s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-39Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 560 f/1.2 1/80s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-11Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/250s
(Sun was just outside the frame)

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-15Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 720 f/22 1/8000s (doh!)

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-5Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO100 f/11 1/250s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-17Nikon D800 + KERLEE 1.2/35 – ISO800 f/1.2 1/80s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-31Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 720 f/1.2 1/125s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-6Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/5000s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-7Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/8000s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-8Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/2500s
(Direct sun light just outside the frame)

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-9Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/2000s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-36Nikon Df + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 280 f/1.2 1/30s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-14Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 100 f/1.2 1/8000s

Kerlee-35mm-f1.2-review-16Nikon D800 + Kerlee 1.2/35 – ISO 6400 f/22 1/80s

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand.  Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com

Reviewer: Richard Wong
Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com
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Comments

  1. […] see some higher res samples, check out Wong’s blog post here. And if you want to find out more about this lens, head over to the DZOptics website by clicking […]

  2. […] see some higher res samples, check out Wong’s blog post here. And if you want to find out more about this lens, head over to the DZOptics website by clicking […]

  3. […] see some higher res samples, check out Wong’s blog post here. And if you want to find out more about this lens, head over to the DZOptics website by clicking […]

  4. […] see some higher res samples, check out Wong’s blog post here. And if you want to find out more about this lens, head over to the DZOptics website by clicking […]

  5. […] see some higher res samples, check out Wong’s blog post here. And if you want to find out more about this lens, head over to the DZOptics website by clicking […]

  6. […] see some higher res samples, check out Wong’s blog post here. And if you want to find out more about this lens, head over to the DZOptics website by clicking […]

  7. […] According to wedding photographer Richard Wong, the Kerlee would be “easily the most well-made Chinese lens.” For sample images and an early review of the lens, head over to Wong’s blog here. […]

  8. […] According to wedding photographer Richard Wong, the Kerlee would be “easily the most well-made Chinese lens.” For sample images and an early review of the lens, head over to Wong’s blog here. […]

  9. […] Zealand photographer Richard Wong, who received a pre-release model to try out, said the build, image quality, and price looked very good, though he is working with the manufacturer to correct a few […]

  10. […] Zealand photographer Richard Wong, who received a pre-release model to test said build, image quality and price looked very good although he is working with the manufacturer to correct a couple […]

  11. […] Zealand photographer Richard Wong, who received a pre-release model to try out, said the build, image quality, and price looked very good, though he is working with the manufacturer to correct a few […]

  12. […] Zealand photographer Richard Wong, who received a pre-release model to try out, said the build, image quality, and price looked very good, though he is working with the manufacturer to correct a few […]

  13. […] Zealand photographer Richard Wong, that received a pre-launch model to attempt out, said the build, image quality, and fee looked quite good, though he is functioning along with the manufacturer to appropriate a couple of […]

  14. […] product images on Kerlee’s website look very encouraging. One photographer, Richard Wong, has beta-tested the lens and is happy with the […]

  15. […] can see some sample images over on the website of New Zealand based photographer, Richard Wong, who’s been playing with one of these for a few weeks […]

  16. […] can see some sample images over on the website of New Zealand based photographer, Richard Wong, who’s been playing with one of these for a few weeks […]

  17. […] the hands on review that New Zealand based photographer Richard Wong published (see  here including some test shots all done with a pre production sample of the lens)it seems like a very […]

  18. […] 7.5 f/2 has similar issue as well. It’s not the worse, it’s already better than say the Kerlee 35mm f/1.2 lens, but putting the lens cap on or off the Laowa 7.5mm f/2 is still not the easiest thing to do in the […]