Chinese lens manufacturer Zhongyi Optics have released some excellent lenses in their Speedmaster series for various systems over the past few years. Recently, they have added an f/1.4 lens for the Fujifilm GFX system to their lineup. Today, we'll take a look at the Zhongyi Mitakon Speedmaster 65mm f/1.4 for Fujifilm GFX.
Zhongyi are obviously trying to fill a niche in the market for good quality, affordable, bokeh-driven lenses. This offering for the GFX system is no exception. It is currently the fastest lens available for the Fujifilm system and is aimed at those who look for a special rendering from their lenses rather than a technically excellent piece of glass. Let's see how it performs.
As with other lenses from Zhongyi Optics, the 65mm f/1.4 is solidly built from heavy materials. Its 11 elements of glass are enclosed within a metal body that together weigh in at just over one kilogram (2.3 lbs). This is a significant weight for a “normal” lens and feels very front-heavy on the GFX bodies.
The lens does feel well built, although not as polished as Fujifilm's native offerings. One small issue with the build is that the metal ring holding the front element into the lens does tend to come loose from time to time. It is worth checking this each time you take off the lens cap to avoid a potential accident.
In a feature reminiscent of Nikon's DC series of lenses, there is a metal hood built into the front of the lens. By unscrewing the piece in front of the aperture ring and reversing it, you add a short but sturdy hood to the lens. It blocks only the most sharply angled light, however, and flare is still prominent regardless of the hood. More on that below. It does, however, help to protect the large front element from potential knocks.
As with Zhongyi's other lenses, the de-clicked aperture ring can be found towards the front of the lens. As this is a completely physical aperture ring with no “indexing” feature, turning it will physically stop down the lens immediately. This becomes an issue for image preview as the camera can often not gather enough light for a bright preview. A second issue with this is that it's only possible to focus accurately with the lens wide open. If you want to use f/8 for example, you'll need to focus wide open and then stop down. We'll discuss this, along with a potential fix, down below.
Despite a few small issues, the lens feels solid in the hand and in no way does the construction feel cheap. It's a good, if heavy, match for the GFX bodies.
As you might expect from this price range, the Zhongyi does not exhibit the same level of technical excellence in image quality that Fujifilm's offerings do. Where Fujifilm's lenses are extremely sharp wide open and render more detail than most photographers will ever need, the Zhongyi is somewhat soft wide open and does not produce really great detail from corner to corner until around f/5.6. However, as with the Fujifilm lenses, CAs are very well controlled.
Back to detail for a moment. The lens doesn't render a lot of detail wide open, but makes huge strides at f/2 and f/2.8, both of which will provide much sharper images. By f/4, things look really good and by f/5.6 you'd be hard pressed to distinguish the level of detail from one of Fujifilm's own lenses.
Having said that, you bought this lens to use it at f/1.4, so is it useable? That depends what you want from your lens. At f/1.4, the bokeh is creamy and there is a distinct depth to the images, especially at closer focus distances. If you aren't looking for perfect sharpness and oodles of detail in your wide-open images, but more for an image with a very specific look to it, this may be a lens you'll be interested in using wide open. Check the samples here for some examples of images made at f/1.4.
At the other end of the aperture scale comes another issue I have with this lens. With medium format, it can often be a struggle to get enough depth of field for a given photograph because of the larger sensor. Zhongyi decided to create a lens with a minimum aperture of f/16. For certain applications, this is simply not enough on a large sensor. In my use, I have already come across a couple of situations where I would have preferred f/22 or even f/32 to get the depth of field I wanted. In the close-up portrait above, you can see that f/11 was not quite enough to get sharpness all through the frame. The ability to stop down to f/22 or f/32 would have been very useful here.
Flare and ghosting are things you will see often if you're not careful with this lens. Any strong, direct light hitting this lens will immediately cause visible flares. Unfortunately, I haven't found them to be as unique and interesting as with Zhongyi's Mitakon 35mm f/1.4. There are no blazing red semi-circles to be seen with the 65mm f/1.4. Still, if you enjoy working with flare in your images, careful use could provide some interesting effects.
Vignetting is very well controlled. At f/1.4, you will see around a one-stop loss of light in the corners. This clears up very well by f/2 and is almost unnoticeable at f/2.8. Even at f/1.4, it is a very uniform falloff, so it's easy to correct for if you want it gone.
In day-to-day use, this lens has a couple of things that stop it from being the perfect companion. The image quality and build are quite good, but a couple of quirks make it more difficult to use than I would like.
As I mentioned in the build section of this article, there are a couple of issues with the aperture ring. The first being that if you're working in a dim environment, it can be difficult for the mirrorless GFX to gather enough light for a clear preview image. This means slower refresh and an extremely grainy preview. Although this de-clicked physical aperture may be a useful feature in video work, it's not likely that many GFX users will be doing film work. I would much prefer a clicked aperture or at least to have the option.
The second issue with this aperture is that focusing is simply guesswork unless the lens is wide open. Getting sharp images (especially using focus peaking) requires opening the lens up to f/1.4, focusing, then stopping down to your desired aperture again. This means that you'll need to take your eye away from the viewfinder and check the aperture when you stop down. This is an inconvenience that could be solved with a system like that found in the old Helios lenses. With those, a simple switch was available to completely open the lens and then stop it down to a preset value when the switch was flicked.
Since the lens is not quite as sharp as Fujifilm's offerings, I often find myself using it at f/4 or f/5.6 to get the beautiful detail that the GFX sensor is capable of. Wide open, there is a beautiful feel to the images, but much less detail captured. The depth of field is also so shallow wide open that it is difficult to make out what is in focus and what isn't.
The major issue with this lens in practical use, though, is the slow focusing. The focus ring is large, easy to grip, and well constructed. However, it requires a lot of effort to turn, making focus too slow for many applications. The focus throw is also very long, which is great for precision but not so much for getting things in focus quickly.
Who Is It for?
As you have read, this lens has a few issues that might make those looking to use it for work think twice. For many forms of photography, it's quite a slow lens to use. Also, for certain applications, the sharpness at wider apertures may prove to be an issue for some. For others, these may not be concerns. I'd say this lens is definitely more fitted to the artists among us than those who need a workhorse.
Things I Liked
Beautiful Mitakon bokeh wide open
Solid feeling build
Inbuilt hood (although it's not useful for much more than protecting the front element)
Great detail and sharpness when stopped down
f/1.4 on the large sensor is quite special
Price (under $800 for a medium format lens!)
Basically no CA
Vignettes less than other Mitakon lenses
Things I Felt Could Be Improved
Lighter materials could have been used
Sharpness wide open
Stiffness of focus ring
Aperture ring not having an indexing lock
Loose ring to hold front element in
Only stops down to f/16
As with their other lenses, I feel like Zhongyi are on track to release some spectacular lenses in the future. There are still a few usability and construction issues that plague this lens just like their previous lenses. However, optically, it is still a great performer and offers something that none of Fujifilm's native lenses can offer: an extremely fast aperture. It is also priced very attractively for a medium format lens, which should make the decision to buy one a bit easier. You can pick yours up here.