Review: SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 (Micro Four Thirds)

Felix Esser The Phoblographer SLR Magic 35mm f/1.4 Aperture

The SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 cine lens has been out for a while now, and indeed we posted our first impressions of it a while back. Since then, I’ve spent considerably more time with it and used it in a number of different scenarios. Besides the Panasonic G1, I’ve also tested it on a Sony NEX-3 (via adapter), on which it really shined. So how does this lens, which offers quite a lot of speed for the money, fare in daily use? Does it keep up with expectations? Read the full review to find out.

The following paragraph is copied from the first impressions post.

The 35mm T1.4 is designated as a cine lens, hence the T rating instead of the traditional f-stop rating. For those unfamiliar with these terms, the f-stop rating indicates the physical aperture size of the lens, i.e. focal length divided by aperture diameter. The T rating indicates the actual light transmitting capabilities of the lens, which is important for video productions that often switch lenses but need to maintain a constant image brightness. T1.4 means that the amount of light transmitted through the lens is identical to a virtual f1.4 lens with no light loss. However, since every lens construction comes with a slight loss of light, the actual aperture of a T1.4 lens is slightly larger than that of an f1.4 lens. The crucial point is that T1.4 is always the same in terms of brightness, whereas the actual brightness of an f1.4 lens may vary between different models.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Reasonably sharp wide-open, with beautifully gentle out-of-focus blur
  • T-rating and gears makes it useable for serious videography
  • Low price point for a lens of this focal length and speed rating

Cons

  • Noticeable barrel distortion
  • Slight issues with build quality
  • Prone to gather dust on the inside

Gear Used

For this review, I used the SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 lens on both a Panasonic G1 Micro Four Thirds camera and a Sony NEX-3 camera (via adapter). Product shots were taken with the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 lens and a Rokinon D900AFZ TTL flash.

Tech Specs

The following paragraph is copied from the first impressions post.

Focal Length (35mm equivalent) 70mm (on MFT) / 53mm (on APS-C)
Minimum Focus Distance 11.81″ / 0.3m
Minimum Aperture F/16
Length 2.76″ / 70.3mm
Weight 13.05″ / 370g
Filter Size 52mm

Ergonomics

The following paragraphs are copied from the first impressions post.

Because the 35mm T1.4 is intended for use by videographers, it is equipped with gears around the focusing and aperture rings that allow the use of a follow focus system. The rough, corrugated structure of the gears is quite convenient also for still photography, as they’re easy to grip and operate, and hard to accidentally slip off from.

Both the focusing and aperture rings are easy to turn, yet well dampened. This, too, makes them comfortable to operate. The lens’s relative size and heft help with holding the camera steady, as there is enough space to stabilize the camera with your left hand on the lens, while your right hand holds the camera itself. Add to that an electronic viewfinder, and it’s tough to get shaky pictures with this combo.

Felix Esser The Phoblographer SLR Magic 35mm T1.4

Build Quality

The following paragraphs are copied from the first impressions post

Build quality of this lens–as with all SLR Magic lenses I’ve handled so far–can only be described as very good. I already mentioned that the 35mm T1.4 is hefty–this is because the whole body is made from solid metal. No plastic anywhere. This gives a very solid and sturdy feel to it. The aperture and focus rings also feel very solid and are well dampened. The overall feel of this lens is one of solid craftsmanship.

One thing that is particular noteworthy is the front cap the lens comes with. Unlike most lenses that come with plastic caps that snap into place in the filter ring, the SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 comes with a solid metal cap that actually screws into the filter ring. The advantage: it cannot get lost (unless you drop it) and it provides extra protection for the front lens element. I only wish all lenses came with lens caps that sturdy.

Update:

On my particular copy of this lens, I noticed that the greasing of the focusing ring was less than optimal. Under certain conditions, focusing would be a little less smooth and I would hear a distinct sound of grinding metal elements. This is worrysome, since it means that the lens could suffer damage in the long run. Additionally, the lens seems prone to collect dust between the lens elements, meaning that they’re not optimally sealed. Which means that eventually I’ll have to send it to a specialist for cleaning and lubrication. It’s possible that this issue is limited to my particular copy, though.

Focusing

The following paragraph is copied from the first impressions post.

Focusing the 35mm T1.4 is very easy thanks to the well dampened yet easy to turn focus ring. From close focus to infinity the lens rotates by approx. 130°, which is about two twists of the focusing ring (depending on the size of your fingers and/or your ability to contort yourself.) This is just about right, as focusing does not take an eternity while still being very precise. Personally, I have had no problems achieving spot-on focus with this lens, even wide open. Using a high-resolution EVF with additional magnification helps a lot, though.

Update:

Because the lens focuses down to 30 cm, it is possible to get very close and achieve extremely thin depth-of-field wide open, as the following picture demonstrates.

Moss | Panasonic G1

Moss, wide open and close up | Panasonic G1

Ease of Use

The following paragraph is copied from the first impressions post.

What can I say? This is an all manual lens, and it behaves like all manual lenses I’ve used so far. Thanks to its properties described in the three paragraphs above, operation is smooth and easy-going. Pretty much everything about this lens is perfect. Unless, of course, this is the first manual lens you ever used — in that case, the learning curve might be a little steeper

Update:

In my first impressions post, I neglected to mention that the aperture ring on this lens is stepless, which means that there are no click stops for individual aperture settings. This is relevant for videography, but it can be a bit annoying for still photographers, because you can’t set the aperture by feel, but have to look at the aperture ring to see how far the lens is stopped down.

Image Qualiy

Beside the overall build, image quality is the other strong part of this lens; especially considering its price point. I tested it on both the Panasonic G1 and the Sony NEX-3, and it was excellent on both. While it makes for more of a portrait lens on the G1 due to the smaller sensor, on the NEX-3 it is a perfect allround lens.

Bokeh

Bokeh, i.e. the quality of out-of-focus rendering, is excellent. Specular highlights are rendered smoothly without noticeable ‘doughnut’ rings around them, and even with busier backgrounds the bokeh doesn’t get harsh or distracting. A focal length of 35mm at f/1.4 allows for some serious subject separation with smooth background blur. This is especially true on the Sony NEX-3 with its larger sensor.

Bokehlicious!

Bokehlicious! | Panasonic G1

Felix Esser The Phoblographer SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 Review

Out-of-focus blurring is very smooth and pleasing. | Sony NEX-3

Felix Esser The Phoblographer SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 Review

Bokeh can get a bit swirly under certain conditions, which is reminiscent of classic spherical lens designs. | Sony NEX-3

Sharpness

Sharpness is very good in general. As can be expected, the lens renders tack sharp stopped down. Wide open there is some softness, but with enough micro contrast to reveal a lot of fine detail. There’s little glow, and spherical aberrations are pretty much nonexistent with this lens. I’d say the SLR Magic design team did some pretty great work in this regard.

Felix Esser The Phoblographer SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 Review

100% crop, T1.4 on the Sony NEX-3. Click to enlarge.

Color Fringing

Color fringing is visible around highlight edges, especially when the lens is used wide open. Nothing out of the ordinary, though, if not even better than average.

100% crop, T1.4 on the Sony NEX-3. Click to enlarge.

100% crop, T1.4 on the Sony NEX-3. Click to enlarge.

In the above crop, some pruple fringing is visible where the lens is focused on high-contrast areas. It is only minmal, though, and hardly visible in the full image. In the image below, I would’ve expected to see a lot of color fringing. However, there is none to observe.

Dripping | Sony NEX-3

Dripping | Sony NEX-3

Distortion

This is really the only weak point of the lens–it distorts quite heavily. And I didn’t even have to take brick wall shots to notice it. However, it’s only noticeable in images with lots of straight vertical or horizontal lines towards the edges of the image. And if it absolutely annoys you, you can make a lens profile for Lightroom and correct it automatically.

Felix Esser The Phoblographer SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 Review

Barrel distortion | Panasonic G1

The above image was taken with the Panasonic G1, and even on its smaller sensor the distortion is obvious. However, this can easily be corrected during processing.

Color Rendering

This lens renders color very neutral and accurately, being maybe slightly on the warm side, which I personally find pleasing. Overall, colors are vivid and natural looking.

Felix Esser The Phoblographer SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 Review

Golden Retriever | Sony NEX-3

Vignetting

Wide open, the lens vignettes quite strongly. This is much more apparent on the NEX-3’s larger APS-C sensor than on Micro Four Thirds. Also, on the NEX it takes stopping down to T8 until all vignetting is gone. It can be used creatively to emphasize a centered subject, especially when shooting wide open and close up. If you absolutely need to have even illumination, it could be a bit difficult to remove it all in Lightroom in T1.4 shots. Stopped down though, it’s not much of an issue.

Vignetting is strong at T1.4 on the Sony NEX-3.

Vignetting is strong at T1.4 on the Sony NEX-3.

At T4, vignetting is still relatively strong.

At T4, vignetting is still obvious–with most fast lenses, it should be gone by this point.

At T8, vignetting is mostly gone.

At T8, vignetting is virtually not observable anymore.

Flare

Another strong point is that this lens doesn’t show much flare under the typical circumstances, and a lens hood will probably do away with it. Personally, I like to use flare creatively, so it does not bother me. I’d recomment using a hood though if you do not desire it, especially with strong light sources.

Linear flare induced by the sun just outside the top left corner. | Panasonic G1

Linear flare induced by the sun just outside the top left corner. | Panasonic G1

Circular flare induced by the sun outside of the frame. | Panasonic G1

Circular flare induced by the sun outside of the frame. | Panasonic G1

Conclusions

The SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 is one bang-for-your-buck lens. At a price point of US-$ 349, you can’t really go wrong. It offers a lot of speed, good sharpness and beautiful bokeh, and renders a normal focal length on APS-C. The only big letdown is the distortion. But if you want a perfect 35/1.4 lens, be ready to dig much deeper into your pockets. There are some tradeoffs you have to make when you design a lens of this focal length and speed ratio if you want to keep it affordable and the size manageable, and honestly, I think SLR Magic went the right way when they concentrated on bokeh, sharpness and color rendering. Geometry is much easier to correct in post-processing.

During the time I used it on the Sony NEX-3, I’ve grown much fonder of this lens than when using it on the Panasonic G1, where it gives an odd field-of-view corresponding to a 70mm lens on full-frame. On the NEX, I liked it so much that I decided to get my own APS-C body just to be able to use it as a fast normal lens, like my 50/1.4 on my old analog Pentax body. Yes, it’s all manual, so it’s definitely not for everyone. But it’s for those who don’t mind (or even prefer) to set their aperture and focus manually, and are looking for an affordable standard lens with low-light capability and great image quality.

Did I wet your appetite? You can buy the SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 cine lens from Amazon or Adorama following the links below.

SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 cine in Sony NEX mount | Amazon.com

SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 cine in Sony NEX mount | Adorama

SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 cine in Fuji X mount | Amazon.com

SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 cine in Fuji X mount | Adorama

Additional Images

Easter egg | Sony NEX-3

Easter egg | Sony NEX-3

Trash | Sony NEX-3

Trash | Sony NEX-3

Cookies and coffe | Sony NEX-3

Cookies and coffe | Sony NEX-3

Portrait 2 | Sony NEX-3 | Even at longer distances, subject isolation is possible thanks to the large initial aperture.

Even at longer distances, subject isolation is possible thanks to the large initial aperture. | Sony NEX-3

Swan lake | Sony NEX-3

Swan lake | Sony NEX-3

Ferris wheel | Sony NEX-3

Ferris wheel | Sony NEX-3

Light and smoke | Sony NEX-3

Light and smoke | Sony NEX-3

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