Photokina 2012 Report — Part 6: SLR Magic and the Rest

First a Ferrari, and now beer. What on earth does this have to do with photokina? Well, every day at 3 p.m. the guys from Peak Design (read more on their awesome products below) were giving out Freibier. This was their PR strategy, and you can bet it was well received!

This is part six of our photokina 2012 report, with a main focus on SLR Magic, the small lens maker from Hong Kong that has come up with a lot of amazing products in the last two years. Beside an exhaustive report on SLR Magic’s new lenses, the following companies and/or products are featured in this post: Alpa, B.I.G. Photo, Fotoman, the Impossible Project, Lensbaby, Peak Design, the Plustek 120 film scanner, Rollei, and SanDisk.

SLR Magic

SLR Magic is a small company from Hong Kong that started out with making lens adapters, then came up with a number of inexpensive toy lenses and has since begun to create serious lenses for various mirrorless systems such as Micro Four Thirds, Sony NEX, Fuji X and Leica M. If they haven’t already been in the news with their fun creative lenses such as the 26mm f1.4 for Micro Four Thirds or the 28mm ‘Bokehmorphic’ lens for Sony NEX, their name became known when they introduced their 50mm T0.95 Noktor HyperPrime lens for Leica M. When the lens was first announced, we reported about it and could hardly believe that a small company that was known for creating toy lenses could come up with a product that looked like serious competition to Leica’s well-established superfast 50mm f0.95 Noctilux lens.

SLR Magic HyperPrime 50mm T0.95 M mount. The amount of out-of-focus blur wide open is incredible.

Close focusing (.7 m) with the 50mm T0.95 HyperPrime. In the 100% crop you can see that the lens is acceptably sharp wide open.

In the meantime, the company introduced a serious wide angle lens for Micro Four Thirds with the 12mm f1.6 Noktor HyperPrime (which we reviewed here) and announced that they are working on anamorphic lenses for Micro Four Thirds cinematography. At photokina 2012, the company presented four new lenses for Micro Four Thirds, Sony NEX and Fuji X: a redesigned version of the 23mm f1.7 HyperPrime for MFT, NEX and X, a 35mm T1.4 CINE lens for MFT, NEX and X mount, a 35mm T0.95 HyperPrime for MFT, NEX and X as well as a 25mm T0.95 HyperPrime for MFT. The 23mm f1.7 will be available in February 2013, the 35mm T1.4 in December 2012. The 35mm T0.95 and the 25mm T0.95 are still only in prototype stage and need some further refinement.

Foreground left: Sony NEX 5 and SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 CINE lens. Background: 12mm f1.6 HyperPrime for Micro Four Thirds and 23mm f1.7 HyperPrime.

Left to right: 23mm f1.7 HyperPrime, Noktor 50mm f0.95, 25mm f0.95 HyperPrime for MFT (prototype).

Andrew Chan, SLR Magic’s product manager and his team were so kind as to let my try all of their new lenses. So without further ado, here come some details on the new lenses as well as some pictures.

23mm f1.7 HyperPrime — This lens was first announced for Sony NEX in December 2011, but had to be taken out of production shortly thereafter due to difficulties in sourcing one of the materials needed for its production. The lens has since been redesigned and is scheduled to be available for purchase in February 2013, at an MSRP of US-$ 399. On NEX and Fuji X cameras, the focal lengths translates to roughly 35mm, whereas on Micro Four Thirds it will act as a 46mm-equivalent normal lens.

The 23mm f1.7 on a Fuji X-Pro 1. Also in this picture: an ostrich leather halfcase for the X-Pro 1, part of SLR Magic’s new line of accessories.

X-Pro 1 with 23/1.7 and SLR Magic half case. Below: brown ostrich leather. The leather comes from farm ostriches from South Africa. So, unlike the synthetic ostrich-leather-lookalike material that Leica uses on their X2, this is real ostrich leather.

The lens has about the right size for its focal length to speed ratio, considering it does not contain an AF motor.

25mm T0.95 HyperPrime — The 25mm HyperPrime was designed for Micro Four Thirds only, and is a direct competitor to the 25mm f0.95 manual lens from Cosina Voigtländer. It is still in prototype stage, so we don’t know yet when it will be available. Size and weight wise, this lens and the Voigtländer don’t give each other much. What sets it apart from its Voigtländer competitor though is its T rating, which means that the actual physical aperture is slightly larger than f0.95. The aperture ring is clickless, which means the lens can be used for video as well. Build and image quality were not final yet, so I will not make any premature judgements. Andrew was so nice as to let me try the 25mm on my E-P1 — below are a few snaps I took with it.

The 25mm T0.95 HyperPrime @ T0.95.

The amount of background blur that can be achieved with a wide open aperture is amazing. As with any superfast lens, sharpness and contrast improve dramatically upon stepping down. However, even though this being only a prototype, I found it to be very sharp wide open for a lens this fast — see the picture below with a 100% crop.

Again @ T0.95 — click for a full size version.

Once more @ T0.95 …

… at T1.4 …

… and at T2.

Once this lens becomes available (Andrew wasn’t 100% satisfied with it yet, so he wants to improve the optical design first), we can expect it to be a serious competitor to both the 25/0.95 Voigtländer Nokton and the 25/1.4 Summilux — especially considering that its estimated retail price will be under US-$ 650.

35mm T1.4 CINE lens — This lens is labeled ‘CINE’ and not ‘HyperPrime’ because only the fastest lenses of any given focal length will be labeled ‘HyperPrime’ by SLR Magic. However, this is a proper cine lens, coming not only with a T rating but also with gears, so you can use it with a proper follow focus system.

The SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 CINE lens on a Panasonic GH2. This has a follow focus attached, but I neglected to take a picture of that — my apologies!

SLR Magic 35mm T1.4 CINE lens — plenty sharp wide open, with gentle out-of-focus blur. Click for larger version.

You’d expect it to be much sharper @ T4, and indeed it is.

As stated above, this lens will be available for purchase this December, and comes at an MSRP of US-$ 279 — which is, I have to say, pretty inexpensive for a lens like this. It will be available for Micro Four Thirds, Sony NEX and Fuji X.

35mm T0.95 HyperPrime — This is the real stuff. This is an absolute killer lens. SLR Magic already did an incredible job with the 50mm T0.95, but this one beats it, in my opinion. The only drawback is that they could not design it with full-frame coverage, because that would’ve made it exponentially larger and heavier. It does cover APS-C, though.

The 35mm T0.95 is a beast — not quite as large and heavy as its 50mm sibling, but close.

This lens, just as the 25mm T0.95 for Micro Four Thirds, was also still in prototype stage, so again I won’t prematurely judge its build and optical quality. What I can say, though, is that even the prototype version of this lens is incredibly sharp at its widest aperture. While the 50mm T0.95 is very soft wide open and sharpens up only upon stopping down, this lens is really crisp at T0.95 — see the sample below.

The 35mm T0.95 HyperPrime @ T0.95 on an Olympus E-P1. Click to see how sharp it is wide open.

The 35mm HyperPrime comes in M-mount, but so far no rangefinder-coupled version is planned. The reason for this is that the construction around the rear lens element is simply too wide — it would not fit inside a Leica M8. And because the lens does not cover full frame, it would not have made any sense on a full-frame M. The reason why it comes in M mount, however, is that you can use it on different system simply by changing the adapter. At the price tag of this lens — it will be around US-$ 1,249 — you will neither wish to buy two of it if you plan on using it on different systems, nor will you wish to re-buy it should you decide to change your system. This is a lens that you buy once, and that you keep because it’s an awesome piece of glass. By making it in M-mount, all you need is an adapter to use it on your respective mirrorless system.

The 35mm T0.95 HyperPrime @ T0.95 …

… at T1.4 …

… and at T2.8.

So, as you can see, SLR Magic don’t seem to ever get bored of creating amazing lenses. All of the lenses shown above are made for mirrorless systems, and all come with clickless apertures so they can be used for videography. In Addition some of they come or will come with gears so they can be used with follow focus systems. Currently, cinematographers are the main clientele that SLR Magic is focusing on. But this is only good for still photographers, because the standards for cine lenses are pretty high, and SLR Magic creates their lenses with these standards in mind. I, personally, was and still am pretty amazed by what they’ve come up with so far, and I’m excited to see  what they will bring us in the future.

Andrew Chan holding an X-Pro 1 and 35mm T0.95 lens in front of the SLR Magic booth at photokina 2012. Thanks for your time, Andrew and team!

The Rest

There was so much more to see at this year’s photokina, and during the two days that I visited, I hardly had the time to take a look at everything that was even remotely interesting. But I did come across a bunch of interesting products and companies, which I will share with you below.

Alpa — This is a swiss company that makes, among other things, medium format film cameras and accessories. I came by their stand and took a few snaps.

B.I.G. Photo — These guys from Bavaria, Germany had announced a 15mm f4.5 shift lens for Micro Four Thirds ahead of photokina (our news here.) Upon seeing the first renderings, I suspected that this was Voigtländer Super-Wide Heliar that was retrofitted with a shift mechanism Micro Four Thirds mount — it turned out I was right. The lens shown at photokina was only a prototype and I couldn’t try it out, but I left them my card and hope to be able to review it once it becomes available.

B.I.G. Photo 15mm f4.5 shift lens for Micro Four Thirds

In this picture you can see that the lens was shifted downwards.

The 15/4.5 MFT shift lens explained — in German.

Fotoman — A Chinese-Canadian-America joint-venture, Fotoman creates large- and medium format film cameras, with a focus on panoramic photography.

A medium format panoramic camera from Fotoman.

The Impossible Project — If you’ve never heard their name, go check them out. These are the people that revived Polaroid instant photography when the company went bust. Beside their films, Impossible showcased the new FPU (Film Processing Unit, our news here) and a prototype of their kickstarter-funded iPhone-to-Polaroid converter that runs on it. No word on upcoming cameras, but the iPhone thingie works, as you can see in the video below. The proof: I got to keep the final picture. Awesome!

Impossible’s new FPU, used in their iPhone-to-Polaroid-converter-thingie.

You put an iPhone on top and get a Polaroid picture of your latest Instagram snap.

Lensbaby — Lensbaby announced their new ‘Spark’ entry-level creative lens ahead of photokina. It features a 50mm f5.6 lens module inside a unique squee-to-focus tiltable body. They had no Micro Four Thirds version available, but I played a little with the Nikon version on an FX body and I must say, it was great fun. You squeeze the body to focus, and you tilt it to move the sweet spot. Sweet!

The Lensbaby Spark can be bought online from B&H Photo.

Peak Design — Peak Design is a bunch of guys from all over the world who share one passion: outdoor photography. In order to make it easier to take your camera (or multiple cameras) with you on a hike, on a stroll through town or anywhere, they came up with a pretty clever solution: a tripod-compatible plate that fits a clip which you can attach to your belt, messenger bag, backpack etc. We actually reviewed it a while ago. At photokina, Peak Design showed the new and improved version of their Capture Clip which comes in a Manfrotto and an Arca tripod compatible version, as well as a smaller version for mirrorless and other more compact cameras. In addition to the Capture Clip, they also showed their new multifunctional camera strap, which is a strap for people that hate camera straps (at least that’s what Adam told me.) Check out the pictures below!

Adam Saraceno from Peak Design demonstrating the Capture Clip system.

The Capture Clip plate goes into your camera’s tripod mount, where it sits absolutely tight.

The actual clip can be attached to your backpack — for example — where it, too, sits absolutely tight. It features a tripod mount to hold the plate, so there’s no chance your camera will drop.

For additional safety, you can secure your camera using Peak Design’s new strap …

… which uses a simple but effective mechanism to keep your camera from dropping. If you decide to use it without the strap, simply unplug it.

Plustek — Plustek were showing their new 120 format film scanner, which is a beast. Seriously, this thing is huge! They also showcased their new 8-series 35mm scanners (announced a while ago here), which, according to the rep I talked to, are almost identical to the 7-series except that they come with the latest version 8 of the SilverFast scanner software.

The Plustek OpticFilm 120 medium format film scanner. This thing is huge!

The Plustek OpticFilm 120 takes various medium format sizes as well as 35mm film. So there’s no need to have two scanners if you’re shooting both medium format and 35mm.,

The Plustek OpticFilm 120 can be bought online from B&H Photo.

Rollei — If you didn’t guess by now, film is still alive and kicking as can be seen by the various film-related products that were shown at photokina 2012. It was nice to see that the well-established name ‘Rollei’ was still being used to label the type of camera that the company became famous for, the Twin Lens Reflex. Beside an up-to-date version of their Rolleiflex TLR, the company also showed the Hy6 modular MF camera that can be used with both film and digital medium format backs.

The good old Rolleiflex TLR. This is actually a new one which is currently being produced by Rollei.

And the Hy6, Rollei’s modular medium format solution that can also be used with a digital back, besides the obvious 120/220 film.

SanDisk — Photokina wasn’t all about cameras and lenses, there were a lot of accessory makers as well. I didn’t really take a closer look at the SanDisk stand, but what caught my attention was this (actual) block of ice which contained SanDisk SD cards. Apparently, this was meant to showcase how durable their latest SD cards are. Pretty clever idea, I have to say. Also, it looked awesome 🙂

That’s all, folks! There was so much more to see and so many more things I would’ve loved to take a look at, but since my time was limited I could only do so much. I hope you enjoyed our series of photokina 2012 reports, and make sure to check back four our big bad-ass photokina 2012 roundup, which will recap on everything photokina-related that we reported about in the last couple weeks.


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