Review: Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 (Sony FE)

The Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 is an aggressively priced manual focus portrait lens for Sony Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras

During last year’s PhotoPlus Expo, Viltrox announced that they have begun designing and manufacturing their own camera lenses. Up until that point, the Chinese company was known principally as a manufacturer of photography accessories as well as lens adapters. As we had already reviewed the ultrawide Viltrox PFU RBMH 20mm f1.8 ASPH lens previously, the focus of this review will instead be on the other lens that Viltrox announced during PPE: the portrait-centric Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 for Sony FE Mount. Housed within a brass body, the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 feels sturdily built in hand. While you can adjust the aperture of the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 using your camera’s aperture dial, focusing is a completely manual affair. Aggressively priced at just under US$300, the Viltrox  PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 for Sony Full Frame Mirrorless is certainly worthy of consideration for any portrait photographers on a budget. Read on to find out how well the freshman lens maker fared.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Sturdy construction
  • Excellent sharpness
  • Creamy bokeh

Cons

  • Significantly heavier than Sony’s native autofocus 85mm f1.8 for Sony FE mount
  • Kacks weather sealing
  • Our review unit experienced intermittent lockup issues when shooting with 3rd generation Sony Full Frame Mirrorless cameras

 

Gear Used

We tested the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 with the Sony A7RII and Sony A7RIII.

 

Tech Specs

Tech specs for the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 taken from Viltrox’s marketing pamphlet.

Focal Length  85 mm
Aperture f1.8 – f16
Aperture Blades No.  9
Camera Mount  Sony FE-Mount
Format Compatible Frames Full Frame
Shooting Distance  0.8 m (31.50″) – ∞
Field Angle  (Diagonal / Horizontal / Vertical) 28°46′ / 23°58′ /15°58′
Focus Mode  MF (IF)
Image Field Diameter  43.2 mm (1.7″)
Close Range Coverage 192 x 288 mm (7.56 x 11.34″)
Image Ratio at Min. Distance  1:8
Lens Structure  10/7
Flange Distance  18 mm (0.71″)
Pupil Position (Image Surface Benchmark) 10 mm (0.39″)
Auto Focus  – –
Image Stabilization Support camera’s five axis stabilization
Auto Iris  Electronic auto iris
EXIF Information Support
Filter Specification M72 x 0.75
Rotation Angle of the Focusing Ring 145.9°
Max. Diameter 79 mm (3.11″)
Diameter of the Focusing Ring 72.6 mm (2.86″)
Length (with Lens Cap) 100 mm (3.94″)
Length (without Lens Cap) 92 mm (3.62″)
Weight 665 g (1.47 pounds)

 

Ergonomics

Ergonomics section taken from our First Impressions article.

Here is a look at the side profile of the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8. Coming in 3.62″ long with a diameter of 3.11″, it’s nearly identical in size when compared to Sony’s own 85mm f1.8, but weighs just over 2/3 pounds more. The only movable part that you will find on this lens is the focusing ring, which felt very smooth when turning. You will need to use one of the mode dials on your Sony camera to adjust the aperture setting of this lens, which goes from f1.8 to f16.

The front of the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 is pretty Spartan. Without the lens hood attached, the only thing you will see up front is the waterproof and anti-fog coated front element. The filter thread diameter of this lens is 79mm.

Turning our attention to the top of the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8, we can see the model number as well as a depth of field scale clearly etched onto the top half of the lens. This makes it easy for photographers to quickly dial in the focal length of the lens. You can of course use the EVF or live view for more precise focusing.

 

“…be advised that the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 does not feature any weather sealing, so it’s probably not the lens you should reach for during inclement weather.”

 

Build Quality

The Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 is a manual focus prime lens designed for Sony Full Frame mirrorless cameras. The exterior of the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 is precision crafted from brass. The lens features a “hypercircle” nine bladed aperture that is paired with an optical design that consists of 10 optical elements arranged into seven lens groups. A large diameter, double-sided aspherical element is situated front and center in the lens, accompanied by four ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements along with a low wave high transparency glass element. Viltrox has coated the optical elements with their proprietary “HD Nano multilayer” coating and the front element is water and fog resistant. When holding the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85Mmm f1.8 in our hands, the lens felt solid and well constructed, albeit quite heavy. Also be advised that the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 does not feature any weather sealing, so it’s probably not the lens you should reach for during inclement weather.

 

Ease of Use

Throughout our time with the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8, we ran into an odd issue where the lens would cause our cameras to lock up randomly. This usually lasted a few minutes at most, and only occurred when we had the lens mated to a 3rd generation Sony Full Frame mirrorless body. We reached out to Viltrox regarding the issue and per their engineering team, this was an issue with early production units that have since been addressed. Lock up issue aside, we didn’t run into any other issues when using the lens. Aperture adjustments are done via the mode dial on your Sony camera body and work without incident. The manual focus ring turns smoothly and provides minimal resistance, allowing you to dial in your focus quickly especially if you’re experienced with using depth of field scales (the Viltrox has one etched onto the exterior of the lens). If Live View or the EVF is more your speed, then focus peaking is your friend when shooting with this lens. The Viltrox 85mm f1.8 will serve you well as long as you’re not one of those photographers that are allergic to manual focusing.

 

Image Quality

Looking at the images that we captured using the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8, in focus areas are tack sharp and transitions into out of focus areas are smooth and gradual. Center sharpness is excellent throughout the aperture range, with no noticeable loss in sharpness detected as you move towards the fringes of your frame. All in all, images produced with the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 are quite pleasing.

Bokeh

Fans of velvety smooth bokeh will find lots to love with the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8. Thanks to the “hypercircle” nine bladed aperture, you’re going to see lots of circular bokeh balls throughout your frame whenever there are light sources in the distance within your frame.

Chromatic Aberration

While we did notice some color fringing on occasion, it’s far from distracting and it’s really only noticeable if you happen to be pixel peeping. If you’re shooting into a bright light source such as the Sun, you’re bound to find flares appearing in your image, but this gives the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 some character more than anything.

Color Rendition

Colors tend to lean towards the more muted side when shooting with the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8, but this can be easily rectified during post-production.

Sharpness

As long as you’ve nailed focus when shooting with the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8, you’ll be rewarded with some tack sharp images. Take your time, utilize helpful tools like focus peaking and focus magnifier, and you’ll be sure to end up with tack sharp results.

Additional Image Samples

Here are some additional images that we shot with the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8. As a matter of ethics, none of the sample images seen within this review have been retouched so that you can judge the quality of the images produced by this lens for yourself.

 

Conclusion

Likes

  • pleasing bokeh and excellent sharpness

Dislikes

  • how heavy it is
  • absence of weather sealing

Although the Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 lacks autofocus, it makes up for it by being competitively priced at roughly half of what Sony is asking for their first party autofocusing 85mm f1.8. Capable of producing some truly excellent images, the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 is well built and offers quite a lot of bang for your buck. Unless you’re a portrait photographer that takes umbrage with manual focusing, the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 is certainly worthy of consideration, particularly if you’re on a budget. Just make sure you’re not shooting with it in the middle of a rainstorm or other less than pleasant weather conditions since the lens isn’t weather sealed.

The Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f1.8 earns Four out of Five Stars. You can pick one up over at Amazon