The annual Camera Magazine Imaging Awards recognise excellence in the design and execution of imaging products. This year there are ten categories and to be eligible, products had to go on sale around Australia from 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2019. The lens categories are now very hotly contested as all the mirrorless systems ramp up with models from both the camera-makers and the independents. Winning here is a big deal.
Prime Lens Winner: Samyang AF 45mm f1.8 FE
For a long time there was what virtually amounted to a ‘secret society’ of Samyang lens users who had discovered just how much optical performance was available for so little money. Cinematographers were some of the keenest supporters – even before Samyang started making lenses specifically for this application – but the whispers soon reached the ears of canny photographers too. If you didn’t mind manual focusing and prime focal lengths, Samyang lenses represented unbeatable value for money.
They still do, but now the company is expanding its horizons and, locally, thanks to a much more pro-active distributor, the secret is out. Samyang was quick to join the mirrorless revolution and there’s now a growing line of FE mount lenses with autofocusing. Undoubtedly the most interesting of them is the latest… an ultra-compact 45mm prime with a fast maximum aperture of f1.8. While the A7 series camera bodies, in particular, are quite compact even Sony itself is still making comparatively bulky lenses, especially the faster zooms. In comparison, the Samyang AF 45mm f1.8 FE is just 56.1 millimetres in length and weighs in at a mere 162 grams.
Consequently, on a Sony A7 body it looks right at home and feels beautifully balanced too. The autofocusing supports Sony’s AF modes, including DMF (Direct Manual Focusing) which provides a full-time manual override for fine-tuning. The flush-fitting focusing collar is fly-by-wire electronic, but still feels nicely weighted. Linear focus motors ensure smooth and linear AF operation.
The optical construction comprises seven elements in six groups with two aspherical types and one made from optical glass with extra-low dispersion (ED) characteristics. The result is an optical performance that far exceeds expectations, including for centre-to-corner sharpness (even at f1.8), and the correction for both chromatic aberrations and distortion. The nine-blade diaphragm ensures nicely rounded out-of-focus effects, making the most of the shallow depth-of-field at f1.8. And, of course, it’s worth noting that 45mm is closer to the standard focal length for the 24x36 mm image size rather than 50mm. And all this for less than $600.
This was a big category this year – especially with all the prime lens releases from the 35mm format mirrorless system newcomers – but in the end, it was easily won by the little lens that could.