Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II Review – A Bokeh Beast? Not Really

I decided to purchase a budget manual lens to add into my camera bag after the price dropped at the online store that I was following, and I thought it would be a fun lens to add some flavour to my shutter therapy sessions. I have been eyeing Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II lens for a while now, considering the bright aperture F1.1 and a versatile medium telephoto reach of 100mm equivalent (in 35mm format). With an accessible street price of RM650 (USD150), I thought to myself this could be a guiltless pleasure. I have had the lens for several weeks now and here is my review of the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II. 
Of course, I have a video version, for those of you who prefer to watch the video playing instead of reading heavy text. 
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, and I have no affiliation to Kamlan. Kamlan did not contact me, or send me a review sample. I purchased the 50mm F1.1 Mark II with my own cash, hence this is a purely independent review. This is a non-technical review, I shall only be sharing my experience shooting with the lens in real life situations. I am a professional photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and currently I am an Olympus Visionary. 
There are two versions of the Kamlan 50mm F1.1, the original and the Mark II version. I got the newer Mark II version, which Kamlan claimed to have improved in terms of sharpness and contrast. I have not encountered the first, original version before and I cannot comment on the differences between the two variants. 
The Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II is a budget manual lens, having medium telephoto reach and super bright aperture F1.1, both allowing plenty of versatility in photography execution. Here is a list of quick specification highights:
– Metal build
– 8 elements in 7 groups optical design
– 11 circular aperture blade
– Declicked Aperture Ring
– Native Micro Four Thirds Mount (also available for other system mounts)

LOOK & FEEL
I do like the all black look and minimalist design of the lens, nothing screams attention. There is a gold yellow ring at the front of the lens which clearly identifies this lens from other brands. There are only two controls on the lens, both manual in nature – focusing ring and aperture ring. The focusing ring has very long throw, something that requires a bit of getting used to, not ideal for fast shooting. The aperture ring is declicked, meaning it is smooth with no click-feedback when aperture changes. I find this a little frustrating to work with, because there are times I turned the manual focusing ring thinking it was the aperture ring, both rings had similar smoothness when you turn them and a differentiating tactile feedback on the aperture ring could have made the shooting experience better. I understand the declicking is better for video shooting, but I am not a videographer, and in photography, considering this is in full manual and there is no way to control aperture on the camera, having aperture clicks can improve control. 
BUILD QUALITY
The lens is made of all metal construction, and does feel very solid and dense in hand. It does not feel like a budget lens at all. There is quite a heft to it, at about 600g, this is not a light lens. The metal build gave the lens quite a reassuring confidence handling it, and the lens mount is also made of metal. Build quality is very good for this price point, and it does come with a matching metal hood. The metal hood does take forever to screw on, however, but speed should not be an issue if you have decided to shoot with a fully manual lens in the first place, so I am not going to list it in my complains. The lens is not weather-sealed, and for the price point I am not expecting it to be. 
HANDLING AND USE
The Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II is not a small lens, and definitely not a light lens. The size is about the same as the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, but weighs significantly more than the 12-40mm PRO, and also heavier than the Olympus 45mm F1.2 PRO. (12-40mm is 382g, 45mm F1.2 PRO is 410g and Kamlan 50mm F1.1 is 600g). Therefore, the lens will not balance well if you fit it on smaller Micro Four Thirds bodies, like Olympus PEN Lite series or OM-D E-M10 series, you will definitely feel the lens being front heavy. I have used the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II on Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, and the handling was quite ok. I did not experience any issues handling this combination, shooting for almost the entire day for two days in the weekend. 
F1.1 – image is very sharp at the center, with good contrast and detail 
Crop from previous image
F1.1 – super shallow depth of field
F1.1 – fairly circular bokeh rendering
F1.1 – effectively isolating subject and blur off background
F1.1 – the amount of background blur can be very pleasing
F1.1 
F1.1
F1.1
F1.1 – great lens for shooting portraits, blurring background off effortlessly, with good compression due to 50mm
IMAGE QUALITY
Coming from a budget-friendly manual lens, with simplistic optical design (8 elements in 7 groups) with no mention of special glass or corrective elements used, I am not expecting much from the image quality. After doing rigorous testing, doing shutter therapy for almost all day, for two days in the weekend, spanning from morning till night, I found a lot of things to say about this lens, both good and bad. 
SHARPNESS
The sharpness of Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II is unexpectedly good, I was quite impressed actually. Even at wide open F1.1, the lens is able to resolve plenty of good details and contrast, producing sharp and perfectly usable images (at least the the center part of the image frame), something I find surprisingly good for a super bright F1,1 aperture lens. The sharpness is not bitingly hard, it is nowhere near modern glass quality but definitely more than good enough for day to day use. I was anticipating much poorer performance, so having sharp images wide open at F1.1, which only gets better being stopped down further, was a great first impression. 
Stopping down the aperture further to F4, the lens is looking very sharp and consistent from corner to corner, edge to edge. Corner sharpness is very good and I find it optimal being at F5.6. At this point, if I show the images at F4 and F5.6, shooting a subject from a distance (buildings, urbanscape), it will be difficult to tell that the images was not shot on a modern digital lens, the rendering quality is very good, with plenty of contrast, neutral colors and commendable overall sharpness. 
SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD 
One tipping point to buy this lens for most people is the ultra bright F1.1 aperture and at the same time shooting on medium telephoto 100mm equivalent focal length, allowing superbly thin depth of field rendering. This effectively isolates the subject from the background by blurring the background off, something this Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II does effectively well. 
DISTORTION
I don’t see any visible distortion shooting with this lens, straight lines remain perfectly straight with no hint of curvature, either barrel or pincushion (typically longer lenses suffer from pincushion). I am guessing it isn’t too difficult to make a distortion free 50mm or longer lenses. 
F4 – when stopped down, the lens improves significantly in sharpness and overall image quality
F5.6 – stopping down the image sharpness is consistent from corner to corner and edge to edge
Crop from bottom lower left corner of the previous image
  
F4 – very good image rendering – not too different from a modern lens (minus some complications which we will discuss later)
F1.1 
F4 – I am having fun shooting compressed shots of buildings and urban landscape from a distance
F2.8 
F2.8
F5.6
F8 – the lens has very good close up shooting
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. There are some undesirable aspects of the image quality from the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II lens. 
BOKEH
The bokeh is very poor. The out of focus area rendering is harsh, messy and in some situations can get very distracting. This is counterproductive to the original intention of owning a 50mm F1.1 lens in the first place – the ability to effectively isolate the subject from the background is now ironically compromised with undesirable rendering of the out of focus area. The nervous bokeh is destructive in some of the images that I have shot. 
HAZE & LIGHT BLOOM
When the light hits a certain angle, there is a problem with haze and light blooming. This issue only happens when shooting at very wide apertures (F1.1 to F1.8), certain parts of the image will have a blanket of haziness that can cheapen the look of the image – a dead giveaway that the shot was taken by a cheap lens. The haze takes away the clarity of the shot, and made it look somewhat soft and blurry. The light bloom can be a big problem – there is an aura glow between the subject, the light smearing that just looks plain ugly and distracting in the worst possible way. Perhaps the lack of special glass elements led to such problematic image rendering – there is a reason why modern lenses needed so many corrective elements. 
CHROMATIC ABERRATION
Typically, I’d give a manual lens a pass when it comes to chromatic aberration, since it is a budget lens, but the purple fringing suffered from the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II was extraordinarily bad, it is hard to ignore. The purple fringing can be minimised by stopping down the aperture, but they are still quite visible at high contrast areas, and no matter how you correct them in post-processing it does not fix the problem entirely. 
CLOSE UP SHOOTING
The Kamlan 50mm F1,1 Mark II allows very good close up capability – about 0.4m from the subject, which is quite good for a 50mm lens. Kamlan claims the magnification is about 0.25x, but they did not specify which format the magnification is for, so for Micro Four Thirds I suspect we can get more magnification (in equivalence of course). 
F1.1 – notice how nervous and messy the bokeh is
Crop from previous image – the out of focus area can be very distracting
F1.1 – shallow depth of field is good to blur off the background, but the messy background defeats the purpose of subject isolation, it becomes distracting, fighting for attention with the subject. 
F1.1 – another example of poor bokeh rendering
F1.1 – crop from previous image to show messy and nervous bokeh
F2.8 – Excessive Purple Fringing problem
Crop from previous image
F1.1 – light blooming issue 
Crop from previous image to highlight the light bloom – smearing of light 
F1.1 – haziness in image when shot at wide open, in some situations
Crop from previous image, though the image is in focus and sharp, the haziness ruins the sense of clarity
CHALLENGES IN USING THE LENS
Manual focusing was not easy. Using a long lens, with narrow depth of field was quite a challenge, especially shooting on the street, where many subjects do not stay still, or are in constant motion. I made use of the E-M1 Mark III’s focus peaking for most of my shots on the street, assigning one of the function buttons to activate peaking that aided me in quick estimation on areas in focus during shooting. I find the focus peaking to work well in bright light, but suffers greatly in low light or poor contrast conditions. 
I personally prefer to use magnified preview for better accuracy but it is also more time consuming and cumbersome to execute, definitely not a suitable approach for my shutter therapy sessions. For still life, or subjects that are not in motion (buildings, trees, food, etc), I opted for magnified preview to nail that 100% focus accuracy. If you need to have critical sharpness in your photographs, I don’t recommend using focus peaking, use the magnified preview instead for better accuracy in manual focus. However, for speed, and acting quickly to get the moment, focus peaking is the better choice. 

ADVANTAGES OF F1.1 – LOW LIGHT
Besides being able to produce that crazy blur background for subject isolation, F1.1 is useful in low light shooting. I took the lens out at night on the street to do get some shots and the F1.1 helped me in lowering down the ISO numbers, enabling me to obtain very clean images. Also, Olympus cameras has the ability to stabilize any lens, including manual lenses (as long as you have properly set up the focal length in the image stabilization settings) and we all know how incredible the 5-Axis IS built into the Olympus camera bodies. Using the E-M1 Mark III, having the insanely stable stabilization plus the bright aperture of F1.1, shooting at night was suddenly fun!
F1.1 – circular, and solid bokeh balls
F1.1 – great for shooting in low light
F4, 2 seconds hand-held, Olympus 5-Axis IS does wonders even for a manual lens
F4, 1.3 seconds hand-held, again, a show of what the Olympus 5-Axis IS can do 
F2.8 – cloud over KL Tower
F1.1 – rainy evening, too bad the lens is not weather-sealed, else I could get more interesting shots braving the rain. 
F1.1 – bokeh can be really nice in some shots
F1.1 – bokeh bokeh bokeh
F2.8 – KLCC Twin Towers in rain
CONCLUSIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
All in all, I did enjoy myself tremendously using the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II lens. If it was meant to be a fun lens, it does its job splendidly. 
WHAT I LIKE
Very good metal build
Usable images at wide open F1.1, with good sharpness and contrast
WHAT I DISLIKE
Poor bokeh – nervous, messy and can be distracting
Haze and light blooming problem
Severe purple fringing issues
Despite the issues as mentioned, I still highly recommend this lens for those who aim to do something different or explore the world of manual lenses, with exotic qualities – the F1.1 certainly qualifies. At the same time, the longer medium telephoto reach can come in handy at times, and that F1.1 can give you two advantages in your arsenal – create super blur background and help in low light shooting. 
Do you own the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 Mark II lens? Please share your experience and thoughts!

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