More than a month ago I have posted some of my images taken with the 50mm f/1.4 C-Mount and my initial thoughts regarding the no-name lens. In the meantime I have taken some additional photos with the “Plastilux” (which is what I like to call it) and my Nikon V1, but not nearly as many as I would have liked to. Nevertheless I feel confident that I have learned all there is to know about the 50/1.4 C-Mount since I’ve bought it in August 2013.
(UPDATE 02.06.2016: I’ve been using the 50/1.4 CCTV C-mount lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M10 and have written a micro 4/3 centric review. If you are a M4/3 shooter and would like to see how this lens performs on the larger sensor, you can read the review here.)
So why call it “Plastilux”? Well, at $47/£32/€38 this lens is cheap but capable of some great results, if you put in the time. Read on to find out what I think about the build quality, image quality, depth of field control, usability and price vs. performance of this lens.
Even though this lens is very cheap, it is almost entirely made of metal. The cheapness comes from lack of any kind of modern feature (metering, AF, stabilizer, etc.) and poor construction/assembly/design, rather than cheap, low quality materials. What I mean by that is that the lens feels solid and has a nice heft to it, but that at the same time both focusing ring and aperture ring are very stiff and not very pleasant to use. This is a problem, considering that we are talking about a very small, full manual lens.
Since it is so small, you can only use your index finger and your thumb to turn the rings, making you, by lack of muscular force, incapable of operating the lens in a swift manner. Five fingers are way stronger than two, after all.
In addition, the lens has a 6-bladed aperture, with very oddly rounded blades. Because I have used the lens wide open most of the time (it is my “bokeh lens”), I haven’t found this to be a problem. But, there is a reason modern lens designs employ 7-9 rounded aperture blades, instead of 6 oddly-shaped ones.
The last important thing is that this lens has a stepless aperture. There are no aperture “clicks”, you can use any aperture value you want. Should the lack of fixed aperture values and “clicks” be a problem for you, you should consider another lens. This is a CCTV lens after all, which was not designed with photography in mind. People like myself, who adapt C-Mount lenses on Nikon 1 or other cameras are “misusing” these lenses and have to learn to live with some of the quirks. 😉
Here is the 50mm f/1.4 C-Mount next to the Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8.
You will need a C-Mount to Nikon 1 adapter (the part with the red dot in the photo above) to make the lens work on a Nikon 1 camera.
(UPDATE 23.05.2016: Don’t buy the “Kiwi” adapter. I had my modified in a machine shop. Read this post.)
If you are expecting excellent image quality, comparable to that of Nikkors 18.5mm f/1.8 and 32mm f/1.2, you won’t be happy with the “Plastilux”. It has almost every sort of optical flaw imaginable. It is very soft compared to the Nikkors, has moderate CAs and relatively strong vignetting. It also lacks contrast, which is why you have to add quite a bit of it in post processing.
At this point you are probably asking yourself, why even consider such a lens? Well, 1) the price is so low that it’s practically a bargain, 2) bokeh is wonderful! In fact, even though I don’t have a 32mm f/1.2, after viewing many samples, I like the bokeh of the “Plastilux” much more than that of the super-fast telephoto Nikkor. Of course, the 32/1.2, being sharp and practically free of optical flaws and having AF and metering, is a general purpose lens, compared to the “Plasitlux”, but it also costs 20 times more.
Depth of Field Control
One of the major weaknesses of the Nikon 1 system and it’s relatively small 1” sensor seems to be DOF control. When you read pro/contra discussions regarding the system, you will inevitable realize, that DOF control and High-ISO performance are the two arguments critics of the system most often fall back on to discredit it. Well, with the 50mm f/1.4 C-Mount you will hardly feel that you lack the tools to create some beautiful bokeh. In fact, when I was about to coin a name for this lens, I was having a hard time deciding whether to call it “Bokehlux” or “Plastilux”. 😉
Since this lens is a 135mm f/3.78 full frame equivalent, you will have no problem blurring backgrounds and creating creamy bokeh. But, you will have some other problems…
Costing as little as it does, this lens is bound to have some disadvantages, flaws and quirks, besides the relatively poor image quality. As mentioned before, there is no metering, no auto ISO, no AF, nothing. And since Nikon 1 cameras have no focusing aids, there is neither focus peaking nor something like Fuji’s split screen feature, not even MF magnification. You are on your own! It is as if my V1 were brain dead, which is a pity, because it, just like all other N1 cameras, has very good metering and extremely fast AF. By mounting this lens on your N1 camera, you are sacrificing all those awesome features that make it so much fun to use and put a smile on your face.
And if that were not enough, this lens doesn’t focus beyond 2 meters. At least my doesn’t with the C-Mount to Nikon 1 adapter that I have.
Price vs. Performance
As I’ve mentioned above, with a price of $47/£32/€38 this lens is very cheap. However, it also has some major problems and flaws. So, should you consider buying this lens? It depends.
If you have a large budget, you should consider the FT-1 adapter and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4. This combination offers better image quality, metering, centre point AF and much more. It also costs about 10 times more than the “Plastilux” 50mm f/1.4 C-Mount lens with the C-Mount to Nikon 1 adapter and is much larger and heavier.
If you are a starving student who wants nice bokeh, you should consider purchasing the “Plastilux”. It may have many flaws, but the one thing it can do extremely well is bokeh. Your other alternatives would be other C-Mount lenses, should you deem size an important factor, those however will either be in the same price range as the “Plastilux” or more expensive. Should you be willing to sacrifice some of the size advantage, you could take an old film era Nikkor and a “dumb” Nikon F to Nikon 1 adapter into consideration. These will make for a larger package, but in terms of sharpness/CAs/vignetting they will most likely perform better than the “Plastilux”. Whether they will produce better bokeh is anyone’s guess.
Here are some of the photos I’ve taken with the “Plastilux” 50mm f/1.4 C-Mount lens since August. You can find more in my flickr set.
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