I’ve bought the 25mm f/1.4 C-Mount lens last August with its larger sibling, the 50mm f/1.4 C-Mount, which I’ve reviewed here. This is a new record even for me in regard to long term usage of a lens, before writing a review. It took me four months to review the 50/1.4 C-Mount and a whopping eight to do a review of the Nikon 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8. Despite having the 25/1.4 and using it for such a long time, I don’t have that many photos to show for it. One reason is that it is a specialized lens, which I only use when I feel that its characteristic look adds something to the photo opportunity at hand. Otherwise I go with the 18.5mm f/1.8, which is similar in terms of focal length and DOF control, and doesn’t have the swirly bokeh I don’t like that much. The other reason is that I have the afore-mentioned 50/1.4 C-Mount. Unlike the 25/1.4 it cannot be substituted with the 18.5mm, because it is an entirely different beast in regard to focal length and bokeh. Having smoother focus and aperture rings, whereby the former is further away from the body (25/1.4’s focus ring is next to the body), makes it easier to use. I will go into more detail on that later. This is what the 25/1.4 C-Mount lens looks like mounted on the Nikon V1 and in the hand.
Here are several more shots of the lens on the C-Mount to Nikon 1 “kiwi” adapter.
(UPDATE 23.05.2016: Don’t buy the “Kiwi” adapter. I had my modified in a machine shop. Read this post.)
And here is another batch of photos showing it and the Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 side by side for better size comparison and the aperture of the lens. Note that the shape of 25/1.4’s aperture gets ever more weird the more you stop down.
Just like the 50/1.4 the 25/1.4 C-Mount lens is also largely made of metal and very sturdy plastic. What I’ve said in the review of the former applies also to the latter. The materials are not cheap, the low price is a result of poor construction and lack of any kind of modern feature (AF, stabilizer, etc.). The poor construction is not evident when just looking at the lens, but as soon as you start using the MF and aperture rings, you realize that the low price is not a bargain after all. You get what you pay for. The MF ring is next to the body and very stiff, making it hard to use properly. This is a tiny lens and since the MF ring is so close to the body and the camera is resting on your left palm, you can reach the ring only with the tips of your thumb and index finger. Now imagine having to rotate a stiff ring by only using the very tops of two of your fingertips. It’s not a pleasant user experience.
The two C-Mount lenses have a very similar 6-bladed aperture, with oddly rounded blades. The only difference is that 25/1.4’s aperture has a somewhat different shape, when stopped down, but it is odd nonetheless. I wouldn’t recommend stopping down, if you value bokeh quality. Chances are bokeh highlights will be anything but round. One last thing to consider is that there are no aperture “clicks”. Just like cinema lenses there are no aperture stops, you can set the aperture to any value you want.
In some parallel universe a super-cheap lens such as this could maybe match much more expensive lenses, such as the Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 and the 32mm f/1.2, in terms of image quality. Sadly we live in this one, where the saying “you get what you pay for” applies. With a price lower by orders of magnitude, the 25/1.4 C-Mount lens cannot hope to come close to the two Nikkors, and it doesn’t. It has less resolution, weaker contrast, much stronger CA and more vignetting than the 18.5mm f/1.8.
Note that the most important reason I mentioned for getting the 50/1.4 in my review, was the superb bokeh quality. Well, the 25/1.4 also has this advantage over the 18.5mm f/1.8, but it is no as clear cut as it was with the 50mm. The latter could not be touched by the Nikkor in terms of bokeh. Although it was also inferior in other aspects of IQ, the bokeh quality and DOF control of the 50mm were on another level. The 25/1.4 doesn’t have the same kind of bokeh superiority. It has a swirly bokeh, which can’t be fixed by stopping down. Sometimes it is not a problem and the effect is either not apparent or it looks good in a specific photo. Other times the bokeh looks awful. This means that while the 25/1.4 can blow away the 18.5mm f/1.8 in regard to bokeh, depending on a specific situation the opposite can happen as well.
Of course, bokeh quality is the most subjective of all IQ aspects. Some people rather enjoy swirly bokeh and may consider the lens for this very reason.
Depth of Field Control
Being a 67.5mm f/3.78 full frame equivalent the 25/1.4 certainly has the potential for background blurring, just don’t expect miracles. This is not a 50mm f/1.4 on FF and will never be. Nice bokeh is possible with this lens, but don’t expect it to be able to blur the background behind an entire person in the frame, like some FF lenses can.
Usability on the Nikon V1
Note that Nikon 1 cameras do not meter with legacy lenses, other than with the expensive FT1 adapter and Nikkors for DX and FX formats. There is also no magnifier or focus peaking on these cameras, which makes a MF lens even harder to use. This however is no the lens’ fault, it’s Nikon’s fault. I’ve tried the lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M10 and it is much nicer to use, thanks to reliable metering and focus peaking.
Price vs. Performance
Costing only $14/€27/£16 this lens is very, very cheap. I bought it with the 50/1.4 and the C-Mount to Nikon 1 adapter just to experiment a bit with fast, small, manual lenses on my Nikon V1. The question is should you consider buying it even if you are not as happy to try out new things as I am?
If you are anything like me and like good bokeh without any gimmicks or effects, I would advise against it. I myself wouldn’t buy it, if I was making the same purchase decision again. The price is low to be sure, but if the lens is only going to get very limited use, why bother?
If you are however a person who likes art filters, Instagram and Lomo, and if you are a fan of the swirly bokeh and the specific look of this lens, you should consider getting it, even though it is cumbersome to use. At the asking price it will not put a dent in your wallet, even if you only get it for the effect/swirly bokeh.
Here are some of the photos I’ve taken with the 25mm f/1.4 C-Mount lens since last August. You can find more in my flickr set.
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