So in a previous entry I was somewhat sceptical and cynical about the company SLR Magic and accused them of selling cosmetically modified CCTV lenses at a huge profit when they could be had for much less by buying cheap ebay equivalents.
I have recently been in touch with product manager Andrew and I have to say he has opened my eyes to some of the mistakes I have made about criticizing the lenses, at first I was defensive and prepared for the typical generic responses but it turns out that Andrew is very much a lover of photography and speaks in great depth and with a passion that is rarely seen from company representatives nowadays.
The first good point was that while the 26mm "Toy Lens" and the 35mm F/1.7 do indeed originate from CCTV designs it is unfair to compare them to the dirt cheap Fujian versions in several areas. The most important is that the lenses are made to the specifications requested by SLR Magic, I have always been somewhat doubtful of these claims but I was shown a comparison between the vignetting characteristics of the SLR Magic 35mm and the original Fujian CCTV version.
The 26mm lens is also unique in that it apparently has a STRONGER swirly effect on the image periphery and again will give a different effect than the generic Fujian CCTV lens.
Although the real world differences might be subtle it remains a fact that these lenses have been tweaked both cosmetically and optically.
Another important factor is quality control, when you buy the cheap CCTV version of these lenses they are produced in enormous numbers and because they are not intended for photography the quality control is nowhere near as stringent, I am all too familiar with the process of going through a few copies of even expensive lenses to find a good one so this is something I should have put into consideration. SLR Magic have a more stringent quality control process, so their toy lenses have more consistency than the CCTV version.
This factor also applies to the C-mount adapters on ebay, some are very poorly made and do not allow for infinity focus and even the expensive metabones C-mount to micro 4/3 adapter has been known to get stuck on camera bodies, none of this is an issue with SLR Magic as all mounts are made to very precise standards.
The choice is simple, you can buy the cheap versions from ebay and run the risk of all the associated problems or you can buy from SLR Magic and receive an item that has been built to take photos, has been subjected to quality checks and that has (potentially) superior performance. A lot of people are very happy to pay slightly more to get a product that works first time, straight out of the box and a lot of people will be willing to take the associated risks and achieve a similar result for a lot less money, what you choose is up to you, I'm the kind of person who would generally go for the cheap CCTV versions because I can honestly see now significant difference in the images obtained but you certainly get a lot of assurance and extra quality for your money when you buy the SLR Magic toy lenses.
I was also wrong about the macro extension ring, VERY WRONG!! Firstly the tube is not C-mount but comes in Sony E Mount and Micro 4/3 mount meaning they can be used with any lens and not just the SLR Magic lenses but there is something else! The tube has a "zoom" ring and extends meaning that the magnification ratio can be altered without having to attach different sized rings! I literally couldn't have been more wrong about this product and I feel I owe an apology to SLR Magic for badly misrepresenting this item!
So what about the Noktor? The f/0.95 prime lens that has been accused of being a rehashed CCTV lens? Well it turns out this lens is available as a C-mount CCTV lens made by Senko but there's two problems:
1. It only costs slightly less than the Noktor, some claimed it was a $150 lens but this simply isn't true, $800-900 is closer to the going rate!
2. The lens will not screw into a C-mount adapter fully and will not achieve infinity focus, the SLR Magic lens is manufactured with a Micro 4/3 or Sony NEX mount already in place!
I think it also says a lot that the lens has been already been altered since SLR Magic acquired the Noktor brand, the design has already been altered from the original to provide increased contrast, more saturated colours and to fix the inaccurate focus scale. While the "toy" lenses may give real world results that aren't too far removed from their basic CCTV ancestors the Noktor displays much better results than the Senko and the relatively small difference in price is very much justified.
I would still be tempted to go for the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1as my first choice but there's no denying the lens is unique and is certainly more than just a CCTV lens with a different badge.
We also discussed the 12mm hyper prime lens, in my last entry about SLR Magic I mentioned that this lens was getting good reviews and I am still of the opinion that this is a major step up from anything SLR Magic has produced before both it terms of finish and image quality. It is the best lens they have produced to date by a considerable margin. Andrew assured me that the lens did not have a wide angle adapter bodged onto the front and I have to admit the performance the lens gives seems to back this up, a quick glance at the distortion test over at photozone.de shows a remarkably low distortion figure for such an optically ambitious lens design. Andrew explained that a lot of profit had been invested in this lens and that it was designed from scratch and not made from off the shelf parts. The lens was made in response to user suggestions from different photographic forums where SLR Magic asked users what kind of lens THEY wanted, I find this approach to product development very refreshing!
In conclusion, I have to admit I was somewhat wrong about the company in some ways and I found Andrew's passion and enthusiasm for the subject of photography to be very refreshing. Whilst it is true that some of the early lenses have origins in CCTV lenses they are very much built for the purpose of taking photos and have been optimized and built to a higher standard. While I would personally be inclined to purchase the cheaper CCTV versions there is no doubting that the extra money buys you extra quality and piece of mind.
SLR Magic invest their profits heavily into R&D and the results are products like the 12mm HyperPrime lens which is truly a unique product designed from scratch and which offers genuinely impressive image quality, there is no cheap CCTV version of this lens in existence because it is a purpose built original product.
Only yesterday SLR Magic announced their latest product, a 23mm F/1.7 lens for the Sony NEX system, I never thought in a million years that I would say this but if the lens is as impressive as the 12mm HyperPrime I may well be investing in one!
I feel I have an obligation to set the record straight so this is why I have made this post. I would still be inclined personally to buy the cheap and basic CCTV versions of the toy lenses because I think the end results are similar but SLR magic certainly give a safer and higher quality option. I guess to me part of the appeal of the crude CCTV lenses is the fact they are dirt cheap in the first place but you could certainly view the SLR magic toy lenses as "luxury" versions.
SLR Magic are a unique company and are run by people who have a passion for all things photography and they are beginning to release some very interesting and high quality products onto the market!
While there may not be huge difference between the SLR Magic lenses and their CCTV ancestors in terms of real world results it was wrong of me to just assume they are the exact same lenses as you can get on ebay for next to nothing because they are not, weather the difference in price is worth it is open to debate but you certainly do get a substantially different product for your money.
I thought SLR Magic went against the spirit of adapting weird and wonderful lenses to modern cameras but with the Toy lenses they are just giving people a safe option with a higher level of quality and consistency and with the new 12mm and 23mm HyperPrimes they are offering truly unique products that you just wont find anywhere else! You will find in the coming years that SLR magic will begin to offer a portfolio of unique and scratch built lenses that are on a completely different level to the toy lenses.
Saturday, 10 December 2011
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