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LensVid Exclusive: Kerlee 35mm f/1.2 Lens Review


Just before Photokina 2016 we got a package in the mail with an interesting surprise inside – a super fast 35mm lens made by a relatively unknown Chinese manufacturer called DZoptics. After several weeks of using this lens, here are our thoughts.

There are plenty of 35mm lenses around for DSLR cameras from a variety of manufacturers so a new lens needs to stand out and the Kerlee is certainly unique with a full frame coverage and f/1.2 aperture.

You can find the lens full specs here.

So let’ take a closer look at the lens:

  • Build quality – the Kerlee is very well made and has a really nice design which is also pretty attractive (to us it is somewhat reminiscent of the older classic Zeiss lenses and this is probably not a coincidence). The only thing that we might improve is the feel of the tiny switch on the lens (more on this switch in a moment).

Made in China with good build quality

kerlee-35mm-1

  • Size and weight – the lens is actually pretty compact at under 100mm or 4 inches and fairly thin. Since it has quite a bit of glass and made out of metal it has some weight to it and it tips the scale at just under 700g or 1.5 pounds.
  • Rings – The lens has two rings, a thin aperture ring and a thicker focus ring. The aperture ring which is closer to the camera and can move with clicks or if you change a tiny switch can turn smoothly for video work. Both rings are well made with good friction and the focus ring has a long throw of about 180 degrees.

Fully manual lens

kerlee-35mm-3

  • Hood – the lens comes with a metal hood with some black fabric inside (ahm.. Zeiss ahm…). Putting the hood upside down for storage was kind of baffling and the hood kept falling off until we talked to DZoptics who suggested that we push it down a bit more which did fix this issue (we still think that the company needs to work on the hood mechanism a bit more to make it easier to use).
  • Front element – the lens has a rather large (for a 35mm lens) front element with a diameter of 72mm – keep this in mind when you think of getting a filter for this lens.

72mm front element

kerlee-35mm-2

  • Manual AF – before we talk about optical performance a word about focusing with this lens. Manual focus on DSLR cameras is never easy (unless you are working on a tripod with Live view and magnification on which is what we did most of the time) and you need to know what you are doing. The lens is fully manual and has no communication with the camera body so not EXIF, no aperture info etc., just keep this in mind.
  • sharpness – Testing sharpness on a super fast lens like this is extremely difficult – we had to run our test 3 times before we felt we got correct results. These tests were done on our D7100 (After we returned the D500 and sadly the D810 which we hoped to use for this test was not available for us). We compared the lens to the compact Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX lens.
    Wide open the Kerlee is pretty sharp in the center and surprisingly sharp in the corners for such a fast lens. Compared to the Nikon at f/1.8 the Kerlee seems a bit less sharp in the center but significantly sharper in the corners and this continues as you close down the shutter as well.

Wide open (and at f/1.4) the Kerlee looks very good at the center (100%)

kerlee-f-2-f-1-4-center

Wide open (and at f/1.4) the edges of the Kerlee are also surprisingly sharp (although this was shot on an APS-C camera so it isn’t that hard)

kerlee-f-2-f-1-4-edge

Wide open the Nikon is sharper than the Kerlee (at f/1.8 and f/2.8) by a little bit

nikon-kerlee-f-1-8-f-2-8-center

The Nikon edges are pretty abysmal the Kerlee does much better (Top left is Nikon 35mm @f/1.8)

nikon-kerlee-f-1-8-f-2-8-edge

The Nikon is still a bit sharper in the center than the Kerlee at f/4 and f/5.6

nikon-kerlee-f-4-5-6-center

The Nikon improves significantly in the edges only at f/5.6, the Kerlee looks good but the D7100 light meter isn’t accurate with the lens (the resulting image is about a stop underexposed) 

nikon-kerlee-f-4-5-6-edge

  • CA – We know that other reviewers did encounter some chromatic aberration with this lens – we didn’t (and trust us we tried) but it just might be our luck.

We encountered very minimal CA in rare cases in out of focus areas for the most part

ca-test

  • Flare – Just like with chromatic aberration, we didn’t really encounter too much flare although others have run into it – we do need to try a little bit more against bright sunlight and see what happens.
  • Vignette – This is not a fair test since we have done it on a crop sensor camera but you can still see the results on the screen.

This Vignette test isn’t really indicative as it was done with an APS-C based camera (D7100) 

vignette-test

  • Barrel – From our testing the Kerlee has literally no barrel distortion.

No barrel distortion

kerlee-barrel

  • Bokeh – Just like with the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 that we tested here recently – wide open the Bokeh shape isn’t round but if you close it down a bit the light sources become rounder. The background blur of this lens looks to us very nice indeed – which is what this lens is all about.

Nice out of focus rendition

out-of-focus

So let’s try and conclude. The Kerlee is an interesting and quite ambitious first DSLR product for DZoptics. It is well built with a good design, not too big and we even dare say aesthetically pleasing.

In terms of performance DZoptics did a pretty good job – wide open it is quite sharp in the center and surprisingly sharp in the corners. Although our inexpensive Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX lens seems a bit sharper in the center, all around the Kerlee did perform significantly better.

So is worth $700? that is a hard question – if you want a very fast lens and you understand the limitations of manual focus (especially with such a fast lens) this is possibly one of the fastest 35mm lenses around and might serve you well for both stills and video work.

You can check out more LensVid exclusive articles and reviews on the following link.

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