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Review: C-Mount 50mm f/1.4 (on V1)

Discussion in 'Nikon 1 Forum' started by IVN, Dec 23, 2013.

  1. IVN

    IVN SC Veteran

    457
    Aug 27, 2013
    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.

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    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.

    Build Quality

    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. ;)

    Image Quality

    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 flow 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…

    Usability

    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, his 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.

    You can read the entire review and view the photos I've taken with the 50/1.4 C-Mount since August on my blog. You can find all of my images taken with the lens in my flickr set.
     
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  2. Ripleysbaby

    Ripleysbaby supernatural anesthetist

    Sep 9, 2011
    Cumbria UK
    Garry
    Nice write up . I've got to hand it to you, sticking this on your V1, great results too. I tried my on OM 50 on my V1 once. That was enough for me. My eyesight demands peaking of some kind .
     
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  3. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Sue
    I don't think I would be as persistent as you, with that particular lens. However, You've given me cause for pause over throwing away the PK->CX adapter, and I'm going to play with that a lot more because I like the funky bokeh from my Horusbennus 50mm and I like the smooth from my K55mm. I'll also have a play with Rokkor 50mm on MC->PK + PK->CX adapters. I guess its all about playing and enjoying :)
     
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  4. IVN

    IVN SC Veteran

    457
    Aug 27, 2013
    Thanks Sue. If I had your MF lenses, I would use them on a daily basis. I bet both are optically far better than the "Plastilux". :smile:

    Now that I've reviewed the 50/1.4 I'm shooting more with the 25/1.4 C-Mount. I must say, it is reeeeaaally hard to focus with that one. Wheres the 50/1.4 is a telephoto with abrupt changes between sharp and bokeh, when you turn on the focus ring, with the 25/1.4 DOF is much wider, making it hard to nail the focus.


    With some luck V3 will have it. I certainly hope Nikon will quit fooling around and launch a V camera that has all the enthusiast features people are asking for.
     
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