Alrighty, today we’re going to be looking at a lens that’s a little bit… unique. The Kamlan 50mm F1.1, lovingly nicknamed the bokeh beast, is a manual focus APS-C lens that is famous for, you guessed it, having excellent bokeh.
Note that while this review technically covers the Sony version, the M4/3 version is functionally identical. So, even if you don’t use Sony camera, feel free to keep reading. 🙂
Anywho, let’s talk about the bokeh beast and what it brings to the table. Is it just a gimmick or can it actually act as a real, serious lens? Is it as amazing of a portrait lens as the marketing claims?
Let’s dive in and find out.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Razor sharp images
- Manual focus is fun and concise
- Excellent build quality
Size & Weight
So, first off, I want to mention that the Kamlan is certainly not a very compact lens.
It’s fairly long (3.5in/8.9cm) roughly and weighs a hefty 20.8oz (600g).
For an APS-C lens, this thing is HEAVY. It definitely felt a bit unbalanced when mounted on my a6k.
Is the lens well-built?
This lens is heavy for a reason, however, and that’s due to its fabulous build quality.
There’s a LOT of glass, and the entire thing is made of heavy-duty metal.
Everything feels quite premium, even down to the front and rear lens caps (although, sadly, the lens caps are plastic).
One thing to note is that the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 has a bit of a strange lens hood design. It’s actually a screw-on lens hood, and it is attached to the outside of the lens, allowing the inner 62mm filter thread on the lens to still be used.
That being said, with the hood on, it’s nearly impossible to use something like a circular polarizer or variable ND filter. However, Kamlan thought of that too. The front of the lens hood itself actually has a 72mm filter thread for attaching stuff on the outside.
So, if you plan on using any filters with this thing, make sure to get some that are 72mm.
As you might expect from a budget APS-C lens, it doesn’t offer any sort of weather sealing.
This is really no surprise, as adding weather sealing would have driven up the cost (and size) quite a bit.
Built to last?
So, does the Kamlan actually feel built to last, or is it just a gimmicky toy? Honestly, I think durability is pretty solid.
Despite the lack of weather sealing, the all-metal build and HEFTY weight give me a lot of confidence in its longevity.
Ergonomically, the lens is fairly comfortable to use. Sure, it’s quite heavy, but the gigantic focusing ring (more on that later) offers a really nice gripping point.
When out shooting, I didn’t suffer from much hand fatigue and the lens still fit snugly enough in my camera sling.
It may sound silly to review the aesthetic properties of a lens, but I think it deserves a section dedicated to its appearance.
I personally think this lens is gorgeous. The white text contrasts beautifully against the sleek black metal of the lens barrel, and the golden ring near the front element ties it all together.
Both the focus and aperture rings are hefty and ribbed, really sealing in the premium yet vintage feel.
Alright, so the lens is built like an absolute tank, but how does the image quality match up? (spoiler: pretty good)
Wide open, we see fabulous center sharpness but with some moderate fall-off around the corners.
This is totally fine, however, as you’ll be typically shooting portraits at F1.1 anyway.
However, this lens really shines when stopped down just a bit. At F2, the center is ridiculously sharp, but the corners still show a twinge of softness.
By the time you hit F4, though, the entire frame is tack sharp consistently. For portraiture, I’d probably shoot around F2.0 or so for a good mix of sharpness and bokeh.
Speaking of bokeh, there’s a reason the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 is known as “the bokeh beast”. I’ll cut right to the chase for this section: the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 creates possibly the most beautiful bokeh you’ll ever see on APS-C.
Out-of-focus backgrounds just render with the most perfect bubbly-bokeh you’ll ever see. Subject isolation is incredible.
In fact, I found myself avoiding shooting completely wide open because it was almost too strong! Like, the focusing plane is so unbelievably thin to work with.
I’ve tried out a lot of wide-aperture lenses over my time writing on this blog, but this one just blew everything else away in terms of pure bokehlicious goodness. The only lens that even came close was the legendary Sigma 56mm F1.4.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
So, sharpness and bokeh are godlike, but how does the lens handle optical flaws such as distortion, vignette, CA, and flaring?
First off, the biggest issue I ran into was chromatic aberrations.
When shooting wide open (or close to it), there’s a lot of purple fringing on bright objects (such as shiny cars).
I can certainly see this being a problem for certain subjects, but it’s largely fixable in post and I wouldn’t suggest always shooting at F1.1 anyway.
Second, the Kamlan suffers from some pretty strong flaring.
It’s not absolutely terrible, mind you, but there’s noticeable ghosting and loss of contrast when shooting directly into the sun.
Pay attention to bright light sources and make the most of out of the (gigantic) lens hood and you should be fine.
Finally, distortion and vignetting were practically non-existent.
No issues at all, regardless of F-stop.
Overall Optical Performance
The Kamlan 50mm F1.1 really blew me away optically.
Not only did the bokeh live up to the “bokeh beast” moniker, but also sharpness was fabulous.
Already interested in buying?
Focusing & Other Notes
As stated earlier in this article, the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 is fully manual focus… and it’s perfect. The focusing ring has just enough weight and tension to feel concise but is also just smooth enough to be able to turn easily.
I know I’ve been praising this lens a lot so far, but this is one of my favorite focusing rings I’ve ever used.
By the way, if you’re new to manual focus or a veteran wanting to learn more, consider checking out our complete guide to manual focus on Sony cameras. It’s a great resource. As an additional note in that regard, make sure the “release w/o lens” setting is enabled in your camera otherwise it won’t “recognize” this lens.
Moving onto the aperture ring. It is de-clicked, meaning it turns smoothly and doesn’t have audible/tactile clicks whenever changing apertures.
I’m a bit more partial to clicked aperture rings, but this one I actually liked a lot. It’s just tight enough to where there’s not much risk of accidentally bumping it out of place.
My Final Thoughts
I have nothing but great things to say about the Kamlan 50mm F1.1, and I’m really interested to see what else Kamlan can come up with in the future.
Normally in my reviews, I like to offer up alternative options, but really the competition is rather lacking in comparison (when it comes to ultra bright aperture lenses, anyway).
There are other third party lenses that are way cheaper, but they make sacrifices in image quality and F-stop. In any case, here’s two that may be able to compete.
Sony 50mm F1.8
First, we have Sony’s official 50mm F1.8, which, while also a great lens, costs a heck of a lot more.
Granted, you’ll get autofocus and a more compact build, but you’ll sacrifice that glorious F1.1 aperture.
Sigma 56mm F1.4
Second, and I’d argue the lens that comes closest to competing with the Kamlan, is the fantastic Sigma 56mm F1.4.
Although the Sigma doesn’t offer an F1.1 aperture, the F1.4 still produces incredibly beautiful bokeh. Additionally, the Sigma is on par with sharpness and also offers autofocus.
All that being said, the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 (here’s the M4/3 link) is definitely a pretty chunky (heavy) lens, but the incredible sharpness, beautiful build quality, smooth focus, and magical bokeh combine to make it one of my favorite portrait lenses I’ve ever used, especially since it’s so affordable.
I love weird and unique lenses and, overall, I am extremely happy with it and I wish I’d have discovered it sooner. It’s a great buy, especially for the price, and the perfect lens to pick up if you’re looking for something that’s just a little bit weird but still useful.
I’ve included purchase links below if you’d like to check it out. Thanks for reading, hopefully, you’ll love it as much as I do!
This lens earned a spot on one of my best lens lists.
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