In the past, if you needed a prime lens with an aperture less than f/1, you had to give Stanley Kubrick a ring to ask him nicely if you can borrow his legendary Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7. In today’s market, taking advantage of the latest mirrorless platforms, there are now lenses available which hover around the f/0.95 aperture, which includes the Zenit Zenitar 50mm f/0.95.
These specialist-width apertures don’t come cheap and never have, but to now have examples readily available is very exciting, to say the least. The light-gathering ability can’t be underestimated, but as with anything this niche, it does have a few caveats.
The Zenit Zenitar 50mm f/0.95 is only available for the Sony E-mount and it’s manual focus only. If you don’t mind these two aspects as a starting point, then read on.
Firstly, Zenit may not be the first brand of prime lens you want to throw $1200 at, especially for an all-manual prime. But the f/0.95 aperture is going to shine above any other feature, which is one of the main reasons for checking this lens out in the first place.
The lens itself has an all-metal construction, and although there are no official weatherproofing stats, it feels sturdy enough to take the odd drop of rain. As the lens is all manual, it has a manual de-clicked aperture and focusing ring, with an included distance and depth of field scale. As expected, it’s also a heavyweight beast, coming in at 1.2kg, which makes it quite front heavy on the likes of a Sony a7 II.
The 50mm focal length gives the traditional standard viewpoint, while on APS-C models the lens provides a 75mm equivalent focal length. Internally, the optics comprise of nine elements arranged in eight groups, with an aperture range of f/0.95-f/16 and a very impressive 14-blade rounded diaphragm. This in itself should provide some of the most rounded bokeh balls known to man.
Specs and build wise, the Zenit Zenitar 50mm has everything you would expect from a high-quality 50mm. But will the Sony camera platform and lens play nicely?
The Zenit Zenitar 50mm f/0.95 in Use
As previously mentioned, the lens weighs a substantial amount, meaning you’re going to have to have a very steady hand or use the lens predominantly on a tripod. However, in reality, weight is not really an issue, as we’ve grown accustomed to high-end lenses having a large mass. The initial problem comes with Sony’s own focus peaking, which should be the big helper with a manual lens.
Without going into the intricacies of the situation, Sony’s focus peaking facilities aren’t as great as other platforms. You have the option of either shooting static subjects or stopping down the lens to hit focus. This basically means that the lens is more suited for very still portraits or landscape shots.
The focus and recompose method is rarely that accurate unless you’re highly skilled in this area, so with this camera and lens setup, you will have to deliberate far longer over hitting focus. This is not the fault of the lens, but rather an area that Sony needs to address in future updates.
When we did hit focus with the lens, it was respectably sharp at f/0.95 in the center of the frame. The edges of the frame trailed behind needing to be stopped down to f/2 for the most detail. As the lens provides such a shallow depth of field and with the manual focus at f/0.95, it was hard to achieve an area of sharp focus, but it’s there if you try hard enough.
With such a wide aperture, the lens fulfills its duties best in very low light conditions. It’s a great feature not having to crank up ISO levels to achieve the cleanest of images, but having to spend ages hitting focus made us want to simply reach for an autofocus version with a slightly narrower aperture.
At least lens anomalies were quite low, with little evidence of chromatic aberration at the widest apertures. The lens provides extremely smooth bokeh in droves, with very rounded highlight balls. The lens also displays a good degree of color and saturation throughout the aperture range, which is comparable to other primes hovering around this price point.
How Does It Compare?
For nearly half the amount of money, the Zhongyi Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 III has largely the same specifications, with full manual workings as well. This lens, though, can be used on Sony, Canon, and Nikon Z-mount cameras, featuring an 11-blade aperture and very solid build quality.
If this lens is to be used on the Sony platform, then it works best for more static subjects. But more than anything, it’s a more cost-effective solution than the Zenit considering the overall features.
Other options with an f/0.95 aperture that are currently available are the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95, Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95, Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95, and the Voigtlander Nokton 60mm f/0.95.
|Zenit Zenitar 50mm f/0.95||Zhongyi Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 III|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||70cm||50cm|
|Angle of View||44 Degrees||45 Degrees|
As a stand-alone lens, the Zenit Zenitar 50mm f/0.95 has a lot of potential, but it’s hard work to use on the Sony platform. This makes the lens even more specialist in use, which means the Zhongyi above would be more cost-effective in practice.
If you’re looking for a f/0.95 lens for either the Canon or Nikon platform, then the Zhongyi is very good for the money, especially when you consider Nikon’s Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct lens comes in at just under $8000. On these terms, both the Zhongyi and the Zenit represent great value.