My SLR Magic HyperPrime LM 50mm T0.95 Review!

Started Oct 12, 2012 | Discussions thread
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My SLR Magic HyperPrime LM 50mm T0.95 Review!
Oct 12, 2012

The SLR Magic HyperPrime LM 50mm T0.95 M mount- RF Coupled (Will refer to it as HP) is an ultra fast 50mm T/0.95 (f/0.92) prime lens hand-assembled in China. This review focuses not on brick wall and chart test but rather my personal impression of the lens as a real customer and an enthusiast photographer. I not affiliated with SLR Magic, et al in any way.

Let’s get down to business. This is my story.

I’m just a normal guy like everyone else and I admit that my excitement for the SLR Magic HyperPrime LM came from Steve Huff’s very own review of the lens. When Steve Huff announced that SLR Magic opened up 10 pre-order slots, I barely missed it. I then emailed SLR Magic to put me on the waiting list for their next production. A month goes by and I get an unexpected email from SLR Magic that slots are opened to those with priority/ in line. Of course, I placed the order at the full amount of $4,288 before pre-orders opened up to the public. This was also before the price increase, which is now near $5,000. I was told the lens will be delivered late July/August at the time of purchase.

As a special request, I asked SLR Magic if I can have the front ring without engravings like SteveHuff’s black stealth version. I was told the stealth version is not for regular customers and only for reviewers and volunteers. I therefore opted in to an internet review. I agreed and here I am. They eventually sent me the lens… however,withengravings, just not painted white (unpainted?). Additionally, the word “Stealth” was engraved as well. These “stealth” lenses, as Andrew (SLR Magic’s Product Manager) personally told me, were considered “Exclusive Edition.” Aside from the front ring, I have been told there is no difference between Stealth copies and copies sold to non-reviewers.

Anticipation/Arrival/Unboxing

When I was emailed by Andrew that I’d be getting the SLR Magic HyperPrime very soon, I was ecstatic; I had waited just less than 2 month after placing my full order. But was it because I choose to review the lens the reason I got the lens quicker?

The Lens arrived in complete “neutral” packaging- a brown box bascially. First the lens was wrapped in a plastic bag which was then wrapped in about 2 feet of bubble wrap (and tape, and more tape, then more tape), which was then placed into a box just big enough for the lens itself. But the bubble wrap had bulged the package- like a package that was too big for its own box. This box was then placed into a larger box filled with multi-colored packaging peanuts, along with another box. And that’s it! Nothing else to it!

As a complimentary gift, SLR Magic included a free UV/IR filer (read below) and a wrist strap as a co-operation with the brand Barton 1972. I was then told the wrist strap was exhausted, so SLR Magic instead sent a neck strap at a free $20 surcharge. It looks like the same black braided one seen in SteveHuff’s “world exclusive first look” video.

Quality of Complimentary Accessories

I was initially told I’ll be receiving the following complementary filters along with the lens:

1) 1 pc ND 4

2) 1 pc ND 8

3) 1 pc UV IR

But on the day the lens was shipped, I received an email from SLR Magic, “…[our production manager was not happy with the effect of the two ND filters and rejected the whole lot.  So, we cannot include the 2 ND filters to you with the lens.].”

The UV/IR filter I received is a very slim filter. Its material, admittedly, feels low quality. And the glass, itself feels cheap. If you hold the filter by the rim and gently shake it, the glass will wobble! If you also try to gently clean the filter while holding the black rim, the glass will move and rotate. Though it is does not wiggle or wobble while in-use, the glass is far from stationary in between the black rim.

The UV/IR filter produces noticeable and distracting flares under several indoor and outdoor conditions. This isn’t improved even with hood extended. Images will also look washed out or have an overly dramatic glow. When not intrusive, the UV/IR filter does result a minor loss of image quality but not significant if not comparing +/- filter.

At some point, one can assume this filter serves more as a protection to dust and debris rather than for practical use.

SLR Magic did say they’ll send me the ND filters at the end of July. I’ll see what happens then.

As for the neck strap, I have yet to use it, but the leather does feels high-quality. No other comment on this yet.

**UPDATE** I now shoot without a UV/IR filter. The glass has unmounted from the thin, black frame. You can simply hear the glass moving by holding the frame and rotating your wrist. That’s how bad it has become. The ND filter has arrived. I’m glad I waited for those. They do not suffer from the poor quality of the IV/IR filter.

Build/Impression

Unboxing the lens was, dissatisfying. It felt like opening a package my cousin from Singapore sent me last month rather than opening a package to a brand new $4,288 lens. At first touch, the lens felt cold. The metal they used is hard and thick (That’s what she said)! When I held it, I chuckled a bit to myself (That’s what she said)! This lens is incredibly dense and heavy! I expected heavy but notthisheavy. On the M9 (or M8), the overall dimension is hardly much bigger than a small DSLR. It feels good, actually. Viewfinder blockage? It blocks a good amount but not enough for me annoyed by it. I’ve learned to see past the lens when composing. But the blockage may annoy others.

Aperture Ring

I then turned the aperture ring. It is clickless, but STIFF! It’s not like the one SteveHuff has as in his world premiere video. This aperture ring is THE MOST stiffest ring I’ve ever turned. It didn’t take a lot of effort, but enough to be annoyed going from f/0.95 to f/1.4 (the longest turn distance from one stop to another). Sometimes I use two hands to change the aperture. As you probably already know, the aperture stops are not evenly spaced. With each stop, the engraving distance gets shorter and shorter. f/11 is not engraved since it does not fit. The engravings are basically on a logarithmic scale.

Focusing Ring

The focus throw is another story. Unfortunately the focus throw rotation is not consistent throughout Within one full throw (a full turn from 0-infinite) I could feel it stiffening and loosen up at certain distances throughout. I found this irritating when trying to focus as quickly as possible with moving subjects.

** UPDATE: After using it for a few more days and revisiting this issue, the stiffness has loosened up. But I worry this may be due to a mechanical design loosening up instead?**

The feelof turning the focus ring is not smooth- It feels un-lubricated/causing friction. To best describe it, it feels like superfine sandpaper rubbing against each other making noise, YES, I did say noise, it’s loud- especially for a CINE lens.

There are 3 holes drilled straight into the focusing ring. One hole has a large silver screw but with normal use, you’ll hardly ever see it since it’s faces your feet when using the lens. The other two holes are similar size and sits right in your eye sight with tiny screws deep inside. Sadly these holes look like they were made by a cheap drill because you can still see tiny remains that did not fully come off- a bit like the small, extra plastic tab that didn’t fully come off your child’s plastic-army-men toys. Get the image?

Oozing out one of these screw hole, a hard, red residue can be found. I tried to wipe it away but it is a tough material and feels glued down. I emailed Andrew which he tells me it is “…[to prevent the screws from getting loose]…” I assume it’s some sort of Loctite glue? I managed to take some of it off.

Paint Chips/Scratches/Dust and dings

The lens is without minor imperfection which I will point out. You know when you drop a lens you’ll get tiny dings? Well upon unboxing the lens, I saw several of these dings and paint chips around the focus ring, aperture ring and even on other parts that a dropped lens couldn’t even produce. What I mean is that the individual parts that make up the lens looks to have been dinged and scratched prior to lens assemble because no way could a lens be chipped in any other way.

Aperture blades/Lens Barrel scratches

While looking down the heavy lens under direct sunlight with aperture at f/16, I noticed MANY scratches all over the aperture blades, both large and small. Could they come from improper handling prior to assemble? Could it be the blade themselves are scratching each other inside the lens? Either way, a new lens should not be like this at all.

I should also note that towards f/5.6, the aperture begins to form a disfigured square/circle/opening. Andrew tells me that it is “normal” for lenses to have perfect aperture wide open and a disfigured aperture stopped down and vice versa. I’d like to disagree since all the lens I’ve ever owed has never displayed this “normal.” All my lenses have near perfect apertures throughout.

In addition, while looking down the inside barrel of the lens I noticed thick scratches on the inside side wall of the barrel. I cannot make out how these could have been made. I began to worry, this could be a “used” lens labeled as “new”. Andrew states that they do no sell used lenses.

Dust particles can also be found on the inside of the lens- several of them- both small, tiny and oddly shaped ones too. I can’t say if they are dust (well, maybe some of them); Their shapes are just too odd. Obviously one won’t be able to see them at an f/0.95 picture, but still, this is unacceptable for such a high-priced lens.

The SLR Magic HyperPrime is a hand crafted lens. I may be experiencing all these issue possibly due to less-than clean assembly environment and poor quality inspection (or do they even care?) when building each one of these lens. And what’s more striking is that Andrew tells us only so many SLR Magic HyperPrime can be produced a month, yet I, as a customer, ended up with a lens that is, unfortunately, meagerly constructed and quality checked. I find SLR Magic’s construction of this lens inadequate. There is poor handling of individual parts and the overall quality control is highly questionable.

Hood Design

The slide out hood is wonderful in the sense that it is built right into the lens. It has helped in several situations. Mechanical design wise? Two thumbs down. Unlike like SteveHuff’s copy in his World premiere video, the slide out hood is very hard to pull out and very hard to side back down since it is very stiff. Not only that, there is no locking mechanism while extended. It seems like SLR Magic relies on stiffness to hold the hood in place. But what happens in 6 months from now when it becomes loose? How will my hood remain in place when walking around with my camera? Am I going to suffer a slippery, sliding hood easily going in and out of extension? A better design would suffice in the long run (assuming it can last 6+ months).

Dirty M- Mount

Before I mount any lens to my camera body, I make sure to clean the lens’s mount. Sadly, the SLR Magic HyperPrime had a dirty mount right out of the box (or bubble wrap). Not only that, a dark sticky substance could be found on the mount. I immediately wiped it off with a q-tip. I expected a more refined lens even in terms of initial presentation.

Optical Performance and Real Use

If you don’t use the included UV/IF filter you’ll find that this lens is surprisingly very sharp at T/0.95 (f/0.92) at ALMOST ALL distance. The reason I say “ALMOST ALL” is because at aperture 0.95 and the minimum distance of 0.7 meters, your main focus point will be subjected to a hazy, nasty, bright glow with nothing in focus. Basically this combination is useless unless you desire blurry, out of focus pictures.

Images quickly sharpen up as you stop down the lens.

Bokeh/Distortion

I personally find the Bokeh to be very smooth with onion ring circles. However, it is not as creamy as the 50mm Summilux-ASPH, whose bokeh is so perfect that there’s almost no character to it.

The SLR Magic HyperPrime’s bokeh also has a hint of nervousness to it and a subtle ghosting effect. I find it quite attractive and adds character.

Swirly bokeh can be seen towards the outer frame of my pictures. Some people like it, some people don’t. I fall into the latter category, but the Noctilux f/0.95 display this effect just as well.

Distortion is noticeable is you are shooting straight lines up close. Give it about 10 feet? On the M8, you’ll barely start to see this distortion near the edges. If you aren’t shooting lines, you’ll more or less be unable to see it.

Rendering/3D Pop

Because the DOF is so thin, you are either in or out of focus. No question about that. But depending on how accurate you are with focusing, SLR Magic HyperPrime can give you a very modern look (think Noctilux-f/0.95) when you nail a shot, spot on… or a classic dreamy look (think Noctilux-f/1.0) if you’re just barely there. Either way, the rendering is very hybrid like of these two Noctilux. The best of both worlds you can say?

Some people think that this lens produces a flat look. I will disagree. There is quite a 3D look to the way it separate the subject from its surrounding. The look is almost too good to be true.

Purple Fringing

It’s easily there. You can’t avoid it. And I’m not surprised. But whatwassurprising was that this lens exhibited purple fringing slightly more than my 50Lux but less than my 35FLE. This is amazing for such a fast lens.

T/0.95 is not perfect

In some situation, the largest aperture will make your focus point glow. I haven’t been able to narrow down when exactly this happens but it seems to be random. Even if you nail the shot, you have a glowing soft image at 0.95.I found this to be very annoying.

Focus Shift

I noticed none. Simple as that. I tested this on a tripod while stopping down the lens. My focus point remained spot on at all my apertures.

Some more words

Putting all negative things I’ve said above aside, the images come out quite astonishing! There is a 3D pop to the images I’ve taken. Bokeh is beautiful, but has varying characteristics. You must make sure your rangefinder is accurately calibrated because f/0.92 is very thin; You are either going to be in focus or out of focus. The size of it on a Leica (M8/M9) is large compared to my other lens, but it quickly becomes something I don’t think about. I’m just going to shoot and not worry about gear.

Last words/Will I recommend it?

Andrew told me that their optical formula is finalized. However, their mechanical design is constantly undergoing revision. Steve had a different internal design than my copy. And I’m sure that by the time you get yours (I hope you don’t) your copy would undergone a new mechanical revision as well. Will it be better? I’m not sure.

Honestly, this lens delivers! But I feel that this lens won’t hold itself together for very long. I’ll give it 1 year before I start to see something come apart, decoupled, loose or break. Hold off on this lens. Or better, forget it all together, DON’T BUY IT… and spend your money on a 50LUX. You’ll be glad you did.

One more thing, I can't return the lens without taking a massive hit from the initial price. So I'd rather keep it, use it until it breaks.

That's my lesson learned.

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