The new op­ti­cal in­dus­try

Bob New­man looks at why man­u­fac­tur­ers from China can pro­duce such in­ter­est­ing and un­usual lenses

Amateur Photographer - - Tech Talk -

The on­line mar­ket­place eBay is a won­der­ful thing. With­out leav­ing your house, you can find in­ter­est­ing prod­ucts from all over the world. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I look at the site to see if I can find any in­ter­est­ing and un­usual glass. Re­cently, there has been a plethora of ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing lenses em­a­nat­ing from China. For in­stance, there is a Zhongyi Speed­mas­ter 85mm f/1.2 and a Ker­lee 35mm f/1.2 widean­gle. Both lenses are avail­able in Nikon mount, re­fut­ing the old say­ing that f/1.2 is im­pos­si­ble on the F-mount (some­thing that was ob­vi­ous any­way, since Nikon still sells its 50mm f/1.2 Ai-S lens). Zhongyi also man­u­fac­tures some other very fast lenses, such as a 42.5mm f/1.2, a 50mm, 35mm, 25mm f/0.95 avail­able for mir­ror­less cam­eras in APS-C and smaller for­mats, plus an 85mm f/2 at a very low price.

Cu­ri­ous about the per­for­mance of these lenses, I found some on­line re­views. Some of these were from blog­gers, giv­ing their opin­ions, while oth­ers were based on full-fledged lab­o­ra­tory tests. All came to the same gen­eral con­clu­sion, that con­sid­er­ing their ex­tremely wide aper­tures, these lenses gave a good ac­count of them­selves.

So, the ques­tion is, how is it that these man­u­fac­tur­ers can pro­duce such am­bi­tious lenses? I mean am­bi­tious in an op­ti­cal sense, as me­chan­i­cally these lenses are far from am­bi­tious with man­ual fo­cus and nonau­to­matic di­aphragms. How­ever, op­ti­cally they at­tempt to go where the ma­jor com­pa­nies fear to tread.

There are two parts to this an­swer. The first lies in China’s de­vel­op­ment as a pow­er­house of sub- con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ing. Any com­po­nent for al­most any prod­uct can be sourced from China, and this in­cludes high- qual­ity lens el­e­ments. So, the coun­try con­tains not one but many op­ti­cal shops ca­pa­ble of grind­ing and pol­ish­ing high- qual­ity op­ti­cal sur­faces.

Shen­zhen Dongzheng Op­ti­cal Tech­nol­ogy, the mak­ers of the Ker­lee lens, is one such com­pany. These com­pa­nies have been mak­ing lens assem­blies for closed- cir­cuit TVs and in­dus­trial cam­eras for years. Now they have added another el­e­ment – the de­sign of orig­i­nal lenses. The fact that these com­pa­nies have the ca­pa­bil­ity is not sur­pris­ing. One of the rea­sons for China’s growth is that it has a very good ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, geared to train­ing en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists. Thus, any Chi­nese com­pany will gen­er­ally find no short­age of well- ed­u­cated tech­ni­cal staff.

The other el­e­ment, which was not around when com­pa­nies such as Zeiss and Nip­pon Ko­gaku made their names, is the avail­abil­ity of soft­ware for lens de­sign and the com­put­ers on which to run it. These days, any desk­top per­sonal com­puter has the com­pu­ta­tional ca­pac­ity to de­sign a com­plex lens in a few hours, and soft­ware pack­ages such as Ze­max and OSLO pro­vide the re­quired codes. Cou­ple these with a well- ed­u­cated work­force and pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity and you can pro­duce lenses such as those men­tioned.

Ker­lee claimed that its 35mm f/1.2 lens (pic­tured be­low and bot­tom) was the ‘fastest 35mm de­signed for full-frame SLR cam­eras’ when it was launched last year

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