ZhongYi Optics Mitakon Speedmaster 85mm f/1.2 Hands-on

What’s in a name? There’s clearly lots in the name of the ZhongYi Optics Mitakon Speedmaster 85mm f/1.2 because that is the most ridiculously long name for a lens. It doesn’t actually mean much but the lens itself presents a potentially good value-for-money alternative to the Canon, Nikon and Sony 85mm portrait lenses – given that it is available in these mounts – as it is priced at a reasonable $800, and this includes the price of shipping the thing to you.

Faux leather packaging – a bit tacky

The presentation and packaging of the lens is unique, in a slightly Chinese way. This heavy and reasonably solid metal-barrelled lens is protected by a two-tone faux-leather case that is about as stylish as it sounds and as practical as an inflatable dartboard. It is thoughtful of Zhongyi to provide these extra value-added perks to make you feel like you’re getting a luxury product or something. But if you can’t do something well then why bother?

The lens hood is of a most preposterous design

The lens itself is put together well-enough as it is, with quite a robust shell and a sort of Leica-style-on-the-cheap look. On the topic of things that can’t be done well: the lens hood is of a most preposterous design in that it seems to have not been designed to leave the box it comes packaged in. I rotated the hood around the front of the lens and all I got was a severely threaded hood, jamming the hood onto the lens. Sadly, the hood isn’t as solid feeling as the lens barrel either.

Chunky piece of glass

Focusing with the Speedmaster is a pleasant enough experience, with quite a long focus throw – focusing from a minimum focus distance of 1m – and an aperture ring that doesn’t click, making this suitable for video shooters. Mounting this monster on a 5D Mark III felt a bit too snug in the same way the lens hood felt too snug for the lens. I anxiously grit my teeth as I applied extra force to twist the lens around to lock it into place, hoping that I wouldn’t be inadvertantly making the world’s first fixed-lens 5D Mark III. It is a tight fit. I just hope for the sake of any potential recipient that ZY Optics never make endoscopes.

Two monster 85mm f/1.2 lenses

One thing about this lens that is a complete pain in the butt is the fact that it’s completely manual. Now, I do appreciate manual focus lenses and, yes, I am one of those typical geeks who buys a Sony A7 only for the sake of mounting old manual focus lenses. I don’t have a problem with manual lenses. It’s just that the Mitakon Speedmaster 85mm f/1.2 simply doesn’t work all that well with the Canon 5D Mark III. It’s not the problem with the manual focus, that can be done with reasonable precision. The problem is the communication between the lens and the camera or rather lack of it. Needless to say, as it’s a manual lens you will need to use the aperture ring on the lens to set the aperture. However, aperture priority doesn’t work, so you’ll need to use manual mode.

Getting accurate focus with an 85mm f/1.2, manually, is not easy.

If you think getting accurate focus with an 85mm f/1.2, manually, using the standard screen of the 5D Mark III is straightforward, you should give it a go. It’s not easy. You can keep the shutter button half-pressed and rock the focus ring back and forth, paying close attention to see when the focus point turns red to get focus confirmation. But it’s probably best in live view mode, which is fine considering that the clickless aperture ring makes this more suited for taking videos.

@ f/1.2, 1/3200s

It’s good to know that the image quality is pretty good from this lens. It’s plenty sharp, even wide-open at f/1.2. The corners are softer but not awful, with very minimal vignetting.

Pretty good details on closer inspection

It doesn’t compete with the Canon 85mm f/1.2L at resolving the finer details, but it’s not all that far behind. The good news is that there’s less chromatic aberration with the Speedmaster than with the Canon 85mm f/1.2L at f/1.2! Mind you, although the Speedmaster goes to f/1.2, when both lenses are shot using the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO, under the same controlled lighting conditions, the Canon seems to shoot brighter.

Left: Canon 85mm f/1.2L; Right: Speedmaster 85mm f/1.2 – @ f/1.2

Bokeh is acceptable too. Well, more than acceptable. It’s really quite acceptable, mostly. It depends on the background, sometimes you will notice some slightly harder edges that make the blurry bits not as smooth and creamy as one would like.

Not completely perfect bokeh

If you’re asking me, subjectively, which one has the better bokeh: the Canon 85mm f/1.2L or the really long-named Chinese one, then I’d say the Canon. But, the Speedy is not a lot worse.

@ f/2, 1/1600s

It seems like that sums up the ZhongYi Optics Mitakon Speedmaster 85mm f/1.2: it’s not a lot worse than the Canon 85mm f/1.2L. For the reasonable price, one comes to expect that worse. So it would be perhaps wrong to relate the performance of this lens compared to the Canon – it’s not a little worse than the Canon, it’s really good for the price. A good deal if only it wasn’t for the slight fiddly ergonomics and the fact that it’s a bit annoying to keep saying the name.