Now is the golden age of cheap dSLR and mirrorless lenses, and a popular option (for many lens mounts) is the Opteka 85mm f/1.8 manual focus lens. Read on for a review and sample images (dat bokeh!).
Opteka 85mm f/1.8 — Tech Specs
- Focal Length: 85mm
- Mount: Canon EF, Nikon F, others via adapter
- Max/Min Aperture: f/1.8 – f/22
- Aperture Blades: 6
- Focus Type: Manual
- Glass: 10 Elements in 7 Groups
- Filter Thread: 55mm
This lens is especially popular with the phrugal photo crowd because it delivers a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture in an economical and relatively compact package, albeit without the modern convenience of autofocus. At just shy of $100 street price, it is accessible to entry-level and budget-minded shutterbugs alike. Here’s a link to new and used copies on ebay.
What’s in the Box
The lens comes with some nice accessories: back cap, center-pinch front cap, a sturdy plastic lens hood (that screws on some exterior threading and does not interfere with filters), and a pleather lens bag of dubious quality.
First and foremost, image quality on my copy was very good. It’s quite sharp and contrasty, and color rendition is pretty good. I pixel-peeped the test images I shot, and there is essentially zero color fringing (green or purple), which is an improvement over the much more expensive Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM.
Overall exterior build quality is quite nice, with metal lens barrel and 100% metal mount and metal aperture ring. It feels a lot more like a lens from the 1970s than one made recently, weighing in at 380g (~13oz). Focus ring has a nice feel to it, and is some kind of rubber with ribbing for grip. I was not as happy with the focus ring or aperture ring performance, however, as I was with their look and feel (see below).
Opteka 85mm f/1.8 Sample Images
Mostly trying to show the quality/look of the bokeh here. The foreground subject is a little soft in a few of these, but you can see sharpness overall. These are shot at f/1.8, f/3, f/6, and f/10, respectively. Note: The oddball aperture numbers are preset by the aperture ring (see below); I wasn’t trying to be a maverick. 🙂
You can see the hexagonal bokeh forming nicely at f/3 and f/6, while it’s pretty close to round wide open. It’s not as smooth as something like the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, but for $100 it’s very nice indeed.
The Opteka 85mm f/1.8 is a manual-focus lens with no electronic connection to the camera. That means all of the focusing and at least some of the exposure calculation will need to be done manually. On a Canon body, the aperture reads “00” and cannot be adjusted electronically, even in Manual exposure mode. On Nikon bodies, you can set the maximum aperture manually (in camera).
The good news here is that turning the aperture ring stops down the lens immediately, so exposure is also adjusted on the fly, assuming your camera is set to Aperture Priority mode. In well-lit scenarios, this works great; in darker environs, you may have to focus with the lens wide open and then stop down to your desired aperture to get exposure info and capture the image.
On my copy, the focus rings gets very stiff as it approaches minimum focusing distance in the last inch or so of travel. I assume this is bad QC on Opteka’s part (or whoever actually manufactured it). It’s sticky enough that is distracting and makes it hard, in some cases, to get focus dead-on.
Also on my copy, the aperture ring is *very* hard to turn. And I don’t care for the aperture presets they’ve chosen: 1.8 > 2.5 > 3 > 3.8 > 4.5 > 6 > 10 > 22. There are more than two full stops between f/10 and f/22, and this lens doesn’t allow any “in between” settings. And wow, don’t you just love everybody’s favorite aperture of f/6? WTF? Not a deal breaker, just odd. It almost feels like the Chinese engineers who designed it went with a metric system of aperture numbers.
Despite the QC issues with my copy of this lens, I think the Opteka 85mm f/1.8 is a great value. Image quality is excellent, and it’s built like a tank. You can’t really do any better at the $100 price point for a short telephoto lens. While it’s not quick to focus or fast in terms of dialing in exposure, it is a great choice for still life and head/shoulder portraiture.