I have been waiting months and months for the Voigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95 and while I knew about the Kowa Prominar lens, was not expecting it to be particularly affordable (and of course the Voigtlander won’t be either). The only other option for a high quality ultra wide with a reasonable aperture is the soon to be released Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8. Now if the latter had a filter ring, it would have been a no-brainer. Ditch the Olympus.
The Kowa Prominar 8.5mm lens has been available for a few months from Japan and other places, but when Mainline Photographics listed it on their web site with an availability date at the end of March, I did a quick search of recent reviews and found out that while the 67mm filter thread on the lens is a non-standard pitch (it appears to be 1mm rather than 0.75mm), it will allow you to thread a filter on a good half turn and it will stay in place without binding. Excellent.
A quick chat to Scott at Mainline Photographics who confirmed that he knew the reviewer and if he said it would take a filter, it would. Scott was due to get a sample lens in a few days and stock about a week after that. I hurriedly check the bank account, murder the credit card and commit myself to this expensive chunk of glass.
Just follow the pictures…
Mainline Photographics still give you a very nice microfiber cleaning cloth with each lens. Nice little touch and these ones last for years.
The lens came already packed in its very sturdy case…
The lens has a nice weight to it. Heavy but not excessively so. If you are familiar with old style manual focus lenses, this is a great example of the genre. It really is one very well made lens – dare I say, it may even better than the sensational Voigtlander. For example, the lettering is engraved like real lenses from the 1960s and earlier. The Voiglander uses the more common screen printing which can wear.
The lens mount is beautifully made. Alas no contacts so no CPU information for the camera.
The aperture ring has a button that allows you to rotate the ring 180 degrees for T-stops, or use for normal photography for F-stops which are indented at each full F-stop. Wonderfully smooth.
The focus ring rotates through approximately 180 degrees with a close focus of 0.2m and runs ever so slightly past the infinity marking. Not so much that you are over focussing. The focus ring is quite firmly damped without over doing it.
The hood is reversible for storage and appears to be made of polycarbonate. A little bit of flex to absorb knocks but very tough. The hood \has a textured feel on the outside and is smooth on the inside - the opposite of most lens hoods. There is an 88mm thread inside the filter. This is fine for round filters but cannot be used for anything else like my square filters.
Then there is the 67mm thread on the front with – it works. Thank goodness for a metal thread. It really is an unusual design choice, why not a 72 or 77mm filter thread with the standard 0.75mm pitch?
Using the Lens
I don’t think you will find a better handling manual focus lens. The aperture ring is near the body where I like it. Quite wide with a fairly narrow metal ribbed section for grip. Reminds me of a gear out of an old engine.
The focus ring is again well positioned, not too far from the camera body.
Really nothing further to add – everything works as it should – flawlessly.
The Proof is in the Photos
I haven’t done much photography with the lens yet and I will add more photos at a later date. The lens is certainly sharp and seems quite OK at f/2.8. That said, I very much doubt any of the shots below were taken at f/2.8.
There is some fringing in the edges but this is fairly typical of ultra-wide lenses anyway. Very easy to correct as it seemed to be confined to just purple fringing and Adobe Camera Raw took it out with just a single click of a tick-box.
Stay tuned for more photos. This lens is going in the kit bag for my trip to New Zealand at the end of April.