Lenses with a fixed focal length of 35mm are among the most popular ever. It stands between wide angle and normal lenses, taking the best of both. They can provide a nice field of view, minimal distortion, and a pleasant depth of field. In this review, I’ll take a look at one of the cheapest 35mm lenses available, the Pergear 35mm f/1.4.
If you look at the current range of 35mm f/1.4 lenses, the name-brand options from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc., are all at least $1000. When you want to save money, you’ll have no choice but to reach for third-party options, from Sigma and Tamron to cheaper companies like Samyang. Some of them are around the $500 price range. Can you go cheaper than that?
Yes, you can. But are there compromises to be had? Does the lower feature set harm your flexibility as a photographer? I’ll try to answer those questions in today’s review of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 lens – a lens with a price tag of $129.
Build Quality and Handling
When mirrorless cameras first started to take over, many photographers expected both the cameras and the lenses to be smaller than those of traditional DSLRs. However, this expectation has only been partially fulfilled. Some lenses downsize, while others have stayed the same or grown. That’s why I was so surprised when I took the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 out of the box.
To write that this lens is “not large” wouldn’t come close to expressing its diminutive size. In fact, the largest thing about the entire lens is its back cap. From the mount towards the filter thread, the lens gets progressively narrower. Thus, unlike most lenses, the smallest diameter of the lens is the point where the 43mm filters are mounted.
Instead of filters, however, you’ll probably want to use the thread to mount the supplied metal lens hood. This is a screw-on type hood, and it fits onto the filter thread itself. If you want to use a filter, you can screw a 52mm filter directly into the lens hood, but be prepared for some added vignetting. More on that later.
According to Pergear, the barrel, mount, and interior of the lens are all made of (unspecified) metal. When I first picked up the lens, it reminded me of my photographic beginnings with Nikon AI-S manual lenses. It was nicely “metallic” cool in my palm.
Like the lens barrel, the focus and aperture rings are all metal, with no rubberization whatsoever. As this is a fully manual lens, the aperture, consisting of ten blades, has to be adjusted manually using the ring. Changing the aperture values is accompanied by clicking. Between f/1.4 and f/4 in 1/3 EV increments, from f/4 to full stops.
The first turn of the focus ring brought me nostalgic memories of years gone by. The movement of the ring is smooth, with adequate resistance. Testing this lens made me realize that I have fallen out of practice in terms of manual focusing. Thankfully, most mirrorless cameras have an assist in the form of the focus peaking feature, which superimposes red outlines on the parts of a photo that are roughly in focus.
Despite this assist, manual focusing with an f/1.4 aperture is quite a challenge. Especially if the subject is moving. The Nikon Z9’s unforgiving sensor with its 46MP resolution will instantly reveal the slightest inaccuracy in focus. In this respect, conventional 35mm film was far more forgiving.
Shooting from a tripod is considerably easier. The buttery-smooth operation of the focusing ring, together with the magnification of the image in the viewfinder, allows for precise focusing.
When magnifying live view, I discovered one flaw with my copy of this lens. When I turned the focus ring to infinity, it focused a bit past infinity. So, don’t just rely thoughtlessly on the focusing distance scale.
It would probably be foolish to expect top optical performance from a $129 lens. When I mounted the lens on a camera with a 46MP sensor, my expectations were not high. However, the lens as a whole surprised me. And I have to say positively. What did I like and what did I dislike?
Lenses with focal lengths around 35mm usually don’t have big problems with distortion. And with most lenses, programs like Adobe Lightroom automatically correct for distortion. This lens, however, is completely manual. It doesn’t even have a chip that transmits information about exposure and lens type to the body. This means that neither your camera nor your photo editing software knows what lens you used.
In short, any flaws in the lens will show up more clearly with this lens compared to others. You’ll need to do more manual corrections of distortion and vignetting. And yes, if you are shooting architecture or other subjects with straight lines, you will notice that the lens has quite noticeable barrel distortion. Compare the distortion with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 S lens:
As expected, vignetting, or darkening of the image at the edges, is noticeable with the lens wide open. But I was surprised that even f/8 or f/16 did not completely eliminate it. On the contrary, the dark corners remain pronounced at these apertures. So much so that in some photos, I had to use a clone stamp when editing the sky.
But then I found that I could just unscrew the hood and the problem was solved. Too bad, because otherwise the lens hood is nicely made. I’m usually a big fan of using lens hoods, but with the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, I recommend taking it off. If you want to use filters, this is especially true. The lens hood technically accepts 52mm filters, but this only makes the problem more pronounced.
Unless you’re shooting thin branches against a grey sky, chromatic aberration isn’t a problem in real life with this lens. The photo below is about the worst I’ve been able to document. I took this image with the lens set to f/2.8. I converted the photo from RAW in Nikon NX Studio, where I turned off all automatic corrections.
The thin, diagonally growing branches in the corners of the image show a degree of chromatic aberration. With the lens stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8, the situation improves and the aberration is already at a very acceptable level. This is especially true if you take advantage of the de-fringing corrections provided by virtually all imaging software.
Sunstars and Flare
According to the manufacturer, the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 has a “multi-layer coating” to reduce flare. And indeed, even when the sun is directly in the frame, it is not a big problem for this lens. It’s surprisingly resistant to flare or low contrast in backlight. In my experience, an out-of-frame light source hitting the front element from the side would occasionally cause small flare in the image.
Sunstars are good on the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, but not anything extreme. For both a flare and a sunstar comparison, take a look at the photos below. The first was taken with the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 and the second with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 S. Note that the green flare around the lamp is slightly less pronounced with the Pergear than with the Nikon, although the sunstar is weaker. This is an interesting result.
Both photos of the Prague Castle were taken with identical exposure values of ISO 64 and f/16. It was only necessary to correct the shutter speed due to the fading light. For Pergear it was 90 seconds, and for the Nikon it was 120 seconds. This had at most a small effect on the flare/sunstar differences.
Now we come to one of the most watched parameters in lenses: sharpness. If I were to buy a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, I would be interested in its usability at that particular aperture. Otherwise, why have an f/1.4 lens in your backpack?
However, this aperture is where the price tag of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 is most evident. Wide open, the lens suffers from low sharpness and contrast, both in the corners and the center. Take a look at the crops below:
Sharpness improves with each step of the aperture as you go from f/1.4 to f/5.6. This is the sweet spot (along with f/8) where sharpness is high and fairly uniform across the image. At f/16, the diffraction becomes more pronounced.
Compare the 100% crop of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 and the reference Nikon 24-120mm f/4 S at f/5.6, which provides optimal optical quality for both lenses.
With this real-life subject, it’s clear that the center of the image is comparable to the significantly more expensive Nikon 24-120mm f/4 reference lens. Towards the corners, however, the sharpness quickly drops. Not a surprise for such a cheap lens, perhaps.
To give you an idea of the quality of the bokeh, I photographed the same subject at apertures ranging from f/1.4 to f/16. As you can see, the difference in background blur between f/1.4 and f/4 is quite large. This is the distinction between a fast prime lens and a standard zoom lens. So if you like a nice blurry background and don’t care too much about sharpness, you’ll like this lens even wide open.
The following sequence of photos was taken at f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8 and f/16.
Compare a few shots taken with the Pergear and Nikon lenses at the same f/4 aperture. This is where I think the Pergear has the edge. The parts outside the depth of field look less busy with the prime lens. The transitions between light and shadow are smoother, more seamless.
The f/1.4 aperture tempts you to play with shallow depth of field. That’s why I told myself to follow the commandment “Thou shalt not stop down” when I visited my family over the holidays. I kept it wide open. So, all the following photos were taken at f/1.4.
I didn’t have high expectations for the cheapest 35mm f/1.4 lens on the market. For a lens priced the same as a polarizing filter, I expected bad performance on the edge of usability. I have to say that my initial expectations were beaten.
Of course, for $129, you can’t expect miracles. First of all, the lack of autofocus certainly won’t be for everyone. The combination of manual focusing, f/1.4 aperture, and moving subjects really puts the photographer’s skills to the test.
You also have to accept some compromises in terms of optical quality. The wide-open performance is fairly soft, and the lens has a lot of vignetting that can be tricky to correct (especially with the hood on). For a 35mm lens, the Pergear also has quite a bit of barrel distortion.
But that’s where the negatives end, and the positives start to stand out. First and foremost is the incredible compactness of the lens, which stands out especially when compared to today’s typical f/1.4 lenses. I also appreciate the build quality of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, which is much better than expected for the price and reminiscent of classic lenses. Finally, the simple fact of the f/1.4 aperture lets you get nice, shallow depth of field photos on the cheap.
Who is this lens for? If you’re looking for fast, silent autofocus and razor sharpness at every aperture, look elsewhere. There are plenty of options. If you’re looking for a compact, manual 35mm prime lens with a distinctive character and nice bokeh at open aperture, you’ll have a lot of fun with the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, and the price is excellent.
You can buy the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 through Pergear’s website for $129, and at the time I’m publishing this review, it is actually on sale for $109. Let me know in the comments section if you have any questions about the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, and I’ll be happy to answer!