Viltrox in practice
After I bought the X-T5 with the XF 16-55/2.8 zoom, I of course „needed“ other lenses. Specifically, I was looking for something faster and longer, with good autofocus, and after the initial expenses also more affordable.
I excluded the Fujinons first. Those older R lenses with an aperture of F1.4 or F1.2 have a rather slow autofocus nowadays. The newer compact F2 R WRs aren’t much faster than my zoom. And the latest linear motor LMs are quite expensive.
I used to have Sigma Art on Sony and they were excellent. Sigma offers a trio of Contemporary 16, 30 and 56/1.4 lenses for Fujifilm. But I don’t quite want to put a polycarbonate on a beautiful retro body, moreover without an aperture ring. And instead of 16 and 30 mm, I would prefer 23 and 33 mm.
That’s why I was interested in Viltrox. I have seen almost all the reviews and in the end the positive ones just outweighed the negative ones. I decided to try the 23/1.4, 56/1.4 and 85/1.8 II.
There are two „variants“ for the 23/1.4, 33/1.4 and 56/1.4 lenses. The first one has a bold gold inscription and should not be used on X-Pro3 bodies, because it will get stuck on the lens release button. Thus, Viltrox has reduced the diameter near the bayonet, and the newer version has a less prominent white (more precisely, „silk“) lettering. For the 23/1.4 and 56/1.4 lenses, the variants are optically, electronically and firmware identical. The 33/1.4 variants have a different firmware: for the first variant, it has G (Gold) in its name, and for the second, S (Silk). I’ve compared these firmwares and they only differ by two bytes, which may reflect a different chip revision or something similar. The functionality will definitely be exactly the same.
The 85/1.8 has the officially distinguished the 85/1.8 II version, which is significantly lighter and smaller. Optically and functionally, however, it should be the same as the original version.
23/1.4, 33/1.4 and 56/1.4 lenses are exactly the same size, they also have the same caps (same filter diameter). This is elegant, the advantage is that the caps or filters can be interchanged. But in practice it also has a disadvantage, because at first glance it is not clear which lens is which. When you have them in your bag, there is no chance to quickly recognize them. It only depends on the inscription and possibly the shape of the lens hood, which is cut-out for the 23/1.4 and 33/1.4 and cylindrical for the 56/1.4.
The metal lens hood on the 23/1.4, 33/1.4 and 56/1.4 is rather a minus for me. What about the fact that it is a noble material and the execution is beautiful? If the lens falls on the hood, both will probably be damaged. A plastic one would absorb part of the impact. What’s worse, when putting the aperture in the transport position, the metal hood very easily touches the metal focus ring and I think it will cause scratches very soon.
The 85/1.8 II has a plastic lens hood, according to the marketing a top quality one, designed in Japan. In practice, it is not so dazzling. It is made of such soft plastic that you deform it by holding it while putting it on and taking it off, so it rubs unpleasantly and gets in the way. Putting on and taking off must be practiced.
It is larger than Fujifilm’s and does not fit the Fujinon XF 16-55/2.8 lens as it hits its rubber gasket and cannot be tightened. On the other hand, the Fujifilm one, because it is smaller, leaves the USB port half-exposed when it is mounted on the Viltrox, so it would get dirty after a while. It’s a shame, Viltrox and Fujifilm caps cannot be mixed without any problems.
USB port and firmware
It is a microUSB port, which is outdated, but the newer Viltrox 13/1.4 and 75/1.2 Pro already have USB-C. To upload the firmware, you need to remove the cover to reveal the rear element and contacts. A minor detail, but it is clear that having the option to upload firmware from an SD card through the camera body would definitely be better.
Viltrox releases firmware quite regularly. As pioneers, they have reverse-engineered the communication between the lens and the camera, and are gradually improving it. However, the firmware does not include vignetting and distortion corrections. I think because of the low price, the lens has a small memory; the firmware is only 63 kB, while the firmware for Sigma is 256 kB and for Fijinon 400 kB.
It doesn’t click. The only click, even a very weak one, is at F16. At position A there is no click, only an end stop. For me, this is unfortunate because although the aperture ring is fantastically damped, I have no feedback and no assurance that I won’t turn it accidentally. But I’m thinking about making it clicking according to the the DIY instructions.
Neither the 85/1.8 nor the 85/1.8 II has an aperture ring at all.
But the good news is that the latest 75/1.2 Pro lens already has a click ring, so Viltrox is listening.
At first glance, it is slower than the XF 16-55/2.8. The Fujinon focuses immediately thanks to the linear motor. With the Viltrox, you can see and hear a bit that the focusing is slower, because the STM motor is used, which according to the marketing is fast and quiet, but not as much as linear. Something still has to turn there. You can thus miss a completely unexpected moment (street photo from the waist, etc.). But in practice, when we are waiting for a moment, we already have pre-focus, and then there is no problem, because the lens, fortunately, does not hunt even in the dark. Eye focusing and object tracking works just as reliably as on the Fujinon.
So that it doesn’t sound like the focus is slow, I can say that it is significantly better (faster, quieter, doesn’t hunt) than it was on the Sony+MC11+Sigma Art combo, and with that combo I wasn’t afraid to shoot weddings.
Tony Northrup, whom I otherwise respect, solved this chapter very quickly. When comparing Viltrox with Sigma, he declared that Viltrox is just bad. He did it after crazy zooming of course. But interestingly, Fujinon wasn’t much better than Viltrox, so it’s Sigma who set the bar high here.
Of course, you will not see chromatic aberration when viewing a 40 MPx photo on a monitor. It only happens after zooming in. But I don’t understand why every reviewer zooms in at 200% on a brick wall or tree branches against the sky. No, when you look at the photo as a whole, post it somewhere or print it, the aberration is not visible. If it really was an extremely contrasty scene, the post-process will help, where it is easy to correct it. I found the worst photo on Flickr, but it’s probably a test shot, no one normally takes pictures like that.
According to reviews, the Sigma lenses are sharper, especially the 56/1.4. The question is whether we really need such sharpness. If we want it for portraits, then probably not – for example, in this review I find the sharpness of the Sigma literally unpleasant. If on the landscape, we will probably stop down, and then the sharpness will improve.
From my short experience, the sharpness of the Viltrox on the 40 MPx sensor is admirable. When compared to the XF 16-55/2.8, the Viltrox are softer wide open, but it can be caught up by sharpening in post-processing, so the resulting photo will not show much difference. When stopped down to F2.8, the Viltrox are sharper than the Fujinon at F2.8, according to my test.
It is an optical flaw that worries in some cases, in others it can be accepted without any problem or it can even be desirable. It can be fixed in post-processing. But what I really regret is that the lens does not have a built-in correction profile. So when you shoot in JPEG or HEIF, the camera does not correct it. Lightroom users can download a correction profile from the Viltrox website and correct in post-processing. Unfortunately, this is not possible with Capture One 23 – there is only a generic profile. Perhaps support for these lenses will come later.
True brightness (T-stop)
Tony Northrup and pal2tec report that the Viltrox lenses are about 0.5 EV darker than they should be, especially compared to the Sigma. It means that the bokeh corresponds to the aperture number, but the histogram is shifted a little to the left. In other words, either slower shutter speed or higher ISO come out.
So I did my own test. I put the camera on a tripod and aimed it at a static scene with static lighting. First, I used the Fujinon XF 16-55/2.8 as a benchmark. I set the aperture to F2.8, the focal length to 23mm, and the shutter speed and ISO so that the exposure was exactly 0.0 EV. Then I put on the Viltrox 23 stopped down to F2.8 and – wow – I also got an exposure of 0.0 EV. When stopped down to F2 and F1.4, the EV increased to exactly +1.0 and +2.0. I did the same test for 55 or 56mm (neglecting the 1mm difference between Fujinon and Viltrox) and I got exactly the same results. So I can’t confirm any loss of brightness. It’s probably the Sigma that has a better T-stop than both the Fujinon and the Viltrox.
85/1.8 is a separate chapter. This lens is actually a full frame, it was originally developed for a different mount, but they adapted it for Fujifilm as well. That explains why it doesn’t have an aperture ring. Some reviewers claim that the lens is actually designed as an 85/1.6. There is even an unofficial firmware where this aperture can be unlocked. Just upload it to the lens, set the aperture to F4.5, manually focus to the closest focus distance, take a photo, remove the battery, re-insert the battery, and then the lens will allow the aperture to open to F1.6 (https://youtu.be/XIVk43ENhVo). It doesn’t work with official firmware.
I saved the best for last. The lens does not have aspherical elements, which is one of the reasons why it is cheaper, it has more chromatic aberration, but it has beautiful bokeh. Bokeh rings are smooth, without the onion rings that are caused by aspherical elements.
Well, almost all modern lenses have these members. Therefore, I think that this weakness is also Viltrox’s advantage. The old optical recipe must logically – and literally – also bring a vintage character. Even the distortion of the bokeh circles into the shape of cat’s eyes is more of a character than a flaw for me. Perhaps a small drawback is that polygons appear instead of circles from about F2.5 above. Some may dislike it, some may like it.
With Viltrox, you may fall into the category of photographers who fall in love with them and condescend to accept their minor flaws, because you can have 2-3 lenses for the price of single Fujinon, while still getting a specific character and vintage look. You can take stylish portraits, street, events and occasional weddings with them.
Or you are looking for something very sharp, precise, without flaws, and then these are not the lenses for you. Maybe if you are dealing with macro, perfect landscape, astro or heavy regular professional work in the field. You would still be comparing with the better and thinking of selling, going into a loss. So you’ll either have to save up for Fujinons or put up with three polycarbonate Sigmas without a longer focal length.
Hopefully the future will bring new lenses from Sigma and other manufacturers. Anyway, Viltrox seems to be making its way from an unknown Chinese brand to our attention more and more. After all, the relatively new 13/1.4 reaps praise after praise, and the newly announced 75/1.2 Pro will be very serious competition for Fujifilm itself.
It would be absolutely fantastic if Viltrox came out with the next generation of lenses that would have:
- Clicking aperture ring, as the latest 75/1.2 Pro already has
- 85/1.8 would be even smaller, because it would be modified for APS-C, or it would be stretched to 90-105 mm
- Linear motor for instant focusing (unfortunately, it didn’t get even the latest 75/1.2 Pro, so it will probably take a while)
- Better coatings to reduce chromatic aberration (both 13/1.4 and 75/1.2 Pro already have this)
- Quality plastic lens hood
- Firmware uploadable via the camera and with vignetting and distortion corrections (this will probably take some time as well)
- Weather sealing (75/1.2 Pro has it)
- Some physical/tactile distinction between individual models
- Back caps compatible with Fujifilm
- Still a good price
In the gallery, I offer a report from the concert as part of the Košice Fairytale Christmas 2022. I think that due to the challenging lighting conditions (high contrast and dynamic range) and the winter of about -4°C, the combo performed excellently.
Photos are mixed from three Viltroxes and Fujinon; on purpose, try to recognize them 🙂.