Lens Review Irix 15mm f2.4 and Irix 150 mm f2.8 Macro:
Great Designs fall short in Manufacturing!
If there is one thing I hate, it is lazy engineering. I have had multiple opportunities to work with engineers on projects just enough to be exposed to the monkey see, monkey do approach so many uphold.
When the Irix lenses came on the market, I was thrilled with the listed features... Finally some engineers had improved the ergonomics and function of lenses. I liked everything from the design of the lens cap to the polarization filter slot. The reviews too were all positive so I ordered the rectilinear Irix Blackstone 15mm f/2.4 (metal version).
New out of the box, the lens was defective and did not focus on infinity. Further, I did not like the focusing ring which felt too stiff. I had read about QC problems with the Blackstone version so instead of swapping it out, I exchanged it for the less expensive Firefly version with synthetic housing. My reasoning was two fold: higher production numbers meant that any problems had likely been sorted out, and the Firefly also has a raised finger rest or ridge on the focusing ring which was appealing. I also added the 150mm f/2.8 Macro Firefly to my order.
I really wanted to like these lenses but quickly came to the realization that there was a serious gap between design and production implementation. The execution of the innovations was poor at best:
= The rear lens cap has a great twist design but like a cheap knock off, it has the wrong dimensions and keeps falling off. It is totally useless.
= It has a well designed focus lock mechanism. It is not an on-off switch, the resistance increases as the ring is turned and gradually stiffens the focus ring until it locks. This would have been a great feature if the photographer could set the focus resistance but the focus ring is too stiff to begin with so the gradual lock mechanism is useless. This should have gotten a smooth and fast focus ring with minimal resistance so that the photographer could set the desired tension. A missed opportunity.
= The focus throw is long, which is a positive for precision work, but this coupled with a stiff focus ring makes these lenses unpleasant to use.
= It quickly becomes clear that the manufacturer has problems with camera focus confirmation, as they provide the ability to fine tune this with the help of a small screwdriver. No manner how much fine tuning, the focus confirmation remains a problem and most often comes on when the image is clearly out of focus.
= The false focus confirmation, especially near or at infinity, coupled with the stiff focus ring and throw very quickly become irritating.
= Another problem with the 150mm lens is the light transmission with studio strobes. I am not talking about the usual 1/3 stop adjustment. For some reason it appears to gather so much light that it consistently overexposes by 2 or more stops. The exposure can be corrected for just this one lens, but I was not willing to change settings on studio lights for just this lens…
= The lenses are bright so focusing (without accurate) confirmation is a challenge even for veteran manual focus photographers.
Several reviews online mention that the 150mm focal length is too long for handheld macro photography. I disagree and found that it did not cause problems, I suspect that their issue is more tied to the focusing mechanism problems and not the focal length.
I contemplated returning the lenses but convinced myself that I would learn to work with them. I am even less enthusiastic now a couple years later. On a positive note the 15mm image quality is excellent, sharp without distortion. I have used it successfully for interior shots and have compensated for the focus problem by taking multiple shots. While I am an advocate of long focus throws, this one is useless and impractical. Color on the 15mm is neutral, nothing exciting, bland micro contrast. I guess that this is fine for photographing interiors.
I like the 150mm Macro focal length and 11 aperture blades but beyond that I do not have much positive to report about the lens. Color rendition is okay in daylight, contrast is fine, micro contrast is non-existent. It is totally useless in studio and can only be used outdoors.
Conclusion: The Irix 15mm f/2.4 has some potential with nature, architecture, or interior design photographers. Its use is limited and practicality is a fat zero, but the image results are good (sharp and distortion free).
If you are considering the Irix 150mm f/2.8 Macro, consider the Samyang 100mm f/2.8 instead. The Samyang is a work horse in our studio and a reliable user friendly lens despite that it usually ranks lower in online reviews. It is a no frills performer.
The Irix lenses are over corrected which affect performance significantly: the 150mm has a staggering 12 elements, the 15mm has 15 elements! I broke away from my proven beliefs that less is more and ended up regretting it.
Thanks for reading.
PS: My reviews are never sponsored, all equipment is purchased by us for use in our business.
Some handheld Irix 150mm Macro photos below
Zonlai 22mm f1.8 for Fujifilm X:
An affordable lens with character!
I purchased the Zonlai 22mm only with the hopes that it would share some similarities with the Mitakon 35mm f0.95 which has become one of my favorite lenses.
Let me be clear that I despise Chinese made goods; I hate the poor quality, lack of engineering, lack of quality, not to mention the environmental impact of defective and failing goods China dumps on the world market. So for me to review a Chinese product is extra challenging. I purchased this with the anticipation of returning it at the first sign of shoddy quality.
But I am also fair, and this lens is a keeper. It has its own identity, so it may not be as versatile as the Mitakon but it has character and that is what is most important to me.
This is a specialty lens. It is not a general purpose wide angle that will perform in every situation. It is a fast lens and it performs as intended, which means that it excels in low light, is very sharp, and has good contrast, good micro contrast, and very nice color. The colors are realistic, not the over-saturated spectrum we see in so many modern lenses; think of Afgachrome or old Ektachrome without the blue cast.
It is obvious that this was designed to excel wide open. Like some fast lenses, it does well at f1.8 to f4 and there is not much gain stopping down after that. Like so many wide angle lenses, it is not sharp at infinity and it is a poor landscape lens. It does well in close quarters, interiors, low light situations, city streets, etc. Close subject photography is facilitated with real close focus. I read that minimum focus is only 15mm, so close that the lens can block light on the subject. Some call this a true macro or micro lens, it is not.
Sharpness is impressive. For those who obsess on corner sharpness, this is the wrong review as I am a photographer and not a lab technician. My subjects rarely hide in the corners of my composition or frame. For me, corner sharpness is not of importance on a lens with these qualities. I see no signs of vignetting or significant distortions, but in fairness I have not shot a horizon line yet.
My initial impression is that contrast and color rendition are better in lower contrast settings like overcast weather, shadows, or in interior / artificial lighting rather than bright sunlight. Yet it still holds its own in harder light.
Handling is excellent; focus throw is extensive which allows for precise focusing. The focus ring is smooth with just the right amount of resistance. This is a small or compact lens but the size of the focus and aperture rings are not diminished. Aperture clicks are light and the aperture ring is easy to move and use in between clicks. I particularly like the hood design, practical and functional. It came with two lens caps, an old fashioned metal slip-on and a plastic clip-on for the hood. I suspect that the plastic clip-on hood will fail soon as the springs feel flimsy. This does not appear to be a sealed lens and would not be good in wet or dusty environments.
The lens and hood are made of metal and appear well built, there are no plastic parts. The black finish has a texture, which doesn't do much aesthetically. There is also a silver version which appears more attractive to me. My only concern with the built are the three screws securing the metal lens mount. A better execution would be four or five screws even for a small lens, three securing screws are a bare minimum and characteristic of cheap lenses. Mounting the lens on a Fujifilm body feels correct, the mount is positive without slack or too much resistance.
Overall this is a great quality bargain lens. It reminds us that quality does not (always) have to be expensive. I recommend this lens for low(er) light photography in closer settings. Samples are in the gallery below.
(Note: There was no sponsorship or any form of compensation for this review; I have had no dealings with sellers, distributors or the manufacturer)