Zonlai 22mm f/1.8 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 f/0.95 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)