SLR Magic HyperPrime LM 50mm T0.95

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Last updated October 11, 2012

The SLR Magic description for this lens

The First and Fastest Lens for mFT, E-mount, and M mount

With a maximum aperture of F0.95, the SLR Magic HyperPrime is the fastest lens designed for Micro Four Thirds, E-mount, and M mount cameras.

At open aperture, the lens renders pictures and video with extreme shallow depth of field for a dreamy and unique aesthetic.

Extreme Low-light Shooting

In low-light photography and cinematography, the lens exceeds the perception of the human eye. From nightscapes to campfires, now you can shoot in situations that are often impossible to capture with a normal lens.

Important specifications

Focal length 50 mm
M8 equivalent 67 mm
Aperture range 0.95 - 16 (stepless)
Aperture blades 12
Focusing range .7 m – infinity
No. of elements/groups 12/7
Angular field, diag./horiz./vert. 47/40/27 º
Filter M 62 x 0.75
Dimensions ø 73 mm, length 95 mm
Weight 975 g
Produced September 2012

Important Update

October 11, 2012:

There has been quite a bit of controversy regarding this lens. A couple of people had reported various issues with it, which we mentioned here as a fair warning (via an update) to proceed cautiously (which we still recommend). However, we feel that we must state that the copy we received (and reviewed here) did not experience the failures that those folks had reported. Ours was a pre-production version also - and one that was well travelled (and poorly packaged) at that. The only issues we experienced were a slightly loose barrel section and a bit of a focus miscalibration.

Steve Huff had posted a warning as well and just recently removed it in his review, while Elizabeth Wang-Lee amended her report on the lens. We are only interested in the truth and in being fair - and will therefore present only our actual experience with the lens. We'll continue to investigate however and update as needed.

Introduction

Full review of the SLR Magic HyperPrime LM 50mm T0.95 lens, including specifications, performance charts, overview, sharpness and vignetting tests as well as sample images and links for further research.

This lens has created a lot of "buzz" since it was announced on January 1, 2012 with the first lenses due in late September of 2012. There are only six of these lenses in the world at the moment, and we've gotten our hands on one of them! Keep in mind however, that means that this review is based on a pre-production model.

The SLR Magic HyperPrime is first and foremost a CINE lens, meaning it's a video lens. It has been adapted to the M system with the appropriate mount and is rangefinder coupled. The two most obvious differences between it and your standard M lens are twofold - both having to do with the aperture. First, you'll notice that the lens isn't rated with an f/stop rather a t/stop. Second, there are no detents on the aperture ring; it's stepless or "free wheeling." So what's a t/stop? It's a measured value of light being transmitted through the lens rather than a calculated (ratio) as with f/stops. Essentially, a t/stop takes into account the loss of light transmitted and reflected by the lens elements. A subtle, but important difference when shooting video, but a bit of a moot point with still photography. So what does t/0.95 equate to on a scale we're more familiar with? Roughly f/0.92 - in the numbers game, it's actually faster than the Noctilux!

Of course, everyone will immediately compare this lens to the other scant few members in this elite club of ultra-fast 50mm lenses. We'll keep this review to be as much about the HyperPrime itself as possible, saving the real comparison for a separate feature. But some comparison is inevitable and since people will be doing it regardless, we'll compare where necessary to give you a sense of how the HyperPrime fits in.

The long and short of it is, this lens is very good. It competes directly with the Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH cost-wise yet offers the speed of the much, much more expensive Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH which at this time retails for $10,995... If you can find one. The original pre-order batch was priced at $4,288 USD - however as of May 23, 2012 SLR Magic has raised the price to $4,995 USD, citing an increase in cost of materials. There is also now a 7-9 month wait on new orders.

Join us as we take a long, in-depth look into this hot new lens.

Side-by-side Comparison

To put things into a little context, we'll look at just how the HyperPrime compares to the two other main competitors, the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH to which it is most directly comparable and the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton. Hereafter we'll simply call them the Noctilux and Nokton. First let's compare the subtle differences:

  Noctilux HyperPrime Nokton
Dimensions ø 73 mm x 75 mm ø 73 mm x 95 mm ø 70 mm x 57 mm
Weight 700 g 975 g 428 g
Aperture/blades 11 (1/2 steps) 12 (stepless) 10 (1/2 steps)
Aperture/range 0.95 -16 0.95 -16* 1.1 - 16
Filter size 60 mm 62 mm 58 mm
Focus range 1m - infinity .7m - Infinity 1m - Infinity

Here we have a shot comparing the HyperPrime and Noctilux with their slide-out hoods retracted:

And here's a shot comparing the HyperPrime and Noctilux with their slide-out hoods extended:

The Lens

When you first pick up the HyperPrime you can't help but notice the size and density. Make no mistake - this is a big, heavy lens. It's not the fault of SLR Magic so much as the laws of physics. A lens this fast with performance as good as it is demands it. If you've handled the Noctilux before you'll also notice how similar these lenses are. Both have the same "dense" feeling but the HyperPrime is 275g heavier. While the HyperPrime and Noctilux are about the same diameter, the HyperPrime is 2cm longer. From here any comparison is more on the subtleties. Both have a nice fit and finish to them with similar materials and markings - that is to say, paint-filled engravings on black anodized aluminum.

Whereas the Noctilux uses aspherical elements, neither the HyperPrime nor the Nokton do. This in part accounts for the longer length and additional lens elements required, which in turn accounts for the greater weight.

The HyperPrime features a slide-out, retractable lens hood similar to many Leica lenses. Personally, we're a fan of these as they cannot be lost or left behind - always quickly available. Unfortunately, unlike some Leica lenses (e.g. Summilux and Noctilux) it does not rotate to lock into place. This gives it a purely optical function, foregoing the additional mechanical protection (however slight that might be). While none of these lenses mentioned have as effective a hood as the Nokton, they're also quite smaller overall - which blocks the viewfinder less - and can be slid out of the way quickly if you need the extra view for framing critically.

The controls of the lens are solid-feeling and well-damped. Similar to the Noctilux, they have a bit of a heavy drag (and slow action) to them. The knurling is a bit different; the HyperPrime being less deep and grippy, even a tad slippery. The aperture and focus rings are the same width, and you can mistakenly turn one when you're after the other if you don't pay attention.

One big difference you'll notice right away is the aperture ring. Because the HyperPrime is essentially a video lens, there are no detents or stops for the aperture settings. While quite different and neat in its own way, this is a bit of a negative. Most obviously, you cannot feel or hear anything when changing the aperture so if you're used to counting the stops when shooting in dark conditions - you're out of luck. You have to physically line up the aperture with the index mark. Also different from Leica lenses is the non-linear nature of the aperture markings which you can see in the image above - similar to some Voigtländer lenses (Leica lens apertures are marked equidistantly). Because of this and the space available, f/11 is not marked on the aperture ring.

The HyperPrime has a rather narrow focus ring - the Noctilux is about twice as wide. Though both are a little bit on the small side in our opinion, considering the amount of drag felt. One interesting thing to note is the actual material of the focus ring on the HyperPrime is a bit thicker over the Noctilux and does not increase drag due to excessive pressure. Though this isn't something you'd normally face.

The lens cap is also a bit of a departure from what you might be used to with M lenses. Like the lens, the cap is also made of black anodized aluminum. It's got a fantastic, solid feel to it. A practically bomb-proof cap that becomes part of the lens when attached... Because it's a screw-in, rather than snap-on type. Some might see this as a negative because it's not a quick on and off affair, but on the positive side, it's got a very low profile and won't come off even under the worst handling. The design of it is such that the lip of the cap is supported by (and flush with) the lens body, adding to the secure, solid feeling and it won't snag on anything. If you plan to shoot a lot with it, it's best to take the cap off and slip it into a bag or pocket for the duration if you're the frequent-capper type. Especially if you shoot with filters - because you'll likely end up unscrewing the filter at times along with the cap!

One of the best features that separates they HyperPrime from the Noctilux is the fact that the minimum focusing distance (MFD) on it is .7m, whereas the Noctilux is limited to 1m. This allows you to get just a little bit closer - with the resulting depth of field (DoF) that much narrower. This is more in line with your typical M lens and a nice perk. On the subject of close-focus, there are no floating lens elements (FLE) in the HyperPrime. This was a design decision as the lens is originally a CINE lens, and the inclusion of FLE introduces what is known as "focus breathing" when shooting video. That is, the apparent focal length changes slightly and leads to a "zooming" effect as focus is changed. Not a problem when shooting stills, but another matter entirely with video.

Performance

Now onto the burning question surely on everyone's mind... How does it actually perform? In short, rather well.

As with any fast lens shot wide open, the depth of field is absolutely minimal. Focus accuracy is critical and if your eyesight isn't what it used to be or even if it is - you may want to consider a magnifier if nothing else just to ensure maximum accuracy. What is in focus will be sharp indeed.

Sharpness is remarkably high, even wide open. It is bested by the Noctilux slightly. At aperture t/1.4 it remains bested by the Noctilux and especially the Summilux-M 50mm ASPH lenses. At t/2 it betters the Noctilux but still lags behind the Summilux. At t/2.8 it pulls ahead of both but at f/4 and beyond the Summilux still reigns, and the Noctilux slips into third. So what does this tell us? That the Summilux is the champion here, with the Noctilux and HyperPrime battling it out for a close second. Quite impressive! Wide open however, the Noctilux is the better of the two. We hesitate to mention the Nokton, but we must. It lagged behind all three lenses, at all apertures. See our disclaimer below in the "Sharpness" test section.

Contrast is where the HyperPrime falls a little... Flat. Both the Noctilux and Summilux have much improved contrast from wide open and remain so stopped down. The HyperPrime has a bit of "glow" wide open.

Another area where the HyperPrime suffers is a mild case of barrel distortion. It's more prevalent than with the Noctilux (which is almost inconsequential) and is more noticeable at closer distances and obviously scenes with strong horizontal or vertical structures. Here we tested both vertical and horizontal structures (the first image below is rotated 90º counter-clockwise):

When shot wide open, fast lenses also tend to exhibit chromatic aberration (CA) and purple-fringing on high contrast transitions. The latter is exacerbated by overexposure of the highlight areas. Here the HyperPrime actually fairs very well, with less fringing than the Noctilux - which can get a bit extreme under the right conditions. It can be massaged out in post (using Photoshop for example) to varying degrees, though not every image lends itself to this. While not immune, the HyperPrime does well here. Consider the following shot, where the lens was rotated to it's full lock (infinity) and shot wide open. It's a 100% crop of objects (house/car) essentially at "infinity" (though not technically for a variety of reasons):

Vignetting is noticeable but is less than both the Noctilux and Nokton initially. However, it doesn't clear as rapidly as either - being still slightly visible at t/5.6 while the other two are clear by f/4 already. Most people will likely live with it while others may embrace it as "part of the look" especially when combined with the thin depth of field. More on this in the following section on coding and below in the vignetting test.

Coding for Digital

On the pre-production lens we're reviewing, the mount was black anodized aluminum. Once in production, it will be chromed brass as found on many M lenses. However, no coding will be offered from the factory (as with all third-party lenses). There will be no coding pits or groove to add your own.

First instinct is to want to code the HyperPrime as a Noctilux. However, with the vignetting being lower - the firmware will over-correct for it causing reverse vignetting (a lightening of the corners).

Artistic Aspects

For available light shooting, you generally want to keep the film speed (and thus grain) or the ISO with digital (and thus noise) down - or raise the shutter speed with either medium to a point you can reasonably hand-hold to get the shot. It's worth noting just how fast t/0.95 is (which is equivalent to about f/0.92 in this case). It's just over a stop faster than f/1.4, two stops over f/2 and a full three stops over f/2.8. That could mean the difference between a shutter speed of 1/15s over 1/2s - and being able to handhold comfortably or not. Shooting in such low light generally means a high contrast scene - which the slightly lower contrast of the HyperPrime wide open handles very nicely. The thing to keep in mind is that while the light-gathering power is there, you're also dealing with a very thin depth of field. It's not a free lunch, so to say.

This thin depth of field, of course - is the other reason you might choose the HyperPrime. Either by making use of the depth of field range this lens offers - or just shooting wide open, all the time... An increasing trend in recent years thanks to "bokeh aficionados." With slower lenses, that's fairly easy to accomplish with typical ISO speeds. But in daylight, opening all the way up will present problems regardless of medium. The digital Ms are best shot at ISO 160 (their base) whenever possible for the best image quality - though they can be set to ISO 80, which is a "digital pull." You get a one stop benefit, but the downside is a loss of dynamic range in the image. You need at a minimum, three stops to shoot in typical daylight conditions or more for particularly bright scenes. When shooting film, you can get this by switching to slower speed emulsions, but you'd be talking about ISO 20-50 and even that's not nearly enough with a 1/1000s maximum shutter speed.

If you're a fan of the "wide open look" regardless of medium, consider a neutral density filter a required accessory and don't even bother with anything less than a .9/8x (three stop) filter. In fact you'll probably want something closer to a six stop filter, which will allow shooting wide open in the brightest of conditions. You can always raise the ISO for occasional shooting in darker scenes such as when the light, subject, etc. changes - but inversely, with only a three stop filter under bright conditions you might run out of shutter speed. A great option would be a variable density filter such as those made by Singh Ray or Light Craft Fader, but only the latter comes in an E62 (62mm) size. You can resort to the old trick of using two polarizing filters, but your chances of mechanical vignetting become very real.

So that leaves single density filters. The aforementioned three stop is also known as a .9/8x whereas the six stop is a 1.8/100x. To combat vignetting, SLR Magic chose to go with a more popular 62mm filter size over the Noctilux' 60mm. This opens up a lot of options for standard neutral density filters and suggest either B+W or Heliopan (which we consider the best anyway). As luck would have it, both offer a variety of densities in this size. While B+W only offers a jump from three to six stop, Heliopan offers a couple in between - a 1.2/16x and 1.5/32x. Much better than a three stop but none of these Heliopan filters appear to be multi-coated. B+W offers a multi-coated six stop (as well as single-coated, so be careful what you buy). So that's why we recommend the B+W 60mm #103 MRC filter which runs about $110 and unfortunately, is in stock nowhere (at this time).


It really depends on just what and how you plan to shoot. If you want to be able to shoot wide open no matter what, go six. If you prefer something more all-around at the expense of the brightest scenes, go three. Either way, stick with a good name such as B+W or Heliopan and make sure it's multi-coated if at all possible.

While on the topic of bokeh and keeping in mind that it's entirely subjective... The HyperPrime is rather pleasant - defined yet nebulous. It's quite consistent as far as when shooting wide open - you kind of know what to expect. Some lenses, like the Nokton seem a lot more variable - but even with complicated backgrounds, the HyperPrime bokeh doesn't get wiry or "caffeinated." It does however have a strong tendency to produce what some called "swirly bokeh." That is, the corners and edges take on a rounded, spinning look. Some enjoy this while others see it as a negative. With such a thin depth of field wide open, there's going to be a lot that's not in focus so these traits can be important, especially to those that specifically seek out this look. So while it can't really be rated or quantified, suffice it to say that the HyperPrime has a very nice but not "perfect" rendering.

Other Thoughts

The Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH lens is about the same cost as this lens - for just over a stop loss in speed. The Summicron-M 50mm f/2 by comparison is about half the cost again and two stops less in speed. The moral of the story? Speed costs! Not just the money aspect, but size and weight also take a dramatic turn. Among the lenses, the Summicron, Summilux and HyperPrime/Noctilux - the Summilux fits in the middle of the range very nicely and much as you'd expect. A reasonable compromise between cost, size and weight. Performance-wise they're all of extremely high caliber - in the end it really comes down to "how fast do you want to go?"

Some might look at the HyperPrime and wonder if it wouldn't make the perfect "one lens" to have. It's perhaps one of the best (or at least common) focal lengths - 50mm. The aperture range covers everything from t/0.95 to t/16. The problem is, it's large. Dramatically larger than both the Summilux and Summicron - though closer to the Noctilux. It's heavy. Again, dramatically so. It's worth pointing out that it rails against the "M aesthetic" of small and light, and carrying around this combo all day can be challenging.

If you shoot an M8 with its 1.33x crop factor, not just the HyperPrime - but any 50mm lens as your "standard" lens might feel a bit long. This is because the field of view is more akin to a 67mm lens. Therefore, you might want to seriously consider a 35mm lens instead. Just throwing that out there.

If you need the speed or subject isolation - the HyperPrime is a serious competitor to the status quo that's bested only by the Noctilux as it easily outclasses the Nokton by most all measures. As a daily carry lens you would probably be better served with a Leica Summilux, Summicron or Zeiss Planar. This is a highly specialized lens in an elite club of ultra-fast 50mm lenses.

Considering the price differential between the HyperPrime and the Noctilux, it's a close battle. The former is less than half the price of the latter! However, the HyperPrime has certain ergonomic and performance differences as discussed above, it lacks coding, and of course comes from a relatively new and unknown company. If you're looking for close to Noctilux performance but at half the price and can live with a few shortcomings - the HyperPrime is definitely at the front of the line. It easily trounces the next nearest competitor, the Voigtländer Nokton.

Vignetting

Vignetting was tested using the M9 at ISO 160, firmware version 1.176:

Lens detection set to OFF

t/0.95

t/1.4

t/2.0

t/2.8

t/4.0

t/5.6

Sharpness

We'd like to remind folks that this review was done using a pre-production lens, and one that's seen a fair amount of travel from Asia to one side of the U.S. then to the other. Our sample did have a slight front focus which we've compensated for as best we were able with an RF. Ideally, something with "live view" would be a better test. Nevertheless, we tested as we do all our lenses and the samples below should give you a good general idea how the lens performs and compares to others. We'll revisit this section with updated images and analysis shortly.

This test is preliminary, and only tests the center performance - but it should give you an idea of what to expect. It was conducted by shooting a test target at one meter (1m). Images were shot at the various apertures with an M9, mounted on a tripod with a cable release. Wide open shot at f/0.95 was focus-bracketed using four shots. No alterations were done to the image except for auto level and they are 100% crops:


t/0.95

t/1.4

t/2

t/2.8
 

t/4

t/5.6

t/8.0

t/16.0

Just for the sake of comparison and to provide a sense of how sharp this lens actually is, consider the following five images. They are all shot at f/2 on the M9 and come from other lens reviews done in the same way. The first lens is the Zeiss Planar T* 2/50 ZM, followed by the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton, Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH and finally the HyperPrime. Ignore any white balance or brightness differences and rather take note of the contrast and sharpness between black and white, especially in the fine details. The color móiré you're seeing in the Summilux and Noctilux shots is an indication that the lens is outresolving the sensor.


Planar

Nokton

Summilux

Noctilux

HyperPrime

Sample Images

Flickr Pool Images

Press Release

Below is the actual press release from SLR Magic announcing this (CINE) lens for the M mount:

SLR Magic expands its M mount lineup with a new normal focal length lens

Hong Kong, China (January 1, 2012) - SLR Magic opens up the M mount lens lineup with the new SLR Magic HyperPrime CINE 50mm T0.95 ultra fast normal focal length lens. The world's fastest interchangeable camera lens with an image circle beyond full frame coverage in its focal length, the SLR Magic HyperPrime CINE 50mm T0.95 concept lens will be publicly available for experience testing in September 2012 at Photokina in Cologne, Germany.

The field of view of this new HyperPrime Lens corresponds to a 50mm lens in 35mm format. It is optimized to be shot wide open. This ultra fast normal focal length prime lens opens up many new creative composition opportunities, particularly in the fields of available light, in portrait, and street cinematography. Built with modern non aspherical lens technology, the lens excels at defocusing busy backgrounds at T0.95. A minimum focus distance of 0.70m allows for artistic bokeh effect. A fast maximum aperture of T0.95 makes the SLR Magic HyperPrime CINE 50mm T0.95 ideal for available-light photography.

Our highest priority in the development of all HyperPrime lenses is to fulfill the demands of professional cinematographers and photographers. The design and build of the SLR Magic HyperPrime CINE 50mm T0.95 is solid and reliable.

The SLR Magic HyperPrime CINE 50mm T0.95, a concept lens, will be available from authorized SLR Magic dealers by the end of September 2012.

Further Research

Sample images thread in forum
SLR Magic product page
SLR Magic Hyperprime 50mm T0.95 LM group on Flickr
HyperprimeT095 by Erwin Puts