Zhongyi Lens Turbo II for Fuji-X, part 2: details and use

Zhongyi Lens Turbo II for Fuji-X, part 2: details and use

After a rather long intermission, here comes the second part of my real-world evaluation of the Zhongyi Lens Turbo II adapter, for Fujifilm cameras. You can find the first part of this review here.

In practical everyday terms, the first thing we should discuss is any concern about manual focusing with Fujifilm cameras and vintage manual lenses. Fact: if you are new to manual focusing you’ll need a degree of adaptation. The good news is that (a) focal reducers introduce zero additional difficulties and (b) current Fujifilm cameras are awesome for manual focus lens use.

One can use either the peaking feature, the magnify function or a combination of the two. Personally, I find using the OVF on the X-Pro2 a very fulfilling experience for manual lenses, since the rangefinder “patch” allows for quick and precise evaluation of focus. Or you can, of course, use the EVF; just make sure you set up the camera appropriately: manual mode engaged, “shoot without lens” option, and set the focal length in the menu, in order to have the info in the EXIF. And here follows a caveat, exclusively for X-Pro2 users.

You see, when you set the focal length in the X-Pro2, the camera calculates the framelines according to the usual 1.5X crop factor. Thus, you input the actual focal length (let’s say 50mm) in the menu and the X-Pro2 knows you mean to have a 75mm “equivalent” frame, adjusting the framelines correctly. This doesn’t apply with focal reducers. As we explained in part 1, the lens now has a “reverse” crop factor of 0.726. Thus you’ll have to input this value, to get the correct framing. In our case, this would be rounded to 36mm, or you can use the 35mm default for convenience.

I hope this clears things up and it only applies to the OVF on the X-Pro2 (and X-Pro1, of course).

If you ask any focal reducer user why they have one, the number one reason is of course “the FF look”. I can’t deny that this is a serious consideration and one point where focal reducers really empower APS-C cameras to the point where their performance can surpass FF cameras on all fronts. If AF is not an absolute requirement, an FR provides (roughly) the same framing at the same distance, with the same DoF control, plus a bonus stop of light which can be translated to lower ISO or higher shutter speed.  Since most modern APS-C sensors (especially Fuji’s) are not that far in performance related to their FF contemporaries, one can exploit these advantages with great results. Having said all that, again, the “look” is an important reason to go for an FR and it remains so for me.

But there are other reasons I personally like them. The first one is the direct experience provided by a vintage manual lens. Again, I can only talk about Fujifilm cameras, which are a dream to use with these lenses, both as related to the focusing aids and also their analog controls. Which brings us to the second reason.

I guess the whole experience reminds me of older film cameras. For example, when I look at a Nikkor lens fitted to the XT2, it reminds me of what a modern digital FM3 or F3 would have been. The working experience is almost the same, as far as I’m concerned since you don’t sacrifice the framing for the same focal length (as with a regular adapter). I’m finding myself being much more focused and getting a feeling of pure satisfaction in use.  

The third reason is more controversial but for me at least equally important. The Lens Turbo II favors the original rendering and personality of vintage lenses. Mated with the X-Trans sensor and Fujifilm's color science, the results are very close to film from an aesthetic standpoint, in my opinion. Is it because of the microcontrast characteristics of some older lenses? Or their “flaws” that we’re used to using in a creative way? I can’t tell. I can certainly attest that this is very evident with B&W photos where tonality is everything.

Although most people will buy a focal reducer such as this one, in order to use their vintage lens collection, there is no law against using modern lenses with it too. Although the current selection of Fujinon lenses covers probably at least 80-90% of any photographic need, it’s always good to have additional options, for practical or artistic reasons. Beyond that, there are lenses with features Fujifilm is never going to introduce, e.g. a couple of manual focus 85mm f1.2 lenses designed for FF cameras (by Mitakon and Samyang). Naturally, for cross-platform shooters (Canon EOS or Nikon F) this adapter is a dream come true.

Some people have expressed their concerns about the samples I provide in my reviews, so please allow me to clear something up: This is not a lab review site.

I unashamedly edit my photos the way I see fit. This doesn’t change for reviews of lenses, cameras or accessories. I don’t shoot charts or even brick walls and don’t intend on doing so in the next few hundred years or so. If you need “reference” photos taken in a controlled lab environment, I’m afraid you’ll have to search elsewhere. This is the blog of a working photographer who wants to give his blog followers what he considers “real world material”; my post-processing choices may be personal and even questionable by some, but my intentions are clear and honest.

I’m writing this because there are dozens of questions about potential “loss of quality” (at the infamous “pixel level”) or “loss of contrast” etc when using the Lens Turbo II (as well as any focal reducer, to be honest).  To tell you the truth, I can’t see this, I repeat, in real-world conditions. If nothing else, I can say that the Lens Turbo II provides better edge/corners sharpness for the same lens as used on an FF (digital or analog) camera. I guess this is perhaps a feature of the optical formulas used in FR adapters.

The important point though is that a good FR will give access to the full imaging circle projected by the adapted lens. Probably the “contrast” and “sharpness” differences people see with regular “dummy” adapters is because of the projection of the image circle (actually, the center part) into more image lines on the sensor. But, at that point, you lose a good percentage of the lens’ character.

As I mentioned in part 1 this adapter was a loan from a good friend (along with two of the lenses). When I get my own, the question is what version I should choose for Fujis, or, indeed, how it stacks up against the competition.

On the first question, the most versatile option for owners of vintage lenses of several mounts is certainly the Canon EOS version. It has the shorter flange distance, so you can stack an additional “dummy” adapter and use Nikon-F, M42, Pentax-K and other systems. It is somewhat more complicated but a more flexible choice.

That said here is a little tip concerning the Nikon version of this adapter and, in fact, all similar adapters with a ring for aperture control of G lenses. You can actually use it somewhat like the “preset” lenses of old if the lens also has an aperture ring. Meaning, you can stop the lens to a specific f-stop and then use the adapter ring to move between wide-open and this f-stop. As a bonus, the adapter aperture ring is “clickless”, an advantage for video.

Concerning comparison with the competition, we are basically talking about the original Metabones Speedbooster and the Kipon Baveyes. I don’t have those adapters so my evaluation can be only speculative and based on several reports I’ve seen online. The Lens Turbo II seems to offer similar or better optical performance to those two while being considerably cheaper (much cheaper if compared to the Speedbooster). The Metabones wins in the build quality department, without a doubt (as it should, at this cost).

Personally, I would buy the Metabones only because it carries the weight of the original, which means it would probably be updated faster and more efficiently than the others. But even this would be a choice for me only if my adapted lenses consisted of a variety of expensive glass, such as contemporary or older Zeiss. It seems almost ridiculous to have an Otus or a couple of Milvus lenses and try to save money on an adapter. But since I, as well as 95% of adapted lens users actually have much less expensive lenses at hand, this is probably a moot point.

Finally, let’s have a look at the different lenses tested with the Lens Turbo II adapter:

Nikkor 50mm f1.4 ai

This is a classic “standard” Nikkor lens that was a common choice for analog Nikon camera users in need of something faster than the various “kit” 50mm f1.8 lenses available. Yes, I’m talking about the times where the kit lens almost universally was a 50mm. As a result, it can be found in properly good condition and a good price quite easily. There certainly exist faster and more exotic Nikkor lenses (at f1.2) but this one has the advantage of being smaller and reasonably sharp even at maximum aperture.

The lens balances very well on the X-Pro2 and X-T2 and, with the addition of the adapter, is actually rather smaller than some Fujinon f1.4 and f1.2 lenses; it’s larger than the 35mm f1.4 though and quite heavier –a common trend with older all-metal lenses.

I was very pleased with this lens’ optical performance with the Lens Turbo II. It provided a 55mm (equivalent) FoV which I actually prefer to the 50mm (my ideal would be 58-60mm) and is thus very appropriate for a huge variety of shooting situations, from portraiture to street photography and everything in between.

Operation-wise it is very easy to use, when you get used to the additional weight (in relation to Fujinons). In fact it starts helping you in using the –very good- aperture and focusing rings, since it provides “leverage” and balances the whole camera well.

There is a good chance most Nikon lens owners already have this lens (or one its versions) available already, but I’d say it’s a good value for anyone using adapted lenses anyway, one of the best vintage 50mm out there.

Nikkor 105mm f2.5 ai

Here we have an almost legendary Nikkor lens. Even today lots of people are in search of a good example of this one, to use on their modern Nikon DSLRs or adapt to mirrorless. This lens’ rise to fame was, for many people, the fact that it shot some of the most iconic photos in history, such as the “Afghan Girl”.

In short, we are talking about one of the best medium portrait lenses ever made. There are many variants with some differences in glass coatings and ai or pre-ai versions, but, in general, I think the optical formula is unchanged (only some new coatings have been introduced). The lens is sharp, with great microcontrast and exceptional out of focus rendering. My opinion is that it rivals most, if not all, current ~100mm lenses in these features.

With the Lens Turbo II the lens really shines. It’s possible and, indeed, preferable in many cases, to use it wide open, and I personally haven’t seen a significant difference in sharpness by stopping to f2.8 and very little at f4. It becomes a “115mm lens” with the adapter, which is still fine; you have to deal with only a slightly tighter framing.

This is an even larger and heavier lens which takes some using to, but, again no problem once you get the grip of it. Aperture setting and focusing are trouble-free; just make sure to double check for critical focus in occasions such as tight portraits where a very slight movement can make a difference.

There is not much to say about this lens, results speak for themselves, and keep in mind that it’s not limited to portraiture, it still performs perfectly as a short to medium telephoto lens for general photography. The only thing it’s unsuitable for is close up and macro photography, due to its minimum focusing distance.

If you are building a collection of great vintage lenses to adapt to a mirrorless system, this should be in one of the top positions on your list. If you also happen to have a Nikon DSLR or analog Nikon camera, then the investment becomes almost mandatory. It’s that good. Try to find a good one at an appropriate price (which is getting more and more difficult).

Tamron 28mm f2.5 Adaptall-2

The little Tamron is a favorite adapted lens of mine. If you don’t know about the Adaptall series, this is Tamron’s take on the adapted lens practice long before modern cameras. Simply put, Adaptall lenses had everything but the lens mount, which was interchangeable. You could thus buy just one lens and have “adapter mounts” for Nikon-F, Canon FD, Minolta MD, Olympus OM and other systems. The beauty of the idea was that the mount element also featured brand-specific options; e.g. aperture markings for Nikon ai operation or DoF preview button in the OM version.

Most lenses in the line-up were moderate performance zooms but there are a few real gems, such as the 90mm macro or this 28mm. Simply put this is one of the best lenses in this category from the film era. I have used it adapted via simple adapters on my Fujis as well as on film Nikon and Olympus cameras and it really shines with the Lens Turbo. In fact I think it’s even better and, within reason, highly comparable with the best modern lenses in this focal length. Fitted on the Lens Turbo it becomes a ~31mm lens which is even better for my taste. It has a rather “modern” rendering but not in excess and is extremely suitable for video use. One of its greatest advantages is its size; it fits the Fuji cameras perfectly. And, as a bonus, it is still quite cheap and easy to find in good condition.

Nikon 100mm f2.8 E-series

This is the sleeper lens of this review. The Nikon E-series of lenses is highly underrated in my opinion. Granted, they are plasticky looking and not at the same level as more expensive Nikkors. But their optical formulas have no special flaws and, in real-life conditions they perform beautifully. A modern analogy would be with the various plastic-fantastic 50mm lenses, and even Fuji has a number of cheaper but very capable lenses. I had the 27mm f2.8 and the kit 16-50mm and, although plastic and inferior in quality to the better Fujinons, their everyday performance was admirable and easily adequate even for serious photographic work.

The most well known example of E-series lenses is the 50mm f1.8 E (a popular kit lens at the time) but the 100mm f2.8 is better in my opinion. It looses somewhat in contrast as well as in the bokeh department compared to the excellent 105mm f2.5 but it holds its own in color and even in sharpness at the center of the frame. But its serious advantages are those shared with the Tamron: ultra small size and nice price. It looks almost small fitted to the Fujis, even with the adapter. Here again, I found out that the Lens Turbo complements the performance of the lens making it an ideal everyday medium telephoto/portrait option.

In conclusion, I have only good things to say about this adapter. It seems they have almost perfected the optical formula and both handling and results are outstanding. And the thing is now very affordable, at less than 150 euro in Europe. If you have even the basic interest in adapting vintage (or modern) lenses to your Fujifilm camera, you will not regret getting this adapter. Highly recommended!

Here is a another small gallery, you can see the lens used in each photos' description (click the thumbnail for a large version):

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That Girl at the Club (NSFW)

That Girl at the Club (NSFW)

Return of the Focal Reducer: Zhongyi Lens Turbo II for Fujifilm-X

Return of the Focal Reducer: Zhongyi Lens Turbo II for Fujifilm-X