Lenses with a fixed focal length of 35mm are among the most popular ever. It stands between wide angle and normal lenses, taking the best of both. They can provide a nice field of view, minimal distortion, and a pleasant depth of field. In this review, I’ll take a look at one of the cheapest 35mm lenses available, the Pergear 35mm f/1.4.
If you look at the current range of 35mm f/1.4 lenses, the name-brand options from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc., are all at least $1000. When you want to save money, you’ll have no choice but to reach for third-party options, from Sigma and Tamron to cheaper companies like Samyang. Some of them are around the $500 price range. Can you go cheaper than that?
Yes, you can. But are there compromises to be had? Does the lower feature set harm your flexibility as a photographer? I’ll try to answer those questions in today’s review of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 lens – a lens with a price tag of $129.
Table of Contents
Build Quality and Handling
When mirrorless cameras first started to take over, many photographers expected both the cameras and the lenses to be smaller than those of traditional DSLRs. However, this expectation has only been partially fulfilled. Some lenses downsize, while others have stayed the same or grown. That’s why I was so surprised when I took the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 out of the box.
To write that this lens is “not large” wouldn’t come close to expressing its diminutive size. In fact, the largest thing about the entire lens is its back cap. From the mount towards the filter thread, the lens gets progressively narrower. Thus, unlike most lenses, the smallest diameter of the lens is the point where the 43mm filters are mounted.
Instead of filters, however, you’ll probably want to use the thread to mount the supplied metal lens hood. This is a screw-on type hood, and it fits onto the filter thread itself. If you want to use a filter, you can screw a 52mm filter directly into the lens hood, but be prepared for some added vignetting. More on that later.
According to Pergear, the barrel, mount, and interior of the lens are all made of (unspecified) metal. When I first picked up the lens, it reminded me of my photographic beginnings with Nikon AI-S manual lenses. It was nicely “metallic” cool in my palm.
Like the lens barrel, the focus and aperture rings are all metal, with no rubberization whatsoever. As this is a fully manual lens, the aperture, consisting of ten blades, has to be adjusted manually using the ring. Changing the aperture values is accompanied by clicking. Between f/1.4 and f/4 in 1/3 EV increments, from f/4 to full stops.
The first turn of the focus ring brought me nostalgic memories of years gone by. The movement of the ring is smooth, with adequate resistance. Testing this lens made me realize that I have fallen out of practice in terms of manual focusing. Thankfully, most mirrorless cameras have an assist in the form of the focus peaking feature, which superimposes red outlines on the parts of a photo that are roughly in focus.
Despite this assist, manual focusing with an f/1.4 aperture is quite a challenge. Especially if the subject is moving. The Nikon Z9’s unforgiving sensor with its 46MP resolution will instantly reveal the slightest inaccuracy in focus. In this respect, conventional 35mm film was far more forgiving.
Shooting from a tripod is considerably easier. The buttery-smooth operation of the focusing ring, together with the magnification of the image in the viewfinder, allows for precise focusing.
When magnifying live view, I discovered one flaw with my copy of this lens. When I turned the focus ring to infinity, it focused a bit past infinity. So, don’t just rely thoughtlessly on the focusing distance scale.
It would probably be foolish to expect top optical performance from a $129 lens. When I mounted the lens on a camera with a 46MP sensor, my expectations were not high. However, the lens as a whole surprised me. And I have to say positively. What did I like and what did I dislike?
Lenses with focal lengths around 35mm usually don’t have big problems with distortion. And with most lenses, programs like Adobe Lightroom automatically correct for distortion. This lens, however, is completely manual. It doesn’t even have a chip that transmits information about exposure and lens type to the body. This means that neither your camera nor your photo editing software knows what lens you used.
In short, any flaws in the lens will show up more clearly with this lens compared to others. You’ll need to do more manual corrections of distortion and vignetting. And yes, if you are shooting architecture or other subjects with straight lines, you will notice that the lens has quite noticeable barrel distortion. Compare the distortion with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 S lens:
As expected, vignetting, or darkening of the image at the edges, is noticeable with the lens wide open. But I was surprised that even f/8 or f/16 did not completely eliminate it. On the contrary, the dark corners remain pronounced at these apertures. So much so that in some photos, I had to use a clone stamp when editing the sky.
But then I found that I could just unscrew the hood and the problem was solved. Too bad, because otherwise the lens hood is nicely made. I’m usually a big fan of using lens hoods, but with the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, I recommend taking it off. If you want to use filters, this is especially true. The lens hood technically accepts 52mm filters, but this only makes the problem more pronounced.
Unless you’re shooting thin branches against a grey sky, chromatic aberration isn’t a problem in real life with this lens. The photo below is about the worst I’ve been able to document. I took this image with the lens set to f/2.8. I converted the photo from RAW in Nikon NX Studio, where I turned off all automatic corrections.
The thin, diagonally growing branches in the corners of the image show a degree of chromatic aberration. With the lens stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8, the situation improves and the aberration is already at a very acceptable level. This is especially true if you take advantage of the de-fringing corrections provided by virtually all imaging software.
Sunstars and Flare
According to the manufacturer, the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 has a “multi-layer coating” to reduce flare. And indeed, even when the sun is directly in the frame, it is not a big problem for this lens. It’s surprisingly resistant to flare or low contrast in backlight. In my experience, an out-of-frame light source hitting the front element from the side would occasionally cause small flare in the image.
Sunstars are good on the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, but not anything extreme. For both a flare and a sunstar comparison, take a look at the photos below. The first was taken with the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 and the second with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 S. Note that the green flare around the lamp is slightly less pronounced with the Pergear than with the Nikon, although the sunstar is weaker. This is an interesting result.
Both photos of the Prague Castle were taken with identical exposure values of ISO 64 and f/16. It was only necessary to correct the shutter speed due to the fading light. For Pergear it was 90 seconds, and for the Nikon it was 120 seconds. This had at most a small effect on the flare/sunstar differences.
Now we come to one of the most watched parameters in lenses: sharpness. If I were to buy a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, I would be interested in its usability at that particular aperture. Otherwise, why have an f/1.4 lens in your backpack?
However, this aperture is where the price tag of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 is most evident. Wide open, the lens suffers from low sharpness and contrast, both in the corners and the center. Take a look at the crops below:
Sharpness improves with each step of the aperture as you go from f/1.4 to f/5.6. This is the sweet spot (along with f/8) where sharpness is high and fairly uniform across the image. At f/16, the diffraction becomes more pronounced.
Compare the 100% crop of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 and the reference Nikon 24-120mm f/4 S at f/5.6, which provides optimal optical quality for both lenses.
With this real-life subject, it’s clear that the center of the image is comparable to the significantly more expensive Nikon 24-120mm f/4 reference lens. Towards the corners, however, the sharpness quickly drops. Not a surprise for such a cheap lens, perhaps.
To give you an idea of the quality of the bokeh, I photographed the same subject at apertures ranging from f/1.4 to f/16. As you can see, the difference in background blur between f/1.4 and f/4 is quite large. This is the distinction between a fast prime lens and a standard zoom lens. So if you like a nice blurry background and don’t care too much about sharpness, you’ll like this lens even wide open.
The following sequence of photos was taken at f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8 and f/16.
Compare a few shots taken with the Pergear and Nikon lenses at the same f/4 aperture. This is where I think the Pergear has the edge. The parts outside the depth of field look less busy with the prime lens. The transitions between light and shadow are smoother, more seamless.
The f/1.4 aperture tempts you to play with shallow depth of field. That’s why I told myself to follow the commandment “Thou shalt not stop down” when I visited my family over the holidays. I kept it wide open. So, all the following photos were taken at f/1.4.
I didn’t have high expectations for the cheapest 35mm f/1.4 lens on the market. For a lens priced the same as a polarizing filter, I expected bad performance on the edge of usability. I have to say that my initial expectations were beaten.
Of course, for $129, you can’t expect miracles. First of all, the lack of autofocus certainly won’t be for everyone. The combination of manual focusing, f/1.4 aperture, and moving subjects really puts the photographer’s skills to the test.
You also have to accept some compromises in terms of optical quality. The wide-open performance is fairly soft, and the lens has a lot of vignetting that can be tricky to correct (especially with the hood on). For a 35mm lens, the Pergear also has quite a bit of barrel distortion.
But that’s where the negatives end, and the positives start to stand out. First and foremost is the incredible compactness of the lens, which stands out especially when compared to today’s typical f/1.4 lenses. I also appreciate the build quality of the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, which is much better than expected for the price and reminiscent of classic lenses. Finally, the simple fact of the f/1.4 aperture lets you get nice, shallow depth of field photos on the cheap.
Who is this lens for? If you’re looking for fast, silent autofocus and razor sharpness at every aperture, look elsewhere. There are plenty of options. If you’re looking for a compact, manual 35mm prime lens with a distinctive character and nice bokeh at open aperture, you’ll have a lot of fun with the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, and the price is excellent.
You can buy the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 through Pergear’s website for $129, and at the time I’m publishing this review, it is actually on sale for $109. The lens is also available on Amazon for $129. Here are links to the Nikon Z, Sony E, Canon EOS R and Leica L mounts. Let me know in the comments section if you have any questions about the Pergear 35mm f/1.4, and I’ll be happy to answer!
Nice review! May I ask: did you try zone focusing at infinity in real world settings? I shoot F8 or F11 set to hyperfocal infinity around NYC with vintage lenses. Looking for a new lens and this caught my eye, but I don’t see many stopped down landscape type photos from reviewers.
Does Lightroom fix anything automatically? And what is the closest focus distance?
I use Capture One for photo editing, but I assume Lightroom will behave the same way in this regard. The Pergear 35mm is a fully manual lens, which means the camera and subsequently the editing program have no information about focal length, aperture, etc. Any software corrections are therefore related to the camera used (Nikon Z9) rather than the lens. So neither distortion nor vignetting reduction can be expected. The shortest focusing distance is 0.3m.
Based on your review I spontaneously ordered the lens. I am curious to see how it performs, especially in comparison with the Nikon Ai-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 I own.
That’s great. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I expect the 50/1.2 to have a more even distribution of sharpness across the frame. With the Pergear 35/1.4, the sharpness drops off quite quickly from the center (where it is really very good from f/5.6) to the edges, where, interestingly, it recovers a bit.
Nothing to do with this … although the fun you had is evident.
I’ve just read of a caracara that was being mobbed by a couple of lapwings. It did a half roll to grab one of the lapwings and carried it off. (Jennifer Ackerman ‘The bird way’). Not your average bird of prey.
Thanks for the book tip, Robert. The Genius of Birds by the same author is waiting to be read in my library.
In mine too – already read it!
On the one hand, a pure manual f/1.4 lens sounds like a royal pain in the neck and the vignetting is awful. On the other hand, the price is cheap as heck and the quality is more than good enough at the cost.
I doubt I’ll ever buy it, but it opens up some interesting options at an incredibly cheap price for someone interested in shooting with a shallow depth of field at 35mm. At around 1/6th the price of the Nikon Z 35mm S, it’s hard to argue with its price/performance.
I like that we’re getting some interesting lenses that don’t break the bank. Whether or not I buy this particular lens I think it’s good for the ecosystem.
I agree with you, Ircut. The manual focus and the decreasing image quality towards the corners may deter some people. But not everyone needs to print large enlargements and then both problems easily disappear. On the other hand, the shallow depth of field and the associated pleasing analogue bokeh will remain evident. Moreover, from f/5.6 onwards, sharpness is very good. Certainly in the center of the image. Plus the price! The size of the lens is also so small that it can really fit in a pocket, as an alternative to a “serious” lens.
Yeah, the bokeh is gorgeous (you did a lovely job showing that off) and I love the rendering of the specular highlights. The sunstars are mediocre, which is too bad. My issue with f/4 and greater is at that point I’ll likely just pick up the 24-70 f/4 and call it a day. But that’s me.
The size and price still make it an incredible deal–so long as you can manage manual focus at f/1.4 :)
I’m showing my (lack of) chops here because I find that intimidating!
Focusing accurately at f/1.4 is a real challenge. The merciless 46MP resolution will reveal the slightest error. 35mm film with ASA400 was able to forgive a lot in this respect. Where there was no sharpness, there was grain at least. Even focus peaking is not a guaranteed recipe for accurate focus. It takes practice and a certain amount of tolerance.
Often a problem with cheap lenses is flare; a comparison of a subject against sunlight is missing.. Nikon lenses usually have very good coatings.
But if you like to have flare and a soft look, this lens will be better fit than a Nikon-S lens
With any lens i like to have the corners sharp; the more wide angle the more difficult.
but yes, it seems a very good option for the price.
At the time I tested the lens, the sun was not showing much in the sky. But when it finally did appear and I tried to create some nasty flares, I had no luck. I was actually very surprised at how the lens behaved with the sun in the frame. I think the published photos with artificial street lighting show this. Corner sharpness (especially at f/1.4 to f/2.8) is another story. Of course, the original S lens is a safe bet. But it was interesting for me to find that even at this price, Pergear can offer really good value.
Does the Pergear render a more yellowish image than the Nikkors do (see e.g. the first shot of the bridge, comparing the distortion)?
Also, the bokeh on that 24-120/4 is really not very good (in agreement with the previous full review by Spencer).
Yes, you have a keen eye. The color rendition of Pergear is indeed a bit warmer, with a slight yellow tint. It almost gives the impression of a golden hour.
The Nikon 24-120/4 is optically quite a complex lens with a wide zoom range. First and foremost, it is optimized for peak sharpness, and it delivers. A certain tradeoff is then the quality of the bokeh. In an ideal world, zoom range, sharpness and bokeh quality would not suppress each other, but I guess we’ll have to wait a while for that.