Quick Review: Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E

Introduction

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E on Sony A7rII

Zenith is mostly famous for still producing decade old designs like the Helios 2/58 and some Kickstarter lenses like the Petzval. But this Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E is a completely new design with staggering specs. But how does it stack up to the Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95?
This was supposed to be a full scale review, but unfortunately this lens is so inherently flawed that I decided writing one would be a waste of time, read on to find out why.

Samples

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7III | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

Disclosure

This lens was kindly provided by a reader who bought it directly from Zenith in Russia.

Specifications

    • Diameter: 85mm
    • Field of view: 47.5° (diagonally)
    • Length: 119mm
    • Weight: 1110g
    • Filter Diameter: 72mm
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 14 (rounded untif f/1.2, then inwardly curved)
    • Elements/Groups: 9/8
    • Close Focusing Distance: 0.7m
    • Maximum Magnification: 1:10.8 (measured)
    • Mount: Sony E

At the time of writing this report the only way to get this lens is to order directly from Zenith in Russia for ~880€ or hoping one shows up on ebay.com/ebay.de (affiliate links)

Build quality / Handling

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E

The focus ring has medium resistance and has a scratchy feel towards infinity. It rotates ~120° from the minimum focus distance (0.7 m) to infinity.
The clickless aperture ring has a slight scratchy feel at f/0.95 and is really stiff near f/16.

The Zenitar weighs a hefty 1.11 kg, so I was expecting it to be an all metal construction, but interestingly the aperture and focus ring seem to be made from plastic. Markings are also not engraved but simply painted, I am pretty sure over time they will wear off.

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E and Zhong Yi 50mm 0.95 MK II

Compared to the Zhong Yi 50mm 0.95 MK II this Zenitar 50mm 0.95 looks really huge, but while the outer diameter is quite big, the front element has only a  diameter of 54mm.

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E with extended hood

The Zenitar 50mm 0.95 offers a built in retractable hood. I am a huge fan of these in general, but this one is a bit wobbly and the inside is not even matte but rather reflective.

Vignetting

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh

Wide open there is massive vignetting of roughly 3.7 EV in the corners, stopped down to f/1.4 this improves to 2.8 EV, stopped down to f/2.0 it is still 2.5 EV and then – interestingly – gets much worse as you stop down and amounts to a whopping 5 EV at f/8.0. There is no Lightroom profile available for this lens.

As you can see on stopping down you get pitch black corners which looks very distracting in actual pictures:

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/8.0

There are two different causes I can think of: either the image circle of the lens is too small or the aperture diaphragm is in the wrong position in the optical path. Neither is good news.

Sharpness

As most people will be using this lens at portrait distance this is what I will have a closer look at. Furthermore you buy this lens to use it at f/0.95, if you are okay with a slightly slower lens save yourself some trouble and get the Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 E Nokton.
So I will compare it to the Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 E MK II.

Zentiar 50mm 0.95 E <—> Zhong Yi 50mm 0.95 E MK II


100% crops, A7rII

In the center the performance is similar, but the Zhong Yi is slightly contrastier. Differences are much bigger in the midframe area (where I usually put my subject): the Zenitar’s contrast is really low here.
You should keep in mind that you are looking at 100% crops from 42mp files. You will rarely see fine details like these, but the contrast does matter.
The Zhong Yi allows to take decent portraits where the subject is in the midframe at f/0.95, with the Zenitar that is almost impossible, especially as focussing is much harder (even more so on higher resolution cameras).

At f/1.4 the image quality of the Zenitar improves noticeably, but why buy a 1.1 kg 50mm 0.95 to use it at f/1.4?

I am also not so sure the lens has actually been optimized for the Sony E-mount filterstack. The field curvature is really massive (similar to the 7Artisans 50mm 1.1 designed for the Leica filterstack).

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

The focus is actually on that pillar in the center. But notice how the top left corner is also in focus, despite being ~30 m behind that pillar?

Flare resistance

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

The Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 shows a weak flare resistance, so this is one category where I was hoping to see an improvement. This is not the case, the Zenitar shows even worse flare resistance.

When shooting against the sun wide open you will get frame filling artifacts. The performance slightly improves on stopping down, but there will still be ghosts all over the frame (and you will find having pitch black corners again).

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/8.0

Bokeh

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

The Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 II (and III) offer very smooth bokeh with even lightspread and very little outlining. The Zenitar is very different with often busy bokeh, looks more comparable to the 7Artisans 50mm 1.1 at times.

Even when focusing on something close to the camera you can see lots of outlining close to the borders.

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

Focusing on something farther away you will start to notice the high field curvature. At half body distance it is noticeable:

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

But at full body distance it starts to become really distracting:

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

The Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 offers much smoother bokeh rendering which is what I like and the reason I kept it for so long.
If you prefer rather busy bokeh with lots of field curvature it might make sense to have a closer look at the 7Artisans 50mm 1.1, which will do the same thing for much less money and bulk.

Distortion

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/2.8

There is unusually high pincushion distortion for a 50mm lens. Dialing in -7 in Photoshop/Lightroom somewhat corrects this but a wavy sub frequency remains.

Impressions

So much is wrong with this lens, I don’t even know where to start.
The lens is super heavy, yet the build quality isn’t exactly great. Both rings are a bit scratchy with uneven resistance, markings are not engraved, the lens hood is wobbly and reflective on the inside.

Sharpness and contrast at f/0.95 are far from good, especially off center. By f/1.4 the lens starts to show acceptable resolution and contrast, but there are many more reasonable 50mm f/1.4 lenses available that offer the same and more for much less money and bulk.

Distortion is unusually high for a 50mm lens. Astigmatism and coma are both very badly corrected. You get completely black corners when stopping the lens down and flare resistance at wider apertures is the worst I have ever seen.

Now all those things may still be acceptable for some, if the only alternative was the Leica Noctilux 50mm 0.95 costing 10 grand. But that is not the case. We have the Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 MKII and MKIII. Both lenses are optically superior, seem to have actually been designed for E-mount cameras and at the same time they are much smaller and lighter and not even more expensive.

In my opinion there is absolutely no reason to get this lens. You have been warned.

Rather have a look at one of the following lenses:
Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 MK II, MK III or Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 Nokton E if you want smooth bokeh rendering or 7artisans 50mm 1.1 if you want that busy bokeh wide open with very high field curvature.

At the time of writing this report the only way to get this lens is to order directly from Zenith in Russia for ~880€ or hoping one shows up on ebay.com/ebay.de (affiliate links)

Samples

zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7III | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95
zenitar 50mm 0.95 noctilux zhong yi mitakon SLRmagic sharpness resolution 42mp e-mount a7rIII a7rII bokeh
Sony A7rII | Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E | f/0.95

Further Reading

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My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses. My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time.

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25 thoughts on “Quick Review: Zenitar 50mm 0.95 E”

  1. But as you can see here, it’s possible to shoot really beautiful and/or interesting photos with a bad lens!
    (Admittedly you don’t need an EXPENSIVE bad lens for that, an old vintage one for a handful of bucks suffices totally :-))

  2. Oh, thank you very much for this review! It’s great that you were able to test it. Finally.

    Actually I was hoping that this lens would be better than Mitakon (otherwise, why on Earth buying an 1.2 kg lens???). Such a pity it’s not like that. I wondering, were there any managers at Zenit, who could have stopped the release after looking at Mitakon, and asked the developers to fix the optics instead? Or cancel the release to avoid shaming themselves.

    Interestingly, as I told before, the retail price of Zenitar E has grown by around 10% since its release…

    1. Глубокий вздох… и вправду несколько стыдно за наших. Зачем вообще было выпускать.

  3. Do you think you could have a bad sample? Or do you think these are design flaws? Do other lenses produced by this manufacturer also have such severe issues?

  4. I’ve noticed the field curvature also on my copy of Mitakon 35/0.95 on my Fuji. Took me a while to figure out what was going on with the image as the focus plane felt randomly positioned around the image. Now I see that other lenses have it as well.

  5. This lens is so systematically wrong for what it is for…
    And still some good images can be made with it!

  6. Hello Bastian!
    Thanks for your review!

    Black corners. This is not the fault of the lens, this is the fault of the Sony bayonet on the second-generation cameras. I have the same problem with the Apo-Sumicron 90mm. On the cameras of the third generation of black corners is not observed.

    Field curvature. The lens is designed for Leica matrices. In your review of Nocton (for Leica) 50 / 1.2, the problem is the same.

    1. Obviously it is not the bayonet’s fault as then the corners would be black at all apertures if it was.
      Furthermore a lens that only comes in E-mount, not in M-mount, should be designed for E-mount, don’t you think so?

        1. By now I have used many lenses on the A7rII.
          My colleagues here have also used many lenses on their Gen 2 Sony cameras.
          Combined those are easily more than 200 lenses.
          The only other lens I have seen a similar issue with is the 1.9/183 Visionar projector lens.
          And again: if this was the issue it would be visible at any aperture, not just stopped down.

          This is simply an inherent design flaw of this Zenitar lens.
          I also did not find any “do not use this on gen2 cameras, as otherwise you will get black corners” sticker on the box.
          And as far as I know development of this lens began way before there even were gen3 cameras.
          And again: this is a lens designed to be used with E-mount cameras, not some adapted Leica lens.

          I am not sure if I tested this lens stopped down on my A7III, will have a look later if I did.

  7. I owned Mitakon 50/0.95ii two years and have sold it: bad colors is really depressed me. Zenitar 50/0.95 has certainly better colors, and, for me – it has better bokeh: smooth and silky (I tried Zenitar at Fotoforum Expo). I have tried both lens on Sony a7rii and I likes Zenitar much more than Mitakon.
    I agree with Bastian: instead Zenitar better buy Voigtlander 50/1.2 FE – if you want speed 50mm lens for portraits. Voigtlander 50/1,2 (besides lovely image character) has electronic contacts to communicate exifs and focus distance with camera, and it helpful feature. As for me, my favorite 50mm lens is Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH.

  8. And, Bastian, I always like your reviews, because you make beautiful photos. You know for what and know how to use gear that you reviewed.

  9. That is pretty much 7 artisans 55mm 1.1f but 3x more expensive, nearly 4x heavier/bulkier and it seems 7artisans also has better build quality..

    I would be really interested in that 35mm 1,2f that was released with that Leica camera copy, although that lens is bloody expensive and it seems that the optical quality is pretty much the same, at least the unique busy rendering is…

  10. As for the black corners, this is indeed poor compatibility between lens and a camera. On one hand Sony suffers because of it APSC designed bayonet and a very short flange distance, this is truth to the wide angle lenses there is barely any UWA that has sharp corners on any Sony cameras…
    On the other hand is this Zenitar lens which was probably designed to be placed just a little further from the sensor – placing lens further – creates bigger image circle, stopping it down, covers sides of the image so that is why there are black corners.. Wide open the amount of light is so huge that this effect becomes softer and more spread out across the frame, stopping it down makes it sharper and more localized.
    Could it be that maybe the native mount of this lens is too short by a fraction of mm?

    1. Sorry, but here I stumble: “there is barely any UWA that has sharp corners on any Sony cameras…”

      What about Loxia 21mm/2.8, Batis 18, Sony FE 16-35mm/2.8 GM, Sony FE 12-24mm/4.0 etc.?

      And regarding the Zenitar reviewed here, it is no UWA lens, but a nifty fifty …

  11. It’s an E mount lens so corners dark isn’t surprising on a full frame. The Zenit lenses are capable of some amazing creative looks that you don’t get from other lenses and as such are suitable for creative and artistic uses. I’ve shot with the 095 and quite like it, but you have to learn how to use it.

    1. Well any other Of the 40 or so E-mount lenses we have reviewed so far don‘t have black corners.

      If you want lots of aberrations and unsharp images then it is certainly a great lens.

  12. Hello Phillip,

    how is the coma correction of this lens at full aperture?
    Can you eventually add some pics?

    Thank you and best regards,
    Christian

    1. Corner resolution is so bad at wider apertures (closed down they are simply black, so I don’t know here either), I could not be bothered to check coma correction in detail.

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