It’s a lens. It’s a body cap. It’s a body cap lens! Yes, the Funleader Cap Lens, an 18mm F/8 focus-free lens, is all of that. It’s also an inexpensive toy for photo geeks who are looking to experiment with (surprisingly good) lo-fi photography.
Like countless other experiments in the realm of camera gear, this unusual piece of equipment first gained interest on Kickstarter. The inventors and manufacturers based in Guangzhou, China launched their campaign in October of 2019 and shipped the first version a couple of months later, just in time for Christmas. Over the last year the company expanded their product to include various mounts, which makes it an interesting piece of equipment for a wider range of people.
But being an 18mm f/8 lens with a fixed aperture and focus field, there are significant limitations that you should be aware of before you go out and buy one. First, let us work out what this thing really is.
As implied, defining the Funleader isn’t so simple. With six glass elements in four groups and multi-coating, it seems to be just another pancake lens. But it feels more like an accessory. It “fits” a compact Sony a6000 or a Leica CL, but looks ridiculous on a Sony a7 or a Leica SL. It protrudes about as far from the body as the legendary Zeiss Hologon 16mm f/8 (11mm to be exact) which is less than most camera grips, but comparing it to the Hologon would not be fair. You pay 150 bucks for the Funleader – add a zero at the end of that price and we’re closer to the cost of the classic Zeiss glass.
Of course, there are reasons for the price difference. One stems from the fact that the Hologon is an excellent lens despite its very unique design, while the Funleader seems indefinable. If it is a lens, then it’s not a very convincing one. The Funleader vignettes heavily and suffers from coma. The Hologon, though a tad wider, handles these problem areas better.
But maybe this misses the point – Funleader does not even try to be a proper lens in terms of optical performance. The brand’s original Kickstarter proudly describes their product as being “not a lens for high-quality optical performance, but a lens for playful usage.” It goes even further by writing that with this product you can get the same vignette effect as with “Lomo cameras,” with a higher level of detail and better color accuracy – which I guess is true.
Though it disappoints in regards to certain criteria, the quality of the photographs I get from my Sony’s 24 megapixel sensor is pretty decent. It is not a low-light champion, neither is it a bokeh-master. It is a super-wide angle lens that keeps everything in focus from 0.8 meters to infinity. There is nothing to twist and turn, no adjustments to be made, no settings to be chosen. Testing it thoroughly and pixel-peeping the files is pointless. You will not be bringing this thing to a professional shoot. Well, maybe you will, but not to photograph with it. Which brings me back to the question of what the Funleader cap lens really is.
If someone asks me whether they should spend money on a new camera body or buy an excellent lens for their system instead, I will always recommend investing into great glass. Especially with digital cameras, the life span of modern technology has shortened year after year. The features from your favorite brand’s newest flagship are outdated by the time the product hits the shelves. Something new is always underway. The only thing that remains consistent is the mathematics of lenses.
What once worked on an analog camera will in nearly all cases work just as well when adapted to digital. So why should you buy this cheap lens instead of saving for an optically better alternative? Because you can literally throw the Funleader on your camera instead of a body cap and still buy that premium masterpiece of a lens you have been longing for since the day you first stumbled across it.
If you view the Funleader as an alternative to your unspectacular and relatively useless body cap, it suddenly throws all criticism overboard and convinces with its solid metal design and an unrivaled functionality. It is a dumb lens, but a genius body cap. And there lies the joy of using it.
Sure, Funleader did not invent something new here. Olympus has been offering a 9mm f/8 body cap lens long before this product came along. But the Olympus version is a fisheye and has a little lever to focus with. Plus it is made out of plastic. I would argue that Funleader completed what Olympus had begun and made a better product than what the established Japanese brand came up with. Funleader decided not to offer their version for micro-four-thirds cameras, therefore the mentioned cap lenses are not direct competitors, but the Funleader lens does fit most other current camera bodies are – the Funleader cap lens is available for Sony E-, Fuji X-, Leica L-, Canon RF- and Nikon Z-mount cameras.
I own a number of adapters and lenses that I can use on my digital body, but none of those stay on it as much and as often as the Funleader. I went on trips with a bag of beautiful glass but ended up shooting the entirety of my experience with my camera’s body cap. The simplicity and constraints are what makes this product outstanding, and therefore its biggest weaknesses are actually its greatest strengths. On Kickstarter, the product is marketed as a small, light and playful lens. But while it really cannot compete with other small and light pancake lenses out there in terms of quality, the playfulness just makes it an ideal accessory.
So the next time you misplace your body cap, don’t go out and buy another piece of plastic. Choose something more useful. Treat yourself to the best body cap lens that currently exists.
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