Lens Review: Pergear 35mm F/1.4 – Super Fast, Stunningly Inexpensive

Lens Review: Pergear 35mm F/1.4 – Super Fast, Stunningly Inexpensive

2000 1125 James Tocchio

To shoot a fast 35mm lens on any of today’s mirror-less cameras isn’t cheap. Nikon’s fast 35mm f/1.8 Z mount lens costs $849. Canon’s costs $499. Sony’s 35mm f/1.4 costs over a thousand bucks. Third-party lenses from the respected Japanese optics firms cost less, but they’re still pricey; between $350 and $500. On the other hand, Pergear’s new 35mm f/1.4 fast prime lens (available in Nikon Z, Canon R, Sony E, and Leica L mount) is an astonishing bargain, at just $130.

So, where’s the catch? Where does the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 fall short, for at that price, fall short it surely must! And how precipitous is the fall?

When Pergear sent me this lens for review, I expected very little. I’ve been generally impassive about the mostly-the-same yet differently-named “vintage” style lenses to come out of China in the last half decade. They’re fine lenses, especially for the price. But I never found them as interesting as true, old lenses, nor as capable or convenient as modern ones. For me, they just never grabbed my attention.

But this lens has made me reconsider. It’s finely made, ultra-compact, fun to use, and makes great pictures (most of the time). Indeed, the lens does demand some compromise. But not as much as I expected.

Pergear 35mm f/1.4 Specifications

  • Focal Length: 35mm
  • Focus Type: Manual Focus
  • Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
  • Minimum Aperture: f/16
  • Lens Mount: Sony E; Nikon Z; Canon EOS-R; Leica L
  • Coverage: Full-frame
  • Angle of View: 63.2°
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 30 cm
  • Optical Design: 7 Elements in 5 Groups
  • Diaphragm Blades: 10, rounded design
  • Filter Size: 43 mm (Front)
  • Dimensions (diameter x length): 60 x 49 mm
  • Weight: 245g

Build Quality, Ergonomics, and Use

In terms of build and aesthetics, the most apt point of reference are the manual focus vintage lenses of the 1970s and ’80s. Pergear has simply built a lens based on those of the past.

The 35mm f/1.4 is well-made, insofar as it feels dense and solid. The focus ring, aperture ring, barrel, filter thread, lens mount, and lens bezels are all made of metal. The focus ring is scalloped with intermittent knurled grips, and the aperture ring is knurled along its entire perimeter. The focus distance markings, aperture values, and focus scale are all engraved numerals filled with contrasting paint. The lens can be bought finished in satin black or satin silver, each of which look lovely.

With physical dimensions of about 60 x 40mm (diameter x length), it’s one of the smallest standard lenses on the market. The compact size is even more impressive when considering its incredibly fast maximum aperture, and when we remember that Nikon’s own Z series 35mm f/1.8 lens measures in at 73 x 86mm; that’s thicker and more than double the length (though admittedly, Nikon’s Nikkor is a much more advanced lens).

The Pergear 35mm comes with a generic-looking vented lens hood, which works well at mitigating flares and ghosts caused by sunlight striking the front element. However this lens hood also introduces heavy vignetting (on a lens which already vignettes quite noticeably). After a few initial test shots, I didn’t use the lens hood.

It also comes with a padded lens pouch and plastic front and rear lens caps.

The mechanical processes of using the lens are pleasant.

The aperture ring rotates with a nice weight, and clicks nicely into its detents. However, interestingly (a more accurate adverb could be “confusingly”), the aperture ring does not use traditional half-stop or third-stop increments in its rotation between full stops. Instead, the ring clicks across four detents between f/1.4 and f/2.8 (f/2 has been skipped), and then three detents between f/2.8 and f/4, after which there are no detents between stops. This is odd, and could potentially cause trouble for people who like to adjust their aperture by feel, or to count the clicks or detents. Some memorization will be necessary, especially since there’s no communication between the lens and camera body (eliminating the possibility of a selected-aperture readout in the camera’s viewfinder).

The lens’ lack of CPU contacts also means that we don’t get EXIF data, and there’s no option for in-camera (or in-editing suite) automatic correction of optical faults such as distortion and chromatic aberration. In a lens that costs $130, can we really expect as much?

The focus ring has none of the peculiarity of the aperture ring. It simply rotates through its (approximate) 160 degree travel to focus from infinity to as close as 11.8 inches (0.3 meters). The focus weight is nice, with the ring offering just the right amount of smooth resistance as we spin it through its cycle. A large and legible focus scale is available for zone focusing, and distance markings are clearly labeled in both feet and meters.

Focusing is made easy through the electronic focusing aids included on all of today’s mirror-less cameras. Focus peaking works well to highlight which elements of an image are in focus, and focus magnifiers help us dial in on our subject with ample precision. My preferred method is just that – I’ve mapped a focus magnifier to one of my Nikon Z5‘s custom function buttons. When I need to focus precisely, I press that button once, dial in my focus, and hit the shutter. It’s not as fast as autofocus, but can we expect it to be? I say once again; one hundred and thirty dollars.

Image Quality

The Pergear 35mm f/1.4 lens has a lot going for it. The 35mm focal length is a very useful focal length. It’s on the wide side of standard, which means that it can be effective for a massive variety of photography styles; contextual portraits, landscapes, street photography, reportage and editorial, and much more. Next, the ultra-fast maximum aperture of f/1.4 allows this lens to be used in a very wide gamut of light conditions. And it actually does the job! In my time spent with the lens, I was able to create some really nice, punchy, sharp, and lovely images.

But this versatile and useful lens has three not insignificant problems; distortion, vignetting, and sharpness at maximum aperture.

We’ll start with the distortion, which is so pronounced that it takes a +10 adjustment in Lightroom to correct! That’s just about the worst distortion I’ve ever found in any lens, and certainly the absolute worst I’ve seen in the 35mm focal length. Granted, distortion is pretty easy to correct. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it.

Next is the vignetting (darkness, or light falloff, at the edges of the image area). Like the distortion already mentioned, this lens shows possibly the worst vignetting I’ve ever encountered in a 35mm lens. It’s awful, especially wide open. And what’s more, it isn’t even uniform in my copy of the lens. The right hand side of the image vignettes noticeably heavier than the left. Very odd. Importantly, the vignetting doesn’t really ever go away entirely. With most lenses, stopping down the aperture will effectively eliminate vignetting by f/4 or f/5.6 (at worst). With the Pergear 35mm, the vignetting is always there.

Finally, let’s talk about maximum aperture sharpness.

With a maximum aperture of f/1.4 we can expect the lens to be a bit soft when shot wide open. This is only natural, especially if the optical formula has been optimized for maximum quality along the entire range of usable apertures. And true to experience, the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 is fairly soft when shot wide open. There’s just no getting around it. Even in the center of the frame, where most lenses are sharp at any aperture, the Pergear is soft. Contrast is low, and shooting with difficult light makes things even worse. The best way that I can describe it (to those of us who have experience shooting really old lenses), is that the wide open performance of this lens feels similar to the times I’ve shot soft-coated collapsible rangefinder lenses adapted to a digital camera.

Chromatic aberration (color fringing in high contrast areas) is abundant. Flares and ghosts run rampant when shooting into the sun, or when not using the lens hood (for me, always). Bokeh is not super creamy, and depending on the selected focusing distance, can be busy and distracting.

But all of this isn’t to say that the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 isn’t worth our time, energy, or hundred-and-thirty bucks.

It is. Because despite these foibles, some major and some minor, it ends up making some really nice pictures.

Shot wide open, we get low contrast and general softness, sure. But we also get super shallow depth of field (especially when shooting close up), clean low ISO images in low light, swirly rendering in the out of focus areas of our portraits, and nice bokeh highlights which sparkle and shine (thanks to the lens’ ten rounded aperture blades).

When we stop the lens down just a bit, to about f/4 or f/5.6, images are much sharper, and as long as we nail focus, sharpness will be high enough to compete with most modern standard 35s. As we stop down, vignetting is reined in, contrast and clarity improve, and we find images with rich color and faux-classic rendering. Sunstars are adequate, if not brilliant, and at f/8, the majority of the aberrations are, if not totally solved, then solved enough that no one would ever mention them.

The 35mm focal length and the lens’ ability to scale focus create a shooting paradigm that’s fast, easy, predictable, and accurate. It’s a compact lens. It’s easy to use. It makes nice pictures. Is that enough?

The Competition?

The Pergear 35mm f/1.4 doesn’t really have a lot of competition. The lens’ greatest selling point (its ultra-low price to performance ratio) positions it nicely as the cheapest way to shoot a modern, manual-focus 35mm f/1.4. Compared to very similar lenses like the 7Artisan 35mm f/1.4 Photoelectric, which costs $50 more than the Pergear equivalent, I don’t really see a reason to not choose the Pergear. Furthermore, it’s just not possible to find a similarly specced classic manual focus lens from the heyday of film for anywhere near this lens’ low price.

Where the comparisons become more interesting is when we broaden the potential pool of competitors to more modern and convenient options.

Nikon’s Z mount, for example, we find a compelling alternative in one of the best Z mount lenses I’ve ever used. The Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm f/2 is tiny, fast, creates stunning photos, has accurate and quick auto-focus, and costs just $100 more than the Pergear 35mm f/1.4. Now, I acknowledge that these two lenses are very different – one’s a 35mm and one’s a 40mm; one has a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and the other tops out at f/2; one’s manual focus and the other’s auto. But truth be told, the type of photos I’d make with these lenses are very similar, the low-light performance will be largely the same on a modern mirror-less camera, and (frankly) Nikon’s 40mm is a basically perfect lens. The only reason I can see to choose this Pergear 35mm over the Nikon 40mm is if we absolutely adore manual focus, or lenses made of metal (the Nikon is all plastic).

But this is a stretch. And in Leica M or Canon R or Sony FE mount systems, it’s really hard to find an alternative to the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 in terms of value proposition.

Final Thoughts

Examined on its own merits, the Pergear 35mm f/1.4 is a very interesting and desirable lens. It’s a fast prime lens that feels great to use, makes nice pictures, sometimes makes excellent pictures, and costs less than a high-end lens filter. That’s absurd!

It will, of course, demand some compromise in both its use and in the images it delivers. Manual focus can be tricky and slow. There’s no EXIF data. The lens vignettes like crazy and isn’t anywhere close to the sharpest lens I’ve ever used. But, must I repeat it again? This lens costs $130! That’s hard to beat.

Get your own Pergear 35mm f/1.4 on eBay here

It’s also sometimes available on Amazon here

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio