Three months ago I wrote an article on the possible new realities of the post pandemic era of street photography. One prediction was that we would photograph with less-wide lenses, leaving more room between us and our subjects. Although I prefer the 28mm equivalent lens (18mm for APS-C) for my daily walk around lens , I’ve switched over to the 35mm equivalent (23mm in APS-C) for the sake of social distancing. If you are a current owner of any of the X100 series cameras, you are already familiar with this field-of-view, and understand how useful it is for street photography. When Pergear asked if I would be interested in reviewing their new 25mm f/1.8 lens, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to not only testing this lens, but see how I feel about this focal length as my daily walk around lens for the streets.
The Pergear lens is currently available for Micro 4/3, Sony E and Fujifilm X mount at a cost of just under $70 USD. This is a budget lens so I did have some reservations about the build and image quality of this lens. It’s an all metal and compact design, about 2/3 the length of the XF 23mm f/2 R WR, has the same 43mm diameter filter thread, and slightly heavier at 195g. It feels significant yet compact in the hand and balances very nicely on the X-Pro3. The rear aperture ring is smooth (no click stops, ideal for video but not for stills) and the front focus ring is nice and dampened. Although the literature claims the aperture diaphragm is 12 blades, I only see 10 blades, which is more than enough for smooth bokeh. Although this lens has a reasonably close 25cm minimum focus, the strength of this lens optically is between 3-8ft from your subject. Finally there is no hard stop at infinity focus distance (you have to dial back slightly) which can be irritating if you shoot a lot of landscape photography.
Optically this lens if very good, and in some ways a tad better than the XF23mm f/2 R WR for street portraiture. Because you have slightly more focal length (2mm) and slightly brighter aperture (0.2), you do get somewhat better separation between your subject and the background. The bokeh is nice and swirly, but I’ll let you decide since I’m not the biggest connoisseur of shallow depth-of-field images. You do notice vignetting when photographing wide open (my opening image), but my guess is that the XF 23mm f/2 has the same issue but it’s corrected via software. I’m use to shooting with old Leica M glass, so I’m okay with the vignette aesthetic; but if it bothers you, it can easily be remedied in post processing. If you stop down to f/4 vignetting is almost completely gone. Additionally, I didn’t notice any serious optical aberration issues, with minimal distortion and no colour fringing. Overall I was very impressed with the optical performance, especially coming from a $70 USD lens.
As I walked around Chinatown and photographed my friends and colleagues, I did find shooting with such a compact lens a delight. I am very familiar with using manual lenses so I had no issues with focusing quickly and getting my images, but I do have some tips if you’re new to this. Turn off focus peaking with this lens because it doesn’t work well, especially if you’re stopped down. I would recommend to punch into your image (on my X-Pro3 it’s the rear dial that I push in) and focus with the aperture wide open. After you know your focus is correct, punch back out to see the entire frame before taking your image. Another trick is to use the optical viewfinder and use the mini EFV window to help focus since it’s already punched in for you. If you want to make sure you’re going to consistently be in focus, I would stop down to at least f/2.8. I found being about 5-8 feet away from your subject gave the best optical performance, but also was consistently sharp. Once I was further than 10 feet away, I mis-focused more often than I would have liked.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I decided to focus on street portraiture with this Pergear 25mm since this is one of the strengths of this lens. Since this 25mm f/1.8 lens isn’t as sharp or contrasty as the XF23mm f/2 or the XF23mm f/1.4, the skin tones are less harsh when lighting isn’t ideal. I can decide to add sharpening or clarity later in post, which is what I prefer. In fact, this lens reminds me of my older film lenses, which is a good thing. I like the way this lens renders various scenes, both the subject as well as the background. Initially I thought this lens was the same as the Viltrox 25mm f/1.8, but Pergear assured me the optical formula is different. With only 5 elements in 3 groups (versus Viltrox’s more common 7 elements in 5 groups), I am pretty impressed with the optical performance of this budget lens. I am curious if this is a new lens formula since I couldn’t find any vintage lenses with this optical design at this focal length or field of view.
As mentioned earlier, another benefit of this focal length is the physical working distance. It’s nice since this lens creates enough distance between myself and my subjects, but I’m still close enough to engage with them in conversation. Although I’d get better compression and background separation with the XF35mm f/2, I would also be 4-5 feet further away from my subjects. For me this is the perfect working distance when photographing family and friends while I wander around the streets. The feature image is of my wife on her day off. I’ve always found my wife more cooperative when I shoot with this 23-25mm focal length on my Fujifilm cameras. The more telephoto the lens, the further away I’m from my wife, the more self conscious she becomes, especially when people can walk between us while I’m taking pictures. At 25mm and shooting wide open at f/1.8, I can take my time to focus and compose the image while still encouraging my subjects to make slight posture and expression adjustments.
My final thoughts on my first impression of this budget friendly lens is very positive. For under $70 USD, you get a solid performing lens. The all-metal build quality feels significant in the hands, and I really like the size to weight ratio, as well as the physical look of the lens with the steel rim (there is also a silver version of this lens). Having a 43mm filter thread is nice because it can share filters and third party lens hoods that I already have for the Fujifilm XF23mm f/2 R WR and XF35mm f/2 R WR. Because there is no electronic contacts between the lens and body, you don’t get any aperture information, but you can manually input the lens on the newer Fujifilm camera bodies. I also wish the aperture had click stops and that infinity focus had a hard stop, but I can live with these ergonomic issues. I’m not going to compare this lens directly with Fujifilm’s XF 23mm f/2 R WR. These are very different lenses, and having both lenses for different applications would make sense to me. Having fast and quiet autofocus, weather-sealing, and full communication between lens and body is a great benefit; but so is having a cheap, compact manual focus lens when you just want to have fun.
I will continue testing this lens in various scenarios (at night, macro, black and white, etc.), but so far I think we have a winner. I’m glad we have options from third party lens manufacturers who are creating economically priced but good performing lenses for the Fujifilm X Mount. I currently have 2 full frame 24mm f/2.8 SLR lenses with adapters for the X mount, but I much rather have a native mount lens that’s compact and nice looking on my Fujifilm X-Pro3. This lens also performs well on the X-h1, but because it doesn’t have the newest Classic Neg film profile, I’ll continue using the Pergear on my X-pro3. I’ll include a few more pictures below captured with the X-Pro3 + Pergear 25mm f/1.8 for your viewing pleasure. Let me know if you have any questions, or wait for my long term review of this lens. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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