I get asked frequently, “How can I make my digital pictures look more like film?”
My film simulation recipes—made possible by Fujifilm’s commitment to the camera-made JPEG and their long history with film—are a great start for achieving a film-like look. Another step that can go a long way towards achieving an analog aesthetic is the lens that’s attached to the camera. You see, most modern lenses are precision engineered, designed to eliminate flaws as much as possible. They score well on test charts, but often at the expense of character. Modern lenses render photographs differently than vintage lenses; old lenses have flaws, as they weren’t designed with today’s technology or for today’s standards, and these flaws are why they render images uniquely. For (typically) not very much money you can buy antique lenses intended for film cameras, and mount them to your Fujifilm X camera with an adapter—something that I love to do! Cheap third-party lenses often accomplish the same thing, but you’re buying something that’s new (instead of old) and you don’t need an adapter. The Pergear 50mm f/1.8 lens is an inexpensive option for your Fujifilm X camera, and it indeed has character similar to a vintage lens!
I get gift cards sometimes, usually for my birthday or Christmas, and it can be hard to know what to buy myself. In the past I have purchased a Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens and a 7artisans 25mm f/1.8 lens—both are under $100, which is the right price range for those gift cards that I don’t know what to do with. The Pergear 50mm f/1.8, with an MSRP of $79, is in that same category. The Pergear lens has other things in common with the Meike and 7artisans models: click-less aperture rings, seemingly good build quality, similar flaws, and lots of character. You’d almost think that they were made by the same company, but apparently they’re not.
The Pergear 50mm f/1.8 is a 75mm-equivalent manual-focus, manual-aperture prime lens from China. It has 10 rounded aperture blades, 6 elements in 4 groups, a maximum aperture of f/1.8, a minimum aperture of f/16, a minimum focus distance of about 15 inches, and accepts 43mm threaded filters. The aperture and focus rings are both smooth. I do wish that the aperture ring had f-stop clicks, but it doesn’t—not a big deal, though.
Center sharpness is pretty fantastic on the Pergear 50mm f/1.8 lens at all apertures. Corner sharpness is decent-enough when wide open and noticeably improves when stopped down to f/4. There’s some minor vignetting when wide open; it improves when stopped down, yet it never fully goes away, although it’s hardly noticeable at apertures smaller than f/2.8. There’s some noticeable chromatic aberrations in extreme high-contrast light, but is otherwise well controlled. There’s almost no distortion. Bokeh is pretty good thanks to those rounded blades.
The Pergear 50mm f/1.8 has a weird flaw, which can be stunningly beautiful or terribly awful, depending on your tastes and the exact situation: the center of the frame can get a warm haze. It seems to become more pronounced when the aperture is (roughly) f/5.6 and smaller, and when there’s a bright light source somewhere in front of the camera (it can be outside the frame). Sometimes I really love this haze, and it’s almost like having a diffusion filter built into the lens, and sometimes it’s just too pronounced and essentially ruins the picture. Opening up the aperture seems to reduce the effect in those situations where it might be too pronounced. This strange haze is both the reason to buy this lens and the reason not to, depending on your opinion of it. I personally really like it, although I’m happy to have it limited to one lens, which I can choose to use when I want this character in my pictures. To be clear, this haze won’t show up in every picture—there are many situations where it won’t, either because the aperture is too large or because the light isn’t right, and even when it does appear, it’s often very subtle, which is great.
The Pergear 50mm f/1.8 is a good, sharp lens, producing lovely images in most situations. It has character that you just won’t find in most modern lenses. It has quirks, which can be good or bad, depending on the situation and your tastes. It’s all manual, which I like, but can take some practice to get good at if you’ve only ever used auto lenses. The Pergear 50mm f/1.8 lens, when used in conjunction with the Fujifilm JPEG settings, can help you achieve a much-sought-after film-like look from your digital camera. It’s not for everyone, but, for the price, it’s worth a try, especially if you are unsure what to buy with that gift card in your wallet.
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Below are camera-made JPEGs that I captured using the Pergear 50mm f/1.8 lens attached to my Fujifilm X-T30. For the color pictures I used my new Kodak Portra 400 v2 recipe (available on the Fuji X Weekly App for iOS), except for the the top picture, which was captured with Velvia, and the two night pictures below that, which were captured with Porto 200 (also available on the app). For the black-and-white pictures I used my Kodak Tri-X 400 recipe. The photographs of the lens (above) were captured with a Fujifilm X100V using my Superia Premium 400 recipe.
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Great review with lots of nice representative pictures, thank you!
I’ve reviewed and also disassembled Pergear 35mm F1.2 lens recently to introduce click-stops. Looks like this Pergear 50mm F1.8 has very similar mechanical design. At least it’s obvious that focusing ring infinity point precision can be fine-tuned here as well.
Well, some old lenses have flaws. So do some new ones. In fact there are plenty of modern lenses that aren’t worth the glass and brass (plastic now) they’re made of.
What is missing from new lenses in general is attention to lines of resolution, contrast rendition, and colour reproduction. I can’t speak to why, but perhaps it has to do with aligning the lens specifications to the very different characteristics of film versus digital sensor. Or perhaps it is more a matter of taste, as even with film there was not only varied reproduction according to brand and type but also as time passed and public tastes changed (think of Kodak’s moving from warm, saturated tones of old Kodacolor to the more subtle hues of Portra).
I think a lot of cheap modern lenses (the ones with plastic) are designed to be “good enough” while also being “cheap enough.” The more “professional” modern lenses I think are designed to perform well photographing test charts. They’re designed to score well among reviewers, who are often not using the gear “real world” creating art. So they rave about it, and it sells well because of it. But to me it comes across as too good, too clinical, too boring. Perhaps some people like this because they can “fix it in post” to however they like, but for me, I prefer character. Everyone is different, though.
Even among digital cameras you can get different results with the same lens. There is a difference not only between CCD and CMOS sensors, but in the particular manufacturer’s adaptation of the sensor such as the colour filter and processor. Some experimentation is always required. But sometimes you just give up on a lens. I have a couple like that. 🙂
That’s true, although I suspect it has more to do with the sensor (and built-in filters) than the lens itself. The interaction between the sensor and lens is certainly a factor. Even two X-Trans sensors from different generations can produce different results with the same lens. For example, there’s a lens I absolutely love on my X-T1, but I don’t like it nearly as much on my X-T30. So there are so many variables. As you say, sometimes you just give up on a lens. I’ve been there, too. Thanks for the comments!
Good review of an interesting lens.
I already have the Fuji 50mm f2, so I was wondering whether it would work as a normal lens on a Sony full-frame. Alas, it will not. It comes in Sony E mount, but only for APSC cameras.
Fine for Fuji, though.
I have, I don’t know, four or five 50mm-ish lenses (mostly vintage). They each render the picture differently. Even though they have the same (or very similar) focal length, I feel like they serve different purposes.
I don’t have the Fujinon 50mm f/2, but I have heard good things about it.
Thank you for your review.
You are welcome!
“How can I make my digital pictures look like a film”. …Shoot film. People shooting digital recognize now that digital photos look ugly, unreal, flat so they want to havd a “film look”. What a joke.
There are a ton of advantages to shooting digital, and that’s why film is now a small niche. I shot film for years and years, but I don’t anymore (or at least very rarely), and for good reason. Digital is just so much more quick, convenient, affordable and reliable. So, yeah, shoot film to get the film look, plus all of the drawbacks of film, or shoot digital and still get a close approximation to the film look without the drawbacks of film (of course digital has its own drawbacks, too). A gladly choose the latter. And I could choose either, but for me, having done both, it’s an obvious decision. Everyone is different, though. There’s no right or wrong answer.
I use digital for my work : shooting paintings to make art books or for artists’ website. No doubt that shooting paintings with films isn’t good at all. Have a look at the same painting on different book and you know why. But for my work, I’ll never go digital. “Quick, affordable”. Who cares. I shoot photo, I don’t drive F1. Quick isn’t my goal. Affordable? I don’t care, I’m into photography, not accumulating tons of photos from my last holidays. When people are trying to tell me the supposed advantage of digital compared to film, their last shot is always “I can change my iso for each photo that I take”. Me too. Try large format. It’s even better because I can shoot a real B&W photo,not from a color shot edited on photoshop, and the next one can be color. And I won’t talk about the ugly hdr look where people want everything, even being able to see what is in the shadows, that the eye couldn’t see in real. Not talking about a result sharper than reality. I have that same feeling of flatness when I see 4K, 8K tv screens in shops. Sharp sharp sharp is the main goal now. But these photos don’t breathe.
That’s really interesting! I’m always fascinated with how photographers got started with their niche. I’d love to hear how you got into photographing paintings for art books.
I think, if anything, this conversation shows that what works for one person might not for another. Different strokes for different folks. People can even change. For example, 10 years ago I would have said, “There’s nothing like film.” Five years ago I would have said, “I prefer the convenience of digital but the aesthetic of film.” Now I’m digital all the way (mostly, anyway). But, I have had a few people tell me that my film simulation recipes made them curious about film, and now they shoot film instead of digital. Everyone is different, and there’s no right or wrong ways to do it. It’s art, so whatever works for you is absolutely what you should do. You’ve got to be true to yourself.
That haze looks remarkably similar to 1961 Jupiter 9 I recently acquired! Cool to see you made that characteristic work for you!
The Jupiter 9 is on my wish list! It seems like an interesting lens. I could use another M39 mount lens.
The reason for the appearance of a white haze when the diaphragm is tightened is the re-reflection of light, including from the inner surface of the diaphragm blades. Alas, insufficient or poor quality blackening. An annoying drawback for a modern lens.
P.S. This feature is also found in vintage Soviet lenses. For example, on my Jupiter-9 (1959) or Helios-77.
It’s either wonderful or awful, depending on if you want the “haze” in your pictures or not. I have to think that it’s done on purpose for effect, but maybe it was a “happy” (or unhappy) accident. A lot depends on your perspective, but for certain this lens isn’t for everyone.
Personally I love the look of this! Curious if you found an adapter for it? i have a xt3 and would be interested in using it on that
It comes in Fuji X Mount, so no adapter needed!