The Sony NEX F3 and SLR Magic Hyperprime 23 1.7 by Vernon Lim

The Sony NEX F3 and SLR Magic Hyperprime 23 1.7 by Vernon Lim

I do not consider myself as being anywhere near a pro-photographer. Only two years back, I was still using a regular point-and-shoot. However, during one of my holidays in Taiwan at the end of 2011 with my girlfriend, I started wanting better shots after reviewing the photos I took, especially in low-light conditions.

I did a bit of research before deciding on Sony’s Nex-C3. I enjoyed using the camera so much that when I (sadly) misplaced it back August 2012, I immediately purchased Sony’s Nex-F3 as a replacement.

As is (probably) the usual story, whilst I was happy initially with Sony’s kit lenses, I began finding the lenses lacking in portrait-taking capabilities. Don’t get me wrong, Sony’s 16mm is pretty decent and very wide-angled, but I’m quite a sucker for bokeh and the F2.8 Aperture just didn’t produce enough of it.

I started looking around for cheap alternatives since I had a limited budget, and found SLR Magic’s range of 35mm toy lenses. I bought the 35mm f1.7 and the lens taught me a lot about manual focusing (which is really pretty easy with Sony’s focus peaking), but I personally found the effective 52.5mm FoV somewhat narrow.

Unfortunately, Sony’s wide-angle E-Mount prime (the Zeiss 24mm) retails at a rather ridiculous price here in Singapore (and probably everywhere else?), so that would never work for me. When SLR Magic launched their 35mm F1.4 late last year, I seriously considered trading up. Unfortunately, budget constraints prevented me from doing so, since I knew I would really want SLR Magic’s 23mm F1.7 which would eventually be launched as well.

When I emailed SLR Magic to discuss trading in my toy lens, they found out that I was heading off to Taiwan again in April this year for a wedding photography session with my fiancé, and the crew very nicely allowed me to purchase one of their 23mm F1.7 lenses pre-launch.

I was very pleased with SLR Magic’s offer, and took it up immediately. I have to say I am very happy with the new lens. This second-generation 23mm F1.7 is built very well, and has solidly-manufactured and smooth focusing and aperture rings. Photos taken are certainly way better than SLR Magic’s toy lenses, and I’ve not removed this lens from my Nex-F3 ever since I received it in my mailbox (shipping from Hong Kong to Singapore was a very quick affair too). I’d be happy to share some of the photos I’ve taken with you.

Note: All of the following shots were taken wide open at F1.7.

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The above 2 shots were taken quite close to the lens’ minimum focusing distance of 15cm. Such a short distance does offer a fair mimicry of macro photography, though I guess it probably can’t replace a real macro lens.

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Since I had the pleasure of using this lens during the Chinese New Year period, I managed to take this when I was being served one of usual local customary dishes during the festive period. This was snapped (rather luckily) as the final crackers were falling onto our appetizer.

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Night landscape photography still proved somewhat of a challenge, as I don’t bring a tripod around very often. Having a pair of rather shaky hands, I either have to get lucky whilst in Aperture-priority mode, or move to Shutter-priority and set a shutter speed of 1/30 sec or faster. The above two photos were taken at Clarke Quay and Collyer Quay respectively.

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On the rare occasion that I get to pig out (no pun intended), I would naturally bring along my Nex-F3. Food photography is a bit tricky wide-open, and I’m still learning how to take good photos with food.

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Lastly, here’s a photo of my fiancé and I. With the F3’s flip-up screen, self-portraits are really easy, especially with the wide-angle 35mm-equivalent FoV.

To summarize, this has been a really great lens to match the Sony Nex-F3. Considering its price and Sony’s rather limited selection of lenses, it is really well-built and produces excellent photos in my opinion. Also, together with Sony’s focus-peaking, manual focusing isn’t too difficult and with practice, it really becomes easy and natural to focus quickly.

I’d also like to thank Andrew at SLR Magic for letting me get my hands on this great lens before its official launch, and for his company’s excellent service levels.

Best Regards,

Vernon Lim

 

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31 Comments

  1. Hello Vernon & Steve (& anybody who can potentially answer my question),

    I’m a prospective buyer of this new lens, no question of whether I want manual, or quality, or price or whatever! BUT, in having trouble finding ANY info on it and slr magic/noktor are very vague at the best!

    My main concern is how would one know that he/she is getting the newer version (9/8 elements as opposed to 8/7) without the flaws of the older one as all of the few photos I have seen seem to show that the lens looks otherwise identical to its first iteration.

    I’m no pro, but I don’t think I’m quite good enough yet to be able to identify if the new lens I get is up to the standard it should be. That said, can I be safe in saying that there are none of the old ones still in circulation and that the newies are in fact all new designs? I only say this as I’ve seen one of the old ones floating around on eBay Int. for some months now and it’s at a whopping $385! 😐

    I’m hanging to buy, but it’s all just a little skeptical to me at the moment. No website info, photos, warranty info, nothing. 🙁 Somebody put my mind at ease!! :p

    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel,

      Honestly, I’m no pro either so it would be best if you bought directly from SLR Magic themselves. Perhaps you can drop them an email to check for details at [email protected]. Thats what I did too and I ended up dealing with them directly over emails.

      Personally, I’d suggest staying away from eBay for the time being. I do remember seeing a couple of the 23mm lenses for sale at the end of last year and I’m not sure if they’re the new variants. I doubt they are since the 2nd-gen lens was only officially introduced for sale just this year.

  2. Hi Vernon,

    Glad to see pictures from a fellow Singaporean.

    I gotta agree, Sony’s Alpha and Zeiss range are good. But not good enough to justify the “L” prices they charge for the “non-L” quality they deliver.. It’s heartening to see other makes like Samyang and SLR Magic filling the gaps Sony has left wide open..

    I recently traded in my toy 35mm f/1.7 lens for a CINE T/1.4 lens.. I’m loving it.. Though I do itch once in a while for the T/0.95 version…

    • Hi Eugene,

      I’d love to get the T0.95 one day too. But thats really out of my league in terms of budget.

      If you ever get one, I’d love to meet up to see how it performs, especially at night. I can imagine it’ll be pretty tough to nail the focus at T0.95 though, but I’m sure the extra effort will be worth it. =)

  3. Hi Vernon,

    I might have a friend who is going to HK or a friend who can ship from HK.

    Can you advise which shop to buy and maybe that can deliver to Singapore?

    A suggested retail price from you would be good also 😉

    • Hi Niko,

      I’ve only dealt with SLR Magic online, but since they’re based in Hong Kong, it makes sense that they should have a physical store there. Perhaps you might want to contact them at [email protected] to find out?

      As for pricing, based on their website and twitter account, the 23mm F1.7 should be going for US$399 (including shipping if I’m not wrong). I’m not sure how much that will translate to HKD if you buy locally however.

  4. Hi Vernon,

    Thanks for sharing the pictures of our country.
    The photos look great. Clarke Quay and the Marina Bay Sands shot was great.
    Love the ribs and the bokeh effect, very nice composition of it.
    I am still thinking if I want to switch from my Canon DSLR to a Sony Nex camera…
    Carry light without compromising it very important to me 🙂

    Ngee Key

    • Hi Ngee Key,

      Thanks!

      I don’t know about going to a NEX from a DSLR, as I don’t own one.
      But if size is a key concern to you, perhaps the m4/3 cameras might also be worth a look at? Most of my friends using MILCs here in SG are m4/3s users. And generally speaking, their bodies are slightly smaller than the Sony NEXs.

      Too, Sony’s lens range for the E-mount is rather limited, and their lenses are quite bulky in comparison. Their new 16-50mm (which I don’t own) is a lot smaller than the older 18-55mm zoom however, so that could be worth a shot.

    • i have a nex 7 as well as the em5. the em5 is indeed more compact than the nex but it’s also chunkier. the nex tend to be slimmer and more sleek.

      all told, with lense on, the m4/3 will be smaller but not by much. i’d say they were roughly equal. my nex c3 is even smaller than the em5.

      the only real consideration you need to think about is that in raw, you can’t push the files near as much as you can on the nex files. the nex raw files take an absurd amount of pushing while the m4/3 files can only really handle modrate amounts of post. meaning the nex files will give you much more leverage with highlights and shadows.

  5. Whats with the strange obsessions of Asians photographing their food?

    These photos sadly dont say a lot.

    • in singapore, eating and food is a national past time. there is a huge variety of food in singapore. it’s not surprising at all there’s a lot of food pics.

  6. Apparently this lens is long discontinued? Or is this a corrected re-launch? I can’t find it for sale, preorder, or even in the news for anything more recent than a year ago! 24mm is on my list big-time though. Help!

  7. Nice shots. SLR makes some great lenses. Don’t worry. I have the Zeiss 24mm you are referring to. It’s good but not that great. The ribs look great.

    • Thank you. The ribs actually tasted better than they looked. =P
      Gotta thank my buddy for BBQing that for us.

  8. Nice bunch of shots!

    Semms like the sony folks (= owners) are getting a few more very usable alternatives, lens wise. Can only be a good thing!

    —————————–
    I got curious about you getting all the way to Taiwan to take, did you say, wedding photos w your fiancée. How can you take wedding photos without getting married? You don´t have to bother to reply, but I couldn´t help asking, seems a strange thing to do…

    • Yup! I’m glad that SLR Magic/other manufacturers are helping to fill the void that Sony has left in terms of lens availability, especially in terms of pricing. =)

      In my original post, I should have mentioned “pre-wedding photography session”. Its a bit of a tradition/custom over in these parts. To be honest, I’m not sure if its an Asian, Chinese or Singaporean custom (I’m guessing Chinese). But during most weddings ceremonies here, there’s usually a fairly large photo album of studio/outdoor shots of the couple whereby guests can flip through before the ceremony starts.

      I guess the following blog can give you some ideas:
      http://ivantanphotography.com/blog/posts/
      (A good buddy of mine had his pre-wedding photos taken by the above photographer)

      As to why we’re doing it in Taiwan, well, strangely enough, its somewhat cheaper to do so over there. We get a holiday out of it too! Pro-photographers are pretty dang expensive for wedding photoshoots here in Singapore unfortunately.

      Too, with Singapore being a geographically small country, a lot of shooting locales here tend to be rehashed. Of course, we can still get great photos here, but we figured it’d be fun (and cheaper!) to get the photos done someplace else entirely.

  9. Vernon, very nice food pics. The shallow dof works beautifully on the ribs piece. How are you getting along with the manual focussing when photographing people? I just picked up the SLR magic 12mm 1.6 and it just looks gorgeous but focussing is gonna be a steep learning curve! Good luck to you and your beautiful fiancé.

    Roeland

    • Hi Roeland,

      Thank you for the kind words.
      To be frank, manual focusing wide open on people has been a mixed bag. I usually need to get pretty lucky, and the following steps tend to occur (in my limited experience):

      1) “Hang on. Don’t smile/pose yet.”
      2) Hit the focus peak button, adjust focus (I usually try to adjust until the eyes are clear).
      3) Half-press shutter release and say “Okay, I’m good to go”.
      4) Subject moves as he/she smiles and poses (Doh!)
      5) Hit focus peak button again, adjust minimally, and fire off a few shots (hopefully one will turn out fine).

      For group shots, I would set an aperture of around F2.8, depending on lighting, for a wider DOF. But for just one or two subjects, I try my luck wide open at F1.7.

      All the best with your 12mm 1.6. I’m sure the photos will turn out rad! =)

  10. Beautiful, beautiful photos. You should be pleased. Thank you for sharing.

    To stabilize my camera I sometimes lay the camera on my raised fore arm.

    • Thank you for the compliment, and for the tip too.
      I’ll be trying out the stabilization technique you mentioned for night shots.

  11. Venon – your pics are great. Appreciate you experience.

    Regarding, hand held night pictures. I have found the hand-held twilight mode very helpful. It takes 6 pictures very quickly and combines them to minimize shake (It may just pic the most sharp one I am not sure).
    Anyway, it works well, try it.

    • Thanks for the tip, J Dog.

      I used to use the handheld twilight mode for the Sony lenses. Not sure if it’ll work with manual ones but I’ll certainly try it out next time.

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