Jackar, a new independent lens maker from China, has just introduced a fast, affordable, old-school-look 34mm f/1.8 specialty lens.
When I was first handed the Jackar Snapshooter 34mm f/1.8 lens, available exclusively at Adorama, I was intrigued. Constructed with an all metal lens barrel and glass elements, it has a solid old-school look and feel, and an old-school price.
Currently, the Jackar is available for three MILC systems: Micro Four Thirds, where it covers a 35mm equivalent field of view of a 68mm lens; and the Sony NEX and Fuji X-mount systems, where it is roughly a 50mm lens thanks to the crop factor of those cameras' APS sensors. In all cases, it costs $175. What do you get, and what's missing?
For starters, this is not meant to be the sharpest lens in your arsenal. The manufacturer claims image quality is sharp in the center of the image, but it falls off towards the edges.
The Jackar's packaging (above) is downright posh, the kind of packaging you'd expect from Leica or Zeiss. Inside the box, nestled in plush black velvet, is the lens, lens shade, and carry case, all beautifully presented. But we're photographers, and the image is important, so let's look at the lens itself.
In the hands
The lens is solid, with a manual focusing ring that's clearly marked in meters only, and an aperture ring, also clearly marked. Focus action on the 1/4-inch wide focusing ring is smooth with just the right amount of resistance, and it is ribbed for confident grasping.
The slightly wider aperture ring, which is likewise ribbed for easy turning, is interesting: it, too, smoothly moves through the aperture settings. There are no click stops, which is surprising. Instead, you turn the aperture ring just as you would the focusing ring. If you need to know your aperture you can't rely on counting the clicks since there are none, and that means you have to interrupt your shooting to look at the lens.
The 8-blade aperture starts out fairly rounded, then closes to a star-like shape by f/5.6, and a rectangle from f/8 through f/16. The aperture also does something I've never seen before: if you continue past f/16 (which you can do) the aperture closes up completely. If you're careful, you can open it up slightly, allowing a slit of light in. This could be useful in pinhole-type long exposures and might appeal to you if you have an experimental streak.
I give the Jackar high marks for build quality, but not so much for the lack of click stops, no focus indicator in feet, and no depth of field indicator. In fact, there's no arrow or line indicating focus on the lens itself. To get that, you need to attach the lenshood, which has a focus indicator line. The best camera for this lens, therefore, is one with focus peaking, so you can confirm focus that way. Second best? One with an EVF. Let's see how it does in real life shooting situations.
Subtle focus fall-off can be seen at the top and bottom of this image, but you can also get a sense of how sharp it is in the middle.
The Jackar 34mm f/1.8 delivered images with a nice, sharp center and modest flat-field focus fall-off. You can see the fall-off of edge-to-center sharpness most clearly at the widest apertures. By f/8, the fall-off is more subtle, and by f/16 the entire image is slightly soft. In ideal shooting situations, with centered subjects, you should have no problem getting sharp images.
The Jackar 34mm f/1.8 lens focuses to about 8 inches. Narrow depth of field at f/1.8 hides the focus fall-off in this close shot.
Impromptu sharpness test: A full-frame view of a very yellow scene in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Keep in mind this is handheld, but the two 100% detail images below should give you a sense of the Jackar's focus capabilities.
100% detail near image edge shows moderate focus fall-off.
100% detail near image center is sharp.
A quick street grab shot. Look carefully; the woman near the center of the frame is in sharp focus, but the wall and hats behind her are a bit soft.
I tried shooting some images in what I'm calling "pinhole slit" mode. To do this I rotate the aperture ring until the aperture blades close completely, then nudge it open oh-so-slightly. Then, I adjust shutter speed to get the correct exposure. The results? VERY soft, but I was able to capture blurred motion in the middle of a bright, sunny day without the need for a polarizer. If you're looking for a dreamy image, this is worth experimenting with.
"Pinhole Slit": Close the aperture ring up, then nudge it open slightly, and the aperture ring opens to a narrow slit, resulting in a dreamy effect and long exposure. Ripe for experimentation!
Conclusion and Recommendation
At the Adorama price of $175, the Jackar 34mm f/1.8 lens is a great value and for many photographers it may be a fun, compact, solid little lens. It delivers images that are sharp on the inside, softer as you get towards the edges, so it's well suited for portrait and special effects. It is available in Micro Four Thirds, Sony NEX and Fujifilm X mounts.