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Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.4 Z Lens Review

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The Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.4 is an affordable APS-C autofocus lens that is available in Sony E, Nikon Z, Canon EF-M, and FUJIFILM X mounts.

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Viltrox also recently announced 23mm f/1.4 and 33mmm f/1.4 lenses that complement the 56mm f/1.4. It is nice to see a company announce three focal lengths at once and not trickle out lenses over years.

Key features

  • Z-Mount Lens/APS-C Format
  • 85mm (35mm Equivalent)
  • Aperture Range: f/1.4 to f/16
  • One ED Element, One HR Element
  • STM Stepping AF Motor
  • Integrated USB Port for Firmware Updates
  • 9-Blade Diaphragm

What do you get?

The lens comes in a nice box with an instruction manual, warranty card, lens hood, lens bag, and lens hood.

Concept

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As I mentioned, the 56mm f1.4 is being touted as an affordable, compact-sized, APS-C prime lens. On paper, it appears to be an interesting option if you are looking for a fast, autofocus, manual aperture prime lens, but don’t have a lot of money to spend.

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This is not a cine lens by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a clickless aperture and could be used for both stills and video.

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Making a lens that only covers APS-C sized sensors in 2021 may seem to be a strange choice, but there are still quite a lot of cameras out there that aren’t full frame and even the ones that are can still shoot in APS-C modes. It is also a lot cheaper to make a lens that only covers APS-C sized sensors.

As I mentioned earlier, the lens is available in Fuji X / Sony E / Nikon Z / and Canon EF-M mount. For this review, I will be looking at the Nikon Z mount version of this lens.

Size & Weight

The 56mm f/1.4 lens tips the scales at 11.3 oz / 320 g and it has physical dimensions of (ø x L) 2.6 x 2.8″ / 65 x 72 mm.

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This size makes it a good match for smaller-sized mirrorless cameras.

The lens also comes with a nice solid detachable lens hood. This is made out of metal and it doesn’t wobble around.

Build Quality

Despite being a ‘Budget friendly’ lens, the Viltrox 56mm f/1.4 is still pretty solidly made. It features an all-metal construction and quite a large focus ring.

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The iris ring is de-clicked, and it is reasonably smooth, however, I did notice that the resistance wasn’t consistent through its range.

What you need to be careful of is that it is very easy to accidentally move the iris when you are holding the lens because it is so short. There is no lock or switch to set it to clicked or de-clicked or to stop it from moving.

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To set the lens so the aperture can be controlled via the camera you need to move the [email protected] ring around to the A position.

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Regardless of whether you are adjusting the aperture on the camera or the lens, you can still see the f-stop displayed on the camera.

Markings

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The only markings on the lens are for the aperture. They are clearly marked and easy to see.

Other Features

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The lens has a 52mm front filter diameter so you can use readily available filters. If you wanted to use this lens with a small-sized matte box such as the Tiltaing Mini Matte Box you would need to use a 52mm Adapter Ring.

The minimum focusing distance is 60 cm (2′). This is not very close for a lens with this focal length.

AF & Manual Focus

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The lens features an STM stepping AF motor. The AF speed and performance will depend on numerous factors. I will test the AF speed and performance further down in the review.

As I previously mentioned, the lens does have quite a large focus ring and it is easy to grip. The problem with most AF lenses, particularly with a fly-by-wire design, is that they are not that easy to use when you want to focus manually. You won’t get a tactile organic feel trying to focus manually with a lens like this.

Optical Structure

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The 56mm f/1.4 consists of 10 Elements in 9 Groups. The lens also has 9 aperture blades.

Sharpness

This is a fast prime lens, so I was interested to see how it performed when used wide open at f/1.4.

As you can see in my tests, this lens is very sharp, even when used wide open at f/1.4. As you would expect, sharpness does improve as you stop the lens down. Once you hit f/4 it is very sharp.

Edge sharpness is still reasonably good, and it only gets slightly softer out towards the far edges of frame.

This is a sharp lens that you can certainly use wide open. For a sub $350 USD lens it performs very well.

Lens Flare

I personally thought the lens flare was ok, but nothing overly special. The lens does maintain pretty good contrast even when it is dealing with direct lighting sources.

The lens flare is a lot more visually interesting when you use the lens wide open at f/1.4. Once you start stopping it down, it doesn’t look nearly as nice. Please bear in mind that lens flare is very subjective.

Chromatic Aberration

The lens has very little chromatic aberration even when used wide open at f/1.4. It is very well controlled and this is quite impressive given the low cost of the lens. You do get some color fringing on bokeh but it is fairly mild.

Bokeh & Fall-Off

Nice bokeh is something you want if you are purchasing a fast prime lens. The bokeh produced is ok, however, it isn’t particularly round. I didn’t personally find the focus fall-off to be nice and subtle. The fall-off between in focus and out of focus areas is fairly abrupt and I didn’t really get the sense of depth when using the lens.

Once you start stopping the lens down, the bokeh starts to take on the stop sign appearance. There is no sign of ‘onion rings’ within the bokeh which is nice to see.

Color Tone

The lens is fairly neutral when it comes to color, if anything it is slightly cooler in tone. It isn’t as cool as a lot of Zeiss lenses, and it probably has more in common with a canon lens than anything else.

The color tone of a lens is really something you should look at closely if you are going to be using both prime and zoom lenses from different manufacturers. Certain prime and zoom lenses work better together than others. What will work for you will also depend on what camera you are using.

AF Performance

The AF performance is not too bad, but in saying that, it really depends on the camera you are using and the environment you are working in.

I purposely wanted to see how the AF worked when using the lens wide open at F/1.4. I found that it did do a fairly decent job when shooting in continuous AF on the Nikon Z6. However, there were times when it certainly did struggle and become confused.

Once I stopped the lens down to f/4, the Af performance was pretty solid.

Manual Focus

Manual focus is a bit hit and miss. Fly by wire design AF lenses don’t have any hard stops and doing manual focus pulls can be very difficult. The Vilrrox has a very long focus throw and I found it was pretty difficult to pull focus on this lens.

Real World Thoughts

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The Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.4 is a decent lens and it certainly offers good levels of sharpness. While it isn’t optically perfect (no lens is), it does a good job of considering how affordable it is.

For video work, it isn’t too bad, as long as you are shooting with the AF turned on. If you primarily rely on manual focus then this isn’t the lens for you.

I wasn’t a fan of the bokeh or fall-off that the lens offers, but that is just my personal opinion.

The build quality and mechanics are good, especially at this price point.

Above are a few quick stills images I took with the lens.

I apologize that I couldn’t shoot more with the lens, but at the moment there is a state of emergency in Tokyo and it is difficult to do much.

With the industry pushing forward with larger-sized sensors, investing in full-frame and larger glass is a pretty solid investment. Regardless of whether you are using cameras with S35 sized, or full-frame sensors, investing in glass that can cover both is a good idea. That is why buying a lens that only covers APS-C sized sensors does come with some caveats.

Price & Availability

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The Viltrox 56mm f/1.4 retails for $329 USD. This makes it reasonably priced given its performance.

You can also buy it at the below links:

Competition

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The Viltrox 56mm f/1.4 doesn’t really have that much competition.

The only lens with the same focal length and f/1.4 aperture that I am aware of is the:

Conclusion

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The Viltrox AF 56mm f/1.4 lens is a good quality ‘budget’ lens. It is nice and sharp and very usable wide open at f/1.4. It also doesn’t exhibit many real-world signs of chromatic aberration.

The personally didn’t like the bokeh it was producing, but that is very subjective. The lens flare is ok, but not overly pleasing. Again, this is very subjective.

The autofocus performance is not too bad, but it will struggle at times if you use it wide open. If you stop down to f/4 the AF works a lot better.

The manual focus is a little bit hit and miss, but that is usually the case with a lot of AF lenses. The focus throw is very long and because the lens is fly by wire, this can make focusing quite difficult. Again, if you are trying to focus wide open you will run into some issues.

The fall-off between in focus and out of focus areas is a little clinical for my liking, but you have to remember this is a sub $350 USD lens.

As far as price v’s performance is concerned, the Viltrox does a very good job, especially for a lens with decent AF performance. However, it does face very stiff competition from the excellent Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens.

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