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Old 2nd of July 2008 (Wed)   #1
fWord
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Default Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images


The Kiron lens on a Canon 1Ds using a Nikon-EOS adapter

Surely I must have been crazy. At a forum where great (and expensive) modern lenses are routinely discussed, there was little reason to investigate an old, manual-focus superzoom lens that's perhaps nearly 20 years old. Or so I thought. Compared to the current superzoom lenses, the Kiron was attractive because of its competitive pricing, some US$100 for a version in Nikon mount (and usually much less for other mounts).

Also, I have a special interest in old lenses. The Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 is considered a 'cult classic' and touted by some to be the best manual focus superzoom ever made. The Vivitar 28-200mm f/3.5-5.3 is another supposed gem, tested on a thread at DPReview and it yielded stunningly good results.

Thinking that the Kiron lens might indeed be a diamond in the rough, I took a gamble and bought a specimen off Ebay. So, does it live up to the hype? If you're interested, read on, because the results might surprise you. Remember this is an old lens that can be found at US$100 or less.

Initial Impressions

As demonstrated by the photo above, I bought a Nikon mount version of this lens and coupled it with a Nikon-EOS adapter to make it compatible with a Canon DSLR. The size of the lens reminded me most of the Canon 24-105mm f/4L which I used in the past, however it is slimmer and the barrel is built almost entirely out of metal. This is a one-touch zoom lens with a push-pull zooming mechanism, not unlike Canon's own 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L and 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L.

The lens zooms smoothly from wide to tele and the focusing ring is graced by a broad, rubberized grip. Focusing action is smooth...not Leica buttery-smooth, but better than any of Canon's offerings in the same price range. It features a zoom/ focus lock also, which is handy for storage.

Numerals and words on the barrel are simply printed, not engraved, hence they could possibly be removed with sufficient amount of wear. The aperture ring clicks in half stops from f/4-f/16 and at a full stop to f/22 at the 28mm end. At the 200mm, the aperture setting goes in half stops between f/5.6-f/22 and at a full stop to f/32.

Overall handling and build quality is quite impressive.

Quirks

Unlike my experience with other manual focus lenses, the camera meters accurately with this lens and no exposure compensation is needed for an average scene.

The major quirk with this lens is a phenomenon that occurs mostly at the 28mm end. Here, the minimum focusing distance is recorded as being approximately 8 feet. This drops dramatically as the lens is zoomed towards the telephoto end. Past the 70mm mark the lens' macro focusing distance becomes available.

Unfortunately based on current tests, the MFD at the 28mm end appears to be even greater than 8 feet. Even when the lens is set at MFD, an object estimated to be 8 feet away will appear out of focus in the final picture, especially at wide open. The lens needs to be stopped down significantly to gain enough depth of field to get nearer elements in focus.

Because of this quirk it was especially difficult to test the lens at the 28mm mark. As you can imagine, trying to hit focus on a faraway object at 28mm focal length and a maximum aperture of f/4 can be a crazy proposition in poorer lighting. I have found however, that if you are working in good light, stop the lens down to f/11 and set the lens at MFD, good results can be obtained.

That said, get past the 28mm focal length and the lens performs admirably, especially after the 50mm mark.

Optical Quality

Compared to a good Canon lens or a couple of the Leica lenses that I've used, the Kiron appears to have lower color saturation and contrast. This is both a pro and a con. Low color saturation and contrast can be 'corrected' during post processing, if so desired, and low contrast in particular, has been argued to result in increased dynamic range.

All samples in the test that follow were shot in RAW and then processed in DPP using Standard Picture Style and Sharpening of 3. I shall refrain from the use of bombastic terms when rating this lens. For each shot I refocussed the lens to reduces the chances of error. All photos were done handheld.

Focal length- 28mm

f/4 Rating: Barely acceptable
f/11 Rating: Acceptable-Good


100% crops at 28mm focal length

I apologize for the sample above. While I meant to provide a crop from the center of the image in both cases, I realized that the area was way too messy to allow any conclusions to be drawn. So now I've gone one step further to provide a crop near the top-right hand corner instead.

The results are representative of what I see in the center, but are even more surprising given how even the performance actually is from center to border. As stated under 'Quirks', it was difficult to evaluate this lens at f/5.6 and f/8, so a sample at f/11 was provided. This appears to be the optimum aperture setting at 28mm. At f/22 a veiling flare is introduced that degrades IQ slightly.

Focal Length- 50mm

Wide Open Rating: Acceptable-Good
One-stop Down Rating: Good


100% crops at 50mm focal length

At the 50mm mark things arguably become equivocal with easily acceptable results at both wide open and stopped down one stop.

Focal Length- 105mm

Wide Open Rating: Acceptable-Good
One-stop Down Rating: Good


100% crops at 105mm focal length

Once again, no different to how things appear to be at the 50mm mark.

Focal Length- 210mm

f/5.6 Rating: Acceptable
f/8 Rating: Good


100% Crops at 210mm focal length

Now I'm starting to question if I missed the focus in the f/5.6 shot because the improvement in IQ is dramatic. This was not the case with similar tests I conducted handheld even in poorer light.
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Last edited by fWord : 2nd of July 2008 (Wed) at 07:44.
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Old 2nd of July 2008 (Wed)   #2
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

Close-up Performance & Bokeh

Close-up Performance Rating: Acceptable (wide open), Acceptable-Good (stopped down)
Bokeh: Acceptable (at short focal lengths), Good (at tele)


Full frame sample on left, 100% crop on right. Both at f/5.6

The Kiron is capable of focusing down to about 1 meter at the 210mm end, which means close-up shots are possible. At this setting the IQ is sometimes marred by a 'glow' or what might be termed spherical aberration and details are not pin-sharp. This is especially if there are strong highlights in the scene. This could be exploited for romantic portraiture, but the Kiron is definitely does not give performance on par with a true macro lens. That's expected however, with any macro-focusing zoom.

The bokeh is about average and as to be expected from a zoom lens with a modest aperture. Putting some distance between the subject and the background and avoiding the background with highlights will aid tremendously in the production of more pleasing bokeh with any lens.

Vignetting

Rating at 28mm: Poor (at wide open), Barely Acceptable at f/8, Little problem at f/11
Rating at 50mm and beyond: Little to no problem


Full frame samples taken at 28mm

Vignetting is a key weakness of this lens and the darkened corners are very obvious at 28mm. It is much less pronounced at 50mm and beyond.

Flare

Flare Resistance: Acceptable (for a lens of this vintage)


Full frame image with the sun at top left

Lens coatings have obviously come a long way since the days this Kiron lens was made. In such a superzoom with perhaps a high number of glass elements, it's no surprise that the lens is prone to flare. This is a complaint common to users of this lens. Invest in a hood or avoid shooting directly into the sun.

Chromatic Aberration

Rating at 28mm: Little problem (wide open), Acceptable at f/8


100% crop from top left of an image taken at 28mm, f/8

Looking at the above sample you'd probably think that the rating was too diplomatic. But having used Canon's 24-105mm f/4L and 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS (both which were plagued by CA issues at their wide end), the Kiron fares admirably in this backlit test.

Final Verdict

The Kiron superzoom performed well based on current testing, the results being surprising for a lens of this price class and vintage, especially considering that it boasts a moderately wide 7.5X zoom ratio. Such a focal length range is extremely useful on a FF camera, but given its quirks and the small maximum aperture, this is a lens destined for outdoor use, where it could make a great landscape lens, stopped down in good light or on a tripod.

In practice, this is a lens I would try to use at f/11 at the 28mm end. In the middle focal lengths the performance is already acceptable wide open. At the 210mm end the lens once again benefits from closing the aperture down just one stop.

Will it replace every lens in the bag? No. However, mated to a fast 28mm or 35mm prime (that will surely focus closer than 8 feet) and a medium telephoto (85-100mm) portrait/ macro lens, it will create a low-cost, yet effective travel setup.

That said, if you're of the habit of photographing landscapes that are several meters away from you, and in good light, the Kiron could come in very handy with its broad focal length range. As with most other lenses, stop it down (as you would for landscape photography) and you can expect good results.
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Last edited by fWord : 28th of July 2008 (Mon) at 08:31.
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Old 28th of July 2008 (Mon)   #3
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images


Seagull footprints on sand dunes


At a beach in Sorrento


At Fort Nepean National Park


Light in the tunnel


At high speed
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Old 21st of September 2008 (Sun)   #4
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

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Old 28th of September 2008 (Sun)   #5
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images



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Old 28th of September 2008 (Sun)   #6
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

I love "ghetto" lenses. It never occurred to me to try zooms.

Thanks for the very thorough review & sample pics fWord!

Clean your sensor.
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Old 28th of September 2008 (Sun)   #7
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

Quote:
Originally Posted by cdifoto View Post
I love "ghetto" lenses. It never occurred to me to try zooms.

Thanks for the very thorough review & sample pics fWord!

Clean your sensor.
Thanks for being the first to write in. For a moment I was left wondering if the lens was so bad I shouldn't have wasted the time to post a review. It has its definite weaknesses, but for the price and the focal length range (and its age), I am quite surprised.

Sensor cleaning shall be done...in 6 months time when I'm due to shoot a wedding for my cousin!
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Old 28th of September 2008 (Sun)   #8
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

Eh some people just aren't interested if it doesn't have a red band around the end. Others can appreciate. The real-world samples look really good.
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Old 28th of September 2008 (Sun)   #9
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

Quote:
Originally Posted by cdifoto View Post
Eh some people just aren't interested if it doesn't have a red band around the end. Others can appreciate.

That zoom seems to have something in common with my Lentar 28mm f/2.8. There's some sort of clarity that can't be defined. Maybe I'm nuts, but I see something there. I haven't peeped the crap out of my Lentar, but I do think it's got your zoom beat in the sharpness category. I like it even more because I paid a whopping $35 for it.
Yes, a few mad folks like us certainly wouldn't mind toying around with this thing. Given good light and a day of general landscaping, this is a lens that can be slapped on the cam and forgotten. The focal length range is really useful and at least it didn't cost me anywhere near $300, which is where the general consumer superzooms are at.

Never heard of Lentar, but maybe I shall look out for it. Besides this zoom 35mm is as wide a lens as I've got at this time. I want to get a 24mm!

Ah, what the hell. Maybe I should spend big bucks and get a 14L. After all I've saved enough money by buying all these cheesy MF lenses.
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Old 28th of September 2008 (Sun)   #10
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

I've got a couple different Lentars actually. The 28mm f/2.8 is my favorite, despite rendering blades of grass pretty ugly. The others are a reeeeeally bad 35mm f/3.5, a so-so 135mm f/3.5, and a 135mm f/2.8 which was pretty good but stripped its screws and now splits in half when you pick it up. It was a freebie from one of our fellow POTNers (Jamison). I think I'll gaff it and see if that helps make it usable again.
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Old 28th of September 2008 (Sun)   #11
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

Electrical tape being more fashionable, I decided to use that instead. Worked like a charm!
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Old 29th of September 2008 (Mon)   #12
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

Quote:
Originally Posted by cdifoto View Post
Electrical tape being more fashionable, I decided to use that instead. Worked like a charm!
Heheh, did you use all sorts of different colors, blue, green, red and all?

I still have a roll of gaffer tape sitting in a drawer. It must be the most expensive sort of 'tape' I ever bought. Haven't used much of it either, but it was great for the collectible lens that I used to have. Kept it in pristine condition long enough to see it to another owner, even though I did use it on quite a number of occasions.
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Old 29th of September 2008 (Mon)   #13
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

I went with old school black. It blends right in. Only real downside is I had to cover most of the distance scale. Works great though...I can actually use it again. In fact I already snapped a few pics with it to test. Lame ones of course. I can't do creative on short notice.
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Old 29th of September 2008 (Mon)   #14
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

Still capable of producing awesome shots, as you have shown.

Thanks for this.
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Old 29th of September 2008 (Mon)   #15
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Default Re: Kiron 28-210mm f/4-5.6 Review & Sample Images

For <$100.... not half bad!!

I'm fascinated by older lenses.... have yet to find one that was in a price range I could afford while still being something I wanted... something that's wide and fast is what I really want. Always good to see more reviews of older lenses around.
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