When I posted about the EC-TL and haul of lenses I bought last year I mentioned that I’d bought it all primarily to get hold of a single lens – the Zenzanon MC 40mm 1:4. I like wide-angle lenses and the wider the better, mostly. I have an EF-S 10-22mm zoom for my Canon 20D and an FD 20mm for the Canon A-1. For my Bronica S2A – which I use the most recently – I had been limited to a 50mm Nikkor. Once you take format size into consideration that’s only a moderate wide-angle compared to the other two options. Using 35mm film as the reference size then the 10mm wide end of the EF-S lens is equivalent to 16mm, and the Nikkor 50mm on Bronica is equivalent to around a 28mm lens – although the different aspect ratio of the 6×6 frame makes the comparison less straightforward. So although it’s a useful wide-angle option I have found sometimes it wasn’t wide enough for a particular shot.
From online resources and Bronica manuals I was aware of three wider options: a Komura 45mm 1:4.5, a Nikkor 40mm 1:4 and a Zenzanon 40mm 1:4. None of these are particularly common, but they all pop up on auction sites from time to time. I discounted the idea of getting the Komura, mainly because it still wasn’t as wide as the other two which are equivalent to around 20mm on a 35mm frame. After following various discussions in the Bronica groups on Flickr, I was leaning more towards the Zenzanon version. This was based on the image quality being at least as good as the Nikkor, but gaining the edge because of it’s more compact size. The Nikkor weighs 430g and has a 90mm filter thread, while the Zenzanon is 100g lighter and only uses a 67mm filter thread. The thread size was a large factor since my current filter collection has nothing larger than 77mm and I didn’t really want to have to buy a whole lot of filters in 90mm or larger as things would quickly get expensive. With a 67mm thread I can use my existing ND and R72 filters with a stepping ring. So having settled on the Zenzanon I patiently kept an eye on my bank balance, and eBay and waited for one to appear at the right time. When the EC-TL bundle came along with a very reasonable “buy-it-now” price I pounced – the EC-TL and all the other lenses were effectively a bonus.
So now I’ve had a few chances to take it out and shoot with it, here’s what I think. The extra width is very welcome and perfect for some of the landscape situations that I favour. It has a large depth of field even wide open, but at f/16 everything from around 1m away to the horizon can be in focus – again, ideal for landscapes. As you might expect it focuses very close – minimum distance is somewhere around 25cm.
It’s pretty sharp too, preserving fine detail even at the edges, and only suffering from distortion and blur in the extreme corners. Colour rendition is very good, with no obvious chromatic aberration visible, and good contrast, presumably thanks to the multi-coated optics. Lens flare isn’t necessarily something to be considered in evaluating lens performance as normally you’d be trying to avoid it but, on those occasions where you can’t, it is nice when the lens flare is attractive. In this case it’s quite pleasing, with mostly regular circles (at full aperture) and no oddly distorted shapes like I have seen, for example, with the Nikkor 75mm.
The only two disadvantages really are as much shortcomings of the S2A viewfinder as of the lens. The slow maximum aperture of f/4 is not unusual in a medium format ultra-wide angle but makes for quite a dim viewfinder image with the waist level finder. This could be remedied with a prism finder – still on my list of accessories to purchase – and also a brighter ground glass screen than the factory fitted one. The other issue is that the viewfinder doesn’t provide 100% coverage – more like 95% or less. Until now this hasn’t really been a problem, but with the extreme wide field of view of the 40mm there’s a much greater danger of getting something unwanted in the final frame – my feet, tripod legs, etc. Overcoming that is just a matter of a bit of extra care and if necessary cropping the final image.
But those are just minor issues – I’ve shot four or fives rolls now using the 40mm and it has basically performed as I expected and given me the images that I wanted. You can’t really ask for any more from a lens that that.