In February 2014, the Japanese brand Kowa announced the development of three MFT manual focus lenses: an 8.5mm f/2.8, a 12mm f/1.8 and a 25mm f/1.8. I had the chance to try two of them at The Photography Show in Birmingham. The lenses I tried had an older exterior design but the optical design inside is exactly the same as that in the definitive versions.
The old design seems to be a re-housing of Kowa Four Thirds XC lenses, which were designed for vision optics equipment. Kowa is not a very well-known name in photography. They are more known for binoculars, scopes and machine vision optics. That said, they have ventured into the photography sphere in the past like this example here.
The Kowa Prominar 8.5mm f/2.8
This is the widest lens of the trio with a 17mm equivalent focal length on 35mm format. It is a very interesting focal length, I might add, since there isn’t a huge variety of wide angle prime lenses for the MFT system. Samyang has a similar version with the same focal length but it is a fisheye lens. The Kowa 8.5mm, on the other hand, is not a fisheye.
The quality, especially regarding the distortion, left me with a very positive impression. The lens includes low-dispersion XD glass and aspheric elements to reduce distortion and aberration.
Sharpness also seems to be excellent considering that I took these shots at f/4 and 1600 ISO.
As I said, I tried the version with the old design. The aperture ring is too thin and close to the mount, making it a little bit unpleasant to turn. The focus ring wasn’t very smooth either.
But the good news is that these defeats will probably be addressed with the new design, which seems stronger thanks to its metal build and more prominent focus and aperture rings.
The Kowa Prominar 25mm f/1.8
This lens has an equivalent field of view of 50mm on 35mm format, which is the standard lens by definition. It is a lens I am less interested in because like the Prominar 12mm f/1.8, there are already excellent AF lenses with the same focal length made by Olympus and Panasonic. There is no word about the price of these lenses yet, but unless they are a very cheap alternative or outperform their AF lens counterparts in terms of image quality, they might be more difficult to sell. But, hey, I could be wrong!
Below are some pictures taken with the 25mm f/1.8. Certainly sharpness at f/1.8 is quiet good.
It is worth keeping an eye on these lenses for sure!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to take more photos or try the third lens, so this is a very short article. I do hope to get the chance to test these lenses properly as I see lots of potential especially regarding the 8.5mm. Currently, the best wide angle lenses for MFT are the Lumix 7-14mm and the M.Zuiko 9-18mm. An 8.5mm with a faster aperture is certainly good news, and with that kind of focal length, getting the focusing right is less of a problem.