A Kowa Prominar 8.5mm f2.8 micro four thirds lens review

There’s not a lot out there about a recent Micro Four Thirds lens released in Japan, the Kowa Prominar 8.5mm f2.8 fixed focal length, manual focus lens. I heard about this lens about a month or two before I went to Japan and as it was being released a few weeks from my trip, I decided I wanted to check it out. I was looking for a wide-angle rectilinear lens–wider than my 14mm prime or 12mm kit zoom, at the very least. Most lenses on offer that are wider are fisheye lenses, which I wasn’t interested in.

Kowa Prominar 8.5mm f2.8 MFT

After walking around Yodobashi for what felt like hours and not having the courage to try and get someone to understand what I was looking for, I finally saw the lens in the Olympus MFT section of the camera floor (I’m really glad I didn’t drag someone to the Kowa binoculars case and tried to make them understand I was looking for “this”, but for a camera). A quick try out for the weight and how it looked through my viewfinder, and I was sold.

It’s a HEAVY BEAST, of course, weighing at 420g sans hood, but at this point I’ve given up the argument about weight. It’s also sized like a MONSTER, as you can see below:

Height comparison

That’s against the Voigtlander Nokton 25mm f0.95 and Panasonic Nocticron 42.5mm f1.2, and just for fun, my tiniest lens, the aforementioned Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5, all sans hood.

(Someday I will be aware enough to actually get the lenses to “face” the camera nicely when I do shots like these.)

Frankly speaking, I could definitely use a lighter lens. I’ve got the inexplicably-light 14mm, and my weather-sealed 12-55mm EM5 kit lens to tick off the wider focal length spectrum. Unfortunately, I’m never really happy with either. When I’m using the zoom (for the focal length), I wish I had brought the 14mm; when I use the latter, I’m pining for the extra 2mm on the zoom.

Don’t get me wrong. Both are very capable lenses. There was just something missing every time I used either.

I even rented out the Olympus m.Zuiko 12mm f2.0, the Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f4 (which is a fisheye at the wider end, so it doesn’t really match up). None of them really made me feel like OH MY, THIS LENS IS AWESOME, I NEED TO GET IT! So, I never did.

But the Kowa Prominar 8.5mm was at EIGHT POINT FIVE focal length. I don’t profess to understand just how small the distortion is (advertised as 0.12%) but forums I lurked at seemed to be fairly impressed with this number, some of the few test shots found online looked promising.

And personally? It definitely delivered.

Market crowd
Market streets

I had fun shooting with this lens. I was inwardly grinning like a loon on my first few shots, it felt like Christmas.

The focal length is awesome. Everything feels more epic. I’m not about to take photos of my food with it, but everything else? It was amazing. This is the situation — when I got my Nocticron, it became my go-to travel lens. Yes, it’s a portrait lens, but I had so much fun shooting with the Nocticron over the usual 17mm focal length (34mm full-frame equivalent) that it was glued to my camera for most of my trips. Oh, I switched out to my wider lens sometimes, but honestly? Sometimes I just snapped a photo with my phone as I was too lazy to switch just for one photo.

I got this lens mid-trip. I never looked back. It became my go-to lens for the rest of the trip. Most of my Japan shots post-Akihabara is from this lens. It’s an amazing, super wide and super clear lens that I just love shooting landscapes and places with it.

(No, it doesn’t mean the Noc is suddenly off to an untimely end–I carried both lenses and switched between them a fair amount. Ouch, my shoulders.)

Meiji Jingu
Pond Quiet path

Shibuya crossing
Frosty the snowman
Main exhibit

Is it ~perfect~? There are certainly quirks. If you’re looking for distortion, you will find distortion, but for most of my usage? I was hard-pressed to see any. It was just shot after shot after shot. If the subject is close at hand, yes, you get very noticeable distortion.

Freshness Burger

So don’t take food shots with this lens.

There is also a very slight hint of softness at the edges. I never would have noticed this personally if it wasn’t for someone asking specifically about edge sharpness, which led me to take a shot to try and see for myself (click for full size):

Kowa Prominar Edge sharpness

(That’s a straight RAW-to-JPG export, no post processing.)

In general use, however, I’ve never had an issue with the edges being visibly soft.

There’s also a fair bit of purple fringing, which you can also see in the original size above. It was noticeable in my landscape-with-trees shots, which was a bit of an annoyance, but if you’re post-processing and shooting in RAW, this shouldn’t be an issue.

I also wanted to get a filter for this lens, for extra safety since the hood is pretty shallow. The manual says to attach the filter to the hood:

Screw the filter (86mm) to the top of the hood. Use only one filter to prevent vignetting of the image.
A 67mm filter cannot be attached to the front of the lens. The special screw may damage the lens unit or the filter.

However, when I went in to get a filter plus replacement cap (the box does not come with an 86mm cap), we couldn’t get the filter to catch on the treads on the hood. We tried with a 67mm filter on to the lens itself, and it worked and didn’t touch the actual lens, so…well, I don’t know. I hope I don’t regret this decision.

Lastly — I think it’s worth it to note that Voigtlander is releasing a 10.5mm f0.95 lens soon, announced at Photokina. There is no price yet, although there’s a good chance it will be priced somewhat similarly as the Kowa Prominar 8.5mm lens.

Until I develop a taste for astrophotography, though, I think I’m good with my lovely Kowa Prominar 8.5mm :)


Technical specifications

Camera mount: Micro Four Thirds
Focal length: 8.5mm
Maximum aperture: F2.8 / T3.0
Minimum aperture: F16 / T17
Lens construction: 14-17
Angle of view: 93.5° (H) x 77.1° (V) x 106.0° (D)
Number of blades: 9
Minimum focusing distance: 0.2m
Magnification: 1:12.5
Filter thread: 86mm
Size: 71.5mm x 86.8mm
Weight: 420g