MS-Optical Apoqualia 35mm 1.4 Review: Part 1 / by Jake Horn

MS Optical...any regular follower of Bellamy's website, Japan Camera Hunter, will immediately recognize this lens brand. It specializes in small lot, handcrafted lenses which provide a one of a kind look and feel. These lenses are mechanically and optically unique and are meant to give the user a special photographic experience. 

Seeing that these lenses are handmade in low batches, I had to wait patiently for one in the 35mm focal range to become available. Once the Apoqualia-G f/1.4 was back in stock, I ordered one without delay. I chose the black chrome version to match my black chrome Leica M-A. It is also offered in black paint, silver rhodium plated, nickle plated, and gold plated.

SPECS

  • Multi-Coated
  • 6-bit support
  • 6 elements / 4 groups
  • Focus from 0.85m to infinity
  • Filter Size - M37
  • Material - Aluminum Alloy
  • Weight - 115g (with hood and caps)
  Clean & Simple Packaging

Clean & Simple Packaging

When I received my lens I was shocked to see a small spec of dirt inside the elements. It was definitely bigger than a typical piece of dust, so I decided to clean it myself. After removing the front ring, taking out the front element, I was able to use a blower to get the spec off the second element. Not really a big deal since I am familiar with lens repair, but it did not leave me with a good first impression. To keep it in perspective though, this optic is a handcrafted work of art, not some mass produced widget in a sterile environment.

It's amazing how small the lens is for a max aperture of 1.4. The mount makes up almost 40% of it's length. Shown below next to the Nikon 50mm 1.8D to provide some scale. This 35mm weighs in at 115 grams, versus the 157 grams of Nikon's plastic fantastic. 

  This comparison really puts things into perspective

This comparison really puts things into perspective

As a landscape and nature photographer, I find it necessary to bring a second camera to round out and back up my main gear. Since getting my first Leica, the M-A, I have been bringing it on trips as my second body. Its weight, small lenses, and ability to work without batteries makes it a great travel/adventure camera.  I found that as far as space demands go, nothing beats a rangefinder with a pancake style lens. While the Apoqualia is not the thinnest lens Mr. Miyazaki's offers,  I feel it is a good size, being large enough to focus easily. Sometimes a pancake can be so short that the focus ring is on top of the camera body.

  Profile with hood attached. 

Profile with hood attached. 

It does take a while to get used to the feel of this lens. The feature that is most unusual is the aperture ring right behind the front element. When you adjust the f-stop, you have to be very careful not to rotate the focus, as the two rotate together. There are no click stops for the aperture markings either. In practice, I've found it necessary to set the aperture before composing a shot. The aperture will rotate with the focus ring, keeping your selected stop intact.

  All packed up...lens cap on and hood screwed in backwards

All packed up...lens cap on and hood screwed in backwards

The hood, which is metal, threads into place. The neat part is that when you're not using the lens, it also screws in backwards. This provides a clean and tight package to store in your bag. While the screw type hood is not as convenient to use as a bayonet style, it is much more secure. 

The tiny lens cap is a real sticking point for me. It's great when stowing your camera in a bag during travel, but once you start shooting for the day, you mine as well leave it off. That being said, you also need to find a safe spot to stash this half dollar sized cap. It threads into the lens like a filter, but unlike other threaded caps, it does not have a knurled outer ring to grip. Instead, you are given two depressions to sink your fingers into. It is a very similar to a battery compartment door on early film SLR's. I dropped it on more than one occasion while taking shots, having to take my gloves off every time.

  The easy to use focus lever. Some have complained about this backing out.

The easy to use focus lever. Some have complained about this backing out.

Some users experience the small focus knob backing out and falling off. I would recommend that you add a small dab of blue thread lock to this. If it ever decides to back out, I guarantee that you won't know when it happens, and it will be gone forever.

Overall, I have really enjoyed this lens. I'm looking forward to using it more and getting used to it's unique characteristics.

Please check out part two, where I will cover resolution and distortion.

 Leica M-A  |  MS Optical 35/1.4  |  f5.6  |  Ektar 100

Leica M-A  |  MS Optical 35/1.4  |  f5.6  |  Ektar 100