The Meyer 58mm Primoplan 1.9 is the 4th of the new lenses from the new Meyer brand owners I’ve reviewed. It also came to me following the 75mm Primoplan which has been my favourite so far by quite a margin – I tough act to follow then, but with the Primoplan nomenclature attached to it, I was very interested to see how it would stack up.
If you follow this blog, you’ll also have recently read that I’m taking a short hiatus from shooting film. Actually, that’s not quite true, I have been shooting it a little bit, I’ve just not been shooting it when I feel like I need the results for the purpose of a review. As such, unlike in my previous Meyer lens reviews where I have featured images from both film and digital, this article just features digital images.
Actually, not only are the images just digital, they’re also for the most part not taken on my usual “mirrorless” camera, my Leica M10-P. To be blunt, it too has been testing my patience a bit recently. The live view is great with modern lenses with modern high contrast rendering. But on these Meyer lenses that are a little lower in contrast and resolution – especially wide open – the focus peaking from the M10 just doesn’t feel adequate, especially when trying to take photos quickly.
Camera choice – The Sony A7iii
As such, I’ve switched to using the Sony A7iii I retired from its career as a video camera at work. And you know what, it’s made a world of difference to how fast I can work and the reliability of my focusing. But that’s mostly a story for another day. I’m just mentioning it here as it goes to emphasise a point I wanted to make about these Meyer lenses. In fact, it’s a point I have made a few times throughout this review series already anyway. These lenses really are best thought of as mirrorless camera lenses.
The Sony full frame cameras such as the A7iii I have been using are something of a perfect match in my opinion. The live view on these cameras is extremely good – it’s still getting better apparently too. High resolution viewfinders make for a view that’s almost like real life. They even have the advantage over real life of being able to show the exposure of the image your about to take, they show any flare too and of course are very good for showing what’s in focus with the option to zoom in for critical focus and focus peaking too.
The manual stop down (non-)issue
And then there’s the fact that they can more than adequately deal with the fact that the Meyer lenses are manual stop down and in no way communicate with the camera – electronically, or mechanically. If you put one of these lenses on a film SLR, you have to deal with the fact that the viewfinder goes dark as you stop down. No problem with a mirrorless, the camera and viewfinder just compensates. In theory you get a noisier image, but thanks to modern mirrorless cameras being able to shoot at such high ISOs without much impact on the image, there isn’t much impact on the noise in the viewfinder either.
I know all of this stuff – I did when I started these reviews, and I haven’t really found out anything new. You perhaps know this stuff too, but at least for the first few Meyer lenses I tried, I was still insistent on shooting them on a film camera. And why not – they make them in mounts such a Pentax, Nikon F and Canon EOS which all come in film and digital varieties. And, of course, what with these lenses being based on designs from the film era, there is at very least some fun to be had shooting them on film cameras. But as I say, whilst I haven’t learned anything new, I feel that 4 lenses into shooting these new Meyer lenses, I am finding myself happier shooting them on the sort of camera they were designed for.
Build and Handling
The first of the Meyer lenses I shot with was the 100mm Trioplan. There was something of a very slight metal-on-metal feel to that focusing. I flagged this up with Meyer who commented back that I must have has an earlier production run copy as they had improved the focus feel since. Low and behold, when I tried the 30mm Lydith, I was treated to near perfect smoothness.
The 75mm Primoplan and this 58mm Primoplan are the same as the Lydith too – that is to say it is near perfectly smooth. I say near perfect, as I don’t think it’s quite up there with the best (read Leica, high-end Zeiss etc.), but it is very nice. Beyond the smoothness feels very good quality – there’s no play, wobble or backlash, so as soon as you start turning the focus ring, the lens starts focusing.
The 58mm Primoplan focuses down to 50cm, the result of this is a fairly long focus throw of approximately 270 degrees. I did find this more of an issue with the 30mm Lydith that also has a very long throw, but actually with the help of the Sony’s good focus peaking, I have found it to be less problematic. I suppose I find myself manually hunting less, and tend to be more often in the right area of focus so don’t find the need to turn the wheel as much. That or perhaps 4 lenses in, I am just more used to these Meyer lenses and how they feel.
I said exactly the same in my 75mm Primoplan review about how I thought I might have got used to the fact that the aperture control and focus wheel are close to each other at the front of the lens. It bothered me on the 30mm, but didn’t on the 75mm. It also hasn’t bothered me on the 58mm Primoplan. But, I still would caveat that by suggesting that there will likely be a learning curve for anyone picking up one of these lenses for the first time. Because the aperture is unclicked, and the position and feel of the wheel is close to that of the focus, it’s very easy to change one when you meant to change the other with the camera to your eye.
58mm Primoplan Image Qualities
Ok, so for me, this was the big question. Would the 58mm Primoplan just be a shorter version of the 75mm Primoplan – would it have the same wonderful glow that works so well for portraits wide open? The short answer is no. There are certainly some similarities, but it’s definitely not as simple as that.
To begin with, I have actually found the 58mm Primoplan a little harder to focus wide open. This might seem a little counterintuitive since the longer lens should be harder, but I think it is because the focus fall-off from the centre is a little more steep with the 58mm, I’m not sure it is quite as “sharp” wide open as the 75mm, and it seems to provide very shallow depth of field for a 58mm f/1.9 lens too.
That’s not to say that it isn’t sharp – centre frame is pretty good even wide open, and as you stop down the area of sharpness increases, but it really doesn’t ever get sharp in the corners even at f/16. This was the case with the 75mm, it’s just more the case here, I think.
For all that though, it does seem to retain a good chunk ot it’s contrast when wide open in the same way as the 75mm does. This, I suspect, is a product of the modern coatings.
But, as I have said, it doesn’t do the ethereal glow thing that the 75mm does wide open. Nor does it have quite the same level of really attractive transition to out-of-focus that the 75mm has – it’s there, but to a lesser degree. The result of this is that I don’t find it quite as nice for portraits. In fact, I felt that some of my wide open portraits just looked a little soft rather than having a specifically desirable look to them, but perhaps that was exacerbated by frequent failure to get spot on focus.
This might sound negative, but really it’s only in the context of my hopes/expectations that the 58mm Primoplan might be a wider version of the 75mm. In fact, as with the other Meyer lenses, I definitely found a couple of traits that I really liked. The bokeh for one seems a little more wild than the 75mm. It certainly seemed to swirl more readily than the bokeh from the 75mm.
Add this to the fact that the 58mm Primoplan seems to give a more shallow depth of field than I might have expected from a 58mm, and that as a 58mm it provides a little more context within the frame, and you have a lens that can work hard to create some quite magical feeling photos. Case in point, this shot of Norah:
I must admit, I had a job focusing the lens here – not helped by her being 5 and totally ignoring my orders to stay still. But, when I did get it, I was blown away. Sharp in the centre with nice focus fall-off, crazy bokeh, shallow dof – it all helps her pop as the subject and her surroundings melt away. It’s like her own magical little world – definitely one of my favorite shots from any of these Meyer lenses. This for me is what using this sort of lens is all about, when it works, it really works! (Obviously that’s a subjective opinion on my own image, but I’m very happy!)
Bokeh when shot close enough that the swirl isn’t visible is nice too – it’s often not too edgy, but has some definition without being distracting.
That said, specular highlights can have a nice slightly-but-not-overwhelming bubbly look to them.
The 58mm Primoplan has another trick up its sleeve too – again something the 75mm doesn’t do, or at least didn’t do for me. Wide open, it flares like crazy with streaky rainbow shapes coming from the light source.
The 30mm Lydith does this too. With both lenses you just need to stop down very slightly and it goes away. The 58mm has a little more contrast wide open though, or at least it doesn’t seem to veil as much as the 30mm, which meant I was able to harness this flare without having to do as much post. Again, I felt this added a bit of magic to a couple of my photos.
More 58mm Primoplan Photos
If I do get a chance to put a roll of film through a camera with it mounted to the front before I send it back, I will add them below. For now, here’s a few more shots taken on the Sony
58mm Primoplan Final Thoughts
The Meyer 58mm Primoplan – at least in my experience – is not just a shorter version of the 75mm. There are some similarities for sure, but it definitely has a character all of its own. Like the 75mm – in fact, perhaps to an even greater degree – I would warn anyone looking for the standard objective “high quality” attributes (such as corner-to-corner sharpness) to look elsewhere. This lens holds up even less to close scrutiny than the 75mm does. I also feel less like it works so well as a portrait lens.
Instead, the 58mm Primoplan feels more like an all-rounder character lens. The sharpness fall off, more crazy bokeh and flare combine to make a lens that – given the right subject matter, lighting and goals – can create images that feel really quite magical. If you read my 75mm lens review, you will know I don’t use words like that lightly too.
As will all of these new Meyer lenses, I would also still make the caveat that it takes a bit of getting used to in terms of the handling, but once you do, it’s fine. In fact, more than fine, since the mechanics of the lens are very nice indeed.
Is this my favourite Meyer lens so far? No, for me the 75mm retains that title. I preferred the longer focal length and the rendering for portraiture just wins it a few extra points – but that’s definitely a personal preference. For anyone looking for more of an all-round character lens, that given a bit of creativity can help make really stunning images, I think the 58mm Primoplan would get the vote.
You can get yourself a 58mm Primoplan from the Meyer Optik Görlitz website here