Low-cost lens cavalcade #3

Today’s episode: the Sun Actinon 28-80mm f2.8 zoom.

A little background info: Sun optical was a Japanese company that started back in the 1930s and made some pretty good lenses, sometimes sold under ‘house brands’ of retailers. From what I have read the Sun Actinon is not associated with this company, but rather is a ‘house brand’ itself used by a British photographic retailer called Image. Who actually made it is anybody’s guess. Amazingly, for all the information available on the Internet these days there are still vast quantities missing – and at least an equal amount that’s inaccurate.

Photographed from the side because there is no info around the front of the lens itself!

Oh how I would like to love this lens! It has so much going for it. First of all it has a good focal length range for a 35mm camera: from wide angle to short telephoto. It has a fairly fast maximum aperture of 2.8 (4.5 at tele) as well. Also a built-in macro focus. It’s compact, fairly light yet with a sturdy feel, and the controls work nicely although the focus ring has a slight slop to it and the zoom ring needs the grip re-glued, but both those problems are from use not design.

This is an automatic-only lens, meaning it won’t fully work on the Canon because the adaptor I have for that camera doesn’t push in the aperture pin to stop it down. Works fine on the Sony though. So let’s see what we get:

Scenic picture number one.

Not bad. Good colour and contrast, no sign of chromatic aberration, and you can see the recurring dirt on the sensor quite clearly. Let’s look again:

Scenic picture number two.

What the hell happened? If you can force your eye to look at the center you’ll see it’s in focus. The difference between the two photos is that the first is at f16 and the second at f2.8. It is normal for sharpness to fall off towards the edges. All lenses have this issue: it’s a function of the physics of focusing light. Usually a lens will have an aperture where it is at its peak sharpness edge to edge. (If you look at the first image again you will see it too has a slight blurriness on the edges.) But this is the absolute worst example of edge fall-off I have ever seen on a modern lens! It made me check to see if I’d somehow missed a pound of lard smeared on it or some other blatantly obvious problem that could cause the effect. The failure continued in every photo I took, no matter what aperture, focal length, or distance was used: obvious low-resolution around the edges persisted.

Which is quite a shame because, well look what it can do in the center:

Center sharp: 100% segment of a full frame macro image.

That’s pretty darn good. Why then does it blur to oblivion around the edges? I don’t know specifically, but a lens so bad should never have made it off the assembly line.

At 80mm, there it is.

Distant, full focal length, middle aperture – and still the edges are badly blurred.

And at 28mm the problem is also there.

Hey, see all those spots? You can go crazy trying to keep a mirrorless camera’s sensor clean. Especially when you keep changing lenses. Or take one off repeatedly to look for dirt or grease on it. And no it was not the sensor dirt causing the problem: I switched to other lenses while doing this just to be sure the camera wasn’t in some way the source of the trouble.

Over and over I tried and over and over I cried. This lens had so much potential, and all hopes were dashed because it could not deliver a decent picture under any circumstances. I prefer the consistent low resolution of the Opticam and Cunor lenses to this center-only-sharp, edge-all-blurred disaster.

Lens rating: poor. I can’t even give it a “fair” label because I could not find any circumstances under which it would render an acceptable image. (Cropping out a small center section of the full frame of every image is not reasonable.)

3 thoughts on “Low-cost lens cavalcade #3

  1. Hi Marc, WOW…. now that is a failure beyond belief mate…. that is shockingly bad for a brand that did make some half decent lenses like you say… I too had a Sun lens for a while brought cheaply at an auction that was suffering from ill use and dirt… but after a strip down and clean up the images taken were not half bad and I was happy with the stupidly low amount I had spent money wise… but this lens you have… well its really beyond words… the edges are shocking…I just hope you start and hit on a couple of decent keepers Marc, as the buy is not looking great so far…. lens wise… although that nice case you cleaned and oiled up looks well in those pics you put up…. this I think is the trouble with buying someone else “long forgotten items from a hobby” it really is as you are showing hit and miss, but at least you are getting to use the camera, talking of which… those specs on the last shot are also really bad …. I am guessing the answer to this question is yes… but do you use a small blower ??? as I find when messing with these old lenses etc that as you say you are swopping out constantly a small blower is a god send…. ( please dont think I am try to teach an old dog new tricks…as it was just a passing thought…) still you are keeping us happy Marc with some nice shots… if only the shots were sharp…. best regards… stay safe.. Lynd..

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    1. Yes, that lens was a bad one! So disappointing too. I’ll let you in on a secret: the order the lens tests are in is not random. I looked them all over to begin with and using my historical knowledge made educated guesses as to which was likely best and worst, and then started from the predicted ‘bottom end’. There have been some surprises already, both good and bad.
      I think the recurring sensor dirt is due mostly to changing lenses ‘in the field’ where it isn’t possible to do a thorough clean. Sometimes I think dirt drops in the moment I put the lens on! It only takes a tiny, invisible speck to show up as a big spot on a 24MP sensor. But the mirrored cameras definitely do a better job of keeping sensors clean. Except my old Pentax which has built-in dirt! *LOL*

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  2. Hi Marc,

    Oh…. you have spoilt the surprise now….lol… I’m off to find a dark corner and do some crying…lol….
    In all honesty there is loads of these sorts of lenses around …. and anything unless its what we call a “sleeper” over here in the UK is snapped up quickly or goes for serious money … or even both sometimes… but there are the little gems out there… which I wont mention or the 312 people who follow you will be as wise as I am…and the prices will shoot up… I’ve seen that a few times on Youtube in that someone like Mattais Burling does a positive review on a camera or lens and you look on sites like MPB and they are sold out or have jumped by up to 100% at times… its all a bit of a challenge really sniffing out the better ones …lens wise… but there are some… the only thing I will say is that many aren’t primes, but with various crop rates available on cameras these days this can actually help… as what you see as a 70 to 200 say… comes out just at the right point of where you are wanting a prime lens especially say on the larger wildlife lenses… and for “general” everyday showing of shots… these work out just fine… anyway.. its a nice journey you are taking us on…cheers… Lynd…

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