The Elitar Soligor 25mm f0.95 is a super-fast 16mm Cine lens in C mount which can be used on mirrorless cameras using a fairly common adaptor.
Unlike the more well known Angienux 25mm f0.95, there isn’t a whole lot of information out there on this particular lens, other than that it came in both chrome, and black. I tried to get in touch with various different companies that had connections to the brand or manufacturer, but hit dead ends every time. The last known active entity (Soligor GmbH) was based in Germany, but their domain name has since expired. My own sites turn up top in Google, and I haven’t been able to get in touch with the other Flickr user who I know had one before (you can see theirs here), so it seemed like I was on to plums.
That said, I did manage to find some general information. Soligor was a company based in the US and Germany that supplied cameras, lenses, and other photographic bits and pieces. (Despite what logic suggests, the lens is correctly written as ‘Elitar-Soligor’ rather than ‘Soligor Elitar’). They had a rather large selection of lenses available in different formats, and most of them go for pretty cheap nowadays. As well as providing ‘value’ lenses, they also dabbled in some more unusual equipment like fast glass and irregular focal lengths. Rather than manufacture the lenses themselves, they outsourced the builds to companies in places like Japan, which makes placing them difficult. Some sources claim you can tell the manufacturer of a lens by the serial number, but other sources seem to think that this is incorrect… so who knows what the truth is.
There are a few bits of promo material floating about that are kindof interesting. Below is an advert that was published in US Camera in 1956, which shows a range of Soligor lenses, including the 25mm f0.95. I have no idea why they have a guy in a kilt on there. (Although as I read over this draft again, I realise it’s probably due to some stereotype about Scots being tight. I’ve just smashed the lens in fury).
It seems like the f0.95 lens was one of the most expensive of their range even at that time. A (very) rough calculation suggests that it would be worth about $2,000 today thanks to inflation. Oft.
Here are another couple of images from a brochure uploaded to the MFLenses forum here.
The lens itself came in a rather fancy case similar to the one in the above picture.
My Soligor is chrome. It was my first super-fast lens, and I used it pretty extensively on an old Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 for a few years, until I eventually moved away from Micro Four Thirds cameras. I had thought about seeking out a new body solely to be able to use it again, but never quite found one I liked enough. When I picked up a Sony A7, it seemed like a good opportunity to crack it out.
The Soligor definitely has a character of its own, with some rather distinctive, swirly-esque bokeh when shot wide open. The images really do have a wonderfully dreamy feel, but can also be surprisingly sharp where it matters. The one thing to note is that the depth of field seems even thinner with this lens than with other f0.95 lenses I’ve used, and the falloff is pretty steep. Because of that, you really need to nail the focus, which can be very difficult. However, for portraits where you want a bit of a special look, the Elitar Soligor 25mm f0.95 is a great tool to have in the chest.
One thing that’s quite nice about shooting with the Soligor on the Sony A7 is that the adaptor is a lot smaller than the one required to use M42 lenses, which means that it’s a much more compact size. I think the chrome looks particularly good juxtaposed against the black as well.
One of the few sources out there on the Soligor 25mm f0.95 describes the bokeh as ‘intensely rampaging’ in Japanese, which I think is a pretty great description.
It’s probably pretty redundant to talk about the sharpness of a lens like this, but it’s worth noting that if you nail the focus at f0.95, the results are definitely sharp enough for some interesting portraits.
That said, the fall-off from sharpness at the centre is steep, and can make composition tricky – especially on a full frame camera. Example below:
What to watch out for
Frame coverage: On a Micro Four Thirds camera, the Soligor is wonderful, working out to about a 50mm equivalent. There is some vignetting even at this level, but it’s fairly minor, and (in my opinion) it adds to the character of the images. Used on a full frame camera such as the Sony A7 however, things don’t quite work out as well, with the field of view reduced to something like a telescope, as demonstrated by my ever-faithful-but-unimpressed model BMO the Frenchie:
If you switch to APS-C mode on the Sony A7, things get a lot better:
Combined with the swirly bokeh, the vignetting can give the illusion of a kind of fisheye.
If you really wanted, you could crop the image down a fair bit more to reduce the vignetting. However, in order to preserve the original aspect ratio, you need to lose a lot of the field of view, and I personally don’t think it looks as good.
Depth of field: As touched upon already, the depth of field from the lens when shot at f0.95 is extremely shallow… and to my eye it seems even shallower than other lenses with the same aperture. That does make it tricky to grab those shots with more than one person in the frame – something you’ll need to contend with whenever shooting with a super fast lens, but worth noting.
The Elitar Soligor 25mm f0.95 is a beautiful wee lens which can be great fun to shoot with. Its images have a very definite and consistent look, and that came to define my preferred visual style for a long time. Perhaps unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the fact that it works best on a micro 4/3rds body, as the vignetting even when shot on APS-C doesn’t really do the pictures justice. I still love the lens though, and have constantly toyed with the idea of updating my old Lumix GF1 purely to have a dedicated body to use with it, as the low light performance of that body really isn’t up to scratch nowadays. If anybody has any suggestions for a cheap micro 4/3rds cam with good ISO performance, give me a shout below.
It’s funny thinking back, because I used to use this lens almost exclusively for… ages. I took it on trips to the US, on tours with bands, and all sorts. For most of that time, it was stuck wide open at f0.95, so hideously impractical, but looking back, I love the pictures.
Cost and availability
I’ve only ever seen a few mentions of these lenses online, and until a few months ago had never seen another one up for sale. When I originally got mine all those years ago, it needed a bit of TLC, and so I got it for about £250. After a CLA at Cameratiks in Edinburgh it was good as new (they are geniuses). Due to the rarity of the lens, it’s hard to work out how much they would go for now, but the one I came across on eBay a few months ago was listed at $800. Oft. For that kind of coin, you can probably pick up some more recent super fast lenses, but they obviously won’t have the same kind of vintage or character as the Soligor. If you shoot micro 4/3rds though, and come across one for a decent price, I would recommend it heartily.
The first set of image images below were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, the second set was taken with a Sony A7, and the third taken on a Fuji XPRO 2 (compliments of my comrade Lee Jones). All of the GF1 pictures were taken many years ago (and often in very dark conditions), so bear in mind that ISO performance has moved on significantly since then! Most of these (if not all) were shot wide open.
Fuji XPRO 2 (by Lee Jones):
For some more images, check out this set by suddenly, here on Flickr – one of the few other known owners of this lens.
Disclaimer: As usual, this article isn’t intended to be a comprehensive, pixel-peeping review. Rather, it’s highly subjective, and reflects my research and experience as someone who has shot with a lot of different cameras and lenses over the years. No aperture comparison charts here.