David Hume | Jul 10, 2018 | 6
Lens review: the 7artisans 35mm f/2 Leica M-mount lens – first production batch exclusive
UPDATE 01 2017-04-27: Added production specifications
Standing on the shoulders of Hamish Gill’s early look at the pre-release prototype of the 7artisans 35mm f/2 Leica M-mount lens, I’m here to offer my thoughts on one of the very first copies to come off the production line.
Initially planned for release in February 2018, the 7artisans 35mm f/2 Leica M-mount lens is anticipated to be officially released some time at the end of April and beginning of May 2018. The lens has gone through numerous builds, rebuilds and tweaks over the past 6+ months I’ve been in conversation with the Shenzhen-based company and the version I’ve had the pleasure of using this past week is identical to what customers will be getting their hands on once it hits the shelves.
Table of contents
A quick caveat
If you’ve already seen my recent 5 Frames With on this lens over at 35mmc, you’ll be aware that I’m not exactly used to the 35mm focal length. In fact, bad eyesight (specs) and a 0.85 magnification Leica M6 didn’t make the proposition of guessing frame lines particularly appealing. But, much like a whiny child who doesn’t want to try something new, I’m over it and the lens hasn’t left my camera since it was clicked on in early April. Four rolls down already and at the time of writing, I’m three frames off finishing my fifth.
All this to say that I’m still getting used to it, or to put it another way, sorry if the pictures below are a bit crap.
About the lens
The 7Artisans 35mm f/2 is a compact rangefinder-coupled Leica M-mount lens, which employs a Sonnar optical design – 7 elements in 5 groups. As such, it is unique in the M-mount lens line up – focal length, aperture and size.
Build quality is solid and compared to my Leica and Voigtlander lenses it feels somewhere between both, although closer to Voigtlander. I’ve no M-mount Zeiss lenses to compare, sadly.
Switching from closest focus to infinity needs around 90 degrees of turn and the lens’ 10 aperture blades form a perfect decahedron without any funny bumps or wobbles.
If you’re shooting a digital Leica, you’ll be glad to know the lens is 6-bit coded: white paint at 1 – – – – 1. Speaking of digital, a handful of test shots taken on the Sony A7 showed nothing out of the ordinary to me.
As with the 50mm f/1.1, the 35mm f/2 was entirely designed and manufactured in China. This seems to have upset a few people and although Hamish covered something similar in his review of that lens, posting a few shots of the 35mm f/2 has garnered more of the same ignorant responses.
If you’re interested, I rant a bit about this at the end of the article. In short, my response to these people is: get over yourself.
Any calibration issues Hamish experienced in his pre-production preview look like to have been ironed out. I regularly shoot close-up and wide open and the 7Artisans 35mm f/2 has given me no cause for concern on back focus or any other similar issues.
Like the 50mm f/1.1 the lens can be user-calibrated if desired but in all honesty, you can arrange for it to be shipped back to 7artisans through their generous warranty service if you’re having real difficulty. For my money, given the care and attention the folks at 7artisans are giving this release, I doubt there will be many if any issues.
Overall the lens has a better feel to it than my 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. That’s not to say the 50 is a pile of loose screws and shattered glass, not at all, the 35mm f/2 just feels more refined. Even the internal anti-reflective coating has been improved over the 50mm f/1.1.
The focusing tab is factory installed and solid as a rock, and the aperture ring has click stops at each – evenly spaced – full aperture. There’s a tiny, tiny bit of wobble there but no more than my “skinny” Tele-Elmarit 90mm f/2.8. The focusing action is smooth and combined with everything else, it’s welcome evidence of how far 7artisans have come in less than a year.
It’s a 35mm Sonnar design and has been a genuine pleasure to use. I dedicated myself to trying out as much close-up and zone focusing as possible, although I’m not typically a fan of the latter method.
Close focus performance has been fantastic in my opinion. OOF areas are not distracting, although intriguing, and the focus feels perfectly calibrated to the camera.
Set to f/4 and 3 meters, the lens gives me a depth of field between just under 2m and ~7m, which is absolutely fine when taking lazy street snaps, especially if the subject is front and center.
Set to f/8 and infinity, the lens will catch everything down to a little over 1.5 meters. Lovely.
Photographs made at f/2 have more contrast than I imagined and just like every lens of this design, it absolutely shines when stopped down to f/4 or f/5.6. I haven’t seen much difference in terms of sharpness from there to smaller apertures but what you get through the entire f/2 to f/16 aperture range is that Sonnar POP.
One thing I noticed on a few frames here and there was obvious barrel distortion. It’s not something that’s going to draw your eye when shooting busy scenes but use the lens for architecture and you might need to exercise some lens correction in post-production (if you’re into that deviant sort of stuff).
A modern Sonnar?
Yes and no. A Sonnar is a Sonnar is a Sonnar. The optical design isn’t going to give you drop dead perfect rendering but that’s probably not why you’ve read this far down the page.
It’s a modern lens in that it has been newly designed and built, the materials it uses are modern and the various coatings it employs are based on today’s optical standards – but the optical design is still the optical design.
For your money, you get a lens which gives you good sharpness, great contrast, a unique “3D-pop” to subjects and speed, all in a compact bundle.
You’ll also get smooth out of focus areas, some pretty interesting but not distracting bokeh and yes, a loss of sharpness towards the edges of the frame, especially wide-open.
Put another way, you’ll get more character than the sterility of something like a Planar (that statement coming from a self-confessed Hasselblad fanboy who loves his 80mm f/2.8).
Based on what I’ve learned about the lens since I would probably characterise it having a very specific utility. That is, grabbing your subject and separating it/them from the rest of the frame.
I could drone on but there are only so many ways I can say the same thing. Best to let the photos do the talking.
The images you see in the gallery below were taken on a combination of Fujicolor C200 (EI 200), Ultrafine eXtreme 400 (EI 400, N+1 development) and new Kodak T-MAX 3200 (EI 800 N-2 development).
To view the images fullscreen, click/tap and then use the navigation buttons to cycle through them.
Fuji Fujicolor C200 (EI 200)
New Kodak T-MAX 3200 (EI 800 / N-2)
Ultrafine Xtreme 400 (EI 400 / N+1)
A note on this gallery: the strange light leaks you see are a result of me trying to load my first roll of Kodak T-MAX 3200 without first rewinding the Ultrafine. Schoolboy error…
I have been cleared to tell you that it will, at most, sell for 17 Quadloos. I’m sadly not in a position to tell you how this converts to your specific currency (market volatility makes any conversion immediately out of date). That said, based on 7artisans’ 50mm f/1.1 my gut tells me that it will very likely be the most affordable new 35mm M-mount lens out there.
In all seriousness, please ask Hamish Gill at 35mmc, he has a dedicated 7artisans update page up and I understand that stock is imminent.
Update: quite a few people have been asking me how much this lens will be selling for and I wish I could give you something solid. All I can tell you is that my gut tells me it’ll be in the USD$325-375 bracket, although it’d still represent quite the bargain at US$400.
This lens has character, and that’s not a euphemism for “it’s terrible”. Whether it is for you is more a question of preference than anything else and I suggest you scroll up and review the images I’ve posted again to see whether they float your boat.
The 7artisans 35mm f/2 is not an optically perfect lens and nor should it be. Pixel peepers, if you’re looking for a lens that will give you perfect field curvature, zero barrel distortion, super-apochromatic transmission or asph-your-erical, this will likely not be the lens for you.
BUT, if you’re looking for something with a bit of 味道 (wèidào), or taste/smell, as the Chinese put it, the 7artisans 35mm f/2 is definitely right up your street.
Regardless of your personal opinion, one thing is certain; the improvements over the (only slightly) older 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 are marked and if the incumbent third-party M-mount lens manufacturers aren’t already paying attention, they should be.
Thanks for reading and please drop me a line with any questions in the comments below.
…the promised rant
Please indulge me a little ranting, continued from above:
Dear Mr and Mrs You-Know-Who-You-Are,
If you’re so obsessed with avoiding “Chinese crap”, please do everyone a favour and stop buying products made in part or in full in China, or by Chinese businesses. FYI, this includes but is not limited to:
Adidas, Anker, Apple, Armani, Black & Decker, Burberry, Celestion, Coach, Fisher-Price, Hasbro, KEF, Knirps, Levi’s, Mattel, Mission, Motorola, New Balance, Nike, Prada, Ray-Ban, Reebok, Samsonite, Schwinn…need I go on?
What’s that? Your clothes, computers, phones and cameras say they’re made elsewhere? Fantastic, do yourself a favour and find out where their components and materials are sourced. Chances are that upwards of 50% of the products you own and use every single day have some or all of their source materials and components made or designed in China or made by Chinese businesses elsewhere.
If you’re furiously making notes about all this in your Moleskine, yup… made in China.
The short version: I’m going to label you as cut from the same cloth as the folks who spent decades bashing Japanese cameras and optics back in the 1950s and 60s. Please don’t make me remind you what happened there. Get over your “Leica must be German” attitude and do normal, open-minded, everyday Leica shooters a favour: take it elsewhere.
Shenzen 7 Artisans Lens Photoelectric Technology Co. Ltd
|Lens design:||7 elements in 5 groups (Sonnar-based)|
|Aperture blades:||10 (decahedron)|
|Lens mount:||Leica M|
|Lens coding:||White: 1----1|
(lens only, stated weight)
(lens only, measured weight)
(lens + front metal cap)
(B+W filter + generic vented shade)
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