UPDATE 01 2018-04-27: 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.
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.
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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 P200 (EI 800 / N-2)
Kodak HC-110 1+47 (E): 20°C/68°F, 13:45 (N-2). 60 seconds initial agitation, 5 inversions / 60 seconds, 1-minute stop, 5-minute fix, 5-minute rinse.
Ultrafine Xtreme 400 (EI 800 / 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…
Kodak HC-110 1+47 (E): 20°C/68°F, 09:30 (N+1). 60 seconds initial agitation, 5 inversions / 60 seconds, 1-minute stop, 5-minute fix, 5-minute rinse.
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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In my personal opinion the lens have an ugly aspect but seems performances are quite good, and is very light too so could be a good travel lens or used in special condition with no fear of loosing many bucks. Thanks for your review
When the chips are down you are not going to blow up your pictures to poster size. Most of us will be satisfied with 8×10 s and this lens does the job at an affordable price.
Had me all excited about New Kodak P200…but no.
7 Artisans and the other Chinese brands are where Cosina was when they first started selling LTM and… https://t.co/TfTrtcW9Eu
I had one, until some guy offered me more than I paid for it new. Back to the summicron I guess.
Good rant 😄
The Retina IIIc has interchangeable lenses… 35/4, 35/5.6, and 80/4.
I have a pair of 7Artisan 50/1.1’s, one for the M Monochrom and one for the M9. Changed the optimization for the M Monochrom to be used with a deep yellow filter. They are well made lenses. This lens is very similar to the 5cm F1.1 Zunow which would cost $5000 used.
At some point- will pick up a 35/2, as it is a Sonnar. But- the 35/1.7 Ultron is Aspheric and cost me $300 in mint condition, with the M-Mount adapter. I can use it on LTM cameras as well.
@35mmc My only beef with these lenses (and most Voigtländer, Zeiss, Handevision, modern Leica) is tha… https://t.co/9IhDHIPDZp
@35mmc Your views agree with mine, I’ve shot this lens for a few months now on my M2, it is sharp but… https://t.co/xKBP5lm9GD
Thank you for this review. I found it very useful. I also love the rant at the end.
Solid photography and review here. While I don’t currently need it, 40mm F2 Rokkor is great, it’s great that someone is giving the Leica middle class some affordable gear.
More of that middle finger might give us a little more innovation, too. Stranger things have happened.
Great rant! It is a lonely battle trying to educate the uneducate-able. Thanks to the toxic rhetoric in the USA today, we have millions who do the “I won’t buy Chinese crap” thing – and then they rush off to Walmart in their Mexican-built SUV that is filled with Chinese electronic components. And their “American” Buick sells its largest number of cars in China. Sigh….
Hmmm, don’t have one, but my Kodak Retina IIIc works a treat.
Made in Germany, before all this flash-in-the-pan Japanese stuff flooded the market.
TTL metering, self resetting frame counters, interchangeable lenses?
But seriously though, I’m so old that I remember when “Made-In-Japan” meant “Junk.”
The world changes.
Best to change with it.
I like that Leica must be German, which is of course why it’s made in Portugal
A truly independent review with constructive criticism, thank you for helping me decide that I want to have a look at one, if I can save up the Quadloos, of course. You will never see a review like this in the photo magazines, because they dont want to alarm the advertisers into thinkingbthey might say something negative about their products, which is why I don’t buy magazines any more. I very much like the term “weidao”. It could become the camera nerds replacement for the cringemaking “bokeh”, which when I hear someone refer to it, I know instantly that all they know is what they read in “What expensive-shiny-clicky-thing to impress the camera club Monthly”.
Thank you, Howard. It’s a pretty impressive little lens. Although it certainly won’t satisfy certain “purists”, it has a character and feel that people like me appreciate: lack of sterility. I’ll be doing some bokeh tests on my current roll 😉 …just for you!
Aw come on. The Japanese camera companies will never amount to anything.
I’m sticking with my Balda.
Exactly. How’s that 35mm Graflex been treating you?
Thank you for the review. If the lens is good, it shouldn’t really matter where it’s made. I’m also interested in your using of Ultrafine Xtreme 400. I see you exposed it for El400, but developed one stop push. May I know why you’ve decided on that. Would you like to share how you’ve developed, ie which developer you used, and for how long? Thanks!
I don’t know what it is about that film but I LOVE over-developing it. It reminds me a bit of T-MAX 100 at EI 800. Such lovely tones.
I used HC-110 1+31 (B) for 7 minutes on a “normal” 1 min + 10 secs/min agitation. for a box speed development my time is 05:30.
Very nice review!!
Thanks Thomas. Hope you found it useful.
Thank you, Thomas!
haha agree with David T, nice review but the rant… =)
I aim to please, Gordon! HEH!
Looks like quite a nice lens. But the rant was my favourite part ; )
And BTW, what is that 味道 I smell?
You know what Frank’s like…