5 frames with...

5 Frames With the 7artisans 35mm f/2 on the Leica M10, for Photojournalism – by Simon King

March 15, 2020

My opinion on the 35mm focal length hasn’t shifted much since my recent attempts to adopt it into my workflow. Despite being happy with a lot of the snapshots I’ve produced on my Olympus XA, my constant 35mm companion, I still feel that the focal length has one clear strength, and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to put it into practice in a way where I simply can’t make excuses in the way that I often find myself doing when I fail with it in my snapshots.

I’ve been through a few 35mm lenses, starting with the RX1R I essentially learned photography on – then when I moved to the Leica system one of my first lenses was a 35mm f/2 Summicron, which was sold to me as a real classic. This was soon replaced with the cheaper but equally excellent Zeiss Biogon, but that saw very little actual use, and I found myself wondering why I was hanging onto it – I suppose a sense of obligation to own such a staple focal length.

It was only recently that I decided to be done with the Zeiss and move onto the much cheaper 7artisans 35mm f/2, having been very impressed with the 50mm, and after hearing some excellent things about the 35mm from photographers whose opinions I trust. It cost me £189 brand new from ebay, and required no calibration on my M6 or M10. I forced myself to use it for a while for street photography on my M6, but at the time of writing this I have yet to develop anything. The first time I mounted it on my M10 for anything other than to test that it worked alright was on February 5th, when I decided the time had come for it to be put to real use.

Unlike the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1, which I feel is a great lens for quite a few applications the only purpose I feel makes sense for a 35mm f/2 lens is Street and Documentary photography – and for me personally I see more applications on the documentary side, as I prefer to be almost always a longer focal length shooter for street. Documentary however can require very close quarters environments like crowded meeting rooms, offices, and elevators, and the job I was working on the 5th demanded for all of these.

The story I had access to document was a very unique affair all around, and I wanted to make as much of it as I possibly could. Indigenous Brazilian leader and Environmentalist Raoni Metuktire along with a delegation was visiting Westminster Parliament to meet with MPs and other members of the Government in order to appeal for assistance to his cause. My involvement was thanks to FiveFiftyFive Productions, who worked on coordination, and who will be rolling out a larger project around these issues as things move forward.

I packed my 90mm just in case, but ended up using the 35mm for almost everything – changing between that and the 50mm which was on my M6. I shot a few frames on film, but the bulk was digital. Almost from the moment Raoni stepped out of his cab and into the foyer of Portcullis House I was snapping away – through the hall and into the first pre-meeting of the day, in one of the ministers offices. Shooting in Parliament was fascinating, and a really unique opportunity; I can honestly say I don’t know if it’s something I’ll ever have access to in the same way again, so I was doing my best to make the absolute most of the situation.

The ministers office was cramped, so the 35mm served me well as a normal, but the first image of the day I was truly happy with I made just as Raoni was stepping out of the office door on the way to the main meeting room. The sunlight fell through the feathers he wore around his head beautifully, and the touch of red from his coat was enough to keep the interest in the centre of the frame.

A few moments later and I made another keeper – the minister and Raoni linked arms as they walked through the hall, and I dodged in front of the translator who was following closely behind them in order to snap this.

The larger meeting room was a little tricker to move around in, so I stayed mostly to the side of the room which allowed me best coverage of the people around the table. This worked to my benefit when we were joined by the Rt Honourable Valerie Vaz, current Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, and I was able to make this candid portrait of her as she listened to the delegates speak.

I still struggle with framing using the 35mm frame-lines, due to my glasses only allowing me to clearly view 50mm and longer. This was annoying for this moment which I didn’t have much time to react to before she brought her phone down – I liked the way the patch of light on the wall made almost a speech bubble from it, but it’s definitely a failure overall.

Towards the end of the day I found myself travelling to the home of one of the delegates where everyone took a break before heading back to Parliament for more meetings. It turned out that this was also the home of Pingu, the Climate Watchdog, and I was able to snap this photograph of him while the others chatted above him.

Overall I think this lens performed wonderfully, and I wasn’t disappointed in the image quality at all. A few images have some flaring, but this only showed when the light was coming in very strongly from off-camera. I use this lens with a small hood – it’s possible a larger hood would mitigate this flare more, as friends who use this lens use a larger one and don’t seem to encounter it as much. Sharpness was decent, and vignetting was very manageable. Most importantly for me it performed exactly how I needed it to for the purpose I applied it to without getting in my way, or making me frustrated, as some pieces of gear have done in the past.

I may do another write up on this lens in the future, when I have more images to show for it – more failures, and hopefully successes too. In the meantime I’m happy to say that as a photojournalistic tool I am very pleased with the results I was able to produce.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! If you’ve enjoyed my images here then consider following me on Instagram! And thanks again to FiveFiftyFive for the access!

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  • Reply
    March 15, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    I’m puzzled by your inclination to sell the lens you have at the moment for a ‘cheaper options’ when you’re the owner of expensive cameras?

    • Reply
      March 15, 2020 at 2:20 pm

      My 35mm lenses see barely any use, so I can’t justify expensive ones in the same way that I can for other focal lengths which I use mre often. I also don’t see the point in owning a more expensive version of something if the same performance can be achieved for less.

  • Reply
    Bruno Chalifour
    March 15, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    Hmmm I doubt that the « same » performance can be achieved for less in the case of the considered 35 mm. There are a few contradictions in the discourse: 35 mm is your go to lens on the other hand it does not « see much use ». The results are the same but even on rather superficial examination the 7Artisans shows flare, vignetting and sharpness sounds fine but not exactly, I assume, at the sum micron or ZEISS level. Above was a good question by use an expensive camera and a cheap lens when image quality depends more on the lens than the camera (especially with film)? Is the point showing a red dot to others but not caring about what it produces. That too is puzzling to me.

    • Reply
      March 15, 2020 at 2:56 pm

      35mm is as close to the opposite of my “go to” as possible. It’s my second least favourite focal length after 28mm.
      I’m not chasing sharpness, or other technical aspects in my image – what matters is the photograph itself. If any other company made a camera I enjoy as much as a Leica then I’m sure I would shoot that. I would prefer for my work to have as little to do with brand or gear as possible. This lens works for me, and produces the results I have needed from it so far.

    • Reply
      Jacob Juul
      March 15, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      The lens can’t be beat for the price. You made a smart choice. I don’t get why people are upset. If you had lied and told them it was a summicron they’d have praised the images. Some guy at rangefinder forums did a comparison with his summicron and it was really hard to tell the difference.
      On top of that, only photographers (especially us that do it as a hobby) care about which lens you used. The client want notice any difference.
      I have the lens by the way and I also have the summicron

    • Reply
      March 16, 2020 at 8:28 pm

      I’m with you, summicron for sure. I mean if you already own it, an incredibly lens no doubt and for anyone to deny that must be losing it.😳

  • Reply
    Nick Lyle
    March 15, 2020 at 4:21 pm

    35mm is a glorious focal length. It takes practice to get good with a particular field of view. I like 35mm for landscapes, intimate nature shots, and for journalistic and event photography. With any prime lens you need to develop an instinct for being the right distance from the subject, with the subject in a good ratio of distance to background. There is also a tension, especially shooting with manual focus lenses, between thinking about arty compositions vs concentrating on the mood, movements, expressions and gestures of the subjects. I find that the 35mm is particularly good for a style of shooting where you anticipate good positioning for composition and then concentrate on the action, the unfolding story. That is why old time journalists loved this lens. Longer lenses crop away too much, unless you are out on a wide open street.

  • Reply
    Laurence Kesterson
    March 16, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    I have both the 7A 35mm f2 and the Summicron 35mm f2 (IV). I bought the 7A on a lark because it was so cheap. There is no doubt that if you look closely that the Summicron is a better lens (distortion, vignetting) but for all intents and purposes I see very little difference in my photos between the two. I’d be hard pressed to tell you just by looking at the photos which lens was used.

    The 7A 28mm f1.4 is also a real gem that is easily worth three or four times the cost. It’s sharp wide open and performs way above it’s price point. I wish I could say the same thing about the TT Artisans 35mm f1.4. Unfortunately, that lens is just not sharp wide open. I had such good luck with all of my 7A lenses (50 f1.1, 35 f2 and 28 f1.4) I assumed that the TT 34 f1.4 would be similar. It’s just not up to par and is not a lens I find useful due to it’s lack of sharpness wide open.

  • Reply
    March 16, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    Nice work Simon! So fortunate to get an opportunity like that.

    I have both the 7A 35mm f2 and the Leica Summicron Asph 35 f2. I did a brief side by side comparison here and the results are enlightening:


  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    March 18, 2020 at 3:25 am

    Hi Simon,
    Good article. One thing that I caught was you like working with a slightly longer focal length for your street work. I like that approach…
    As we all know, each focal length has it’s own champions and advocates. Less is written about individual style. I used to conduct a simple exercise in my fundamental photo classes: I’d pair people up in groups of two. Each pair was handed an empty camera w/a 50mm lens. I’d have one stand 6 feet away (subject) and ask the other to pretend to take a picture with the empty camera. If the “photographer” stepped back away from the subject, then I knew they’d be working more with w/angle lenses, if they stepped closer, then I knew they were more likely to work with longer lenses. They were finding their ‘sweet spot.’ Not scientific in any sense, but it gave a starting point when we discussed equipment. Your habit of reaching for a longer lens and being comfortable working on the street is legit (in the sense that an unwritten rule almost demands wide-angle lenses.) Myself, I’ve always liked including some of the immediate surroundings of my subject. I use 35mm lenses. A 50 is too tight, and the 28 is way too wide. I’m a film user, and I’m not a fan of the current offerings by 7 Artsians, Voigtlander, Zeiss or Leica…too clinical for me. The older lenses, designed for film, give me the results I like. Style. Wash you hands for 20 seconds!

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