This is a review of the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95, both on film and digital. Those interested in affordable alternatives to German brands probably already know about TTArtisan. This brand is quite new in the industry and already offers not less than five M mount lenses. I already reviewed two of them in the past (the 35mm f1.4 and the 21mm f1.5) and I have to admit these lenses don’t disappoint for one big reason: they offer some of the best price / performance ratio ever seen on Leica M mount.
When they announced its upcoming TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 lens, it made lots of noise. Can a Chinese brand realistically propose an usable alternative to the holy grail Noctilux?! Would it be even usable wide open considering its price? I decided to give it a go and see how it performs. You will find below my honest review about it after some months of use. As usual, I will (almost) only speak about real life things that matter out in the field. I don’t do test charts.
The gear I used for that review is a Leica M6 with Ilford HP5 for the film part, and a M10 for the digital part of the review.
To my biggest surprise, the first impression I had while holding the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 in my hand for the first time was something close to amazement. The lens feels heavy and super solid. There is no play whatsoever, focusing action is damn smooth, aperture clicks are well defined… By far their best achievement so far mechanically wise. And, oh, that front element… It is absolutely beautiful! I received the last version of the lens with somewhat squarish typeface that look a little bit more modern Leica typeface. I like its look.
Another thing I appreciate: the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 infinity stop is well calibrated! Or at least, my M6 rangefinder seems to be in agreement with the mechanical infinity stop of the lens. This is a first for a TTArtisan lens (at least for me).
The TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 is a modern lens. It uses eleven elements in eight groups. One of the rear element is a double sided aspherical. Sounds good to me for sharpness and contrasts, but we will have to check how this impacts out of focus areas!
The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is heavy, around 690g. Be advised that shooting with a M10 (which is kinda heavy by itself already) plus this lens for a whole day could induce some serious neck pain. Be ready for it and use a larger strap (do what I say, not what I do) if needed. I recommend using a grip with Leica shaped bodies. Otherwise your wrist will quickly beg you for rest. I personally use my own Kamerakraft grip. (I do think they are the best options out there for film bodies… But hey, I am the producer of them, so I would say that…)
A magnifier eyepiece will help you focusing a lot. Otherwise, I do recommend using an EVF to be sure you are spot on. Even Leica admit the rangefinder mechanisms have its own limitations for really fast lenses. It is written in the Noctilux user guide that there might be errors wide open. You can then assume you will do errors wide open with this lens too. So beat it and learn to use it.
The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 protrudes into the 50mm viewfinder frame-lines. I personally haven’t been bothered that much by this. But this could seriously be annoying to you if you don’t like seeing too much of your lens in the viewfinder. But hey, what did you expect from such a big lens…
Finally, I found that the different rings are well positioned and it quickly becomes natural for your fingers to grab that deliciously damped focusing ring or the aperture one. There is no focus tab, but I think this is something fortunate as I feel it would be overkill considering the big lens diameter.
Impressions on film
Let’s get serious now. From my point of view, one of the biggest benefits of having such a fast lens is for film use. Unlike its digital counterpart, a film cartridge has a fixed sensitivity and the possibility of shooting in a low light environment will often be limited by your optics maximum F-stop if you don’t want to rely on a tripod. With experience, I noticed that, by night in a moderately lit street, a F2 lens won’t allow you to shoot faster than 1/15th or maximum 1/30th of a second with an ISO400 speed like TRI-X or HP5. Now, a F0.95 lens is more than two stop brighter than a F2 lens. It means you now can crank your speed dial up to 1/60th or 1/125th. To me it sounds like a real game changer as your hit rate (or percentage of shots not ruined by shake blur) will considerably rise.
So the first trial I did was just that, loaded some HP5 and went for a walk at night in my small city, shoot the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 wide open and relied on your rangefinder. I should point out that I did not try to calibrate my lens before this.
First impressions were awesome. The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 did just good. Rangefinder calibration seems great and the pictures all came out sharp, detailed and full of that 3D pop you carve for while using such a bright lens. I haven’t been annoyed by any flaring or any flaw that would make my pictures bad, except my own skills obviously, ha.
One other thing I appreciate with it is its rendering. It definitely isn’t “vintage” per se. It has contrast, pop, bokeh seems rather neutral and soft and it gives somewhat of a medium format look that I do love. This lens seems quite far away from something like the Canon “dream lens” f0.95.
And just as I expected, my shutter speed was always between 1/60th and 1/125th whatever the street lighting was. Definitely the greatest feature I could think of.
This first run excited me a lot and I decided to give the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 a go by day. I think we all saw pictures taken by day with the famous Noctilux, and I wanted to see if it was possible to get that look too with the TTArtisan. I wanted to check if it was possible to use this lens in harsher and stronger light where diverse aberrations normally show up quickly with fast lenses. But the winter was here and I had to wait for a good opportunity to go out and get a nice time frame for a walk… The lockdown didn’t help either I have to admit, but we had some time late December where we could finally go a bit farther out and I decided to enjoy a nice walk in the forest with friends.
How nice! Even though I found harder to get accurate focus by day, the image out of the combo were really exciting. I used ND filters to be able to open up completely. I used ND8 and ND64 depending on the light. One thing I noticed is that the rendering isn’t as clean when there is lots of light. And it often would look a little bit cleaner at F1.1, especially when you try to focus on something a bit far away. So this is something to be remembered when using the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 with strong contrasts, close it down a bit to clean out fine contrasty details.
Finally, I tried to stop the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 down a bit and see how it performs technically. Well, I’d say you won’t notice it most of the time, but the far corners never really clean up. It always remains somewhat softer. But who cares, I don’t think you buy a 0.95 lens to use it at f8, right? There would be better, smaller alternatives for doing that. I would say that this first analog run made me super happy with the lens’s performance in its normal use case (don’t shoot flat architecture at f/8 with it, it is not made for that).
TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 – Impressions on Digital
I recently acquired a nice Leica M10 – this provided me with a great opportunity to see how this lens behaves with digital. With no suspense, I can say that digital is more demanding. I don’t know if it is because of the higher effective resolution, or the way sensor works, but I found out that you will prefer to close the lens down to f/1.1 most of the time to get rid of aberrations.
I also admit I had really more difficulties to focus with the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 relying only on the rangefinder. That said, I didn’t try to calibrate it because I figured out it was easier to rely on the EVF anyway. Digital magic.
I ended up speaking to Hamish about this, as I know he has also tried this lens on his M10. He confirmed that he too found close focusing with the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 to be an issue when shooting wide open. I asked him to comment for the benefit of this review:
I tested two of these lenses, neither would calibrate perfectly for both close focusing and distance focusing. Having had the lenses inspected, it seems the focal length is slightly too long – something around 51.9-52mm instead of the required 51.6mm (a short video about the need for a 51.6mm focal length on a lens of this sort of design can be found here).
The result of this is that the best compromise is to calibrate this lens for infinity and further distances. If done right, the lens will focus perfectly from ~1.1m to infinity at f/0.95. between 0.7m and 1.1m when wide open and close to wide open the lens will suffer slightly from back focusing. This is how both lenses came out of the box – so in theory, no user calibration should be required to achieve this compromise.
I spoke to TTArtisan about this, and they recommended using live view to focus at close distances, but didn’t comment specifically on our focal length findings. It’s my view that this lens is best thought of as having a 1m minimum focusing distance, for closer focusing wide open, you either need to be shooting more forgiving faster/lower resolution films, or – as recommended by TTA – use the lens with liveview.
It should also be noted that I investigated having the lens modified to adjust the focal length. Unfortunately, due to the design of the optical housing at the rear of the lens, it cannot be adjusted without making serious (very expensive) changes to the body of the lens. There is no room for adjustment or calibration built into the design of the lens in the way there is in a lot of similar lenses.
Short of this “issue” the optics in this lens are excellent. If you can work around this limitation, this lens offers relatively stunning value for an ultra-fast m-mount 50mm lens.
The overall rendering seemed to me a little bit harsher in the highlights, but that might be just me? Let’s just say that the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 remains the same: good contrast even wide open, close it down a bit (f/1.1) to get more pop, especially beyond five meters distance, corners will never clean up, even at f8. But it the potential to making striking and 3D pictures remains unchanged! It is just more critical to nail the shot. I had to pay more attention to focus and to lens glow. But this lens does delivers when used correctly and really gets close to that medium format look!
Summarized Pros and Cons of the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95
- Very well built
- 50mm f0.95 aspherical for 750USD…
- Beautiful rendering on film wide open, opens up new possibilities at night
- Needs to be closed down to f/1.1 for rendering finer details on digital, but then it is super sharp. Not too bad.
- Modern rendering
- Medium format-esqu pop
- You will have to struggle a bit with fine tuning your rangefinder on digital… Or just use EVF as it will always be better anyway.
- Vignetting is on the heavy side and will always be even at f/8
- Corners never clean up, even at f/8
- Distortion might be problematic for some (but not for me)
- Weight and size… this is not a lens to bring with you on a long hike. But neither is the Leica Noctilux.
TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 – Final Words
I think TTArtisan really did a marvelous job here. Offering such lens at that price seems unbelievable. But it is real and performs real good for what it was made for: portraiture, ambient and moody shots and night shots. Would I use it for pro-jobs? Definitely. When you know its flaws, the rendering you can achieve with the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is very stable and allows you to produce some marvelous pictures. I can totally imagine using this lens during the next wedding I will cover. All I need is a good, detailed EVF with a great refresh rate, ha! Thinking of getting some Japanese mirrorless now, just because of that…
Just don’t get the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 if you are planning to use it as your only 50mm. It is too big for that, and not perfect enough stopped down. Maybe their 50mm f/1.4 would be better for that purpose. You really have to consider this 0.95 as a “specialized” lens for some very special kind of pictures. Also, don’t try to act stealthy with that lens. It just don’t work unless you stay really far away from your subject! Just like the other TTArtisan lenses, this one has its flaws, but what it also has like them is an unbeatable price / performance ratio, and I think it is the best TTArtisan lens so far in that regard.
I am definitely keeping the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 and will use it on some occasions. It won’t be my everyday 50 shooter, but as a specialized lens this one is a fantastic tool. Look no further if all you need is 3D pop, medium format look, bokeh creaminess.
Now my wish-list for 2021: TTArtisan have produced a coherent fast aperture lens family that, I think, is great for what it is: capable and great lenses to be used once you know how to get the best of them. Now I hope to see TTArtisan releasing really smaller lenses soon, something like f/2, with tiny 39mm filter thread diameters and near APO performance… Some lenses that could complement their faster ones for everyday use. Please TTArtisan, hear my wish!
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