Lenses

7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 late-prototype early impressions preview

On Monday this week I received a 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 late-prototype lens to play with. There’s been a lot of information churning around the rumour mills about this lens lately, but to my knowledge, I’m at least one of the first to get my hands on one… so I thought I’d share some very early thoughts and a few sample images.

First impressions

Taking the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 out of this plain white box, the first thing that struck me was its size and weight. It’s big, and it’s heavy. If you’ve held the 50mm f/1.1 you’ll have a sense of how dense this lens also feels. In fact, I would go as far to say that the 28mm feels even more dense. This is likely due to the fact that it’s rammed full of glass; apparently it has 11 elements in 9 groups. Despite this, mounted on my Leica 262, it feels reasonably well balanced. There is no denying the weight, but it’s not an overly absurd feeling thing once mounted on the camera.

7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 – In use

The 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 also feels very similar to the 50mm f/1.1 to use. Unlike the 35mm f/2 which felt like a departure from the 50mm, this feels like it’s cut from the same cloth as their first m-mount design. There’s no focus tab, instead it has the same aluminium ribbed grip that the 50mm has. It also has an aperture scale with uneven spacing, though unlike the 50mm, the aperture is clicked – all be it lightly on my prototype copy. Both focus and aperture controls are smooth, smoother in fact than the 50mm, but only slightly – there still remains that slight feel of the metal-on-metal in the helicoid that you don’t get in modern higher end lenses.

Viewfinder blockage

Of course, being the size that it is, and being a 28mm lens, viewfinder obstruction is a big issue. This is one on the reasons I have settled on smaller, slower 28mm lenses as my day-to-day 28mm lens choice for my rangefinders. I find obstruction of the view really distracting and find myself having to hold the camera oddly to get around it when the lens is blocking an important part of the composition. This of course, will be no issue with digital rangefinders that have live-view, or indeed with the lens mounted on a mirrorless camera. But with my Leica 262, and my film rangefinders, I know I’m going struggle a little with the size.

That being said, I also know I’m not really the target audience for the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4. I’m not fussed about shooting 28mm lenses in low light, and as mentioned I prefer smaller lenses all round. If you are a low light shooter looking for a fast 28mm lens, I suspect the compromise would be easier to swallow – especially given the price of this lens compared to the Leica equivalent. And to be fair to it, the size also does make for nice handling too.

Optical properties

I’ve been told by 7Artisans that my copy is very close to the final version of the lens. That being said, I think it’s only fair to caveat this post with the fact that this is a preproduction lens, and therefore what you see here might only broadly representative of the final production lens. That being said, what I’ve found so far is very impressive – though of course, it wouldn’t be a 7Artisans lens without at least one fairly significant foible…

I also want to point out that I am yet to exhaustively test this lens. I’ve only been using it for a couple of days, and as such I’ve not had a huge amount of time to spend actually taking photos (in short, sorry for the crap photography). That being said, I have tested it for a couple of concerns I had, and indeed given it a run for its money in what I think is its most obvious usage case.

Resolution and Contrast

Those who are familiar with the 35mm f/2 will know that it’s not exactly known for corner to corner sharpness. Even stopping that lens down to middle apertures doesn’t result in sharpness into the corners on a digital camera. Not to mention the fact that the level of sharpness it does achieve can be ever so slightly uneven with opposite far corners not always being perfectly equally sharp. That said, it’s very sharp in the centre, and much of the corner issue is invisible on film cameras – it’s only really on digital cameras where the issues are noticeable.

This was my main concern for the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 – was this going to be another lens that would be better described as a character lens when shot on digital? Thankfully, this concern proved ill-founded. The 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 is both high resolution and high in contrast – obviously it improves when stopped down, but even at wider apertures it’s pretty decent. Furthermore, sharpness is fairly consistent even the corners even at wider apertures – though it’s fair to say there is some falloff. By the middle apertures, sharpness falloff seems to me to be irrelevant in practical terms – at least to my eye.

All of the photos in this post are uploaded to flickr in higher resolution – click on them for a pixel-peeping experience, though do of course bear in mind they are still compressed jpegs.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

f/5.6

It’s sharp enough to be useable at further distances, even wide open – which surprised me a little. This (very boring) photo was taken at f/1.4.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

Colour shift

Being a 28mm, I also had concerns that the edges would be susceptible to colour shift on digital cameras. As you can see there is nothing to report here at all – and this is without using any of the in-built Leica profiles. I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect it will even work quite well on full frame mirrorless cameras.

Low light / Bokeh

I suspect most people will be looking at the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 dreaming about all the low light possibilities it brings to the table. My first outing with it was in fact a quick walk around town after the kids had gone to bed. Of course, being a 28mm lens, bokeh is only going to be a big deal with close subjects, so for the most part that’s what I explored.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

In terms of the bokeh, so far, so good – if you look closely you’ll notice the complex optical formula has caused a little bit of the onion-ring issue that so often seems to cause people to have a melt down when it comes to bokeh. To be honest though, it’s not as obvious as it would be if this was a longer fast lens, since out of focus spectral highlights remain fairly small. They don’t appear to vignette to cats eye shapes too much either – or at least not as much as I thought they might.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

Bokeh in day light seems pretty decent too. This was shot near the close focus distance at f/1.4. That tree had potential to cause some pretty wild looking bokeh, but – at least to my eye – it looks to have a broadly palatable look.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

Flare

How the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 flares is probably its key foible. The first photo I took in anger with this lens showed me how it flared – this was that photo:

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

It’s hard not to spot the bloody great big ring of flare emanating form the streetlight. I’ve quite easily managed to replicated this a few times since, both with artificial light and sun light.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

I sent a couple of the photos to the guys at 7Artisans, without mentioning the flare specifically to see what they said. The response was about as interesting as I could have possibly hoped. This flare is something they tell me they’re intentionally leaving in. I was told that they could add a bit of “ink” to an internal part of the lens that would resolve it, but after showing it to a friend of the business in China who liked it, they have decided to keep it as a feature. Make what you will of this, but for me, this is entirely typical of the approach this company takes to its designs, and something to continue to expect from them in future lenses. They seem to enjoy including some character trait that’s slightly less than conventionally “good”.

Update – 26/11/18

What I’ve found really interesting about this flare given a little more experimentation is that it is only an “issue” that rears its head with the lens wide open… and when I say wide open, I mean only at f/1.4! If you stop the lens down, just past the click stop, it disappears. I took the following two photos in very quick succession, the first with the lens wide open, for the second I just turned the aperture ring a fraction past the click.

It was dark, so you will have to excuse the blurred photo of how far I rotated the aperture ring

This is the difference it made – the first shot is at f/1.4, the second is at f/1.4 and a bit:

I’ve not done anything else to the images, they are both straight out of my Monochrom, into Lightroom, outputted as JPG and uploaded here. Both were shot at 1/60th, with the camera on auto ISO – for both images the camera selected 5000 ISO. As you can see, if you don’t like the flare wide open, it seems you can just stop down slightly with little impact on exposure…

Distortion

Another foible of the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4, that I guess is another product of the complex lens design is that there does appear to be a small amount of complex lens distortion – I had to take a straight on photo of a brick wall to see it – which I refuse purely on principle to share – but it is there is you look closely. Fortunately, as you can see from these somewhat more real-world test shots, it’s not especially evident in real life use.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

Vignetting

As might be expected, the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 does vignette – especially wide open. No surprises here, but I thought it worth mentioning.

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

7Artisans 28mm 1.4 test

Price

I have been given a retail price of around £375, so around £450 with the VAT to anyone in the UK. In real terms, this makes it less than 1/10th of the price of the Leica Summilux which is currently £4900.

Early conclusions

This is 7Artisans’ most expensive m-mount lens to date, and personally I’m glad of that – I’m pleased they didn’t sacrifice quality just for the sake of high on-paper specification at an extreme budget price. It is fair to say that it’s not perfect optically speaking – the wild flare is definitely going to divide opinion, and I suspect those who love taking photos of brick walls will complain that the nearly indistinguishable complex distortion causes them issues. But for how sharp it is, even wide open, I’m sure many will be able to forgive it. I’m also sure that many will find the aforementioned wild flare a character trait worthy of embracing – I can imagine it bringing a nice cinematic look to both photos and video if harnessed well. I personally quite like it, though I do worry I might bore of it given particularly high use.

That aside, my main complaint about the lens is its shear size and weight of the thing. Personally, this isn’t something I could live with if I were looking for a carry-everywhere 28mm. Size and weight were two of the reasons I sold my Voigtlander 28mm f/1.9, the other being that I found myself disinclined to shoot fast wide angle lenses. As such, I hope it’s obvious that this is a personal preference issue – if I were more interested in shooting fast wide angle lenses I might be able to overcome these issues for the benefit of my creative goals.

It’s also fair to say that it doesn’t have the feel of an ultra high end lens in use – but for the money, with the specifications it has, to me it feels about right. I sent a 50mm f/1.1 to Alex from Zero Optik sometime earlier in the year – he has very high standards when it comes to lens build quality and I wanted to get his thoughts. Having stripped it down, his view was that whilst it was far from exceptionally built, it was certainly good enough. I suspect he would find the same here, as it feels almost exactly like the 50mm f/1.1, possibly ever so slightly more refined.

Like the 50mm f/1.1, I also appreciate the fact that it democratises a type of photography. If you’re an m-mount photographer and like the idea of low light wide angle photography, this lens opens up possibilities that were previously only open to those with very deep pockets.

Ultimately, to me the 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 feels like a good balance of impressive on-paper specification, real world image quality and price – as such, despite the caveats – which to some might be a red line – I can see this being a popular bit of kit.

A disclaimer

Let me just disclaim everything I have written by pointing out the fact that I’ll be selling these lenses in my shop. I import 7Artisans lenses into the UK and sell them to people all over the world, mostly in the UK and EU. But please don’t let that make you entirely question the integrity of what I’ve written. I guess there must be a part of me that wants to like this lens – as someone who tries to support the 7Artisans brand it’s natural that I would be slightly biased, but I’m not in the business of sugar-coating or saying anything on this blog that isn’t exactly what I think. I’d hate there to be anything on this website that would open up the idea that anything else I’d said wasn’t exactly what or how I felt about something – it just wouldn’t feel right. I do my best to be objective as possible, and I hope this is obvious in what I’ve written.

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Phil
    November 16, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for the review, been in the market for an m mount 28mm for a little while now and have been holding off til this one comes out.

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    November 16, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks H for this review. It certainly seems to shape up to being a fine lens. The images are vey good indeed! I may be tempted and look forward to seeing it at B&C

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 16, 2018 at 7:00 pm

      I’ll bring a boxed one if they’ve arrived – just in case 😉

  • Reply
    Chris A
    November 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    Very nice preview of the lens, I really like the bokeh. It reminds me of similar bokeh rendering from their 35mm and 50mm M-mount lenses, which is a good thing.
    Looks very interesting, Even if it doesn’t perform the same as the Leica Summilux, it’s like you say, 10x cheaper and the only other option out there for a f/1.4 fast aperture 28mm rangefinder coupled lens.

    Do you happen to know when 7Artisans expects to ship initial batches out?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 16, 2018 at 6:57 pm

      My first batch is on the way, I believe

    • Reply
      Chris A
      December 6, 2018 at 7:23 pm

      Received my copy today from 35mmc. Couldn’t be more happy!
      It performs well on both my Leica M240 and Sony A7RII.

      As Hammish says on his 26th of November update, the ring flare on my copy goes away at roughly f/1.5 aperture area also.
      It’s simliar weight and size to my Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 II Nokton, and sharper then that lens when both are shot at f/1.4 aperture.

      Very impressed with the price to performance ratio.

  • Reply
    Laurence Kesterson
    November 16, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    I’ll buy one when they’re available in the US. The price is a real bargain assuming it will retail at less than $500. However, I wish that they would have “added ink” to lessen that ring flare if it was such an easy fix. I can live with flaws at this price point. However, I don’t want any “character” that is otherwise be considered a flaw in a lens if it can be avoided.

    I have been very pleased with the 50 f1.1 and the 35 f2. They are outstanding bargains. The 50 serves a niche very well considering the cost of a real Noctulux. I have a 35mm Summicron, but I bought the 7Artisans 35 because it was so cheap. Although the Summicron is better, I can’t really tell much difference in actual use.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 16, 2018 at 6:59 pm

      $480 usd is the retail – I’m happy to ship to the US, you won’t pay the vat from my site, so you should find it translates to about $480

      Do you shoot film then?

      • Reply
        Laurence Kesterson
        November 17, 2018 at 9:15 pm

        I’m firmly in the digital camp. I make photos for a living and I don’t care to ever get my hands wet again!

  • Reply
    Peter
    November 16, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you for an honest and thorough review.

  • Reply
    John Lockwood
    November 16, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    My first thought, upon seeing it on your 262 was, “that thing is YUGE”! The point of Leica M has always been discretion and small size. Rangefinders are the original mirrorless camera! I applaud 7artisans for bringing something different to the market, but hope they clone something more like the 28mm Elmarit-M ASPH which so far has eluded my purchase.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 16, 2018 at 6:56 pm

      That would be good – the world does need a small affordable 28mm m lens

      • Reply
        Teddy
        November 17, 2018 at 10:40 pm

        If only the 28mm Rokkor-m wasn’t plagued by those darn spots on it’s front element. :/

        • Reply
          Todd Walderman
          November 27, 2018 at 11:21 pm

          Luckily, I have one that has 0 spots. It is a great lens. I paid a mint for it 15 years ago before there were so many m-mount 28mm options.

  • Reply
    Paul Doherty
    November 16, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    Nice informative review as always. Worth considering as are the other lenses from 7artisans. Shame it’s no good on my M3 otherwise I’d be tempted.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 16, 2018 at 6:55 pm

      Is that a fact? Where have you heard that?

  • Reply
    Alejandro Ilukewitsch
    November 16, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    How will you say this compares to the ultron 2.0, or even perhaps the zeiss 2.8? I am looking into getting a 28mm and the leica summicron is out of the question, even more the summulix. From your examples it seems 1.4 is very usable.

    I dont mind about the size.

    Thanks!

  • Reply
    First 7artisans 28mm f/1.4 M-mount lens review now online - Leica Rumors
    November 17, 2018 at 1:30 am

    […] 35mmc published their 7artisans 28mm f/1.4 M-mount lens review – here is their conclusion (the lens will be priced at £375 without VAT, or around $480 – for comparison the Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 lens is $6,595): […]

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    November 17, 2018 at 5:02 am

    A timely article. Recently I got the 28mm Ultron to carry with me on vacation to Ireland. One camera/one lens. I found the lens to be well balanced, sharp and a good all around choice. Except. I’m just not comfortable w/the focal length. It’s personal – I found I needed to move in close to people, and I was uncomfortable invading their personal space. I’m more at ease w/the 35mm f/2.0 w/a.
    I rented the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 for a trip to Washington DC on Veteran’s day. Again, superb lens that enabled me to shoot in poor lighting conditions.
    But, by the looks of the 28 f/1.4 & using the 35mm f/1.4, the viewfinder intrusion is too much IMHO. The 35 f/1.4 was so bulky, that I found it difficult to use when reacting to a fleeting movement. The bulk ruined the concept of the small camera/lens for fast, discreet shooting.
    Best of luck on the sales of the lens. Good shooting for future users, but these ‘super-sized’ lenses are not for me.

  • Reply
    ivan
    November 18, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Will this lens work on the M5 without affecting the meter?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 22, 2018 at 1:45 pm

      Should do – it doesn’t project into the body much

  • Reply
    Adam Bonn
    November 20, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    I’ve been eagerly waiting for this lens… but perhaps the size and flare are a little much.

    I wonder how it would compare to the VL 28/2 which isn’t that much £more…

    Thank you for a very honest and informative write up Hamish.

  • Reply
    Rob Hawthorn
    November 27, 2018 at 7:11 am

    I think 7artisans have done well here. There was a gap in the market for an ultra fast wide and they’ve filled it. Obviously the size and weight comes hand-in-hand with the speed. As for the ring flare, I can see why they left that uncorrected. Some people really find these kind of quirks appealing (just look up wedding/engagement portraits shot on Pentax 67 with the Takumar 105/2.4 and the “love bubble” flare). After all, it looks like they could have corrected it or given the world a flare-free 28/1.5 if they’d wanted. Having said that, the lens didn’t exactly need a unique characteristic in order to differentiate itself since it’s already alone in its own niche as ultra fast affordable wide angle.

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