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