Now I must admit, I’m not particularly into fisheye photography. Nor is a fisheye lens the first type of lens that I think of as being particularly compatible with Leica rangefinder cameras – especially if said fisheye doesn’t come with a viewfinder. In fact, to a degree, I do (or at least did) slightly question the sense of making a fisheye lens for m-mount cameras at all.
There is one factor that makes the decision to add up though: quite simply, no one else makes one. At least as far as I know, TTArtisan are the only brand to have ever offered a fisheye lens for m-mount cameras. So if you’ve always had a craving for such a thing, the craving can now been answered…
As I’ve alluded, I wouldn’t have thought of myself as one of those people. I owned a fisheye lens for my Nikon SLRs way back when I used to shoot them, and just didn’t use it much at all. This lens is very likely to suffer the same fate, but just because I’m not the target audience, doesn’t mean a target audience doesn’t exist. So, when taking it out, I decided to keep an open mind as I could, and you know what, I actually had a lot more fun than I thought I would!
EDIT: In the following I refer to the fact that this lens doesn’t come with a viewfinder. Since writing this, I found the viewfinder in a box at work. As such, please ignore my thoughts around the lack of a finder.
So far I’ve taken the TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye out in anger twice. The first time was for a bit of test around the edge of some woods and near where I work in Worcester. I didn’t really have any set ideas about what I wanted to do with the lens as I set out, short of just getting to grips again with the nature of such an unusual lens.
My first couple of shots were mostly an exercise in attempting to understand the specifications in practice. When you’re only used to shooting with lenses as wide as 18mm, having something with this field-of-view initially feels quite jarring. And that’s before you take into account the fact that it’s a fisheye optic. The TTArtisan 11mm fisheye isn’t rangefinder coupled either, so focusing took a moment to acclimatise to as well.
Of course, with it being such a short focal length, depth of field takes care of focusing for the most part. Even at f/2.8 you can set the lens to have everything from 1m to infinity in focus. That was how I took this first (quite boring) photo. Boring as it is though, it does show off the capability of the lens. Unfortunately, it also shows what appears to be a touch of decentering (the left-hand side of the frame is a little less sharp than the right) in this particular early-production copy.
For my next trick, I thought I’d have a go at shooting at the nearest possible focus distance. This seed thing is actually about 17cm from the camera, which is the close focusing distance of the lens. At these distances, you can even achieve an out of focus backgorund… though I’m not sure that would be the desired outcome of many people shooting a lens like this.
Somewhat underwhelmed at the photographic merit of my first couple of efforts with the TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye, I thought I’d try the shooting-up-into-trees thing that seems to be a common trick people employ to find interest when shooting with a fisheye lens. Sure enough, the results had slightly increased merit over my first efforts. They also, once again, show a slightly softer bottom frame.
From there I thought I’d take a short walk to a fenced-off building site hoping to get something a little more interesting. I spotted a padlock on the fence (who doesn’t like padlock photos?!) and then by the fortune of some good timing someone happened to be walking by.
I’m sure this person had no clue that she was in frame, it genuinely felt from my point of view that I wasn’t pointing the camera anyway near the direction she was in too. Nonetheless, she was very much in frame resulting in a photo that I felt was actually quite interesting. Unfortunately, I managed to get a finger from my focusing hand in frame – it turns out this is actually very easy to do. Still, as you can see by the before/after, it was also easy enough to clone out in Lightroom.
From there, and a little spurred on by a sense of slight success, I took a few more shots of nearby garages etc. No one walked by, so the outcome was largely a bit pants – though it certainly demonstrates the fishyeyeness…
Architecture was my next idea to shoot with the TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye. I wanted to get a really bloody tall building entirely in frame from an unusually close distance. There’s a tall spire right near my work, so I made a beeline for it. In the end, I found that even as close as maybe 15-20m from the bottom I could get it all in, so I decided to frame in some tree to help draw the eye. I think it worked too. What’s interesting about this shot to me is that at f/5.6 you can see the effect of the softening down one side of the frame is no longer an issue.
My final shot of the outing was shooting up into this tree. I’d been shooting with the add-on Visoflex viewfinder and whilst up until this point I had found its articulation useful, I’d not found it essential. For this particular shot, the fact that the Visoflex articulates 90 degrees upward was very useful indeed. I held the camera in front of me pointing directly upward and yet was able to shoot with my eye to the viewfinder with comfort.
My second outing with TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye lens would prove to be a lot more entertaining. I decided I wanted to push the envelope of conventional fisheye photography (if there is such a thing) and take some portraits whilst out on a photowalk. The results speak for themselves.
I must admit though, these images were a little more difficult to focus. It’s quite hard to estimate the very short distances whilst framing with a fisheye lens on a camera to the eye. To get these I had to get really very close to the subject, closer than they were comfortable with I’d say. Oddly, from where I was standing, I didn’t feel nearly as close as I was. Looking through the Visoflex viewfinder through a fisheye lens quite obviously gives a very strange sense of perspective. It’s this that made guessing distance by pre-focusing tricky, but I suspect with time this would get easier.
So instead of pre-focusing, I had to take advantage of the Leica M10-P’s zoom and focus peaking – this was fine, but it slowed me down, which isn’t ideal when your about 20cm from someone else’s face. This all said, everyone seemed to get on board with how I was entertaining myself making their faces look all distorted and weird. Conventional portraiture this certain is not, but I am more than pleased with the outcome.
A bit of camera porn was a given on a photo walk too…
Later on in the evening, the TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye lens was great for capturing the atmosphere of the event too. I’m not sure I would use a lens like this to photograph an event professionally, but I could definitely see me using this lens for this sort of thing again. It was undeniably fun, and despite the whakyness, I can’t help but really like the result – and taking them was a lot of fun too, especially after a drink…
Some practical thinking
Ok, so experiences out of the way, time for some practical thoughts on TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. There really is no denying that this lens is highly unconventional. It is designed for a system that – at least until the introduction of the M240 and M10/-P with their live view screens and add-on Visoflex viewfinders – is really quite unsuitable for fisheye photography. As far as I know, there is no optical view finder available for this lens, so short of fudging one out of a door peephole or the like, framing with this lens with most M-Mount cameras is going to be based on guesswork.
Of course, at 11mm, essentially everything in front of you is in frame, so as long as you get the focus right – which again isn’t that hard at anything other than very close focus distances – you can’t really fail just pointing it vaguely in the right direction.
The thing that most obviously lets the TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 fisheye lens down – or at least my particular copy – is the decentered optics. Shooting at f/2.8 it is a little disappointing to see some softness toward the right hand side fo the frame. This isn’t the first time I have seen or heard of this when talking about the new “Artisan/s” brands of lens coming out of China either. Would this put me off buying this lens? I’m not sure. I really do think it would depend on my goals.
So for example, if I was looking for a high-quality fisheye for capturing 360-degree images, or had intentions to use it for interiors or the like, or maybe something for ultra-wide angle shooting for de-fishing… I might look elsewhere. But then, if I was shooting those types of photography, I think I would have already looked elsewhere for the camera too. An SLR would be infinitely easier to shoot for those types of work.
If on the other hand, my intentions were to use if for applications that don’t so much require optical perfection, applications such as taking whacky portraits for eg, I’d probably be more than happy with the outcome here. As apart from a bit of chromatic aberration which was easy to correct in Lightroom, the TTArtisans 11mm f/2.8 did a pretty good job. Colours and contrast are great, it seems quite flare resistant (though I should add, I’ve not tested it properly for flare yet)… And really, if I wanted edge to edge sharpness, I can just stop down a bit to f/5.6. Of course, this does come from someone who is perhaps a little more forgiving of optics than many seem to be these days, so your mileage might vary… as indeed might the copies of this lens when it comes to their optics.
So yeah, a potentially optically imperfect fisheye lens designed to mount to a camera system that’s arguably almost entirely unsuitable for fisheye photography. Sound pointless? Well, maybe, but if I’ve not made it clear already, I have had a lot of fun with this lens so far.
You don’t have to take my word for it either, everyone at the photowalk saw how much I was enjoying myself… and actually, many of them were apparently really quite enamoured with it too. Like anything in photography though, how useful this lens is in practice is going to come down to the individual photographer. But, the real point is, until recently, there was no 11mm f/2.8 fisheye lens in M-Mount… there is now! The TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 Fisheye might be imperfect, bonkers and really quite niche, but as an M-Mount photographer, I’m a lot more pleased it exists than I expected to be!
You can find a review of the other currently available TTArtisan lens, the 35mm f/1.4 here.
I also have both of the lenses – and the forthcoming 21mm f/1.5 listed in the shop here