This post was originally posted in German on Qimago.de – that post can be found here – 7Artisans / DJ Optical 50mm F/1.1 – Das Lichtwunder für Leica M
When I first looked at the 7Artisans 5mm f/1.1 specs I asked myself if this could be a kind of ‘everyman’s Noctilux’. But hand in hand with this question comes the scepticism. Is it really possible? I think the “Made in China“ mark is enough for many people to sneer at a product like this.
But, seriously, why?? In the Seventies many things coming from Japan were regarded as “lower quality” (speaking of photo industry, that is). Quality came from somewhere else, at least in the minds of many people.
And today? Fujfilm, Sony, Canon and Nikon… the major brands in photography business are all from Japan. In APS-C and full frame at least, these brands have the major market shares. In medium format there are other big players around, sure. But here Fujifilm made a huge leap forward with their GFX50s (and don’t forget Pentax! ???? )
Of course, there was a steep learning curve for the Japanese brands. My father bought a Canon F-1 back in the day and the camera still works fine. (And every now and then you could even use it as a hammer…) In the last years I had a lot of good experiences with “Made in China” so maybe there is a change there similar to the Japanese brands?
When I was looking for ways to get my hands on a 7Artisans 50mm lens I found Hamish Gill and his 35mmc blog. This was a little funny for me, because some years back I was a regular reader of his blog due to his work with film and (mostly?) Leica.
In the UK and Europe he is selling the 50m f/1.1 (and soon the 35mm as well) for Leica M-mount in his shop. Actually this made me even more curious about this lens than before. Hamish doesn’t seem like he would give his name/blog to a product he isn’t convinced about. When I contacted him, it took us just a few messages and a 50mm was on it’s way from the UK to me. So, many thanks to Hamish for lending me a lens for a review.
Now back to the lens itself: Is the 7Artisans 50m f1.1 a Noctilux for everyone else?
When I first held the 50mm in my hands I was impressed by the build quality. The focus ring is just right. Not to strongly damped. The aperture ring is clickless – which I personally don’t like too much. For videographers this is an advantage, I guess.
The aperture ring is a bit more damped than the focus ring so that you won’t change the aperture accidentally.
Size and weight are fine as well, and bear in mind I’m someone who is won’t use a Zeiss Distagon ZM 35m f1.4 with his Leica M10.
You will find an aperture scale and a distance scale in feet and meters. Chosing red for the feet scale gives the lens a bit more Leica feeling.
I very much like it that the glass comes 6-bit coded. It’s not too difficult to attach coding to non-Leica glass, but I heard some horror stories about glue getting into camera bodies and such. Maybe this is just story telling but it’s no issue here as when you mount the lens, the camera recognises it as a 50mm Noctilux.
I needed some getting used to the non-linearity of the aperture scale. While changing from f1.1 to f1.4 is a turn of about 1cm to f2 it is about 8mm and from f5.6 to f8 it is just 2mm. These days this is a bit uncommon, while in long gone times it was a common feature.
Since I haven’t had the opportunity to work with a Leica Noctilux I can just guess possible differences between it and the 7Artisans.
Compared to the Leica alternative the 7Artisans 50mm has a closer minimum distance – 0.7m. The Leica sports a 1m limitation here. Very often even 0.7m is too far away for my taste so I am glad that the 50mm 1.1 does not use the same minimum distance as, say, a Zeiss 50mm f1.5 Sonnar. As far as I know the 7Artisans lens is based on a Sonnar and most M-mount Sonnars that I know of have 1m as a minimum distance. But now I reach a point of half-knowledge, so I won’t delve into that any further.
What I really like is the fact, that there is a little screwdriver included in the package to adjust the lens for the rangefinder of your Leica. There are also instructions included how to go about adjusting it.
Another nice point is the lens cap. Yeah, so simple, but it helps a lot: It sits tight and you won’t lose it too easily.
What I don’t like about the lens is the marking for mounting the lens… There’s none! Leica, Voigtländer, Zeiss, Handevision – they all have markings for easily finding the right spot. Not so the 7Artisans. Why? Shooting in sometimes hectic situations this is a bit unnerving.
A focus tab is included in the package, which is a nice trait. You can mount it yourself and while I am not a fan of these, I know that there are a lot of people that make a point of these.
When I first saw the price and the „Made in China“ badge, I thought: „No. Non o, this won’t be any good.“ But now, thinking of the first part of my writing here and after seeing the first shots with this lens… Why did I think this in the first place?
First things first: this is no lens for pixelpeepers and nothing for sharpness freaks that look for absolute sharpness with a wide open lens. I would recommend this glass to anyone looking for something special – character.
Wide open the lens is quite soft, already getting sharper and more contrasty by f/1.4. Towards the edges of the frame this gets better around f/4 to f/5.6. In the extreme corners it is never really sharp, I think. At least I found a little smearing in the corners even at f8. But anyways personally I don’t look for that in a f/1.1 glass. Those who want a no compromise sharp glass, look at the fantastic 50mm f/2 Zeiss Planar ZM.
An f/1.1 glass I want to use wide open or at least not much stopped down. I won’t use it for landscapes where you really need sharp edges and corners. An f/1.1 glass is just stopped down when really needed. At least I use it that way. The question is, will the 7Artisans still satisfy me in that respect?!
Of course, with a glass like that you need to look at the quality of it’s Bokeh. Here I have to say: I like it very much! Lights in bokeh are really nice and bubbly. What I find quite interesting is that the bokeh somehow sucks you into the image. I don’t know how to describe it properly. But with bokeh it is like with personal things in life: matters of taste.
At f1.1 you will find chroma in contrasty situations, but well, this is nothing surprising. Still chroma is better controlled than in the Ibelux 40mm f0.85 for Fuji X-mount. With a good RAW-converter this is a matter of a few clicks, nothing to worry about too much.
There is vignetting. And not just a bit. But for me this is just right, I like a little vignetting in my images and sometimes I add it in post- now I don’t need it in my workflow any more.
About sharpness you can either write very much or next to nothing – either a lens is sharp or not… When working with an f/1.1 lens you have to remember that the combination of 50mm, f1.1 and, say, 1,5m to your subject will result in a veeeeeerrrrryyy thin layer that is in-focus. So the first difficulty lies in finding the right spot to focus on. When you found that, make yourself comfortable with a very thin sharpness layer. So when you zoom into your pictures at 400% (exaggeration… ???? ) you won’t find many sharp pixels. This is just physics and even a 10000€ glass will not prevent you from this.
It is a question of sensefulness wether to magnify your pictures to look for absolute sharpness or to let the image have an impression on you. Sharpness is not everything and those who like to work at f/1.1 – f/1.4 should be not too hard on their equipment, really. In the end it is the whole image that should work. With the 7Artisans 50mm you can get really good and sharp results shooting wide open, but usually this will be with immobile objects.
Some more photos
I really like the 50mm f/1.1!
- Good build quality
- Small in size and weight given it is quite a fast lens
- A very fast lens indeed.
- Leica coding
- Adjusting by user is possible
- Not blocking the viewfinder too much
- Good lens cap
- Perfect price!
- Really soft wide open
- Clickless aperture
- Strange (to me) aperture control
- No mount marking
- No hood mounts – you can only use screw-in hoods.
Now, is the 7Artisans an everyman’s Noctilux? Frankly, I don’t know. (because I don’t know the Noctilux in person.) What I can say, I like the results of the 7Artisans 50mm f1.1 very much. With time and patience I even like to work at f/1.1. From f/1.4 on it is really good. Will I stop down it further? Seldom. Of course this would seem like a one-trick-pony, but you can stop it down if you like and of course you get clean and sharp images at f/8. I also like the bokeh very much – nice bubbles for sure! And not to forget, touch and feel is really top notch.
I ended up buying the 50mm f/1.1, as really, I didn’t want to let it go. Thanks Hamish for selling it! ????
You can buy the 50mm f/1.1 here
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