TTArtisan is a new Chinese brand that are apparently planning on producing several high quality Leica M mount lenses, with the first one being this, the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 ASPH.
Announced at 380USD which is less than the huge and sharp 7Artisans 28mm 1.4, I was wondering how this new lens would perform. So I bought one as soon as it was available for purchasing. The shipping was performed in 48h, with great communication from the TTArtisan team. I was so happy to receive this lens as I had sold my Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH a few months ago and was seriously regretting it…
The lens I am presenting below is among the first produced, so I suppose the final mass produced version may differ a bit.
The TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 is amazingly built. I would say it’s not up to Leica standards, but is surely as good as the Voigtlander lenses. The focus ring is buttery smooth, aperture ring is clicky and the finish is excellent. It is quite evident that TTArtisan tried to match the Leica design and so I have to admit it will be a perfect match with any contemporary Leica camera.
I love the fact that the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 hood is included and fixed with the lens. No need to wonder if it is worth buying or not… because it’s here and is compact enough. With the hood, this lens is nearly the same size than the Leica Summilux 35 1.4 ASPH. At 49mm, the filter diameter is slightly bigger than the 46mm standard. The finder blockage is thus quite well controlled and won’t disturb you more than any other modern 35 f/1.4 lens.
One thing bothered me about the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 is that the infinity hard stop of this lens actually makes my rangefinder go a past the alignment when aiming at far objects… So far I have not noticed any impact on my actual pictures.
The optical formula of the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 is quite different from any 35mm lens I have seen before. Neither an ultron, nor a distagon… I think they came up with their own design, 8 elements in 7 groups with one aspherical element.
As a devoted film shooter, I tried the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 lens on my Leica M6 with some Tri-X and Portra 400. I scanned all my 135 negatives with my trusty Pakon f135+. The only adjustments made to the pictures are setting black and white points.
Being an f/1.4 lens and costing less than 400USD, I wasn’t expecting much regarding sharpness wide open from the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4. I have to say that I am impressed! This lens renders really nice wide open. I don’t chart-test my lenses but according to my real life pictures, this piece of glass has more sharpness wide open than needed (using film!). Center and in focus regions are plenty sharp and contrasty. The separation is very good and the details render nicely. I noticed a tad of barrel distortion, but it will never bother you as long as you don’t regularly shoot straight geometric shapes. Vignetting is well present but not worse than the Summilux lens.
The bokeh you can get out of thE TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 lens is particularly good. Compared with my old Summilux scans, it seems that the bokeh blends a tad more gently and highlights have less defined contours. No onion ring there. It also produces a bit of swirl which gives some unique character, both modern and vintage. Lovely!
Closed-down the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 lens a bit (f/4) and you will have tack sharp images from corner to corner, free from any vignetting and very well balanced. I think the aspherical lens is doing its job here. Speaking of contrast I would rate this as a medium-to-high contrast lens. Wide open, it has less micro contrast than the Leica alternative, but from f/2.8 you won’t see much difference. Flaring hasn’t been an issue for me. Direct hard light points at night might cause some flaring but it never happened to me.
Summarised Pros and Cons
- Well built
- Great IQ
- Fixed hood
- Size (yes, just like the Summilux, I find its size to be the limit of what I can stand bringing along with me all day long in the streets)
- Rangefinder infinity alignment (but may be just my copy)
- The big white TT Artisan logo on the front cap. A simple emboss would have been way nicer!
Sharpness wise, lenses like CV 35mm f/1.2 vII or ZM 35mm f/1.4 may be sharper than the TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4, but at a price point that is at least double compared to this one. With smaller lenses like the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 classic, the price may be similar when bought second hand, but sharpness won’t be as good there. The Voigtlander lens is far more compact though, and may fill other needs! I think having both may be great to cover every situation… And I think this is what I am going to do…
The TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 is a very efficient lens and I like the price:performance ratio it provides. The fact that I am actually not babying it too much while in the streets is quite liberating too!
TTArtisan really came up with a very nice piece of glass that is making me very impatient for their upcoming lenses (21mm f1.5, my favorite focal length!). It is a very exciting period of time as the market is finally opening to a whole new set of manufacturers. These are very serious opponents to brands like Voigtlander and even Zeiss lenses. I think Leica glass is still quite above the lot of them, by quite a margin, but considered the price difference, I can only encourage people like me to try this lens and make their own opinion about it. It may be just fine depending on your usage and type of photography.
I suspect the little problem I have with infinity setting may only be caused by the fact that this is a very early production sample and I guess this wouldn’t appear that much in the final production stage as it is the first time I have encountered such problem. Although, TTArtisan team confirmed to me all pre-production samples do have this problem.
Personally, I would certainly use this lens for serious work as wedding or reportage. I just can’t wait to put this lens on a digital M and see a little bit further how this lens would perform…
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