I am a published documentary photographer. (www.jeremyrata.com) and have a lifestyle and product photographic business (www.hospitalityphotographic.com). For my business I use Nikon, for my documentary work I have been using Leica for over 12 years starting off with an MP transcending to all their digital offerings up to my current camera the M10. I love them. The lenses I currently use are Leica’s 18mm Super Elmar, 28mm Summicron, and the 35mm & 50mm Summiluxes.
In 2010 I did a book on Afghanistan using an M8.2 with the Leica 28mm F2 ASPH and 50mm F1.4 ASPH lenses. It’s safe to say I love all things Leica and nothing I write here changes that.
7Artisans – Why not before?
Being a Leica user can be controversial, mainly down to the cost of their products and what you can get from them versus similar but less expensive equipment. I hear the words ‘rich mans toy’ are uttered more than any others. I am not a millionaire but choose to work hard and save for the best I can afford. Fuji comes closest to Leica for me and I’m always tempted by them, even though their 35mm cameras are ASP-C sensors. The latest Fuji GX-R for instance is a very interesting camera but it is Medium Format and appears to be quite slow.
Simply put my reason for using Leica has been down to three things; I like the simple form, the functionality and the quality, particularly that of their lenses.
I have always felt that if you buy a brand, then buy their lenses and accessories too. They are made by people with a vested interest so it makes sense to stick with them. I’ve tried out Zeiss and Voigtlander on my Leicas but not bought them as the value for money imperative has never been strong enough in relation to the results.
7Artisans have made me think about that.
I’d been lusting after Leica’s 50mm f0.95 and 28mm F1.4 for a while now but the performance over my current versions just didn’t quite tip me into taking out a loan to get them. I read about the 7artisans 50mm f1.1 by chance on the Leica Rumours website one day and I thought that it is just cheap enough to have some fun. The 7Artisans lenses seemed like a welcome diversion. Who doesn’t love a bit of retro softness? I didn’t need it and certainly didn’t think I’d use it much. Initially I looked on eBay and then just before I bought I read an article by 35mmc about their latest lens the 28mm f/1.4.
So I contacted Hamish and bought them. The service and price I got from Hamish was better than any eBay deal, even more so when you take into account that I’m VAT registered.
The lenses themselves are quite extraordinary. My expectations were relatively low when I ordered them, I expected them to be a bit cheap in construction and possibly not stellar performers, I figured they might be useful as an everyday user that I didn’t have to worry about if I knocked them about, so why not?
I could not have been more wrong.
7Artisans 50mm F1.1 (in silver)
Immediate impression was Wow! It is very solidly built, quite heavy and looks so much like a Leica lens that you have to really look to notice the difference. You could easily pass it off as a Leica lens if you are that way inclined.
The aperture ring has no click stops, which I actually like, but if you’ve never encountered this then it takes some getting used to. Out of the box I had to calibrate it for focus as it is somewhat off, but this is a simple and fun operation, the tools for which are included in the very neat box. Some say it’s not very sharp wide open, which depending on what you determine as sharp may be true. I found it to be absolutely fine. Tack/pin sharp? Possibly not at its widest aperture on the peripherals but as you will see from my images it is very very good (well I think so at least). Once up to f2 it’s sharp, more than sharp enough than for anyone but the sternest critic.
The bokeh is not as creamy smooth as a Noctilux or a Summilux but it’s not offensive either. I have a Canon L39 screw mount F1.2 (which I use for my Leica 111f) which is pretty offensive on the bokeh front, so it is way nicer than that lens (which by the way costs nearly double on eBay). It is susceptible to flare, which I happen to really love. So, if you don’t like flare then don’t shoot into the light. Colour rendition is superb, Chromatic aberrations are no worse than any other competitor lens, but definitely more pronounced than a Noctilux or Summilux. All curable to a certain extent in Photoshop. There is noticeable vignetting at the 1.1 &1.4 apertures but this gets less noticeable as you stop down.
- Beautifully built
- Nearly indistinguishable from a genuine Leica lens at first glance
- Ridiculously cheap
- Bokeh is not so smooth as to be incredible
- No lens hood (for when you don’t want flare)
- Holes in the body that will attract dirt
- Will probably need recalibration on a regular basis. (Not certain of that though, I’ve had mine since December 2018 and it’s still on point)
All of these photos were taken with the Leica M10 and the 7artisans 50mm at f/1.1, processed in Capture one with no further edits in Photoshop
Brief thoughts on the 7Artisans 28mm f1.4 (original version)
This lens is nearly twice the price of the 50. Same impression as the 50 when you take it out of the box. Wow! It is incredibly well built. This lens aperture ring has click stops though. Like the 50 it required calibrating. It’s a heavy and long beast compared to my 28mm Summicron, so it is not a discreet lens and it intrudes into the viewfinder. At 1.4 this lens displays a weird flare ring when shot into the light which I happen to like but you could be forgiven for not liking it as it is a halo. If that concerns you then you can relax, the latest iteration has been changed to eliminate this characteristic. There is some vignetting at the widest apertures but it disappears as you stop down.
In the field it is very very good. It is not soft and it is very contrasty. Wide open it performs brilliantly, even at the peripherals it is acceptably sharp, as you stop down it gets even sharper. As a low light 28 it offers incredible value, particularly when you realise that its Leica equivalent is over £4K more. Like the 50 colour rendition is superb and chromatic aberrations are relatively well controlled. This is a seriously good lens and offers remarkable value for money.
- Unusual Flare characteristic when shot into the light source wide open
- Beautifully built
- No lens hood
- Unusual Flare characteristic when shot into the light source wide open
- Not quite as similar to its Leica equivalent
- Heavy and long.
7Artisans versus their Leica equivalents – Direct Test for Sharpness
I thought it might be an interesting exercise to take the same shot with a Leica lens and then again with a 7Artisans lens to see what they look like. Below are the results. All Images are straight out of the camera and have no adjustments in Photoshop. These are highly unscientific (in line with this entire review) but do demonstrate what an everyday user would encounter.
I neither have the time or interest to do all those detailed tests some people do as they just do not have any relevance to the way I shoot. I’m not really interested in scale charts and barrel distortion graphs. I just want to know how does it compare in reality when I’m out and about bothering people with my camera. There are no 100 percent full res Tiffs for you to look at on Flickr, just these but they do give you an idea.
The 7 Artisans are both faster lenses by 1 F-stop, so at full wide open are definitely softer than the Leicas, but at the equivalent F-stop the difference is far less pronounced. In everyday shooting I wonder how much difference a good photographer would notice.
And that in essence is my point really. If you are a photographer for whom viewing images at over 100% on a screen and prints at A2 plus is what floats your boat then the 7Artisans lenses may not be for you.
Test Images 7Artisans 28mm f1.4 v Leica Summicron 28mm F2 ASPH
Test Images 7Artisans 50mm f1.1 v Leica Summilux 50mm F1.4 ASPH
Sharpness is a much talked about trait and I am not convinced that everyone knows what it means when you put it in context. I think people are way too obsessed with it. These lenses are sharp, not overly so, but definitely sharp enough for the vast majority of users. All the images I have posted are from the 50mm at f/1.1. Judge for yourself. If you are ‘lens wide open sharpness obsessed’ then you might not want to buy these lenses, but you’ll need to be ‘full screen, 100%’ obsessed – in which case good luck with that. When you add to that many people blame the lens for their poor rangefinder focussing skills at wide open apertures you have to be careful when listening to them. The DOF on these lenses is wafer thin at their widest aperture.
Perhaps ask yourself how are people going to view your images? When you are posting on Instagram you will not be able to detect any softness at all. So my advice is think of these lenses as pre-latest versions of their Leica equivalent and you won’t go far wrong. Also remember that extreme sharpness right now is not as cool as it was.
So, let’s be clear, these are not the equal of the very latest Leica lenses but they are excellent alternatives. 7Artisans will not have Leica quaking in their boots and nor should they. Leica’s quality and attention to detail are their hallmarks. But for the price these lenses are incredible value, highly usable and exceptional performers for all but the most demanding situations. I’m just delighted with them and so far. They offer a different old world style and a great addition to my kit.
The fact that I’ve just read the 7Artisans are producing a 75mm F/1.25 leaves me in joyful anticipative state. I’m just hoping I haven’t made a case for Artisans7 increasing their prices…
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