7artisans 50mm f1.1 - Affordable Noctilux, or No Luck?
Is it too good to be true? A cheap M mount lens that goes all the way to f1.1? Does the 7Artisans 50mm lens belongs in the bargain bin or on your camera?
From what I have been reading on forums and reviews sites, people either think this lens is brilliant OR the most expensive paper weight money can buy. Leica snobs in particular have no concept that anything worth less than 2000 dollars could be a decent lens. I’m neither a snob, nor do I have 2000 dollars to spend on a Summicron, so that’s why I bought this- as an affordable alternative. So should have kept my receipt? As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating- so let’s test!
Me and Anna took it out for a stroll to the nightmarkets in Taipei. Using only the ambient light of the street and a hot shoe mounted LED box on my Leica M-D typ262, I shot all of these at either f1.1 or f1.4 to really see what it could do:
After checking all the shots out in Lightroom, I am really surprised at the quality of this lens. At 1.1, the image is definitely not as sharp as what I’m used to, but it has a really beautiful and distinct look to it. There is a character to this lens that reminds me of an old Russian Helios or a Petzval, and the swirly Bokeh it renders is very pleasing to my eyes. Not just in the images, but its construction, with its smooth focus and non clicked aperture is reminiscent of a handmade lens full of character.
Another pleasant surprise was how much I prefer the rubber focus tab to metal. Not only do I find it more comfortable, but by being able to stick it wherever I wanted I have been able to put this on the right-hand side of my lens so that I can almost focus single-handedly! Something that is impossible for me with the Summicron 35.
In the day or afternoon light, it gains sharpness as you stop down. Shooting at f16 or f8 it is an excellent for street zone focusing:
This lens, like all high aperture lenses on a rangefinder, takes some getting used. As tempting as it is to slide over to the highest aperture, the best results can really be obtained around f2 downwards.
So don’t believe the naysayers, if you own a Leica or even a Sony with an adapter this is an excellent choice for an affordable nifty fifty. Even if you already have a Summicron for this price, it’s useful tool to shoot in low light with. Compared to a Noctilux, it’s much light, much smaller and will not cause an emotional breakdown if you drop or lose it.
N.B- This is the second time I have done this test, as on the first attempt I had not calibrated my lens focus properly and all my shots focus were completely off. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you make sure you use the focus checker out of the box and adjust it accurately. This isn’t hard to do unless you have a film camera- so make sure you can borrow a digital M if you’re planning on shooting 35mm with it. Otherwise, your impressions may be it is indeed, about as useful as a cat flap in an elephant house.