Welcome to the most recent episode of blogging through the madness. My better half thanks wordpress because if it were not for this blog she would have to withstand my ramblings. So along with being therapeutuc it is a public service to her as well.
Not everyone gets manual focus prime lenses. Many of us have been there.
What am I talking about? Dealing with the general populous spoiled by AF and zoom resulting in sprained eye socket muscles due to over zealous eye roll. Not following? Here is one for instance plucked directly from my own experience word for word as best I can remember it.
Them: Nice set up. I am into cameras. Can I check it out?
Me: Sure. <As I am handing over some manner of manual focus ridiculous aperture lens.> It is a pretty good manual focus prime.
Them: Got you. <Looks through viewfinder then looks at lens.> How do you zoom it in?
Me: Like I mentioned, it is a pri…
Them: <Half pressing shutter.> Why isn’t it focusing?
Me: <Fighting my pupil’s attempted quick ascent upwards into the back regions of my eye socket.> Yeah. Hand that back…
The Lord is still working on me.
With the forward march of technology not everyone gets manual focus prime lenses. I see their point. There are very good zoom lenses that offer great convenience and value. The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 comes to mind.
While it used to be true that optical excellence was reserved for prime lenses that is not the case nowadays. Even Sony’s 28-70mm kit zoom was good enough to use for fun and formal shoots.
So why not use zoom lenses like these or something like them all of the time some might logically ask? Welp:
Logic and photography often do not share space in my universe. While the Tamron makes an excellent argument for AF and zoom capabilities it is more of a “when I do not know what I will face” and “I really just need to get the shot” tool rather than a tool for when I am feeling a bit artsy fartsy. For instance:
- Aperture. Even the best zooms typically top out at f/2.8. While respectable and matches that of many good prime lenses, primes offer even brighter apertures, especially manual focus ones. While one can now commonly find reasonably priced AF prime lenses up to f/1.4 if one wants to go even brighter manual primes are the way. This means images in the lowest light with surreal DOF are possible.
- Sharp. Generally speaking, being one focal length trick ponies, prime lenses are able to create sharper images. There are zoom exceptions but they are also typically much larger, heavier, and costlier. If one wants a sharp reasonably sized package ditching a variable focal length and AF is the way to go.
- Vintage look real or replicated. On the flip side of sharp you have your character lenses. While technically proficient I have yet to encounter a zoom lens that offers any character. And while some are perhaps not sharp pixel peeping darlings they offer character out the whazoo (technical term). There is a reason re-issued vintage lens designs are a thing. One vintage lens that immediately comes to mind is the wonderful swirly bokeh machine Helios 44-2 that cost all of less than $50.
- The sport of it. Hard for me to explain but I enjoy manually focusing on my own time. I am not alone. There is a reason modern Leica M bodies fetch used off lease Buick asking prices. But you can have AF and MF with pre AF lenses nowadays thanks to some dark magic, but more on that later. There is just something very satisfying about seeing a scene, swinging up your camera, then quickly framing and focusing your shot and successfully capturing a moment.
- MF subject accuracy. You read that right. Even the best AF has to try and predict what you intend to focus on. I love the dependability of Sony AF but the scene above might prove a challenge. For starters the light was very low and even then the camera may have selected the purse or patterned shirt in the foreground. Selecting an AF point and then focusing would have taken longer and this particular moment would have been missed. Focus and recompose with such a thin DOF might have proven problematic. Plus there is the whole DIY focus feeling of accomplishment missing in so many things today (<ahem> Honest to goodness three pedal manual shift cars I actually want to drive.).
- Value. Sure you can spend a fortune for a MF lens with the right name on it, but there are great savings to be had if you are willing to go vintage. For a brand specific example while a new manual focus Zeiss 50mm f/2 lens for Sony cost $809 I picked up an excellent Contax Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 SLR lens (photo of glasses above) for well less than $100 and it has performed spectacularly adapted with digital and with film. The same can be done with other storied brands like Leica. An old 90mm Leica lens did quite well for another example.
- Analog and digital flexibility. AF lenses can only be used with the mount they were built for. The same can be said for many modern MF lenses. This is why I very rarely buy modern mirrorless mount MF lenses. While some MF lenses are chipped to provide the camera with MF aid information and a bit of EXIF data this convenience removes my favorite MF lens perk. Near unending adaptability. An old SLR or rangefinder lens can be used on any mirrorless camera with an adapter along with the film SLR or rangefinder they were originally intended for.
- MF to get AF. Or the TECHART effect. Seems nonsensical, especially after my prattling on about the perks of MF above, but I will explain.
So why all of this talk about decidedly non 7Artisans lenses? How did I get to here?
Let’s start with that last bullet above because that is what started it all.
As I was saying MF to get AF. Let us use the aforementioned Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 as an example. First off I do like the Mitakon and have owned a couple of other Mitakons in the past (Exhibit A and B). So when I last went back to Sony I considered getting this lens again. But since I had the Mitakon the last time around 7Artisans released their M Mount 50mm f/1.1. Comparing the two:
- Size and weight. Mitakon is rather large and front heavy which did not balance well on a Sony body. The 7Artisans was significantly smaller (60 x 49 mm vs 73.3 x 83.5 mm [diameter x length]) and lighter (400g vs 720g).
- Build quality. Even though heavy and all metal the lens literally had a few screws loose which had to be checked from time to time. I see Mitakon has released a version III since so perhaps that has been addressed. While smaller and lighter the 7Artisans is also all metal and glass but has no such build issues.
- Value. While close enough in spec for my purposes (f/0.95 vs f/1.1) the 7Artisans is over $300 less expensive than the Mitakon at $349.
- Mount versatility. Since the Mitakon is a Sony FE mount lens that is it. No other camera mount options available. With its M Mount I can use the 7Artisan on any mirrorless camera as well as an M Mount camera. For example:
- Macro versatility. M Mount lenses are not typically known for their close focusing capabilities with the exception of cases like the Leica macro goggle adapter I tried out on an M3 I had at the time (picture below and gallery here). But if you use a close focus adapter you can add a bit of macro to near any M Mount lens.
- AF versatility. As mentioned earlier adding a TECHART brings usable AF to near any M Mount lens. And since the mount focuses with the lens at infinity you can focus the lens in for close focus here also.
And once I had the 7Artisans there was no looking back. As I tried each 7Artisans lens I found that they each had their own personalities. Different lens traits across a line up can be seen as a disadvantage, but 7Artisans makes good use of this offering different looks with each lens. The only consistency is in their reasonable pricing. I have listed three of these lenses previously, and I will start with those in order of purchase, but two have been added since then. Partially a product of a lot of pandemic free time and persistent internet access.
This is the most fun lens of the bunch. Have even owned the silver version back when I had a Bessa R2. Yes, I bought a lens to match a camera’s switchgear. What of it?
It is a great low light option digital or film.
I really like the warm colors that this lens produces.
Sharp enough with nice subject isolation even wide open.
Settles down and behaves itself when you stop it down to f/2 or so (aperture comparison gallery here) and sharpens up nicely (What fun is that?). But open it up for some really fun flare and subject isolated shots. Even if a hood would help I would not use it. I have other lenses for that.
Having had fun with the 50mm f/1.1 my next choice was the more sensible 35mm f/2. Got this largely to pair with the small and buttoned down Leica CL. This lens resembled and has a similar spec as the era correct Minolta Rokkor 40 mm f/2 and comes in at almost $200 less new at $288 than the Rokkor used. After running it through its film and digital paces this is a no brainer in my book. More detail in the link above but I cannot find a single down side of this lens. It is one of the best film lenses I have ever used and it is well behaved at any aperture. Here are a few samples.
This is an interesting lens. There are actually two versions. Both M Mount but one specialized for M Mount sensors and one for Sony FE sensors and mirrorless cameras in general. More detail is provided in this article, but the short story is that a lens designed to accommodate Leica and Sony lenses would have required a lens larger than they wanted to build. Making two versions optimized for each sensor allowed them to keep the lens small and optimize performance for a wide angle lens across the frame. Brilliant. And the time and thought put into the lens is apparent in use and the build. The 50mm has a fine build and the 35mm is even better, but the 28mm is on another level. I am very pleased with this lens. The question of how this compares to the almost 15 times more expensive spec variant is a moot one. Those looking at that lens are not cross shopping this lens. They want a Leica lens and more power to them. For those of us unable or unwilling to spend that amount I appreciate 7Artisans making this 28mm. At $499 for either version it is a great value. And I have tested it with the Leica CL and it performs just fine with film. Here are some sample shots.
Fought it for as long as I could but I have been so happy with 7Artisans so far that this lens was inevitable. I would love to have the Leica variant of this lens, but that is not a fiscal possibility at more than $14,000. I think it is great that 7Artisans offers this $449 option. This lens follows the excellent build and aesthetics of the 28mm f/1.4.
While having fewer elements in the same amount of groups it is surprising to me that this lens in lighter and smaller but still contains 13 aperture blades instead of the Leica’s 11. Clearly the Leica lens will offer superior performance, but at over 31 times as much I am good. And like the 28mm I have no complaints with the 75mm for film or digital. I have yet to identify any optical downsides to this lens. It does well in low light, has pleasing bokeh, is sharp, has great colors, and have not witnessed any flare issues even without a hood. It works fine with the TECHART AF adapter, but for some reason I prefer to manual focus this lens om digital. It is a pleasing image to see in the EVF or on the back screen while focusing.
Sidebar: I have thought long and hard about buying a digital Leica and have come close to initiating a gear trade more than once, but two things stop me. 1) Though a bit of a weird way of getting there I do rather enjoy AF through TECHART which is only available on Sony presently and 2) I tend to shoot wide aperture glass wide open and I have read that due to the thin depth of field you will need to either a) potentially close down the aperture which defeats the purpose of shooting with these lenses or b) Get a Leica Visoflex EVF adapter which to me is little different than using the Sony. I still want a Leica of course but I am getting on more than fine in the meantime.
This is the one 7Artisans odd duck in my grouping. An E mount instead of an M Mount. Why?
- It costs $139.
- I have an M Mount wide angle lens used for film and digital already so I have little interest in adding an M Mount fisheye to go along with it. TTArtisans has added an intriguing affordable M Mount option also, but I am good.
- The small size while providing an 11.25mm full frame equivalent with an f/2.8 aperture is small and a perfect fit for crop Sony bodies.
- AF is nearly pointless for a fisheye lens so no need for the added size and weight of a TECHART adapter.
- Close focus is not a concern with a fisheye lens since it already focuses so closely.
- f/2.8 is impressive for such a light, small, and affordable lens.
- Using the Lightroom Rokinon 7.5mm fisheye lens profile creates a rectilinear image.
I do not usually shoot fisheye very often but I have been very pleased with the results. Seems sharp across the frame with little vignetting I can see, and great colors.
And that about does it.
And all of these lenses came with nice packaging, rear cap, and very nice metal front lens caps. All of the M lenses came with adjustment chart and kit but all seem to focus fine out of the box on my rangefinders.
I am very happy with these lenses. Well done 7Artisans.