Can a $120 fifty-five millimeter lens made for cropped formats be any good at all? I attempted to get to the bottom of this, and more, with a walk through Austin's downtown.

Mural just off Guadalupe St., across the street from the University of Texas. 
This was shot with the 50mm f2.0 XF WR lens. Getting me in the visual ballpark...

I've been finding my way through the Fuji X system and I kinda hit a wall when it came to shelling out hard currency for the legendary 56mm f1.2 lens in their system. Now, don't get me wrong, I think it probably worth every penny Fuji asks for it and I'm pretty sure it's filled with optical goodness of all kinds, but after acquiring four bodies and six other Fuji lenses in rather short order the thought of sliding out another thousand bucks. plus change for a lens that would have joined two zooms and the 50mm f2.0 XF in the same range, just seemed a bit --- over the top. After all, we're right in the middle of the holidays and occasionally it might be nice if I were to think about getting some nice things for other people and not just for myself. Right?

But I am nothing if not a master of rationalization and compromise and while I couldn't knock myself off the wall of indecision vis-a-vis the pricey Fuji lens I was easily able to justify playing around with a cheaper alternative. One so cheap we could pay for it out of petty cash; should the need to obscure its existence arise... I'd purchased a used Kamlan f1.1 lens and it's fairly fun but it's more a novelty optic than a serious picture taking tool. No, I'd set my sights just a little higher. If I couldn't justify springing for the Fuji lens right now I might settle (for a little while) for a 7Artisans 55mm f1.4 lens for about $120...

I ordered a new one from Amazon.com since my local bricks and mortar store doesn't carry them. The lens came in early last week but its arrival overlapped a busy week of post production, accounting, and elder care, and I could only just put the lens on a body, wave it around and wish I had time to photograph. Today was the first day in a while with an open schedule and I took advantage of that by grabbing the 7Artisans 55mm and the Fuji 55-200mm lens and going for a long walk with the new ( to me ) X-H1 camera. I brought along the Fuji zoom in case I found the cheaper lens uninspiring and wanted something else to play with on the walk.
The 55mm 7Artisans lens is a sweet fit on the smaller bodies. It's dense and feels well made. 
Please note that, like the 25mm f1.8 model the focusing is manual, the f-stop is manually set and the aperture ring is also click less, which makes it nice for video and perfectly fine for photos. 

The 55mm feels like a quality lens and it fit snuggly but smoothly onto the X-H1. On that camera, as with many competitors, you should set the focal length of this lens in the camera menu if you want the best results from the in-body image stabilization. I also enabled the focus peaking which works very well in the X-H1. I'm happy with the focus of everything except in images where I focused wide open and then stopped down. There's a profound focus shift so you are much better off stopping down to your desired f-stop before focusing. Since there is no communication between the lens and the camera body you'll need to use aperture priority or fully manual exposure for best exposure control. If you are using focus peaking don't forget to set the focus selector to manual. When set this way the focus peaking color cues are only visible when you half press the shutter release. When you keep your finger off you can see the frame without the peaking overlays. 

The image just above and right below are both done with the 50mm f2.0. The images were already on the memory card when I started today's walk and I thought they'd make nice comparison frames. The one just below was taken at f2.2 and I find the center portion of the frame nicely sharp. Curious too about the Octopus Sausage at Abel's Restaurant.... 

No lens review would be complete without a self-portrait so here's my handheld
attempt into a mirror. I'm shooting the 7Artisans at f1.4 and ISO 1600. I didn't record the shutter speed but it was fast enough in conjunction with the I.S. to work.

My renewed interest in this lens started last night. We (the nuclear family) were decorating our little Christmas tree when I grabbed the camera to take a few shots of Ben putting ornaments on. 
The light was low. It all came from the strands of LED lights on the tree. I used the lens wide open and used ISO 6400 to get a clean shot. I should have turned the noise reduction down a couple of stops. I'd rather have the noise than the plasticky skin tones...

Walking toward the Graffiti Wall today I shot a few frames along the way. The one above was shot at f4.0 and on the original, when I zoom in, I can see the uniform perforations in the white metal strips running vertically on this parking garage. I was surprised at the resolving power of such and inexpensive lens!!! 7Artisans.

I'm very pleased with the color rendering and saturation of the camera and lens in tandem. I'm also happy to see the alert dog just behind the distracted driver in the parked car.

I loved the frames I got with the 55mm, the color seems nicely neutral and once you hit f2.8 and especially 4.0, 5.6 and f8.0 there is little difference in sharpness and contrast between the 7Artisans 55mm and most other lenses in the same focal length range. Later (further down) I shot more stuff in close up and with wide open apertures and some at one stop down from wide open. All are pretty darn good. 

But, after a while I got bored and wanted the flexibility of the longer zoom. I used it on the images just below and I'll let you know in the adjacent copy when I've switched back to the 55mm. For now though I think this is a good set with which to compare two such disparate lenses in one place and from one shoot. 



A very close up shot with the 55mm. f2.0. 

Back to the 55-200mm.


So, at this point in my walk I was bored with the zoom and ready to spend the rest of the day with the 55mm from 7Artisans. I walked by the Texas state capitol building and shot a few frames at f4.0. The Goddess on the top of the dome is nicely sharp and the detail in the building amazed me. So much so that I cropped in and presented a tight crop just underneath to show you the detail.

Cropped detail to show how well the lens holds stuff together.

The images above were done at three different f-stops. They range from f4.0 to f16 but most of the subject is far enough away to be mostly in focus. No big hit from diffraction; less than I expected. 

Here is a mean, unfair and SOOC test: I shot this tight side of a menu with the 55mm wide open and at its closest focus setting. The type in the center looks pretty darn good to me. Oh, yeah, handheld.

Nice, rich color for a $120 fast lens. This (above and below) was at f2.8. 
Nice saturation and sharpness out of camera. 

Same as just above it.

Above and below is another set of comparisons between the full frame and a cropped area from the center to show off sharpness. I have NO issues with the ability of this lens to deliver a sharp image, if you focus correctly and watch your technique.

the final frame was taken at the closest focusing point of the lens and with the lens at f2.8.
It's got good detail and, since this lens is not corrected in camera you can see exactly what 
you (won't) get in terms of chromatic issues and various edge effects. 

My takeaways from a three hour stroll around town is that this lens is wonderfully compact, nicely finished and a delight to shoot with. My time in Lightroom also informs me that the lens is well corrected, very competent from f2.8 onward, and even very usable at f2.0 and f1.4 ( in a pinch). 

You can pay a lot more for a lens. You may find the law of diminishing returns hits pretty quickly. 

For me, this one's a keeper. 

Bought with my own cash. No communication with the maker or seller. You can get more details about the product here:   

If you have a horrible case of insomnia you could benefit from experiencing the show of Ed Ruscha's photographic "work" at the Humanities Research Center at UT....

If you know about Ed Ruscha it's probably because of his big, graphic, super-charged color litho prints of his "Standard Gas Station" drawings. Very graphic. Lots of diagonals. Rich color. One trick ponyistic approach. But what you may not know is that he made lots and lots of very, very boring photographs; mostly in black and white, of very, very boring things and then put them together in small books. The pacing and pairing of images in the books are not helpful in igniting any more interest or curiosity than the prints laid out flat on the walls in perfectly square museum frames. Not even the perfectly cut matts could imbue them with any sort of energy or allure. 

I went to see the show because I'd seen the (non-photographic) big lithographic prints in shows from time to time and wondered what his photography would be like. Hmmm. Imagine putting an old Yashica twin lens camera on the front of a robot and then programming the robot to learn what the least interesting visual construct might be for human beings and then to pursue endless numbers of these images. One book and show contained something like 48 aerial photographs of parking lots attached to stores or office buildings. Ed Ruscha did not take the photographs but instead hired a photographer to do so from a helicopter and then used the images for his combinative works. 

All the parking lots are about the same; mostly oblique shots, all in black and white. All well printed in the square format. None are remotely interesting. None have "hidden messages," stand out features or even a "where's Waldo" spice of antagonism to them. 

Ruscha later applied the same raw talent to Hollywood swimming pools but in this collection stepped outside his decades old comfort zone to create each swimming pool shot in painful 1970's color.

I was so embarrassed. I had gotten good night's sleep the night before I saw the show but I made the mistake of pausing too long in front of a collection of photographs of the fronts of strip mall stores. I must have nodded off around one p.m. and napped (miraculously, standing up like a sleeping horse) for the better part of an hour before a security guard came to see why I had been motionless for so long. He jostled me awake and I ran from the building so as to take no risk that the sheer boredom of the Ruscha show might paralyze me for all time. Having escaped I can only say that it is possible to take the construction of pure boredom and, through relentless manifesto-ing, contrive to make it into an academic art form. 

Rating? As many thumbs down as I could possibly muster. It's not that I have trouble understanding the context or intention for the "works" it's more that I think whoever thought to curate this monstrosity of soul sucking emptiness should be relegated to helping kindergartners learn to nap via art appreciation. This show gives kindling to the conservative republican spirit of despising all modern and academic art. If they ever find out Ruscha got grants to make this stuff all hell will break loose, and then real artists will have an even harder time finding funding or patronage..... 

Skip. Or take a pillow.