11.04.2021

I bought a TTArtisan Lens. It was really good. So I bought another, cheaper one. It's really good as well.

 

I had always been curious about lenses from a Chinese company called, TTArtisans (with which I have no affiliation and have received nothing in exchange for buying their lenses at full retail price and writing about them--- with no expectation of reward --- other than the cheery comments of my loyal readers). I first noticed them in regards to their M series Leica lens offerings such as their 35mm f1.4 lens in an M mount. I read some reviews and found that most reviewers' experiences  were overwhelmingly positive. But buying an M lens and then adapting it to a different mount seems a bit wasteful since much of the price of an M series lens has to do with machining and calibration the lens cam that works with a roller wheel in M cameras to move the rangefinder while focusing. The mechanism has to be made with precision to make rangefinder focusing accurate enough. 

But none of that applies to a lens that is used on a mirrorless camera which does not use RF focusing. In that case you might want to retain the optical guts and put them into a less costly barrel construction. Let the mirrorless camera do the heavy lifting when it comes to focusing. That's where I left off at my first blush with the company's lenses. 

But then I noticed that TTArtisans introduced a variant of their M series 50mm f1.4 which did away with the rangefinder cam-ing and delivered (ostensibly) the same guts but in a simplified barrel and, joyously, in an L mount. It was about 60% of the price of the RF version. That put the cost at around $235 and into the range of a less painful buying experimentation. So I ordered one from a large camera retailer and it arrived, mounted onto the camera beautifully and worked very well. It's a very fine lens for the money paid. Maybe not as crisp when used wide open, compared to the Lumix 50mm f1.8 but quite usable and by the time we hit the most used apertures (for me) of f2.8 and f4.0 the lens becomes competitive with most of the other good 50mm lenses on the market. 

Since it's built to be manually focused the makers spent time and money making the focusing ring a pleasure to operate. The click stop aperture ring is also a haptic happy spot and clicking between f-stops gives one the sensation of being fully in charge of making art. The lens is small but dense and it boasts ED glass, and enough elements to make a spec sheet addict happy. 

After a few weeks of shooting with that 50mm I started looking around for a 50mm equivalent angle of view lens to use in the same way on the Leica CL camera. That would be a lens with an actual focal length of 35mm. I buzzed through the big vendors online since my local camera store doesn't stock weird lenses; just mainstream stuff. I came across a TTArtisan 35mm f1.4 that only covers up to an APS-C sized sensor. The bonus, once again, was that the lens is available in an L mount configuration which means no adapters. Always a good thing. 

The lens looks a bit strange (see image below) with its barrel that narrows towards the front but it's small and light and cost a whopping $74 at the time of purchase. When the lens arrived I was pleased to find the aperture ring as smooth and authoritative as that on the bigger 50mm. The focusing ring is smooth and well damped. And the lens is all metal.

I put it on the CL and walked around town shooting stuff. It worked well. 

I was hesitant at first to use it at its widest aperture of 1.4 and worked mostly at 2.8 and 4.0. The images were clean and sharp. The color felt a bit "thick" in some of the shots and I think the lens has less color discrimination than some of the best glass I've used. That shows up as more saturated colors and less nuanced shifts between color tones, mostly. It's not a big deal but it is a different look than one gets with a lens designed for brutal acutance and high color discrimination. 

I started taking the small 35mm with me everywhere, mounted on the front of the Leica CL. It's a good match because it keeps the whole package smaller and agile. It's also very low profile. With all this in mind I took the camera with me to a casual, outside dinner at a friend's house. It was around dusk when we settled in to the table. I took a few casual images of B gesturing and talking in her inimitable way and then I took a couple of handheld photographs of the plants and jars decorating the table top. 

Since the light was low and neither the camera nor the lens provide image stabilization I used the maximum aperture of the lens to get to a handhold-able shutter speed and a quiet enough ISO. I snapped a few frames and we moved on to a nice dinner with the camera hanging idly over the arm of my chair. 

A few days later I looked through the files, made a few prints of B for my family albums, and then looked at the frames I'd shot of the table decor. I was struck with two things. First, I love the detail and the rendering of the center plant on the table. I've done a cropped and magnified version of the top photo just above to show of how well the lens (and camera) renders detail. But the second thing I noticed was how pretty the bokeh of the lens is when used this way ( close up and max aperture).  The fall off in focus is very pleasant. It's actually a masterful little lens; especially for the price. 

There are two more TTArtisan lenses I'm interested in and I probably should not write about them here until I've ordered them but I'm still on the fence about whether or not I really want or need them. So what the heck?

One is a 17mm f1.4 which is also APS-C only, and available in the L mount. It's only a bit more expensive than the 35mm f1.4 at $120 but that gets me a bit more wide angle coverage. My "on the fence" pondering is whether or not that would be useful for me given I have the wondrous Panasonic 20-60mm lens which gets me into the wide angle territory, even in a cropped frame. We'll see.

The other TTArtisan lens I am interested in offers even more resistance to purchase. It's the 21mm f1.4. A very fast aperture on a wide angle that also covers full frame and is offered in an L mount version. But, again, most reviewers find the extra speed a bad trade off for sloppy and mushy corner performance and, if you are going to use that lens at f4.0 or 5.6 to fix the corners (but not completely) you'll probably be better off, optically, with that same Panasonic 20-60mm lens. Still, the TTArtisans 21mm is interesting enough (and cheap enough) to perhaps warrant some exploration...

But we're well past the point of "need" and very much sliding down a slope of reckless lens buying. As Ben would say, "Wouldn't you rather just stick that extra cash into an index fund?" Ah, to be so disciplined. He gets it from his mom...