The China (Summi) Cron! 7 Artisans 35mm f/2 for under $400 (review) By Casey Cavanaugh

The China (Summi) Cron. 7 Artisans 35mm f/2 for under $400 (review)

By Casey Cavanaugh – Check out his YouTube HERE

Why would someone in their right mind attach a sub-$400 Chinese made M-mount lens to their newly acquired marvel of German engineering adorned with a bright red dot on the front?  This clearly would make no sense. How could something made in China be fit to grace the bayonet mount of this heralded pinnacle of photographic simplicity, design and quality. Surely nothing made in China could match the quality of something made in Germany.

This seems to unfortunately be a prevailing sentiment among many which reaches even further than the Leica fanatics. While there are a decent amount of knockoff and low quality lenses (and stuff in general) coming out of China, it is unfair to assume that nothing being made there can ever be a unique and high quality product. I believe that 7Artisans is a company that truly has a passion for photography and the desire to bring something new and high quality to the market; and with the most recent addition to their M-mount lens lineup, I think they have done just that.

Casey’s Video on the new 35 f/2 from 7 Artisans

Enter the 7Artisans 35mm f/2 lens for Leica M-Mount.  This is 7Artisans’ newest offering and their second in a line of lenses aimed at the Leica crowd.  This is a fully rangefinder coupled 35mm f/2 lens based off of the Sonnar optical formula, complete with an M-mount, hyperfocal distance scale, and focusing tab.  While I don’t think this lens beats or matches a Leica Summicron in quality (which is such an extremely subjective benchmark), I do believe that they have made something extremely compelling which has its place in the photographic world.

The lens has yet to be released but the folks at 7Artisans have told me that the lens is expected to be released sometime in May for a price that will undoubtedly be cheaper than the $400 50mm f/1.1 M-Mount lens they offer.  I was ever so graciously sent a copy of this lens to review but this in no way alters my opinion of the lens or 7Artisans as a company. I’m not afraid of speaking my mind even if someone has given me something to review.

In the short time since I’ve had my video review online, I’ve already had to defend this lens on multiple occasions from people denouncing it as “just another cheap Chinese knockoff”.  I would say that this lens is far from a knock-off. This lens isn’t trying to copy any specific lens and it’s image quality doesn’t really look like a specific lens that exists already.  One of the arguments I keep hearing is that because it uses a Sonnar optical formula, it must be a ripoff of a Zeiss lens. There have been many different iterations of the Sonnar design over the years used in lenses from Nippon Kogaku(Nikon), Canon, Zunow and even Asahi/Pentax.  Even more recently, the Japanese boutique lens designer Miyazaki-san of MS-Optics has used the Sonnar design in his lenses. You’d be hard pressed to find people calling his lenses “Japanese knockoffs” of German lenses. The issue lies with a prejudice towards Chinese products in my opinion.  It seems unfathomable to some people that something from China could be good, let alone excellent, and just forget about it being made from good materials or built well.

Build Quality

That being said, the build quality of this lens is fantastic!  I was quite surprised when I pulled the lens out of the box for the first time and felt its substantial (but not cumbersome) heft.  The lens weighs in at 205g which is 5g heavier than the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 M-Mount lens by comparison. The lens housing is made from anodized aluminum with the internal focusing helical being made of brass (this is where a majority of the weight is coming from).

Focusing is super smooth and the aperture is nice and clicky with a near perfect amount of resistance.  The aperture ring is partially knurled for grip, but isn’t raised up like the 50mm f/1.1 the 7Artisans also offers.  Another difference from the 50mm f/1.1 is that the aperture on the 35mm does indeed have clicked full stops. Another welcomed addition to this lens is the built in focusing tab which I absolutely love.

As far as I’m concerned this lens matches Leica lenses in terms of build quality.  It certainly is just as well built as my 50mm Summicron. CNC machined aluminum is CNC machined aluminum and with their line of M-Mount lenses, 7Artisans subjects them to a higher level of quality control than their other lens offerings.  My copy of the lens fits perfectly onto my Leica M6 with no play or unwanted resistance in the mount whatsoever.

Like the 50mm f/1.1 this lens is coded for use on digital Leicas.

Image Quality

I came into this review expecting a lens that would have passable center sharpness and pretty unusable corners after my review of the 50mm f/1.1, but I was quite pleasantly surprised by the excellent sharpness of this lens.  Not only is the center sharp wide open, but the corners are pretty great as well.  As with any lens it only gets sharper as you start stopping it down. The modern coatings on this lens give it great contrast in normal shooting conditions but it will lack for contrast a little more than some lenses when the lens is flaring.

The bokeh of this lens is actually pretty interesting.  It follows the typical look of Sonnar type lenses where the bokeh tends to flare out and soften near the edges of the bokeh balls on the sides nearest to the edges of the lens.  The lens also displays some Petzval field curvature at certain combinations of subject distance from the lens and background which I find pretty awesome. It really reminds me of the MS-Optical Apoqualia-G 28mm f2 with its interesting field curvature.  This doesn’t happen with every shot but it’s something you can invoke when needed.

Distortion…

The lens also displays some obvious barrel distortion which I also enjoy.  I’m a self-professed anamorphile who loves the unique characteristics of anamorphic lenses.  One of these defining qualities is barrel distortion. The 7Artisans lens is not ruined by this slight distortion but is given a bit more character from it.  This distortion is so easy to correct for in post that if that is your only issue with the lens just fix it in post.

There is also chromatic aberration (CA) present in this lens when shooting extremely high contrast elements such as a portrait with blown out windows in the background, but nothing egregious.  One interesting thing to note is that the CA on this lens sometimes manifests itself as yellow fringing (or at least did in a few of my test shots) which I actually found pretty interesting.

Conclusion

I think this is a fantastic choice for a 35mm lens to throw on your film or digital Leica or any mirrorless camera for that matter.  It’s an awesome first step into M-mount glass that I would not hesitate to recommend to my closest friends. With a price that is expected to be less than $400 its a no-brainer for someone looking for a native m-mount lens.  You will not be disappointed by the results of this lens if you like the images you’ve seen taken with this lens online.

I think 7Artisans have knocked it out of the park with this one and I’m eagerly awaiting their next release.  I for one will have a huge grin on my face when this company (and China as a whole) eventually releases a lens that the Leica community (of which I am a part) will have no choice but to accept as something of equal or greater quality to their beloved lenses.

Lenses are just another tool to achieve your unique perspective in the art of photography and every lens offers a different way of viewing the world through a culmination of its characteristics.  Choose a lens that best fits your unique style. There are no wrong choices, and as far as I’m concerned, you cannot really go wrong with this lens.

Keep an eye out for it in May.

Casey

 

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32 Comments

  1. Mike,

    I agree with you when wishing to purchase a lens near ‘perfect’ as possible.
    However, I think for many ‘Price’ can be a hurdle, I for one am happy to see any inexpensive ‘M’ lens come to market. It allows many people the oportunity to enter what in the end is a very costly enjoyment. Purchases like these (7Artist, Voigtlander,Avenon)eventualy will most likely lead to Leica glass in the end.

    I would much rather a fantastic image with any or all of the defects you mention than a sub par image taken with Technically perfect len obviously.

  2. I have a Sony version of this lens and the 7artisans 50mm f1.1 (M-mount with adapter). Yes those lens aren’t perfect (what is “perfect” anyway??). Use it on Sony A7, I love the cinematic character of both lens. Definitely hard to explain, I just cant (ok maybe just too lazy) emulate the effects of both lens with other lens and post-processing software: The softness, color rendition, out of focus smoothness transition, the bokeh. Its just work and I love it. Definitely will buy the 35mm f2 M-mount version, if I can afford the Leica body, someday.

  3. I have noticed something about Leica users (I used to be one, and I intend to be one again): they are very open to third party lenses on their favourite cameras. Unlike some (some!) DSLR users who have an almost theocratic view against third party lenses. These people talk about the odd bad experience with third-party optics as if they’ve suffered some kind of PTSD, while they ignore the issues with the lenses made by the camera’s hallowed manufacturer.

    This lens might not be for me, but there are lenses for every taste and every budget. There is everything right with that.

    • The cool thing about this lens and this company is that they offer these in M mount for such little money. Some can’t afford a Leica M and a Leica lens, and these are great starter lenses to get a feel for the camera and how it works. So I agree!

    • I agree, but there are Leica users who prescribe to a similar set of ideals. Though many of those who do sample other lenses eventually find what they’ve been missing.

      I’m a Leica user and I use mostly 3rd party lenses.

  4. For history savvy, there was a chinese summicron 35/2 a copy of original german one together with summilux50 and summicron 90 all made in China for their mixclone of M3 and M5 called Red Flag.

  5. Not only this lens, but many very, very cheap lenses from 7artisans are available for different camera mounts. This one is the most expensive. A friend of mine recently bought a 7artisans 25mm for Micro Four Thirds for $51, just for fun. Only the beautiful packaging box was already worth the money. There are many more Chinese brands coming up now. Most lenses lack autofocus, but some look rather sexy. Personally I spend my money on fast Olympus PRO lenses, but these new Chinese companies like 7artisans, Fujian, Z-one, Viltrox, KEFU, Pixco, Qalart, Winotar (my favorite brand name) and many others are great fun to follow.

  6. Love the shots of the cute girl with the Retina IIIc.

    This 35/2 is a Sonnar type lens- which is very uncommon. At some point I’ll have to pick one up and compare with my 1952 J-12 with Zeiss optics in it, a 1943 Biogon. At $55, one of the less expensive wide-angle lenses used on my M9.

  7. I bought a CV 40mm f1.4 for a lower price, and actually impressed by the quality. Should one choose this lens or the 40mmf1.4?

    • What price? This lens doesn’t even have a price yet.

      The CV 40/1.4 is a very cheap lens to be sure, but it isn’t exactly stellar optically. Additionally for M users there are no 40mm frame lines (R3A/M and CL/CLE excluded). Also for M users the 40/1.4 exhibits severe focus shift and considering it isn’t great wide open and needs to be stopped down to f/2-2.8 to start getting good, but exhibits focus shift in this range makes it a tricky lens to use.

      CV 35/1.7 Ultron is a better point of comparison, but the older one isn’t as good a performer as this and the newer one is considerably more expensive.

      The CV 35/2.5 however is an excellent lens and cheap and probably in the same range as this lens.

  8. Every new lens or camera in your setup costs you time and effort just to know how it performs, which are its strengths, weaknesses, etc. When I look at the examples I don´t think that I would invest anything to learn how to use this lens. Not even at 50$. It is just not worth the effort.

    Of course this doesn´t have anything to do with where the equipment was engineered and produced.

  9. “The bokeh of this lens is actually pretty interesting” – the bokey in my eyesis rather strange. ….. the bokeh seen in the pics above is far away from the Leica lenses I own

  10. I hesitate to open a non-photography can of worms, but I’m not sure folks are concerned about the quality of something Chinese, per se. For goodness sake the iphone is made in China. That looks like a high quality lens, and it’s good to have less expensive M compatible lens options. Not every Leicaphile has a ‘cost is no object’ budget. I’m more concerned with Chinese government-industrial-complex trade practices, and honestly try to avoid Chinese products whenever possible because of this. I realize it’s a very complicated state of affairs, and maybe I’m closed minded and/or ignorant on the matter, but this is just how I feel.

  11. yeah it’s not that bad after all.. I’ve got the 7artisans 35/1.2 (apsc lens) for my Fuji, and it’s good (and also cheap)
    I’m not going to compare it with the native Fuji lens, or even to a leica.. but these lenses are worth looking for, especially if budget is a major concern

  12. I realized time ago that expensive lenses aren’t much better. I don’t believe in character though.
    Lens manufacturing needs to fit simple accounts. The fact that there’s a gap of at least 10x between this lens and a Leica similar or maybe 5x to a Zeiss one makes one one wonder if others are so perfect or just very expensive.

  13. The title of the article implies that the $400 7 Artisans delivers IQ which is the equivalent of the Leica 35mm Summicron. Having shot extensively with the 35 Cron on the Leica M10 I can say with 100% certainty that anyone who expects this lens to perform at that level is going to be sorely disappointed.

    I’m not saying that the 7 Artisans is a bad lens. I am saying that it’s no Leica Summicron. The examples shown here are significantly softer and less contrasty than what I get from my 35mm Summicron f/2 at any aperture. The title of this article is, in my opinion, misleading.

  14. Hi STEVE
    Is it a différent optic than the actual 7 artisans sony 35mm f2 ?
    Did You see any focus shift on the M10 ?Thanks
    Alain

  15. ” I for one will have a huge grin on my face when this company (and China as a whole) eventually releases a lens that the Leica community (of which I am a part) will have no choice but to accept as something of equal or greater quality to their beloved lenses.”
    And imagine now for one second that they would be working on something else than lenses: an M-mount digital body! Nothing is impossible in China nowadays…

  16. I bought the Sony A7 version (supposedly same optics) of the 35 f2 in 2016, and was also very impressed with the build and general optical quality – especially since the price was $155!
    It has a tendency for veiling flare from strong off-axis light, which looked like it was due to bright edges of the elements that were not blackened. I believe the M mount version has addressed such things and has improved coatings. Even so, that cheap little lens stays on my A7 most of the time, giving great results.
    If I didn’t already have good 35 mm lenses for my Leica’s, I’d consider this.

  17. “The lens also displays some Petzval field curvature at certain combinations of subject distance from the lens”
    “The lens also displays some obvious barrel distortion”
    “There is also chromatic aberration (CA) present in this lens”

    I find it interesting that many people look for ‘character’ in a lens, rather than ‘perfection’. Old-fashioned designs can certainly provide interesting effects but do we want them all the time?

    I think I’d prefer a lens to be as near ‘perfect’ as possible and add ‘artistic’ effects on an image-by-image basis, using software.

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