A few weeks ago a Chinese lens manufacturer by the name of 7Artisans was in the news and causing a bit of a stir by playing right into the ‘wish’ bank of photographers. How? By combining two things that are always sure to get attention: fast glass, and low price. The difference here is that the lenses being touted were extremely fast, and extremely low priced.
It was low hanging fruit, to be sure, but what made them all the more appealing is that they were for mirrorless cameras like Leica, Fuji, and Sony E-mount, and they looked the part. They are manual focus, with dedicated aperture rings; a focus ring with etched distance markings, and even with a hyperfocal distance scale. However, being relatively new (read: obscure) no one seemed to have any hands-on time with them, but within the video here that’s changed, and we get to see what it looks like, and more importantly what its produce looks like.
Welsh photographer and reviewer Christopher Frost got a 50mm f/1.1 unit in-hand and does a good and simple review of the lens touching on the main focal points and points of contention.
Arguably the 50 f/1.1 would be the most popular given the nature of the modern photographers, but also because fast 50s for mirrorless aren’t example pocket change. The thing is though, from what we can garner from his testing and video is, there’s a reason for that.
First and foremost you can pretty much throw out the idea of shooting at 1.1 unless you’re going for a particularly soft and muddled look, and even at 1.4 your center point is suffering – though at least not to the degree of all other parts of the image which aren’t so much ‘suffering’ as they are unusable. You’ll have to be at about f/2 for the center to be relatively crisp and 5.6 for the corners, which, by the way, are also donning significant vignetting at f/2 and even through f/5.6. Colors, however, seem to be quite good, despite the oddities with it revealed within the bokeh.
So for around $370 you could get something like this for your mirrorless cam, but again there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the bill comes predictably in the form of performance oddities. If you’re looking for a lens with unusual character and flare then it’s perhaps a good option, but if we accept that this lens doesn’t produce anything remotely usable until stopped down to f/2 then we are sort of incentivized now to revisit the first party options, or at least those from established third parties. For example, of you’re adapting to Sony as was used in this test both the Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS and Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 lenses are entirely usable at 1.8 for most purposes and and 2.8 you’re golden. Not to mention they’ve both got autofocus.
Fast cheap glass is always tempting, but absurdly fast and absurdly cheap should be seen as a warning of compromise.
So, a tip of the hat to Christopher, and check our more unusual item reviews on his channel.