Hey! So it’s been a long time since I did a little writeup on anything other than Fujifilm gear, but that is about to change! Last month saw the launch of the Fujifilm X-Pro3, which I had been very much involved in, and as a result I have been insanely busy doing all sorts of fun stuff because of that particular launch. The Pro3 should be making its way out into the hands of customers any day now, and I finally have had some time to really get into shooting.
My fellow danish Fujifilm X shooter Peter Drastrup have been using the 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 for about a year now. Mostly coupled to either his X-Pro1 or X-Pro2, he produces some stunning visuals with the lens! I have so many lenses, so even though he had praised it for its character, I didn’t feel that I could justify yet another purchase of a 35mm lens for my Fujifilm X system. Then I stumbled on a post again from Peter recently, and it must’ve hit me at the right point in time – because 7 minutes later I had done an eBay checkout, and was waiting for the lens to ship from UK.
I seriously could not believe how cheap this lens was. I paid a mere 130USD for it! Never in my life had I thought that it would be possible to buy a lens with such a fast aperture at that price point. IN-SANE! Needless to say my expectations for the build quality were quite low given what I paid for the lens. But opening the package was only the first of many pleasant surprises with this lens!
Now, I will try a do a walkthrough of what I like and dislike about this lens, and I will also compare it to the Fujinon XF35mm f/1.4, the Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 mk2 and the Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f/1.4 M-mount. Those are the 35mm lenses that I have narrowed my collection down to, since I feel that they all bring something interesting to the table. But more on that later. For now, let’s start looking at the 7artisans 35mm f/1.2.
Build and feel
Before we get into this I just want to remind you again that this lens will cost you about half of a solid couple of headphones! It cost me less than if I’m going grocery shopping for some friday night dinner guests! Just to get some perspective as to what can be expected! The box that the lens arrived in was a nice simple black box. Contained was the lens, with a simple metal lens cover, a lens pouch and a stick-on focusing tab. This tab was actually meant to fit the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1…. so I can’t really use that. LOL!
Much to my surprise the build quality is very very good! The lens barrel is made of metal, then black coated. It has painted numbers and markings, which do not seem to be etched. The lens is absolutely tiny! – It boggles my mind how they were able to make a 35mm f/1.2 lens this small! It is actually as small as the Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 version 4. Or even as the Summicron-C 40mm f/2. It’s seriously incredible that it’s even physically possible.
The focusing ring, which sits to the very front of the lens, is really nicely dampened and turns really smoothly with just the right amount of resistance and dampening. It has very oldschool looking recessions in the ring for a better grip. I prefer my focusing rings to be flat, so it’s a bit annoying to me. A full turn from close to infinity focus is just around a 150 degree turn, which is really good for acting fast and catching focus in day to day situations.
The aperture ring is situated near the mount of the lens, and is the clickless type. The aperture goes from f/1.2 to f/16, and it has a 9-curved-blades aperture mechanism. It also runs very smoothly. At the first week of use I had some excess oil/grease working itself out from under the aperture ring and onto the barrel, which I guess is good for weather sealing, but other than that is annoying as hell! – It has stopped now, though. So I guess that aperture ring is very well “lubed” 😀 The fact that the aperture ring is clickless, means that for most of my sample images I have no clue of what aperture they were shot at. This is not really a good tactic for doing “review-shots” – But for pleasing my creativity, it’s absolutely perfect. I ended up not caring one single bit about which aperture looked best etc etc. I just looked through the finder, and turned the rings until the exposure looked good! And that’s just the thing with this lens. It has many annoyances, but I love it to death!
So, this is where the fun begins! 😂
This lens has about some of the weirdest performance traits of any of the lenses that I’ve tested through the years. This lens has so many technical imperfections that I don’t really know where to start! – But…… I simply can’t get enough of it!!! I seriously have no idea what it is that this lens does to my images! Ok, for starters it probably makes them worse from a technical standpoint. But from a creative standpoint, this little lens has elevated my creative seeing to new heights. Why is that? What mojo does this little thing contain? I have no clear answer. All I can do is try and describe to you what kind of unique traits it will bring to your photography.
Now, whenever I want extremely precise and technically perfect IQ I grab my Fujinon XF lenses. Heck, I even grab my GFX system when I want to do a proper visual splurge! But the reason that I have a few (well 60+ lenses is still a few….it is…it really is!😃) different lenses that cover the same focal length, is that they bring something unique to the table. They are not ultra sharp. They lack microcontrast. They have weird bokeh and they have varying build quality issues. But the common denominator is that they all bring something unique to the table.
The 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 isn’t exactly sharp wide open. It’s not super soft either, but it does have some “glow” going on. At first I thought it was just because of the very narrow DOF that you have to deal with, but my Mitakon is even more narrow, and doesn’t have this trait. So in conclusion this glow is mere imperfection in the form of aberrations. This is actually the same as with the Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4 Nokton. It’s one of the traits that I really like about the Nokton, and I have in the past referred to it as a “Classic Glow”. This trait is very good when taking pictures of less than perfect skin, and it gives the images a roundness that I rather like. Edge sharpness really isn’t that good until you get to about f/5.6-f/8. I seriously don’t expect anyone who require edge-to-edge sharpness to be looking at this lens anyway.
Stopping down to anything below f/2 makes the 7artisans a very decent performer. But it will never become super super sharp. So let’s just put the whole sharpness thing to rest, shall we? This lens is about other things.
The lens exhibits and insane amount of barreldistortion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen examples of it that is that pronounced! It’s correctable in post, obviously, but still it is very pronounced. Just look at the windowlines in this image below.
The bokeh. Let’s talk about that. That little word that will have all aspiring photographers and seasoned pros going into full drool-mode any day of the week! Is it any good with the 7artisans? Well, I like it. It hits a sweet spot between being very creamy, and presenting some imperfections such as semi-harsh edges on the out of focus specular highlights. It also skews the OOF blur near the edges, which gives a little “zoom in” effect to your images. This is all of course when shot wide open (which is what I guess you will probably do when shooting bokehliciousness) when you stop down the 9 curved aperture blades ensure specular highlights that are still semi-round. Also the skewing of the edges will subside. So, again. If you’re looking for the perfect creamy bokeh, this lens ain’t it! It will serve you something unique, just like in the sharpness department! If you want creamy bokeh, you’re best off splurging on the Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 mk2.
The images above give a good illustration of what type of bokeh you can expect with this lens. I have to say that I really like it.
Colorcast and contrast with the 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 is actually quite balanced. In this digital day and age where the auto white balance and film simulations will alter any optical traits of any given lens into something completely different, it can be quite hard to notice when lenses differ in this regard. What I tend to do is measure how much extra “oomph” I have to add in post processing compared to the modern Fujinon lenses. With the 7artisans a raw file will tend to be less contrasty compared to a modern Fujinon, but also very well balanced in colorcast. This makes the lens very well suited for B&W shooting, since you retain much more detail in darker areas when the lens has less contrast. You can alway punch in contrast in post, but its damn hard to pull contrast from the image if the optics added that at the time of recording. This also mean that your colours won’t be as saturated straight off the camera, so you’ll have to add some punch in the colours if that’s your thing. I really like this fact with the 35mm f/1.2, because it’s like recording video in f-log. Quite flat, and ready to pull in any direction you prefer, which in turn will really speak to your own creative take on photography.
As you can see above the image quality, clarity and sharpness picks up considerable at f/4. This is to be expected. The colours also improve, and become richer and more saturated.
The Big 4. The comparison.
Alright, so to address the growing amount of questions I’m getting through various messaging platforms regarding which lens to choose from, I decided to do a small VERY non-scientific head-to-head of my favourite four fast 35mm lenses that I use on my Fujifilm systems. As I wrote further up, I have gone through many 35mm lenses, but these lenses are the ones that are staying in my arsenal because they bring something unique to the table.
I’m not going to fill up this section with sample shots from all the lenses, rather you can find many examples in earlier reviews. For Mitakon shots (and comparable 35mm f/1.4 shots) see my Mitakon review HERE or to see shots from both the Mitakon and the Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4 go to my recent X-Pro3 vintage’d run-through here – For images taken with the XF35mm f/1.4 I never did a dedicated review of the lens. But it is my all time most valued lens of all lenses. I have shot so much with that lens, that I actually wore my first one down, and is now on my second copy. Chances are that half of my images ever taken on the X-series is shot on that lens. So you can find sample images galore just from browsing a bit through this site.
I made a small chart highlighting the strengths from all four lenses: Those values in that chart are absolutely my non-scientific findings from just shooting the lenses over the course of many years (except the 7artisans obviously), so take that for what you want. One thing is for sure though. Value for money with the 7artisans is simply something that cannot be denied. For what you’re getting, this lens is an absolute bargain.
I did one test with all four lenses head to head. It’s a test where I just opened up all the lenses to their widest apertures, and shot something as boring as some berries on a typical grey danish fall-day. It does, however, give a very good impression of the different characteristics of the lenses ranging from sharpness, contrast and bokeh qualities wide open. I put them in the gallery right here, but you can also download the full sized SOOC jpegs using the link HERE
So as you can clearly see from the images, the Fujinon XF35mm f/1.4 is by far the sharpest of the bunch. Focus missed the front berries, but they’re still sharper than the berries in the rest of the images. You can also clearly see that the bokeh from the Mitakon is amazing. Of course you have an extra full f-stop of narrow-DOF, but just look at the quality of it! Silky-smooth comes to mind. The Voigtländer isn’t giving you better sharpness or bokeh than the 7artisans, and the two lenses render the background very similarly with the specular highlights being a bit busy, with a pronounced “outer ring”. In the top left corner you can really see how the 7artisans “skews” the OOF rendering. Something that the Voigtländer, or the other lenses for that matter, doesn’t do.
So for a summarised categorisation of these lenses I would list them as follows:
- Fujinon XF35mm f/1.4 – Best for just about anything. A tool of all trades. It’s also the only one that has autofocus.
- Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 mkII – Best for shallow DOF and very very smooth bokeh combined with Fujinon image quality. This lens is a true gem. Period.
- 7artisans 35mm f/1.2 – Amazing value for money. Very compact. Very unique rendering allround.
- Voigtländer 35mm f/1.4 – a full frame lens. Amazing build quality. Unique bokeh. Fun to use.
So which one should I choose if I could only have one 35mm. Easy. The XF35mm f/1.4. But if you’re on the lookout for something in addition to that lens, you will get the most unique experience at a ridiculous price with the 7artisans.
Conclusion and sample image gallery
I can’t explain what it is with the 7artisans 35mm f/1.2. On the spec sheet and in technical terms it’s one of the shittiest lenses I’ve ever mounted on my X-series cameras. But in spite of that, I just absolutely love the little thing. It is such a nice creative tool, and my pictures are better because of it. Sometimes I just have to succumb to the fact that there is sooooo much more to photography than the quest for ultimate IQ. The images that I shoot with the 7artisans are different, they’re unique, they’re me. And that is much more important to me than ultimate image quality. Add on top of that the absolutely ridiculously low price, the small form factor and the very nice build quality, and I would not hesitate to recommend this lens to every Fujifilm X shooter who is looking for something a bit different. I’m quite sure you’ll love it, quite a lot.
The sample gallery below have all been shot on the X-Pro3. Most of the images are Classic Negative film simulation jpegs, that I have tweaked a bit in Lightroom. The double exposures are all made in-camera using the new multi-exposure function of the X-Pro3. Make sure to click the gallery to view the images big.