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Archive for February, 2021

I have always been a sucker for the wide aperture world of delicious bokeh. My wallet has been stretched many times for some pretty amazing cameras and lenses, but my pockets are not deep enough to get crazy exotics like the Leica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95. I am constantly watching EBAY listings for the famous Canon “Dream” lens, 50mm f/0.95 but never have pulled the trigger on the current prices that run in the $2500-$4000. That’s an amazing lens but it is now 60 years old! I have owned a 35mm f/0.95 ‘Speedmaster’ lens for my Canon EOS M5 and reviewed it a year or two ago. That was a decent lens, but the 50mm f/0.95 Speedmaster lens for Canon RF mount has not been as well reviewed and it is rather large. I do not believe that Zhong Yi Optical actually redesigned the Mark III for the Canon mount but likely revised the Sony E-Mount version to fit it. The Zenit 50/0.95 has been hit hard in every review I’ve seen, so that was never on my ‘buy it’ radar. I recently ran across the TTArtisans 50mm f/0.95 lens available for the Leica M mount. It got my interest up because it is relatively small, nowhere near as compact as that classic Canon ‘Dream’ lens, but smaller than the Speedmaster. Leica M mount lenses can be used on of course, Leica M mount bodies both film and digital but also virtually any mirrorless camera body from micro 4/3 to full frame. Why is that important? Well sometimes I use lenses for a year or two and then sell them to buy some other lens or camera I am jonesing for but can’t justify buying outright. M mount has one of the widest resale markets because it can be easily adapted to so many cameras. So I went out into the internet and starting reading and watching reviews of this TTArtisans lens. Generally it faired well against the Speedmaster. So did I buy it? At $700… of course I did 😉

TTArtisans 50/0.95

Leica Noctilux

This wide aperture lens appears to be a shameless copy of that famous and ultra expensive Leica Noctilux. They not only look very similar, the optical design is suspiciously similar. This of course should be a good thing, right? After all the Noctilux sells for $12,000, yes I typed it correctly; 12 grand! Well I have never shot the Leica version, but I have seen many reviews and images made with it; the TTArtisans is not an exact copy by any means, but it is a solid lens, well made, and decently sharp at that very wide f/0.95 opening. Since one can buy roughly 17 of these TTArtisans lenses for the price of one Leica Noctilux, I think it is fair to offer a wide latitude in judgement of its build quality and optical performance.

This lens is modestly sharp in the center wide open, but very soft on the edges. Stopping down as one might expect results in dramatic improvement, even at f/1.1 the lens shows significant improvement. By the time you hit f/1.4 the lens is solid and at f/2 it is genuinely sharp in the center. This lens never really cleans up in the corners, it is rather soft on the edges at all apertures. I will not be shooting corner to corner images with this lens anyway. From what I have read about the Noctilux this lens is not that far off the mark set by the billionaires version from Leica.

The lens is well made with an all metal build, excellent focus damping and a very nice clickable aperture ring with near perfect detents on 1/2 stop increments. I have owned many Leica M and LTM lenses over the years and this lens does not have that ultra fine build detail typical of the Leica brand. It does offer much better build quality than most lenses out there including many camera maker lenses. The printed details are engraved into the lenses and filled with paint which is a premium feature versus and standard surface print. This is a nice piece of gear.

The 14 blade diaphragm yields beautiful round bokeh balls even stopped down. About the bokeh, it renders out of focus areas quite smoothly with a delicious blend from sharp to soft that yields a wonderful disappearing background act. This lens suffers from a bit of spherical aberration from wide open to about f/1.7 after which it becomes much less present and is more or less gone by f/2.8. The spherical aberration is what gives the “glow effect” and that can render nicely in the bokeh but softens the image.

Be advised that a 50mm f/0.95 has depth of field measured in millimeters at any tight portrait range. You will have a fair number of soft images because you missed focus, not because the lens isn’t sharp. Yes breathing normally can shift the focus enough to render soft at the point of focus. This is life at f/0.95. When you nail it, the effect is fabulous and portraits become almost ethereal in look. I have a train load of lenses that offer a variety of unique looks because I just love the wide open separation of faster lenses. This lens does not disappoint in that regard. Do not buy this lens if you want to pixel-peep. It is sharp, but not that sharp. These lenses are about the look, the character, the style, and for that this lens is sharp enough.

Here is a list of some other lenses I have that offer “character” for reasonable prices:

Here is a gallery of some images I have made with the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 shot wide open and a video review I did on YouTube:

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