Gosh I wanted to hate this lens. Gosh I hate myself for using the word gosh. Goodness gracious that all sounds so stupid.
What I am trying to say is that I really, really, really, wanted to hate it. I was going to be the guy who, speaking in his most painfully pedantic tone, was going to create the review of all reviews and proclaim that “all the other reviewers who recommend this lens are paid off or were drunk while they were doing their review.” I was going to be the contrarian and say, “this Chinacron is Kak.” I mean how could anything this inexpensive be good? Right? Spoiler alert: things didn’t go as expected.
Before you go all cancel culture on me and turn this website into Evergreen 3.0, if you think the reason I wanted to hate this lens is because it is Chinese and I was pulling some American exceptionalism, Chinese Cold War, I don’t wear masks because of my rights, go-go USA patriotic deal, you are barking up the wrong tree. That isn’t me. Having traveled around China a few years ago, I have enough street cred and have seen enough of China to know that we aren’t living in 1986. Electronics don’t get discounted by me because they come from China. Hating on it because it is Chinese would be ignorant…not to mention that the iPhone in my pocket was made in China.
The fact of the matter is that I wanted to hate this lens because of the price. I wanted to believe that my consumercentric brainwashing of the last 20 years wasn’t just an extended marketing con-job by Wall Street, Highsnobiety, or Gear Patrol. I really wanted to believe the old adage that “you get what you pay for” was not just another lie. Spoiler alert: it might be time for reeducation.
Some men (women might do this too but I don’t really know) don’t date women. They piggishly pick them apart trying to find fault and a reason to break up rather than a reason to form a lasting relationship. Looking back, this is the same piggish behavior I exhibited when I started testing the 7Artisans 35mm f/2 lens. I was looking for issues rather than giving it a fair shake but despite my piggishness the lens kept fighting back and taking some solid images. This made me want to hate it more. I was in a piggishly stupid battle with this thing. I am not positive I actually used this lens. I battled it for superiority. Spoiler alert: I lost.
Table of Contents
About the 7Artisans 35mm f/2
I don’t really know who or what 7Artisans is. On their website they say the company was started by seven camera enthusiasts. Midway through the craptastic virus infested morass of 2020, I don’t trust anyone to tell the truth anymore. Is this just a marketing story? It is almost too good to be true. Are they real people? I have no idea. I asked them to name the 7 founders via email to their support address on their website but they didn’t reply.
There is another company called TTArtisan and the two names confuse me. You would think that one of them could put a space before the word Artisan. I also cannot remember if it is 7Artisan, 7Artisans, TTArtisan, or TTArtisans. I use them interchangeably. I know that is probably a micro-aggression but I am prone to confusion. Putting the words “DJ Optical” on the lens, when there is zero mention of anything called DJ optical on their website doesn’t help either.
According to the 7Artisans website, this lens is based on a sonnar design. As we have discussed before, Sonnar lenses are supposed to be designed to have better bokeh at the expense of sharpness. They are generally considered to be portraits lenses. I am, therefore, assuming that this lens is meant to be more of a classic/vintage style lens than a modern lens but the information provided by the manufacturer did not help me understand one way or the other what they were trying to accomplish with this lens. I emailed them through their support to ask but didn’t hear back about that either.
On Garden Gnomes and Parked Cars
I lost my first battle with this lens during the unboxing stage. I know I said, I won’t talk about build quality because neither me (nor most anyone else) really knows what is going on inside a lens by just feeling it. All we can possibly know from the outside is that it is heavy or light, and the twisty things twist smoothly or they don’t.
When I first held this lens, my lizard brain screamed, “this thing has serious build quality. It is heavy. Holy cow that aperture ring is sweeet. The tabbed focusing ring is as smooth as anything in that closet of yours downstairs. Build quality = good. Hey buddy, so much for that “you get what you pay for” nonsense you have been talking about for 30 years.” I told my lizard brain to shut the hell up and stop getting in the way of my objectivity.
My frontal lobe then took over an assaulted me screaming that “there was no way that this $150 eBay purchase felt as good as it did. There had to be a trick.” I sat there in my kitchen fighting my preconceptions, my lizard brain, and my frontal lobe all the while having a minor melt down. I put the lens on the table and walked away. I was reduced to little more than a pathetic psychodrama cause by a stupid lens I got on eBay that I thought was going to be a throwaway.
The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming but despite my best efforts, I could find no usability issues. I have no idea how this lens will hold up over time but from where I sit in June 2020, I have no complaints.
My lens was calibrated correctly out of the box. I did not need to mess around with the focusing screwdriver it came with.
My first battle with this lens was a one sided slaughter session. 7Artisans 1. Me 0.
Does it have SOUL?
After an extended war with this lens, my final verdict is….I cannot believe I am actually going to type this….my final verdict is…yes. This $150 eBay purchase has SOUL.
If the 7 artisans designing this lens were trying to create a modern or ultra-modern lens, they failed. If on the other hand they were looking to create what I call a “vintage-modern” lens, they should be cheering themselves and saying “mission accomplished.”
The colors are vibrant.
On my Leica M10, it is a bit soft at F2 but keep your hat on. It isn’t super vintage f/2 soft. It is just $150.00 unsharp but that clears up quickly when stopped down. Moreover, when I am focusing on things in the distance (rather than close focusing), even at f/2 I see only a small amount of vintage wobble. This lens is not a razor blade like the Zeiss lenses but, in my opinion, sharpness is neither the goal or the issue that you should be worrying about with this one. (1)
This lens is anything but distortion free. It is not a distortion machine but stray lines in the periphery are an enemy. I am not one to take pictures of walls to see if the lines are straight but sometimes curvature warrants a comment here and there especially if it causes some weirdness in the image. Take a look at this picture of the people sitting in front of the post office.
It seems to me that the street curves a bit more than it does in real life and so does the newspaper box on the right side. Does the distortion ruin the picture? That is for you to decide. For me it is hard to say because it isn’t a very good picture in the first place. It started off ruined. Can I take the $1000 I didnt spend on this lens and buy myself a lifetime subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom and fix that distortion in a split second. Yes I can. And so can you.
Another item to mention is that there is blooming of the highlights when shot wide open. This isn’t an MJ Thriller full on “boom-chicka-wow-wow” glow but it is present if shot wide open. This“Chinacron glow” is roughly translated (according to a glow converter I found online) to approximately 1/18th the degree of an actual vintage Leica Glow. The glow is much more subtle than, for example, the Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.5 Here are two examples. In the truck series, in the second image (f2) the white of the truck has a bit of a glow. You might not be able to see it online but it even extends to the tire. This is gone in the second image which is stopped down considerably.
In this second example, the second image is at f/2 and you can see the thermometer is slightly glowy and the overall image has decreased contrast compared to the first image which is stopped down.
Love it or hate it, the “Chinacron glow” gives the image the impression of softness in the highlights when shot wide open. This might be exactly what you are looking for but if you have been following along with this website, you know what is coming next. From my vantage point, glow is something that is hard to get rid of but is really easy to add in post so it isn’t my first love.
As a second love, the situation is different. If I was shooting portraits of someone who didn’t want to look like an athlete who spent too much time in the sun, or I was doing some lazy Sunday surf side lifestyle work, I would pull this lens off the shelf and give it a go – even in a commercial situation (2). Did you catch that? That was a not so well hidden hint. You missed it didnt you? I might be keeping this one. More on that in a minute.
I will finish my list of gripes with with a look at the edges of the image. Things get shmeary in the periphery. If you wanted a modern lens with sharpness across the field, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for some funk in the periphery, it’s funky. In this image, the peripheral funk even makes the image seem to have a miniaturization effect. Those are full size trees but the peripheral smear and distortion almost makes them look like they were photographed with a tilt shift lens.
To see another example of this, look at the Banksy image at the end of this post. The ONE WAY sign at the top right of the image has seen better days. Finally, if you check out the image of the abandoned mine at the end of the post, the window on the upper left is pretty shmeary (not to mention the lunatic fringe in the windows on the right side of the image).
If you are keeping score, you need to get out two scorecards. If you think you are shopping for a modern lens the score is 7Artisans 1. Me 1. This lens can’t be classified as a modern lens. If on the other hand you think you are shopping for a modern lens with retro appeal the score is 7Artisans 2. Me 0.
Yes. Boldly and fiercely. Even with the lens hood.
This lens flares wildly and the flare is fickle and unpredictable. Depending on the angle of the sun, the flare can vary from a full washout to a magical gem of wash that every Etsy flare overlay package is trying to emulate. Even for me, a full fledged, died in the wool, flare fanatic, sometimes the flare with this lens gets a little ridiculous. Here are two examples of flares gone wild:
The flares are big and bold. You wont find crisp orbs and lines like you do with other vintage lenses such as the Canon 35mm f/2 LTM, Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2, or the modern-vintage Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4 MC.
I am still trying to sort out how to try to wrangle the flares on this lens. What this lens really needs is a flare reduction dial so I can dial in the flare. I am sure that the flare magic isn’t random but the flaring seems almost random at times. Shooting with the sun at a 45 degree frontal angle seems to create the most problems.
So did I keep it?
Previously, I said I might be keeping this lens. If it cost $950, I would be doing different math. If I were looking for a modern lens, I would be doing different math. Heck, it is so inexpensive that if I happen to be photographing protests and a riot breaks and I want to throw something but the rocks are all taken by other protestors, I can hurl the lens to show my support without breaking the bank.
Assuming, however, that I won’t be protesting anytime soon, I will be looking at it sitting on my shelf thinking that if you or anyone you know are turning your nose up at this lens because it was made in China, you need to be a better person than I was and stop acting like a pig like I did.
A better question for you to be asking in this case is “I know you didn’t hate it but did you love it enough to keep it?” Another question to ask might be “Would I recommend this lens to my grandmother if she picked up a photo hobby in the retirement home before it got overrun by Covid?” That answer is a little more nuanced because this lens, like all lenses, has to be judged with regard to it’s competitors. To see where this lens stacks up and why I might or might not recommend it to my pre-Covid grandmother, I would really appreciate it if you join my Leica Lenses for Normal People: The Recommended List where I compare and contrast the lenses I test and tell you what I decided to keep and what got sold. Based on the feedback I have already received, I am nearly certain it will help you with your lens purchases. If not, there is a money back guarantee. You really have nothing to lose.
1. I also used this lens on my Panasonic S1. I was trying to see if maybe this lens had a Sonnar focus shift or it wasn’t calibrated properly on my rangefinder. I got the same results on the S1 so I don’t think it is a Sonnar focus shift issue. It is just a little bit soft at F2.
2. As long as it isn’t an environmental portrait and I am shooting wide open to hid any peripheral shmear.
Sample images (more coming soon. I am on full lock down right now. Human interactions are limited)