The question I most often receive at LLFNP in recent days is “Why don’t you review lenses made by 7Artisans and/or TTartisans (e.g. The Artisans)?”
That question is expected and interesting.
That question is expected because casual readers of LLFNP would reasonably and understandably assume that lower cost, third party, lenses would fall under the purview of a website called Leica Lenses for Normal People. As you will see, however, my opinion is that many of these lenses have issues that make less sense for normal people that you would assume on first glance. As such, many †fall below my selection criteria.
That question is also interesting because the reason people tell me they are asking that question is that they want an objective and unbiased assessment of the lenses. Apparently, the people asking me that question don’t quite trust the reviews of The Artisanal lenses they find online. The Artisans are crushing the online marketing and sponsorship routine but a lack of trust appears to be an unintended consequence of YouTube game. If all reviews are sponsored, all reviews are suspect. I didn’t see that coming (2)
Ultimately, the answer to the question of why I am not currently (3) reviewing lenses made by The Artisans is multifactorial and complex. Strap yourself in. The answer is long and a long time coming.
I trust Johnny Sisson more than I trust myself.
As a general rule, if I see a video with a talking head, a purple, blue, red, or yellow neon accent light in the background, and any combination of a houseplant or a bookshelf lovingly curated with select books and camera bodies, lit by the aforementioned neon light slightly blurred in the background, my BS meter goes to 11.
Conversely, I trust my elders and cantankerous industry insiders, in some cases, more than I trust myself. This is one of those cases. Enter Johnny Sisson.
Johnny Sisson is the co-host of the Classic Lenses Podcast. He also works at Central Camera in Chicago.
In two separate instances on The Classic Lenses Podcast, Johnny Sisson mentions that Central Camera will not stock lenses made by artisans because they are essentially disposable. In the first case, he was talking with Dan Tamarkin and commented about a discussion between Central camera and one of the representatives from 7Artisans. This is a partial transcript (4) from Episode 130:
[Central Camera asks]…“Well what happens if the user needs to have the lens serviced?” And their answer [7Artisans] was basically “you just get another one.” So that’s the difference when you get down to it. The optics are one thing. Anybody can make a sharp lens now but it’s how it’s constructed but they made no bones about it. They are not building them to a level of quality you would get with a Leica lens and they are up front about that.”
Jonny Sisson repeated a similar comment in episode #145 (4).
A similar criticism was offered to me by a lens expert who has experience with the insides of a TTArtisan lens. When I asked this person about the durability and build quality they remarked essentially, “No comment.” This person will remain anonymous.
Too many people seems to evaluate lens build quality like a caveman and I fear that the voice of the cantankerous elders and lens experts is getting drowned out by the hum of the YouTube and sponsorship game.
Admittedly, I don’t have enough domain experience to comment one way or another about what actually goes on inside of these lenses. Nonetheless, I try to follow the maxim “buy cheap buy twice.” Maybe I am overcooking the Sisson opinion and maybe I should just buy two Artisanal lenses with the expectation that one is disposable. I don’t, however, want to have to worry that when I am on vacation or in the middle of a shoot that something is going to go sideways.
Given that there are other lens options whose representatives don’t claim that they are disposable, for now, I am in a holding pattern on lenses made by The Artisans. Time will tell one way or another and I will happily revisit my position in the future.
It is important to note that build quality is a relatively minor consideration for me in the grand scheme of things. Whether this whole build quality discussion ever becomes an issue in the future may be irrelevant.
I don’t understand huge/ultrafast rangefinder lenses.
One of the reasons I carry a rangefinder is because of the form factor. With my rangefinder outfit, smaller is generally better and that is why I only rarely review lenses faster than about f/2. Faster than f/2, rangefinder lenses start to become unwieldy, poke into the finder window, and just don’t make sense to me.
I find myself in the minority of people who freely admit that we are unable to reliably focus ultra fast lenses with a rangefinder. It seems to me that the rangefinder is not the best tool for crushing the bokeh. It also seems to me that film (rangefinder or SLR) is not the best tool to make images in low light situations which obviates any great need for ultrafast lenses with film (e.g. I shoot digital in the dark). Finally, with good ISO performance on digital cameras there is no practical necessity for an ultrafast rangefinder lens for purposes of speed (rather than bokeh). For these reasons, I don’t see any real world need for huge/ultrafast rangefinder lense yet these are the types of lenses that The Artisans are becoming known for.
This is not a knock on The Artisans. This goes for any and all manufacturers who make ultrafast rangefinder lenses including Leica. I just don’t get the speed game with manual focus lenses. I also don’t get the value of these rangefinder lenses EVEN IF you plan on adapting them to a mirrorless camera (Leica SL, SL2, SL2-s, Sony, etc) with a goal of crushing the bokeh.
Leica has been pushing us to use rangefinder lenses on their SL line of cameras. My initial thought was that if I switched to an SL type camera to use with manual focus lenses, the improved focusing performance would make me revisit my take on ultrafast rangefinder lenses. My second thought is that it wont.
If you consider that you are adapting lenses to an SL size mirrorless body (e.g. a body larger than a rangefinder camera), you no longer need to limit yourself to rangefinder lenses or even manual focus lenses for that matter. The world is your oyster once you start adapting lenses and this is important. If you want a manual focus lens for your SL type camera, the smart math would be to get a fast SLR lens rather than a rangefinder lens. If you are using a mirrorless camera the size of the SL you are also, de facto, stating that lens or camera body size is not your main concern. This obviates any size benefit of a rangefinder lens over an SLR lens.
Many SLR lenses are less expensive, have similar performance, and have a better close focusing distance performance than compatible rangefinder lenses. Therefore, if you really want to crush the bokeh it would be worth your while to consider a well built SLR lens, including any number of Zeiss or Nikon lenses, which sell for about the same price as a new Artisinal lens of similar speed.
Finally, in my experience, if I am gong to actually shoot an ultrafast lens I am going to shoot it on a camera with auto-eye focus and auto everything to help guarantee my shot and crush the bokeh so I can skip worrying about missing focus.
In my opinion, there is not math that suggests that large, ultrafast, rangefinder make sense on any camera.
Beware of internet marketing II
As mentioned previously, The Artisans are absolutely the internet marketing game. Few do it better. We have all seen the dozens and dozens of reviews of Artisanal rangefinder lenses. The problem for me is that nearly all of the ones I could find were sponsored posts and reviews in one form or another.
This is problematic. If someone is given product they are inclined toward a good review. It is hard to thread any other needle. Full stop. In order to do reviews, they need stuff to review. Good reviews keep the products coming. Even if the product is offered without strings, a bad review will end that relationship. From what I can tell, few reviewers are independently wealthy and buy their own products to review.
This is a criticism that extends well past rangefinder lenses. Please take all online reviews with a grain of salt unless the reviewer purchases their equipment outright and has no conflict of interest.
I don’t understand owning or using lenses that are crummy wide open.
I don’t understand why anyone would carry around a lens that doesn’t perform well wide open. This goes for legacy SLR lenses and new rangefinder lenses. It is actually one of the reasons I am fond of my Leica lenses. If a Leica lens (modern Leica lenses anyway) is rated at F2, I have no worries about using it at f/2. The same cant be said for other lenses I test including lenses made by The Artisans.
If you take the time to listen to the sponsored reviews of many of The Artisinal lenses, they mention that the lens is either “soft” wide open or “best stopped down” a little. Both of those comments are euphemisms for saying, “don’t plan on shooting this lens wide open.”
My response to “dont plan on shooting this wide open” is always, “Why would I carry a larger lens that I cant use wide open when I can carry a smaller and slower lens that performs well wide open?”
If you cant use it wide open why incur the weight and size penalty of bringing a faster lens?
The real world doesn’t appear match up with the YouTube reviews
In the real world, I see too many classified ads for Artisinal lenses with a note that the lenses are being sold in order to “upgrade” to something different. If they are as good as the influencers say, why are these people upgrading?
When I communicate with people who use these lenses, they almost invariably state “these lenses are good for the money.” You already know how I feel about “good for the money.” Good for the money doesn’t always equate to good. At LLFNP, I am searching for “good” without a modifier rather than “good for the money.”
No, I am not xenophobic racist. I drive a scooter.
Thus far, LLFNP has been devoid of politics. I did, however, get a heated email from someone who advised me that I am a closet racist xenophobe for not reviewing Artisanal lenses. I feel the need to reply to that comment.
If you know my background, and you understand American political stereotypes, you know this almost certainly can’t be true. Even after a superficial glance into my lifestyle you will note that I live part time in California and drive a scooter as my main vehicle. As a rule, people who ride around town looking like a 40 year old virgin and live in California aren’t generally racist xenophobes in their spare time.
I also challenge this by saying that I am very interested in what Funleader is doing with their rehoused Contax lenses. I would love to own one of them but I don’t feel that a rehoused Contax lens fits with what most normal people should be buying for their first or second rangefinder lens. Therefore, I haven’t reviewed a Funleader lens solely because I don’t feel that they apply to the intended audience of LLFNP.
Previously, in this article I also said that if something changes with the manufacture, marketing, and/or of Jonny Sisson and my lens experts get on board, I will get on board. I also previously said I don’t care where lenses are made and I think that the people who disparage Zeiss lenses just because they are made in Japan are ill informed.
Politics are not at play here.
I don’t fault anyone for using or recommending them.
Everyone’s situation is different. If my financial situation was different and all I had to do was pick up an Artisanal lens to get me in the rangefinder game, I would own one in a second even though I know it might not make it to the inevitable Chumbawumba x Limp Biscuit reunion tour of the state fairs in 2030.
It is also possible that you have an absolute need to crush the bokeh that I don’t have; and a Noctilux is not in the cards. I would challenge you to go and get an SLR lens and mirrorless camera but if you need to crush the bokeh with a rangefinder lens, well, you should crush the bokeh with a rangefinder lens.
I don’t even knock the reviewers for what they do (reviewers gotta review), I don’t knock The Artisans for winning the YouTube marketing game. I certainly don’t knock anyone for trying these lenses.
A very good argument can even be made that adding a less expensive lens (even though it might not last or be a spectacular performer) to your kit in a focal length you might not use all that time is a smart decision. I would rather see you have an extra focal length than cut off your nose and spite your face because you are adamant that you can only shoot “the best.”
For now, I am going to focus on what works for me and what I can recommend to normal people without reservation. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this stuff and testing equipment. I would love to have more content on LLFNP but until vendors are sending me lenses with no strings attached and/or I see lenses of a size and speed that I would want to own, preserving the trust I have built with the LLFNP readers is more important than content for content’s sake.
My thinking may very well change in the future but, at least for now, that is my long winded answer why I am not broadly testing rangefinder lenses made by The Artisans.
- My use of the term “The Artisans” shouldn’t be taken to mean people who make lenses in an artisanal way. This term does not, therefore, include small batch lens manufacturers including MS-Optical, Omnar, Funleader Contax conversions, etc.
- That was sarcasm. If you didn’t see this coming I encourage you to take a class in how internet marketing and influencers work. It is entirely outside the scope of this article but this is an issue that extends much farther than any discussion of rangefinder lenses. It is a big issue in the camera world, it is a big part of the reason why I started this site, and it is largely why I have not previously accepted loaner lenses by vendors for review.
- Currently is a critical word in this sentence. This may change in the future. The door is open to revisiting this subject if the situation changes. Politics are not in play.
- https://www.iheart.com/podcast/256-the-classic-lenses-podcast-31081249/episode/130-dan-tamarkin-and-the-leica-71151398/ And https://www.classiclensespodcast.com/e/145-screaming-raccoon-podcast/