Can the Chinese brand really offer a useful alternative to the holy grail of Leica - Noctilux?! Can it be used at all considering its price? I decided to try it and see how it works.
The equipment I used for this review is a Leica M6 with an Ilford HP5 and an M10 for the digital part of the review.
Much to my surprise, the first impression I had when I first picked up the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 was something close to amazement. The lens feels heavy and very durable. There is no backlash, the focusing process is damn smooth, the clicks of the aperture ring are clear ... By far, this is their best achievement in terms of mechanics. And, oh, that front element… It's just beautiful! I got the latest version of the square font lens which looks a bit more modern than the Leica. I like its appearance.
TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 on film
Another thing I appreciated: the TTArtisan 50mm f/0,95 is well calibrated to infinity! At least the M6 rangefinder matches the adjustment on the lens. This is a first for a TTArtisan lens. TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 is a modern lens. It uses eleven elements in eight groups. One of the rear elements is double-sided aspherical. Good for sharpness and contrast, but check out how it affects out-of-focus areas!
The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is heavy, around 690g. Be aware that shooting with the M10 (which is already heavy) plus this lens for an entire day can cause serious neck pain. Be prepared for this and use a larger belt if necessary. I also recommend using a camera body cover. Otherwise, your wrist will tire quickly.
The eyepiece will help you focus. Otherwise, I recommend using EVF to make sure you hit your target. Even Leica admits that rangefinder mechanisms have their limitations for really fast lenses. The Noctilux user manual says that there may be errors focusing on the open.
The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 protrudes beyond the 50mm viewfinder frame lines. It didn't really bother me personally. But this can seriously annoy you if you don't like seeing too much of the image in the viewfinder. The various rings are conveniently placed and the fingers get used to the position quickly.
Unlike its digital counterpart, film has a fixed speed, and shooting in low light conditions will often be limited by the maximum aperture of the optics unless you want to use a tripod. I noticed that at night, on a moderately lit street, a lens with F2 will not allow you to shoot at shutter speeds faster than 1/15 or 1/30 second with ISO 400, (TRI-X or HP5). A lens with F0,95 is more than two stops brighter than F2. This means that you can now increase the speed to 1/60 or 1/125 under the same conditions. The percentage of shots that are not spoiled by the shake will increase significantly.
I loaded up some HP5 and went for a night walk around my small town, took a TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 lens and relied on my rangefinder. I should note that I have not tried to calibrate my lens before. First impressions were amazing. The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 performed very well. The rangefinder calibration seems to be excellent and all images come out crisp, detailed and full of that 3D effect you create with a lens like this. I wasn't annoyed by any glare or any imperfections that would make photos look bad, except obviously my own skills.
Another thing I appreciate about it is its rendering of the picture. It's definitely not "vintage" per se. It has contrast, the bokeh seems pretty neutral and soft, and it gives a medium format look that I really like. As I expected, my shutter speed was always between 1/60 and 1/125 regardless of street lighting.
This first experience and I decided to try the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 as my everyday lens. I think we have all seen the photos taken during the day on the famous Noctilux and I wanted to see if it was possible to get the same with TTArtisan. I wanted to see if this lens could be used in harsh and strong light, where various aberrations show up quickly. But winter came, and I had to wait for a good opportunity to get a good time for a walk ... The quarantine did not help either, I must admit that we only had a little time at the end of December, when we could finally go beyond the four walls.
Even though I had a harder time getting accurate focus during the day, the image was truly breathtaking. I used ND, ND8 or ND64 filters depending on the lighting to get the full aperture. One thing I've noticed is that the picture isn't quite clear when there's a lot of light. And often it looked better at F1.1, especially when trying to focus on something far away. In highly contrasting scenes, it is better to cover the lens a little.
Finally, I tried closing the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 a bit and seeing how it performs at those values. It is noticeable that the far corners never really become sharp. They always remain somewhat softer than the center. But who cares? I don't think you buy a 0,95 lens to use at f8, right? For this purpose, it would be better, smaller in terms of weight and size, alternatives.
Sample photos Leica M6, Ilford HP5 @400iso, TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 @f/0.95
TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 digital
Using it with the leica M10, I found that most of the time I prefer to close the lens down to f/1.1 to get rid of aberrations. With the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 it was really difficult for me to focus relying only on the rangefinder. However, I didn't try to calibrate it because I found it easier to rely on the electronic viewfinder anyway.
Focusing at close range with the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is a challenge when shooting wide open. I tested two of these lenses, and neither of them was perfectly calibrated for either close or far focusing. The focal length seems a bit too big - something like 51,9-52mm instead of the required 51,6mm.
As a result, the best compromise is to calibrate this lens for infinity and beyond. If done correctly, the lens will focus perfectly from ~1,1m to infinity at f/0,95. At a distance of 0,7 m to 1,1 m at an open and close aperture, the lens will suffer from back focus.
TTArtisan recommended using live view for close focusing, but did not specifically comment on the focal length findings. I find this lens best viewed as having a minimum focusing distance of 1m.
It should also be noted that I have been investigating the possibility of modifying the lens to adjust the focal length. Unfortunately, due to the design of the housing at the rear of the lens, it cannot be adjusted without making major (very expensive) changes to the lens housing. There is no room for adjustment or calibration in the design of the lens, as in many of its kind.
Apart from this “issue”, the optics in this lens are excellent. The overall picture seemed to me a little sharper in the bright areas. Let's say the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 remains the same on the digital - good contrast, even at full aperture. The ability to create three-dimensional images remains unchanged!
Photo examples Leica M10, TTArtisan 50mm f/0,95 @f/1,1
Pros and cons of TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95
- Very good build
- $50 0.95mm f750 aspherical lens…
- At f/1.1 there are more fine details in the digital
- State-of-the-art image quality
- Use the electronic viewfinder, focus will always be better with it
- The vignetting is too strong and always will be, even at f/8.
- Image distortion can be problematic
- Weight and size… this is not a lens that you can take with you on a long trip. But so does the Leica Noctilux.
TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 – Final Words
I think TTArtisan really did a great job here. Offering such a lens at a low price seems incredible. But it's real and really good for what it was made for: portraiture, ambient and dark, and night shots. I can well imagine using this lens at the next wedding I shoot.
It is worth considering this f0,95 lens as a "specialized" lens for some very specific images. Like other TTArtisan lenses, this one has its drawbacks, but what it does have is unbeatable value for money and I think this is by far the best TTArtisan lens in that regard.
I will definitely keep the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 and will use it on occasion. It won't be my everyday lens, but as a dedicated lens it's a fantastic tool.
TTArtisan has come out with a complete family of fast lenses that I think are great for what they are: versatile and great lenses to use if you know how to get the most out of them. Now I hope that TTArtisan will soon release really smaller lenses, something like f/2, with a tiny 39mm filter thread diameter and quality close to the APO series...