“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”Oscar Wilde
I have always been fascinated with fast lenses. I have tried the original 50mm F0.95 Noctilux from Leica, but didn’t think I will buy it at RRP, or will use it a lot to justify the upfront cost. The F1.0 Noctilux is better priced second hand, but it is dreamy and too arty for me. Canon screw mount F0.95 need to be modified to work on M-mount, and price too high now. When the TTArtisan 50mm F0.95 M-mount lens is available at a reasonable price, I thought it is something that I can afford to buy.
This review is done on the Leica SL2 via M-mount Leica M-Adapter L. I do not do technical test, but only as a photographer’s usage point of view. The review is not sponsored, but I provide affiliated links, so if you purchase through the links, it support me on my review efforts.
Body Design and Built Quality
The Lens is relatively large and 673g heavy. It balances well on the Leica SL2 and it is front heavy on the Leica M, much like the Leica Noctilux that it is imitating. Physical dimension is also similar, but it is without the pull out lens hood feature and lens hood is not included. 67mm diameter filter thread is available, with a heavy metal cap with a logo that is too contrasty for my taste. Lens construction is 11 elements in 8 groups, with various special glasses as per below right. Comparing with Leica Noctilux 50mm F0.95 design on the left, it is actually more complex on the rear element groups. It is not a copy, but a different design, with thinner but more layers of optics.
Noctilux 0.95 lens diagram (left) By Alessio Facchin – Modified from DoubleGauss4text.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17719316
14 aperture blades linked to front aperture ring with audible half clicks between F0.95 to F16 at unequal spacings, it feels tactile, but not as snappy as Leica standard.
Focus ring turns around 100 degree in smooth turns with hard stops. Rubber tabs is provided for optional install, like some 7Artisans lens I had experienced with. Close focusing distance is at 0.7m, which is closer than the original Leica at 1m minimum focus.
My lens can be turn beyond infinity at purchase new. It come with the focus charts and the lens adjustable tool, but as I will use it more on the mirrorless SL than on my M, I ended up not making any adjustments and rely on liveview and focus peaking to focus. It is working wonderfully on the SL2, with good handling and control.
On the SL2, because the shutter speed can go very high, there is no need of ND filter in daylight. In fact I unintentionally fixed my ISO at 1600 at daytime, and the camera is still doing fine. On the M the highlights would be overexposed.
The lens at full aperture has very thin in focus depth. At 0.7m close focusing distance, the background melt away with a very fast out-of-focus dropoff. I cannot even see the fence pattern below beyond the plane of focus. The bokeh is very nice at this range.
There is a huge difference at the open end of the aperture. At F0.95, there is very little that is in focus. There is a glow (spherical aberration) on the highlights, and strong but nice vignetting. At F1.4 the focus depth is wider, the glow and vignetting starting to disappear. At F2 the bokeh is ok, and the image has very good sharpness and clarity.
At open aperture, there is no worry of any busy background. Everything is artistic and dreamy.
Stop down a little, as per architecture shots below, it renders the scene with good detail, with a slight vintage feel.
Vignetting is not corrected below, and I think there is some purple colour cast in the perimeter that need to be adjusted in lightroom.
I like the image it produces even for the harder lines. It works fine with the high resolution sensor of the SL2.
This lens excels at night, as it should. It is easy to focus with the Leica SL2 EVF and it is enjoyable to shot handheld. (no tripod used in this review)
Full body / longer distance focus at 5-10m, the bokeh gets busy but it is not unattractive for me. The subject isolation works, but for street photography it requires careful composition.
Comparing focus at 4m to focus at 10m, selective focus is easy to nail and rewarding when it is right. I focused at the gums and sweet in the front and the drinks in fridge at the back.
A simple trip home can be opportunity for some artistic street photography practice.
At night it is a monster that sucks all the lights in, and amplify the colour with tons of detail.
The following two shots are under very dim lit street light. The street and the park is pitch black, but the picture through the viewfinder is unbelievably bright, and it see more details in the dark than through my eyes.
Flare and veiling light is visible on the shot below. Adding a hood may help, but with my experience on fast prime, this is not too bad, and does not happens too often.
The TTArtisan 50mm F0.95 is an admirable attempt to design and build a fast F0.95 lens, paying homage to the iconic Leica. It is a very difficult task, and for the price, it is unbelievable what is produced by TTArtisan. The most important thing is, even it is not perfect, that most of its faults are lovable and nice. This lens is built solid, and you get a 80% taste of what Noctilux can do at around 1/20 of the cost.
- Much more affordable than Noctilux.
- Adjustable focus if you are willing to spend time to match it with your Leica M rangefinder coupling.
- Nice balance of size and weight with Leica SL2.
- Good enough performance for the asking price.
- Very nice out-of-focus bokeh at close focus distance with very quick dropoff for subject isolation.
- Optically it is not fully corrected. Flare, coma and astigmatism is visible at open aperture if you look for it. Colour cast, purple fringing can be corrected in post. Slight wavy distortion is also visible. I just applied the Noctilux profile in Lightroom and do not notice the aberrations on real world usage.
- No 6 bit code (need to be selected manually in camera or in raw developer).
- Big and heavy (as it should, matching the original).
- Busy bokeh at medium focus distance.