Hey guys! This is part 1 of my review of the brand-new TT Artisan 35/1.4. This covers all the mechanical aspects and some background info. Also included are some first shots that I took with this lens on my Fuji X-E3.
Disclosure: I bought this lens for my own use and paid the full price for it. I have no connection whatsoever to TT Artisan, DJ Optical, Fujifilm or any other brand mentioned.
These days, there are so many manual focus lenses from China. Sure, there’s a few high-quality manufacturers such as Laowa or even Kamlan. But then there are many other new brands where you really can’t tell who’s really producing and designing these lenses, but even these can be pretty amazing, especially when you factor in how cheap they are.
There’s a complete market segment of lenses that sell new for the equivalent of 100 US Dollars or Euros, or even less. Basically most of the brands that you find here started by selling some sort of C-mount lenses that were adapted to MFT or APS-C mirrorless cameras. But today, even these bargain basement brands have upped the game.
One of the newest brands is TT Artisan. Their name sounds suspiciously similar to 7artisans, but then 7artisans stated that they have no connection whatsoever with TT Artisan … TT Artisan started their business in 2019 by offering some Leica M-mount lenses with pretty demanding specifications (21/1.5, 35/1.4, 50/0.95 …) as well as a new 11/2.8 fisheye for full-frame mirrorless systems. (Here’s their current lineup on their official website.) So far, all of their lenses – also the one I’m describing here – are actually manufactured by DJ Optical whose headquarters are located in Shenzen, China, as is printed on the front lens ring.
The new TT Artisan APS-C trinity: 17 – 35 – 50
Now, in October 2020, TT Artisan announced the development of an interesting and very low-cost three-lens setup for APS-C mirrorless systems: 17/1.4, 35/1.4 and 50/1.2 – equivalent to full-frame 26mm, 52mm and 75mm lenses. Here’s the announcement at Sonyalpharumors.
Of these three new TT Artisan lenses, the 35/1.4 is the first to hit the shelves, and as I just got back into Fuji land with my second X-E3, I thought I’d give this one a try now. At launch, this lens is available for Sony E-mount, Fuji X-mount, Canon M-mount and Micro Four Thirds. It covers the field of view of a 52,5 mm full-frame standard lens (70 mm short telephoto when used on Micro Four Thirds).
Just after the launch, this 35/1.4 lens is currently offered on Amazon and also on the Chinese platform Taobao (where you can even specify your own custom print on the lens barrel). In China, it’s 495 Chinese Yuan. The Amazon price is 89 Euros. Depending on where you live, it might be subject to additional VAT and customs. I assume that all these TT Artisan lenses will be available soon via other channels and/or importers as well.
Note that all these lenses I’m talking about here are fully manual and don’t have any electric contacts to communicate with the camera. They’re manual focus, manual aperture, but of course you can use the light metering and aperture-priority exposure mode of your camera. You can also dial in the correct focal length in your camera’s menu to include that information in EXIF data and make in-body stabilization work correctly (if your body has it).
89 Euros really? What d’ya expect?!
So this is a sub-100 Euro/USD standard prime lens for APS-C, fully manual of course, from a new emerging brand in China who started their business with some Leica M-mount glass about a year ago. These latter lenses already got some pretty good reviews, but they’re not as bargain-basement cheap. On the other hand, we all know it’s much easier and cheaper to make a decent standard prime (such as a 50/1.4 or, for APS-C, a 35/1.4) then a fast wideangle like a 21/1.5 with full Leica rangefinder coupling …
TT Artisan also published the lens diagram of this new APS-C 35/1.4 on their website. It’s a 7-element design that looks very similar to some pretty high-regarded classic 50/1.4s such as the Pentax Super-Takumar 50/1.4 from 1965. (Read more about that Pentax lens here at klassik-cameras.de where you’ll also find a lens diagram to compare.)
So, yeah, what do I expect? Something that performs very similar to these 50mm classics, albeit for APS-C. Not perfect at all at open aperture, but it should sharpen up very quickly at f/2 at least in the central frame area, and it should be a truly capable, sharp lens (also for high-detailed landscape shots) at f/5.6 or thereabouts.
The biggest question mark, given the low price, in my eyes is the mechanical quality and sample-to-sample variation. But hey, these days even Canon can churn out pretty well performing full-frame 50/1.8’s for just 125 Euros, complete with autofocus! And the TT Artisan 35/1.4 surely doesn’t come with any complex stuff – for example internal focusing – so it should be easier to ensure good and constant manufacturing quality for its maker.
Here’s some first shots I took with this lens. I personally love the “New York @ Cologne” photo – even though I clearly missed focus a bit there! All these are shot as RAW, but I did not correct for distortion, vignetting or chromatic aberration in any of these!
The TT Artisan 35/1.4 in your hands
The TT Artisan 35/1.4 arrived in a nice box with linen-structured cardboard and black foam insert. The lens itself, I have to say, superceded my expectations regarding its fit and finish. It’s a full metal construction and it feels very well made, with tight tolerances. Even the hard-stop at infinity is very well adjusted (on my example). This also means that all the distance markings on the barrel are really correct.
The lens itself has a pretty unique look to it. I welcome it a lot that some Chinese manufacturers are finally starting to have the confidence to not just come up with copies of other designs, but also add some of their own identity to it. The TT Artisan 35/1.4 lens barrel has a unique tapered look to it.
The aperture ring sits at the front. It’s grippy yet pretty thin. Hey this is a small lens – if you’ve got big fingers, you might not be totally happy handling it! Yet I do think that TT Artisan put some good thought into handling and design really: The focus ring has a ridged, also thin but grippy ring located towards the back of the lens. There’s a characteristic tapered-in ridge at the very back of the lens, just in front of the mounting ring that has some depth-of-field marks on it. That rear part of the lens also has some grippy parts at the side that do really help when mounting and unmounting the lens.
Some unexpected comfort: Aperture with click stops
The aperture ring is of the simple type, where the distance between f/1.4 and f/2 is much wider than between f/2 and f/2.8, and so on. That’s sort of natural, by the way, cause the aperture blades have to move much more between the open aperture settings, while the difference between f/8 and f/16 is just a millimetre or so. Still, we’re today more used to aperture rings where the distances are equal between all settings. Anyway, I don’t really mind about this.
What I do like a lot is that this TT Artisan lens has proper click stops! Yes I’m a photographer, not a video guy! Between f/1.4 and f/4, there are half-stop clicks, then full stop until f/8, and then just one further click at f/16. I wouldn’t advice to ever stop down an APS-C lens more than f/8, due to diffraction effects. So I personally totally don’t mind about the missing click at f/11. Mechanically, the click stops feel very nice and precise, actually they’re feeling surprisingly nice and tactile!
Focusing is also smooth and well-weighted. As said above, the lens has a proper infinity hard stop and on my lens that stop is very well adjusted. There are three set screws recessed in the focusing ring: I assume that if you loosen them, you maybe could even adjust that infinity stop for yourself? The lens focuses down to just 0.28 metres. (Oh that nice close focusing ability is exactly why I never got into Leica M stuff, really …)
About the markings on the lens
There’s a print of the lens diagram on top of the lens barrel. A cute design idea. Sadly, it’s not really well centered. So if you focus to infinity, that print is shifted a bit to the right of the center line. And when you focus closer, the print turns away to the side … cause that flat, tapered part of the barrel that it’s printed on is part of the focus ring. I’m not sure if having the lens diagram printed on the lens is really a necessity even though I basically do like the idea.
As is expected at that price point, all the numbers, f-stops, focusing marks, are just printed on the lens barrel. Okay, I have to admit that engraving these and then filling with white paint (like Voigtländer or Zeiss do) is maybe something you just can’t have at this price point. What the heck, even the Fuji X-E3 body has only printed-on markings on its dials and buttons.
What I do like is the font face that TT Artisan used for this lens. It might be a copy of the Leica M font face, but it does look so much better than some of the weird font faces that you see on other low-budget lenses!
Verdict – part 1
So, over all, I’m pretty impressed about the design and mechanics, and I also like the “unique” product design. The TT Artisan 35/1.4 for APS-C looks and feels like a pretty high-quality lens, and it handles beautifully on the small Fuji X-E3 body.
Okay, that’s it for now. Proceed to part 2 of this review!
Hey and if you made it until here: Also check out my new YouTube channel!
PS. let’s not forget some technical details:
|Lens type||TT Artisan 35/1.4 for APS-C|
|Focal length||35 mm|
|Manufacturer||TT Artisan (DJ Optical)|
|First year of sales||2020|
|Country of origin||China|
|Lens mount||Fuji X-mount|
Sony E-mount (APS-C)
Micro Four Thirds
|Full frame equivalent||52.5 mm|
(70 mm on Micro Four Thirds)
|Optical design||7 lenses in 6 groups,|
no special glass elements
|Close focusing distance||0.28 m|
|Aperture||10 pretty straight blades,|
aperture ring with click stops
|Size (diam. x length)||56 mm x 42 mm|
|Filter threads||39 mm|
|Weight||~ 180 grams|