Cheap & great: New TT Artisan 35/1.4 for APS-C (Review – part 2)

The last weekend I’ve been busy taking pictures with my new TT Artisan 35/1.4 to continue my review of this lens.

  1. Read part 1 here
  2. See also my video review on youtube

I also thought it would be interesting to compare its performance to a true classic lens of (roughly) the same specifications – the Olympus PEN Zuiko 38/1.8 that was introduced in 1964! (I already wrote about that lens here.)

Before diving into the evaluation, a few words upfront:

First, the disclosure: I bought this lens with my own money for my own use. I have no connection whatsoever to TT Artisan, DJ Optical, Fujifilm or any other brand that’s been mentioned in this review.

Second, about my reviews: I’m not the lab guy when it comes to this. My approach is more based on some real-world shooting and experience. But hey, still I did a proper brick wall test shot at all apertures this time!

Third, about the images that I show:

  1. I shoot in RAW and these images were processed in Lightroom. White balance, contrast and saturation are adjusted (albeit pretty slightly) in my shots. Sharpness setting is default “landscape” in Lightroom.
  2. For direct comparison shots between the PEN Zuiko and the TT Artisan, I adjusted all these values manually for the TT Artisan and then applied exactly these settings to the PEN Zuiko.
  3. For a series of different f-stops, I always apply the same settings to every shot of this series so you can see for yourself how contrast etc. change with aperture settings.
  4. I do never correct for distortion, chromatic abberations or vignetting. So you can always see the true characteristics of the lens in all samples!

Okay! So let’s have a look about different aspects of the TT Artisan 35/1.4’s image quality now!

“Mr. TTT”, the caterpillar. (at f/1.4)

The bokeh

This small tourist telescope has, very roughly, a similar size to a human head and I took these pics at a distance of maybe a metre or a bit more – so the kind of distance you’d also take a portrait most likely. The shots below show all aperture settings from f/1.4 through f/2.8 (with half-stop increments):

As you can see, at open aperture there’s a moderate bit of outlining in the bokeh balls and some geometric vignetting going on towards the borders of the frame.

Stopping down to around f/2 or f/2.8, the bokeh becomes more neutral, but of course also less blurry due to the smaller aperture. I’d say this performance is very much in line with classic 50/1.4 designs for full frame, as expected from the TT Artisan’s optical formula.

Here are some more bokeh shots:

As you can see from the shot of the tree trunk (I took a series at f/1.4 … f/2 … f/2.8), bokeh becomes pretty busy if you take a picture at a longer distance and then with a very detailed background. Again, all this is to be expected from a classic fast lens formula.

Sharpness – TT Artisan 35/1.4

Yes and here’s my brick wall shot! Haha! This is also a comparison with the classic Olympus PEN Zuiko 38/1.8.

First, here are the shots with the TT Artisan 35/1.4 at all apertures from f/1.4 through f/8. These are converted in Lightroom with the standard “landscape” sharpness settings. All pics (of both lenses and all apertures) have the exact same settings regarding white balance, contrast etc.

You can also directly download the full size files for your own personal evaluation, of course: Just click on the following links and then “download file”:

f/1.4f/2f/2.8f/4f/5.6f/8

What can we see?

  1. Central sharpness is pretty good even at f/1.4. It sharpens up a lot at f/2 and a bit more until about f/2.8 where I would call it razor sharp. (Hey, I told you I’m not the technical guy here!)
  2. Sharpness at the left and right borders is of course a bit weaker. I don’t find it horribly bad even at f/1.4. But you can see it building up gradually to perfect sharpness all over the frame at f/5.6.
  3. The four extreme corners show a bit of smearing until around f/5.6. But this only affects maybe the last 100 or so pixels in the extreme corners. I personally don’t care.
  4. Centering of my lens seems to be very good; I don’t see any difference between the left and right, top and bottom corners of the shots that is worth talking about. This is a very good result for such a cheap lens and shows that simple optical formulas and basic mechanical designs (no floating elements, etc.) absolutely have their advantages! But keep in mind I can only review my copy of this lens, I have no idea if there’s any big sample-to-sample variation!
  5. Vignetting, again, is very visible in the f/1.4 shot. It drastically decreases at f/2, again decreases at f/2.8 (only the far corners are affected there) and at f/4 it’s basically gone.
  6. Barrel distortion is clearly visible. You can correct this in post, just dial in +4 with Lightroom.
  7. I didn’t see any focus shift between the different aperture settings. In other words: You can always focus at f/1.4, then close aperture down afterwards to whatever setting you want, and just shoot.

Sharpness – Olympus PEN Zuiko 38/1.8

Just for fun, here’s the same brick wall test for the Olympus PEN Zuiko 38/1.8. It’s said to be the sharpest of the standard primes for the old (18×24 mm half format) Olympus PEN system. I went back a step or two with my tripod for these pictures, so that the framing is roughly the same despite the slightly longer focal length of this lens:

Again, here are the links to download the files in full size:

f/1.8f/2.8f/4f/5.6f/8

I think the lenses are not completely dissimilar in performance, but some differences are clearly visible:

  1. The shot at open aperture (f/1.8) is clearly inferior, in terms of technical image quality, to the TT Artisan at f/1.4. There’s a slight haze over all details.
  2. Contrast is a bit lower at all apertures, again especially at open aperture.
  3. The image does sharpen up and clear up drastically at f/2.8 already. At this setting, the general performance seems to be a bit more even across the whole frame than with the TT Artisan 35/1.4 to me.
  4. However, the lens struggles especially in the lower right part of the image at all apertures, even f/8. Maybe the lens is a bit decentered or it is a matter of the lens adapter. But the TT Artisan’s performance is just better there. Keep in mind this lens is over 50 years old and might have lead a hard life … so maybe it was perfectly centered when new!
  5. Distortion is much lower. I would not ever bother to correct anything here in post production.

I took this shot of the Taurus star constellation with the TT Artisan at f/2.8:

The Taurus. (at f/2.8)

Trying f/1.4 first, I did notice that the “hard stop” on the focus ring at infinity is maybe not that exactly at infinity as I initially had thought – it seems really perfectly fine for all the real world photos that I took, but apparently it’s not adjusted precisely enough if you want to shoot the stars … so to overcome this, you have to stop down a bit as I did in the photo above.

Okay, so much for brick walls and sharpness. I am very happy with the results of the TT Artisan 35/1.4. The performance I see in my shots is very stable and good, just what you expect of a quality lens. All this for that little money in a brand-new lens … call me positively surprised!

Sunstars

Another aspect where I was positively surprised! The TT Artisan has a very well finished aperture mechanism with 10 straight aperture blades, making for very clean 10-pointed sunstars in all images.

The shots below were taken at either f/5.6 or f/8. In fact, sunstars look pretty much the same at both these settings. The last frame I again took with the Olympus PEN-Zuiko 38/1.8 in comparison – that lens has a 5-blade aperture that also creates 10-pointed sunstars, albeit much less clean-looking ones.

Stray light

The TT Artisan 35/1.4 doesn’t come with any lens hood. Its filter size is only 39 mm and you might want to shop for some aftermarket solution. Contrast is always crisp during daylight shooting but you do get some internal lens reflections if a strong source of light is shining on the front lens elements. Here’s an example with a very strong lamp shining right into the lens, taken at f/1.4 … f/2 … f/2.8:

As you see, the stray light issue doesn’t diminish when stopping down; the stray light reflections just change their appearance. I’m not good in judging here cause, personally, I do actually love those internal reflections a lot, and if they bother me, I can just get rid of them by reframing slightly or using a lens hood or my hand to shade the lens.

But, technically speaking, I am pretty sure there are other lenses that technically perform “better” in this regard.

Some more words about handling this lens

I wrote a lot about this in part 1 of my review already, but having used the lens for some days very extensively now, there’s a few things I’d like to point out again.

First, the lens is really small. Not only the physical size is small, but also the way it is designed is very … let’s call it delicate. Or something like this. What I want to say is that the aperture ring is very thin. They could have also went for more massive, robust, utiliarian design with bigger, more grippy rings.

The result of the “delicate” TT Artisan lens design is that it might be not so nice to handle for people with big fingers, or even wearing gloves during cold winter days. I don’t have particularly big fingers and I enjoy handling this lens very much. Just saying that it might not be perfect for anyone.

What definitely is nice is that they put the aperture ring to the front, like with most classic rangefinder lens designs.

The aperture click stops – as I already told in part 1 – do feel surprisingly nice and tactile. It might be a bit uncommon that there are half-stop clicks between f/1.4 and f/4, then full-stop clicks until f/8 and then just one more click directly to f/16. But I found it a very good and practical solution. I don’t ever stop down more as f/8 anyway on APS-C to avoid diffraction effects.

I understand that for video, click stops are not that good, but for photographers, they are! Especially with a manual lens! The reason is that you often want to focus at open aperture, before closing down – otherwise your focusing might be much less precise. And when you have “clicks”, you can close down the aperture without taking away your eye from the viewfinder. Two clicks down … you’re at f/2. Two more clicks down … f/2.8. This is just not possible with a click-less aperture!

More sample photos

Can anyone really tell all these Chinese companies apart?

Many new brands from China have started offering a huge number of lenses to the photographer community. I still think that all these emerging Chinese companies have to work on building brand identity, but understand that it’s hard given how many brands there are already and how new they are, as well. Many photographers I have been talking to, find it confusing that a company called 7artisans started their business just a few years ago, and now there’s TT Artisan with a very similar name. What’s more, both these brands are relying on DJ Optical for the actual lens design and manufacturing. And while I’m thinking about all this: Why are there two brand names printed on this TT Artisan lens front ring?

However, this TT Artisan 35/1.4 lens does surprise me with its positively outspoken and unique product design. There is a certain, nice retro-modern quality to its styling with that sloping, narrow barrel. Also the lens diagram that’s been printed on the lens is a nice, individualistic detail.

Some clever thoughts went into the handling as well. For example, that grippy part on the ring that is positioned at the very rear of the lens (behind that unique constriction in the lens barrel) helps mounting or unmounting the lens without accidentally rotating the manual focusing ring.

So while still missing some brand identity, I see some very welcome design identity in the actual lens here.

I do hope that the new TT Artisan company will build upon this, and that when releasing the next lenses, they’ll stick to the same design clues, use the same font faces, make all their stuff look like it really belongs to them and no one else.

High quality – I hope it stays like this!

TT Artisan apparently realized that there’s a market for budget APS-C quality lenses and, in my opinion, they’re taking the right approach with this 35/1.4. Take a well-proven classic lens formula, nothing too fancy – that is the best approach to make a quality lens on a tight budget.

The mechanical quality of my lens is very good, almost comparable to Voigtländer really. Let’s hope it stays like this during long-term use! Also I enjoy handling this lens very much.

I especially love how infinity is (almost) right at the hard stop of the focusing ring. Though I expect there can be some sample variation, and for critical photos (such like astronomy shots) the hard stop might prove to be a problem eventually. For everyday shooting, it’s just super easy and convenient though! There are three set screws at the focus ring, maybe they even can be used to adjust that hard stop yourself. (But, hehe, I’m not the one going to find out!)

So, TT Artisan already announced that they’ll add two more lenses to this series – an 17/1.4 and a 50/1.2 – and I am very much looking forward to these. It might be a great way to get a nice three-prime-lens setup for your APS-C mirrorless camera!

The Cologne skyline. (at f/5.6)

Verdict

The TT Artisan 35/1.4 is a very affordable lens. Basically it’s almost “toy lens” money that you pay. But what you get is, in my opinion, a very capable, high quality lens:

The positive:

  1. good sharpness and contrast even wide open
  2. very good sharpness across the whole frame stopped down, basically text-book perfect at f/5.6
  3. good centering
  4. good, classic but not too “fancy” bokeh
  5. very well defined 10-pointed sunstars already at f/4 … f/5.6
  6. good mechanical quality, seems to me a really tight fit and finish
  7. great, somewhat unique product design, nice handling
  8. very nice click-stopped aperture ring
  9. hard stop at infinity that is (almost) perfectly adjusted
  10. very low price point (below 100 Euro / USD)

The negative:

  1. heavy vignetting at f/1.4
  2. slight smearing of the extreme image corners until about f/5.6
  3. visible distortion (dial in +4 in Lightroom to correct)
  4. some sensitivity to stray light and no lens shade is included
  5. no electric contacts, so you need to dial in focal length to make use of your camera’s IBIS

Of course the TT Artisan 35/1.4 cannot (and does not want to!) compete with the best of the best out there, so it’s not a match to an Olympus Pro prime or a Sigma Art lens. But then, most people who are looking for that ultimate technical performance maybe won’t be using an APS-C system these days anyway anymore, but rather go for a full-frame Sony, Canon, Nikon or even Leica. (Or get a “super full frame” Fuji GFX or Hasselblad, for that matter!)

But, okay! That’s it for now! For below 100 Euros or US Dollars, I’d always recommend this lens to anyone looking for a nice, lightweight, high-quality manual focus standard prime lens.

Thomas

PS.
Make sure you didn’t miss part 1 of this review!

Hey and if you made it until here: Also check out my new YouTube channel!

9 thoughts on “Cheap & great: New TT Artisan 35/1.4 for APS-C (Review – part 2)

Add yours

  1. Hey! Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated, it’s a great help for me if you comment so I know I’m on the right track with these reviews. I hope you will like the lens and wish you a lot of fun with it!

  2. Great Samples and Review, i ordered mine also back into the End of September, but due Corona Pandemic, Package Delivering from HK, Guadong, Shenzen, Bejing or from where ever this comes from, takes some Time….

  3. Oh, sorry to hear that the delivery of your lens is delayed so much. I hope that, in the end, you’ll like the lens despite the long wait! Thomas

  4. There is DOF scale for F/11, but there isn’t F/11 at aperture ring :(

    My copy for Sony E is also sharp and very nice overall. Thanks for good review

  5. Great ‘realistic’ review from a real person. I have ordered and await delivery of this lens before I saw your review. It’s to pair up with my XE2, a second camera which I want to keep for B&W stuff. I was having a panic over quality due to the price (£66 delivered new!) but your review has renewed my belief it can’t be that bad.

  6. Thanks for your feedback! I hope you’ll have as much fun with your copy of this lens than I have with mine. I am still using it as my main lens on the X-E3, love the results, small size and easy operation. £66 sounds a great deal to me!

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