Can a “cheap” lens for your Leica be any good? Yes. Is it worth buying? Absolutely! Do I have any screen presence? No.
In this video and write up I (poorly attempt to) check out the now well tested and surprisingly good 7Artisans 35mm by taking a brief walk through Fitzroy, Melbourne and an Abandoned Inner City Petrol Station.
I don’t usually do video reviews and much prefer the long form-style of the blog, but I thought I’d try something different for this one – so please be kind! The write up follows the video below.
Things to note:
- The video was edited entirely on my iPad, so the colour is off. What do you think?
- Let me say from the outset I know I don’t review the lens to much in the video, but more show the examples of the lens, sorry about that! I’ll try to do it justice in the write up on the blog.
- THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS FOREVER, MITCH RYDER NEVER!
The 7Artisans 35mm or the Chinacron as the internet has aptly named it isn’t exactly a tiny lens, but it’s not MASSIVE either. My 40mm M-Rokkor is noticeably smaller, but that lens is one of the smaller you can get on the open market beyond the ultra compact MS Optics ultra tiny super lenses or even some of the Voigtlander primes. That said, it’s roughly the same size as Leica’s “Budget” (lol) Summarit range and includes a classically Leica styled focus ring-tab-thing so you can one finger focus.
Built off of the Sonnar platform like many other dodgy third-party lenses before it and those by our friends at Zeiss, it’s a tried and tested formula. The Chinacron is plenty sharp and it’s bokeh is creamy enough for you out-of-focus nerds, it is f/2 just like your precious Summicron. It’ll give you some chromatic aberration in some circumstances and I noticed it occasionally is victim to some barrel distortion, but nothing that’ll straight up ruin every photo. Personally, I largely shot it at f/5.6 with occasional dips into the lenses widest aperture and wasn’t disappointed at any aperture nor did I hate my results. I don’t really care about edge-to-edge sharpness but it’s plenty good, for daily street shooting the lens performs adequately and I didn’t notice any of the typical issues associated with a cheap-third party lens.
Product shots here.
In terms of style, this lens has it in spades. It’s got that Leica murdered-out-stealth look, with it’s all black design, minimal markings and soft white fonts it will fit perfectly on your M Mount camera that’s already had it’s branding duct-taped up. So, if you’re looking to spice up your Leica with a completely bland lens that only has the key markings you need – like your Aperture and distance markings – then this lens might just fit the bill.
On my beat up M9, the Chinacron looks lovely and pretty incognito, meaning if you’re worried about your many thousands of dollars worth Summicron or ‘Lux being swiped by a would-be thug/Leica nerd then the $349AU Chinacron is well worth your attention. I mean, it’s not the $18k or whatever ridiculous price Leica are charging for less paint on the Stealth Edition Monochrom. But, if you’re trying to DIY stealthanise your kit this lens should serve you well in that regard. Mind you, go ahead and note that the black paint of the lens is slightly different to that of my M9, probably a bit more modern and really, much nicer. If that matters to you: now you know.
One odd thing that I noticed while out shooting and chimping on the M9 (I know, shame on me) is that the focal length doesn’t appear to be exactly 35mm but a touch tighter – maybe 37mm or even 40mm. I didn’t do any scientific field tests against my 40mm M-Rokkor and I’m pretty sure I’m not the first to notice this. But, it just feels tighter than 35mm when you’re out in the street. For me it’s totally not deal breaker but something to keep in mind if you plan on using this as your daily walk around shooter.
The perceived tightness issues are where the problems stop with this lens, it’s a solid little lens. The focus throw is very short, meaning it’s easy to get your subjects in focus. It’s not quite as short as my legendary 40mm M-Rokkor, it’s really only a shade longer making it perfectly usable. The focus tab is easy to grip with a single finger and is extremely smooth with no odd slow-down spots through the focus travel, another plus. Additionally, the aperture ring has a nice solid click to it meaning you can really feel the clicks as you flick through Aperture settings when you’re blind with your eye up against the viewfinder. This is a nice feature if you’re a spud like me.
Does it handle like a Leica lens? For the most part. The build is premium enough and probably on par with the lower-rent Summarit Range from Leica.
The pound-for-pound, or dollar-for-dollar (if you will) performance-to-cost ratio is out of control with the 7Artisans 35mm. It’s a 35mm f/2 lens that performs well above its puny $300 price tag. Granted, the design is different to Leica’s Summicron or Summarit as it uses a Sonnar design just like our friends at Zeiss and Voitglander, with no aspherical elements. Doesn’t mean it’s rubbish, just different. In reality it’s still of very high quality and quite formidable when used as a daily shooter. Is it going to replace your Summicron? No, but I’d suggest if you’ve already got a ‘Cron or a ‘Lux you’re not looking at this lens as a replacement. No matter which way you slice it, the 7Artisans 35mm f/2 is a brilliant way to get into the Leica ecosystem without breaking the bank on a lens, a body is already going to set you back part of your kidney so why give up the rest of a functioning organ on a camera?
It’s chassis and elements feel premium, about as good as Zeiss and Leica (I know, shock horror) when in hand and use. But, for some because it doesn’t bare the Leica branding it will always be Sally in the corner, in the same way that Zeiss and Minolta are looked down upon by the elite of Leica users. I imagine a conversation about this lens occurring something like this, over a mulled wine of course:
JC: Who cares where the lens was made
Leica Fanboy: But but, it’s from China not Germany so it’ll never be as good
JC: Jam it! If you need to justify not buying it because of geographics then go right ahead just know that while you’re saving and not shooting you could have been off and creating already had you not been a snooty shit.
I didn’t notice any weird manufacturing flaws on the copy I borrowed for this review, in fact the machining was very nice and has a crisp feel to it, very fancy indeed for $300. The machined aluminum seems to be very similar to what Leica use (read: the same material) on their lenses and maintains the same smooth and premium feel. It’s not a hefty lens, weighing roughly the same as the other 35mm options from Leica or Zeiss.
Files & Results
Not surprisingly, the lens performs well when attached to my Leica M9. It’s plenty sharp, nice and soft wide open and the lens doesn’t have a negative impact on the files. Below are the edited results from the video for your viewing or reviewing pleasure. I did not adapt this lens to any other system, but the results in terms of sharpness and rendering will not vary much, the lens will just increase in length if you’re a crop sensor shooter.
Like I said, the lens is very easy to use and the output is not too dissimilar from it’s Leica, Zeiss or Voigtlander counterparts. It’s not a cheap toy or a throwaway lens, it’s actually a very solid performer that kinda sticks it to Leica with the performance it yields for the price. Let’s be real, if you went ahead and listed the lens as a Summicron on Flickr nobody would give it a second thought. In fact, it’s even 6 bit coded thanks to Leica’s terrible coding system so it’ll stamp your files (if you’re a digital shooter) as a ‘cron if you want to fake-flex your way to internet stardom.
This lens costs about $300 and can be found online via Amazon, eBay or direct from 7Artisans without much trouble at all. It’s not rare by any stretch and 7Artisans have made HEAPS of these, which makes the lens readily available.
Hot tip: wait until you get a sweet coupon code or 10%-15%-or even-20% deal from Amazon/eBay or your favourite auction site thing and get this lens at steal.
The 7Artisans 35mm f/2 is a solid performer and shouldn’t be overlooked simply because it doesn’t wear a Leica badge. It’s modern, sharp and very smooth while remaining easy to focus for rangefinder beginners and pros alike. Is it a precision optical machine like it’s Leica cousins? No, but it costs one tenth of the price, so check your complains at the door. It also comes with a handy little adjustment screwdriver in case your copy needs fine tuning, mine did not.
Coming in significantly cheaper than any Leica produced lens, in the history of the world, with modern optics and a nice premium feel I can’t recommend this lens enough. Buy it now!