Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post by the lens manufacturer. I paid for this lens from my own pocket. This is purely my own opinion about this piece of wonderful glass, and I wish to share with more people who are keen to explore with a manual lens.
During those DSLR days, it was undoubtedly a terrible experience for me to use a manual lens to shoot. I always tended to achieve off-focused shots and was unable to get reasonably sharp photos. Maybe I wasn’t born talented with such precise and sharp eyes. As technology evolved over the years, the mirrorless systems came and replaced my DSLR camera. Then, following the arrival of the mirrorless era, there was a rise in many 3rd party manual lens manufacturers, especially from China. They released many focal lengths, with options from ultrawide to mid-telephoto. But the most popular focal lengths are 35mm and 50mm on APS-C format.
These manufacturers created many cheap lenses in the early days, but usually sub-par image quality and only a small pool of expensive lenses with reasonably good image quality. Having said that, they are all manual lenses (excluding Viltrox). But these manual lenses spark a lot of conversations among the photography communities. That’s because the Chinese manufacturers always give us surprisingly fast aperture lenses. Not forgetting that some of the lenses are small, light and mostly well-built.
As a consumer, I am also attracted to these features, but I believe that I will not enjoy using it if the image quality is being compromised. However, I cannot control that temptation, and I eventually bought a few manual lenses to try out. Of course, I did not keep all the manual lenses that failed my usable image quality standard.
Focus peaking is probably one of the best features in mirrorless cameras. It is a saviour for me. Although it is not 100% perfect, it does improve my accuracy in getting my subject in focus. And it also improves my user experience with all manual lenses. Come to think of it, the old “DSLR me” would have never thought that the “Mirrorless me” would purchase manual lenses to use today.
I recently came across this brand called TTartisan, and I got to know that this new 35mm F1.4 lens is their first attempt to aim at the APS-C market, and it does come with various mounts. Unfortunately, I did not know much about this company’s background. But from my understanding, it is a very recent Chinese company and was made known to the world as early as November 2019 (based on news reported in various well-known sources), and it started off with producing very decent quality lenses for Lecia mount.
Before I shed some lights about this piece of glass, here is a quick comparison of this lens against my all-time favourite, the XF35mm F1.4:
|XF 35mm F1.4||TTartisan 35mm F1.4|
|Minimum Focus Distance:||0.28m||0.28m|
|Diagonal Angle of View:||44.2 degrees||45 degrees|
|Diaphragm Blades:||7 pieces||10 pieces|
|Optical Design:||8 elements in 6 groups (including 1 aspherical element)||7 elements in 6 groups|
|Weight:||187 grams||180 grams (approximately)|
One unique “selling” point about this lens is that they allow users to design their own logo and print on the lens body. In my opinion, this is something unusual, and it is kind of adding a personal touch to a lens. This is one of the reasons why it caught my attention. After placing my order, I was having a hard time thinking of what design or logo to be printed on the lens. Then I noticed that they do not have their logo printed on the lens and only the letters “TTartisan”, so I decided to ask them to print their logo on it.
For your information, the default “logo” on the lens is the lens element’s simplified cutaway.
Secondly, it’s the price tag. It cost me around USD75. Before spending the money, my cognition with the typical manual lens still fell under the category of “cheap lens, poor image quality”. I did some research online. Although with limited resources available, they showed quite a positive impression with this tiny glass. Then I thought to myself: “Why not just give myself a chance to try it out? After all, nothing much to lose, as I still can sell it away to recover some cash.”
Let’s start with some introduction on this lens. It’s a solid and well-built lens. You can certainly feel the weight when you hold it. Might be due to the smaller size than the Fujinon XF35mm F1.4, it felt heavier than the Fuji lens. Ironically, it is 7 grams lighter.
It has a unique screw-in metal lens cap with no lens hood. Excluding the rear lens cap, this lens is fully built out of metal, or at least I did not notice any other material besides metal. The aperture ring comes with ½ stop clicks, which is not usual for typical China-made manual lenses. The focusing ring is smooth to rotate with some gentle and comfortable friction.
However, I noticed some lens breathing with this lens. There is a slight change in the “focal length” when focusing. Since it does not impact the image quality, and I do not do videography, it is not a big deal for me.
When it comes to image quality, this lens really impresses me. It changed my perception of “cheap lens, poor image quality”. Although chromatic aberration and softness are clearly visible at F1.4, the lens improved from F2 onwards. Nothing much to complain about for a USD75 lens. The results are awesome. The bokeh is reasonably nice and not too harsh of my viewing experience. Despite having 10 aperture blades, the bokeh balls are oval-shaped at the corner of the lens, but you still get very nice circular bokeh balls at the centre.
As a 50mm (full-frame equivalent) lens, it can be used for most genres but what I use here are mainly street and portrait.
At first, it took me a while to become familiar with using this lens. Since the aperture ring rotates in the opposite direction from Fujinon lenses, there were times when I accidentally turned to the wrong aperture. Because this is a contactless manual lens, no electronic data is exchanged between the lens and the camera body. Hence, I always have to do a visual check on the lens before I shoot.
For street shots, I usually set my focusing distance to infinity first. When I locate my subject, I will simply rotate the focusing ring to the desired distance and snap. After getting the shots, I will rotate the focusing ring back to infinity and prepare myself for the next subject. I do not know if there are other methods, but I think this is my preferred for focusing with a manual lens. Although I am relying on focus peaking, I still spend some time (as fast as I can and depends on the subject that I am shooting) to ensure that I can get the focus right before I snap the shot.
Using this lens for portrait photos is a little tricky. It’s tricky because it involves the movement of the model and myself. A slight movement between both of us will just create a result that is immediately out of focus. Thanks to the models’ patience, I did try for a few times and managed to get some successful shots. The sharpness hit perfectly well. Believe it or not, when I am compiling my photos, I could not tell which ones were taken with the manual lens. It’s probably my not-so-perfect eyes to look at the photos, and I have to rely on the EXIF data to tell me.
Is it possible to use it for professional work? Sure, it is. But why should you take the risk of having off focus results and deliver it to your clients? Hence, I wouldn’t recommend it. Unless you have completed the shots you need and have some spare time exploring with this lens, I think it is okay to experience using it.
How is the image quality compared to the Fujinon XF35mm F1.4?
I think we shouldn’t make a comparison, and there are many reasons why I think it’s not fair to compare them. First and foremost, the price point. The XF35mm F1.4 is about 6 times the price of this manual lens. Second, one is autofocus, while the other one is fully manual. Last but not least, I believe the optical design formula for XF35mm is optimized for Fujifilm cameras, while the other is a general optical design formula for the mass. Having said that, both lenses have their own beauty, their own character and purpose to serve their target audiences. I do not doubt that both lenses are enjoyable to use, and they have different hands-on experience to achieve the shots.
To continue from what I have mentioned in my disclaimer, this lens has changed my perception, and it’s giving me a very positive image of how China-made manual lenses have come so far. It’s a performer for its price, and the photos are surprisingly usable too. It’s a fun lens to learn, play and not having a hole in my pocket. It gives me a sense of excitement and satisfaction. The excitement is the process of focusing on the subjects, and the satisfaction comes in when the shots nailed it. This satisfaction is totally different and more rewarding from getting the shot with autofocus. With these, I choose to keep this lens.
Alwin is a 37 years old engineer, husband and Fujifilm fanboy from Singapore. His first encounter with Fujifilm was the launch of the X10 in 2012. It was love at first sight. It was a joyful compact camera and it also introduced film simulations to him. But what brought him deep into Fujifilm was the X-T2 and the love grows further. He loves to experience and discover many genres.