The 7artisans 55mm f/1.4 on the Fuji-X XT-20
PREAMBLE, A FEW NOTES ON THE TEST
An increasing amount of Chinese lenses is available for modern cameras, most of them are inexpensive thanks to the lack of auto-focus capabilities and electric contacts, which means you also miss auto-aperture and most information in your image files, such as the aperture actually used and the lens name, length, etc., because none at all is sent from the lens to the camera.
So, they are quite different from the usual modern lenses we see attached to digital bodies, nonetheless if you are a fan of "slow photography", they can prove useful.
Don't assume, though, that the price is low just because the lack of electronics, most of the times the glasses are not on par with the more expensive counterparts, so you can take good shots once you know about their limits.
The strong point of this 55mm by 7artisans is the wide aperture, that makes it a sexy piece of metal for portraits.
I admit that I don't have the time to perform this sort of tests properly, so some of the results may be wrong for a number of reasons.
This time I took minimal precautions regarding firmness of the camera, so a few shots suffer from a bit of shaking.
For each aperture, I have taken two shots, each time refocusing.
For the purpose, I don't use the focus-assist edge highlight, I prefer to use the zoom facility that magnifies the image.
As for the borders, everytime I have selected just the best one out of the eight available (4 per each of the two shots); same applies for the two available center spots. But this lens is not aspherical, so you can expect the borders to suffer a bit in photos taken at short distance.
The images are JPEG as produced by the camera, since in general all Fuji-X cameras do a fantastic job in this regard. You can squeeze a bit more sharpness plus details in low and high lights with raw editing tools such as rawtherapee, but with this camera it is most often unnecessary.
I'd like two share some more few considerations.
Many cheap lenses, and often also some more expensive ones, are not perfectly aligned and borders are not evenly at focus. Also consider that checking borders at short distances may be improper, since the difference between the distance from the center and the distance form the border can be significant: 40cm to 50cm is much different than 40m to 50m! In a word, take the information with a grain of salt...
focal length 55 mm (equivalent to a 83mm in full-frame) angle of view 29.3° format APS-C max aperture f/1.4 aperture blades 14 lenses/groups 6 elements in 5 groups min focus distance 0.35 meters --- filter diameter 49 mm weather sealing no weight 272 g dimensions 53 x 55 mm
Some things about this lens are appreciable right from the specifications:
A NICE PIECE OF METAL, THE FOCUS RING? COULD BE BETTER
This item appears solid and sturdy, also the tactile sensations tell the same. There is a lot of metal, good!
It's just a tad lighter than you'd expect and just a bit longer than I hoped for, but later I realized that you can't do much better, it's a 55mm and it's just that long.
I am spoiled by the quality of the Fuji lenses, but I must say that this piece of steel is not bad at all!
The focus ring is fine, but it smoothly changes its resistance on the run, may it's just some grease that needs movement and will improve with time, it happens.
The aperture ring is de-clicked. You may love it for cinema, but it may be a bit of annoyance for pure photography. It is a matter of taste and of how you shoot, in the end.
It is marketed and sold as an APS-C lens, and actually the barrel is slimmer than others, possibly revealing that APS-C is, indeed, the coverage of it, I bet it wouldn't extend to a full-frame.
The aperture ring is de-clicked, this will please those who want to record videos with it but may annoy some other who mostly shoot still pictures; I admit that I don't have a clear opinion on the matter but this is my first with this feature and so I'm happy to give it a try.
Also, the ring is in the front part of the barrel, which is somewhat unusal for modern lenses (at least those that still have an aperture ring!) but it wasn't unusual at all for the M39 and M42 screw lenses of the past. I didn't find any difficulty with that, in spite of the fact that all my other lenses have the ring near the camera body, instead.
GENERAL IMAGE QUALITY
The 7artisans is capable of producing pleasant images, colour reproduction is good, slightly warm in my humble opinion, and focus-shift seems not to be a problem, so you can focus at a wide aperture (I'd pick 2.8 to avoid softness that makes manual focus harder) and then change to the desired aperture for shooting.
Here a few shots:
SHARPNESS, SHORT DISTANCE / CLOSE PORTRAIT DISTANCE (pixel-peeping)
SHARPNESS, focus at infinity
In terms of absolute sharpness with focus at infinity, the center is good and you can tell subtle colour nuances apart, and the borders a bit better than for the close distance, but the general look of the image is somewhat less appealing, it certainly lacks the "3D pop" some other lenses are famous for, such as the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85mm (I tested this very nice piece, too, find the list of tests in the site index).
Occasionally, you may use the 7artisans for landscapes, but I wouldn't carry it with me for this purpose.
GOOD BUT THERE ARE GLITCHES
There are some areas where the lens doesn't excel for sure.
Namely, they are: sharpness at borders (already said), flare control (as already said, not terrible, but could be better), and vignetting. I found this to be appreciable till f/4, I hoped for something better.
Anyway, vignetting can be easily corrected in software.
Sharpness at infinity behaves more or less the same, I'd say the vocation of this lens is portrait and possibly street photography, if you prefer to be more discreet than usual (photographers prefer much shorter lengths for this activity), I wouldn't pick it for buildings and landscape and alike -not that this focal length would be the most suited anyway.
SIZE AND VALUE PROPOSITION
The 7Artisans 55mm is a good lens and the price is terrific for a new item, in my case 135 euro at a physical shop (meaning: not an online retailer), so if you need this sort of lens just don't think twice and buy one. Nevertheless, I'd like to share a few considerations about how it compares to other options.
I haven't tested other modern inexpensive MF lenses of this length, but online tests seem to indicate that this one ranks among the best, so it's not there it may find its peers: instead, spending just a bit less, you can grab an adapter and any legacy "nifty fifty" from the Seventies, some of which perform from better to much better, at least because they were meant for the full frame so they usually do better in the corners of the smaller APS-C area.
The 7Artisans 55mm product retains a few advantages though: first, you don't need an adapter, and though I don't find it an annoyance, some may do, plus some adapters may be flimsy; second, you have in your hands a younger lens, that may last a longer time. It's not just a matter of mechanics, which are often excellent in old primes, but there are other considerations, such as wearing of internal and external coatings, drying grease, etc.
The 7Artisans is also marginally shorter and slimmer than the typical adapter+lens combination, and 55mm focal is also a bit longer than the classic 50mm. Indeed, it is harder to find a very good legacy 55mm than a 50mm, so if you want a longer portrait lens, the newer Chinese thing may be your choice, plus you get the 14 blades and, if this is something you like, a de-clicked aperture ring.
A final consideration: one point with the Fuji-X is to have a retro-style camera. The look of the 7artisans lens nicely fit in the idea and provides an adequate companion, if that matters to you.
The image compares an adapter + 50mm combo with the 55mm lens (50 vs 55) with: there is some difference in favour of the 7artisans piece, but not that much:|