Home Cameras/Lenses 7Artisans Under £500 for a 75mm f/1.25 light monster. Is it for real?

Under £500 for a 75mm f/1.25 light monster. Is it for real?

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The lookalike, not yet announced but well documented already. The 7Artisans "Noctilux" comes with familiar red dot and orange focal-length inscription. All for under £500 compared with Leica's £10,250. Image, B&H Photo

For a seasoned pensioner of 66 summers, the Leica M mount seems to have more life in it than many an upstart coupling. Leica, Zeiss and Voigtländer and others continue to churn out lenses for the “old fashioned” rangefinder, a device that by rights should have succumbed to the mirrorless fad by now.

They keep on coming, thick and fast, and also from new directions. The Chinese manufacturer 7Artisans, among others, has been hard at work over the past couple of years and now sports a mystifyingly comprehensive stable of lenses.

Bargain

The lookalike, not yet announced but well documented already. The 7Artisans "Noctilux" comes with familiar red dot and orange focal-length inscription. All for under £500 compared with Leica's £10,250. Image, B&H Photo
The lookalike, not yet announced but well documented already. The 7Artisans “Noctilux” comes with familiar red dot and orange focal-length inscription. All for under £500 compared with Leica’s £10,250. Image, B&H Photo

Some months ago I bought the bargain 55mm 7Artisans f/1.4 for L-Mount (APS-C, Leica CL). It was my first venture in the direction of 7Artisans. I was impressed not only with the price but also with the quality and performance. For £139 you can’t go much wrong and all I can say is that you get a lot more than you pay for.

I no longer automatically scoff and discount these lenses. And there is something really interesting around the corner. We are about to get a 7Artisans 75mm f/1.25 lens which is almost a dead ringer for Leica’s ever-so-superior 75mm f/1.25 ASPH Noctilux-M. Now that’s a wonderful lens, but potential buyers will surely notice the £10,250 price tag which might put them off.

Open a stall

Substitute the 7Artisans “equivalent” and you can be bolting it on to your M10 at a bargain-basement cost of £450. Yes, I did say four-fifty. Put it another way, you could get 23 of these Sonnar-design lookalikes for the cost of one Nocti seventy-five. What you would do with them, I don’t know, except perhaps open a stall on the Portobello Road. But as an exercise in comparison, it is compelling.

The gold standard. Leica M10-P, £6,500 and Lecia 75mm Noctilux, £10,250. A brute of an outfit at a brute of a price. But you can be sure it is the best.
The gold standard. Leica M10-P, £6,500 and Lecia 75mm Noctilux, £10,250. A brute of an outfit at a brute of a price. But you can be sure it is the best.

Your first reaction, undoubtedly, will a snorting scoff. I almost feel the same. Can this bargain-basement light gobbler even lick the mount of Leica’s finest in image quality and build quality?

Will it suffer from terrible vignetting, butter-soft corners or appalling aberrations. Will the focus ring fall off in the first week? Perhaps it will have oodles of “character” to compensate for any shortcomings. Who knows, for the moment?

Despite the similar appearance, these two lenses are as chalk and cheese. You pays your money and you takes your choice. I have no doubt that the Noctilux will knock the 7Artisans 75mm into a cocked hat. Otherwise. there is no justice in the world and Leica would be out of business in a trice.

The 7Artisans definitely looks the part on this M-P (Image Photorumors)
The 7Artisans definitely looks the part on this M-P (Image Photorumors)

Interesting times

But if you really want an ultra-fast 75mm M-mount lens and balk at paying over ten grand, you will be keen to discover just how good (or how bad) this lens is.

Very soon we shall learn how the 7Artisans bargain stacks up against Leica’s mighty Noctilux. We definitely live in interesting times.

I look at my little 55mm 7Artisans lens and can only think that if the 75mm is as good, it will certainly be worth 450 of anyone’s pounds.

28 COMMENTS

  1. “..Will the focus ring fall off in the first week?..” The aperture ring fell off my Leica 75mm f2.5 the other year, so I sent it back to have it definitively fixed on. Last year, after its repair by Leica, it fell off AGAIN! So I sent it back again, and it arrived home a few weeks ago screwed back on once AGAIN.

    Then I sent four lenses to have 6-bit coding added – simple job? They just grind out six grooves and fill them with paint, no? The 21mm could have its coding done easily, it seems, but the other three (a modern collapsible 50mm Elmar, a macro-Elmar close-up 90mm and an older ‘Tele-Elmarit’ 90mm f2.8) would need a much bigger job done apparently ..and I couldn’t understand why. They’d need ‘re-adjusting for focus on a digital sensor, plus re-greasing’. OK, I thought, but why?

    “We always have to do that..” as apparently two of them had a slightly sloppy focus ..but not that I’d ever noticed. No more info than that.

    They came back a few days ago: stiff as wheel nuts. The 75mm which had NOT been ‘re-greased’ was still fast and slick; the 21mm hadn’t been ‘re-greased’ either, and was still smooth and snappy.

    So I emailed Jimmy at the London Leica Store to see if they would remove some of that new sticky grease, or ‘WD-40’ them, or just put them back as they had been ..but it seems that 6-bit coding involves the original mounts being taken off, and NEW, pre-ground mounts are then applied (and filled with paint), so with new mounts on, the focus needs re-setting in case the new mounts behave slightly differently. Eh? And the new greasing’s done as part of the focus re-adjustment.

    So an extra €149 + VAT, above and beyond the coding, for three of them ..and now those three are stiff as starched collars. Jimmy in London suggests that I spend an evening – or two – twisting each lens for twenty minutes at a time until they each get easier to turn (!).

    No thanks ..Jimmy can do that himself for an evening or two, or they can be twisted for a few nights in Wetzlar by someone else who has nothing better to do until they turn freely! I didn’t send them to Wetzlar to have them made more awkward to use.

    So I’ll try one of your f1.25 75mm lenses when they go on sale Mike, and we can see if its focus ring, or its aperture ring, falls off as did my 75mm f2.5 Leica lens.

    And I’m really annoyed that I’M supposed to keep twisting those newly-returned lenses till I’ve “run them in” or “eased them into shape” ..and I’ve been charged €149 + VAT each to make them more difficult to focus! ..No-o-o ..back to Germany they go to be “run in” over there!

    You’re right, an alternative to the Leica 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux seems a worthwhile try; I’m just writing you an article about alternatives to Leica’s 50mm Noctilux (..and I’ll borrow yours to make my point, if I may!..)

    And lastly; grr-rrr-rrr-rr..!

    • Think of all that exercise throttling your lenses until they loosen up. You will have wrists like the average pro weight lifter.

    • Ah! Running in. Now we are back to motoring in the fifties. The other night I watched an old video about the Austin A35 which was so advanced that it needed just two services during the running-in period — one at 500 miles, the other at 1,000 miles. I imaging the car needed servicing every 3,000 miles thereafter. These days w don’t know we are born. No obligatory running in, first service after two years or 20,000ish miles. Now where did I put my grease gun?

      • I had forgotten about running cars in, my grandfather used to buy brand new cars, and I remember the driving round at certain speeds, and not over revving it until it had been serviced. There was a module on my Plant Engineering City and Guilds that explained about why this had to be done, and had us bench testing ford escort engines, stripping them down and rebuilding them again.

  2. I have the whole line of 7A lenses for Leica M and my Fuji X Pros they are extremely well made and delightful picture takers. I think Leica should buy 7A or cozy up to them as they did with Minolta in the 70s and 80’s and Sigma in the 90’s

  3. I have the 50mm f1.1 and the 35mm f2.0. They are really well built, and each new lens is getting better and better to my mind. I am tempted by the 28mm f1.4, and certainly by this 75mm lens which should be available online by the end of this month, I am told. People scoffed when the 50mm came out and rubbished this Chinese-made brand, but their M Mount lenses continue to narrow the gap with their mainstream (think Voigtlander and Zeiss) competition. Definitely worth a try in order to make your own mind up, I would say.

    • Good idea. I will definitely get a 75, if only for the story I can knit together. I have cast covetous glances at the Leica lens, o even saw one used for just under £8,000. But £8k. I could buy a good car for that. £450 is altogether an easier decision.

  4. For the price it is worth checking out. I will put one on my list. It may have issues under certain conditions such as sun in frame compared to the Leica version but then avoid those conditions with that lens rather than write it off as most reviewers do. If it does not work out long term, it is not a big loss.

    • A very interesting question, Steve. Labour cost is obviously higher in Europe but there are many other factors at play. You would have thought that someone would have had a go, even on a very small scale.

    • There used to be a couple of lens grinders, coaters and manufacturers in London back in the eighties ..at Balham, in the south [“Gateway to the South”] and at Surbiton in the south west. Both companies, though, complained that they couldn’t attract apprentices, as no-one wanted to train for, say, three years to become a lens grinder (..for the wages which they were offering), and I don’t think they could afford to get computerised. So both companies, sadly, shut up shop.

      You’ll have heard of SRB in Luton (north of London), known more for grinding all sorts of camera lens filters, but the only firm I know now which makes, and coats, all sorts of photographic, binocular and other lenses is Kingsview Optical in Rye (lovely town) in Sussex, who have put money into buying (expensive) computer controlled lens-grinding equipment.

      It usually takes a 3rd-party speculative gamble to commission a manufacturer to actually make a lens, rather than a manufacturer (craftspeople) choosing to take the risk of designing and manufacturing their own line of photographic lenses. So there have been Kickstarter campaigns to raise enough dosh to commission lenses to be built (..usually modern copies of old established designs by Mayer, Steinheil and others..) but people who actually turn, grind and coat lenses don’t usually want to risk (tens of) thousands in producing lenses which may not sell.

      Labour is cheaper in China, graduate lens design enthusiasts can get products off the ground – to sell in the more moneyed West and in Asia – through attractive websites and various appealing offers, so British lens design and expertise seems to have pretty much gone the way of – and here Mike will be able to expound far better than I – British motorbike manufacturing.

      • I quite forgot about Cooke optics in, I think, Leicester. They seem to produce a wide range of optics, mainly for cine use, but it is surprising that they haven’t dabbled (at least recently, I don’t know about the past) in M-mount glass. If my memory serves me correctly, they are somehow connected with the old Taylor Hobson company. I also have a hazy notion that Leitz used to get some of their glass from them. Anyway, you probably know chapter and verse on this.

        • Yup, Cooke lenses, of Leicester, became part of Taylor, Taylor Hobson, but are now – since 1998 – back to being a separate ciné lens company.

          The 2 inch – that’s to say 50mm – f2 Taylor Hobson lens (pretty much the same as a Leica 50mm Summicron, but supposedly sharper or crisper!) was the lens which came with the Leicester-made Reid cameras ..copies of the various Leicas, Models I, II and II.. built by Reid & Sigrist, and identical in every way to German-made Leicas, except that all the components – except the lens thread and the lens-to-film distance – were made to imperial measurements (feet and inches) instead of continental metric (millimetre) measurements, so the Leica and Reid parts aren’t interchangeable ..except for the lenses!

          “..I also have a hazy notion that Leitz used to get some of their glass from them..” I think maybe you’re thinking of Chance Brothers, the British glass company (like Pilkingtons), whose ‘Crown’ glass was used by Wetzlar in 1949 for Leitz’ first Summicron (Summit of quality, Crown glass) 50mm f2 lenses.

          (Chance had also provided the glass for the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition in London of (..as all we Britishers know..) 1851.)

  5. Mike, Very thoughtful and interesting article on 7Artisans. I have not had a go at any of their lenses, but have been tempted. Even Thorsten Overgaard, who is the ultimate Noctilux shooter, uses their 50mm from time to time – amazing. The issue for me is with my current camera set, it is possible to get wonderful photos at relatively high ISO settings – so the question is do I really need faster lenses (reminds me of the lyrics to the song Faster Horses “It’s faster horses, younger women,
    Older whiskey, and more money” or to slightly alter the lyrics in the case of Leica Noctilux lenses, “faster lenses, and less money.”) I do realize that there is a certain look to the Noctilux that is difficult to replicate with other lenses, even of the Leica brand, but there is a severe premium to pay for that look, and getting sharp focus is more challenging. I find my 50mm APO f2.0 tough to beat (although that also was a pricey purchases I thought long and hard about) and I have one of the older Leica 75mm f1.4 whose look I really love – not so good for street type photography, the focus throw is quite long, but for portraiture, a great lens. So the age old question returns, how many lenses do I really need, at any price points? I guess we will learn the answer to that as our lives go on – seems like there is always a reason for ‘just one more’. I am working hard at telling myself, just go out and shoot, since that is the point of any lens, isn’t it?

    • Absolutely right, Craig. Ultra-fast lenses tend to be something of a perceived status symbol rather than a necessity. I own the Noctilux and hardly ever use it. It’s heavy and, unless I am shooting wider than f/1.4, then the Summilux or Summicron are easier to use and provide equivalent, if not better, image quality. It’s nice to have for ultimate subject separation and that’s where the 7Artisans for under £500 is something to keep for when needed. You can buy it without too much dithering, and tt’s a lot preferable to stashing £10k on the shelf.

      Ultra-fast lenses, if they are to be used wide open (as Thorsten always recommends), are indeed a challenge on the rangefinder. I generally use the Visoflex whenever I attach the Noctilux and, I feel sure, it will also be necessary with the 7Artisans.

      But what a laugh for £450! It could be that they will have the last laugh…..

  6. Interesting lens but difficult for me to justify purchase because already have a c.1981 Canon FD 85/1.2 L and a c.1955 Canon LTM mount 85/1.5 lenses … which are compatible with e.g. an M240 or M10 using adapters and the Viso finder … and with my Leica SL 601 and Leica T via Polish made C7 adapters. I’ll read the 7Artisans 75/1.25 reviews, handle a demo offering … and thus to try to ascertain if they might have the potential longevity of the vintage Canon lenses .. which are now 38 and 64 years ‘young’ respectively … and show no signs of ‘conking out’ in the near future 🙂

  7. I notice that Voigt have also just released a 75mm for the M mount, and the reviews seem positive.

    I’ve always thought that if I bought an M, I’d run with Zeiss glass as that midpoint between price and “the look”. But it’s great to see other options appearing.

    Jono is right though. In any system, you want fast lenses to be usable wide open or what’s the point? Of course, “usable” isn’t necessarily “sharp” for some applications. I like the look of the Zeiss Sonnar because of it’s character wide open, but it would require some artistic and creative use

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