A short real life review of the 7artisans 55mm F1.4 lens for the Micro Four Thirds system.
The 7artisans 55mm F1.4 lens is one of many new, fully manual lenses designed and manufactured in China. Like other similar lenses made by Meke/Newer and more recently Kamlan the 7artisans offers a decent metal build quality, a fast aperture and a fully manual shooting experience. Above all it can be purchased at a very modest cost, a fraction of the price of the bigger and better known manufactures. They can be found with either a MTF mount, Fuji X mount, Sony E mount or with a Canon EOS M mount.
These modestly priced lenses have always intrigued me, especially with their fast wide apertures and often classic film lens looks...But the big question remains, are they any good, or do you just ‘pay for what you get’?
I searched the internet for reviews on this lens but came across a couple which were specific only to the Sony E mount and Fuji X mount cameras and whilst they were useful to an extent, none have a 2x crop factor to match MFT’s camera sensors.
Speaking of crop factors this 55mm lens has the equivalent full frame focal length of around 110mm with an angle of view of 28 degrees, making it a short telephoto lens and good for portraits and possibly product photography.
Before I continue I’d like to stress this review is based on a real life shooting experience, so there will be no charts or graphs but instead images that are best suited to this type of lens and focal length.
The 7artisans 55mm F1.4 lens is an all metal bodied lens which feels densely made and reassuringly sturdy in the hand, so much so it could almost be mistaken for a more expensive, vintage German made lens. Whilst that might sound like an exaggeration it certainly doesn’t feel cheap and feels better made that some more expensive better known lenses.
At 272g it also has some heft to it, which is probably down to the metal barrel and rather large optics of the F1.4 lens. Speaking of which that lovely large front glass element certainly looks the business and definitely adds to the appeal.
The focus ring is metal and unusually it sits behind the aperture ring rather than in front of it and for some this might take a little more getting used to.
Focussing is incredibly smooth and nicely damped, making it easier to nail focus (although I would recommend using the ‘magnify’ or ‘focus peaking’ feature in your camera.) The aperture ring has markings in feet and meters and has a minimum focus distance of 35cms through to infinity. These markings line up with hyper-focal distance markings on the barrel, making scale focus a possibility.
The aperture ranges from F1.4 through to F16, it is heavily damped, even more so than the focus ring. The apertures are smooth rather than clicked which for me is a little disappointing but I can only put it down to cost saving. However for those who shoot more videos this can often be a good thing.
This is were it gets interesting, as we all want to know if these so called cheaper lenses and can offer anything in the way of decent sharpness and image quality. So I’ll get down to the nitty gritty...
This particular offering from 7artisans, like it’s 25mm F1.8 sibling can deliver pretty decent results in the right hands. I say in the right hands because to achieve good results will depend on how skilled you are at manual focussing and at this focal length it can take a bit of practice. If you can nail focus then you will be rewarded with some decently sharp images even at the wider apertures. In fact I was surprised to get good sharp images (in the centre) even at F1.4. Stop down to around F2.8 and you’ll achieve even better results and also greatly improve your chances of sharpness due to having slightly more depth of field.
This lens is best suited for portraits and product shots given the focal length of 55mm (110mm full frame eqv.) So if you are planning on using this for landscape photography don’t expect tac sharp images right across the frame - I just don’t think it’s designed for that type of photography.
The 7artisans 55mm F1.4 has an impressive 14 aperture blades (not bad for a ‘budget’ lens) which contribute to a pleasant quality out of focus area with some nicely rounded ‘bokeh balls.’
Whilst the out of focus area on this lens isn’t quite on parr with it’s rival - the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 it’s far more usable at it’s widest apertures and still produces nicely rendered backgrounds with some lovely bokeh character.
This series of images show changes in sharpness, depth of field and bokeh from the following apertures - F1.4, F2, F2.8 F4. F5.6 and finally F8.
Focus was on the en-scribed text at the very front of the lens barrel - ‘OM SYSTEM’ and the images were captured on a tripod with a shutter delay of 4 seconds to prevent any shake.
One of the first things that’s apparent is just how narrow the depth of field is at F1.4 - Wafer thin. The other thing that stands out isjust how nicely it renders the background and how round the bokeh balls appear.
On close inspection, green and purple fringing is apparent at these wider apertures especially around the body of the film camera; but this is to be expected from a lens at this price point. However, once stopped down a little the chromatic aberration no longer becomes an issue.
As a micro four thirds camera user I’m always on the look out for a reasonably priced fast aperture lens which allows for a shallow depth of field for more creative photography.
So does this lens deliver? Well in essence, yes. It can produce more than satisfactory results, decently sharp images (even at the wider apertures) with plenty of contrast and smooth out of focus background areas. It also offers a more engaging manual focus shooting experience and providing you can nail focus and your subject stays perfectly still you will achieve good sharp images.
At the time of writing you can purchase this lens for around £90 which is pretty good value considering the results. I would say it’s main rival is the Kamlan 50mm F1.1 but it’s a little more expensive at around £150.
The character of the Kamlan lens is also a little different in that it renders a more “dreamy’ look to its images and is not quite as sharp at it’s widest aperture.
However, for £160 you can purchase the highly praised Sigma 60mm F2.8 which has a similar focal length and is absolutely pin sharp wide open. For around £200 there is of course the brilliant little Olympus 45mm F1.8.
So why would I bother with the 7artisans 55mm F1.4 when there are other very capable and reasonably priced auto focus lenses out there? Whilst I would not replace either of the aforementioned lenses, it does offer a different shooting experience and just occasionally it’s nice to get back to basics.