The China (Summi) Cron! 7 Artisans 35mm f/2 for under $400 (review) By Casey Cavanaugh

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The China (Summi) Cron. 7 Artisans 35mm f/2 for under $400 (review)

By Casey Cavanaugh – Check out his YouTube HERE

Why would someone in their right mind attach a sub-$400 Chinese made M-mount lens to their newly acquired marvel of German engineering adorned with a bright red dot on the front?  This clearly would make no sense. How could something made in China be fit to grace the bayonet mount of this heralded pinnacle of photographic simplicity, design and quality. Surely nothing made in China could match the quality of something made in Germany.

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This seems to unfortunately be a prevailing sentiment among many which reaches even further than the Leica fanatics. While there are a decent amount of knockoff and low quality lenses (and stuff in general) coming out of China, it is unfair to assume that nothing being made there can ever be a unique and high quality product. I believe that 7Artisans is a company that truly has a passion for photography and the desire to bring something new and high quality to the market; and with the most recent addition to their M-mount lens lineup, I think they have done just that.

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Enter the 7Artisans 35mm f/2 lens for Leica M-Mount.  This is 7Artisans’ newest offering and their second in a line of lenses aimed at the Leica crowd.  This is a fully rangefinder coupled 35mm f/2 lens based off of the Sonnar optical formula, complete with an M-mount, hyperfocal distance scale, and focusing tab.  While I don’t think this lens beats or matches a Leica Summicron in quality (which is such an extremely subjective benchmark), I do believe that they have made something extremely compelling which has its place in the photographic world.

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The lens has yet to be released but the folks at 7Artisans have told me that the lens is expected to be released sometime in May for a price that will undoubtedly be cheaper than the $400 50mm f/1.1 M-Mount lens they offer. I was ever so graciously sent a copy of this lens to review but this in no way alters my opinion of the lens or 7Artisans as a company. I’m not afraid of speaking my mind even if someone has given me something to review.

In the short time since I’ve had my video review online, I’ve already had to defend this lens on multiple occasions from people denouncing it as “just another cheap Chinese knockoff”.  I would say that this lens is far from a knock-off. This lens isn’t trying to copy any specific lens and it’s image quality doesn’t really look like a specific lens that exists already.  One of the arguments I keep hearing is that because it uses a Sonnar optical formula, it must be a ripoff of a Zeiss lens. There have been many different iterations of the Sonnar design over the years used in lenses from Nippon Kogaku(Nikon), Canon, Zunow and even Asahi/Pentax.  Even more recently, the Japanese boutique lens designer Miyazaki-san of MS-Optics has used the Sonnar design in his lenses. You’d be hard pressed to find people calling his lenses “Japanese knockoffs” of German lenses. The issue lies with a prejudice towards Chinese products in my opinion.  It seems unfathomable to some people that something from China could be good, let alone excellent, and just forget about it being made from good materials or built well.

Build Quality

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That being said, the build quality of this lens is fantastic!  I was quite surprised when I pulled the lens out of the box for the first time and felt its substantial (but not cumbersome) heft.  The lens weighs in at 205g which is 5g heavier than the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 M-Mount lens by comparison. The lens housing is made from anodized aluminum with the internal focusing helical being made of brass (this is where a majority of the weight is coming from).


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Focusing is super smooth and the aperture is nice and clicky with a near perfect amount of resistance.  The aperture ring is partially knurled for grip, but isn’t raised up like the 50mm f/1.1 the 7Artisans also offers.  Another difference from the 50mm f/1.1 is that the aperture on the 35mm does indeed have clicked full stops. Another welcomed addition to this lens is the built in focusing tab which I absolutely love.


As far as I’m concerned this lens matches Leica lenses in terms of build quality.  It certainly is just as well built as my 50mm Summicron. CNC machined aluminum is CNC machined aluminum and with their line of M-Mount lenses, 7Artisans subjects them to a higher level of quality control than their other lens offerings.  My copy of the lens fits perfectly onto my Leica M6 with no play or unwanted resistance in the mount whatsoever.


Like the 50mm f/1.1 this lens is coded for use on digital Leicas.


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Image Quality

I came into this review expecting a lens that would have passable center sharpness and pretty unusable corners after my review of the 50mm f/1.1, but I was quite pleasantly surprised by the excellent sharpness of this lens.  Not only is the center sharp wide open, but the corners are pretty great as well.  As with any lens it only gets sharper as you start stopping it down. The modern coatings on this lens give it great contrast in normal shooting conditions but it will lack for contrast a little more than some lenses when the lens is flaring.


The bokeh of this lens is actually pretty interesting.  It follows the typical look of Sonnar type lenses where the bokeh tends to flare out and soften near the edges of the bokeh balls on the sides nearest to the edges of the lens.  The lens also displays some Petzval field curvature at certain combinations of subject distance from the lens and background which I find pretty awesome. It really reminds me of the MS-Optical Apoqualia-G 28mm f2 with its interesting field curvature.  This doesn’t happen with every shot but it’s something you can invoke when needed.


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The lens also displays some obvious barrel distortion which I also enjoy.  I’m a self-professed anamorphile who loves the unique characteristics of anamorphic lenses.  One of these defining qualities is barrel distortion. The 7Artisans lens is not ruined by this slight distortion but is given a bit more character from it.  This distortion is so easy to correct for in post that if that is your only issue with the lens just fix it in post.


There is also chromatic aberration (CA) present in this lens when shooting extremely high contrast elements such as a portrait with blown out windows in the background, but nothing egregious.  One interesting thing to note is that the CA on this lens sometimes manifests itself as yellow fringing (or at least did in a few of my test shots) which I actually found pretty interesting.


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Conclusion

I think this is a fantastic choice for a 35mm lens to throw on your film or digital Leica or any mirrorless camera for that matter.  It’s an awesome first step into M-mount glass that I would not hesitate to recommend to my closest friends. With a price that is expected to be less than $400 its a no-brainer for someone looking for a native m-mount lens.  You will not be disappointed by the results of this lens if you like the images you’ve seen taken with this lens online.


I think 7Artisans have knocked it out of the park with this one and I’m eagerly awaiting their next release.  I for one will have a huge grin on my face when this company (and China as a whole) eventually releases a lens that the Leica community (of which I am a part) will have no choice but to accept as something of equal or greater quality to their beloved lenses.


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Lenses are just another tool to achieve your unique perspective in the art of photography and every lens offers a different way of viewing the world through a culmination of its characteristics.  Choose a lens that best fits your unique style. There are no wrong choices, and as far as I’m concerned, you cannot really go wrong with this lens.

Keep an eye out for it in May.

Casey