Review of the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1, also known as "The Poor Man's Noctilux" by Thorsten von Overgaar

7artisans 50mm f/1.1

By: Thorsten Overgaard. December 13, 2018

The disruptive 50mm low-light lens from the Far East

A good test of a lens or camera is to use it side-by-side with the setup you usually would use, edit the results as

one batch of photos, and then look at how many of the photos you liked were made with which camera and lens combo.

In this test, the conclusion is simply, “Yes, the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 is worth having”.

I’ve done similar “tests” before. I generally don’t compare equipment. I believe that you choose your weapon and make the best out of it.

You don’t compare small details to see which is best in performance. The ultimate test – and the only worth doing – is, do

I like it or don’t I like it?

Ms. Valencia in Jakarta. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. Developed in Capture One Pro using their B&W Grain filter. ©

Thorsten Overgaard.

I once tested the Leica SL and the Leica M side-by-side, and I felt the Leica SL was a really nice camera to use (and it is), and it

felt like what I did would be awesome. But in several portrait sessions, when I had finished editing, there were none or only one

single photo from the Leica SL that made it through. So, no matter how nice and right it felt using the camera, it didn’t deliver the photos I liked.

A comparison between the Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 and the Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M APSH f/2.0 will show that the 50mm APO

delivers outstanding colors, real-life-looking skin detail, a wealth of details and sharpness in even the smallest crop - it looks like it was made with a medium

format camera. The 50mm APO is an outstandingly high-performing lens. But, in actual use – for me that is – the portraits made with the Noctilux are better

portraits. They transform a more pleasant personality.

Sydney in the rain. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 at 70cm focusing (which is closest focusing). © Thorsten Overgaard.

I never test things just to test them. I get things to use and when I decide to keep using them, I write about how and why I’ve chosen to use them. The

7artisans 50mm f/1.1 came about when I was sitting in the café of the Leica dealer in Jakarta, DOSS and we talked about Voightlander and other

lenses, for which my interest is about zero. DOSS has classrooms on the third floor, a real café on the second floor and a real camera store on the

ground floor. Nothing is more inspiring than good coffee! I came to think about three fellows in LA who I'm on a text-group with, and they keep raving

about this 7artisan lens. So, I felt compelled to ask downstairs if they had one, and they did.

So that was how I bought one. The first non-Leica lens I ever bought, as far as I can recall.

I have a Noctilux and hadn’t felt compelled to try a cheaper version. Nothing compares. But now that we were talking about lenses, I became curious

and found myself in a playful mood about getting one.

There are a few things you can say about the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 that tell it isn’t the best lens of the works, and I’ll get back to that. Let’s first

establish what it does really well.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

A great portrait lens

First off it takes pleasant portraits that have something special about them. I did a series of Noctilux and 7atisans, and I edited the files, and to some

surprise, a lot of the 7artisans made it into final choices.

It has some of the unpredictable qualities of the Leica Thamber f/2.2 "portrait lens", but with a more control of the face in the portrait; and much

better control of light from behind, as well as contrast of the image.

With 70cm closest focus you can create things with the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 you can't do with the Noctilux and other low-light lenses. Leica M10-P

with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Use the 7artisan with an EVF

The focus mechanism of the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 is not on par with the precision of a Leica lens. The lens comes with a test chart you can lay out

on the table to fine-tune the focusing. And it comes with a screw driver to complete the adjustment.

Generally, you have to adjust the focus mechanism 0.5 to 1.0 mm either counter-clockwise or clockwise. You loosen two screws and turn the focus

mechanism on the back of the lens. Once you loosen the screws you will experience that it moves almost by itself. So, there goes your fine-tuning.

You screw it back on, do a new test and now you do the adjustment more carefully.

Bokeh heaven. You never know what you will be getting, but it'll be different than what the iPhone would do, that's for sure! Leica M10-P with

7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

I found that I just didn’t trust the focusing mechanism much. Also focusing on something at infinity, the lens couldn’t stretch the focusing that

far. In other words, not very precise.

Doesn’t matter, I can just use it with the EVF, and so I did, and so I will in the future. It’s of course ironic that a $400 lens requires a $550 EVF

to use, but I take it that most of you already own the EVF.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

An important point with the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 is the narrow focus, and it’s only of use if the focus is actually precise. In a portrait, that focus

is on the eyes (or the eye closest to the camera) and then it really sings.

It can be used without the EVF for street photography and many other things. I used mine for a day without the EVF before I realized it was not

exactly in focus. It was rather off, but the images still worked. With some patience, I’m sure one can adjust the focus to be quite good for most

things. But for portraits where I want the eyes to be in total focus, I will use an EVF.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Not for architecture

The 7artisan 50mm f/1.1 is not a lens for architecture. Most horizontal lines wll have an arc, and it’s even a little uneven as such. Considering

the things you would use this lens for (having such great atmosphere and such narrow focus) there are few cases it might matter that the

lines of the room are a little funny. Usually they would be out of focus anyways.

This building looks like it's glued together cartonage, but in real life it's actually pretty precise and very straight. The 7artisans 50mm f/1.1

creates curves and waves. Not a problem for a portrait and most other things, only when straight lines actually count. Leica M10-P with

7artisans 50mm f/1.1.

You can correct for some of it, but you will never be able to make the perfect straight-line photo with the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. Not that

I would expect you bought it for architecture! I guess that's where the imperfection is shown meaning that they made a lens but they didn't

spend a lot of time correcting the aberrations. The more wide open and a lens gets the more you have to correct if you want perfect

behavior; such as little or no distortion and little or no internal reflections. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Is it black or bright?

In terms of reflections, the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 is actually doing well. It doesn't milk out or loose contrast, which it would if it had little or

no control of internal reflections between the optical elements.

One way to tell if a lens has 'optimum optics' without having used it yet, is to look at it and see if the glass is black or bright. If the glass is

filled with light, it holds light and reflections in and between the lens elements. The iamge will be low contrast and blurry. If it's black, the

light goes straight through without much reflections. The iamge will be contrasty and detailed.

A boy reading "Girl with Pearl Earring" on the street in Sydney. He didn't know who Johannse Vermeer was, but now he does. It's all

about the light. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Apart from the use of special glass types, coating of lenses is used to remove unwanted reflections. If you look at Leica lenses, they spend

a lot of time and resources on painting the edges of their optical elements black. You never see this because it's not visible from the outside,

but there is a very exact technology on how to paint the edges with it is exact right. If you ever visit "The Mothership" of Leica Camera AG

in Wetzlar, Germany and get a factory tour, you will see how this is done.

The 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 has good contrast in the image, which is where low-light lenses usually loose it. It doesn't have the same control

of micro-contrast as the Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95, and I wouldn't expect a $396.00 machine-made lens to perform as well as a

$10,500.00 handmade lens lade.

Hotel Fairmont in Jakarta. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Poor man's Noctilux

The 7artisan 50mm f/1.1 has been coined “the poor man’s Noctilux”, and while you don’t have to be poor to own and use it, it’s true that

you can buy 25-30 of the 7artisan 50mm f/1.1 for the price of a single 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

Sydney. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

The price of the 50mm Noctilux ($10,500) is completely fair. In fact, it’s a miracle - as well as a gift to mankind - that one can even buy

a piece of NASA space technology in a retail store. Things of this nature, things that can do what the Noctilux can do, things that can

bend the light and bring it back on track, are so far-out and so unbelievable that you would think they don’t exist. But it does, and you

can buy one.

Sydney. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

That the 7artisan 50mm f/1.1 can be sold for $395 is beyond me. I’ve equipped it with my own ventilated shade, and the E55 shade I

make and sell is $169 alone. That’s just a piece of metal, and here they sell a lens with optics, focus mechanism and all for just $395.

I would expect a “toy” like this to be at least $1,000. So, even more a reason to buy one.

The portrait from the beginning of the artivle, but here in color. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Built Quality

Surprisingly, the 7artisans lens feel well-built. There's no loose or odd things about it. It' just put together well and seem to stay that way.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Small and lightweight

The 7artisan is 400 grams and small, compared to the 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/.0.95 which is 700g.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © 2018 Thorsten Overgaard.

Nice colors

There's a little more saturation to the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 than the Noctilux. But there is nothing of the clinical coldness you sometimes

see in cheap lenses.

I met a camera model I dislike - a drone. But after I learned it can operate 10 kilometers away, remote-controlled from your iPhone,

and you can see the a live feed of what the drone sees I was a little impressed. It's also a litle scary. © Thorsten Overgaard.

No purple fringing

Unlike the Noctilux, the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 doesn't show signs of purple fringing - only in very extreme conditions. This is good, and

there are several reasons: It's not as sharp a lens, it's using glass types so it can do without purple fringing (becuase it's not a f/0.95 lens

it doesn't have to use those glass types), and it's a f/1.1 and not a f/0.95.

Purple fringing comes about when you have high contrast edges combined with sharp sensors; and using optical elements that are able to

be used in extreme low-light lenses. You see it in 50mm f/0.95, and you see it in wide-angle lenses f/1.4, but you don't see it in

a 75mm f/1.25 becuase it's 75mm (and beacuse it's not 0.95).

Mr. Gouw in Singapore. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.


One of the things that sets the Leica 75mm Noctilux f/1.25 ($12,500) lens apart from everything else is that you can focus as close as

70cm. The 50mm Noctilux f/0.95 only focuses as close as 100 cm.

You can go as close as 70cm with the 7artisans. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. Developed in Capture One Pro. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. ©Thorsten Overgaard.

As any lens with more and more narrow focus tolerance, the closer you get, the more the area between 70cm and 100cm becomes

uncharted territory. I didn’t find much use for it with the 75mm Noctilux, but the 7artisan 50mm f/1.1 goes down to 70cm and

opens up some interesting possibilities for portraits – without the crop that a 75mm lens has.

Ms. Yuan playing the piano in Kuala Lumpur. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

(The 50mm and the 75mm Noctilux are similar in many ways because to get a portrait with the shoulders, you have to step further

back with the 75mm. This way, the result in terms of depth of field will be the same. Because if you move close with a 75mm, you

get something more tightly cropped than a passport photo, which is seldom applicable for a portrait).

With the 50mm 7artisan you may move really close to the subject and get a very narrow depth of field and thus a dreamy look you

cannot get with any other lens.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © 2018 Thorsten Overgaard.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

The rock’n’roll lens

In a recent talk with master lens designer Peter Karbe of Leica Camera AG, I mentioned that I like how the 50mm Noctilux balances

between perfection and rock’n’roll: With the Noctilux you are walking on a razor-thin edge of what it is possible to do. The result is

daring and artistic - some would say dreamy – images, which still possess very high quality.

Ms. Moa playing the piano. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

The 75mm Noctilux is designed toward image perfection, which you accomplish by excellent design and control of everything. The

result is a lens that has – yes – paper-thin focus, but at the same time has everything else under control. Even the bokeh is so silky

smooth that you will find few surprises in it.

The surprising reflections of light going through the 50mm Noctilux are what make it exciting; because in the end the light rays meet

in the right place and make up the extreme details and life-like details where the lens focuses. The rest is pure Star Wars and rock’n’roll.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Other lenses like the Canon 0.95 ($3,000 second-hand) and the Nikon f/1.2 ($750), and the Canon 75mm f/1.2 for that matter, have

the light rays going here and there, and it’s all awesome, but the light rays never meet in the focus to form up the clarity that the

50mm Noctilux miraculously performs.

Ms. Serena with the limited edition Leica M10 with silver engraved covering in Leica Store Singapore(this limited edition is one of

ten issued in December 2018). Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

The focus of Leica Camera AG, and Peter Karbe is perfection, presently shown in the Leica SL lenses that are all designed to be large

enough constructions to hold optical elements that can out-perform the resolution and clarity of everything and everybody else

(I’ll get more into that later).

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

For the most part, Leica M lenses have historically been about making small, compact lenses that perform miraculous perfection, with

built-in personality. Controlled imperfections that we would mostly sum up in one expressive word: “Soul”.

The 7artisans lens has soul, without any fingerprint or signature that refers back to Mandler or any other Leica lens type of design. It

has something that is soul, and is its own and hence something unique for that lens. And this is what makes it worth owning and using.

Creating beauty with simple means. My Dali KATCH bluetooth speaker in Japan edition Moss Green I travel with everywhere.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Does what the Thambar can't do

The 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 creates the crazy bokeh that reminds of the legendary portrait lens, the Thambar, but this lens actually

gets the face in focus. With the Thambar, that's the problem: It worked well on film, which it was made for back in the 1920's, but

with today's digital sensors where you see every detail, you need some of the image to be sharp.

Mr. Alfefny. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Strange bokeh with razor-sharp edges

One of the things the 7artisans has, that is a no-no in today’s lens design (which all aim towards silky smooth bokeh), is unexplainably

sharp lines in the out-of-focus background. It’s either something you will find cute and exciting, or something that annoys you.

Sharp edges and patterns in the out-of-focus background (also known as "bokeh"). Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1.

© Thorsten Overgaard.

The sharp elements in the out-of-focus areas can become an aesthetic effect in itself. Some hate them and lean towards modern

soft bokeh, others love the sharp edges that we typical see in older lens designs. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Less skin details and more soul

Sometimes you don’t want to see every detail in the skin, but just a nice glow and a soulful portrait. For this, the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 delivers.

Mr. Gast in Kuala Lumpur. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Handling of highlights

The 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 has a very intersting way of handling highlights, as in high-contrast and over-exposed areas. Rather than

disclosing in full detail that the photographer tried to compose a photograph with too high contrast, it blesses it all with a heavenly glow.

The way a lens handles light is - in my opinion - the most intersting sign how a lens works as an artistic tool. The closer it operates on

the edge of the impossible, the better. Lenses that can't handle light aren't intersting (as in plastic lenses, the ones on smartphones).

And lenses that handles it without surprises aren't either (as in f/2.8 standard lenses).

The 50mm Noctilux f/1.0 and Noctilux f/0.95 is legendary lenses because they balance on the edge and deliver both image quality and

image surprise. .

But ... the 7artisan 50mm f/1.1 has something unique here - something the 50mm Noctilux doesn't have.

Look at that glow! Ms. Valentin in Singapore. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © 2018 Thorsten Overgaard.

Handling of light is always the intersting thing about any lens and what gives it's the look or soul of a lens. A rock'n'roll lens is one

that has a blessed glow in unexpected places, a good long Star Wars-worthy flare, strange and chilling sparkles in the bokeh, or odd

internal reflections that makes the image look special.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © 2018 Thorsten Overgaard.

What makes the Noctilux
the King of the Night and everything else

The Noctilux is legendary, and a masterpiece. It has straight lines, it has incredibly lively details, excellent color control, extreme

handling of light even when you shoot against strong light sources (meaning that a hair stays a hair and there is no overflow of light

from the strong light behind which would erase the hair and other edges with a less well-designed lens).

No other lens exists today that does what the Noctilux does. Canon, Nikon nobody has been able to make a wide open lens that

performs this well in every regard.

White Horse. Leica Monohcrom with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. © Thorsten Overgaard.

It takes no skill to take a well-performing f/2.0 lens and open it up to f/0.95 so that everything becomes blurry and out of control;

light flows everywhere and milks out the image, the details and the colors. But to open up a lens to f/0.95 and retain the details,

the contrast, the colors and the overall clarity, that’s the art of the Noctilux, and that’s what you pay for. That it can also withstand

a few drops on the floor and still perform with excellent and exact focus (despite the paper thin focus tolerance), well, that’s just

part of the overall philosophy of perfection.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Who is 7artisans..?

Launched by seven photography enthusiasts in March 2016, Shenzhen 7artisans Photoelectric Technology Co., Ltd. is a lens

manufacturer in Shenzhen, China that focus on producing new compact camera lenses worldwide.

7artisans make lenses that fits Leica, Sony, Canon, Fujifilm, Panasonic and Olympus, such as 35mm f/1.2, 7.5mm f2.8, 12mm f/2.8,

25mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2.0, 50mmf/1.8, 55mm f/1.4 and the 50mm f/1.1.

Inside the small BooksActually bookstore in Singapore. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

The strange and lovely
imperfections of the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1

Most of the time ... the 7artisans perform as a 50mm f/1.1 lens should. Andf then it has the lovely imperfections you wonder what

caused. Clerly there is not the same control of things as in the Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. And that is why the 7artisans

50mm f/1.1 may live well and sound in the same family as the Noctilux. Some days you want rock'n'roll, other days you want

more conntrol and perfection.

I noticed the small "micro-flares" in the highlights in the eyes in some portraits, and while it would keep lens designers as Peter

Karbe awake at night, users like me and you can just shrug and smile. It's an unepected effect that adds something out of

the ordinary to the image. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not. 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 detail. © Thorsten Overgaard.

Inside the private bar of Andrew Lum in Sinngapore. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1/ © Thorsten Overgaard.

How is the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 different
than the Leitz Noctilux-M f/1.2?

They're close in f-stop, and they're also close in their imperfections that create a dreamy and often unpredictable artistic look. the

very quality I like in the 7artisans lens in this day and age where so much research and technology try to accompolish perfection.

They're very different in price in that the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 sells new for $396.00 while the Leitz Noctilux 50mm f/1.2 sells

second-hand for $30,000 as a rare collectors item.

In terms of optical philosophy and optical performance, they're different. They have the depth-of-field almost in common, and

they have the often surprising result of the bokeh incommon.

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1/ © Thorsten Overgaard.

The Noctilux is a 1966 design that tried it's best with the technology of that time, and designed at Leitz Canada under Dr. Mandler.

As such it accomplishes the impossible with as much control as possible.

The 7artisans I don't know how they developed. I'm still unable to phantom how it is possible to produce a lens for only $396.00 in

retail. I would guess they just cut some glass in the Sonnar design tradition (which is a Zeiss design notable for its relatively light

weight, simple design and fast aperture) and put the thing together as best they could.

In the Leitz 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.2 you get a very high standard in lens design, as precise and excellent as it was possible to perform

it in 1966 where much was hand-grinded and glass for light-srong lensese had to be invented from scratch.

In the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 you get a machine-produced lens developed as simple and economical as possible, leaning on all the

history of low-light optics of the last 50 years.

The Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.2. © 2018 Thorsten Overgaard.


Yes, you will like the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 ... and it will keep you dreaming of the real Noctilux once you’ve fallen in love with its

bokeh, its unreal dreamy look and the possibility of using its extremely selective focus. So get one, and then start saving up for

the real Noctilux, because that’s the way it will go. The 7artisan might be the poor man’s Noctilux, but nobody wants to stay poor forever.

Singapore. Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

What Bob Dylan knew about lens design

To quote Bob Dylan rather freely, from his song "Most of the Time" , this summs up how the 7artisans performs as a lens and

what it means to be a true rock'n'roll lens:

Most of the time
I'm clear focused all around
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground
I can follow the path

I can't make it all match up
I ain't afraid of confusion

Most of the time
I'm halfway content
Most of the time
I know exactly where it all went
And I don't pretend
I don't even care

Leica M10-P with 7artisans 50mm f/1.1. © Thorsten Overgaard.

To be continued ...

I hope you enjoyed this article on the low light lens, 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 for Leica M. More to come. Sign up for my free newsletter

below here to stay in the know on new articles on lenses, photography and cameras.

As always, feel free to e-mail me with ideas, comments, querstions and advice.

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