TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 Lens Review – Ultra-fast, Ultra-affordable

TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 Lens Review – Ultra-fast, Ultra-affordable

2000 1125 Nick Clayton

(First we disclaim: This is a subjective review based on real world use by an enthusiast photographer. I stand on the shoulders of giants, having learned everything I know about optics from reading other lens reviews. I don’t really have time to learn what CA even means – I’m busy using Lightroom to remove pesky purple fringing from high contrast areas of my photos. Also, there will be no bench tests, unless you count my botched attempt at lens calibration. Enjoy!) 

Unless you’re reading this accidentally, it’s safe to say that somewhere along the way your life took a turn and you now find yourself here on CP, eulogizing discontinued film stocks, accessorizing your camera, of all things, and window shopping for gear that costs as much as a modest automobile

As a consequence of your camera nerdery, you may have acquired a fetish for so called “ultra-fast” prime lenses, such as the Canon “Dream” lens, or one of the most widely lusted after and expensive examples, the Leica Noctilux 50mm 0.95 

The ultra-high cost of ultra-fast primes contributes to their mystique. At $12,000 the Noctilux certainly helps Leica Camera earn their reputation as an inaccessibly-priced status symbol (though perhaps not as effectively as slapping a Red Dot on a Minolta or Panasonic camera and watching what happens to the price).

The freak economics of Leica can seriously skew one’s sense of value. Once you consider that Leica’s “affordable” Summarit line of M lenses still cost four figures, any lens that you can attach to a Leica M for less than $1000 can seem like an outright bargain. 

Enter Chinese lens manufacturer TTArtisan (The Thinking Artisan), who matched the specs of the Noctilux with their own manual focus, metal lens, and brought it to market with two full digits shaved off the price of the competing Leica model. The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is priced so low that it makes this review feel like the confession of a thief. (There, it only took me four paragraphs to get to the actual subject of the review, which is a non-Leica lens that is definitely not a Noctilux… that I lawfully purchased, to be clear).

Mechanics

Despite looking like a straight up knockoff, the TTArtisan lens isn’t simply a reverse engineered “Not”ilux. Compared to the Leica Noctilux, the TTArtisan’s optical formula is made of more elements in more groups, and it has more aperture blades. It also has one fewer aspherical element. With these many differences, how will it directly compare to the Leica? Loan me $12,000 and I’ll tell you. 

The price point of the TTArtisan 50mm F/0.95 makes it easy to dismiss as cheap. This prejudice is immediately challenged from the moment when we prize open the lens’ upscale packaging, and again by the reassuring weight and tight construction of this solid, beautiful hunk of metal and glass. This lens is dense and as heavy as it looks. Maybe heavier.

If your wrist needs some soothing after weightlifting with this lens (I am never unaware that I’m holding it), the aperture ring will provide you with a healthy dose of haptic therapy. The ring rotates with a buttery continuity, coming to rest at each half stop with a subtle and satisfying click. Unusually, the distance between apertures is inconsistent, with the spaces between settings being smaller at each end. This may require a bit of getting used to, maybe not. I hardly noticed it in use.

In Use (Focusing)

The most grueling test of any focusing system is photographing my kids; if I can rangefinder focus on my little moving targets when it’s past their bedtime, I can focus on anything. While I can definitely make it work with the TTArtisan 50mm F/0.95, it doesn’t come easy. The giant barrel of the lens intrudes into the 50mm frame lines of my Leica M (not a consideration with an EVF) presenting a slight challenge to framing, and moving the focus ring is a bit of a chore.

The focus ring itself is dampened and smooth, but I would prefer if it were just a bit looser, if only to make one aspect of this lens less laborious. When first getting accustomed to using it, I would switch to an overhand grip without thinking (blocking the viewfinder), not because it was more effective than underhand, I was just willing to try anything to get the thing to move. 

If focusing a 35mm Summicron-M, with its compact size, focus tab, and smooth, short throw is like parallel parking a MINI Cooper, focusing the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95, with its massive lens barrel, hefty weight, narrow depth of field, and stiff, long throw, is like parallel parking a dump truck. I can focus the 35mm with a fingertip. To cover the full throw in a rush with the TTArtisan 50mm, I’m actually swinging my elbow.

Calibrating Focus for Rangefinder

The upscale TTArtisan packaging includes an invitation to calibrate the lens in the form of a calibration chart and screwdriver. I had hoped to be able to stick with the factory setting, but while shooting a series of portraits I noticed significant disparity between my viewfinder and the image preview at closer focal distances. It seemed the lens was back focusing, so out came the calibration kit for a quick fix. Or so I had hoped.

My first reading with the calibration chart confirmed the lens was, in fact, back focusing. I adjusted the lens according to the chart reading using the included tool, which I can report was not nearly as nerve-wracking as fiddling with a lens might seem. Once I confirmed a successful result using the chart, I field-tested the lens. Hmmm… still back focusing. After repeating this process several times, I kid you not, I made a completely blind adjustment that seemed to work and retired my screwdriver.

Although TTArtisan have given us the option to self-calibrate, it also seems they have given us an uncalibratable(?) lens. To its credit, it is not prone to focus shift as a consequence of aperture, but there has been some talk over at 35mmc that the TTArtisan 50 f/0.95 is actually closer to a 52mm lens, (Leica rangefinders are calibrated for 51.6mm) making it impossible to perfectly calibrate for rangefinder focusing throughout its full range. The focal plane will always shift when focusing closer than two meters and this effect will be more pronounced at wider apertures. Obviously live-view camera owners need not worry about this, but for rangefinder owners who may not have access to an LCD screen or live view, this means that when focusing closer than two meters, you can either intentionally compensate using the focus ring, or focus then do a little lean away from the subject to make up the difference.

Another trick I use to get a crisp shot in challenging scenarios is to set the drive mode to Continuous and “drag” focus while making multiple exposures in order to hedge my bets. This manual focus version of “spray ‘n’ pray” compensates equally well for focus shift and shallow DoF. 

Image Quality and Performance

The TTArtisan 50mm F/0.95 is neither clinical nor transparent. Just what is this lens? Well, it’s an affordable, ultra-fast, character lens. If you know what you’re getting, it might find a home in your camera bag. 

While I haven’t yet used the TTArtisan with a film camera, I found it played quite well with the Leica M8’s APS-H sensor. The crop sensor uses more of the optical sweet spot of the lens, meaning less vignetting and softness in the corners of the image, both of which are rampant on this lens wide open. (If you’re considering this lens for a full-frame camera, assume that the faults on the edge of my crop sensor shots will be more pronounced, and consult some other reviews that test its performance in this context).

I agree, in principle, with the idea that a lens should serve your vision rather than provide it, but I’m not above using the rendering of this lens at f/0.95 to obfuscate all of the unavoidable visual mess around a subject (i.e. a house full of toys and unfolded laundry). It’s also just exciting to alter reality with an image. Even with the optical compromises at the wide end (softness, low contrast, color shift, and a buffet of chromatic aberration) the mind-bending subject isolation possible with this lens is so tempting to (over)use. 

When the light fades and exposure demands it, the maximum aperture of f/0.95 just shines. Detail, punchy contrast and rich colours are all possible here, but also with a bit of glow (spherical aberration). This makes it ideal for portraits in moody ambient lighting. 

To put things in perspective, there is a slider in Lightroom for almost every optical flaw the TTA is afflicted with at f/0.95, but not one that will give you the 3D rendering that this lens has in spades. Well, nothing that won’t make your photos look like a screen grab from a Zoom call with a simulated background… These days there’s something to be said for a lens which makes images that could never be mistaken for an iPhone photo – even in portrait mode. 

For the best background blurriness this lens has on offer, get closer to your subject. The farther away the subject, the more frantic the bokeh tends to get (thanks to the Focus Shift Blog for figuring this out). Things tend to calm considerably and are quite dreamy at closer focus distances, though I was able to make some wiry looking nonsense by shooting tree branches at MFD. 

You’ll benefit from pairing this lens with a camera with a fast top shutter speed and a Neutral Density filter, as it will allow you to use the lens wide open in brighter conditions, should you so choose. I didn’t use an ND filter with the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95, and whenever I was walking in the sun and unable to access the magic sauce of wider apertures, I did find myself questioning my life choices.

The light-vacuuming ability of the TTArtisan effectively compensates for the rather sad maximum usable ISO of 640 on the Leica M8. If you would like the option of shooting at lower ISO (film or digital), this lens will get you there. I made images with this lens in near darkness that just would not be possible or usable with any other lens, and in these conditions the worst of its characteristics, such as CA, are less of a concern.

Flaring is well controlled, in my experience, but I have been able to wash out large portions of an image by shooting directly into sunlight (see photo).

Closing Thoughts

To use a smattering of lens clichés, the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is an ultra-fast character lens that is able to render dramatic 3D-looking images with a medium-format look. It is sharp (in center), contrasty (when stopped down a bit), and has accurate colors (except at wider aperture, where things cool considerably). 

I find it’s helpful to think of things in terms of their opposite, and my main lens, the 35mm Summicron-M Aspherical provides a strong counterpoint to the TTA.

Whereas the Summicron is near perfect, optically corrected to be flat and neutral, the TTArtisan 50mm F/0.95 has a bold signature. 

Whereas the 35mm is light, compact, and ergonomically superior, the 50mm f/0.95 is a beastly, viewfinder crowding, carpal-tunnel-inducing tank of a lens. 

The Summicron is $3000. The TTArtisan is $750

To use another analogy, the 35mm Summicron is like a set of studio monitors and the TTArtisan is a pair of BEATS headphones. If you want ultimate fidelity, listen on monitors. If you want the bass to rattle your fillings, go with the BEATS. If you want your images to be viewed like there was no lens, use the ‘cron. If you want to filter your photographic vision through a (literal) lens that can seriously bend some light and make things pop, try the TTArtisan.

On the nature of ultra-fast lenses, some will argue that there is little point to investing in one if you’re not going to shoot it full throttle all day and live your best max. ap. life. Bro, the TTA all but eliminates this consideration; you can have an extra stop or two and only use it when your art demands it. 

Of course, there are offerings from TTArtisan, 7Artisans, Zeiss, Voigtlander and others that will be almost as fast and also less expensive and lighter. What it really comes down to is whether or not the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is worth the weight. When I want to shoot by candlelight, this lens says “As long as you have the forearms to hold me, I got you.” 

Buy the TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 from B&H Photo

Or find one used on eBay


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Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton is an educator, musician, environmental advocate and photographer living in the Blue Mountains of Ontario, Canada with his wife and their three children. He can be found on Instagram & Twitter as @nicknaclayton

All stories by:Nick Clayton
29 comments
  • Avatar
    Merlin Marquardt April 14, 2021 at 7:02 am

    All wonderful.

  • Thanks Merlin!

  • A good review. I purchased last week the TTArtisan 50mm F/1,4 lens, because I wanted a smaller lens. I am really surprised of the quality and I did not have a backfocus problem. It is a keeper.

    • The 1.4 looks like the better balance of performance to size/weight. I found myself using f/1.4 most often and f/0.95 only when exposure demanded it, so that lens is definitely an intriguing option. Enjoy!

  • Nice pictures which are from the talent of the photographer. If I want good earphones, I will go for Bose or Shure, Beats is not my reference, it is mass market.
    For me I have a new simple reason : for the safety of the world I do not want to buy things made in China !
    I prefer to wait long time to have a product from other countries or buy and old lens which has also a great character. But, your review is well made. In this world, I just want to say that what we do has international effects. According to what we see now I don’t want to give money for an evil dictature who traps the world, and which is now in a logic of world domination with more and more dangerous weapons we pay with our buying ! I love this web site, I love your picture. I just want to say that for me photography is also one state of mind, the famous photographers who was showing us the news during conflicts and so on, some died, like Robert Cappa or many others were photographers who was showing the danger of hegemony. We can’t not play in Labs, or erase ethnies, or proclaim that this place or this place is our land or sea, or support a military dictature … No money for this country ! Now many go to India, and I hope India will produce nice lens, nice mobile phones, and all the things they can make for the world to replace the dictature factory which uses this money for hegemony. This is like when we buy food, if I buy things with palm oil I participate to a bad deforestation. Do you now that country like India works to reduce water on rice fields to save water, and it works, this is a program, but they make efforts, do you know India is participating programs for snake bites because in a lot of poor countries this is a program “rubber boots” “research on ant-venom”, … do you know which country from WWF sources is number one for responsability ind deforestation ?

  • Great review Nick, very well written. I’ve been hearing a lot about these lenses and wondered how they compared to Leica. Great photos too, love the one with the car driving down a snowy road! (Makes me glad though that I don’t live in Canada!) …
    Just kidding 🙂

    • Thanks for reading Donna, and for your kind feedback. I do live in a particularly snowy region on the Southern shore of Georgian Bay, but it’s not all squalls and icicles…there’s also mosquito season 😛

  • I have one question.
    The pictures are great, you write well.
    The same lens, with same material, same optic, and so on made in Canada, USA, Japan, UK, Australia, Germany, France, average is how much ? If someone can tell me including salary, costs, taxes, social insurances, … a human salary for worker who must need to have enough good skills, marketing cost, packagins, RD costs, …, please give me an average idea ? Thank you so much.

    • Hi Eric,

      I definitely can’t speak to all of your concerns, especially those regarding the Chinese government. As far as I know TTArtisan is not a state-owned company, so I don’t think it’s fair to conflate them with the CPC. (Also, I would suggest you take a closer look at India, which has recently seen the largest mass protest in human history with a nationalist PM who is fending off accusations of genocide).

      It is important to note that with the exception of Sigma, all of the Japanese camera companies currently manufacture in China or Vietnam. TTArtisan and 7 Artisan happen to be doing both design and manufacture in China. I do share what I believe is your natural skepticism of a lens this quality for this little money. I don’t know how they are disrupting the market like this, but I have no indication it involves any abuse or exploitation. I know nothing on the matter though.

      • Thank you so much for the answer 😉
        Now, everyone is free, … for me state or not state company is not the point : high level of national incomes are used for hegemony inside and outside the country, many many dangerous weapons, cameras systems, softwares and systems to control people, spying, … list should be very long. I do not want to help them to build the chains they will put around me.
        You are from Canada, it’s nearly the same than USA, Europe, UK, Australia, NZ, what did happen ? Many factory closed and workers lost their jobs (Leica is luxury good company, so … ), … but this country breaks the prices, … and when they are anot happy for example of one country like Australia for example who was only asking for an inquiry abour Covid19, now we know that the money you give, we give all, from all over the world to the WHO has been used you for a joke report to help them to make their own national propaganda “virus is not from here, maybe frozen beef from Au …”, Islands build more and more, … conflicts with neighbors, …
        So, I am not sure this lens is so good, because we have for what we pay, there we see a 50mm on a M8 which becomes a 65mm, but it is not possible to make a F.0,95 lens at this price, somewhere it must have a quality bug, … … this is the second reason I do not buy things for China, quality was never good, but it is afordable, but I never keep something, do not worry, at this price they will give you a new one, …
        What I can tell you, there are more and more people who do not want to buy from China because we have to diversify, produce local, and do not help people who threatens world peace and democracies … So, if a lens is cheap and has good result, I prefer to use a lower one, also more expensive, but without helping the evil 😉
        I think we have talk enough about that (But, I am not the CCP, you can answer).
        By the way, your images are nice. After a while, my problem was that there is tele effect, what is normal with a M8 and a 50mm. Little tele produces nice effects if they are good, my old Leica Tele-Elmarit with only a F2.8 is capable to give great result, and cheaper my Canon LTM 50mm F1.4 is nearly magic for 200 $. They still work … and they will work long time. The TTartisans, … I do not believe. People would say, “I can buy a new one at this price”, … and this like that we destroy the earth, with cheap good we put on the garbage …
        Everyone is way. This is my way to chose my lens and my cameras.
        Your photography are great and you are from a nice country, we are allies about many of these questions. Here in Australia this system tired us, and we have chosen to defend our values and our economy : https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/retail/woolworths-to-make-paper-bags-in-australia-instead-of-china-after-customer-fury/news-story/02e66c683c18b00bf91a99db63bdc6d4

        • Sorry Nick, but you are completely wrong. I don’t believe you have a PhD in economics, or even an MA. At the very least you should realize that the workers at TTArtisan are all very pleased to have a job….

        • “but it is not possible to make a F.0,95 lens at this price”
          they are already making them and selling them at this price.

          “somewhere it must have a quality bug”
          where? proof?

      • Now if only they would make a 28mm M-mount.

  • Nice article! I have been looking into a lens like this. I am waffling between the 50mm f1.5 zeiss sonnar or one of these! I already have a leica 50mm summicron v5 that is awesome but I would like to try somthing faster. I had the voigtlander 50mm f1.1 but I was never fully happy with that lens. my copy felt like it had way too much distortion.

    • If you can manage to find a buyer for all of your current lenses plus a kidney, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the 1.4 Lux. It’s just gorgeous in every way. Yes, it’s stupidly expensive, but I was lucky enough to find a lovely used copy, and, since then, everything else has become superfluous.

    • Thank you for your comment Robert. You’ve got a tough choice to make! I neglected to mention in the write-up that I used to own the Voigtlander 50 Nokton f/1.5 and sold it because I was constantly correcting the colours, and it was difficult to get a crisp image – and there’s no way to fix that in post. The TTArtisan lens can have the same issues as the Voigtlander at f/0.95, but not at f/1.4, where it’s actually pretty solid. The Zeiss is a interesting option. It would give you the 3D rendering with much better ergonomics and none of the focusing issues of the TTA, but you would not have the extra stop and it would cost more. Good luck!

    • The Zeiss 50 Sonnar is one of a few that I regret selling. Beautiful rendering.

  • Nice review! Every 7Artisan lens I have (35 f2, 28 1.4, 50 1.1) focuses past infinity if you turn it to the hard infinity stop. They all are correctly calibrated so no issue getting accurate focus via the rangefinder patch. As the 7A has the same rf adjustment screw in the lens mount, and TTArtisans are made by the same manufacturer DJ Optical.. does the 50 0.95 also focus past infinity?

    Thanks!

    p.s. your lens has the very cool psedo Leica font for the markings. All the other ones I have seen have a really dopy large, thin rounded font which just doesn’t look good.. superficial I know but it’s how it is!

  • Thank you for your comment Robert. You’ve got a tough choice to make! I neglected to mention in the write-up that I used to own the Voigtlander 50 Nokton f/1.5 and sold it because I was constantly correcting the colours, and it was difficult to get a crisp image – and there’s no way to fix that in post. The TTArtisan lens can have the same issues as the Voigtlander at f/0.95, but not at f/1.4, where it’s actually pretty solid. The Zeiss is a interesting option. It would give you the 3D rendering with much better ergonomics and none of the focusing issues of the TTA, but you would not have the extra stop and it would cost more. Good luck!

  • Your pictures Niks look like one of the World Press Photo 2021 for which I have made a google translation “A Buddhist temple occupies one half of a mountain, while the other was carved by the mining industry, in Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar, July 15, 2020. – HKUN LAT, MYANMAR
    Second environmental prize (single image)
    Temple and Half-Mountain, Hkun Lat, Myanmar

    Hpakant is the site of the world’s largest jade mine. Strong demand from China is fueling this industry that is transforming the face of the planet.” It is because you have writen that you are “environmental advocate and photographer living in the Blue Mountains of Ontario” I believe you are touched by nature.
    About my last question I add a comment :
    I have made a short research. This is impossible for a western lens maker to be under the Leica Price for the Noctilux new versus, Japanese Manufacturer such as Cosina-Voigtlander should be capable to produce such a lens for nearly 3000~4000 US dollar. My hypothesis are about the TT lens are, they :
    1. Must have big bugs on quality for the future such as degradation of optical elements and mechanic elements,
    2. Deal to get rare hearth at a price inferior to the international price,
    3. HR paid with very low salary,
    4. Major risks of durability we find in goods made in China, it is cheap but we do not keep long time … we get what we pay with our money
    5. Because the price on western market is final price after all export costs and with the country costs in which they are sold … … gap is big very very big. When the major cameras and lens makers will close like in garment industry and so on, …

    I have also thoughts for your two citizens “Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China for more than two years, on espionage charges the Chinese government …”

  • You use this lens with a Leica M8, so it becames nearly a 40/45 mm lens according to the 1.3 X crop factor of the M8 ?
    It creates a confusion for full frame user we want a real 50mm or a real 40 mm or a real 35 mm with long term relaibility. Have you test it with film because a lot of here are mostly film users, also if they use digital cameras ? Thanks

    • So sorry, I mean this 50mm is a 65mm for the Leica M8, according to the 1.3 x crop factor. It creates a confusion for full frame user we want a real 50mm or a real 65 mm (mostly a 75mm in this case for framelines) with long term relaibility. Have you test it with film because a lot of here are mostly film users, also if they use digital cameras ? Thanks.
      This is difficult to appreciate a lens with a crop factor, especially when it becomes a little-tele, and with film it could change. Thank you. By the way I do not buy Chinese made.

  • Thank you for the review. And lovely images.

    I would love to see samples of how it interacts with film though.

  • Avatar
    Paulein Servadio April 18, 2021 at 9:19 pm

    Interesting review. I might buy this lens… even if I really can’t stand these dumb Chinese optical designs made of a double gauss with a kind of booster at the back. I have read a few unrealistic comments about the supposed quality gap between german/jap lenses (mostly made in China!) and “cheap chinese” ones. Well, Chinese lenses won’t self destroy, I’m pretty sure. Not this one at least. I have seen some of these 7Artisans/TTArtisan/Pergear/etc objectives disassembled, and I can say they are pretty well made, better than many plasticky Japanese optics. Regarding the country of manufacture, I would be a little more cautious. I don’t like their government, I don’t like the surveillance, but at the international level many countries do much worse. Starting with Israel and the USA. I have been in China, lived the last 6 years at its border in a country where 1 out of 4 has at least a chinese grandparent, my wife is American (worked in a university there), and spent half of my life in Asia. Believe me, I would never exchange my citizenship for a Chinese one, but I have to say that there are worse countries when it comes to arms race, environment and espionage. Let’s not mix propaganda with photographic lenses…

  • Thank you for your insights Paulein. In general, I hold no illusions about the Chinese government, just as I do not naively believe that the U.S. hasn’t been guilty of hegemony since the Second World War, nor do I find my own country free of human rights abuses (residential schools, racist policing). I do find it a bit of a stretch to associate a camera lens with the abuses of the Chinese government. Our economy is global, and China is one of the main manufacturing sites. Chinese-made goods are unavoidable. I just programmed some WiFi enabled electrical timers from China that seemingly required access to everything on my phone (including my precise location), my WiFi password, and took me to a separate website to access my Google Assistant. That, without a doubt, was sketchy and made my highly wary, because I am aware of the surveillance of the Chinese state (just as I am aware of the dubious business models of the American tech giants).

    Like many who visit this site, I enjoy things that are built to last. I don’t like to put my money into cheap, mass-produced, disposable goods that will lose their value. Junk consumerism is literally the end of the world. I actually wrote an article about this on Medium not long ago. This lens is not junk. It is far from harmless though – I have sprained my thumb from compensating for the weight of it – it has literally given me my first lens-related injury!

    They do cut some corners perhaps. There have been some quality control issues reported online (see the Focus Shift blog linked in the article), they don’t calibrate their lenses, and the focusing mechanism is not the most precise (or expensive). Aside from that I see no reason to question its quality.

    I try, with mixed results, to keep my actions in line with my values, but no one is pure in this world. I have not done my due diligence in knowing exactly what my money supports in purchasing this lens, but if it is egregiously doing more harm than good to people or planet, I would certainly not recommend it to anyone else. At the moment, I can only speak to its merits as a creative tool.

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Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton is an educator, musician, environmental advocate and photographer living in the Blue Mountains of Ontario, Canada with his wife and their three children. He can be found on Instagram & Twitter as @nicknaclayton

All stories by:Nick Clayton