Review: Is the 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 an Affordable Noctilux or No Luck?

Is it too good to be true? A cheap M mount lens that goes all the way to f/1.1? Does the $369 7artisans 50mm f/1.1 lens belongs in the bargain bin or on your camera?

From what I have been reading on forums and reviews sites, people either think this lens is brilliant OR the most expensive paperweight money can buy. Leica snobs, in particular, have no concept that anything worth less than $2,000 dollars could be a decent lens. I’m not a snob, nor do I have $2,000 dollars to spend on a Summicron, so that’s why I bought this — as an affordable alternative.

So should have kept my receipt? As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so let’s test!

Anna and I took it out for a stroll to the night markets in Taipei. Using only the ambient light of the street and a hot shoe mounted LED box on my Leica M-D (Typ 262), I shot all of these at either f/1.1 or f/1.4 to really see what it could do:

After checking all the shots out in Lightroom, I am really surprised at the quality of this lens. At f/1.1, the image is definitely not as sharp as what I’m used to, but it has a really beautiful and distinct look to it. There is a character to this lens that reminds me of an old Russian Helios or a Petzval, and the swirly bokeh it renders is very pleasing to my eyes. Not just in the images, but its construction, with its smooth focus and non-clicked aperture, is reminiscent of a handmade lens full of character.

Another pleasant surprise was how much I prefer the rubber focus tab to metal. Not only do I find it more comfortable, but by being able to stick it wherever I wanted I have been able to put this on the right-hand side of my lens so that I can almost focus single-handedly! Something that is impossible for me with the Summicron 35.

In the day or afternoon light, it gains sharpness as you stop down. Shooting at f/16 or f/8, it is an excellent for street zone focusing:

So don’t believe the naysayers: if you own a Leica or even a Sony with an adapter, this is an excellent choice for an affordable nifty fifty. Even if you already have a Summicron, for this price the 7artisans is a useful tool to shoot in low light with. Compared to a Noctilux, it’s much lighter, much smaller, and will not cause an emotional breakdown if you drop or lose it.

P.S. This is the second time I have done this test, as on the first attempt I had not calibrated my lens focus properly and all my shots focus were completely off. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you make sure you use the focus checker out of the box and adjust it accurately. This isn’t hard to do unless you have a film camera- so make sure you can borrow a digital M if you’re planning on shooting 35mm with it. Otherwise, your impressions may be it is indeed, about as useful as a cat flap in an elephant house.

About the author: James Cater is a digital and analog photographer, film lab operator, and model. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Cater’s work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.