Eyes wide open: The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95

The Leica 50mm Noctilux goes for about $13 thousand bucks. Ouch. That’s a lot of money for a manual-focus lens. But it’s sharp and it has an incredible maximum aperture of f/0.95. It’s more sensitive to light than the human eye. Throw in a razor thin depth of field for subject isolation and buttery smooth bokeh and I can understand why the people who can afford this lens would pay that kind of money. Unfortunately I’m not one of those people.

Lately, a number of Chinese manufacturers have been producing lenses with similar specs as the Noctilux but at much lower prices. The TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 is priced at about $700 dollars, which is more in my comfort zone. I was even able to find a used version for a little less.

TTArtisian 50mm f/0.95 on Leica SL2

The lens itself is solid. Moving parts operate smoothly. It’s a bit heavy, and big. I’ve been using it on a Leica SL2 and it balances nicely. On an M camera it’s a bit unwieldy.

Is the TTArtisian as good as the Noctilux? Probably not. I don’t have a Noctilux to compare it to. (Here are some comparison shots on Flickr). But at the end of the day it’s not how well it holds up against the Noctilux – at more than fifteen times the price – but whether I’m happy with the images it produces. And I am. Here are some test shots, first, wide open with close-range subjects.

Bokeh is good in these situations and center sharpness is very good. Now, moving back away from the subject, still wide open at f/0.95…

Subject isolation is still pretty good. Some reviewers have complained that the bokeh is less smooth or too busy when focusing at midrange subjects. I’m not seeing that. To my eye it renders the out of focus areas nicely even when backed away.

This is a lens designed to be shot wide open but on occasion you may want to stop it down for a different look. This is where the lens falls short.

At f/8 the overall image quality isn’t horrible but it’s also not excellent. Center sharpness is decent but sharpness falls off at the edges. (Below are 200% crops, left edge and center.)

There’s the expected chromatic aberration, vignetting, etc. which can all be easily fixed. Distortion isn’t bad.

Overall I’m happy with this lens. It’s a speciality lens and it’s very good at what it was designed to do. I wouldn’t use it as an everyday lens but for low light or moody, atmospheric shots it’s a great bargain.

Leica digital over a decade

When the Leica M9 came out in 2009, it was quite a technical achievement: A full-frame sensor on a compact rangefinder camera that accepted almost all of the existing M-mount lenses. The sensor was a CCD and it rendered crisp, warm images, reminiscent of Kodachrome (it was made by Kodak, after all). The 18 MP resolution was more than sufficient at the time.

The M9 was my primary camera for several years. Leica released follow-up models with better, more modern sensors, live-view and other technical improvements. I stuck with the M9, choosing to invest in lenses rather than spending my money on incremental camera improvements. But over time those incremental improvements began to add up and by about 2015, the M9 began to feel dated. It seemed slow and it was missing important new features like the ability to use an EVF.

These days I mostly shoot with the M10, SL2 and particularly the Q2 Monochrome, pictured above. These cameras are very capable – fast, high resolution with incredible low light capability and bright and clear EVFs. All the while, my poor M9 was gathering dust.

But I wondered how would it stack up against the current state of the art. So I brushed off the dust and put the M9 into my bag with the Q2-M. I’ve been shooting with both cameras on my recent walks and taking comparison shots.

This is not intended to be scientific or precise. Just a little fun. All of the comparison images below were post-processed in Lightroom for tone and contrast and to allow for side by side comparisons. Also, since I was using a 35mm Summilux on the M9 and the Q2-M has a fixed 28mm Summilux ASPH, some cropping was also necessary where I didn’t zoom with my feet. I tried to use the same aperture and the lowest reasonable ISO on both cameras. The goal was just to get them to look as similar as possible.

Images on the left are from the Q2 Monochrome, released last year. On the right is the M9 from 2009.

What do you think? To my eye the M9 holds up pretty well. I’m actually seeing more micro-contrast in the images from the M9.

Obviously, when you zoom in, there’s more detail and crispness in the RAW files from the Q2-M due to the larger sensor and better lens. But, even after 11 years, which is an eternity in the world of digital camera technology, the M9 can still give the new guys a run for their money.

Here are some more images, old and new, from the M9 – this time in color to show off that sensor.

Ghost town

I took a walk around Boston with my camera today. These photos were taken between 1 PM and 4 PM on an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon. Usually the streets would be teeming with people on lunch break, shopping or just beginning their commute. But not today.

Fortunately people are are heeding instructions to practice social distancing. I made sure to keep my distance from the few people out and about. The experience reminded me of New Orleans after Katrina. It’s very eerie to see the city like this but I also thought it important to document what’s happening.

Masked and unmasked: People on the streets of New York in the time of coronavirus

On Friday the 13th, 2020, as New York began to close theaters and reduce many social activities, I took an afternoon and early evening walk around midtown and the Village, taking photos (w/Leica M10P, Voiglander 45mm, f1.2). I wanted to capture the mood of this particular time of coronavirus anxiety in the faces on the sidewalks. Although a lot of people were wearing masks, most seemed to be going about their normal lives. A lot of venues were closed and there were many less tourists than usual in Times Square. There was definitely a sense of anticipation of in the air. Of what exactly, none of us seemed to know.