The Leica 50mm Noctilux goes for about $13 thousand bucks. Ouch. That’s a lot of money for a manual-focus lens. But it is very sharp and it has an incredible maximum aperture of f/0.95—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.
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.