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Sunday, May 24, 2020

The 7artisans Experience - The Final Word

7artisan lenses, from left to right: 12mm F 2.8, 25mm F 1.8, 35mm F 1.2,  and the 50mm F 1.4.
Now that I've played with four of the six 7artisans lenses, I have drawn some conclusions based on actual use. I've had fun with all of them, and consider them good value for the money, with some caveats.

Marrying  Down: I want to immediately dismiss the "marrying down" aspect of using these lenses. I bought them in an attempt to re-kindle some of the excitement I felt as a pre-digital photographer, when lens focusing was manual, controls were mechanical, and proper exposure was dependent on the type of film you just loaded in your camera. Ironically, as film cameras became more affordable in the mid '80s, my interest in photography started to wane. It wasn't until our school's thrice-annual catalog publication went from actual "cut and paste" to computerized desktop publishing that my interest in photography was reignited.


Olumpus 35SP
When my main camera was an Olympus 35SP, a sharp 8" x 10" black and white print was my standard output. Sadly, my particular specimen wasn't as sharp as the hype would have me believe. My father commented, "If you can't make them sharp, make them small." I took this advice to heart, and as a result, adjusted my expectations down from "good" to "good enough". Sharpness became a relative thing, and I went about creating art as best as my equipment and I possibly could. Looking back, the limitations on my equipment forced me to set the bar far lower than where it is today.

The Epiphany: Buying my first Fuji X-Pro1 was the first step. With many photographers excited over the potential for a Leica experience at a much lower price, I thought I'd give this whole manual focus fad a chance. After all, I'd been manually adjusting my cameras since the early '70s, so this was far from being uncharted territory. Since I was sure that the project would include several lenses, it would have been prudent to stay with one brand, hoping the keep the handling as uniform as possible. After looking around, I chose the stay with the 7artisans line of lenses, primarily because they were sold by two of the largest New York camera stores, so if they were willing to stake their reputations on this upstart company, why couldn't I?


Fuji X-E1 body, 35mm F 1.2 7artisans lens
By staying within the 7artisans "family", I assumed that all of the focusing and aperture rings would rotate in the same direction. Here, my decision was partially right and partially wrong. To the good, all of the aperture rings rotate in the same direction, which is to say that rotating the ring to the left, as seen from above, will decrease the size of the aperture. Unfortunately, the 35mm lens, shown here, is the only one whose focusing ring, when turned to the left, goes from near to far. The other three rotate in the opposite direction.

50mm 1.4 lens.
While on the subject of focusing, only the 50mm lens has its focusing ring next to the body. Fortunately, the ring itself is quite wide and easy to grasp should you accidentally grab the aperture ring instead.

There is some discussion on the relative smoothness of the focusing rings, the amount of resistance to rotation, and the number of degrees required to go from nearest to infinity. In all four lenses, this is accomplished by a rotation of about 120 degrees. or one-third of a rotation. They all rotate smoothly (no jumps or rough spots), and all offer a comfortable level of resistance when focusing, although the 25mm lens offer just a tiny bit more.


Al Gore. David Burnett, 2001. Click here for the whole story.
What Really Matters: 
This photograph of Al Gore was made with a  Holga, a plastic "toy" camera made in Hong Kong and popular in China. In the Wikipedia posting, the camera's simple design and  plastic lens yielded dreamy "surreal" results. This award-winning photo was made with a Holga, and its lack of critical details notwithstanding, succinctly captures the spirit of the 2000 Presidential Campaign. It is elegant in its simplicity. Sharp? Definitely not. In focus? Who can tell. A moment preserved? Very much so.

Why Did I Bother? I'm sure the answer can be inferred from this top view of the Fuji camera I've been using daily for nearly three months. It looks like a real film camera, and to a very great extent, presents the same operational challenges of the film cameras I grew up with. Glancing down at the camera, I needed to confirm that the shutter speed and aperture settings were correct, leaving me to verify the correct focus when the camera was at eye level. In short, the layout of the Fuji reminds me of the care I had to take before I made each exposure.


Ivy Vines On A Wire Fence, Romaine Street San Francisco. April 20, 2020.
This challenge of manual lens photographing has actually been a major motivation for my getting into my walking shoes and venturing out looking for potential subjects. I find myself moving briskly up streets and down avenues, looking for imaging opportunities. I've taken a greater interest in the shadows. light quality, and subtle shaping that are found in the early morning. It is that rush that gets me moving.

Call me a nostalgia buff, if you wish. But if one seduced by total focusing and exposure automation, they are essentially surrendering control over a major portion of the creative process. When I adjustment my camera manually, I'm in total control of the camera. I do avail myself to auto exposure (I shoot aperture priority), which allows me to choose my aperture based on how I want the photo to appear, but will frequently over-ride the camera's settings based on my own experience. In the end, it is my decision on when to shift my car's gears, how much butter and salt to put in my popcorn, and what adjustments will best capture the image that I imagined before the shutter is pressed.

And that's just the way I like it.