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  • Ed Dozier

TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 for Nikon Z Review: DX or FX?





This lens is advertised as an APS-C lens, but I’ll let you be the judge. The TTArtisan lens designers knew that the fringes of this lens wouldn’t be stellar, so they gave it a huge image circle that extends all the way to cover an FX sensor. I’m reviewing the version made for Nikon with the Z mount, but you can get it in many different mounts.

 

Personally, I haven’t been interested in buying DX lenses, since they waste half of my FX sensor. This lens is an exception, because it does in fact cover the FX sensor. If I don’t like the outer fringes of a shot, I just crop to it to suit; you can’t stretch it if you shoot in DX mode.

 

Unless you want to spend $8000.00 for Nikon’s 58mm f/0.95 Noct or $13,000 for Leica’s 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M, you might want to take a look at this TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 lens. All three of these lenses are manual focus, by the way, and the TTArtisan costs a bit less (less than 2 percent of the Noctilux). You could actually throw in a couple of Nikon camera bodies with this lens instead of getting the Noctilux with an adapter.

 

Am I saying that this lens is just as good as the Nikkor or Leica? Heck no. But if you’re after a specialty lens for portraits with a melted background, then read on.

 

This is the very definition of a niche lens. If you’re after distant landscape shots, then run away from this TTArtisan. Try to imagine you’re more of a painter than a photographer when shooting, and it will put you in a better mindset. And forget about sharp corners.

 

You don’t get a lens hood with this lens, so check out something like Amazon for a cheap 58mm screw-on lens hood; some of them also have pinch snap-on lens caps for the hood. You’ll want a lens hood to minimize lens flare. I also bought a snap-on lens cap that fits onto the hood, instead of using the provided screw-on lens cap.

 

This lens is 1/6 stop faster than an f/1.0 lens, or 1 1/6 stops faster than an f/1.4 lens. That’s 2/3 stops faster than an f/1.2 lens.

 

 

Lens Specifications

 

50mm, f/0.95 through f/16.0

14.5 ounces/ 411 grams

58mm filter thread

Minimum focus: 19.7 inches/ 50cm

8 elements in 6 groups

10 rounded aperture blades

Half-click stops f/0.95 through f/4, then full-stops (skips f/11).

Manual focus only

Focus ring rotation range 135 degrees

No electronic contacts

Metal and glass, period.




TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 lens design

 

This version of their lens doesn’t have any aspherics; just a pair of high-index glass elements. That’s 8 elements in 6 groups. Usually, the lack of aspheric lens elements means that the bokeh is smoother.







TTArtisan 50mm at f/0.95 (on left) versus Nikkor 85mm AF-S at f/1.4 (on right)



Compare the two shots above. Both pictures were taken at their widest apertures, and I tried to get the same image magnification in both shots.  The Nikkor has much better resolution, and it has a very different look to it than the TTArtisan does. For a subject like this, I prefer the TTArtisan’s look; it’s more like a painting and unconventional. Your opinion may differ.

 

 

f/0.95 Outdoors


The Nikon Z9 and Z8 have a 1/32,000 shutter speed, so sunshine and f/0.95 work just fine together. For slower cameras, you’ll need to get yourself a neutral density filter for those wide-open daytime shots.

 

Set up the Non-CPU Lens Data


The first thing to do is to set up the non-CPU lens data in the Setup menu. This lets the camera get proper exposure and correctly use the IBIS system for anti-vibration. The EXIF data will now include what lens is being used, and what its maximum aperture is. The EXIF data won’t indicate the actual f-stop in use.

 

Use Focus-Peaking, Please

 

My mirrorless Nikons have great focus-peaking, which allows for very quick focus confirmation with manual focus. The ‘low sensitivity’ (1) setting gets the most accurate focus.

 

The viewfinder image magnification lets me really nail focus when the subject holds reasonably still. Both the Z8 and Z9 cameras have the “Half-Press to Cancel Zoom (MF)” feature, to instantly let you frame the subject after proper (magnified) focus. Just half-press the shutter button after you focus on your subject to see the whole frame.

 

The focus direction is backwards, compared to Nikkor lenses. And speaking of focus, the focus action is very smooth, but I wish the rotation was a bit more than the 135 degrees it has. The focus ring has sculpted indents in the metal, instead of the traditional textured rubber ring.

 

 

Repair Distortion, Vignette, and Color Fringes

 

Since TTArtisan hasn’t provided any lens correction profile (yet), you’ll need to manually fix various lens issues in your editor. You can save the fixes into a ‘profile’, which you can apply to subsequent photographs.  At these prices, you didn’t think that you’d get away with no image editing, did you?

 

 

Image Distortion


Distortion is rather pronounced, but it can be made to virtually disappear with suitable image editors. A sample lens profile manual setting in Lightroom is +15 to fix barrel distortion. In Capture One, the “SHAPE” section has a ‘Distortion’ slider in the Lens Correction | Lens area; I used 52.




f/0.95 barrel distortion and vignette, full FX frame




f/0.95 repaired distortion and vignette in editor



f/5.6 un-modified distortion and vignette



Vignette


Vignetting is severe when wide open, but not that much different from the Noctilux lens. Again, use an image editor to eliminate this when it’s a problem. Many photographers actually increase vignetting with their editing software, since it can really enhance image aesthetics. A sample lens profile manual setting in Lighroom is +100, to get rid of vignette. Capture One, in the “SHAPE” section Lens Correction | Lens area, there’s the “Light Falloff” slider to fix this (84).

 

Vignette reduces significantly when you stop down.


 

Lateral Chromatic Aberration (CA)



Lateral chromatic aberration f/0.95




Lateral chromatic aberration f/5.6

 

 

The CA at f/0.95 peaks at about 8 microns, which equates to 1.8 pixels. At f/5.6, the CA reduces to 1.1 pixels. I doubt you’ll notice it.

 

Fix this “purple fringing” problem using your image editor. In Lightroom, I use the ‘Manual Lens Correction’ Defringe eyedropper. In Capture One, the ‘Refine’ tab has the Defringe slider in the ‘Purple Fringing’ section, plus a smart analysis in its Lens Correction section.

 

 

Lens Flare


Yes, flare is thare, but it’s not too bad. I purchased a separate lens hood to shade the lens and minimize it.




Into the sun at f/0.95, full FX frame



Into the sun at f/16, full FX frame

 

 

 

Bokeh

 

In a word, this lens is about bokeh. That expensive Leica lens has strange “half-moon” out-of-focus lights at the image fringes, while both this TTArtisan and the Nikkor Noct have symmetric “cat’s eye” lights at the fringes.

 

Interestingly, the quality of the background heavily depends upon focus distance. It’s best at ‘portrait’ focus distances. At medium distances, you get a strange increased sharpness around the FX edges, which isn’t typically pleasant.




TTArtisan cat’s eye at f/0.95

 


Contrast


Wide open, and particularly at close focus distance, image contrast is reduced. Use your favorite editor to increase contrast to help fix this.  Stopping down even a little will enhance the contrast, which is the same for any really fast lens.



Coma

 

Coma is just plain bad in the edges and corners, but can be drastically decreased by stopping down the aperture. Never, ever try shooting the stars with this lens; you’ll have a hard time trying to un-see that coma later.

 

 

Sharper, Please

 

I love to use my Topaz DeNoise AI to sharpen the shot and also rid any image noise. Shots using the TTArtisan really benefit from this sharpening treatment.

 

 

MTF Contrast



Claimed MTF Contrast, from TTArtisan (24mm wide DX sensor)

 

What’s shown above is the TTArtisan prediction for a 24mm-wide DX sensor at both f/0.95 and f/5.6.



Measured MTF contrast, f/0.95

 

The measured MTF50 contrast curves are generally lower than the theoretical curves for the DX sensor range. My measured curves show why the TTArtisan engineers chose to call this a DX lens instead of an FX lens, when you look beyond 12mm from the image center.



Measured MTF contrast, f/5.6

 

This lens shows a pronounced sharpness increase near the edges of the FX frame when stopping down. This leads to some strange-looking distant shots, where edges unexpectedly sharpen.



Field Curvature


Before I talk lens resolution, a disscussion on field curvature is in order. My testing is all done treating this lens as if it was made for an FX sensor. Since TTArtisan considers it an APS-C lens, measurements outside that area are a bit unfair. I have found that these optics have extreme field curvature, where the edges have the focus "plane" move away from the center. This means that the resolution near the edges will look really bad, since those tests assume the focus plane to be flat.


The shot that follows was enhanced using the Photoshop "Find Edges" feature, which effectively shows where the focus "plane" really is.



The focus 'Plane' looks like a Greek omega symbol


The shape of what's in focus is quite distorted. I drew a green rectangle around the approximate DX (APS-C) sensor boundary. I drew a red line along what's in focus at f/0.95. This shot is a rug, photographed at about a 30-degree angle down from the horizontal. If the lens was perfect (no field curvature), then the in-focus portion would be a simple horizontal line across the shot. Instead, the focus (in the portion outside the DX sensor boundary) curves away from the camera.


This severe field curvature is the worst aspect of this lens when you treat it as if it was made for FX cameras. At least now you'll understand in the resolution measurements that follow why the edge measurements look so horrible.

 

Resolution

 

I shot the resolution test charts in FX mode, but I drew a rectangle around the DX sensor area, to show what TTArtisan wants you to use. I shot the test chart from a distance of 5 feet (1.5 m).

 

The lens center is excellent by f/2.8 and peaks at f/4. The frame edges don’t become decent for FX until somewhere around f/11 (no aperture click stop or marking for f/11). The whole frame is acceptable around f/8 for the DX area. FX corners don’t ever quite fully sharpen, but they get close at f/16.

 

The FX frame edge sharpening after the mid-frame resolution plunge causes strange-looking landscapes on the frame edges. This is why I wouldn’t recommend this lens for general-purpose distance shooting, at least when you go beyond DX. If you stop down a little beyond f/8, then distant FX shots start to look ‘normal’ again.

 

You’d never buy this lens for its resolution. It sounds like an excuse, but this lens really is about its ‘look’ with its bokeh and narrow depth of focus. I suspect that not using aspheric elements in this design caused more sharpness issues across the field of view, but enhanced the look of the bokeh.




f/0.95 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/1.1 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/1.4 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/2.0 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/2.8 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/4.0 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/5.6 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/8.0 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green




f/16.0 MTF50 lp/mm resolution, DX frame in green

 

Samples



f/0.95 full FX frame




f/0.95 full FX frame




f/0.95 Corrected for distortion and vignette, FX frame




f/0.95 full FX frame




f/0.95 full FX frame




f/0.95 full FX frame




f/0.95 full FX frame




f/5.6 full FX frame. Edges are okay, but not corners




f/0.95 FX frame. Edges show unusual increased sharpness

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

Let’s assume you have the cash to splurge for that Noct or Noctilux, but you hesitate to take the plunge. You could get this lens and play with it for almost zero investment (relative to those expensive lenses). If you decide that you really enjoy this photographic genre, then go ahead and Noct-splurge. If, however, you quickly lose interest in f/0.95 and manual focus, then you’d know to stay away from the dark side.

 

I find that I have lots of fun with this lens, although not as a steady diet. It’s more like a high-calorie treat. Yes, it’s rough to focus on close moving targets at f/0.95; it’s best to do at least 5 fps and throw away the out-of-focus shots later. You find yourself more in the moment, having to manually focus while framing subjects.


It’s easier to make suitable subjects look like “art” with this lens at f/0.95. If you were to notice that most of your shots are taken at f/5.6, then this lens is a waste; get a regular nifty fifty instead.  Of course it would be nice to have more even sharpness away from the frame center, but at the same time it gives you a more unique character to the pictures. Focus on what this lens can do and not what it cannot do.

 

For me, I’ve decided that this lens is definitely FX and not DX. Minor cropping is called for on some shots, but that’s no different than for any other lens. At least the FX edges are there to crop.


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