Interfoto.eu, a Warsaw-based photo and video equipment reailer, is offering the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25, a new all-manual full-frame ultrafast portait lens with unique specifications in Leica M mount. The lens features a rangefinder coupling which can be adjusted by the user with a small, supplied screwdriver; with proper adapters – and TTArtisan markets a range of them – the lens can be attached to virtually any mirrorless system with full-frame or smaller sensors. The new TTArtisan product looks deceptively similar to Leica-branded lenses, and compared to the OEM lens it attempts to rival (Leica 90mm F1.5 Summilux-M ASPH.) it is half a stop faster and fifteen times cheaper. The first unit of TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 delivered to Poland was kindly provided by Interfoto.eu for reviewing purpose for two days. I was curious to see how it performs.
The text and photos by Jarosław Brzeziński unless captioned otherwise. In particular all female portaits illustrating the test are by Aleksandra Stodulska, a talented photographer working with Interfoto.eu.
Focal length: 90mm
Field of view: 27 degrees (on full frame sensors)
Aperture range: F1.25-F16
Number of aperture blades: 10
Optical design: 11 elements in 7 groups
Minimum focusing distance: 1m
Dimensions: 82mm x 97mm (diameter x length)
Filter diameter: 77mm
Mount: Leica M
The combination of focal length and very fast maximum aperture sets this lens apart from other 90 mm lenses so I will mostly focus on how it performs wide open.
The aperture has 10 blades (not rounded).
Aperture blades are not rounded, so circles of light become polygon-shaped as the lens is stopped down; on the other hand this enables quite well-defined sunstars.
As the lens is quite heavy, it is supplied with a tripod mount foot placed towards the rear.
The optical design incorporates four achromatic doublets using glass with high refractive index to correct chromatic and spherical aberrations.
The lens is supplied in a box with a plastic rear cap, and a metal, screw-in combined front cap and lens hood.
Filter diameter is 77 mm and lens elements are multicoated.
The lens features a rangefinder coupling which can be adjusted using a supplied small screwdriver and a test chart for perfect calibration to a specific rangefinder camera.
Handling and build quality
The lens is quite big and heavy and build quality is spotless. It looks very much like a Leica M lens including the famous red dot and markings in yellow and white.
The focus ring moves smoothly and with perfect resistance at the same time, turning from the minimum focus distance of 1m to infinity.
The aperture ring feels well-assembled and has distinct and equidistant half-stop click stops. There is a depth of field scale against the distance scale to facilitate hyperfocal focusing, e.g. in street photography.
Still, I think the TTArtisan 90/1.25 is a lens for near-wide-open shooting rather than for being stopped down several stops. Anyway, clicked aperture will make photographers happy; videographers would rather have at least an option of declicking it.
There is no internal focusing and focusing is performed by moving back and forth the entire optical assembly so the lens extends in the process. The lens hood adds some more length but I think it is too shallow, which is evidenced by some problems encountered when shooting into the light. More on that further on.
I will briefly cover optical performance of the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25, stressing the extremly short timespan of the testing process. I collected the lens for review on Friday night and had to return it by Monday noon. The lens was mounted on two full-frame mirrorless cameras, a Sony a7R III and Nikon Z6 using TTArtisan M-E and TTartisan M-Z adapters. Female portraits were taken by Aleksandra Stodulska on a Canon EOS R6, Canon EOS R5 and Leica M10.
The TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 shows very slight barrel distortion. Once a lens specific profile becomes available, the lens can be used even for the most demanding architecture photo shoots; for portrait applications the level of distortion present in the images from the lens is negligible.
While very fine correction of distortion comes as no surprise in a prime lens, I was astonished by almost complete absence of light falloff in a lens that fast. As vignetting correction always increases noise levels in the corners, it is better to have a lens with excellent light falloff correction in the first place, as is the case of the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25.
TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 uses four achromatic doublets in the optical design and longitudinal CA seems quite well corrected indeed. At wider apertures there is only very slight green behind and magenta in front of the focal plane visible, but this aberration is slightly masked by spherical aberration at f/1.25. Stopping the lens down improves CA only a little bit. At the same time there is some optical vignetting manifested by the truncation of light circles towards the borders of the frame.
Shooting into the light
Great care needs to be exercised when shooting the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 into the light. With strong light sources in the frame, there is just some contrast reduction and slight flare, but this is to be expected in lenses that fast.
The lens really struggles with the sun just outside the frame and here the too shallow lens hood is partly to blame. In some situations this generates a flare rendering the images unacceptable.
Wide open the lens is pretty sharp in the center and acceptable in the corners but in the case of contrasty objects there is a visible effect of spherical abberration manifested as a glow giving the image a slightly dreamy look. The effect of glow is greatly reduced at F1.4 and disappears by F2; sharpness reaches good levels in the center at F2 and at F4 in the corners; at F5,6 the lens is extremely sharp in the center and the corners catch up at F8. Excelent sharpness is maintained at F11, while at F16 diffraction kicks in.
What is the main reason to desire a superfast portrait lens? For me it is the bokeh rendering. There are slower lenses that offer better correction of optical aberrations, resolution or contrast wide open. And upon stoping down to F8-F11 the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 becomes very well corrected indeed. But if I am to carry a superfast, heavy lens I expect it to offer paper-thin depth of field and butterly smooth bokeh at full aperture.
And this is where the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 does not disappoint, Depth of field is extremely shallow, background blur is awesome and bokeh is buttery smooth, devoid of nervousness, and with dreamy softness. As bokeh goes, the TTArtisan quite aptly rivals a lens that has become a personal favourite of mine recently, i.e. AF-S Nikkor 105mm F1.4E ED.
Obvious applications of the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 include portrait photo shoots, where combination of good sharpness in the center, shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh generates unique subject isolation.
Moreover, the “artistic flair” of the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 inspires photographic experiments. Owing to “dissolution” of backgrounds into an abstract wall at F1.25 and the glow in the case of contrasty scenes, the lens is begging to be used as a tool to create images from the realm of dreams.
TTArtisan 90mm F1.25, Sony a7R III, F1.25
The photos below were taken with the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 on a Canon EOS R6. Photography: Aleksandra Stodulska. Model: Sandra.
Given the short time span of the review, I accumulated lots of observations about the the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25. It is a unique lens in terms of specifications and the excellent price to build and optical quality ratio add to its attractiveness. Selection of Leica M mount seems the right decision to make – even more so for its adaptability to any mirrorless systems than for the ability to use the lens on Leica M cameras.
As regards the newest full-frame Leica-branded cameras, such as Leica M-10D, most of those who can afford buying such an expensive body are most likely prepared to pay a five-digit price for an OEM lens and will not care for the new TTArtisan product, which is a real pity as it is an interesting proposal and an extremely affordable gateway to creative photos with paper-thin depth of field in the world of Leica M mount.
Besides, there are cost-conscious users of older cameras, both film and digital ones, with M mount, whether with Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander, Konica or Minolta logo, for whom the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 may provide the sole path to a superfast portrait lens.
But above anything else, the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 can be attached to virtually any mirrorless system via proper adapters. Anyway – whether mounted directly on a Leica M bayonet camera or on one of countless mirrorless systems using an adapter – this is a lens with unique combination of the focal length and speed. Build quality of the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25.is beyond reproach. It is built like a proverbial tank, with focusing and aperture rings working both smoothly and with the right amount of resistance. My tests performed on a Sony a7R III and a Nikon Z show that in terms of optical performance the lens is well-designed too.
Barrel type distortion is practically negligible; vigneting is virtually non-existent and CA is quite well corrected. With the sun in the frame there is a local loss of contrast and some flare, but utmost care must be exercised with the sun just outside the frame – the lens hood is too shallow giving rise to excessive flare in some circumstances.
Already wide open the lens is quite sharp, but it must be borne in mind that in contrasty scenarios spherical abberation at F1,25 induces a contrast-reducing soft glow, which is greatly reduced at F1.4 and virtually gone at F2. Bokeh is buttery smooth and point light sources are usually rendered as circles but in certain combinations of available light and shooting distances there is some optical vignetting manifested by the truncation of light circles towards the borders of the frame. Anyway optical faults do not get in the way of producing pleasing images and do not depart greatly from what can be encountered in superfast lenses of Japanese or German pedigree.
This is an important lens from the TTArtisan stables, clearly demonstrating that a small company from China is capable of mobilizing R&D and production resources allowing it to market within a short time a good lens with extreme specifications at an affordable price. I had been looking forward to an opportunity to review the TTArtisan 90mm F1.25 since its announcement. After a weekend spent with the lens I can quote the famous words of Neil Armstrong: “The Eagle has landed.”
Jarosław Brzeziński, born 1962, a photographer, painter and translator with M.A. degree in English philology.
Blog at: https://towarzystwonieustraszonychsoczewek.blogspot.com/
2005: published “Canon EOS System”.
1998- 2009: responsible in the Polish Office of the Committee for European Integration for translations of all documents related to Poland’s accession to and membership in the EU.
1996- 2011: an editor and author of hundreds of articles on photographic equipment and photography for leading photography monthlies in Poland.
1994-1996: a freelancing copywriter for Ogilvy & Mather.
2011-2019: a chief expert on translations in the Natolin European Centre.
1998-today: a wedding, advertising, event, corporate, pet and portrait photographer.
1990-today: an English-Polish and Polish-English translator for leading companies and organizations in Poland.