The 7Artisans M35mm F1.4 Wen lens is a competitive low light option for the Leica M mount. The 35mm focal length combined with an F1.4 aperture allows you to isolate your subject while including a bit of the environment at the same time.
Whilst I primarily tested this lens on film using the Leica M-A, it can also be adapted to mirrorless digital cameras. I tested the lens on the Fujifilm XT3, where the focal length is around 53mm. This is noticeably tighter, although a great focal length in it's own right if you like the classic 50mm range. This provides even more compression, and has the benefit of using a sharper part of the lens. On a full frame sensor such as the Sony A7 series, however, you would retain the 35mm focal length. This gives the lens a dual-purpose functionality if you happen to perhaps shoot a Leica system as well a different mirrorless system. Here is a sample of the lens adapted to the XT3:
With either the film or digital tests, I find the rendering to be very pleasant with wide open usage, giving a beautiful out of focus area in both the foreground and background.
Easy on the Wallet
Some figures for you. At the time of writing this article:
Leica Summilux 35mm 1.4 - $7870 AU/$6000 US
7Artisans M35mm 1.4 - $562 AU/$429 US
That's a mighty big difference. Naturally, a sense of "you get what you pay for" might come to mind. And yes, I'm sure the Leica Summilux is the better lens of the two in terms of build-quality, usage, and some performance markers. But, is it 14 times better? It most certainly can't be, as far as I'm concerned. Being as I've never used the Summilux and don't think I will any time soon, here is an article comparing the two by DPReview in case you're curious how they compare in terms of the images side-by-side. The TLDR is that there isn't a huge difference. In fact, most commenters glancing through the blind comparison test found it hard to fault either, or marginally preferred one over the other (sometimes in favour of the 7Artisans!)
Either way you go, this type of lens provides a dreamy "classic" rendering when shot at the wider apertures, as opposed to a more clinical and modern look. The difference is that with the 7Artisans, you'll be left with a lot more money in the bank.
Seeing in the Dark
If you tend to like the 35mm focal length for documentary style photography as I do, the 7Artisans is more than capable for everyday memory-keeping with added ability to do so in low-light situations. With no focus-shift to speak of, using the lens wide-open (as with the above example) is no problem when using the rangefinder. Keep in mind however that the depth of field at F1.4 is very shallow, and the slightest movement of your subject or camera can throw off your focus easily.
A Street-photography Favourite
The 35mm also happens to be my (and many other's) favourite focal length for street photography. I usually use the Zeiss 35mm C Biogon F2.8 lens for that purpose, and have been doing so for many years. Comparing the two, the 7Artisans is physically larger and heavier (check my YouTube review linked at the end of the article for comparison footage) with a firmer and therefore slower focus throw in comparison. Overall, the F2.8 fastest aperture of the Zeiss is enough for me as a primarily-daytime shooter, and due to the fact that I generally stop down the lens when shooting "street" to capture a greater depth of field. However, the F1.4 widest aperture was an admittedly nice bonus to have in those previous night examples. Additionally, the Wen lens is still more than usable for everyday street and documentary photography, if it were to be your only 35mm lens.
I took to the street with the Leica M-A, and some Fuji Superia 400 film for the following shots. Stopping the lens down a little, you can see the overall sharpness (especially in the mid-frame areas) improve significantly.
You may notice that the far corners do remain a little lacking in sharpness, with a bit of "roughness" showing; even when stopped down. The following example on black and white film shows the same, despite having been shot at the optimal range of around F8-F11.
Down to the Details
As you just saw, this lens provides a pleasant rendering and is suitable for a range of purposes. It leans more towards being a "character" lens, and isn't the best option if you want sharp detail into the corners. Stopping the aperture down a little helps with this purpose, as does the crop factor presented when using the lens on a digital sensor smaller than 35mm.
The lens itself is nicely designed with respectable build quality, especially given the price point. The aperture ring uniquely has no clicks in between the full stops. This can be useful for accurate and stepless adjustment of exposure, or if you happen to use the lens for digital videography. The built-in lens hood is also a nice feature, although it would be nice if it locked into place when deployed. My Youtube video below provides a slightly more in-depth look at some of the details of the 7Artisans "Wen" lens including the unboxing, user experience, and features including focus adjustment.
It's quite safe to say though, that this a great option for those in the market for a low-light 35mm lens for the Leica M mount. Without the ultra-high expense of something like the Summilux series, this would be a perfect lens for the photographer who primarily favours low-light capability and the ability to create images with beautiful isolation and out-of-focus rendition. It is also suitable for the "casual" 35mm shooter who perhaps prefers a different focal length as their primary lens. I would not necessarily recommend it if you primarily use the 35mm focal length for landscape work or anything that requires sharp resolution into the corners, however. This may be a given with most wide aperture lenses, whereby something like the previously mentioned Zeiss Biogon would be a better option.
I quite enjoyed testing this lens, and made many "keeper" images from the few rolls I shot! For that reason, I'll be keeping the lens to use as alternative alongside my Biogon, when I want something with more character and low light ability. The lens was kindly sent to me by 7Artisans for review, and as my first review of a lens provided by the manufacturer, I'm hugely grateful for the opportunity. If you wish to support my ongoing efforts with the blog and Youtube channel, feel free to use the affiliate link below to purchase your copy of the lens via Amazon, if you choose to do so!
Purchasing anything from Amazon through this link compensates me with a small percentage, but doesn't cost you any more. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this article!