Why I Love This Amazing, Cheap, Chinese Camera Lens

It’s 100% manual, and 100% fun

Key Takeaways

  • The TTArtisan APS-C 35mm F1.4 lens is all manual. 
  • TTArtisan features click-stop apertures, unlike most of the competition. 
  • At around $80, you can’t afford not to buy it.
TTArtisan's APS-C 35mm F1.4 lens in black and silver on a white background

TTArtisan

The TTArtisan APS-C 35mm F1.4 lens costs $83, is all manual, all metal (and glass), and is more fun than the best of Fujifilm’s own lenses.

Cheap camera lenses used to be terrible. Soft images, poor construction, and middling specs meant you only bought one if you were on a super-tight budget. But ever since the dawn of mirrorless cameras, cheap, capable lenses have streamed out of China. Many models have design flaws, and in some brands the quality control can leave you with a bad unit, but they’re getting better and better.

TTArtisan is one of the better lens makers, and I have its 35mm ƒ1.4 lens for my Fujifilm X-Pro3. It’s far from perfect, but I love it because of those imperfections.

Why Buy Manual?

TTArtisan started making lenses for Leica bodies back in 2019, then moved to models for mirrorless cameras from Fujifilm, Sony, Nikon, Canon, and Micro Four Thirds. The lenses have an all-metal design, are small, and are 100% manual. There’s no autofocus, and the lens doesn’t even tell the camera what aperture it is using. So why buy it?

The main reason is these lenses are fun. Their optical imperfections add character to the image, usually in how they render the out-of-focus parts of the image. Modern lenses are just incredible, but they’re often too good.

TTArtisan APS-C 35mm F1.4 lens on various camera models

TTArtisan

These cheap lenses, from makers like TTArtisan, 7 Artisans (no relation), Pergear, and Meike, all bring weird optical glitches to the party. Some have heavy vignetting when used wide open, some are susceptible to flare if you even think about letting a light source into the frame. And these glitches are part of the fun, especially at these prices. 

One of the hallmarks of almost all these Chinese-made lenses is they have very wide maximum apertures. This one has a maximum aperture of ƒ1.4, which lets in double the light of Fujifilm’s own 35mm ƒ2. 

The Film Look

I have a theory that the "film look" comes more from the lenses than the actual film. Fujifilm’s film simulations shift colors and contrast to mimic the look of film, but the images still look too sharp. Modern lenses are just too good. 

But stick one of these budget lenses on the camera, crank up the ISO (to get a bit of grain-like noise), and you get a lot closer to the film look. Often, these lenses resurrect (and adapt) old lens designs, only with better manufacturing techniques, and modern anti-reflective coatings. This adds to the charm. 

Why TTArtisan?

I’ve tried a few cheap lens brands, and TTArtisan is my favorite. To start, quality control is better. I have a 7 Artisans 25mm lens that defocuses itself, doesn’t stop turning when you reach infinity, and has distance markings that are an amusing joke. TTArtisan lenses (I have two) work as expected in all these aspects. 

"It’s far from perfect, but I love it because of those imperfections."

TTArtisan lenses also have click-stops for the aperture. Without clicks, you never know if the aperture has drifted, and there’s no viewfinder readout to check.

In Action

On a Fujifilm camera, a 35mm lens has a field of view equivalent to a 50mm lens on a full-frame or 35mm film camera. And a 50mm ƒ1.4 is an utter classic, neither wide angle or telephoto. I like it for portraits, and for general, everyday carry-around snapping. The lens is sharp in the center, and a bit fuzzier around the edges, but suffers from very little vignetting, even when used wide open at ƒ1.4.

Out-of-focus areas look lovely, characterful without being busy or distracting. Paired with Fujifilm’s Acros (B&W), Classic Chrome, or Classic Neg film simulations, the results are quite film-like. 

Leaves captured on camera using TTArtisan's APS-C 35mm F1.4 lens

Charlie Sorrel / Lifewire

How does it compare to Fujifilm’s own 35mm ƒ2? Surprisingly well. At a glance, you’d be hard-pressed to see a difference. The TTArtisan has a shallower depth-of-field, thanks to the wider aperture, but the Fujifilm lens is superior in every other way, including its almost-silent, impossibly fast autofocus. But it costs almost five times as much ($399). 

My advice? If you have a Fujifilm camera, buy one of Fujifilm’s amazing Fujicron lenses in your favorite focal length. And then start playing with these cheap lenses. Some are great, most are fun, and all of them are dirt cheap.

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