Whenever I'm on assignment, I'll typically bring a film camera along with me. For breaking news work, they're not particularly useful; no editor in their right mind is going to wait for me to return home, develop, process, edit, and upload my film frames, no matter how good the final product might be. However, this lens has made me rethink my process a bit.
Over the past few years, I've leaned hard on my panoramic cameras, usually one of my XPans or a Widelux, sometimes my Horizon, when it's something I know is going to be messy or high impact. However, lately, I've started bringing my old Leica M3 with me. So far, I've been limited in lenses, though: a couple of different 35mms, a 50mm f/1.5 Summarit, a 40mm Summicron. They're all interesting pieces of glass, but they also occupy very similar spaces in terms of field of view. I've been wanting to go a bit wider, but most wide glass is a bit outside my price range.
Over the last few months, I've had my eye on the TTArtisan 28mm f/5.6. I've considered other lenses: the TTArtisan 21mm f/1.5 and similar Voigtlander lenses, but the TTArtisan 28mm f/5.6 called to me for a few reasons.
First, it's small and unobtrusive, meaning it's going to fit in my camera bag without taking up important real estate. When it arrived, I found it filled about the same amount of space as a collapsed 50mm f/3.5 Elmar. It's not quite a pancake lens, but it's pretty close.
Second, the build quality was reported to be impressive, and after the first few shoots, I found that to be the case. I picked up a silver copy, which matched my M3. I'm not too concerned about cosmetic issues, but I'll be the first to admit that it does look pretty. The brass was hefty, too — surprisingly so. I'm used to more modern lenses, which are built with lighter metals or plastic. This lens is entirely glass and plastic, with a smooth focus that has just the right amount of resistance. The provided lens shade is equally well built, though the black paint has started to chip at the outside edges. There's an infinity-focus lock similar to older Leica lenses, though on my lens, it feels relatively loose. I am concerned that it may come off, but so far, it's shown no sign of working itself loose.
In terms of image quality, I found the lens to be surprisingly sharp, with a bit of vignetting and loss of detail at the outer edges. At f/5.6, this is a decent street-shooter's lens; it's great for zone-focusing and quick snapshots. Other shooters I've spoken with have asked why I went with this over something with a wider aperture, which might be more useful in environments with uncontrolled or low lighting. Truth is, I wanted to concentrate less on bokeh and more on sharpness. There are sharper lenses out there, certainly — this glass isn't going to compete with more expensive M-glass — but for the price point ($298), it's hard to complain. I used it on two recent assignments: first, while out photographing aboard the USS Bataan as it came into port and again at a press conference with Mayor Adams in New York City. On the Bataan, it shined, but I was working under great outdoor light and had a lot of latitude when it came to exposure. The press conference was held inside City Hall, and while there were TV lights, there just wasn't enough light to make a good exposure.
Another downside is that there's no dedicated viewfinder delivered with the lens. Right now, I have a viewfinder from my Yashica Electro 35 mounted on the cold shoe, which gives an approximation of the right frame lines. For the most part, I find myself approximating, though usually with decent results.
So, who is this lens designed for? It's a solid news-gathering lens, but only if you recognize its limitations: it won't do you any favors in low-light environments, and you're not going to get much in the way of that "creamy bokeh" everyone seems to be chasing. What you will get is a (mostly) crisp image corner to corner. This is a solid, wide lens useful for storytelling rather than art, and it's sold at a competitive price point. I would like to see an updated and improved infinity lock, but other than that, it's extremely well built.