As you might realise, this is an article which is written in English. The reason for it is that it also will be published on Jo Geier’s blog soon – at least I hope it will. 😉
If you want to go superwide on small formt (135) – I mean really, really wide, not like 24mm wide or 21mm wide, not even 17mm wide, no, wider than 15mm, you only have two chances: you either use a Mega-Ultra-Hyperwideanglelens – or whatever alternative superlative term the marketing department has thought of – or you use a fisheye lens and accept the extreme distortion or some loss of detail when you straighten the lines later in post production.
Anyway, a fisheye lens is special, very special and still several companies have never ceased to produce them. One reason surely is the usage of those lenses for action and sports photography: photographers have realised that half-pipe skating, freestyle snowdoarding and the like can be effectively captured by fisheye lenses. Another field where a fisheye lens can be useful is astro-photography, especially if it opens up to f/2.8. Well, I am neither a snowboard or a skating photographer nor a stargazer, so fisheyes are not my first choice when it comes to lenses. So why do I even bother? Why do I test and review the new TTArtisan 2.8/11 Fisheye? Because I had the chance to. My friends at mint&rare in Vienna have asked me if I was interested and yes, of course I was. The idea was to compare this 11mm fisheye to a 10mm rectilinear ultrawideangle lens by Voigtländer, the „Heliar-Hyper Wide“ 5.6/10, which is the widest lens I own.
Let me start with some more background information about fisheye lenses. There are several different types available: circular designs (with shorter focal length depending on format) which produce a round image on the frame leaving the the rest towards the corners black, and full-frame designs with equal-area or stereographic projection respectively. This difference of the latter versions is merely important for panorama shooters. Action photographers can neglect this and enjoy the lower prices for stereographic fisheyes, such as the TTArtisan at hand. What is unique about the TTArtisan is that it is, as far as I know, the first fisheye lens which was constructed for mirrorless cameras and which at the same time covers fullframe. Since you do not need a long DSLR-mirrorless adapter, the whole package remains pretty compact.
Both lenses in this comparison sport a Leica M-mount and thus cannot only be used on a Leica M rangefindercamera, but they can also be adapted to mirrorless cameras using a short adapter ring. Neither lens is rangefinder coupled, so you either need to use live view mode or estimate the focus distance which is not that difficult due to the huge depth-of-field that superwide lenses like these generate. The TTArtisan comes with an external viewfinder – a nice touch by the company.
Nevertheless at f/2.8 – that the fisheye offers – you can misfocus, especially when the shortest focus distance is only 17cm. You can see this in the follwing image. I accidentally turned the focus ring to the nearest focus and shot at f/2.8. What we can see because of this failed attempt is that the bokeh (if there is some) is not bad at all. 😉
With the Voigtländer almost everything will be more or less in focus since it doesn’t open to more than f/5.6.
Both lenses are very well built and feel solid when used. Their focus rings turn smoothly but with a pleasant resistance and the aperture can be set precisely. There is not much left to be desired. The TTArtsian has a little knob which really helps when turning the much stiffer clickless aperture ring.
What can we expect from such superwide lenses? Well, I have used several extremely wide lenses in the last years and almost every one of them was a compromise between angle and image quality. The Russian Zenitar 2.8/16 and the Peleng 3.5/8 fisheye lenses I once had were fascinating but their performance was limited. This TTArtisan is a much better lens, it seems to be on par with the Leica Fisheye-Elmarit-R 2.8/16 or the Canon EF 2.8/15 Fisheye – lenses that can be bought used for some serious money. Don’t expect to find those for peanuts.
Since pictures always speak louder than words, here are some example shots to show what you can do with it if you try to make use of the very special character of a fisheye lens:
A fisheye lens is – as I said before – very special and the effect quickly wears off. If that happens you can „defish“ the images in post-production using special tools or a software like DxO PhotoLab for instance.
Check those examples in which I shot the same scene with the TTArtisan (original and defished) and the Voigtländer:
The fisheye lens covers an even wider angle than the 10mm Hyper-Wide.
In those series‘ you see that the fisheye does not generate the „diverging clouds“ effect of an ultrawideangle lens in the original image, but the more you defish the supposedly straight lines the more this effect turns up in post production.
So, if you ask me which lens I prefer, it’s an easy answer: the Voigtländer rectilinear lens. But this is mainly because I do not see the need for a fisheye lens in my photography. An action photographer might have waited for excatly this lens and one thing must not be forgotten: the Voigtländer 5.6/10 is more than three times as expensive as the TTArtisan 2.8/11! That might be another reason to go for the fisheye.
P.S.: I have never had any quality issues in the TTArtisan lenses that I personally own, but some users have reported some issues. Thus there might be a certain variation of quality. But I’m sure that your trusted vendor will react appropriately in such case. For me that is one of the reasons why I prefer to buy from a seller I personally know.