7Artisans 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens Review

What is It?

The 7Artisans 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens is a native Z-mount optic from a small Chinese firm in Shenzhen who's been specializing in mirrorless camera lenses lately. The 60mm f/2.8 is a manual focus only lens, and designed for the DX crop. (Versions of this lens are available in most other lens mounts, with only the mount characteristics being different.)

However, because the lens doesn't have electrical contacts, you can mount the 60mm f/2.8 lens on a Z5, Z6, or Z7 and use FX crop. On those cameras in FX mode, the lens has minimal corner/image circle issues when focused from about 1.4 to 2 feet (about the 1:5 magnification realm). Otherwise, you'll see the clear image circle intrude on the frame. At a 1:1 Image Area, the lens is usable on the FX cameras at pretty much all focus distances, with a tiny bit of corner clipping at the two focus extremes. 

The optical design is 8 elements in 7 groups, with no special elements identified, though it does have some aggressive element design, particularly at the rear. The aperture diaphragm is 10-bladed, and as noted in the performance section, it seems particularly symmetrical, unlike a lot of lenses I've seen lately. 

The focus throw moves from infinity to the minimum focus of 0.26m in almost 270°. But the infinity to 0.6m section of that is completed in less than 20°. So, a lot of focus discrimination below 2 feet, but not so much beyond that. Depth of field markings are provided for f/4, f/8, and f/16. 

The aperture ring is declicked (smooth in operation) and has markings every stop from f/2.8 to f/16. As was traditional before autofocus came around, focus is the front ring on the lens and aperture is the back ring. They're easy to tell apart.

bythom 7artisans extended

Unique to the lens is a retracting lens hood. While the barrel of the lens is 60mm in diameter, the front element of the lens has a 39mm filter ring on it and that element retracts well into the lens body. 7Artisans used this deep retraction to create a 39mm screw-in lens hood that retracts entirely into the lens body for travel. When the lens is focused at macro distances (as shown above), the hood extends like a snout from the front of the lens.

7Artisans suggest that the long hood can be used to push underwater with the lens—just the hood portion, mind you—so that you can shoot items in water. Okay, but that's going to need to be shallow water, as the all-metal hood is just under 2" long. And you still have an air/water surface to contend with.

I measure the working distance at 1:1 as a respectable 5" (127mm), which was a bit surprising. 7Artisans claims an optional extension accessory that takes this lens to 2:1 or 3:1, but that seems to be a simple extension tube, and I couldn't determine if it was actually available in the Z mount.

The build quality of this lens is high for the price. The manufacturer claims that aircraft-quality metals are used in the construction. That brings this fairly small lens (3.9" long, or 100mm) to a whopping 19.4 ounces (550g) in weight. On a Z50, the result is definitely front heavy. 

Note that because of the no electrical contacts nature of this lens, you won't get EXIF data written to file and you'll need to be using Manual exposure mode. Even then, there are some little gremlins you need to watch for. For instance, in some circumstances, the on-screen histogram doesn't properly update when exposures get longer than 1/2 second. On the full frame bodies, you should set Non-CPU Lens data for this lens.

The lens comes well-packaged in a nice presentation box (China's been studying Apple), but no lens pouch or other accessory is supplied. Basically caps and the disappearing hood. The current price is US$159 from Amazon, but I've seen other vendors and distributors selling it for more.

Manufacturer's Web site for the lens

Source of the reviewed lens: purchased

How's it Handle?

The unique retracting lens hood is interesting, but poorly implemented. The problem with it tends to stem from the fact that the front of the hood doesn't have a filter ring. This makes the squeeze-to-release mechanism on the lens cap a little flaky; you can't release the cap via the inner clips, you definitely have to pinch the outer edges. I note that some have complained about the filter threads that mount the hood to the front element, but I didn't have that issue on my sample. At least not yet. 

Both the focus ring and the aperture ring are silky smooth. I really have no complaints at all about the build and feel of the lens, though I suspect some would prefer a clicked aperture ring.

How's it Perform?

Sharpness: Center sharpness is very good wide open, and this extends across much of the frame, really only reducing in the outer 15% of the image area. Close up performance is actually slightly better than longer distance performance. Be aware that there's a tiny bit of field curvature, particularly in the outer frame area. In off center macro work, this might catch you by surprise.

This lens was definitely designed for macro work, though; it's best at 1:1. By f/4 this lens is a solid performer edge to edge, and probably hits its best at f/5.6. With a caveat: the off-axis detail shows a fair amount of astigmatism that starts about halfway across to the edge of the frame. It's because of this astigmatism that I can't say the lens ever hits "excellent." Still, for a macro lens, particularly a low cost one, I judge the optical results here to be very good.

Vignetting: Vignetting becomes mostly ignorable by f/8. But it's not heavy even wide open, and the falloff is mostly in the corners, not broadly from the center.

Chromatic Aberration: Very visible longitudinal CA you need to be careful of when shooting wide open, but this dies off quickly enough as you reduce aperture. Lateral CA seems well controlled, though it's often just enough that I want to correct it.

Linear Distortion: Very low, and generally not enough that I'd want to correct it.

Flare: If the lens has a weakness, it's veiling flare and the lens' response to backlit objects. I get the sense that there aren't strong internal coatings or there are internal reflections in this lens. This is true whether the hood is screwed in or not. 

bythom 7artisans flare

Believe it or not, this is basically the same image processed identically. The difference is that in the left image I had a huge amount of daylight backlight flooding in from a window behind and to the side of the subject, whereas the right image was taken a couple of hours later at twilight where the backlight had fallen off considerably. You can see the change in exposure that resulted via the depth of field—I had to open up the aperture due to the far lower light—but the big difference I noted many times with this lens is that significant backlight triggers veiling flare. That veiling flare happens despite being stopped down more, and despite the lens hood being in place. I did not have this same issue with front-lit only subjects.

Bokeh: Highlight blur circles have definite brighter rims to them, though no real color. The aperture diaphragm actually seems to be better composed and more circular than a lot of big name lenses manage, and there's very little cat eye syndrome as you move towards the corners, which surprised me. Overall, this lens has very pleasant bokeh impacts, as none really distract you and the blur produced is generally clear and uncomplicated.

There's considerable focus breathing as you get to 1:1.5 and higher magnification, but there's some at all focus distances. Basically, the lenses is using more aggressive extension (as opposed to pure focusing) as you go more macro.

One thing I don't usually mention in reviews because the differences are negligible is color rendering. I found this lens to have a slight tendency towards a magenta tint, much like the old Tokina lenses. On a Nikon body, that's simple enough to dial out via the CIE adjustment in white balances, but you need to be aware of it.

Final Words

It's difficult to say anything bad about an inexpensive lens that's well made. But I'll try ;~). 

This isn't the snappiest lens in terms of contrast I've seen. Indeed, that seems to be a trait of many of these low-cost Chinese manual focus optics. It's really the light paths internally that are letting them down (veiling flare and internal reflections). Of course, you can just bump up the contrast in post (and use Dehaze delicately). What we're really seeing these days is just how far the Japanese managed to take their lens coatings and internal baffling, as the flare tendencies on this lens remind me a lot of 70's and 80's lenses out of Japan.

Likewise, I haven't yet seen a Chinese manufacturer nail the optics in a way that gets me past very good or excellent (superb, or exceptional, in my review language). The lens being reviewed is at the very good end of the scale, which is perfectly acceptable to me, but not the "Z magic" Nikon has produced in many of their lenses. 

Other than the weight, the 60mm f/2.8 is a very appropriate lens for the Z50 user, especially considering the long working distance with the hood off. Focus peaking and EVF magnification are your friend when trying to find just the right focus plane. You'll also want to work in Manual exposure mode with the histogram turned on, and pay attention that your shutter speed doesn't get below 1/2 second.

So it's difficult not to recommend this lens at its price. Until Nikon starts delivering autofocus macro lenses for the Z mount, this lens will keep me happy for close in subjects.

Recommended (2020, 2021)

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