TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens Review

What is It?

The TTArtisan 11mm f/2.8 Fisheye is a manual focus lens that delivers 180° across the diagonal of the frame, what is sometimes called a "full frame fisheye." Full frame in that instance means that the fisheye produces image data all the way into the corners of the frame, and not a circular image as traditional fisheyes do. 

In the Nikon DSLR world, Nikon made two different full frame fisheye lenses, the 16mm f/2.8 for FX, and the 10.5mm f/2.8 for DX. This TTArtisan lens is basically the equivalent of those, though it is manual focus only with no electrical contacts. And before we get too much confusion over the term "full frame," this lens covers the FX image area, so I guess we could call it a full frame full frame fisheye.

The company behind the lens is Shenzhen Mingjiang Optical Technology, located in Shenzhen Chain. Originally designed as a Leica M mount lens, the 11mm f/2.8 is now available in other mounts, including the Nikon Z mount. As with many low-cost manual focus lenses in the Z mount, there are no electrical contacts on the lens mount, so you'll be shooting in Manual or Aperture-priority exposure mode and using the histogram to set exposure. While Nikon doesn't provide an 11mm focal length in Non-CPU Lens Data, on the Z5/Z6/Z7 be sure to set 13mm as the focal length, as the sensor-based VR needs to know the focal length in order to work well. Also note that in Aperture-priority exposure mode, the viewfinder will tend to lag in catching up with exposure changes; gives things a second to settle before shooting in A mode.

Optically, the lens is 11 elements in 7 groups. Quite a few of those elements have big curvatures to them. The front glass has the usual bulbous profile of a very wide angle lens, and is barely protected by an unremovable petal-type "lens hood." As you might expect, there's no filter thread up front, nor is there a gelatin filter holder in the back.

The lens cap on this lens is the usual slip on cover. The rubberized felt inside ring that provides resistance so it doesn't slip off seems to do its job, though I wonder how well it will hold up over time.

The aperture on this lens is declicked, and has markings from f/2.8 to f/16 in full stops. DOF markings are provided for f/2.8, f/4, f/8, and f/16. The aperture blades only total seven. In my sample, while closing down the aperture doesn't produce a distinct "bad join" as I've seen in some lower cost lenses, the heptagon gets slightly elliptical. 

At 15.4 ounces (436g), the lens isn't light, but it's also not exactly what I'd call heavy, either. The smallish size and metal construction mean that it feels a bit "dense" in the hand.

The lens is made in China and sells for US$215.

Source of the reviewed lens: purchased

How's it Handle?

The lens balances quite nicely on the Z5/Z6/Z7 bodies. Even on the Z50 it only moves the center of balance a bit forward of where I'd want it. That's mostly because it's a short lens, only about 3.25" (80mm) to the front of the glass.

Both the aperture ring and the focus ring are smooth, and while it's possible to accidentally move them by touch, you'll probably know when you do, as they aren't sloppy and low resistance. 

I do wish that that lens had a grippier finish at its base where I tend to grip it while mounting and unmounting. The slick metal finish is a bit too slippery for me.

How's it Perform?

Focus: You're absolutely going to want Focus Peaking on, and the ability to magnify via a button press. Why? Because the view is so wide that it's tough to see exactly where the focus plane is when so much detail is packed into the viewfinder. More than once what I thought was "in focus" via just eyeballing the EVF was not. Sure, depth of field helps you out with this, but in case you hadn't noticed, I want to put the focus plane exactly where I want it. The only way I could do that reliably is via Focus Peaking with Magnification.

Sharpness: I'm going to say the center of the frame is very good. It's nearly impossible to get really good measurements from lenses this wide, as you'd either need to be at closest focus distance or have really huge charts to get accurate numbers. My observations are mostly based upon examining real images, not testing. 

So, from a strong central region, even wide open, we get to what I'd call a fair far corner wide open. That's actually a positive statement for a lens this wide. I've seen fisheyes that tend to not just go a bit blurry, but go all smeary as well. This one goes from acuity to slight blur wide open as you move from center to corner. There does seem to be axis-dependance to the blur, so I'd say there's likely astigmatism involved out in the corners. I don't see a lot of coma.

By f/5.6 I'd say the corners get to good. Given that the DOF markings on the lens would suggest that 2 feet to infinity would be in acceptable focus at that point, it's quite possible to get edge to edge results that look very good with this lens. I'd say that the lens is best at f/5.6 whether you're using it in close or with subjects at far distances, so there doesn't seem to be any optical favoring with distance that we see in some lens designs.

One thing that will become very clear if you try to shoot a flat surface up close is that this lens has considerable field curvature, and it doesn't appear to a perfect curve, at that. Thus, consider this as you're shooting with this lens: perhaps the central third of the lens on each axis is going to be at or very near the focal plane you choose. Flat objects outside that are going to go soft. 

Linear Distortion: By definition, a full frame fisheye has considerable barrel distortion. The only straight lines will be through the center axis of the lens (both horizontal and vertical). Landscape photographers long ago learned to put the horizon near the center and let the corners be corners, and do what they will. That effect gets old fast. So most of us have some software tool we use to de-barrel the information. I use Imadio, a plug-in (available either for Photoshop or Lightroom). One thing I learned using Imadio is that the 11mm f/2.8 doesn't form a perfect barrel. You'll need to get down into the advanced tools of Imadio or another tool in order to get close to rectilinear results.

Chromatic Aberration: Longitudinal CA is low, lower than I would have expected. This is good news, because makes the lateral CA you'll clearly see at wide apertures easily correctable.

Vignetting: Definitely there and visible, but quite frankly far better than I expected (it's something around 1.5 stops wide open, and it's under a stop by f/4). As sometimes happens with really wide lenses on digital cameras, there's a very small amount of color shift in the extreme corners, as well, probably due to crossover pollution from the Bayer filtration when light hits at a non-telecentric angle.

Flare: Decent if the light source is somewhat centrally located. Put the light source towards a corner, though, and things get really complex, with everything from prisming to colored ghosting occurring. 

The sun stars created by this lens stopped down past f/8 almost look too good at times; you get 14 very distinct rays that are well disciplined. However, at lower aperture values, the stars can be a smear mess, and if you're diffracting the light source too much on an edge, things also get messy.

Bokeh: You're not going to select or use this lens for its bokeh. One reason for that is it has so much depth of field in most uses you just won't see truly out of focus areas. If you move to the 7" (0.17m) close focus distance and use f/2.8, sure, long distances are now not in focus, but they're also not distinctly out of of focus, either. So if you're thinking "special effect" by shooting close and fast aperture, be ready for a very busy and somewhat distracting "bokeh." Bokeh balls, if you can produce them, have a distinct bright edging, but very little cats eye effect as you move towards the corners. Not terrible, by any means, but not quite as much "juice" as I'd like when trying to pull off a near/far differential.

Final Words

As with the older full frame fisheyes, this lens can produce very distinctive shots you can't get otherwise. It's also a bit fun to shoot with a lens that produces such results. 

But be a little careful. Focus and framing are important to get the full impacts this lens is capable of, and since it's a manual focus lens, the onus to get those right is completely on you. The original classic use of full frame fisheyes came from mountain biking photographers, who'd stick their camera and lens almost into the path of the biker and wait until they didn't just see the whites of their eyes, but could count the veins. Because we don't have autofocus, that means you need to reliably fix the focus and time the shutter release to the biker hitting that point. That's easily do-able, but it's work you have to figure out how to do. No automatic modes are going to get you something "acceptable." ;~)

For it's reasonable price, this lens is probably a bargain. I have no problems recommending this lens to someone who's interested in exploring the full frame fisheye world. Just realize that (1) you'll be manually focusing, (2) you have to account for field curvature with some subjects, and (3) you'll going to want to do both distortion correction and chromatic aberration correction of the final images.

Note: I have seen some samples from others on the Web that show that there may be some sample variation. My sample seems well-centered and doesn't tend to smear corners but just blur them. I've seen examples from others where there must have been some de-centering or element variation.

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