I've had the 7Artisans 35mm f2 lens for quite a long time but after all this time I've only shot it a handful of times. So little that I have now sold it. I'm writing this as the lens sits in a box in front of me. Lens is packaged in its own Original Packaging box which is packaged in another box with some padding. I didn't even plan to sell it. I was selling Leica Summicron-M 90mm f2 Pre-Asph lens and decided to add this to the sale for some extra moneys. So here I am sitting and thinking whether I should've given it more of a chance. I don't dislike it — I just don't use it.
I bought it because I wanted to try the 35mm focal length. I'm a 50mm subscriber ( especially 50mmf2.com ) on most days but I do like using Fujifilm X100 which has a 35mm equivalent focal length. I had never used a prime 35mm lens on a full frame and it seemed like something I should try. 7Artisans 35mm f2 lens is not expensive so it seemed like the best fit for such an experiment. I tracked one down on Ebay and "started blasting". I got the lens right at the time when my first Leica M9 died. Without an M9 I used this 35mm lens on Leica M3. Which doesn't have 35mm framelines. It's not that bad though as you can use the full viewfinder for an approximation of 35mm frame.
I did shoot a few rolls of film through this lens but it never glued itself on the M3. When I got my current M9 I found a weird compatibility problem. The lens wouldn't focus to infinity. Like physically the focus-ring wouldn't turn all the way to infinity. It worked fine on the first M9. It worked fine on two separate M3 cameras. The current M9 it didn't like. I searched the internet to see if anyone else had similar issues but it appears that I'm the only one with this issue. I could get it to infinity by applying force but that seemed like a bad thing to do. That's why I rarely shot it on digital. From time to time I would throw in on M3 but not often. On rare occasions I would throw it on Fujifilm X-Pro1. Some time later I got the Zeiss 35mm f2 ZM lens and the 7Artisans stopped being used.
Although Zeiss is in many ways a better lens, it's not a slam-dunk win. 7Artisans is easier to use. It's smaller. It has a focus tab and a shorter and lighter focus throw. It's faster to use in many circumstances. The images aren't bad as well. They don't have the same crazy pop from Zeiss but it's a solid performer.
It's very sharp from f4 / f5.6. Closer to wide open it is softer but it still renders very well on film. On digital sensors the wide open performance isn't as pleasing but it's passable.
Colors and contrast are also good. It's not as high contrast or saturated as Zeiss but it has a warmer color balance than Zeiss which is more pleasing to the eye. At least my eye.
35mm f2 lenses aren't much of a bokeh monsters but the out-of-focus areas on 7Artisans are not distracting. They don't have any magical swirls or other faults that make them more interesting but it's a solid performance. It allows the background to not play the main role of the image. The subjects can still be separated. They won't pop into another dimension like they can do on the Zeiss but it still manages to achieve a small amount of pop.
Even though the lens is about 3 times cheaper than the Zeiss — it seems to hold up better than Zeiss from build quality perspective. Keep in mind that I've only had one example of each lens. Zeiss paint is peeling off and focus ring is not as smooth as on 7Artisans. 7Artisans being newer might play a role in that though. The overall build quality on 7Artisans is very good. Whether it holds up in a longer time frame I can't comment on.
7Artisans lenses come with all the tools to adjust the rangefinder coupling. On one hand it seems great. On the other hand you may think that they do that because they can't guarantee good coupling straight out of the factory. Which is the likely case but I haven't had issues with rangefinder coupling on any 7Artisans lenses. Well...any of the two that I have. And tomorrow I'll only have one. They couple well with all M cameras that I've tried it on. With the "small" issue of it not focussing to infinity on the current M9.
At the end of all this text I'm still not sure why I didn't use this lens more often. There isn't anything specific about it that I dislike. Apart from focusing on the M9... I just like the Zeiss better and I don't use 35mm lenses enough to need two of them.
If you're on the lookout for a 35mm lens to fit M-Mount cameras then I wouldn't disregard the 7Artisans 35mm f2 lens. It's a good performer that also doesn't require a kidney exchange. Even if it wasn't right for me. For whatever reason.