A new lens with an M42 screw mount exclusively was released in 2023! Is that a joke? Nope! Very much not a joke, but a new TTartisan 100mm F2.8 lens. Even better, it’s a Cooke triplet!
What’s so strange about it?
M42 screw mount went out of the mainstream in the 1970s for a good reason. Cooke triplets went out of the mainstream even earlier, also for a good reason.
The version of the M42 screw mount this lens uses is the simplest one – just a screw thread, no aperture “plunger”, and no additional lugs. Closing the aperture has an immediate effect on the depth of field and the amount of light passing through the lens.
The Cooke triplet is a lens design patented in 1893., it is consisting of three optical elements in three groups and is the earliest lens design able to correct spherical aberration, coma, astigmatism, field curvature, and distortion. It has limitations, it has been superseded by more advanced optical designs, its variations are still in use today in specialized applications, but for mainstream photography, it has been used only as a novelty.
So, why would anyone make a brand-new M42 lens in 2023, and make it as a Cooke triplet, then?
What’s behind this lens, then?
First, a disclaimer. Everything written here describing the motivation of any manufacturer is just pure speculation.
The last time M42 lenses were relevant was almost half a century ago. The last time Cooke triplets were relevant was even earlier than that!
But there are some benefits to using both.
Cooke triplet has the unique characteristic of producing soap-bubble bokeh balls, and that’s the major selling point of this lens. Making it M42 is a strong nod to the original soap-bubble bokeh king, the original Meyer-Optik Görlitz Trioplan lens from 1956.
As a plus, both screw mounts and triplets are simple. Simple designs can be manufactured more efficiently, and, importantly, is less expensive to manufacture. Combining both, the M42 lens using a Cooke triplet design can be made affordable, and in the age of complex and expensive lenses, an affordable lens is a welcome addition.
It is any good?
TTArtisan sells this lens as a bubble bokeh lens. Its main selling point is its soap-bubble bokeh. Soap-bubble bokeh is technically an aberration, but one that produces an aesthetically pleasing effect. Every other characteristic of this lens is secondary – it is a special-purpose lens, not for day-to-day photography.
TTArtisan 100mm F2.8 Bubble bokeh lens is a short telephoto lens, with special bokeh rendering due to its optical design and 13 aperture blades. The lens exhibits a standard vintage lens look – low contrast wide-open, glowing highlights and not a great flare control. Its coatings aren’t up to modern standards, probably not even to the standards of the 1980s. Center sharpness is not great at ƒ/2.8 but gets better quickly. Corner sharpness does not follow it, it is soft even at ƒ/8. At least, vignetting is not a problem, aberrations and distortions are controlled decently, and sunstars are much better than expected – usually, 13 blades aperture doesn’t produce well-defined sunstars.
The lens is well built, it is fully metal, with engraved markings and a click-stop aperture ring. It doesn’t have any electronic contacts and requires an adapter to be used on any digital camera. It is a compact lens, it has a distinct vintage look, and by my standards, it is almost a pretty lens – something I can’t say for a lot of lenses! The successful vintage look is achieved without sacrificing usability – at least not beyond the usability of a fully manual lens. There is no automation of any kind, and both aperture and focusing are fully manual, even on native M42 cameras – for example, it behaves like Helios 44-2 58mm F2, Mir-1V 37mm F2.8 and Jupiter-8 85mm F2, or like early Takumars of late 1950s era.
Unsurprisingly, this lens is not compatible with Nikon F, Olympus OM, and Leica R cameras, due to incompatible focal flange distance, but it works just fine on every other SLR and mirrorless camera with an adapter. It can even be used on modern digital medium format systems, like Fujifilm GFX and Hasselblad XD series, albeit, with a slight corner vignetting. On medium format – according to the TTArtisan website – “the faint vignetting makes the work more artistic”.
The price is, surprisingly acceptable. At the moment of writing this article, the asking price is approximately 150€, making it a relatively affordable lens.
This lens should collapse very inflated prices of the original, 1950s and 1960s era Trioplans, and especially of modern-day, reborn Trioplans. The original lenses are made of aluminium, and have a distinct look and feel because of that, but optically, they are practically identical. Original Trioplans are all at least four decades old, and many are in an unknown, or dubious condition, but at least those lenses have their heritage as their selling point. Modern-day Trioplans, on the other hand, can’t hide behind their heritage – they look dull, uninspiring, optically are the same, and build quality might be better, but with a price tag of almost 1000€, that’s simply not enough.
TTArtisan 100mm F2.8 Bubble bokeh lens
|Aperture range||ƒ/2.8 – ƒ/22|
|Filter thread size||49 mm|