The Only Lens You’ll Ever Need

Some say the only lens you’ll ever need is the one you have with you.

But I would add an extra caveat, based on my five years of buying, testing and, let’s be frank, fumbling around until I get something half decent from, dozens of vintage SLR lenses.

That addition is simple – it has to have the word Takumar on the front. 

Because, over this period and these many optical flirtations and explorations, I’ve emerged the other side loving Asahi’s classics more than anything else.

Plus, given the extensive range they made, there’s something for all of us, from the wide angle wanderers and the tunnel visioned telephotoists, to the macro maniacs, and everyone in between.

My own set has settled, for now, on these five Takumars. 

2017_06_02 Taks x5

Here’s why I love each of these, and Takumars in general, and why, if you haven’t already, you should have at least a couple in your arsenal too.

Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5

Tiny, all metal build, with super smooth knurled metal focus ring and exquisitely weighted aperture ring. With 35mm film, I’ve struggled with 28mm – there’s just too much in the frame, too many elements.

But on my Pentax K10D with its APS-C crop sensor, the 28mm gives an equivalent 42mm field of view – according to many, the perfect “normal” the human eye sees.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5 lens

It’s still, for me, quite a radically wide perspective compared with the 135mms I’ve been using most in recent months, but this difference is challenging in a good way. And using this little jewel of a lens is a constant delight.

Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8

The one that started it all for me, the first Takumar I bought around 4.5 years ago, and indeed the first M42 lens I had. Of all the 50/55mm lenses I have since, I can’t say that a single one has felt better to use, or performed better than the humble Tak 55/1.8.

On film I love 55mm, it gives that slightly large than life perspective in the viewfinder compared with a 50mm lens.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

With a digital APS-C sensor the 55mm is 82.5mm field of view, which is getting comfortably into the more up close territory I like these days.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

The blend of sharpness versus out of focus background quality with the 55/1.8 is near perfect for me, on film and digital, and incredibly pleasing to my eye. I’ve said here before, if I had to shoot just one lens for the rest of my photographic days, it would be this one.

Takumar 105mm f/2.8 Preset

An unusual focal length, and I expected this lens to be significantly bigger in size. But it’s tiny, slim and, like all the others, divinely smooth in handling and focusing.

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Sony NEX-3N, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

I love preset aperture lenses. They work great on film, and even better, in my view, with digital.

Preset the outer aperture ring to the minimum you want, then open the inner ring wide open. Focus, compose, then gently close down the inner ring until the image (and most vitally, the depth of field) is exactly how you want it to look, and shoot.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

This lens is probably my second favourite behind the 55/1.8, as it gives that closer perspective, and increased depth of field, without needing to stand 2 or 3m away from the subject like with longer lenses.

Takumar 135mm f/3.5 Preset

This is from the same era as the 105/2.8, also preset, and also wonderful to use. It’s only slightly bigger too, and smaller and lighter than most 135mm lenses.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 lens

Whilst similar in use to the 105/2.8, but arguably even better in the final image. Both lenses are older, pre Super, Super-Multi-Coated or SMC, so the coatings are less sophisticated. I thought this might impact the quality of the images, but they’ve delighted me so far, especially the colours when used with the K10D.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 lens

Super-Takumar 150mm f/4

Given my fairly wide range of 135mm lenses, whilst I was tempted by a Super-Tak 135/3.5, I thought it wasn’t going to be much different to the preset version.

I assumed the next lens up in the range would be 200mm, but that seemed too long and awkward, especially as it gives a 300mm field of view on APS-C.

Then I stumbled across a 150mm f/4 Super-Takumar. The reviews were good, so I gave it a chance.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 150mm f/4 lens

It’s early days with the 150/4 and I’ve only really played around in our garden with it, but no regrets so far!

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 150mm f/4 lens

Overall

I’m sure you’ll have gathered from above the major appeals of the Takumars. Beautiful all metal and glass build quality, very smooth mechanically, compact and light, and excellent performance.

What I haven’t yet mentioned are two other crucial factors.

First, adaptability.

Whilst I’m finally settling down to a very small handful of Pentax bodies (four – two film, two digital), I have used M42 lenses on M42, Pentax K, Contax and Yashica (C/Y mount), Minolta AF and Canon EOS film bodies, and Pentax K, Sony Alpha, and Sony NEX digital bodies.

M42 is a vast world, and there’s a camera body (or three) for all of us to use those lenses, with a simple and cheap adapter if necessary.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

Second, affordability.

A common theme to my writing here is spending as little money as possible on photography, like under £5 on a lens, and shooting film on a shoestring.

The Takumars fit into this beautifully, and a working, if little worn, lens can be picked up from around £10-15. The most I’ve spent on any of the above is around £75 for the 105/2.8, but it is quite rare, is an unusual focal length, is in near perfect condition, and performs amazingly. It’s worth every penny.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

The whole set of five (which to most people I’m sure seems more than one would ever need) only cost me around £200.

Many pay more than that for a single, plastic, AF zoom lens. Yuck!

Add this to say, £15 for a K mount or Spotmatic film body, or the £50 I recently paid for the little Samsung GX-1S (a rebadged Pentax *ist DS2 I understand), and it’s a very affordable set up for such world class and luxurious kit.

The cheapest Takumar is usually the 135/3.5 (non preset) or the 55/2.

The latter being a 55/1.8 with slightly hindered maximum aperture, but otherwise identical, and therefore equally stunning in use and final image.

One of these with a Spotmatic or older SV or S2/H2 can usually be had for under £50, sometimes way under.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens, TudorColor XLX200 film

In the last five years, having gone through at least a couple of lenses a month, the clear frontrunners have been the Asahi Takumars.

Everyone should have at least one – but beware, once you do have one, it might make you seriously reconsider all the other lenses you have!

Do you have any Takumars? Which one(s), and what are your impressions? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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10 thoughts on “The Only Lens You’ll Ever Need

    1. Hi Barnaby, yes I’ve read in a number of places that Pentax simply hindered the max aperture of the 55/1.8 to make it f/2, then sold it as their “budget” kit lens. I guess it was cheaper than creating a new optical formula and lens design from scratch, plus it meant even the budget end users were guaranteed that smooth, classy Takumar experience, with excellent optical performance.

      I’ll email you re yours. : )

  1. Yes, so very much yes.

    ATM I have two SMC 55/1.8s, a Super 55/2, and, just acquired, a 35/3.5. I also just acquired a Spotmatic F body, in like new condition, CLA’d. Oh, happy shooting is ahead!!

    1. Jim, have you noticed any difference between the photos from the SMC 55/1.8 and Super 55/2?

      Are they the SMC with the rubber waffle focus ring? I have had these, but where I can I’d go for a Super or Super-Multi-Coated that still had that wonderful metal knurled ring instead. They just feel better in the hands, for me.

      I’ve had a couple of 35/3.5s and struggled to find a use for them. At the time I was so into 50/55mm and beyond, I couldn’t adapt to the width of 35mm.

      But now I’m starting to get used to the 28/3.5, I have had half an eye out for a 35mm again. What are your thoughts on yours?

      Looking forward to hearing more about your recently serviced Spotmatic F. They really are the only M42 camera anyone needs, just as Takumars are really the only lenses…

  2. Great post! I’d love to try some of these lenses but they’re quite hard to find at a good price, most of the ones on eBay are Japanese sellers. I do have the K mount version of the 55mm which is my favourite lens so I’m sure the rest are just as nice.

  3. Thanks for your comment Sam. Yes the Takumars are tremendous value.

    Some of the more sought after ones are more eg the 20mm or 85mm. But most of the more usual lengths – 28, 35, 55, 135, 200 – are plentiful and affordable.

    Yes they’re are loads for sale from Japanese sellers, and they have a wider range generally. Even with postage I find they’re still quite competitive with UK sellers. I nearly bought one yesterday!

    Try searching for old Asahi M42 bodies – the Spotmatic, S series, H series etc. They usually come with one or two or the more common lenses and it can work out cheaper.

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