Lensoholic – Why I Bought 100 Lenses In 50 Months (Then Sold Nearly All Of Them)

Five years into my film photography journey (and probably a decade since I first began photographing with intention, with camera phones), I have less kit than virtually any time since I began.

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I talked about the importance of narrow focus recently, and a part of this for me includes the cameras and lenses I use.

It hasn’t always been this way though.

A few months after discovering film photography via a Holga 120N my father in law gave me as a birthday present, I had started to amass a growing number of 35mm cameras.

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Once I’d sampled SLRs, the options widened vastly. So many lens mounts, so many cameras, so many lenses, so many combinations. So little time.

I pretty much dived in headlong like a kid who’d been starved of chocolate for a year then let loose in Wonka’s factory, gobbling up cameras and lenses in all directions. 

Even once I’d started to find my tastes more and gave up on the 35mm compacts after realising that the Olympus Mju pretty much does all I ever need, and even after I thought that M42 and Minolta SR were the only two mounts I would need, I was still devouring new (old) glass.

Here are some of the reasons why – 

1. Lenses are physically alluring objects. Especially vintage lenses with plenty of metal and glass and delicious smooth operation that’s testament to their fine build and quality.

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2. Each lens model potentially promises something I’ve never known before. So for example I ended up with a 58/1.4, 55/1.7, 50/1.4 and two or three 50/1.7 Minolta Rokkors from different eras that possibly performed ever so slightly differently.

3. Each lens example potentially promises something I’ve never known from other examples of that lens before. Maybe I’d only had a dud one previously, and by buying another one or two I’f eventually find a very good example and bring a whole new level of wonder to my photography.

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4. There are so many different focal lengths, and I need(ed) to find the ones best suited to me. A 45mm, 50mm and 55mm Rokkor would again give me slightly different fields of view to each other.

5. Finding a bargain lens (sometimes for only £5) then having the challenge of creating something memorable and worth sharing after such a tiny investment is a great thrill. And it encouraged me to try lenses that I might otherwise have not looked twice at. Opening another new world of possible lens options.

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6. My Sony NEX is incredibly adaptable. With that one camera I’ve used lenses in Olympus OM, M39, M42, Pentax K, Minolta SR, Konica AR, Contax/Yashica and Rollei QBM mounts. A small outlay on a £10 adapter opens a whole other world of opportunity.

7. I just really like receiving packages in the post. They’ve come from all over the country and sometimes the world – lenses from Japan, Germany and the former Soviet Union for example, each with their own curious local packaging and scent. I’m not sure why, but this is deeply satisfying, like enjoying mini Christmases throughout the year.

You can see how with all these potential reasons it’s easy to get drawn in to buying more lenses than you’ll ever need.

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But ultimately more (and more powerful) reasons to outweigh this endless chase have emerged –

1. I hate knowing I have maybe a couple of hours free time coming up then spending 30, even 15, minutes debating which lens(es) to take. I’d rather just choose and go in 30 seconds and invest the rest of my time in enjoying using the kit.

2. I hate the clutter of too many lenses and cameras, and them spilling all over my space. However beautiful individual objects may be, when there’s too many of them they just become one ugly mass.

3. I hate the cycle of buy, try, sell on eBay. Whilst it’s allow me to try some amazing stuff and ultimately build the core kit I have now, I shudder at the thought of all the time I’ve spent photographing and listing photography kit to sell only weeks after I’ve bought it, and the hours browsing online for a bargain.

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4. Too much choice makes me anxious. This is true in most parts of my life, and as a whole I try to be fairly minimalist. If you need a pair of smart shoes and only have one pair, it becomes an easy and stressless choice!

5. Constantly switching lenses means you never get to really know any one of them. It’s like some kind of speed dating experience when you might get a glint of a smile and an enticing spark, before bundling on to the next one a moment later. You’re rarely in the present moment because you’re half lost in between thinking of the moment that just passed and the potential moments that may be waiting ahead.

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6. In any one focal length – especially the most common ones like 50mm and 135mm – there is very little difference in performance. At least for my level of photography and for my needs. I could (and have) made just as pleasing photographs with a 50mm Pentax, Takumar, Yashica, Minolta, Zeiss or Konica lens. I don’t need one of each, plus all the related cameras and/or adapters.

7. I really don’t need to look much further than Takumars. I recently referred to them as the only lens you’ll ever need, and they remain the most wonderful lenses I’ve used. Why keep looking for others and wasting time I could be spending with a Takumar in my hands?

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I confess, I’m not quite over the lens buying, and there are a couple of lenses still on my wishlist.

But these days I’m down to the essentials – two film bodies, two digital, plus about a dozen lenses, mostly Takumars. The lenses fit neatly in two lens bags that in turn fit snugly and unobtrusively on two small compartments in one of my bookcases. The cameras take up another one, the entire kit all together occupying an almost invisible space in a corner, in stark contrast to spilling in every direction maybe a year ago.

I must also confess, sometimes even this relatively humble amount still at times seems far too much, and I wonder about selling all but, say, one camera and three lenses.

Maybe this would focus me further (or more narrowly) and allow me to reach a new level of satisfaction – both in using the small range of kit I had, and in the results gained from knowing that smaller range even better than I do now.

Or maybe I’ll sell everything and just use my iPhone.

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But for now I’ll rest.

Moving too vehemently in the opposite direction, and shedding possessions with abandon can lead to just as compulsive and obsessive behaviour as the hoarding.

I know some reading this might feel it’s all over analytical and there’s nothing wrong with buying and trying a range of cameras, if it doesn’t cause harm or financial destitution.

And to an extent I completely agree.

It’s just not the path I want to take anymore.

Give me my Pentax K10D and a Takumar or two and I’ll happily go out hunting for beauty for the weeks and months to come…

I’m really positive and excited about this new era in my photographic adventure.

What are your thoughts on lens buying?

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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The £5 Cheap Lens Challenge – Part 3

In my vintage lens adventures, I’ve rarely come across any that were truly awful. Indeed many have initially been underdogs on paper, but have then surprised me in use.

So I decided to set myself a challenge that encompassed the two aspects of my 35hunter approach – finding a lens that met certain criteria, then finding some tiny pockets of beauty to photograph with it.

Being something of a cheapskate, I decided to set my spending limit to just £5. Could I find a usable lens for £5 or less, and get some decent results with it?

Read part 1, with the MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro here.

Read part 2 which featured the Paragon 300mm f/5.6, in M42 mount here.

Part 3 then today, highlights a Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom in Pentax KA mount. 

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I previously had a similar Tokina on a Minolta, although that was Autofocus and physically quite different.

Nevertheless, its performance really impressed me, so I was going (back) into the world of Tokina completely blind.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

I came across this lens on the auction site with a starting price of £5, watching until the dying seconds then putting in a bid, which it turns out was the only one.

£5 plus a few pounds postage puts it neatly in the running for this cheap lens series.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

So the Tokina is a zoom (not my favourite kind of lens), with a very useful focal range of 28-70mm and reasonably fast at f/3.5. Minimum focus is 0.7m, which is not so great but at the 70mm end this actually gets you pretty close.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

Plus it has a “macro” range, enabled by turning the zoom barrel beyond 70mm.

Whilst you can focus much closer, the actual focal length seems to revert to about 50mm, rather than just making the 70mm end closer focusing like some other lenses I’ve used.

Either way it’s a pretty useful addition, and 50mm is a field of view I’m well used to on film and digital APS-C cameras.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

The lens is also KA mount, meaning it has a manual aperture ring, but also an A (Auto) setting, so with compatible cameras you can set the aperture to A and control it via the camera, not the lens.

On my two Pentax K DSLRs this makes it very easy to use on Aperture Priority (Av) mode, and of course you have open aperture metering too.

There’s not a lot else to say about the Tokina SD 28-70mm.

It handles well enough, but the zoom or focus rings inevitably aren’t as smooth as a Pentax-M or Takumar.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

It’s fairly compact and light for a mostly metal and glass lens, and balances well on the Samsung GX-1S, which is what I’ve mostly used it on so far.

Optically, the Tokina has been the best of the three in this cheap lens series so far.

On the GX-1S with its 6MP CCD sensor, the colours are pretty vibrant and smile inducing.

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

I’ll let the photographs here say the rest. 

For £5 the Tokina is a steal, and you could argue that with its 28-70mm focal range covering classic wide, normal and portrait perspectives, it could be the only lens many photographers would need.

Which makes it an astonishing bargain.  

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Samsung GX-1S, Tokina SD 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 lens

What have been your most satisfying results with cameras and/or lenses you’ve only spent peanuts on? How do you feel using cheap kit compared with far more expensive?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

 

Lens Addiction – The Allure Of The Infinite Versions

Recently we spoke about how to escape the camera consumption spiral, and how narrowing the parameters has helped me hone down this consumption.

More recent still, I shared my favourite lenses – Asahi Takumars – and how really I don’t need to look at any other mount, or make.

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

I want to delve even deeper into the addiction of buying camera kit (and for me this is more specifically camera lenses) and dissect the next level.

It’s a slippery beast, akin to some mythical serpent, that seems to continuously shape-shift to avoid capture.

Rather than trying to explain it hypothetically, it’s easier to share a direct example of how this works, and what that next level seems to be.

In short, the last five years or so I’ve been exploring dozens of different cameras and lenses.

I’ve found my favourite lens mount is M42.

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Samsung GX-1S, Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

Whilst M42 covers a vast range of cameras and lenses (and adapters to use those lenses on non-native M42 cameras), it still hugely narrows the field and eliminates all other lens mounts.

Next, I’ve found, eventually, that my favourite cameras are Pentax.

They made M42 cameras, like the excellent Spotmatics, plus K mount cameras (film and digital) that with a simple adapter can use M42 lenses manually stopped down.

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Asahi Spotmatic F, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I have also recently found a couple of excellent K mount DSLRS, the Pentax K10D and Samsung GX-1S, which can also very easily use the M42 lenses with an adapter.

Again this thins the herd and removes all non Pentax M42 cameras and any other cameras that can be adapted to M42, aside from Pentax K mount.

Then by choosing Takumar lenses (mostly, I still have a small selection of German and Russian gems in M42 too), I’ve further reduced the intimidation of having too much choice.

M42. Pentax. Takumar. End of story?

No, not yet, as focal length is the next layer down, and deciding on those I need and enjoy (any between 28mm and 150mm) and those I don’t (any less than 28mm or more than 150mm). The five I mentioned recently cover this range well.

But then, this sneaky ever complex addiction continues to evolve and introduces another layer. Lens model variations.

For example, the main Takumar variations across all lenses I’ve come across are plain Takumar (often preset aperture lenses), Auto-Takumar, Super-Takumar, Super-Multi-Coated (S-M-C) Takumar and SMC Takumar.

Take the humble (and glorious) Takumar 55mm f/1.8. 

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I have a Super-Takumar version. I’ve also had the later SMC version but disliked it because of the rubber waffle focusing ring. I greatly prefer the metal knurled ring of the older pre-SMC Takumars.

But I am curious about the S-M-C Takumar, as supposedly it has a superior multi coating to the Super, but still that metal focus ring.

Would this lens give different colours, a different character, more accurate exposures, more consistent results? 

I’m even more intrigued by the earlier Auto-Takumar 55/1.8, as this has ten aperture blades (compared with six in later models), and has a simpler coating still.

I know from experience of lenses with a greater number of aperture blades how this can create much smoother backgrounds, especially the bokeh highlights, so it’s a genuinely appealing advantage to me.

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Six blade apertures can lead to an attack of aggressive bokeh highlights – Pentacon Auto 50/1.8
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Many aperture blades equals very smooth backgrounds – Jupiter-37A

Since shooting mostly digital this year, and especially in the last couple of months with my Pentax K10D, I prefer the more subdued colours I get from Takumars and similar age lenses, compared with for example the Pentax A series lenses which can be almost too brash and vivid in their colours.

So would the older Auto-Takumar 55/1.8 with its simpler coating give more subdued colours still than my Super-Takumar, and would I like this more, or less?

The short answer to all of this is I won’t know until I try it. 

And there’s the dilemma. Even once the choices have been drastically limited, there’s still much to try.

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A former phase of my M42 lens collection

I probably didn’t choose the best range for someone who wants to limit their choices.

Allphotolenses have 78 different Takumars listed. PentaxForums has 54.

Surely none of us need more than half a dozen lenses, maybe a dozen maximum?

How do you narrow down your choices with photography kit? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

Lens Love #4 – Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42

Lens Love is an ongoing series of posts about the vintage lenses I’ve used and loved most.

The dry technical data and 100% corner crops of brick walls can be found elsewhere. What I’m more interested in is what specifically about a lens makes me love using it, and why I believe you should try one too.

Up today –

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42

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Pentax K10D, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lens

The reason M42 mount are my favourite lenses can be summed up in two words. Takumar and Zeiss. 

Let’s leave Takumars are for a different post (or 10).

On the Zeiss front, in M42 I have the holy trio of the Flektogon 35/2.4, Pancolar 50/1.8 and Sonnar 135/3.5. These three could form my entire lens collection and I would be abundantly equipped to shoot beautiful photographs for the rest of my life.

I recently wrote about my six strong stack of 135s and the Sonnar is as good as any of them.

Indeed if I had to pick just one, based on the results I’ve got so far and the general feel and handling, it would be the Sonnar.

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What I love

Final image. The Sonnar has a near perfect balance of sharpness of focus and softness of bokeh, in my view. Despite having six aperture blades, which with some lenses can often lead to abrasive polygons in the background, the Sonnar manages to almost entirely avoid this. And the sharpness is delicious, though not in a sterile or clinical way.

Size and form. This Zeiss is very compact for a 135mm lens, and cleverly uses much of its length as the metal knurled focusing ring. It feels well built, all metal and glass, the focusing is pretty smooth, and the aperture clicks are subtle yet reassuring. It doesn’t feel like a cheap or hastily made object.

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Pentax K10D, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lens

Close focus. I’ve had a few 135s that have performed very well but the minimum focus has been 2m plus. The Sonnar focus down to a fraction under 1m, which is excellent given the extra reach a 135 lens gives anyway. It makes close ups of flowers, decaying doors, gravestones and the other textures I enjoy very easy and very rewarding.

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Pentax K10D, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lens

Adaptability. It’s an M42, probably the most adaptable lens mount any ever made. In native M42 mount you have fabulous 35mm film cameras like the Spotmatic and Fujica ranges.

If you prefer a later, more compact Aperture Priority (Av) body, take your pick from Pentax K, Contax, Canon EOS and more, via very simple and cheap adapters. Flip the Sonnar’s A/M switch to M (Manual), stop down to the aperture you wish to use and the camera will select the correct shutter speed for you.

On the digital front the choice is even wider. I’ve used Sony NEX, Sony Alpha and Pentax K DSLRs with M42 lenses, all with fantastic results, and again via cheap plentiful adapters.

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Sony α100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lens plus LightRoom Preset

What about the downsides? 

No lens is perfect of course. My Sonnar, in near mint condition, cost me £50.

I’ve bought other 135mm lenses for under £15 that have made wonderful pictures.

But since none of them focus as close, or are quite as compact, the Sonnar just about justifies its higher price tag.

You might find one cheaper if you’re patient, lucky or both. But they’re nowhere nearer the plentiful budget end of M42 135s.

My other two Zeiss lenses I mentioned both developed faults with the aperture blades and became stuck open.

I had both services and fixed, at a cost of around £45.

Though the Sonnar feels good quality, I’m always waiting for the day it goes the way of the other Zeiss, and adding another £45 would take my total outlay to near £100. Still a bargain in the grand scheme of things, but if you’re on a tight budget, there are other 135s with as good performance for far less, in M42 mount, Pentax K mount and beyond.

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Sony α100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lens plus LightRoom Preset

A minor annoyance is the plastic pull out hood.

Zeiss obviously felt it was necessary to have or they wouldn’t have designed it. But if you ignore it, it quite often slides out anyway. And when it is out it doesn’t easily stay in position. A simple turn to lock in place system would have been easy to incorporate and would mean you could leave it extended when in use and not see it sliding in and out.

To be fair this is not an issue exclusive to this lens, I have other brands that are similar, bit it does seem a bit of a flimsy afterthought and doesn’t fit with the otherwise solid all metal body.

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The final downside is simple. It’s not a Takumar.

If I’d never had a Takumar I wouldn’t know to compare. But I do have them, and they remain my favourite lenses for their luxurious smoothness and build quality, let alone the fantastic optics.

The later K mount Pentax 135s I’ve had (an SMC Pentax 135/3.5 and a Pentax-M 135/3.5) have also been beautifully smooth and confidence inspiring.

My inner photographic jury is still out as to whether the Sonnar is optically superior to my preset Takumar 135/3.5, as I’ve only had the latter a couple of weeks. The Sonnar retains all the pros outlined above, but just simply isn’t as smooth and reassuring as a Takumar.

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Pentax K10D, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lens

Lastly, a note on variations and naming. 

Whilst I’ve referred throughout this post to the Sonnar as a Sonnar, my version’s full name is the Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Electric MC S 135/3.5. I understand there were periods where disputes between Zeiss companies in East and West Germany meant there were restrictions on the use of various names. Similarly, I have a Tessar which is called simply a Jena T.

So if you find one like mine that only has S 135/3.5, not Sonnar, rest assured it is the same optical formula.

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Sony NEX 3N,Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lens.

Overall, on the photographs I’ve been able to make alone, the Sonnar comes highly recommended. 

The downsides are relatively minor, and the pluses in abundance. If you like 135s and haven’t tried a Sonnar, I’d definitely suggest you seek one out.

Have you tried a Sonnar 135/3.5? 

Let us know in the comments below.

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

A Stack Of 135 (And How To Choose Between Them)

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Over the last few years of shooting SLRs, my predominant favourite focal length has been 50 and 55mm.

But after trying a 135mm, I was quickly hooked.

The up close and personal field of view, plus the potential for very shallow depth of field and dreamy bokeh made them instant winners for my style of photography.

I’m at a point now where, although I’ve thinned out my 50s pretty well, I have work to do on the 135 front.

I simply don’t need six!

My gut feeling is I’ll keep three, two in M42 and the one Pentax K mount.

To help myself choose which to keep and which to let go, here’s each one in summary, plus some favourite shots.

Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 (M42)

Beautifully made and feels almost like new, very smooth focus down to 1.5m, preset aperture from f/3.5 to f/22, eight rounded aperture blades. Tiny body, especially for a 135mm. Very similar in use and look to my Takumar 105/2.8, which I love. A class act, a true classic lens, as all Takumars I’ve experienced have been. Being very new to me though, as yet I’ve shot very little with this one.

Jupiter-11 135mm f/4 (M42)

Quirkily shaped Former Soviet Union (FSU) lens, with 12 aperture blades which close down in an almost perfect circle, and preset aperture. Focus is fine but crude compared with the best here. Minimum focus of 1.4m. Capable of lovely images, but not high contrast and punchy, more muted, subtle and vintage.

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Sony NEX 3N, Jupiter-11 135/4, LightRoom preset
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Sony NEX 3N, Jupiter-11 135/4

Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5 (M42) 

Similar to the Jupiter-11, though the body is more regularly shaped and compact. Smooth focus (but not Takumar or SMC smooth) down to 1.2m. Again like the Jupiter-11, 12 very rounded aperture blades, meaning deliciously smooth backgrounds. This one on the optics front performs better than the Jupiter-11 (I think) but physically lacks much of the personality and charm of the slower lens.

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Sony a350, Jupiter-37A 135/3.5, LightRoom preset
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Sony NEX 3N, Jupiter-37A 135/3.5, LightRoom preset

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Electric MC S 135 f/3.5 (M42)

A Sonnar, but most (all?) of these lenses from this era just have a solitary “S” marked, due to trademark wrangles between Zeiss East and West at the time. Close focus of just 1m, and my example is very smooth for a Carl Zeiss Jena, but still not Tak/SMC Pentax class. I love the non-nonsense knurled focus ring. Regular aperture click stops, though on mine f/3.5 and f/4 are identical. Alas only six aperture blades, and not especially rounded at f/8 and beyond. Very capable in the final image.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135/3.5
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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135/3.5, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

Pentacon Auto 135mm f/2.8 (M42)

Fastest lens here, and the biggest, heaviest and most serious feeling. Focus is smooth enough for a Pentacon, but disappointingly only down to 1.7m. The aperture ring has subtle clicks meaning it’s easy to overshoot the setting you want, if you’re not used to it. Six very straight aperture blades, but interesting on the bokeh front at the wide end.

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Sony NEX 3N, Pentacon Auto 135/2.8, LightRoom preset
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Sony NEX 3N, Pentacon Auto 135/2.8, LightRoom preset

SMC Pentax 135mm f/3.5 (Pentax K)

One of the original SMC K mount range, before the M series. I had the M 135/3.5 and whilst it’s good, this SMC version I far prefer, is even smoother than the M, and optically is significantly superior.

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Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax 135/3.5
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Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax 135/3.5

So which to choose? 

All six lenses are very capable, and if I had only one 135mm lens, any one of these would give me lovely results time and time again.

If I had to have just one, based on the results I’ve got so far, plus its minimum focus, it’s probably be the Carl Zeiss MC Sonnar.

But the Jupiter-37A is very very close. And then the Jupiter-11 has far more charm to use than any of the others here, arguably and does make endearingly subtle images.

Then the newest to me, the SMC Pentax, has got off to a flying start with my Pentax K10D, and has already produced enough evidence to become my sole 135. Plus, when used on a  K mount film or digital camera, the open aperture metering is an useful focusing advantage over the rest of the lenses here, which are all M42 and require manually stopping down.

You see the problems I have choosing!

The two least likely to stay are the Takumar and Pentacon.

The former because it’s near identical in look and use to my Takumar 105/2.8 (which I want to keep as it’s unique in its focal length), and the latter because it’s big, heavy and lacking in min focus. But the Takumar may surprise me, and the Pentacon already has made some interesting and different images, that beg further experimentation.

I may post an update in a few weeks, which could just as likely reveal I have a total of 12 135mm lenses as three.

What are your experiences with 135mm as a focal length? What are you favourite 135mm lenses? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

Five Way 50mm PK Showdown

Some weeks back I experimented with four M42 50mm lenses to see how they compared shooting the same scene at a range of apertures.

The results were, at least in part, quite unexpected, and the all round victor was the wonderful Asahi Super-Takumar 55/1.8.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

With that in mind, and with my 50mm lenses in Pentax K Mount multiplying like rabbits is springtime, I thought a similar showdown might be interesting, and helped me to thin the herd, or the, er “fluffle” if you’re reading in North Canada.

The Lenses

Auto Chinon 50mm f/.7. Very affordable, small, smooth, an overlooked genuine rival to the Pentax-M 50/1.7. Six aperture blades, min focus 0.45m.

SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4. Far more expensive (2-3x) than the A or M 50/1.7. The most expensive PK 50mm I’ve ever bought. Eight aperture blades, min focus 0.45m. Smooth enough focus but plasticky aperture.

SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.7. Cheaper than the 50/1.4, generally a bit more than the M version, due to its additional program modes on compatible bodies. Six aperture blades, min focus 0.45m. Like its 50/1.4 sibling, a cheap feeling aperture ring (my example doesn’t go past f/8 either), but pretty smooth to focus.

SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7. Optically like the A version, but more metal and as a result it feels much smoother in the aperture ring especially. Very classy. Six aperture blades, min focus 0.45m.

Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2Small, very light, simple full stop plastic aperture ring, very affordable and plentiful. Six aperture blades, min focus 0.6m

The Experiment

Simple, as before, one scene that I might typically photograph anyway (rather than a brick wall or newspaper taped to a wall!) at close focus with enough light in the background to create bokeh highlights.

Because the Rikenon only focuses to 0.6m, I chose that distance for all of the lenses, not measured, just going by the scale on the lenses.

I shot wide open, then full stops to f/8, as I hardly ever shoot beyond this. Oh and I used my ever reliable Sony NEX 3N plus PK > NEX adapter, shooting RAW at ISO400 then converting to JPEG in LightRoom, my usual set up.

The Results

The simplest conclusion is obvious – any of these are an excellent option for a 50mm prime lens, not just in Pentax K mount.

Trying to differentiate between the images, at my level of analysis and requirements, was very difficult.

In terms of colours and contrast and sharpness, there’s so little between all the lenses, they’re close to identical.

Where I did notice differences was in the bokeh. 

The Pentax-A 50/1.4, to my eyes creates prettier images at nearly all apertures than all of the others, because it has extra aperture blades that make the bokeh highlights rounder, less aggressive.

The Pentax-M 50/1.7, A 50/1.7 and Auto Chinon 50/1.7 were virtually identical in every way, at all apertures tested.

If I mixed up the results I wouldn’t be able to tell you which lens took which picture. From this point on, there’s little point separating them in terms of optical performance.

At f/5.6 and f/8, the Rikenon 50/2 also was close to indistinguishable to the three above.

At wider apertures though, the Rikenon impressed more than the three 50/1.7s.

Though it also has six aperture blades, because its “only” f/2, at f/2 the bokeh highlights are perfectly circular whereas the others are starting to become hexagonal.

At f/4 this is becoming far more obvious, and in fact at this aperture the bokeh from the Rikenon is more appealing than the Pentax-A 50/1.4 too.

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Pentax-A 50/1.7 @ f/4
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Pentax-A 50/1.4 @ f/4
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Ricoh Rikenon 50/2 @ f/4

So how do I rate five lenses that performed so equally? 

It simply comes down to the fine detail, of the lenses themselves, and of the image.

Images first.

Wider than f/4 there’s so little between them all there’s nothing to discuss. At f/4 though, where I probably shoot more than at any other aperture, the Pentax-A 50/1.4 and Rikenon 50/2 I like most, because of the much smoother and less invasive bokeh.

At f/5.6 and f/8, the Rikenon becomes as hexagonal as the three f/1.7s. At these apertures, the 50/1.4 gives the most pleasing results, and the most subtle bokeh.

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Pentax-A 50/1.4 @ f/8
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Pentax-M 50/1.7 @ f/8

So on the image front, overall it’s the Pentax-A 50/1.4 first, Rikenon 50/2 second, the three 50/1.7s joint third.

Let’s turn to the spec and feel of the lenses. 

All five are a pleasure to use, to an extent. In terms of luxury and smoothness of feel, the Pentax-M 50/1.7 is the winner. Joint second are the Auto Chinon and Rikenon, and joint last the two Pentax-As, with their disappointingly flaky plastic aperture rings.

Spec wise, there’s very little difference, again.

The obvious standout (or rather fall down) is the Rikenon with only 0.6m close focus compared to all of the others going down to 0.45m. If Ricoh had made this lens focus down to 0.45m it could be the overall winner here, amongst illustrious company.

(Ricoh do make a 50/1.7 that focuses down to 0.45m, but whilst competent, I haven’t found it to be as good as the 50/2.)

The Pentax-A lenses of course have added electrical contacts so that compatible cameras can shoot Shutter Priority and Program modes.

If you use an A series or later Pentax film body and/or a Pentax DLSR this is legitimately a serious advantage to consider.

On my Sony NEX, with the same adapter and the same process of manually stopping down the aperture, the difference in using all five lenses is non existent.

The slower max aperture of f/2 on the Rikenon, plus the fact that it performs very well at this aperture, actually give it an edge over the f/1.7s, as explained in the bokeh quality above. 

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens @f/2

The extra speed of the Pentax-A 50/1.4 in itself is redundant for my needs, and as I spoke about recently, we probably don’t need an expensive f/1.4 over an f/1.7 or f/2 on any level.

But what it does have that genuinely makes it stand out here are the extra aperture blades.

And for someone like me who shots up close very often, with a relatively shallow depth of field, this is a very important distinction. I wouldn’t care if it’s max aperture was f/2 (or even f/2.8), it’s those extra blades (and the shape they form) that make a difference.

Summary

If I was going to recommend just one of these lenses, I would advise you to use whichever you already have, or next come across. They’re all excellent.

For my needs and style, I can clearly see that I don’t need three 50/1.7s that are near identical.

If I used just M series Pentax film bodies, I’d pick the Pentax-M. It has the best feel of all the lenses here. 

If I used A series film bodies, and needed those extra exposure modes, I’d go with a Pentax-A lens. Same story with a Pentax DSLR – the A lens gives more exposure options, if you need that.

But coming back to my own requirements, this test has highlighted that against what I first thought – that the extra speed alone of the A 50/1.4 was not worth the extra expense – it’s this lens that appears to have triumphed.

I can live with that plastic aperture ring for the bokeh advantages.

For times when I want to be lazier and shoot an SLR (or DSLR) like a point and shoot with Program modes, it makes the most sense too.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4 lens

The Rikenon is a little wonder, and I doubt I’ll let it go because it is so small, light, cheap and so good wide open. 

My first Pentax 50mm lens was a Pentax-M 50/1.7 and for a long time I’ve considered them the benchmark. Maybe for slightly nostalgic reasons I’ll be holding on this example, plus its undoubtable quality of build and feel.

The Chinon and Pentax-A 50/1.7s – as great as they are – offer simply too much duplication in my current collection, so will soon be sold on, leaving the A 50/1.4, Rikenon, and for now the M 50/1.7, to join my Pentax-M Macro 50/4 in PK mount at 50mm.

I considered including the Macro 50/4 this test, but with its much closer focus and max aperture of f/4 it’s too different to be a fair comparison, plus I love it so much it’s a no brainer keeper anyway.

No doubt that lens, plus the A 50/1.4 that’s triumphed here, will have their own Lens Love posts in the near future, and in all honesty are the only two lenses I need – or will ever need – in Pentax K mount.

Which is your favourite image of those above? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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Lens Love #3 – Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 PK

Lens Love is an ongoing series of posts about the vintage lenses I’ve used and loved most.

The dry technical data and 100% corner crops of brick walls can be found elsewhere. What I’m more interested in is what specifically about a lens makes me love using it, and why I believe you should try one too.

Today’s lens –

Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 Pentax K Mount

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

When I first held a Rikenon 50/2 I was underwhelmed, to say the least.

A lot of plastic, “only” f/2, “only” full stops on the aperture ring, and a minimum focus of “only” 0.6m.

Against the likes of the lovely SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7 and almost as lovely Auto Chinon 50/1.7 – both of which are faster, better built (plus more metal) and focus to 0.45m – I didn’t expect the Rikenon to hang around long.

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But then I shot a roll of film with it.

And was highly impressed with the photographs.

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Pentax ME, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film 

Then I tried it on my NEX, and got a lucky “right place right time” shot of a robin with the Rikenon wide open at f/2 that remains one of my favourite ever images I’ve made.

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What initially seemed weaknesses turned into pluses.

The plastic aperture ring is actually the smoothest plastic aperture ring I’ve tried, way better than a Pentax-A 50mm. It’s perfectly usable, and always slots in reassuringly to the next stop.

Intentionally I think, and very cleverly, Ricoh enhanced the assured feel by making it only full stops.

Plastic aperture rings with half stops I’m often over shooting where I intended to turn the ring too then going back and forwards (you know like when you almost bump into someone, then both move one way, then both the other way, until finally four or five sways later, the improvised stranger dancing ends, and you pass your separate ways) before finding the right setting. Yes I’m talking to you again Pentax-A lenses!

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

The full stops actually make it lovely and simple to use (again I wonder if Ricoh intended this in the design).

I hardly ever use f/11 or smaller, so the most I have to click is four stops from f/2 to f/8 or vice versa. Meaning it’s very easy to remember where you are on the scale even if you’re not looking at it. My SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7, for example, needs eight clicks to go from wide open to f/8.

The expansive use of plastic make it very light – around 135g.

The smaller version (there are two sizes, to my knowledge) is very compact too, protruding less than 30mm from the camera when focused at infinity.

It’s approaching what you might call a Pancake, for a 50mm lens. The so called Pancake Pentax 40mm f/2.8 is only 25g lighter and 12mm flatter, and by all accounts is not a great performer.

That “slow” speed of f/2 virtually disappears as a barrier when it’s makes such pleasing photographs wide open.

The first photograph in this post, the robin photograph, and the tap shot below, were all shot wide open at f/2.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

I really, really like the bokeh of these lenses wide open, and the sharp areas are plenty crisp for my needs.

Most 50s need stopping down two or three stops before they really perform, negating their f/1.4 or f/1.7 advantage, and losing the shallow depth of field and round highlights you get shooting wide open.

Whilst the focus ring is not quite as smooth as a runny honey dripping from hot toast, it’s silky enough that you never think about it.

The short throw from minimum distance to infinity of around a third of a turn, will please some who like to adjust focus quickly.

Finally, for the skinflints like me, these Rikenons can be had for less than £20 all day long, if you’re patient, less than £10.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

Are there any downsides? 

That minimum focus of 0.6m is a bit disappointing for someone like myself who loves shooting up close.

But if you really need to shoot nearer than 0.6m, you could use close up filters, an extension ring or a macro reversing ring. I used the latter with a 50/1.7 Rikenon with excellent results, and have no doubt the 50/2 would be at least as good.

I’ve had four or five 50/2s and two 50/1.7s. The f/1.7s are very good, but the f/2s really stand out, and I’d much rather have one of these.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens

Overall I’d highly recommend the Rikenon 50/2, not just if you’re looking for a Pentax K mount 50mm lens, but if you’re looking for any 50mm lens to adapt to digital too. 

Very light and compact, a simple to use and navigate aperture ring, and very good performance from wide open at f/2 onwards.

Plus as they’re Pentax K mount, the film and digital body options made by Pentax alone are vast. Widen the net to Pentax K mount film bodies by other brands (including Ricoh themselves) and digital options (Pentax DLSRs and others via adapters) and there’s a winning combination out there for all of us.

Don’t hesitate to add one to your collection if you have the chance!

Have you tried a Rikenon 50/2? What lens would you recommend in Pentax K mount?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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