How I Keep Photography Simple (Digital Edition)

The reasons I photograph are very straightforward, whether I use a film or digital camera, an SLR or a compact.

I wrote about this in more depth recently, but the short version is – to roam the English countryside, to feel the immersion of the moment and the whole world being in the viewfinder, to capture things I find beautiful, and to enjoy using vintage camera gear.

I’ve realised how easy it is to complicate these simple aims, most usually by obsessing over which kit to use, how to set it up and use it, then how to process the images afterwards.

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Samsung GX-1S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens

So over time I’ve found (and I’m continuing to find) how to keep this to a minimum, and so maximise the raw pleasures of hunting, camera in hand.

With digital, I’ve found this harder than with film.

Although the cameras themselves are generally less appealing (I’m far less easily seduced by clever technology in a plastic shell than genuine mechanical craftsmanship and elegant, timeless design), the options are more abundant.

With film, once you’ve chosen a camera, you then just have the choice of lens and film, essentially.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

Shooting digital, once you have your camera, you still have the lens choice, but it’s usually a wider one, as adapters available for digital cameras open a whole world of vintage lenses, as well as the native, modern, AutoFocus lenses.

For example, my Pentax K10D DSLR can use any Pentax K mount lens (which began in 1975 and are still being made), plus with a simple adapter I have the pick of the vast vintage M42 world.

There’s no film to choose of course with digital, but instead a plethora of customisable settings, arranged in a myriad of menus.

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Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax-A Zoom 35-70mm f/4 lens

Then, once you have your negative (with film this is the physical negative, with digital the RAW file) you then have further options to extract your final “product”, the photograph. Or, many photographs – of course any number of variations can be created from that negative.

Again, too many options!

I generally feel in my life I spend too much time at a computer and not enough out in the fresh air.

So the thought of having to spend further time at a computer editing (ie choosing my favourite shots) and processing once the photowalk is over can be daunting and demoralising.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

So, with all these choice to combat, and options to overcome, here are the main ways I try to keep this whole process as simple as possible, so ultimately as much of my photography time as possible is spent exploring the countryside and immersed in the beauty of the world according to my viewfinder.

1. Simplify lens choices. 

After a few years of experimenting with dozens of lenses, I came back to what I realised very early on. You can’t go wrong with an Asahi Takumar or two.

Once I’d narrowed down to M42 as my predominant mount, the Takumars were the obvious choice. I do have a few others, some Zeiss, a few Russians, but mostly now it’s Asahi’s finest I own and use.

If I’m in doubt as to which Takumar lens to use, I just default to the one that started it all for me, the humble yet wonderful 55mm f/1.8.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

2. Simplify settings. 

On the digital front I’ve honed down to two main cameras. The Pentax K10D, and its smaller (but older) sibling, the Samsung GX-1S, a clone of the Pentax *ist DS2.

The K10D is bigger, sturdier, has more functions, is 10MP rather than 6MP and feels near perfect in my hands. The GX-1S is smaller, lighter, simpler and still handles great. In reality they’re 95% the same in function, once initially set up, so it’s easy switching between them.

I could just shoot the JPEG mode on the camera, then simply upload them to my computer so no further processing is required.

But the problem is there is no “neutral” JPEG. Even with all settings at neutral, natural or zero, the cameras still process and compress the image.

I’ve had excellent results (for my tastes and needs) by shooting RAW with both cameras at their native ISO (100 for the Pentax, 200 for the Samsung), then simply importing into LightRoom, and exporting those I want to share or print as JPEGs that way. I’m very happy with the outcome, so I’m sticking with this approach.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Auto-Takumar 55mm f/2 M42 lens

3. Simplify adjustments.

Once each camera was first set up I can shoot with hardly any adjustment. When I got them, I chose Auto White Balance, centre weighted metering, single shot, the base ISO, RAW, and so on.

Then, the only adjustments I need to make when shooting are slight tweaks to the exposures. I do this with the exposure compensation button, and the exposure lock button.

Typically on these cameras, M42 Takumars seem to need slightly over exposure wide open (I start with +0.5) then 0 compensation a stop or two down, then -0.5 or -1.0 once you’re three or four stops down.

Arguably my Sony NEX is simpler on this front where virtually every exposure is spot on, but it lacks a number of other things the Pentax and Samsung DSLRs have, so overall seems more complex and more work.

I have the “blinkies” switched on which show over and under exposed areas on the screen when you’ve taken the shot, and a histogram on the review mode so again I can see at a glance how the exposure is, if I can’t tell purely from looking at the photo on the screen.

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Samsung GX-1S, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

4. Simplify editing.

By editing I mean choosing the pictures I want to keep and which I want to discard. I find it much easier with digital (than film) to be very brutal with editing.

The first step is to import all the RAW images into LightRoom. Then I cycle through, and simply export (as full size JPEG with no tweaks etc) the ones I like most. I then usually delete all the RAW files. Then I cycle again through the JPEGs I’ve kept and cull further, so I’m left with just the best of the best.

On a great day this might be 15 or 20 images from 100, sometimes it might only be a handful. Sometimes none! I usually make a 50% size version to share online, as well as keeping the original full size file.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Auto-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 M42 preset lens.

5. Simplify processing.

Processing for me is so simple it’s virtually non-existent. A while back I used to shoot with my Sony NEX then go through the editing process above to keep the best images.

Then I’d import these back into LightRoom and use a favourite one or two film presets to try and get the photos looking more like I wanted. Plus I might also slightly tweak the contrast and exposure settings. Processing for a single image might take between two and ten minutes.

With a good batch where I might have 10-20 keepers, this equated to 20-200 minutes of processing time. Interesting results, but not fun.

Once I’d discovered the Pentax and Samsung and the beautiful rendering of their CCD sensors – particularly with Takumar lenses – I eliminated the whole world of presets, and just do that simple export to JPEG.

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Samsung GX-1S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens

Sound simple?

Hopefully it does. But maybe to you this might all still sound a bit complex, I don’t know.

But for me, after years of searching for a way to use beautiful vintage lenses to create photographs I’m really happy with, with the minimum of fuss and fiddling, I’m delighted with this current approach.

How do you simplify your own photography process? 

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.

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.

50mm Four Way Fisticuffs

My recent confessions as a 50s philanderer – using well over 50 (maybe over 100) 50mm prime lenses in the last four years or so – led me to conclude that they are all much the same.

Even underdogs that I expect very little from, impressed me greatly.

However, my curiosity at how my remaining 50s would fare against each other got the better of me.

So I set about a simple test of the same shot at four apertures for my four M42 50mm primes.

The Lenses

_Pancolar Pentacon Takumar Tessar

1. Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8. Six blades. Minimum focus 0.35m. Cost me around £50, plus a recent CLA of £49. The most spent on any lens.

2. Pentacon Auto 50mm Multi Coating f/1.8. Six blades. Minimum focus 0.33m. Cost me about £16 along with another lens and a broken Praktica camera, so call it £8.

3. Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8. Six blades. Minimum focus 0.45m. Cost me around £45 with a Spotmatic SP which I later sold for about £25, so say £20 for the lens alone.

4. Jena T (Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar) 50mm f/2.8. Eight blades. Minimum focus 0.5m. Cost around £22 with a Praktica IV camera that I’ve given away.

The Experiment

I kept it simple – taking the same shot of a blossoming branch of our cherry tree in decent light at four consecutive apertures, starting from the lens wide open. This was f/1.8 in the case of the first three, f/2.8 for the Tessar.

The three f/1.8 lenses are in excellent condition optically. The poor Tessar has seen far better days and has considerable haze and fungus.

I used my trusty Sony NEX 3N for the shots, shooting RAW at ISO400, my usual set up, then converting to JPEG in LightRoom, with no other processing.

The Results

All analysis that follows is simply based on what looks good to my eye. There is no scientific testing or measuring, 100% crops or edge interrogation. It’s completely subjective, though I will include samples so you can make your own opinions.

Wide open, the best in this test was easily the Takumar. The worst was the Pancolar.

The Pentacon was in between, and the Tessar in fact for me made the most interesting photograph, its “defects” giving a muted, vintage charm to the blossom.

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Sony NEX 3N, Jena T 50mm f/2.8 lens @ f/2.8

One stop down, the Takumar extended its lead if anything, giving very respectable results.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens @ f/2.8

The Pancolar still struggled. The Pentacon still beat it.

The Tessar continued its muted charm and despite the smaller aperture actually gave the most appealing bokeh. I think the eight blades (versus six in all other lenses here) start to show the difference. I’ve noticed a similar preference between the Helios 44-2 (eight blades) and the later 44M versions with six blades.

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Sony NEX 3N, Jena T 50mm f/2.8 lens @ f/4

At f/4 the Pancolar decided to show up.

It now matched the Pentacon and Takumar for sharpness, and colours are as good, if not a fraction richer with the Pancolar in this round.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens @ f/4

The Takumar still impressed, and really there’s very little between the Pancolar, Pentacon and Takumar at f/4. The Tessar (now at f/5.6) maintained its woozy charm and those rounder bokeh highlights I like too.

In the image below the pretty round highlights seem much more visually appealing to me than the amorphous blobs in the Pancolar image above.

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Sony NEX 3N, Jena T 50mm f/2.8 lens @ f/5.6

At f/5.6 you’d expect the first three to be approaching or at their optimum performance.

The Pancolar now is starting to bring a smile to my face and the colours are best of all. This is probably the “best” photograph of the whole set taken across all lenses.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 @ f/5.6

The Pentacon now is noticeably cooler and more muted. The Tak remains consistent, and ever reliable, though now the Pancolar’s colours still have a minor edge. I just think the green and yellow is more pleasing.

The Tak’s bokeh highlights seem more balanced and subtle, the Pancolar’s still a bit “blobby” and all merging together.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens @ f/5.6

The old Tessar, now at f/8, is now much closer looking to the others, but retains that vintage, softened looked, and those pretty rounded highlights.

Tess8

Conclusions

This has been a fun and eye opening experiment!

Before I began I expected the Pancolar to be best, at its optimum, and that did, just about, prove to be the case.

But, as I’ve known for years, the 55mm Takumars are fantastic.

The Takumar showed here it’s more than respectable even wide open, when frankly the Pentacon and especially the Pancolar are a bit of a mess.

In a way the most pleasing outcome of all was the performance of the Tessar.

I had one previously, a later all black version, that impressed me with its sharpness and colours, but I sold it as I had a Pancolar and Pentacon which both seemed to offer more – better images at larger apertures, plus closer focus.

But in using this “optically challenged” aluminium “Jena T” I can see it can offer something distinctly different to the others here.

And those eight blades – especially at smaller apertures – created bokeh highlights more pleasing to the eye than the sharper hexagons of the others.

All four lenses have their charms.

For outright performance (colours, sharpness, contrast) in my eyes at f/5.6 (the aperture I start at as my default anyway) the Pancolar just about has the edge. I’m not still not totally at ease with the bokeh though, and it was by far the most expensive.

But if I shot more in low light, the Takumar would be the clear winner. And the bokeh highlights seem more subdued and softened than with the Pancolar and Pentacon.

Plus the Takumar feels a different class to the others in build and handling, and is also the most compact.

Oh and I still slightly prefer how a 55mm gives you a fractionally tighter view than a 50mm.

Futhermore, the 55/1.8 and near identical 55/2 (Asahi Pentax simply limited the max aperture of the f/1.8 lens to f/2 and marketed it as a “budget” lens, though ironically its feel and class make it feel anything but) can still be had all day long for under £30. Incredibly value.

What’s not to love?

If anything this test has tempted me to explore more Takumars as my only other one – the 105/2.8 – is equally fantastic to use.

The Pancolar and Pentacon do focus considerably closer than the 0.45m of the Takumar, a significant real world difference for my kind of shooting. 

The Pentacon remains what I viewed it as before (and recently recommended) – a Pancolar with 95% of the performance for about 10% of the price. And as such it’s stunning value and an essential lens to any M42 kit.

The Tessar I’m looking forward to using more when I want a different look to the sharp, strong contrast and colour of the others.

After a little post processing with one of my favoured presets, this vintage look was enhanced further, and its quite probably this is my favourite of all those (many!) images shared here.

Tess5_6-2

For now I am more than happy to keep all four lenses, and in their own ways they proved their worth in this little experiment. 

If I had to recommend one lens to someone, it really would depend what they were looking for, and their budget.

Best outright optimum performance and versatility? Pancolar. Just. I think.

Excellent performance and close focus at a budget price? Pentacon.

Fabulous performance at virtually all apertures, an unsurpassed luxury feel, subtle bokeh, and still incredible value? Super-Takumar.

A distinctive, more vintage look – both the lens itself and the images it makes? The hazy alu Jena T.

Pay your money and take your choice…

To be brutally honest, if I the near £100 I spent on the Pancolar to spend on lenses after doing this test, I’d probably buy one two Takumars, a Pentacon and a Tessar for the same cost instead!

Which is your favourite image of those above? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

The Fall Of The 50s Philanderer (Or How I Found The Perfect 50mm Lens)

I’ve shot far more photographs with 50mm lenses than any other focal length. But switching 50s more often than underwear can become an exhausting and hollow experience.

Here’s why my 50s philandering days are done, and how I’ve settled on my ideal.

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Pentax MZ-5N, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

It took me a while to realise, but after something like seven or eight different mounts and over 50 lenses, I realised that in the final image, there’s not a huge amount of difference between one 50mm prime and another.

Some of the lenses I considered humble and expected little of, impressed me greatly.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So when so many 50mm lenses can produce very satisfying results, should we just pick the first decent one we come across and look no further?

If so, why didn’t I do this four years ago?

This wouldn’t be a bad plan at all. But the curious and lustful side of me kept want to try more, to see if they were different.

When the basic optical performance is more than good with even the most mundane sounding lenses (like my three underdogs mentioned above), I started to look further at what separates them.

What makes one lens a forgettable fling, and another destined for a lifelong romance?

Photography for me is very much about how the equipment feels, the whole sensory and tactile experience. The final image is only a fraction of the appeal, for me.

Also, this is as much a reason (probably bigger) as to why I use and love vintage film cameras over digital, in comparison with the end look film photographs have compared with those made via megapixels.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens

So I started looking for two things.

First the luxuriousness of the lens, for want of a better word.

And second, some indescribable aspect of the final image that made a particular lens stand out from the pack.

This led me to the two favourites I have now.

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8, M42 mount

On the luxury front, the Pancolar is ordinary, at best. But in the final image it delivers something special.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 film

For a long time I was sceptical about Zeiss, and thought that any decent lens would give similar results. Which is true. But, somehow, the Pancolar has something more.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 film

Two other Zeiss I have in M42 mount – the Sonnar 135/3.5 and Flektogon 35/2.4 – bear this out too. Neither are the smoothest or best built I’ve used, but both give a secret something to an image not seen in their rivals.

Arguably these three are the only three lenses I ever need.

Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8, M42 mount

The Takumar is in a different league to the Pancolar in terms of feel. It’s just delicious to use, and oozes quality and charm. It’s quite probably the smoothest lens I’ve ever handled and used.

In the final image, it’s one of the best too.

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

With the Takumar, it’s not down to drop dead sharpness. The Pancolar in my experience outguns it in that area.

But, similar to the Zeiss, the Takumar images have something special that I don’t see with other lenses.

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

Conclusions and Recommendations

If you’re relatively new to film photography and/or vintage lenses, what would I suggest, based on my own 50s philandering experience? Would I recommend you rush out and get a Pancolar and Takumar?

Well, not necessarily. What works for me might not for you.

If you’re keen to shoot film and you’re not too fussed about the camera you use, as long as it takes decent, well exposed photographs, then any of the major brands have a body and a standard 50/1.7 or 50/1.8 lens that will give great results.

Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Konica and Yashica all qualify.

If you’d like a camera that’s small, light, and don’t mind having a later, more plastic body, the Canon EOS are very hard to argue against.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

They’re compact, light, ergonomic to handle, offer reliable metering with a very usable viewfinder, if not as big and bright as some of the 70s SLRs.

The major trump card with the EOS system is their adaptability.

With cheap adapters (around £10) you can use M42, Contax/Yashica or Pentax K lenses, to name just three.

They offer tremendous value, and combined with something like a Super-Takumar 55/1.8, Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8 or Fujinon 55/1.8 in M42 or a Pentax-M or Yashica ML 50/1.7 or 50/2 lenses can give you stunning results.

You can read in more depth why I like them and how to get started in film photography for just £27, with a Canon EOS at the heart of the set up.

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Canon EOS 500N, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

If you go with the EOS system, you can then also add a digital option at a later today (early EOS digital bodies are currently £50 upwards) and use exactly the same lens(es) and adapter(s).

I regularly contemplate selling all my SLRs (currently down to six, less than I’ve had in about three years) and keeping just my EOS 300v plus M42 and C/Y adapters and lenses. It’s all I/you really need.

After a while, the endless chase for 50s became tiresome, and the urge waned.

Now I’m down to five manual focus 50mm lenses.

Seven, if you include my 55/1.8 Super-Takumar (which I have), and my Minolta AF (AutoFocus) 50/2.8 Macro.

I don’t need any others, and each of these gives something unique in user experience, the final photographs, or both.

If I had to pick one, for the final image it would probably be the Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferranis Solaris 200 expired film

For the joy of using, the Super-Takumar 55/1.8 is a delight, and up there with the best for the end result too.

My days as a 50s philanderer seem to be coming to an end.

Partly because I’ve realised that virtually every 50mm lens I’ve ever used was capable of more than decent pictures, and partly because those that remain are so enjoyable to use and to make photographs with.

Where are you on your adventures with 50mm? Have you tried one, two, or 2002?

Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to make your own 50mm recommendations.

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