Some legacy and modern lenses on the bar

Prologue


Testing lenses is an exhausting process, prone to errors and for people who know what they do. That excludes me.
A significant test should at least cover: sharpness, bokeh quality, lateral chromatic aberrations, geometric aberrations, resistance to flare and flare effect analysis...
A full test can possibly include colour-response, coma, longitudinal chromatic aberrations plus an analysis of materials and construction (it is good to know if your piece is going to last long or what issues may arise), handling, auto-focus capabilities...
Ain't it enough? Well, some tests (especially where sharpness is in play) need to be repeated for portrait distance and infinity, and for macro lenses at the minimum focus distance.
Are we done? Not yet... it is well known that old lenses may have been reworked (and re-assembled badly), or simply suffer from aging, fungi, haziness, grease floating around the internals, a loosen barrel, dust on the lenses borders (possibly some glue that is deteriorating), etc., not to mention the fact that, simply, not all lenses (of the same model) are born equal. It also applies to new products. So, the serious guy wants to test a couple of items for the same model.
Again, you should test vs APS-C and, when applicable, full-frame. And we're talking digital here. If you also want to cover the outcome on film, that requires separate tests, again!
That is why I'm not that serious guy!!!

Nevertheless, if you're not a maniac and you want to get the general idea about a lens, some simpler test may suffice.
Don't forget that lenses may be desireable for different reasons, sometimes even a "bad" lens is what you want, especially if you also shoot videos or you're looking for some old-time-gone effect. Indeed, I intend to highlight the reasons why I include some special cases here, when we use to say "this lens has a character".

I am a great fan of short tele lenses, on APS-C that translate into 50mm, or "75mm equivalent", that is why I own many 50mm. I like portraits.

Here comes my list. Notice that I don't own any modern "super" lens, meaning you won't find any Zeiss Otus or Sigma Art here. But maybe one day...

Quick and dirty, here comes my list


brand model serial no. tested? mark keep it? notes
Minolta Rokkor MD 50/1.4 yes: click here 9 yes! this is my nifty-fifty favourite. It is very sharp since f/2.8, it has beaten my Pentax 50/1.7 and the Nikkor AI 50/1.8
Minolta Rokkor MD 50/1.7 yes: here 8 ? a bit of a delusion given the excellent performance of the faster f/1.4 version, indeed this is just a good 50mm like many others. There are plenty of alternatives, some slightly or much better, but a cheap copy of the Rokkor may be worth your bucks
Minolta Rokkor MD 45/2 yes: here 9 yes! the strength of this lens is in its compactness. Though not as sharp as some 50mm competitors, once stopped down a bit it shows its optical quality, too. A very good companion, indeed
Pentax Pentax-A 50/1.7 yes: click here and also here 8+ yes! I like this one just a bit more than the Nikkor AI 50/1.8 especially because the Auto function works on Pentax digital bodies (Pentax -now Ricoh- has kept unbelievable retro-compatibility, hurray!) and the lens needs no adapter for any Pentax reflex. It is also a bit better at wide apertures than the Nikkor, IMHO
Pentax Pentax DA 50/1.8 yes 9 yes! for a digital Pentax body, this is a must. It is outrageously cheap but its sharpness can put to shame a number of contenders. Here, optimizations for the digital sensors play a role.
Also consider that the autofocus is fast and accurate.
I take photos for a theatre director, sometimes, and this is one of my favourite glasses for the purpose, provided that I am working during rehearsals (when the best shots can be taken). For the actual show the 50mm can be a bit short, though.
The only thing I don't like is the lack of the aperture ring, since like with most other modern lenses, the aperture can be controlled by the camera only.
Pentax Pentax HD DA 40/2.8 yes 8 maybe the Pentax HD DA 40mm f/2.8 has the reputation of a very sharp lens across the APSC frame, and when I had the chance to buy one almost new at less than half its price, namely 150 euro, I did not hesitate.
I actually wondered how much such a short lens (this piece of engineering really is a pancake!) could deliver astounding results as reported on the web, well... or I have a bad copy, or... it doesn't deliver!
Let me explain: though its sharpness can be very satisfying to excellent in the centre and, once stopped-down, also in the corners, there is an evident problem with the distance at which they (centre and borders) are in focus, but not on the same plane. It's not just a matter of sphericity, because distances don't match. I took a shot, for instance, where the aperture is around 4 (if and when I'll post the review I'll better tell) and I see excellent sharpness in the centre at more or less 200mt but the borders are not good at all, also the middle of the frame suffers a bit. But there also is some foliage from a tree that peers through less than 100mt away... well, also that is very sharp!
Besides, at short distances the quality looks a bit worse in general to me, possibly because the lens has no floating element, I haven't checked the lens arrangement, maybe this aspect worth some digging.
I'd be prone to overlook this not so up-to-the-hype performance if the lens compactness was really useful, which can't be since all current Pentax cameras are on the bulky side. A small mirrorless should definitely help here and pair with the 40mm for a very pocketable solution. This is not a lens issue, but this absence of a small camera body makes the glasse even less tempting.
Zeiss Jena Flektogon 20/2.8 yes 7+ yes! this is one of the odd lenses here. It is not sharp, it wasn't sharp even at its time, it has some more issues so that you may think it would not qualify. But it has a very distinguishable character and I definitely like the way it handles flare in videos. It has a very low distorsion, a not-easy-to-achieve feature at the time, a very short minimal focus distance (19 cm, I recall). Manual focusing is good though not excellent, anyway you can shoot wonderful videos with this lens.
If you're like and you know how to use it, you can also combine some flare effect with its odd bokeh when taking pictures from a very short distance.
For these reasons, this Flektogon is one of the few lenses from the Esatern block that is still actively sought by collectors and photographers, it is not cheap but not expensive either.
I got mine, in mint conditions, for 20 euro (more or less 20$). A steal, you cannot find it for this price!
Zeiss Sonnar 80/2.8 yes 9+ yes! from the point of view of sharpness and character, this is likely my best lens. Colours are very good and pleasant, maybe a bit on the cold side. It has a couple of drawbacks: my Fuji XT-20 shows a darker image in the viewfinder with this lens(?!) and sometimes this characteristic makes hard to focus; also, it is a bit heavier than I wished for. But it's absolutely a KEEP!
Nikon Nikkor AI 50/1.8 yes: click here and also here 8 yes Slightly inferior to the Pentax-A 50/1.7 and definitely trailing the Minolta MD 50/1.4, this Nikkor is indeed a good 50mm and worth keeping if you have it
Ricoh Ricoh Rikenon 50/1.4 yes: click here 6 no This Rikenon 50mm has been a delusion. Maybe my copy was bad, anyway it was definitely softer than other fifties at all apertures till f/8, so after the tests I sold it for 35 euro (more or less), I think it's the right price whereas a good f/1.4 should cost twice, according to me.
Nikon Nikkor AI 105/2.5 yes 9 yes A bit on the heavy side, I admit that I have first misjudged this lens. A better test proved it is a worthy contender, with a very good sharpness and good optical qualities in general, better, for instance, than the Pentax-A 135mm f/2.8
7artisans 55/1.4 partly, here 7- no I must admit that I, innocently, expected more from this lens, in spite of its very low price (new item). I did not expect it to beat my best 50mm glasses, yet I hoped that advancements in coating and some tweaks for the digital sensors could make this modern product show some advantages.
Well, though it is not a bad lens, it definitely trails my 50mm glasses from all points of view.
If you hate to fiddle with adapters, it is a very cheap and decent option, but if you don't mind the extra, small annoyance of the adapter, go for a good legacy lens, instead.
Canon Canon FD 24mm f/2.8 TBD TBD TBD TBD in line for testing
Canon Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 TBD TBD TBD TBD in line for testing.
I own one copy of this lens, a friend of mine lent me another one, but the latter is definitely softer, possibly it was de-assembled and badly re-assembled. Who knows.
As I said, you cannot base your judgement of a model on a single copy, so always take a look at a number of reviews on the Internet!
Canon Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 TBD TBD TBD TBD in line for testing
Chinon Auto Chinon 135/2.8 TBD TBD no 7+ This lens is not too shabby, it compares well to other mid-range 135mm (I think they are countless!) of the Seventies. I have tested both the M42 variant and the Pentax PK variant, in mint conditions, and they seem optically identical to me. I don't intend to keep it because I think the Pentax-A 135mm f/2.8 seems a bit better to me and is also a bit smaller, plus provides the auto aperture function, while I must say the Pentax-M 135mm/3.5 seemed inferior (another one marked for sale, indeed).
Fujifilm Super EBC XF R LM OIS asph. 18-55 f/2.8-4 TBD TBD TBD yes! Though I am not a fan of zoom lenses, especially not the "standard ones" (I have a temptation for the shorter lengths, instead), and in spite of the fact that I haven't tested this one throughly, just used it a lot, I can swear on the qualities of this gem, that does pretty well in most occasions and at all focal lengths and also at full aperture. Geometric aberrations are very well corrected by the camera firmware, but you may have to work a bit more if you start fro the RAW files.
For a test, take a look here
It is not "small", though, and probably it would not be possible to do better with a smaller barrel; also consider that the lens provides OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) and sports a higher minimal aperture than the typical kit lens.
Though you can control the aperture from the lens itself, the lack of indications on the ring is not a thing that I like, but it's better than nothing!
Anyway, if you own a Fuji-X camera, I think the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 is a super-recommendable option.
Fujifilm Fujifilm 35mm f/2 TBD partly: here 8+ yes! This nice litle lens is very compact, sports a wonderful retro style and is superbly built, like most modern Fuji items. It has an aperture ring made the good old way, that I love the most.
The sharpness is very good across the frame and at the largest apertures it easily beats the legacy competitors, though Fujifilm probably made a choice here and sacrificed aberration control.
Indeed, the barrel distorsion is too well-evident, and though the camera does a wonderful job in fixing it (using its JPEG files), from a purely optical point of view, referring to the aspect of distorsion only, there is an ocean between the Fuji-X 35mm and most other lenses covered here!
I have a little personal story about this lens. After the purchase I felt I made a mistake, I feared that this focal length were almost useless to me on the APS-C (when I shot on film with 35mm reflex cameras, I did not use much the 50mm, that's more or less equivalent); I kept on wondering why I didn't buy the 23mm, instead, for other purposes, and also kept the 35mm in the bag! But suddenly I found it a very capable tool in theatre, where I most often adopted longer focals. I usually take pictures from the stage, during rehearsal, and some scenes I could not fully cover on the stage, being them too sparse since the actors coovering an area that was too large. With the 35mm, I could increase the amount of recordable scenes; the 35mm in time it grew on me and I like its compactness a lot, so I take it very often with me, especially at parties.
I still prefer the 50mm focal because I like to concentrate on single characters portraits, and yet I am not sacrificing too much of that with this lens, though I find it, for the general use, rather lacking in character, hence the mark.
Fujifilm Fujinon Super EBC XF 27mm f/2.8 yes: click here 8 yes A very compact pancake lens (for real!) with good optical qualities. It puts to shame most old wide-angle glasses of the past, simply because thay are not suited for the digital sensors but also because it is corrected against spericity (the full print on the front includes "Fujinon aspherical lens").
So, hail the new optics? Don't be too enthusiastic: the uncorrected RAW images present a strong barrel distorsion here, that the camera will fix for you.
That said, I have same other reservations regarding this tiny object: there is no aperture ring and the focus ring is very short; the manual focus experience is in generally not pleasant. I also would have liked a bit larger aperture (2?).
This product shines from the point of view of compactness (it allows the camera fit in a mid-size pocket!) and price, and though my taste looks the other way, I must admit that f/2 and a better focus ring would have deprived it of both these qualities, so in the end, it deserves a decent mark.
Vivitar Vivitar MC 24mm f 2.8 9---* yes: click here 6 no * probably made by Cosina
This is for the Pentax K bajonet. Not much to tell home about it, and definitely inferior, for instance, to the Canon 24mm f/2.8.
Unfairly, I have tested it against some 28mm, anyway some obvious conclusions can be made based on that review.
Pentax Takumar-A 28mm f/2.8 yes: click here 8- no? read the review for comments.
By the time of writing, I have never tested a 28mm from the past that has a high reputation, so I must suspend the judgment on this one, but given that it is possible to find some other 28mm for a cheap price, such as the Pentax-M and Pentax-A 28mm, probably I'd go for them.
Apparently, though, the aforementioned lenses form Pentax have worse control over aberrations, but should definitely come with much better coating -age counts!


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