50mm f/1.4 legacy lenses – Shootout Wide Open

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38 Responses

  1. Corwin Black says:

    Hm, seems my Contax 50/1.4 has some issue cause its nowhere close to this. 🙁 It seems ok inside, but there is strange crystal-like structure somewhere in back element, only visible under direct light (used LED flashlight). Maybe element separation (is that even possible?). Sight I thought it should be better and your test proves it indeed should, I have much less contrast (and neither resolution seems same). Btw. have you ever tried Zeiss service center in Germany? (Oberkochen)

    Otherwise Sonnar seems to have exceptional CA correction, or am I seeing it wrong?

    • I am sorry to hear about your Contax. Unfortunately, I don’t have experience with Zeiss service at all. I am using small local shops or skilled individuals for all my legacy lens repairs.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Viktor, it’s the takumar (later version) yellow from radiocative decay? Try this cheap deyellowing procedure:



  3. Camera Droid says:

    Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    as a first time visitor to your blog I am very impressed.
    thank you 🙂

  4. BoJl4apa says:

    I’m looking for a replacement for my Helios 50/2 on the NEX-6
    (soon to be a6000, hopefully)
    thanks for this great summary, now I’ll know what to look for : )

  5. Ejder HA says:

    You are amazing ! Thanks for all this reviews. I am very very happy for find this reviews.

  6. emiliano says:

    very grateful excellent review.
    but I like that incorporates the Canon FL 50mm f / 1.4 II model of the 60s

  7. MTeee says:

    Between Takumar 50mm F1.4 (8 elements) vs Canon FD SSC, which would be your pick?

    • Hi,
      The first thing I would try to figure out is a condition of particular lens that you are considering. Different forms of aging, could influence optical performance much more than the original design itself.
      If both lenses wouldbe in perfect condition and stage (decentering etc.) I would go with Takumar because of its warmer colors and smoother bokeh. Canon is sharper lens if that is your priority.

      • MTeee says:

        Thanks very much for your response! I currently own the Minolta Rokkor X MD and found that at Wide Open F1.4, the edges of my subjects are quite soft. Assuming that the lens is in great condition, does the Canon FDn 50mm F1.4 produce sharper edges? Thanks in advance!

  8. Walter says:

    Thank you very much for the info. I have a question: I have the Blackmagic pocket camera and I want to buy Contax Zeiss lenses (for Y/C mount). Are radioactive or dangerous for the health? (For example Contax Zeiss Planar 50 F1.8/ Contax Zeiss Sonnar 135 F 2.8/ Contax Zeiss 28-70 F3.5-4.5/ Contax Zeiss Vario Sonnar 80-200 F4). Thanks again!

    • Dear Walter,
      I am not an expert in the radioactivity, but I do have many “radioactive lenses”, some of them are with me in my sleeping room. BTW I have dog and children.

      There are many risks that we are taking every day, and considering that even recent lenses such as Zhongyi Mitakon 50/0.95 seems to be radioactive (supposedly 4 Lanthanum optical elements in the version I and 1 of those elements in version II), I don’t think that radioactive lenses are as dangerous as it might seem, after reading some of Internet debates.

      Most importantly though, Contax Zeiss lenses are not among those most prominent for radioactivity.

      Their sister company from Eastern Germany – Carl Zeiss Jena, has many lenses on the radioactive list, but Contax Zeiss from Oberkochen (C/Y) mount, are usually not listed (not sure about 85/1.2 though).

      You are mentioning Contax Zeiss Planar 50 f/1.8, but I am not aware of such a lens. There is Rollei Planar 50/1.8 but it’s not in C/Y mount and there is Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50/1.8 which in its first “Zebra” incarnation is supposed to be radioactive (but this lens is usually in M42 mount, certainly not in C/Y).

      I think you are safe with Contax Zeiss lenses, but you will find much more information here – http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Radioactive_lenses


  9. Fast says:

    lol at radioactivity issue. That level of radioactivity is too low for any human to be harmful.

  10. Stalthy says:

    Great test Although it would love to see it on a full frame camera. Is this something that you are considering? Also maybe in other focal lengths as well, maybe a 35 mm since that one is common with many lens producers.

  11. Michael Coomber says:

    Hey there. Informative review and intellectually done. Just wondered were the Nikkors were and would they place near or better than the Canon Fd or the Taks, (probably). Any way thanks

    • Hi Michael,
      Good question mate 🙂 I think that at time of writing this review, I didn’t have any Nikkors 50/1.4. I have two now, S-Ai and Ai-S, so I should include them too. We are working to put new comparative review, but guys who are supposed to build comparison tool for the web are asking too much money 🙁 We are looking for other possibilities though…

  12. Mark says:

    Hi there, Very nice review. I was wondering which lens you would choose. The Yashinon f1.7 or Chino F1.4. Both at the same price on a Fuji X-E1?


    • Hi Mark,
      I would simply choose the one that is in better condition. Yashinon 50/1.7 might have radioactive elements and thus it can yellow in time (Yashinon-DS-M 50mm f/1.7, Yashinon-ML 50mm f/1.7 e.g.)
      My Chinon 50/1.4 has rather strong hallo wide open, but it could be result of damaged coatings, I didn’t really look at it thoroughly.
      If you can afford C/Y Zeiss Planar 50/1.7, Topcon Topcor RE 58/1.8 or even CZJ Pancolar 50/1.8 MC, I would suggest them instead.
      Best regards,

  13. nick says:

    for low budget, is the canon FD 50mm the best value? or can you recommend something cheaper ? For usage in low-light conditions

  14. Hi nick,
    I wrote this many time here – for those old. 50/1.4 lenses, the condition of the particular sample will have greater share on image quality than original lens design. Pick any of those Minolta, Olympus, Pentax, Konica, Canon FD, Nikon and similar, just make sure that it is in a great condition and you should have nice, low budget – low light lens.

  15. Beta Level 2 says:

    Hi, Viktor
    Nice comparison

    the most informing from the whole internet as far as my research

    can you please do a speed comparison
    which one is the fastest
    they all f1.4 but, maybe there is faster or slower of them

    thank you

  16. High Beta Level 2,
    What you are asking for is called light transmission and it is often expressed in T-stops (usually for cinematic lenses). Light transmission can be affected with lot of things, but mainly with coatings and quality of the glass. Problem with testing legacy lenses for light transmission is that they are of a different age and glass, but mainly coatings are permanently eroding, changing the original parameters. For that reason, measuring light transmission in my case, will only refer to how my particular samples are transmitting light and it will not have any value above that. It is actually same for resolution, but that is somewhat lesser affected. Therefore, when you see any comparison of the legacy lenses (or unfortunately many comparisons made by amateurs of the recent lenses), take it always with a big grain of salt, may I advise.
    We are working on the comparative tool for the legacy lenses, but I am still looking for investors or/and supporters who would help me with setting the studio on purpose.

  17. Duane says:

    Great sharpness comparison, and good on you for finding all of these legacy lenses to try out.

    I would advise anybody looking at these charts to remember though that sharpness is not the only characteristic, not by a long shot. In fact, in my experience, extreme sharpness in portraits can work against you. Also, color rendition, bokeh, and contrast can be loads better characteristics than overall sharpness.

    For example, in my experience, the SMC Takumar 50mm f1.4 and Yashinon DSM 50mm f1.7 are far better overall lenses than the FD 50mm f1.4 They both have better color rendition, contrast, and bokeh than the FD 50mm f1.4. The SMC I find works the best for “dreamy” portraits and flowers (color rendition is awesome) and the Yashinon DSM is a better overall walk around lens with much smoother bokeh and much less flaring than the SMC or FD. The Yashinon DX, DS, DSM, ML’s are supposedly Zeiss planar duplicates and are supposed to perform 99% as well as a Zeiss. I got my DSM for $40 including shipping.

    Also something to keep in mind, m42 (Yashinon/Pentax/CZJ) lenses can usually be adapted to most camera systems whereas the FD mount cannot be adapted to mirrored systems without corrective optics (which suck). FD for mirrorless, M42 for pretty much everything. I wish I had known this before investing so much in FD glass!

    • Hi Duane and thanks for the comment. If you shot with mirrored system than you are right about FD, but for those of us who uses mirrorless, FD offers some great lenses. FD 55 1.2 S.S.C aspherical (or blue al), FD 50/1.2L and 85/1.2L, 300/4 L, 20-35/3.5L, 35/2 and many more. Canon did use their FDn 50/1.4 as a reference lens for sharpness for quite some time.
      However, I fully agree that sharpness is not all what good lens is about, and one should also take in consideration the actual condition of the tested samples. Later in my experience has bigger impact on sharpness than original optical design…

    • Dean says:

      Hi, what would you consider better between Yashica lens ML 50mm 1:1.7 vs Yashinon DS-M 50mm 1:1.7? I already own the ML. Should I bother with DS-M?

  18. gociu sorin says:

    nice test but… a better title would be “… shootout wide open on a 1:2 crop sensor camera” it’s important because if i have a Sony A7 this test is not for me. thanks

  19. Dean says:

    @Viktor this was a great comparison test. Thank you so much for taking the time to test all of these lenses. Are you on social media? How can you be reached besides here?

  20. Steven says:

    Please forgive my hasty question! I should have kept reading 🙁 Thanks for including your favorite!!!

  21. Steven says:

    If I may? Being that your favorite is really expensive, going back to my original question, what would be your “economical” choice?

    • Hi, after many years I concluded that the condition of these old lenses is often more important than their initial optical quality.

      That being said, for sharpness and contrast at f/1.4, my favorite would be Contax Zeiss Planar 50/1.4 C/Y and Topcor RE Topcor 58/1.4, Leica Summicron R Canada and later 50/2, CZJ Pancolar 50/1.8. Good sharpness but weaker contrast has Zeiss Ultron (Icarex) 50/1.8.
      If money nor size are issues, I love Canon FDn 50/1.2 L and especially, Canon 55/1.2 S.S.C. Aspherical (great lens).

      From the mainstream cost friendly brands I would pick Canon FDn 50/1.4 and Olympus 50/1.4 later serial number, with MC. (1.100.000+) Pentax, Minolta, Nikon, Yashica, Cosina, Ricoh, and many others are all very similar if you find a good copy. The newer the lens, the newer coatings should have and thus better micro contrast and sharpness.

      My favorite 50mm on a FF are however two other lenses, but not because their sharpness or contrast wide open, rather for their signature subject isolation capabilities (weird bokeh, wignetting etc.) and these are MOG Domiron 50/2 and CZJ Biotar 50/1.4 (vignettes slightly on FF).

      Lately I also had a lot of fun with a Lensbaby Twist 60 a Petzval design revival.

      For the ultimate sharpness and micro contrast and for the very unique rendering capabilities, I choose Zeiss Otus 55/1.4.


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