50mm f/1.4 legacy lenses – Shootout Wide Open
What makes such posts ridiculous, is that usually just few of the posters, support their opinion by sample images. You can read all kind of excuses – I sold the lens x, I am not on my main computer, I erased my professionally made tests, my cat eats my memory card…
From time to time, someone post the ISO resolution chart, to support his claim, no matter that his chart was printed on an ink-jet printer on office paper, and the paper gets folded and stays uneven on the wall. Aligning to the target? Who cares, done by eye, let’s now judge the extreme corner performance wide open on a pixel level. You got the idea, right?
My favorite post from the last week, claim one lens to be incredibly sharp and include two photos taken from behind the thick glass window of the moving bus.
That’s why I decided to make this article, where I will show you ISO 12333 professional chart, shot wide open by 15 – kind of popular 50mm f/1.4 lenses.
So, I can say something, while you can judge my opinion by looking at the test images.
But, I will certainly not tell you, which lens is the best. I might tell you, what I have learned testing and using those lenses. I did a short review of some lenses here, so in those cases, I will only add the link to the article. I hope to add more and more reviews in the future…
For this shootout, I choose 50mm f1.4 only (With exception of Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm f1.5 ZM T*, that is close enough), because, if I include also f/1.2 and f/1.8-f/2, 50mm lenses, I wouldn’t be able to make single comparison images, and some lenses will be stopped down by several stops to match slower ones, which is probably not fair.
This test is only about resolution wide open. You can visually compare the crops, or open original size files.
However, I would never suggest to think of one lens being “better” than the other, just because it has weaker resolution or behave less sharp wide open.
Some lenses are designed to behave so.
That’s why I included Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm f1.5 ZM T*.
From the crops below, you might say, that the lens is terrible, as it is clearly softest from all those legacy lenses wide open. But that’s on purpose. Sonnar does not have corrected spherical aberrations, because they define lens unique rendering wide open and are perfect for street photography i.e.
Stop the lens down to f/5.6 or f/8, and it become as sharp as it gets across the frame.
Please note that my tests are not perfect. Most complicated is to get the chart (it is a pro chart – made on a film paper by direct negative copy) completely flat. I am struggling to achieve this, and there are still some deformations, most in tolerance of 1mm (but that is still huge).
Second problem is to align the camera 100% with a target. I have several lasers and rulers to do so, but changing the lenses, change everything and to align perfectly for every lens, would require over 1 hour set-up per lens. That is too much.
Third problem is lighting. It has to be as evenly spread as possible.
I am trying to do my best, but I certainly can’t guarantee 100% accuracy, but this test, preparation, shooting and post processing, took me a full day…
All shots were taken with NEX 7, from the heavy tripod, using self timer (I lost my remote controller) in RAW. ISO 100, A mode, EV compensation of +0.7, AWB. I choose AWB because few lenses gets yellowed. I took at least 10 shots with each lens with a manual focus at maximum magnification.
The sharpness and noise selector in LR 4.4 were set down to 0.
For the crops I equalize WB and exported files in Photoshop CS5, where the crops were made and put together. No other correction were made.
Original files were directly exported from LR 4.4 to JPEG with 100% quality settings.
So, here we go… (you have to click on the image and open it in a full size)
(Top Left) Corner Crop:
Sharpest in the center is Canon FDn 50mm f/1.4.
Sharpest in the corner is Contax Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 T*
Other sharp lenses at f/1.4 are Canon FD 50mm f1.4 S.S.C and Olympus OM-System G.Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f1.4
Other lenses are sharp in the center, but less so in the edges. Many lenses suffer from a different diseases, mainly all kind of aberrations. Age and conditions does influence performance too, but as most of my lenses were chosen from 2-8 copies, I don’t think the general behavior of the new lens will be significantly different.
Bellow are lenses on NEX 7 and original size files. For the lenses that I briefly reviewed, I will include a link to the article.
Auto-Chinon 50 f/1.4 Multi Coated.
You can read my short review of this lens here.
Yashica Auto Yashinon 50mm f/1.4 DX
I reviewed its slower brother Yashinon 50mm f1.7 some time ago. This Yashica is rather average performer in terms of sharpness wide open, but it might have nice bokeh and I believe it would be sharp enough from f/2.8. It is certainly beautifully built and looking lens.
Four Legendary Takumars to come… They are all same – 50mm f/1.4, but all different, with different construction and/or coatings.
The cheapest version – later Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4
I reviewed this particular lens here.
Super-Multicoated-Takumar 50mm f/1.4
This version is less common than Super-Takumar or SMC Takumar. It behave very much like SMC Takumar, being slightly sharper than Super-Takumar later version. All three Takumars are getting yellow by time, due to the use of rare earth radioactive element. I just started to treat them with an UV lamp. Yellowing itself might be nice addition for BW photography, but from certain point it does reduce the amount of light passing to the sensor. That’s why shots with radioactive Takumars are taken at 1/500s, while all other are at 1/640s.
SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.4
This is probably best value for money among four Takumar Fifties f/1.4. Simply because it is the newest and thus, there is higher probability to find a good sample. While it seem to have similar center resolution to Super-Multi-Coated version, corner performance is slightly better.
Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 Early, 8 elements version.
If you are serious about 50 f/1.4Takumars, you must have this one 🙂 This is an early version of Takumar that has 8 elements in 6 groups (the others only 7) and cemented triplet with curved surfaces, that was very expensive to produce and it is believed that Asahi lost money on every sample they sold. It is impossible to recognize this version from the image above. Visual difference can be seen from a side – infrared focus mark is to the right of the number 4 on the DOF scale, unlike on the later 7 element versions that has the mark on the left side of number 4.
But even that, doesn’t must to be 100% true. I have seen the version with a mark on the right, but it was 7 element one. To be sure, you have to see the last element, that slightly protrudes on this version.
This Takumar didn’t use rare earth radioactive element, and thus doesn’t get yellowed by time.
Its optical performance is slightly different than of its siblings, with center sharpness being better, while corners suffers from spherical aberration and blooming more. It’s main problem is its rare availability, that pumped prices above optimal. I had to pay for my sample much more than I normally would, but I was looking for a sample in a very good- great condition.
Pentax-M SMC 50mm f/1.4
I reviewed this lens here.
Pentax-A SMC 50mm f/1.4
This lens is supposed to have same optical formula as the M version above. However, this version is sharper at the edges, but that might be due to the sample variation. For manual users (no aperture coupling), I would say, that M version is a better deal though. Their performance is very similar, and both are very good options for 50mm f1.4.
Minolta MD 50mm f/1.4 Rokkor
I reviewed this lens here.
Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.4 AR
I reviewed this great lens here.
Olympus OM-System 50mm f/1.4 G.Zuiko Auto-S
I wasn’t impressed by this lens when I got it, but today I realized one thing. My version is single coated, and Oly is actually very sharp, just lacking the contrast a bit. I am not really familiar with Olympus lenses (even if I have quite a few), but I know that it is hard to differentiate single from multi coated versions. If I manage to find MC (in a good condition) I will certainly test it again. It might be one of those lenses that I just miss judged badly.
I like very much its size, build and overall feeling. It simply feels special in its own way.
Canon FD 50mm F1.4 S.S.C
Being a native Canon shooter, it’s strange that I didn’t review any Canon FD 50mm lens yet. Maybe just because they are so good, and I get used to it.
S.S.C silver ring version is very good. Not so good as FDn but very close. Where the difference gets more apparent is at the edges. But it is much better built than smaller and lighter FDn. This is one hell of the fifty f one four.
King is coming – Canon FDn 50mm f1.4
At least – the King of center resolution at f1.4, from my 1.4 fifties. It has been written lot about wide open sharpness of this lens, but it is probably enough to know, that Canon used this lens as a reference lens for the entire line, in its time.
I am not a big fan of it. It has somewhat weaker contrast wide open, ugly bokeh and lack of character. But it is the sharpest lens in the center, and second sharpest on the edges from this group. By some margin…
If you are looking for the sharpest eye of your portrayed subject, this is the lens to buy, especially because it is one of the cheapest from those listed here.
Contax – Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 T*
It might be slightly less sharp than Canon FDn in the center, but it is clear champion on the borders wide open. Add to that Zeiss micro contrast and colors as well as build quality and it is the win-win combination. But the price is set accordingly. You will get what you paid for. It is still cheaper and as far as I experienced – better, than modern Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 from the Z series.
I didn’t review this lens yet, but you might take a look at my brief comparison against Canon EF 50mm f1.2 L here.
So, which one is my favorite, you might ask?
Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 T* ZM
That’s the one. It is by far softest in this comparison at short distance wide open. But in a real life, it deliver amazing subject isolation and unique way of rendering OOF areas. Unless I am about to copy books or maps, this 50mm lens, among all my fifties (including some great f/1.2 ones) is my ultimate choice.
But, that’s me…
At f/1.4 it is soft, soft, soft. But beautifully soft.
Stop it down to f/5.6 or more (to improve corners even more) and be careful not to cut your eyes.
Whatever 50mm lens you have or use, I am sure, you enjoy it. Unless there is haze, fungus or some mechanical problem, they are all great, and you should not see significant differences in a real life at comparable apertures.
Because, most of them are old lenses, my advise therefore would be, instead of looking to the certain model, try to find the one in a best possible condition, don’t pay over 100 USD, and learn what your lens likes and how to get best out of it.
But please, consider not to shout around, that lens a blows out lens b, unless you can proof so.
Or, do whatever you like. It’s a free space:-) and thanks for reading.
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