Vintage 50mm Lens Shootout – 10 Lenses, Under $100

100 Replies to “Vintage 50mm Lens Shootout – 10 Lenses, Under $100”

  1. I'm a very happy user of a Nikon 50mm E series 1.8. So I know what you're talking about.
    I use it on a Nikon FE (film camera).
    Now I have a question: what do you think about on the 1.4 comparing with mine? Is Sharp?
    I really would like to see a comparison between 35mm like these.
    Thanks for your video!

  2. Would be cool to see a dedicated video on the 1-2 lenses you chose here, see it out in the field. I picked up a Helios 44-2 (58mm) for the X-T3 and its pretty amazing in quality, build (and price).

  3. Fun vid. Great work. Thanks mang. Yes, vintage lenses with character sound like fun. Helios, Auto Sears and Voigtlander could be fun.

  4. Thank you for this! I've been looking at cheap/vintage lens options to pair with my X-T20 and this really helped. I'm also considering something more modern yet equally cheap, the 7Artisans 55/1.4. Would be interesting to compare your top pics to the 7Artisan!

  5. Old double gauss/planar primes tend to have awful bokeh, but stopping them down a bit tends to help a lot.

  6. 2:15,.. lemme stop you there for a moment. the "Super" IS the SMC – "Super" Multi Coated.
    If I keep playing and hear the usual BS about the Radioactive glass,….
    And the 'fast' K 50mm is a 1.2 🙂
    It you like the feel and action of the Tak, you should try the P67 Taks.
    The yellowing has nothing to do with the Thorium, it's the bonding agent between elements, and yes, exposure to UV clears it up.

  7. Nice round up! I think a 'vintage character' comparison and a 'vintage portrait' comparison would be interesting narratives to open up. Always enjoy your guys content.

  8. The lock of the Canon FD adapters is actually more like open-close aperture ring. You can use it like a preset mechanism.

  9. About the Super Takumar 50 1.4 🙂 there is a rare 8 lens element version which is sharper and more expensive. Check out is your copy one of these.

  10. Also your research have some weakneses 🙂 for example I am sure that all of the 50 1.4s in this test has thorium element inside. For example Pentax removed this in the AF version, all 50 1.4 Pentax primes are radioactive.

  11. I've owned or used examples of all of these and while my choices are a bit different than yours, your choices are correct–as mine were for me.
    I will say that I think with lenses this old, sample variation is going to be much greater than with any new lenses. There was probably more variation in earlier production methods than current manufacturing AND these lenses have been used for many decades. Add to that no real certainty about how well they were cared for by any previous owners and I think it is necessary to understand that they may or may not meet one's expectations–they may well exceed those expectations it's just a bit of a gamble.
    Lastly, I will suggest that full frame is likely to show off the differences between them better than a crop sensor. But I'm still shooting film–Contax N1 and a Nikon FA for SLRs–so I may be a bit biased about that. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing this!

  12. The canon FDn versions are usually sharper – a good copy of the 50/1.4 can be really sharp with good contrast. The helios has a very nice 50 (not the 58mm f2 swirly bokeh type). The zeiss pancolar can often be better than the zeiss planar. I actually like the yashica ML 50/1.7 more. It has 8 blades and very nice rendering. Some of the pentacons have bubble bokeh but there is so much copy variance. I also like the old canon Fl lenses – very different rendering from the later FDn & very nice to use despite the adapter. In the SLR days the 50mm lenses were equivalent to the kit lenses. But despite the variance each brand had its own signature

  13. Despite how fiddly some of the adapters are, especially for Canon FD mount lenses, it's hard to beat the value of the K&F Concept adapters for Fuji X-mount at $20-25 apiece. I have Nikon F and Canon FD mount adapters for my XE-2 and I love using the vintage glass on it, especially the Nikon 105mm f/2.5 and Canon 50mm f/1.4 SSC lens.

  14. Among the later multi-coated 50mm f/1.8 lenses some had a problem with the lubricant on the diaphragm blades. They ended up being sticky. Eventually Oly got the problem solved. Used on a DSLR or mirrorless the sticky diaphragm is less of an issue.

    The easiest way to ensure you have the most improved version is to get one of the 50mm f/1.8 MC lenses that is numbered 5,000,000 or higher. Note that at some point in time Oly stopped marking the multi-coated lenses "MC" — since it was no longer a marketing distinction.

    Oly made zillions of 50mm f/1.8 lenses over the years and for a while they were in demand to be used as loupes (there were a lot of orphan lenses out there as the OM double-digit and OM-Letter camera bodies started dying).

    My 50mm f/1.8 is the last remaining of the many OM lenses I once owned.

  15. For the Super Takumar on DSLR, there are in-camera colour palettes which can ameliorate the yellowing if you want to shoot straight out of camera and not play around in post, at least for the more sophisticated models. For film, I have to admit that I stick to black and white when I mount that lens.

  16. Thoriated glass (Th-232 doping) was used at that time, typically within the rear element, to reduce the size of the element itself. This is due to the inherently higher refractive index achieved by using thoriated glass. The benefit being to avoid having to design for more costly and larger,curved elements.

    Stresses build up within the glass "matrix" over time from the Thorium decay chain and can be relaxed by the UV light spectrum. Daylight and certain UV, LED lamps can do a good job of relaxing these stresses to remove/reduce the yellowing over days. I store and display my vintage lenses in glass cabinets partly for this purpose, partly to inhibit fungal attacks, and mostly to display and enjoy them. They are often good conversation pieces with fellow shutter-bugs.

    Are these elements radioactive? Yes. But the Th-232 decay chain is mostly low penetration alpha and beta decay (blocked by the lens itself, the camera body, clothing, and for alphas, the human dead-skin layer (which is pretty thin!!) The last part of the decay chain gives off low-energy gamma. Th-232 has a very LONG half-life of about 14.2 Bio years (i.e. a longer half-life means lower radioactivity). It is as common in the Earth's crust as lead (about 2cc's per cubic meter of earth) and a key contributor to our naturally occurring background radiation.

  17. Would love to see:

    1) Vintage 50, 55, 58 mm / f1.2 shootout. Canon, Hexanon, Nikon, Takumar, Minolta.
    2) Vintage 85mm's, to include the Jupiter-9
    3) Add the Helios 44 family (or just the 44-2) and Jupiter 8 (50/f2.0) to the mix in comparing against the popular vintage 50's.
    4) Benefits of various value priced focal reducers on your favorite 50mm (Nikkor 50/1.4), from Roxsen, Kipon, Viltrox, Zhongyi Turbo II, all paired to your crop sensor (APSC or M4/3).

  18. Always amazes me that someone who can grasp all the complexities of modern photography can't operate a Canon FD lens adapter.

  19. The Canon FD breechlock is simple. I would even say it's as easy as a bayonet mount. Get the adapter set on lock and just make sure the rear aperture lever engages the pin before it goes into the mount. It takes practice to rotate the lens a little bit before it engages the pin and you're set. Canon FD optics are superb and can be had for less money thanks to Canon abandoning the mount when they created EF. The FD L lenses fetch quite a bit of coin and are extremely desirable today even.

  20. Soviet Helios 58mm would blow any of these lenses away. And yes, it creates crazy, dizzy, swirly, nervous, sea-sick, busy, strange bokeh! Boo hoo hoo… Run for your safe spaces! 🙂

  21. Just FYI, the 'non SC' lenses of Canon are the 'New FD' and so more recent and better coated than the 'SC' or 'SSC' lenses wiith are the older FD lenses. All 'New FD' lenses, the ones with the little black button, have the best coatings Canon had at the time.
    Great video, i have almost of the lenses shown, and many others, and adapting lenses is fun. Much choice and many 'special' cases.
    The Takumar 55mm 1.8 is charper, so is the Yashica 50mm f2.
    I use mine on my Sony A7 III, Panasonic GH5 and (less) my Canon 80D (because no focus peaking)

  22. There's a little trick to putting the FD mount lenses on almost every adapter–
    Don't match the adapter with the red dot, put the red dot a little past it by turning it slightly clockwise.
    Then turn it counter clockwise so the red dots will meet and it'll go down.
    Just screw it onto the adapter regularly from here and it should work. Always does for me now, I switch the 50mm f1.8 with my f1.4 quite often

  23. the Oly 50mm f1.4 is quite lovely as well, although perhaps a bit more pricey. Having said that though Planars make me go weak at the knees, I don't care that they are not sharp, they are just so dam creamy 🙂

  24. Great comparison. Please compare bokeh at mid to longer distance for future ones. Usually this is where it's at the weakest for a lens.

  25. PRO TIP: no joke — after extensive testing spanning decades of pentaxian innovation, the best lenses pentax ever manufactured are the "smc pentax" series!!!?! easy to miss, the smc pentax are the first lenses without radioactive glass, their first k-mount lenses; aka "k-series primes" on pentax forums… they sport a 52mm filter thread instead of 49mm, and in my experience this series is noticeably sharper than the either m42 era OR the m-series that followed in the pentax lens lineage. this testing took me two years, and 30 pentax lenses… 😭

    frankly i agree with your findings on old vs new when it comes to pentax sharpness – even the a-series is not as sharp as the elusive k-series.

  26. With the exception of the Olympus and Zeiss I have all those lenses and can confirm your results with the exception of the Takumar, which I found to be on par with the Nikons. However, mine is the Super-Multi-Coated version, which is optically the same but with newer coatings. BTW, the thorium is not a coating but mixed into the glass and yes, the yellowing can be removed as I’ve done this on several copies I have on this lens. Great review. Thanks for posting your findings.

  27. Another great test would be to compare the flaring. I love sun flare and the Takumar is supposed to produce a really pleasing, dreamy flare. It would be cool to see how the others compare.

  28. One thing adapters can determine picture quality. Hence if you were to only use can Canon FD use Metabones adapter for quality and allows for locking the aperture pin in position. The Older FD breech lock is considered the best locking mechanism that will never have both face plates rub as it's a a straight connection. Yes its slower but you will never wear out the bayonet.

  29. I actually received my copy of the Nikon 50mm 1.4 on Friday so this weekend I’m testing it on my Fujifilm and Nikon film cameras. Great video as always.

  30. I have several vintage lenses, including a Nikon Nikkor 50mm f 1.4, and the Hasseblad Plannar f 2.8 80mm. None can compare to contemporary native lenses when used with the Sony E mount. They are heavy and difficult to use, but worth a shot at the experience.

  31. This was fantastic. I certainly want to try some of those lenses on my X-T20 now. I've been using a Pentax SMS 55mm f/1.8 and love it. It's a great portrait length on the cropped sensor and mine is incredibly sharp.

    For future videos, I'd like to see some vintage macro lenses. I bought an Olympus Zuiko MC 50mm macro this spring, and like you noted, it's really fun to shoot with. It's sharp and easy to focus – I even won a couple awards for a macro stack I made using it.

    My budget is tight but I've been wondering if I couldn't just use a Fuji XF 60mm macro and get the macro and sharpness I love from the OM and the focal length of the Pentax without the weight of two lenses, vintage glass and adapters. It might not be as fun to shoot, but might simplify my setup.

  32. awesome video! i expected more out of the super takumar lens since it seems to be hyped up a bit more. i’d love to see some comparisons between older leica lenses and other rangefinder lenses

  33. Vintage lenses on Fuji are awesome. I don't have any of these, but plenty of 50ish lenses. Love to see another photo challenge with vintage lenses.

  34. I bought the Nikkor 50 f1.4 at a shop in Macau. he let me try a bunch of lenses outside his shop. ended up with the Nikkor because it was easiest to consistently hit moving targets and the sharpness was awesome. tried everything from Schneider – Kreuznach to Zeis lenses.

  35. It's my understanding that the NON-breechlock canon lenses are the FDn version which has the S.S.C. coatings as opposed as you noted it as "uncoated." The breechlock versions came in two flavors, S.C. and S.S.C. Spectra-Coating and Super Spectra Coating respectively. I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong.

  36. I heard that using these vintage lenses might damage your sensor if exposed to direct sunlight, is that true? And what about the Helios lenses?

  37. So happy to see people appreciating vintage glass in this day and age. I started shooting in the mid '70s so I have fond memories of the older gear. Thanks for the review!

  38. Great video. I really liked your take on these lenses. A friend gave me his old Super Takumar that was a hand me down. I just love it! I'd like to see how these lenses perform on full frame, especially vignetting.

  39. First of all, 35mm lens comparison is a good idea in general. Furthermore, a comparison of 135mm lenses would be nice course back in the day everybody made them. Even Russians 😁
    In regards to bokeh… I know it's maybe cheesy, but those Christmas lights can quite good show the character of a background bokeh…

  40. I've used the "poor man's Contax", the Yashica ML 50mm f1.7, on a bunch of mirrorless bodies (M43 to Sony A7) for the past several years, and it has never disappointed me. I was curious, as such, about how the Contax would fare here, and was surprised that it wasn't a favorite. I would be curious of your opinion of the Yashica, if you ever get a chance to try one….

  41. Glad to hear you picked the Olympus lens one of the two you would keep. I have owned Olympus lenses for years and love them.

  42. A review of 28mm vintage manual focus lenses would be interesting (42mm equivalent on Fuji so similar angle of view to the human eye). If you do one please be sure to include the Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AIS (the one with the close focussing ability) – an awesome lens!

  43. Most of the nFD version (black, plastic, bayonet mount) of the Canon lenses have "Super Spectral Coating (S.S.C.)".
    Except for the 50/1.8., which actually have the same Spectral Coating (S.C.) of the older breech lock version.
    So basically the two lenses you tested should have the same coating.
    There are 2 other versions of 50/1.8 that didn't have any Spectral Coating. Those versions have silver front bezel.

  44. Oooooh, I'm almost drooling looking at all those lenses on the same table. I'm lucky enough to have several of them, and it's so enjoyable to use them on a full frame mirrorless. I would also highly recommend the Helios 44 for portraits!

  45. A little bit of cropage? Oh cone on – you borrowed 10 vintage full frame lenses and couldn't find anyone to loan you a Sony A7?
    Huge wasted opportunity.

  46. I like the review style, not just harping on sharpness. The 50mm-58mm on APS-C has kept me from buying an 85mm for my full frame.

  47. Hi Andrew. Really enjoying your videos. With regards to 35mm camera bodies, which camera lens mount/lens adapter combo would yield the greatest number of vintage lenses to choose from? Hope my question makes sense. 😂 Keep the videos coming.

  48. I got the Nikon 50 1.4 AI-S. It's a really nice lens. But pretty soft fully open. (Shot on 42mpx) Stopping it down to at least f2 is a must. But I often shoot it at f2.8.

  49. Andrew, if you like the Nikon 50mm 1.4 ai-s. You should really try to get a nice copy of the 105 and 135 f2.8 ai-s lenses. Love them.
    Got this photo with the 135mm F2.8 @ f2.8 using a speedbooster on my fujifilm X-T2.

  50. I found the same results on my Minolta 1.4, it was a real disappointment with the fogginess wide open. Anyway I'd love to see the "character" lens test at some point

  51. The kind of sensor you use might also be of greater influence on results. And you're right the feeling you have is so important in the choice of a lens.

  52. the olympus is pretty good, I've had both the 1.8 and the 1.4 (radioactive silver nose)
    the cool thing about it, is you can disassemble the front ring pretty easily and take out the ball bearing that clicks on the aperture stops. so you can use it for video if you like no click and it's stiff enought that it doesn't move around.

  53. i wish you also listed the adapters you used, i also have a fuji x mount but am struggling to find which adapters to use. specifically for the nikkor lenses

  54. Dear Andrew, thank you for review. It would be interesting to look at Leica Summicron-R and Summilux-R 50mm in next comparetion.

  55. *UPDATE* You'll want to take my sharpness test with a grain of salt. Someone made me aware that vintage lens adapters can have an effect on corner/edge sharpness and may make a lens appear worse than it is. See this video for more info:

  56. I for one will take issue with you using a cropped sensor camera for this test for two related reasons: the first is that all of these are full frame lenses, so they ought to be tested for their maximum range of capabilities (they can be tested for cropped sensor on the same go by cropping into a full frame shot, of course). The second and related reason is that since they are full frame lenses, you are cropping out the best part of the lenses, the center. This is problematic since sharpness is of particular interest to you. All of these lenses should be center-sharp. If they aren't you might have a bad copy rather than a "bad" lens. The reason for them all being center-sharp in theory is that all of these lenses are variants of the standard double gauss design, which had gotten pretty close to perfect in the center by the early to mid 60s (because it was already an old design by then). For such a well known design, differences in lens quality, i.e., in aberrations and sharpness, will show much more strongly in the corners (and when shot wide open), because those were the most difficult to compute with limited if any help from optical software. The reason why this might affect your test results is because a lens might have "bought" extreme center-sharpness at the expense of corner sharpness. Over the entire image (of a full frame sensor or 35mm film), you might then prefer the slightly less center-sharp lens because it gives you more well-balanced image quality throughout the frame.

  57. mate, i got a Super Takumar Asahi M42 50mm f/1.4 Asahi Pentax sp spotmatic. I conquer the Focus ring is amazingly smooth even criminal. for only $50AUD at op shop, straight after watching this video only the next day. even more so stoked… lens is great nick… i feel like i just missed out on model1 for some reason 8 elements. mine the radioactive. is true to leave in the sun.

  58. Hey Andrew, thnx for this great review. I am about to buy another vintage lens for my X-T3. I am not sure to buy the Nikkor 50mm 1.4 or the Minolta MC 58mm 1.4. Can you share your experience to this two guys?

  59. Best of mine are my Super Takumar 55mm 1.8 and my 58mm Rokkor 1.4. Still in the 50mm range of lenses. My Canon 55mm FD 1.2 and FL 58mm 1.2. With flash they all perform exceptionally well.

  60. Just a little nerdy thing: I don’t think the Thorium Oxide, used on the Takumar, is a coating. It’s molded into the glass.

  61. The Canon "new" FD lenses all received the spectra coatings of previous generations. They just didn't stamp it on the lens going forward after the breach lock mounts. It's a shame they didn't give you the 1.4 version. It's definitely cheaper than $100, has butter smooth focus, amazing color and contrast, is tack sharp, has decent throw, and amazing bokeh thanks to its 9 blade aperture. It is, in my opinion, the sleeper of all vintage 50mm lenses in terms of IQ. By comparison of both 1.8s, which I did have and did an IQ test on, the 1.4 blew them both away. I sold them the next day. Sharp as a tack! I suggest you do a shootout with the nFD 1.4 against your two favorites from this video. That would be cool to see where it ranks. As for the fiddly claim, I agree sometimes they can get annoying. I've learned that you need to have the adapter ring set to open for it to work. If it's in the lock position, the aperture wont work. Secondly, to mount it easier, I put the red dot on the lens to 1 o'clock on the mount and slide it counter clockwise until it clicks in. It doesn't catch on anything doing it this way. Also, leaving a lens out in the sun for a couple days sounds like a great way to ruin a lens with balsam separation. I would never advise doing that unless you're comfortable with possibly having to throw that lens out

  62. Thank you, nice comparison.
    A few notes; regarding Canon, when multi-coated lenses became a big thing they used designations on the lenses to attract customers, the first was S.C. for Spectra Coating and later Super Spectra Coating (S.S.C) for a few, then gradually more, expensive lenses. By the time of the later "new" FD lenses, all lenses had the best coatings, except the 50mm f/1.8 but it still had coatings.
    Regarding Pentax: The company that manufactured Pentax was Asahi Optical Company, their lenses was called Takumar or Super Takumar but later closer to the introduction of the Pentax K mount, the lenses were called SMC Pentax (the more compact for ME/MX was SMC Pentax-M), as Pentax was very much into multi-coating and mentioned their Super Multi-Coated (SMC) lenses in all their communication. Later Asahi Optical (Pentax) changed names to just Pentax and was bought by Hoya, then by Ricoh.
    Regarding the radioactive lenses made by several companies, even Kodak has made several radioactive lenses, came about when they realised that thorium was introduced into the glass mix, not the coatings, the optical glass produced had interesting properties. The glass had both higher refractive index and less dispersion, making it very useful.
    In layman's terms it means it bends light more, so you could have thinner glass, but still the different wavelengths of light was less dispersed so it was easier to correct all colours in focus.
    The mix of thorium varied but up to 30% in what is more or less sand and different salts; thorium salt although radioactive made optical design a little easier and better, not considering the side effects of radiation… So don't sleep with your radioactive lenses next to you!
    Otherwise the danger is mostly if you break the lens element(s) containing thorium, which usually, but not always, not the front element.

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