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Jan 27

12 Lenses Spanning 50 Years Do Battle

Ok, so they aren’t doing BATTLE per se. This is one of those lens tests that’s really just for fun….don’t take it too seriously, please.  Part 2 is now up, and evaluates edge sharpness.  See Part 3 for a look at bokeh.

50 Years of Lenses

Over the years, I have accumulated a rather extensive collection of lenses in the ~50mm range. Looking through, I have 12 lenses that fall in the range of 40-60mm. Four of them are native lenses for Micro 4/3. The rest are manual focus lenses spanning decades of camera development. The 50mm (ish) standard lens was the kit lens of the manual focus era. They were cheap, abundant, and usually very good optically. I will be testing them on my Panasonic GH2, so they act as a short telephoto here, great for portraits. I have acquired these over the course of about 5 years, and the great thing about these adapted normal lenses is that they are dirt cheap for the most part. Of the 8 adapted lenses, two of them I got for free, one I paid about $100 for in mint condition, and the others all cost less than $50. I highly recommend, if you have a Canon or Sony SLR or a mirrorless CSC, that you try and find some old lenses…you can find some gems out there. (I say Canon or Sony SLRs, as they have a short enough register distance to adapt many lenses…Nikon can adapt some, but not most of these lenses without losing infinity focus).

12 Lenses - Introduced between 1961 and 2011

One reason I still have most of these is that they all have a different rendering, or in the case of the macro lenses, a different use. These older lenses each have their own signature look. Some are dreamy wide open, but have beautiful bokeh. Others have excellent micro contrast. Some have beautiful tonality, and others are a bit funky. This test does not test any of that. Every person will like different renderings for different styles or looks. I have a fondness for most of these lenses, save the Petri 55, which I have never actually shot with for anythingother than to see what it looks like (I can’t permanently attach it to the camera.) I’ll now give a quick rundown of the lenses in question today:

  • Olympus OM 50mm f/3.5 Macro – A wonderful compact macro lens that does 1:2 magnification. Picked this up about 4 years ago for $100.
  • Petri 55mm f/2 – My grandfather’s lens. He gave me his old Petriflex V, and this was the standard lens that came with it. This was made between 1961 and 1967.
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 - An absolutely stellar native Micro 4/3 lens. If you have a Micro 4/3 body and need a portrait lens…buy it. Now.
  • Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro - Excellent native Micro 4/3 macro lens. Has image stabilization. Great lens that is sharp with great color.
  • Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 – I think I paid $15 for this little gem. Small, sharp and great!
  • Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 – The big brother of the f/1.8 above. I got mine for $50 because it had a jammed focus ring. I fixed it and it’s as good as new. This is what Canon considers its ‘reference lens’ for color balance.
  • Minolta Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.4 – Standard lens for the Minolta MD mount. For a long time I viewed this as the best all around 50mm I’d used. It’s since been supplanted.
  • Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.7 – Got this and a Konica TC camera for $12. Very sharp lens with strong contrast. Focus is touchy, though.
  • Konica Hexanon 57mm f/1.2 - Perhaps one of the finest manual focus f/1.2 normals in existence. Dreamy wide open, but with a gorgeous rendering, this lens becomes extremely sharp stopped down. This is the luckiest find I’ve ever had. I got it for free from a very generous donor from a message board I frequent.
  • Konica Hexanon 40mm f/1.8 – Tiny pancake lens with a unique look wide open and outstanding clarity and contrast stopped down. Can be had for $40 or so.
  • Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm – The ‘kit’ telezoom for Olympus Micro 4/3. It’s a tiny, inexpensive zoom that packs some seriously good optics. Perhaps the most surprising lens I’ve owned.
  • Panasonic 14-45mm - The kit lens for the original Panasonic G series cameras. It has since been replaced by a few different variants, though this is still the best optically of the Panasonic standard zooms.

Next: the test:

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

4 comments

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  1. David Mc

    Jordan,

    Thanks for posting this test. I have an FD 1.4 SSC converted to EF currently. I also have a Contax (Zeiss) 50/1.7 and an FL 55 f1.2. The Contax is my favorite of the latter two that I’ve been able to try on my 1 D Mk III and Sony NEX5N.

    thanks,

    David

  2. Martyn

    Thanks for an interesting article. Look forward to the next round :)

    I know it’s difficult to test anything other than the lenses you own, but I suggest trying to get hold of a Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f1.8. For me the best 50mm I have owned. Adequate sharpness and lovely colour rendition. Just my bias :)

    1. Jordan Steele

      I have owned a few Zeiss lenses, though not the Pancolar 50/1.8. I have owned the Planar 50mm f/1.7, which would likely be the very sharpest of the legacy lenses here, and have great color and contrast, though I found the bokeh on that lens to be a bit too busy. I also have owned the Zeiss 85mm f/2.8 Sonnar (and the f/1.4 Planar), which I found to be among the best lenses I’ve ever owned. Amazing optic…but just couldn’t justify keeping it for the amount I used it.

  3. Harald

    Have Canon FD lenses, Panasonic GF1 (micro 4/3), and cheap adapter.
    Set GF1 to Shoot w/o lens.
    Is there a way to close the Aperture on the FD lens?
    I can only shoot with Aperture wide open.
    No control on the adapter.
    Can I manually stop down the FD, or are there different adapters?
    Thank,
    Harald

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