It’s about time for another lens review! And this time it will be the favorite lens of my Takumar collection, the super-handy super-fast Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4. Don’t get me wrong, I like the other Takumar lenses like 28mm but that will be covered in the next edition of lens review. For now, I would like to introduce the glorious 50mm.
First, a short history lesson. This lens goes all the way back to 1964 where the first ‘super’ version was introduced by Pentax (then named Asahi Pentax). From then on it has seen several incarnations through the varieties of front elements and changes in focus ring as the newer version has a focus ring made of rubber instead of metal. Coincidentally my copy of 50mm is the infamous radioactive thorium one with yellowish lens coloration.
A little disclaimer here: I tested this lens on a crop-sensor digital camera.
Build and Handling
This might be one of the best lenses builds I have ever got the chance to experience. What not to love! The focus ring has a pretty long throw and is as smooth as silk when you move it around. It makes focusing easy even when you’re in a hurry. The aperture ring has a nice ‘click’ sound as you move through each aperture stop.
The entire lens is built out of metal. And it is made to last forever — I once dropped it into the asphalt and it got just a little scratch, not a dent to be found. Compared to modern lenses of a similar focal length, Takumar 50mm’s size is small but due to its metal construction, it has roughly the same weight. Still, I feel the balance is just right when it’s attached to a body hanging from my neck.
In the image quality department, I guess Takumar has managed to deliver good quality control. Mine is quite old and even though it’s not sharp wide open at f/1.4, if you stop it down to f/4 onwards it will be sharp enough to my liking.
I like the bokeh here, it makes the out-of-focus area so pleasant to look at. And the large aperture makes night time bokeh beautiful. However, since this lens has only 6 aperture blades when you stop down to f/5.6, the bokeh is no longer round it turns to hexagons. Not so good for portraiture. At night time it produces six-pronged sunstars, which you can see in the image below.
One thing to notice, due to design the lens is exposed wide open without a lens hood. Depending on your lens version this will turn any photo facing sun into blotchy light patches if you don’t have the ‘multi-coated’ one. Given the age of the lens, you will also see some horrible chromatic aberration.
So why, you may ask, did I say this is my favorite Takumar lens if I have been bashing a lot in the previous paragraph? Because for me the ‘character’ that the lens has shines way brighter than its shortcomings! This is the perfect lens for street photography, which I enjoy a lot lately. I think you know now since all the sample images here are from my street shots. Even before corrections in Adobe Lightroom, the straight out of camera results of this lens already give an overwhelming vintage look. And this is why it’s a winner in my book.
Obviously I might be a bit biased in my opinion, but I think you might be addicted if you try this lens. If you are into street photography and you are comfortable handling manual lenses, get this lens if you happen to see it being sold in the wild. Here in Japan, the price hovers around 5000 yen and below for Super-Takumar and Super-Multi-Coated Takumar (the more recent SMC Takumar might fetch a bit more).