Battle of the 50s: Contax 60 vs Minolta vs Olympus vs Pentax Takumars

Battle of the 50mm lenses: the contestants

The 50mm focal is one of the ones I like the most. Besides, it’s really hard to get a bad 50mm, because the manufacturers have found fool-proof recipes since the dawn of time. So even an old lens should perform splendidly, and the biggest differences with more modern designs should be lack of autofocus and a (sometimes just slightly) less effective coating.

This were my assumptions; below you may find my findings. All the lenses have been shot on a Canon 5D Mark II, full format. With the two Pentax Takumar the same adapter ring has been used to avoid possible adapter-related issues.

 

The contestants 

 

 

Contax-Yashica Zeiss Makro S-Planar
Contax-Yashica Zeiss 60mm f/2,8 Makro S-Planar

A terrific all around lens that goes straight to 1:1. There is also a C-Planar variant, with the same optic, that reaches only 1:2 but it’s a bit more compact. Quite heavy but manageable, for a while has been practically glued to my Canon. It hits the mirror slightly at infinity, at least with the cheap chinese adapter I use. You can find its “solo” test here: Contax 60mm f/2,8 Makro S-Planar.

 

Minolta Rokkor 50mm f/1,7 MD

Minolta Rokkor MD 50mm f/1,7

I remember fondly Minolta optics from when I used to photography with an SRT-101, so I grabbed this one for the price of more or less 5 coffees. It’s plenty sharp, even if it is not the sharpest of this group, and it has a subtle, Leica-like (well, for the money) way to render the colors of a scene that I like very much.

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-S MC 50mm f/1,8
Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-S MC “Japan” 50mm f/1,8

Another lens, like the Minolta, that you can have for a song. I paid for the adapter the same price I paid for the lens… Very similar to the Minolta in the way it renders a scene, with slightly different tonalities, but way sharper, especially at the borders. Really light and compact.

 

Pentax Takumar 50mm f/1,4

Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm f/1,4

This is the rare-ish first version, with 8 optical elements and without the radioactive one. The legend goes that Pentax created this lens to establish its own name against Zeiss, and that it sold it at a loss for a year before replacing the model quietly with the next contestant, the Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, that cost less to produce. It touches the mirror of the Canon 5D Mark II, in its returning phase, only when set at infinity. With some, supposedly better, adapter does not focus to infinity; not a problem with a cheap chinese one. You can find its “solo” test here: Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm f/1,4 (8 elements design).

Update: Just something I noted in real life pictures but I forgot to add: the Super-Takumar (8-elements) has a lot more depth of field and each stop than the S-M-C Takumar (7-elements). Focused at infinity at f/1.4, for example, the Super-Takumar will render objects at 15-20 meters soft but sharp enough, while the 7-elements will render the same objects really blurry. The difference is definitely here, and it’s striking. I have to yet measure this for the S-M-C, but the Super-Takumar at f/1.4 and at close distance (2-3 meters) has a depth or field of maybe 4-5 millimeters!

 

Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1,4

 

Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1,4

This is the 7 elements design that replaced the more costly Super-Takumar. The construction quality looks the same, but often, due the presence of a radioactive element in the optical scheme that degrades the balsam cementing the lenses glass itself, you’ll find this lens sporting a slightly (or not so slightly) yellow color. It’s said that it suffices to expose the lens to the light of the sun for a few weeks to get rid of that. The lens tested does not presents this phenomenon, but still the color balance of the pictures it produces is noticeably warmer than the 8 elements version. Unlike it’s ancestor it does NOT interfere with the mirror of the 5D Mark II.

 

Pentax M Macro 50mm f/4

 

Pentax M macro 50mm f/4

It should have the same optical scheme of the old, m-42 screw, macro Takumars, just in the K mount. It’s almost the same size of a normal 50mm, but goes to 1:2 and, thanks to the deeply recessed front element, does not need a hood. To use it on a full frame Canon (probably not on an aps-c, but I haven’t tried) you’ll need to cut or file down the rear lever of the automatic aperture and the lip that protects it, otherwise it will scratch the mirror or damage the camera; the metal is pretty soft, and with a Dremel-like tool it’s a matter of maybe 10 seconds. The test pictures of this lens have been shot another day, so the slight differences in color and crop.

 

Side notes

The test has been conducted with the Canon 5D Mark II on a tripod, using a 10 seconds self timer, focusing with Live View @ 10x zoom and the help of a 22x Peak loupe. The crops have no sharpening whatsoever, with the exception of the standard amount of 25% that Adobe Camera Raw applies as a baseline.

This test confirmed what I already suspected, that practically every 50mm out there is a gem and a bargain at the same time, but that due differences in design and in the way an old lens may have “lived” till today some lenses are better suited than others for specific purposes, while others are better all along.

As a side note: the Minolta is incompatible with Canon bodies; its flange-to-film (or sensor) distance is too short to focus at infinity without using an adapter with an optical element. Because such additional optical element can lower the lens quality I followed another road, and adapted the lens in a DIY fashion replacing the original flange with an m42 / Eos ring glued to the lens base and recalibrating the infinity stop. Not the prettiest solution, but works like a charm.

Last, the differences in color that you may see are because I left intentionally the camera in daylight white balance, to show the “personality” of each lens. You can alway narrow down the differences using the automatic white balance, but still some nuances remain, so it’s better to know first if you like them or not. And the borders crop haven’t been brightened, so you can judge how much each lens vignettes on full format (the crops come from the extreme top left border).

On this note, the Super-Multi-Takumar has NOT yellowed; its lenses are perfectly clear, and has been recently cleaned due a mild case of fungus. Still, like you can see, it’s the warmer of the bunch.

 

Bokeh

Speaking of bokeh, they are all pretty good. I’d rate them more or less this way:

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar, Super-Multi-Takumar, Minolta MD

2 – Contax (second only because sometimes its bokeh becomes busy), Olympus, Pentax Macro (not much bokeh due the small aperture, but nice and smooth despite the iris having only 5 blades)

 

The results

Now let’s see how they perform. You’ll find first the 100% crops for each aperture, than my evaluations differentiated for center, borders and mean sharpness. If you want, you can download the image below – it weights 2.8 Mb – with all the crops for all the lenses tested here; just right-click on it and choose “Save as…”:

 

All the crops

 

@ f/1,4 – f/1,8

Minolta 50mm MD at full aperture     Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm at full aperture     Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm 8 elements at full aperture     Pentax S-M-C Takumar 50mm at full aperture

center

Both Takumars look the same, maybe the Super-Takumar a tiny bit sharper; the Olympus is a touch more contrasty but sports the same resolution; the Minolta comes last.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar, Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Olympus*

2 – Minolta

 

borders

The Olympus has better contrast but less resolution than the Super-Takumar.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Olympus*

3 – Minolta

4 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

 

mean

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Olympus*

3 – Minolta, Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

 

*The Olympus at f/1,8 has been compared against both the f/1,4 and the f/2 crops, lacking an f/2 stop.

 

 

@ f/2

Minolta 50mm MD at f/2     Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm at full aperture     Pentax Super-Takumar 8 elements 50mm at f/2     Pentax S-M-C Takumar 7 elements at f/2

center

The Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar is only an hair better than the 8 elements Super-Takumar; the Minolta is last, but just slightly worse than the Olympus.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

2 – Pentax Super-Takumar

3 – Olympus*

4 – Minolta

 

borders

The Olympus has better contrast but less resolution than the Super-Takumar, again.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Olympus*

3 – Minolta

4 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

 

mean

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Olympus*

3 – Minolta

 

*The Olympus at f/1,8 has been compared against both the f/1,4 and the f/2 crops, lacking an f/2 stop.

 

 

@ f/2,8

Contax-Yashica Zeiss 60mm Makro S-Planar at full aperture     Minolta MD 50mm Rokkor at f/2.8     Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm at f/2,8     Pentax Super-Takumar 8 elements 50mm at f/2.8     Pentax S-M-C Takumar 50mm at f/2,8 7 elements

center

The Contax starts straight ahead, just behind the two Takumars look almost identical (the Super-Multi-Coated a bit more contrasty); the Olympus has better contrast than at f/1,8 but less resolution!

 

1 – Contax

2 – Pentax Super-Takumar, Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

3 – Olympus

4 – Minolta

 

borders

The Contax is a touch more contrasty than the Super-Takumar.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar, Contax

2 – Olympus

3 – Minolta

4 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

 

mean

1 – Contax

2 – Pentax Super-Takumar

3 – Olympus

4 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

5 – Minolta

 

 

@ f/4

Contax S-Planar 60mm at f/4     Minolta Rokkor MD 50mm at f/4     Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm at f/4     Pentax Super-Takumar 8 elements at f/4     Pentax SMC Takumar at f/4     Pentax M Macro 50mm f/4 at full aperture

center

The Contax is a touch more contrasty than the Super-Takumar, again; the Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar is not far behind the Minolta.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar, Contax

2 – Minolta

3 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

4 – Pentax macro

5 – Olympus

 

borders

Pentax macro and Contax are behind the Super-Takumar, but at a distance.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Pentax macro, Contax

3 – Minolta

4 – Olympus

5 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

 

mean

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Contax

3 – Minolta, Pentax macro

4 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

5 – Olympus

 

 

@ f/5,6

Contax Zeiss Makro Planar 60mm at 5,6     Minolta Rokkor MD 50mm at 5.6     Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm at f/5,6     Pentax Super Takumar 8 elements design at 5,6     Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm at 5,6     Pentax M macro at f/5,6

center

Contax first, tied just behind the two Takumars and the Minolta; just a bit worse the Pentax macro.

 

1 – Contax

2 – Pentax Super-Takumar, Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Minolta

3 – Pentax macro

4 – Olympus

 

borders

The Pentax macro continues to show a uniform behavior at all stops.

 

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Pentax macro

3 – Contax

4 – Olympus

5 – Minolta

6 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

 

mean

1 – Pentax Super-Takumar

2 – Contax

3 – Pentax macro

4 – Minolta

5 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

 

@ f/8

Contax S-Planar macro 60mm at f/8     Minolta MD 50mm at f8     Olympus OM Zuiko at f8     Pentax Super Takumar 8 elements at f/8     Pentax SMC Takumar at f8     Pentax M macro 50mm at f/8

center

The f/8 crop with the Pentax Super-Takumar has been shot another day.

 

1 – Contax

2 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

3 – Pentax macro

4 – Minolta

5 – Olympus

 

borders

The f/8 crop with the Pentax Super-Takumar has been shot another day.

 

1 – Pentax macro

2 – Olympus

3 – Contax

4 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Minolta

 

mean

1 – Contax, Pentax macro

2 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

3 – Olympus

4 – Minolta

 

After f/8 the diffraction starts to kick in, so let’s just jump to f/16 and see how this lenses perform at a stop fairly useful for depth of field extension purposes.

 

@ f/16

Contax-Yashica Makro Planar s-planar 60/2,8 at f/16     Minolta Rokkor MD 50mm at f/16     Olympus Zuiko OM 50mm at f/16     Pentax Super-Takumar 8 elements design 50mm at f/16     Pentax Super-Multi-Coated S-M-C Takumar 50mm at f/16     Pentax M macro 50mm at f16

center

The Olympus suffers a bit at the intermediate apertures, but it’s great at full aperture and at full closure. Go figure…

 

1 – Olympus

2 – Pentax macro, Pentax Super-Takumar

3 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Contax

4 – Minolta

 

borders

The Minolta is far behind the Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar.

 

1 – Olympus

2 – Pentax macro

3 – Contax

4 – Pentax Super-Takumar

5 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

6 – Minolta

 

mean

1 – Olympus

2 – Pentax macro

3 – Contax

4 – Pentax Super-Takumar

5 – Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar

6 – Minolta

 

 

Conclusions

I’d say that, even though all the lenses tested here are all spectacularly good, we can make some statements.

– For general use the winners are indisputably the Pentax Super-Takumar 8 elements design and the Contax-Yashica Zeiss Makro S-Planar. They both yield superb resolution and are made to last, even though given the difference in maximum aperture and in maximum magnification they have different strengths.

– For macro use you can’t choose wrong. Yes, the Contax is better, faster and goes down to 1:1; but it costs and weighs a lot more than the Pentax. More, to view the differences in real life pictures you’ll have to split pixels, so I call this a draw.

– For traditional landscape use, i.e. all sharp as a tack, you can’t go wrong with the Super-Takumar (again), the little Olympus or one of the two macro, Contax (again) or Pentax. The choice will be more of a matter of gut / price / look that anything else.

– For a lens to be used mostly for portraits on an aps-c body each and one of them will be excellent; it all will ends up to personal preferences in the rendering and / or in the possibility to snap up a bargain.

– For low light use the Super-Takumar is the best bet, but the S-M-C Takumar, the Minolta or the Olympus will be all excellent choices as well. Keep in mind that in real life pictures those differences so striking in the test charts will be almost invisible, especially using the camera hand held and in poor light.

Review: Leica Summicron-C & Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2

Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2

This is the classic Cinderella lens, and I use the singular instead of the plural because the Summicron-C and the Minolta M-Rokkor really are the same lens, optically speaking, even if some people state (but I think they are wrong) that the former has only a single layer anti-reflection treatment while the Minolta has a multi-layer one.

It was born as an economic way to enter the Leica world, to mate with the Leica CL and Minolta CLE cameras.

But it was doomed to become a princess…

Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2

Now it is one of the biggest “bang for the bucks” lens ever, because at around 200 / 250 € street you can obtain almost the same quality of the Summicron 35mm f/2, that costs three / four times as much.

The main (light) difference between the Summicron-C 40mm f/2 and the Summicron 35mm f/2 is in the bokeh department, in which the 35mm excels whilst the 40mm is only so so.

Like I said before the Summicron-C and the M-Rokkor are the same lens, the only true differences being the filter ring diameter (39,5mmx0,5mm on the Leica, a non-standard step; 40,5mm on the Minolta) and the resistance of the focus ring, much stronger in the Leica; personally I much prefer the smoother feel of the Minolta.

The Leica frame lines are notoriously conservative, so when mounted on a film Leica the 40mm covers pretty much the field indicated by the 50mm frame lines; for this reason many people, including myself, modify the coupling flange of the lens filing it lightly, just the necessary amount to engage the 50mm frame line instead of the 35mm one.

And for the lucky owners of a Leica M8 the 40mm will became an excellent 50mm, because the smaller than 35mm sensor and its multiplication factor of 1,33x.

Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2

Sharpness-wise it’s a Leica designs, so what can you possibly aspect?

It’s scary sharp all over the field from f/2 on, from the center to the extreme borders.

Once (in that occasion it was an M-Rokkor) I compared it against a Nikon 35mm f/2 Ai, a great lens that I appreciated a lot…till then; the poor Nikon came back from the review literally humiliated!

In conclusion: one of the best lenses ever.

Rating: ★★★★★ on film

Rating: ★★★★★ on digital (Sony Nex 7)

Review: Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm f/2,8 for Leica M

Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm f/2,8

A little, sweet lens, the most overlooked of the entire Leica (well, Minolta…) M catalog probably because of its “bubble-related” problem.

Bubbles? Yes.

There are many theories about the causes, but this lens has almost in every case developed some strange bubbles in the glass.

Some people think that is depends from the lens cement, others blame the internal black paint.

After using this lens, frankly, I don’t care anymore.

And yes, also my lens has a severe dose of bubbles.

Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm f/2,8 for Leica - bubbles

But they are almost not influent in the actual shooting.

Only in some severe backlit shot maybe they contributed to produce a certain amount of flare.

Or maybe it was just the anti reflection treatment that was incapable of dealing which so much light going trough the glass. I don’t really know.

Minolta M-Rokkor on Leica M6

What do I know, instead, is that this lens:

1) it is Leica-sharp (I’ve seen even a comparison with a 2nd generation Elmarit, and the Elmarit lost it);

2) it has wonderful Leica-colors;

3) it has a fair price on the used market (from 150 to 300 €, depending on how much bubbles the lens has and on your luck).

For me all this is more than enough to buy one…

Rating: ★★★★☆ on film

Rating: ★★★★½ on digital (Sony Nex 7 & A7r)

Review: Minolta 55mm f/1,7 Rokkor-PF MC

It focuses smooth as butter after over 30 years of use.

And it is one of the sharpest lens I ever used. Period.

Unfortunately it will mount, because of the short focal plane/flange distance, only on the Minolta manual cameras, or, with an adapter, on the Olympus and Sony Nex mirrorless.

I’ve adapted it on a M42/Sony Nex ring on the Nex 3; now it works like a charm even if, given the weight of the lens compared to the tiny camera, the combo is a bit front heavy.

To mount this no-rare jewel on a Nikon or Canon camera you will need an adapter ring with an optic element inside, that almost certainly will degrade the unbelievable superb sharpness exhibited by the lens alone.

Rating: ★★★★½