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12-17-2011, 09:27 AM   #1
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Who makes the best lenses?

Life is good. Things are selling on eBay. I'm not totally broke. So I'm reviving my search for the smallest lightest lens between 24-30mm to stick in my mini-kit. [ ] And the revived search led me to this page:

Which Company Makes the Best Camera Lenses? <== linky-dinky

The author averages the MTF test scores of lenses per lensmaker to arrive at a score per brand. Where do y'all think Pentax ranks here? Now discard all the makers with too-small sample sizes and just look at the majors. Discuss.

12-17-2011, 09:43 AM   #2
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The usual suspects Leica and Zeiss (Contax) are at the very top. Konica actually ties for #1, but then with only 3 lenses tested while Leica and Zeiss (Contax) have plenty more. Canon and Nikon in a tie between themselves are a notch down from the very top, Pentax another notch below them (which sounds about right considering that this is an average of eveything tested?).
12-17-2011, 09:45 AM   #3

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These sort of scoreboards are a bit silly, especially when they rank on one variable alone.
12-17-2011, 09:50 AM   #4
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It's not a completely useless page. But it's pretty close. I think the most interesting point is looking at each manufacturer's best (according to this scale) lens. Most of the majors manage to get at least one high-scoring lens, which tells me more than a mean score lumping craptastic zooms in with high-end primes.

12-17-2011, 10:01 AM   #5

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As if MTF is the absolute measure of a lens being the best. Looking at, say, the Mamiya 7N 150mm F4.5 L lens as its "best". That is a medium format film lens. Medium and large format film did not need lenses made with really high MTF score like the smaller formats did.
12-17-2011, 10:03 AM   #6
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Wouldn't median instead of average be more useful here?
12-17-2011, 10:10 AM   #7
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What a waste of time. Way too many variables. Pentax actually has more lenses at the top of the range but also has several real stinker lenses, so the average (almost always a misleading statistic) is lower. As has been said - there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.
12-17-2011, 10:28 AM   #8

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These scores come from, which is the least reliable of the bean counter lens sites. There scores are full of glaring anomalies that literally scream "tester error." They give the FA* 80-200 f2.8 a score of 3.3, placing it below the F 28-80 and the F 70-210. The FA 43, one of the sharpest lenses Pentax has ever made, has a score of 3.6, one full point behind the FA 85 and F 50/1.4. These scores just don't make any sense. They are not consistent with tests done elsewhere and the gaps are too big to be explained merely by sample variation.

A more realistic comparison would require reliable tests of all the lens that manufacturer produces; then choose the best 50 lens from each manufacturer and see who comes out on top. Even then, you would only know who makes the sharpest lenses, not who makes the best lenses.

12-17-2011, 07:55 PM   #9
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I have found the old photodo Pentax results were on par with my experience. The FA43 isn't that great on film. What people are experiencing now is on APS-C which crops out a large chunk of image. On FF, the FA43 shows more barrel distortion and field curvature and edge sharpness isn't that great. F lenses were also better made than FA in general. Sample variation always plays a part though, but who's to blame when any lens suffer from poor QC? The new photodo, however, is a complete waste of time.
12-18-2011, 12:52 AM   #10
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RioRico, what a great idea, nice link. Interesting at least to have a look at. Boo sucks to all the criticism.

One of the first things I liked was the author's caveat that different focal lengths have different MTF benchmark standards. I also noted that Contax and Mamiya both had medium format lenses dragging their performance down, which is not really fair, as the larger format allows for a lower MTF.

Leica is assisted to the top of the charts, as their lenses are likely to be in the optimal range for quality, rather than producing baseball bats for newbies to hunt birds and bees from 300m away or ultra wides to take pictures inside matchboxes.

To this end, to make the comparison fairer, it would be interesting to get the author to average common benchmark focal lengths, within the bounds of what is normally used, ie 28-135mm. So taking maybe the MTFs of a 28, 35, 50, 85, 100/105 and 135.

I simply dont understand why Pentax appears so low down in the list. All I can think is that Pentax has been prepared to produce cheap zooms in the past, which have dragged it down. Indeed, I have seen comparisons between Leica and Pentax MTFs on Robert Monaghans site, conducted by Herbert Keppler, and Pentax outperformed. I will have a quick google and post back if I can find it using the "way back machine" which archives that site.
12-18-2011, 02:16 AM   #11
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there is more to a lens than MTF values.

It is quite possible for any lens manufacturer to produce a 50mm f/1.0 that is diffraction limited, offers perfect performance across the frame even on FF sensors. However such a lens would in all probability weigh over a kilogram, and cost well over 30K.

The lens producers that have the highest average in terms of lens performance MTF wise over the history of 35mm photography would be Zeiss and Leica. There aren't any other lens manufacturers that have developed a lens line exclusively for 35mm that is anywhere near as consistent in optical performance as those two makers. Though when you consider things like Ergonomics, Flare resistance, Variety of focal lengths, Construction quality and price/performance ratios things are less clear cut. All I can say with any certainty that no manufacturer has ever made a perfect 50mm lens for a 35mm camera - otherwise I wouldn't own over 170 of them.

Last edited by Digitalis; 12-18-2011 at 02:23 AM.
12-18-2011, 09:12 AM   #12
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First, you will need to define "best lens/es" :-)
12-18-2011, 01:18 PM   #13
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Original Poster
QuoteOriginally posted by SpecialK Quote
First, you will need to define "best lens/es" :-)
Indeed. The author's definition seems to be, "Best MTF scores overall." YMMV. Mine does!
12-19-2011, 01:10 AM   #14
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I dont think I could word it better than Herbert Keppler:
Rangefinder Cameras - Tips and Best Buys

Half way down the link, there is a comparison of 1.4/50mm Takumars and Minoltas against a 50mm Leica summicron, and the MTF of the Tak and Minolta is higher. Of course, Leica lenses have magical pixie dust affecting things like bokeh, so they're still great.
12-19-2011, 01:56 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by hoojammyflip Quote
there is a comparison of 1.4/50mm Takumars and Minoltas against a 50mm Leica summicron, and the MTF of the Tak and Minolta is higher.
At f/5.6 just about every 50mm lens made in the past 50 years will produce the same result....there are a few notable exceptions to that rule of course. Though personally if they tested the current version of the Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH I think there would be a difference in the performance from the Leica lens.

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