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06-02-2014, 04:51 AM - 2 Likes   #1
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Pentax soft focus lenses. Please post your own personal experience

I am very fond of "true" soft focus lenses, some of them were really a work of art.
I know a few things about them, cause i'm a large format lens collector, and i'm interested in the history of photographic optics.
Unfortunately vintage large format soft focus objectives were extremely expensive, made in relatively small numbers, and many of them are lost or damaged, after such a long time... so it comes as no surprise if the prices are so high
IIRC, some where so expensive that you could buy two Ford model T for the same price!
One outstanding example: the Struss lens, which was made in glass or quartz, and hand grind (probably in aspheric shape). Not one lens was exactly like the others.
Btw, Mr. Struss was the first Oscar (Academy Award) for movie photography...

Not long ago i gave up to large format photography, I am living abroad for the most part of the year, and i could get back to my first love: travel photography.
Traveling with a giant bellows camera is a pain in... well, you know where
That's why i am buying a few new lenses, mostly fast AF zooms, for my K-5 II and K-01.
Watching a few beautiful portraits of my late girlfriend, shot with a 120mm soft focus (on loan), in B/W, with my old Pentax 6x7, i realized that i'm missing that kind of pictures.
That's why i decided to buy at least a proper soft focus lens, to be used with my digital cameras.
I knew already about the various soft focus lenses made by Pentax: the 120mm for 6x7, the other one for the 645 (i don't remember the focal, cause i'm not interested, as i don't own the right adapter), plus the 3 different versions made for 35mm. Which are the 85mm f/2.2 K, and the 85mm f/2.8 in F and FA variety.
What's really interesting is that the 6x7 version is a 4E/3G, the F and FA versions are 5E/4G, while the old 85mm f/2.2 is a "traditional" doublet, placed in front of the diaphragm, with the convex side facing outside. Most vintage soft focus lenses were made the opposite way, with the doublet behind the iris and with the convex side facing the camera.Probably Pentax used the former solution to contain the length of the lens.
The 645 lens is an incognito to me, cause i never contemplated buying one...
It is really interesting that Pentax followed different approaches for different formats, and that the design was changed when the AF was introduced.
It is reasonable to expect a different optical signature from the different designs, but i have no practical proof of that, as i've only used one of them.
The only thing they have in common is that all are 100% manual lenses, even the AF ones (at least with the large apertures required for soft focus). All the relevant infos are explained very well in the reviews available on this site.

With all that in mind (and with the new informations about the peculiarities of the F and FA, which i didn't know before reading the reviews), i decided that even with a relatively small photographic bag, i had to find the place for a soft focus!
So i kept Ebay under check, and ended up buying not one, but two Pentax softies...
The 120mm for P67 was bought cause i couldn't pass (the price was too good), and because the pictures made with that lens have a special place in my heart. Then i found a K version (85mm f/2.2) reasonably priced, from Japan. Apparently the only reasonably priced examples are available from Japan, which is not a surprise (Japan made), but i found that unexpectedly the highest priced ones were the F and FA models.
It came as a surprise because i've read that the older model should be more desirable, and priced accordingly.
Following some common sense, it should be like that. The f/2.2 version is more "soft focus" (why buy a soft lens to use it as a part-time sharp lens?), and the lack of AF is not such a big concern with such lenses.
On top of that, it is well known that contrast-based AF system (like the K-01) have problems with the F and FA models.

I will report about my new glasses as soon as i get back home.
In the meantime, i'm very curious about the experiences of fellow pentaxians.
I am sure that many others would be interested as well...

One more thing, did anybody try the 120mm with a digital camera?
I guess that CA shouldn't be such a great problem

cheers

Paolo


Last edited by cyberjunkie; 06-02-2014 at 04:59 AM.
06-02-2014, 06:24 AM   #2
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I used to own the F version of the 85mm 2.8 Soft lens.

It's potentially a very nice lens. It's sharp when stopped down beyond the soft effect and produces nice images when you have strong specular highlights. However there are a few issues with it (and these are why I sold mine in the end). My review here explains my thoughts.
06-02-2014, 09:33 AM - 1 Like   #3
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Its good to see a photographer with similar appreciation of soft focus and ancient lenses.


Im surprised however at what you say about doublet soft focus lenses. My own research shows that doublets were abandoned sometime during the early part of the 19th century and triplets were used thereafter in various designs.


The Cooke triplet was according to my information the soft focus lens of choice after its design in 1882 and cooke triplets were widely manufactured by many lens makers from 1920 through to 1970 often at the cheaper budget end typically in m42 after 1955.


The later designs of Planar, Tessar, Pancolar, et al were sharper performers and preferred, but a significant number of smaller manufacturers still made triplets for 35mm cameras. The likes of Photax, Paragon, Ludwig, Hanimar, Isco Steinhill Schacht, Meyer, all produced triplets and these all produce soft focus images of varying characteristics.


I had assumed that doublets would have continued to be a significant part of early photographic lens choices, and searched for information about the use of these designs, but found nothing. So im very interested in your comments that doublet lenses were used to create soft focus images.


I too as im sure you've noticed am driven by soft focus as in my opinion the images are unsurpassed for beauty and cannot be recreated by any means other than a genuine soft focus lens.


I have found that the triplets produced in large numbers a few of which I am privileged to own do deliver beautiful soft focus images with typical soft focus "glow".


Have a look at the Steinhill Munchen 50, the Shacht Travenar 50, and the Meyer Domiplan.


As im sure your must be aware cooke triplets must have a correctly aligned rear element or the lens is a dog and the traditional cooke triplet carries external adjustment screws for this very purpose, the domiplan and steinheil often show this characteristic of misaligned rear element. That's why the domiplan is usually condemned as very poor lens. Im convinced that in almost every case the domiplan simply need re calibrating, or the photographer is expecting a razor sharp image but is looking at a soft focus image and is unaware of it.


I know the steinheil carries the external adjustment screws to adjust and calibrate the rear element, the Schacht does not. I haven't had the opportunity to examine the domiplan.


The upside is due to lack of knowledge and general lack of interest, good soft focus triplets are available for next to nothing on ebay and in photographic shops hidden and unrecognised amongst the in my opinion inferior Nikons, Canons, Pentaxes, Olympus, Tamron, etc etc. One word of warning, it is common to see stuck aperture diaphagms in these old lenses and even misaligned elements due to previous disassembly by clueless individuals.


When people look at my images taken with a tessar or planar, a takumar or Helios, they enthuse about the detail the sharpness the clarity of the image. When they look at an image taken with a triplet, they simply say one thing "Beautiful"
06-02-2014, 11:42 PM   #4
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The doublet was alive and kicking till.. yesterday. The two last sf lenses are the Fuji SF and the Imagon. The former a triplet, the latter a doublet. MANY super expensive and super desiderabile 20th century lenses were doublets as well.

Cheers

Paolo

06-03-2014, 12:38 AM   #5
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Pentax also did a 28mm soft focus lens
06-03-2014, 07:23 AM   #6
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I'll be the first person to suggest something that isn't a camera lens.

Have you tried NIK software plugins? (Now owned by Google).
They have a soft focus emulation in Color FX Pro 4 that I actually found to be very nice.

It may be worth looking into a software solution.
While it may not have the charm of an actual soft focus lens, it will definitely be much simpler.

Video Demonstration of the Soft Focus:
06-03-2014, 07:33 AM - 1 Like   #7
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an other new possibility is to combine for examble the DA*55 with the new HD DA 1.4 AW Rear Converter. You get very creamy bokeh and a soft dreamy effect used with f2.4

06-03-2014, 09:10 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by cyberjunkie Quote
Then i found a K version (85mm f/2.2) reasonably priced, from Japan. Apparently the only reasonably priced examples are available from Japan, which is not a surprise (Japan made), but i found that unexpectedly the highest priced ones were the F and FA models.
A few years ago when I was looking at these lens, the K version models were always harder to find on the used market and more expensive. The F version was cheapest, and that's what I ended up buying. It's actually a very nice lenses, well made with some of the best dampening of the focus ring that I've ever run across with an AF lens. It also came with a metal, reversible hood that must have been specially designed for this specific lens. Nowadays a hood like that would easily cost over $100.

I bought the lens primarily for making artistic close-up shots of flowers and the like, and also to serve as a portrait lens for some of my older female relatives. I haven't used the lens much for portraits, but a week ago at my mother's 80th birthday, I had an opportunity to give it a good run. I took a few shots at f4, but, fearing that they might turn out too soft, I took most of the shots at f4.7 and even some at f5.6. As it turned out, the f4 shots came out the best -- really stunning beautiful. I simply don't have the PP skills to come even close to duplicating the effect in post.

Another thing I've noticed about the Pentax soft focus lenses: they have superb color rendering -- as good as any Pentax lenses. I see the F 85 soft as not merely a portrait lens, but as a specialty art lens, capable of beautiful rendering of richly colored objects.

06-04-2014, 01:19 AM   #9
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would you like to show some pictures of that shooting? Would like to see them.
06-04-2014, 04:24 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by northcoastgreg Quote

I see the F 85 soft as not merely a portrait lens, but as a specialty art lens, capable of beautiful rendering of richly colored objects.
At the time of neo-pictorialism, soft focus lenses were used for many different subjects.
Especially for landscapes.
No surprise that you are doing the same things nowadays.
I guess it's a matter of taste. Each photographer has his own photographic eye.
If a specialized tool is used to enhance your photographic vision, that's a very good thing.
If it's just a gimmick, it would surprise at first, then you'd grow tired of the effect very soon...
In the end, all that matters is being able to use the tools, and refrain from being used by them (that means going after the "effect", and being content with it).
That's much more true with fish-eye lenses!

ciao

P

---------- Post added 04-06-14 at 01:25 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by beachgardener Quote
Pentax also did a 28mm soft focus lens
Didn't remember about that!
Was it for the 110 camera?

Thanks

P
06-04-2014, 04:37 AM   #11
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not sure what camera, but the lens is a FA SMC Pentax-FA 28mm F2.8 Soft Reviews - FA Prime Lenses - Pentax Lens Reviews & Lens Database
06-04-2014, 04:38 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by pid Quote
an other new possibility is to combine for examble the DA*55 with the new HD DA 1.4 AW Rear Converter. You get very creamy bokeh and a soft dreamy effect used with f2.4
It makes sense.
I've read the manual of the old 85mm f/2.2 MF. Pentax suggests to use the lens with ANY of the "A" teleconverters (1.4x S, 1.4x L, 2x S, 2x L).
AFAIK, it's one of the very few manuals (only one?) which actually ADVISE to use a teleconverter. If i remember correctly, Pentax reported a softer effect.
None of the four converters was especially recommended, so i get that all of them are fine, and work equally well.
As soon as i can, i will try both grey converters, the 1.4x and 2x "L". I have both of them cause they work very, very well with my Pentax-A* 300mm f/2.8.
In the manual i found there is no reference to later converters, like the 1.7x AF, or the new 1.4x you mention.
I don't see why they should not work very well.

cheers

Paolo
06-04-2014, 08:11 AM   #13
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I also have the 67 120/3.5 and K85/2.2 soft lenses.

I find the 6x7 120mm focal length more useful (62mm equivalent 35mm format FL) for flowers and other subjects. If you want to use it for portraits just add the 1.4 TC and you get a traditional soft FL.

If find the K85/2.2 a bit long (on film) for general use.

Phil.
06-04-2014, 11:22 AM   #14
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theraven


No im not interested in a software solution at all.


Your software approach takes 20 minutes messing with the image in a softfocus image editor. My Soft focus lens, just works at the press of a button. I just press the shutter. That's all.


If I have 20 soft focus images to process in software it will take a day of messing about in software and you end up with an unconvincing result.


How is this simpler than just clicking a shutter 20 times using the right lens.
06-04-2014, 02:29 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Imageman Quote
theraven


No im not interested in a software solution at all.
Your software approach takes 20 minutes messing with the image in a softfocus image editor. My Soft focus lens, just works at the press of a button. I just press the shutter. That's all.
If I have 20 soft focus images to process in software it will take a day of messing about in software and you end up with an unconvincing result.
How is this simpler than just clicking a shutter 20 times using the right lens.
I suppose that depends on your philosophy.
I prefer to add a soft focus after the fact.

If you're spending 20 minutes to add an effect in NIK software, you either don't know what you're doing or you're doing it wrong.
It takes me about 2-3 minutes in lightroom and about 1-2 minutes using NIK software.
Granted, when you're learning the software its going to take longer (but when learning something new, speed is the LAST thing you learn).
I'm not exaggerating here either. I've used the soft focus effect multiple times before and only spend about a minute doing so.

I recognize what you're saying. Don't follow my methods, follow what works for YOU.
If you prefer mechanical over the software, go for it.
Personally, I prefer the software as I found the effect to be IDENTICAL in quality.
However, with NIK software, I can apply the effect to any lens I own and adjust the effect AFTER I've taken the exposure.
That subtle 5% of tweaking after the fact can go a long way.

If you love soft focus lenses, by all means use them.
I just wanted to highlight that the software has come a LONG way.

Another example is graduated neutral density filters.
These days they take too long to setup and it actually takes LESS time to add one as an effect in software.
I also then have additional control.

I've used soft focus lenses in the past. I spent more time trying to get the "soft focus" effect right then I do in a software emulation.
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