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03-02-2020, 06:02 AM   #1
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Is old glass really that good on DSLR

I have a number of old lenses amongst which the F F1.4/50mm, A F1.4/50mm, F4/K200mm, Takumar Bayonet F2.5/135mm and the F3.5/35-105. I have tried all these lenses on my different camera's: Samsung GX-10, K-7, K-01 and the K-3II. The results are always the same. They are soft, very soft I would say. A professional photographer once told me that they are all designed for film camera's and that it is a problem to adjust digital camera's, that is the sensors, to that old glass. So it is easier for the manufacturers to design glass that is adjusted to digital camera's. They all show sharp results through the viewfinder but the result is soft.
For me the old glass was a reason to buy the Samsung at the time, I was under the impression I could use all that old glass. But unfortunately, all that new glass is so much better than the old ones on a DSLR.
So, is there a reason why old glass gives a much softer result than new ones? Is there indeed a technical reason for it or is it just "a fairy tale"? Or do they give better results if I used a K-1?
And to be honest: I shot a lot of pictures in the film era and I am not inclined to start again with a film camera now I have experienced all the joys of digital. The only lens that gives a sharp result is the F F4/28-70, but that one is a bit dull on the colour front.

03-02-2020, 06:07 AM   #2
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A lens is either sharp on both film and digital sensor or soft on both.
The point simply is, that modern sensors have a huge resolution cheap films did not have (better ones can still be impressive though).
Modern lenses are calculated using computers, have advanced production methods, many years of experience advantage and modern buyers are generally more demanding on lenses, so they are often not going into production if not at the "modern standard".
Geberally spwaking, modern lenses are imho better, but also often much bigger.
03-02-2020, 06:09 AM - 2 Likes   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by AfterPentax Quote
I have a number of old lenses amongst which the F F1.4/50mm, A F1.4/50mm, F4/K200mm, Takumar Bayonet F2.5/135mm and the F3.5/35-105. I have tried all these lenses on my different camera's: Samsung GX-10, K-7, K-01 and the K-3II. The results are always the same. They are soft, very soft I would say. A professional photographer once told me that they are all designed for film camera's and that it is a problem to adjust digital camera's, that is the sensors, to that old glass. So it is easier for the manufacturers to design glass that is adjusted to digital camera's. They all show sharp results through the viewfinder but the result is soft.
For me the old glass was a reason to buy the Samsung at the time, I was under the impression I could use all that old glass. But unfortunately, all that new glass is so much better than the old ones on a DSLR.
So, is there a reason why old glass gives a much softer result than new ones? Is there indeed a technical reason for it or is it just "a fairy tale"? Or do they give better results if I used a K-1?
And to be honest: I shot a lot of pictures in the film era and I am not inclined to start again with a film camera now I have experienced all the joys of digital. The only lens that gives a sharp result is the F F4/28-70, but that one is a bit dull on the colour front.
No, it's terrible! Leave it alone.
03-02-2020, 06:21 AM - 7 Likes   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by AfterPentax Quote
I have a number of old lenses amongst which the F F1.4/50mm, A F1.4/50mm, F4/K200mm, Takumar Bayonet F2.5/135mm and the F3.5/35-105. I have tried all these lenses on my different camera's: Samsung GX-10, K-7, K-01 and the K-3II. The results are always the same. They are soft, very soft I would say. A professional photographer once told me that they are all designed for film camera's and that it is a problem to adjust digital camera's, that is the sensors, to that old glass. So it is easier for the manufacturers to design glass that is adjusted to digital camera's. They all show sharp results through the viewfinder but the result is soft.
For me the old glass was a reason to buy the Samsung at the time, I was under the impression I could use all that old glass. But unfortunately, all that new glass is so much better than the old ones on a DSLR.
So, is there a reason why old glass gives a much softer result than new ones? Is there indeed a technical reason for it or is it just "a fairy tale"? Or do they give better results if I used a K-1?
And to be honest: I shot a lot of pictures in the film era and I am not inclined to start again with a film camera now I have experienced all the joys of digital. The only lens that gives a sharp result is the F F4/28-70, but that one is a bit dull on the colour front.
I have at home a 20x30cm print (from a K-7 image) of our cat:

The image looks every bit as detailed at A4 size, despite it being a cheapo supermarket print.

Attached is a serious crop of the eye. The picture was taken at *I think* f/2 on a Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7. If you think it's a sharp image, then you may want to consider one of the following:
A) The PDAF module of your camera needs adjustment for the focus confirmation (Can be solved via AF Fine Adjust - Apply All).
B) Your manual focus technique is not accounting for the focus screen's resolution. It cannot show you the true DOF of the image below f/2.8 so you have to get focus "in between" the limits of the green hexagon.
Have you tried focusing via magnified live view? If it improves the results you get, then it's a misfocus problem. A problem with the lenses is also possible.

If you don't consider the image to be sharp enough, I'm afraid you may have to lower your expectations...

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03-02-2020, 06:41 AM - 1 Like   #5
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There couldt be something wrong with the camera, the lenses or your technique. Old glass can be very sharp. Maybe you can post some sample images?
03-02-2020, 06:54 AM - 1 Like   #6
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I have the Takumar Bayonet F2.5/135mm and the A F3.5/35-105. Both are decently sharp lenses. They are prone to flare and CA, but sharpness isn't a problem.

QuoteOriginally posted by sergysergy Quote
There couldt be something wrong with the camera, the lenses or your technique.
Lots of older lenses seem to have trash filters that have been stuck on them for years. Using garbage quality UV or 'protection' filters will kill even the sharpest, newest DFA lens.
03-02-2020, 07:11 AM - 1 Like   #7
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sample images, with EXIF data included would help, but good glass is always good glass...
03-02-2020, 07:13 AM - 1 Like   #8
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I have mostly old legacy glass much of which is M42 and when focused properly haven't had a problem with sharpness. Here is a heavy crop taken with my M42 mount Vivitar 135mm f/2.3, there is this one of the blue barn near Elko, MN taken with the SMC A 50/1.2. If we want to go a bit older here is one I took of the ruins of the Ramsay mill in Hastings, MN with the S-M-C 17mm f/4 fisheye takumar which isn't considered to be a very sharp lens and the down sampling I did here was when I didn't understand the differences and used the no halo option in GIMP so it is softer than the full size image. If we go a bit newer here is one I took a couple weeks ago with the late film era Sigma 300mm f/4 APO Macro. Or if one wants to have some fun here is one I took a while back with the S-M-C 28mm f/3.5 Takumar reverse mounted but with a crop that is close to 100%, that micro chip is 6mm x 4mm.

My general impression of older glass is that it often has its quirks but in general even old glass like the M42 takumars can be very good once you understand it and if you aren't above 200mm or under about 28mm. Using newer 300mm+ lenses usually results in better results and the same for ultra wides as they took a bit longer to figure out. Your 200/4 has the potential to be a good performer and the pentax lenses of that design are one of the better starter astrophotography lenses and in capable hands can produce results like this when used on a equatorial mount. Astrophotography is probably the most punishing type of photography as it will show every defect but the various pentax 200/4 lenses that have the same optical formula as yours do very well with it when stopped down a bit to f/5.6. Careful focusing is the key with them as is getting the settings right, especially if they don't tell the camera their focal length so that you aren't making things worse with shake reduction.

03-02-2020, 07:22 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by AfterPentax Quote
Is old glass really that good on DSLR
Old glass is often as soft as the price you paid for it. Pentax K-1 doesn't turn a cheap old soft lens into a sharp one. Some old lenses are sharp , so aren't, this has to be checked in lens review sections. Usually, old sharp glass is not very cheap.
03-02-2020, 07:26 AM - 1 Like   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Serkevan Quote
I have at home a 20x30cm print (from a K-7 image) of our cat:

The image looks every bit as detailed at A4 size, despite it being a cheapo supermarket print.

Attached is a serious crop of the eye. The picture was taken at *I think* f/2 on a Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7. If you think it's a sharp image, then you may want to consider one of the following:
A) The PDAF module of your camera needs adjustment for the focus confirmation (Can be solved via AF Fine Adjust - Apply All).
B) Your manual focus technique is not accounting for the focus screen's resolution. It cannot show you the true DOF of the image below f/2.8 so you have to get focus "in between" the limits of the green hexagon.
Have you tried focusing via magnified live view? If it improves the results you get, then it's a misfocus problem. A problem with the lenses is also possible.

If you don't consider the image to be sharp enough, I'm afraid you may have to lower your expectations...
Along time ago I did a 35mm test that included the the SMC Super-Tac 35mm 2.4. It took me a lot of exposures to get a good image, but the one I got was rated very highly in a poll by forum members. At least 1/4 of the forum voters preferred the old glass over the DA 35 2.4 and a bunch of other 35mm lenses. Maybe you just aren't one of those guys. The odds are against it.

Last edited by normhead; 03-02-2020 at 08:04 AM.
03-02-2020, 07:32 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by normhead Quote
Along time ago I did a 35mm test that included the the SMC Super-Tac 35mm 2.4. It took me a lot of exposures to get a good image, but the one I got was rated very highly in a poll by forum members. A least 1/4 of the forum voters preferred the old glass over the DA 35 2.4 an bunch of other 35mm lenses. Maybe you just aren't one of those guys. The odds are against it.
But but but that cat picture is probably one of my favourite photos!

I like old glass a lot... In fact, I was rocking the M20/4 in India for two weeks last month and I'm nothing short of impressed with it. Also, my girlfriend and I universally agree that the M50/1.7 beats the living soul out of the Canon EF 50/1.8ii in terms of bokeh and overal rendering, I'm considering the F or FA 50/1.7 just to have an easier/faster time exposing and AF for when I feel lazy don't judge me
03-02-2020, 07:54 AM - 2 Likes   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by normhead Quote
Along time ago I did a 35mm test that included the the SMC Super-Tac 35mm 2.4. It took me a lot of exposures to get a good image
First, it's manual focus, obviously if miss-focused won't give a sharp image.
Second, those lenses have less overall contrast which can be mistaken for low sharpness, global contrast can be improved digitally.
Third, any incident light will wash out contrast on those old lenses. With lenses of that era, photographers were shooting with the sun in their back (usual practice).
03-02-2020, 07:59 AM - 9 Likes   #13
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Usually the guys who like old glass are paying more attention to the rendering and not so much to absolute sharpness. There is a myth that absolute sharpness creates the most likeable images. My polls have shown over and over again, it's not true. Many prefer a certain type of rendering, and often old glass can provide something modern glass can't. There are guys who check the sharpness, then decide if they like the image. Then they reduce the image in size not realizing that if they'd reduced the image in size before they decided whether or not they like it they would have preferred the rendering of a softer lens.

The only lens I've post in my tests that didn't get a lot of love was my FAJ-18-35. Even my kit lenses have held thier own (selected by the number of people who represent the size of group that would be average for the lenses tested.) And reduced in size, my FA 35-80 won one of the polls although it didn't rate well pixel peeping.

There is little that is as frustrating as the constant barrage of sharper is better people who completely dismiss the value of how a lens renders and image. There seems to be this theory that if you don't know how the lenses render, buy the sharpest. It's a lazy man's way to do it, but far from the best way, unless you like buying lenses you don't really like.

Personally, I would pick up my FA 35-80 instead of my DA 35 2.4. Even though it's much sharper, I don't like the rendering of the 35 2.4, and we've reached a point where most people can't see the difference between a good lens and cheap lens reduced to 3840x 2160.

The only lens I've found that almost no one prefers would be the FAJ 18-35. I'd ask those who are picky about sharpness as opposed to rendering to avoid broadcasting thier opinions. By my guess based on my polls, most of the forum prefer softer lenses with better rendering. The sharpest lens is never going to receive more than at most 30% preference in blind tests. You're far more likely to prefer a "softer" lens by about 2:1.

There is a lot of nonsense out there.

Most of the people who buy lenses for their sharpness would buy something else with more thorough testing based on what they actually do with their images.

I look at the rendering of my FAJ 18-35 and the rendering of sharper glass, and while the FAJ is noticeably softer, reduced to 3840x 2160 for display on a 4k TV, it's images have a character I quite enjoy, for $100 CAD. The differences are ridiculously small and confined to how much of a sign in the picture can be read as the print gets smaller. really, quibbling over absolute sharpness is ridiculous. Stick with "do I like the way it renders at the size I want to display it, and you'll be a lot happier and save yourself a lot of money.

I know there are those conceited enough to think they have to have every image they take of quality that can be blown up to 12 feet by 8 feet, but taking lens purchasing advice from those guys will cost you a lot of money for nothing if all your images are reduced in size before display.

I do of course realize that my testing is never going to get me invited up on stage at a photo expo by lens manufacturers promoting new lenses. I can live with that.

Last edited by normhead; 03-02-2020 at 08:28 AM.
03-02-2020, 08:22 AM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by AfterPentax Quote
I have a number of old lenses amongst which the F F1.4/50mm, A F1.4/50mm, F4/K200mm, Takumar Bayonet F2.5/135mm and the F3.5/35-105. I have tried all these lenses on my different camera's: Samsung GX-10, K-7, K-01 and the K-3II. The results are always the same. They are soft, very soft I would say. A professional photographer once told me that they are all designed for film camera's and that it is a problem to adjust digital camera's, that is the sensors, to that old glass.
F F1.4/50mm - this autofocus lens should focus reasonably well, but shots made wide open through f2.8 may show a lot of softness compared to the DFA 50 1.4. The lens will also show larger vignetting and ca/fringing. However it should be sharp at higher 5.6 or so. If it isn't try love view focusing.

A F1.4/50mm - similar to above, but manual focus. Manual focus of fast appeture lenses is very difficult to achieve without practice. The same focusing screen that allows a slow lens to look bright in the viewfinder is pretty terrible for manual focus. Magnified love view is pretty good but it takes practice. Replacement of the focus screen and calibration are options to improve results.

F4/K200mm - manual focus issues noted above, it can improve using good methods, but often a tripod may be needed for love view based focus.

Takumar Bayonet F2.5/135mm - as above. This lens may not be as sharp some variation exists in user reports.

F3.5/35-105 - there are multiple versions. Non auto focus versions will work as discussed above but it will not be as complex as the 50mm due to a less critical focus due to narrower f stop. The A series manual focus version of the lens is reportedly very very sharp. It is often called a "stack of primes". The solutions to poor focus are the same as the 50 from above. The F type autofocus version shares similar issues to the f 50 listed above.

I can also point you to this to dispel the myth that older lenses aren't capable, read this:

Nikon's 'Worst' and 'Best' Zoom Lenses Compared

The key is that there may be sharper lenses - the DFA 50 is s razor blade - but the lenses you have should be acceptably sharp with the right techniques. (stop down a little, use one of the enhanced focus options listed in the thread, avoid super high contrast to limit purple fringing, etc.)

To sum this up, your lenses could be damaged, a filter could be softening results, wide open performance could be erratic due to difficulty of obtaining focus accurately, pdaf sensor could needed cleaning, fine focus adjustment may be needed, etc. Most people have found these steps to make most older lenses results sharp enough to be quite usable.
03-02-2020, 08:25 AM - 1 Like   #15
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It is also important to point out sharpness perception is impacted by contrast. The wide open performance of the 50 1.4 lenses listed and perhaps the others will be reduced. Some lighting conditions may also limit contrast (flare for example).
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