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06-13-2007, 07:38 PM - 1 Like   #1
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On Lens Testing (Or, Is This 50mm Lens Any Good?)

I love comparing things, especially when it comes to food, drink, and photography. When it comes to lenses, there are generally two types of reviews - one of mostly test charts/brick walls, and others of mostly pictures. I like to read both, but sometimes it takes the combination to paint a full picture of a lens' capabilities.

One of the most important things (to me) is how does one lens compare to another? If you only have one lens, then it doesn't really matter how many lines it resolves per mm - it is the only lens you have! So in order to build any kind of description of one lens, it needs to be compared to other lenses.

Here is where the controlled-environment tests like Klaus' excellent photozone reviews works well. This is also where informal reviews fail - you are never going to get the exact same light, framing, etc. outside of a lab. But the reason they fail is because there is no absolute baseline - you are looking at each lens in its own vaccuum. This is why comparing lenses at the same time can make a photo-driven review work - it combines the controlled-environment results across uncontrolled environments.

I decided to match up 16 of my 'normal' (50mm-58mm focal length) lenses in a one-on-one elimination-style tournament. This way, each individual comparison is valid one against the other, but the absolute comparison across matches is irrelevant - each 'winner' will advance to another round of matches, until there is one lens left.


Here are the lenses in my new 'Normal Lens Shootout' comparison:
Pentax auto-focus: FA 50/1.4, F 50/1.7
Pentax manual focus: A 50/1.2, M 50/1.7, M 50/2
SMC Takumar (M42): SMC Tak 50/1.4, SMC Tak 55/2
Super-Multi-Coated Takumar (M42): S-M-C Tak 50/1.4, S-M-C Tak 55/1.8
Other Takumars (M42): Super-Tak 50/1.4, Auto-Tak 55/1.8
Non-Pentax manual focus lenses (all Pentax or M42 mount): Nikkor 50/1.4, Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5, Sears Auto 55/1.4, Fujinon 55/1.8, Helios 44M-4 58/2.

I ranked the above 16 lenses roughly according to use, and then placed them in a single-elimination bracket. I'll be going through the bracket in the upcoming weeks to hopefully arrive at the 'best of the best' of my collection.

I already completed the first matchup of the SMC Pentax-A 1:1.2 50mm against the KMZ Helios 44M-4 1:2 58mm - you can check out my analysis here.

Follow the progress in my Normal Lens Shootout gallery. ("June Madness", anyone?!) I hope you enjoy it!

--Sean



06-13-2007, 08:12 PM   #2
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This is hysterical! (Sorry) I haven't had a chance to read in depth yet, but there's tons of info there. How long do you think it'll take to get to the Final Four, and can we place bets somewhere on what the results will be?

PS Which two lenses did you leave out and why?
06-13-2007, 08:15 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by betsypdx Quote
This is hysterical! (Sorry) I haven't had a chance to read in depth yet, but there's tons of info there. How long do you think it'll take to get to the Final Four, and can we place bets somewhere on what the results will be?

PS Which two lenses did you leave out and why?
LOL, I hadn't thought about betting! Should I call Vegas?

(I left out the second Super-Takumar 50/1.4 because it was redundant and the Yashica 50/2 because it's pretty bad.)
06-13-2007, 08:25 PM   #4
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LBA gone wild

Whew, I though I had too many overlapping lenses....

OK so lets start the betting pool. My money ($10) is on the FA 50/1.4 (obvious or what) 2nd ($5.00) (since the Pent A/M 1.4 is missing) has to be the M 50/1.7. The results should be interesting


Last edited by Peter Zack; 06-14-2007 at 07:08 AM.
06-13-2007, 09:41 PM   #5
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I'm looking forward to this:-). Cool idea Carpents.
06-13-2007, 11:05 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by carpents Quote
I love comparing things, especially when it comes to food, drink, and photography. When it comes to lenses, there are generally two types of reviews - one of mostly test charts/brick walls, and others of mostly pictures. I like to read both, but sometimes it takes the combination to paint a full picture of a lens' capabilities.

One of the most important things (to me) is how does one lens compare to another? If you only have one lens, then it doesn't really matter how many lines it resolves per mm - it is the only lens you have! So in order to build any kind of description of one lens, it needs to be compared to other lenses.

Here is where the controlled-environment tests like Klaus' excellent photozone reviews works well. This is also where informal reviews fail - you are never going to get the exact same light, framing, etc. outside of a lab. But the reason they fail is because there is no absolute baseline - you are looking at each lens in its own vaccuum. This is why comparing lenses at the same time can make a photo-driven review work - it combines the controlled-environment results across uncontrolled environments.

I decided to match up 16 of my 'normal' (50mm-58mm focal length) lenses in a one-on-one elimination-style tournament. This way, each individual comparison is valid one against the other, but the absolute comparison across matches is irrelevant - each 'winner' will advance to another round of matches, until there is one lens left.


Here are the lenses in my new 'Normal Lens Shootout' comparison:
Pentax auto-focus: FA 50/1.4, F 50/1.7
Pentax manual focus: A 50/1.2, M 50/1.7, M 50/2
SMC Takumar (M42): SMC Tak 50/1.4, SMC Tak 55/2
Super-Multi-Coated Takumar (M42): S-M-C Tak 50/1.4, S-M-C Tak 55/1.8
Other Takumars (M42): Super-Tak 50/1.4, Auto-Tak 55/1.8
Non-Pentax manual focus lenses (all Pentax or M42 mount): Nikkor 50/1.4, Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5, Sears Auto 55/1.4, Fujinon 55/1.8, Helios 44M-4 58/2.

I ranked the above 16 lenses roughly according to use, and then placed them in a single-elimination bracket. I'll be going through the bracket in the upcoming weeks to hopefully arrive at the 'best of the best' of my collection.

I already completed the first matchup of the SMC Pentax-A 1:1.2 50mm against the KMZ Helios 44M-4 1:2 58mm - you can check out my analysis here.

Follow the progress in my Normal Lens Shootout gallery. ("June Madness", anyone?!) I hope you enjoy it!

--Sean
Of course we enjoy it. But, there are no Leica and Olympus lenses, not even the common Zeiss. Hmm. Maybe it has something to do with the Pentax register distance. Pity though. For this grand 50mm shootout a cheap used Canon camera could have been used. Or it would have been blasphemic perhaps. But enjoy it I will. I have already seen the A50/1.2 beat the Helios. No surprises this far, maybe the Helios did better than expected.

And, can I guess some inspiration from the 16-9 site here? A world cup!

What I wonder is if the different OOF highlights seen here in round 1 indicates that the aperture openings not always are the same... hey, it's a 58 agains a 50, OK!

Hey Sean, I think you really are at the qualifying rounds as of yet. Here is hope for a well carried out tournament with a judge that never gets tired!

(Somebody placed a bet on the FA50/1.4... tss tss - those money are lost).

all the best to you Sean - this is the most interesting post for quite some time, not counting picture posts of course.
06-14-2007, 02:33 AM   #7
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I've got to agree with Jonas. This is going to be interesting.
06-14-2007, 04:42 AM   #8
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Really keen to see how A50 f1.2 plays out in this comparison!

Only you have this range of 50mm lenses like this. Really keen to see the end result. I wanna bet on A 50 f1.2

06-14-2007, 05:05 AM   #9
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Thanks, guys - I'm glad there is some interest. It's going to take a while, since I spent about a week on the first match, but things should flow a bit faster now that I settled on a format.
06-14-2007, 05:17 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Jonas B Quote
Of course we enjoy it. But, there are no Leica and Olympus lenses, not even the common Zeiss. Hmm.
Didn't you get my e-mail cursing you for having all those great lenses?! (LOL)
Edit to add: My mailing address is...

I've been looking for Olympus OM and Leica R lenses for about a year to do a similar conversion that I did for the Nikkors. But I'm apparently too cheap to spend that much! Those two brands have really kept their value.
And Zeiss is such that you're paying for the name no matter how mediocre the lens. I doubt much that I'll ever get any of those.
(Side note - the Zeiss 85/1.4 for Minolta mount is a completely different lens from the crappy ZF one. Different optical formula and *much* better rendering!)

QuoteOriginally posted by Jonas B Quote
What I wonder is if the different OOF highlights seen here in round 1 indicates that the aperture openings not always are the same... hey, it's a 58 agains a 50, OK!
Yes, this is certainly a problem - f/8 isn't f/8 isn't f/8. For this set of lenses I don't think it matters much, but I originally tried this with my two 300mm lenses (Super-Tak 300/4 and a Tamron SP 300/2.8) but I found that the Tamron had 1-2 stops less DOF than the Super-Tak! It made it really hard to compare, so I just scrapped the idea with those lenses.

QuoteOriginally posted by Jonas B Quote
(Somebody placed a bet on the FA50/1.4... tss tss - those money are lost).
LOL! I'm pretty sure you're right.

Last edited by carpents; 06-14-2007 at 05:26 AM. Reason: To let Jonas know that he can ship his OM50/1.2 or Summilux any time...
06-14-2007, 05:30 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Peter Zack Quote
Whew, I though I had too many overlapping lenses....
My first prime was a 50/1.7 and it was love at first sight!

I've also been amassing these for over two years, back when you could get Pentax lenses for a song. I have the list somewhere, but I'd bet that 8 of these 16 lenses cost under $10 each. Some of them were free!
06-14-2007, 06:05 AM   #12
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I admire your patience, but when, in between all of this testing are you actually goint to take photo's?

I have 4 lenses that cover the "normal range.

50mm F2 XR Rikenon that came with my Ricoh XR-2s, a 50mm F1.4 SMC pentax, purchased used, a 28-105mm Pentax Power Zoom that came with my PZ1 and a 28-70mm Power zoom that I bought for $10 to experiment with converting non automatic lenses to automatic, only to discover that this Junk lens was in excellent condition except for the power zoom switch, which I disabled (I never used it even with the PZ1 anyway)

I use 2 of these, the F2 50 is of on interest.

The 28-70 for mostly indoor shots as it is faster than the 28-105, the 28-105 as a general outdoor lens and the F1.4 50mm for night shots

I have been pleased with the image quality of each, have different uses for each, and can't be bothered to try and find the "best performer" at 50mm.
06-14-2007, 06:48 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I admire your patience, but when, in between all of this testing are you actually goint to take photo's?
Don't worry about me - I have over 70,000 shots in the past 2+ years. I also completed a 'photo a day' project in 2005-2006 where I took a shot for 365 consecutive days - talk about requiring a lot of time and patience!
(My PaD gallery is here if you're interested.)

This was intended to also be a bit of fun, so please take it as such. It isn't going to answer any of life's great mysteries.
06-14-2007, 08:44 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
50mm F2 XR Rikenon that came with my Ricoh XR-2s
How do you rate this against Pentax 50mm primes (assuming you've had a chance to compare)? I picked up one of these Rikenons with an eBay camera purchase and was subsequently surprised to read that it was rumoured to be one of the sharpest 50mm prime lenses ever made. I haven't tried using mine yet (it's marred somewhat by the fact that pretty well all the figures have been rubbed off the distance scale, making it difficult to do stuff like hyperfocal focussing accurately). I also picked up a straight Rikenon 50mm f2 (i.e., no XR) with another camera and haven't been able to establish yet whether this is the same lens and just a change of naming, or whether it is from a lower spec range.
06-14-2007, 11:16 AM   #15
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Photo added...

For the voyeurs:


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