Monday, July 30, 2012

SMC Takumar 55mm Lens Review

I Think He Saw Me

As you know, I have a strong preference for using older Manual Focus Prime Lenses on my Canon DSLR. I've also been delighted to find that my 7D is the best camera I've owned for doing so, because it has the best possible Optical Viewfinder installed on any APS Sensor camera on the market, being the biggest, with near 100% coverage, as well as being made with a specific amount of grain on the prism component to make focusing really visible to the eye. In fact, manual focussing isn't near as difficult as it sounds when compared to Auto-Focus. With AF, by the time you get the right focus point selected and all that stuff that goes with it, like whether you need a single-shot, or automatic follow-focus, you can have your subject in focus and ready to shoot with a good manual focus lens. Also, with a deep aperture setting like f8 or f11, you can easily pre-focus a manual focus lens to it's hyper-focal distance, making everything from a distance 10 feet in front of you all the way to infinity to be in focus, so you don't need to worry about being in focus at all - simply pre-focus and you're ready to go. That's how I took the picture of the young couple on their 4-Wheeler. I had to be real quick with this one - they had just come up onto the highway and turned in front of me, at speed, and I had no time to deal with focusing at all - even with AF I probably would've missed the essence of this shot. Thank goodness for manual hyper-focal pre-focusing!

I snapped a number of pictures a couple of evenings ago, with the intent of giving my Pentax SMC Takumar 55mm lens a good test - and here are those pictures. I'm not going to make any dumb statements like some lens reviewers do by saying these good old lenses have a "film-like" quality - just because they come from film cameras, they don't assume any such quality. In fact, I would have to say that if anything has a film-like quality, it's the 7D camera itself. At one time, I owned a Rebel XTi (EOS 400D) and a Nikon D70 at the same time, and used the same manual lenses on both of them. What I saw from that was the Nikon was the clear winner when it came to being "film-like". It made much nicer, richer colours, and somehow, rounded objects like tree trunks appeared much rounder and realistic with the old D70. I've since sold both cameras for more money than I had paid for them, and am down to one camera, the Canon EOS 7D, which I think takes on those image qualities of the older Nikon very well.

The Takumar lenses which Pentax put out in the '70's were "Super Multi-Coated", that's what the SMC stood for, and were considered to be extremely good. This 55mm focal length would have been within the range of normal eyesight for an angle of view on a 35mm Film SLR, and would be the same on a full frame SLR, but on my APS sized sensor DSLR, the focal length is 55 X 1.6 = 88mm, which makes it a "mild telephoto". Experience wise, you need to step back quite a few paces to get in a whole picture of a steam-roller, for instance:

Standing Back About 30 Feet

To put this in perspective, I had to stand back about 30 ft. according to the lens's distance scale, but with a Full Frame camera, this would have been reduced to around 18 ft. to get a similar picture. This has it's advantages, in that there are lot's of old 50mm prime lenses on the market at low prices, and these in fact become mildly telephoto, but not so much as to create any obvious telephoto distortion. It's great for street photography, because it almost doubles the distance you can be from your "victim", and in fact, with these lenses being so incredibly sharp, you can shoot your street photos using the full camera resolution (mine is 18 M-Pixels), from way far away, and then crop from as little as 2 or 3 M-Pixels and still have a good sharp street shot of people who probably didn't notice you taking their picture as you were hiding behind a corner of a building. (Notwithstanding the ethical issues of taking pictures of strangers). 

The SMC Takumar lens is very compact, and therefore lightweight, having only a 49mm front filter mount, and yet, it's aperture opening goes to f1.8, making it an ideal night shooter too. At f1.8 of course, it has a very shallow depth of field, and with a six-bladed aperture, offers reasonably nice "bokeh" (the out of focus blur effect). A rule of thumb here is that the more blades your aperture has, the nicer the effect will be, which is why my lovely Russian made Jupiter-9 85mm lens, with it's 11 blades, is my "bokeh king"). This Takumar's blades are rounded however, which keeps the aperture more circle-like, making the effect much better than with cheaper lenses with six flat blades, which tends to make little "stop signs" in your blurred effect - not cool.

I find the Takumar exceptionally easy to focus, because of it's inherent sharpness (made possible by it's super multi-coating treatment), and how it allows a lot of light into the camera, making your focus very clearly visible in the viewfinder. Also, if you choose to use the camera's focus assist (an audible beep and / or a visible flash of red, or blinking green dot, depending on camera model), this one works well al the way down to f8 where the focus assist is no longer reliable. Remember that the focus assist only works if you've purchased a "chipped" lens adapter, which retains some of the camera body's automated features, like Aperture Priority, and Phase Focus Detect. If you have a non-chipped adapter, you must use Full Manual Mode, and you have no focus assist. 

I find the SMC Takumar 55 to be wonderful, with rich colours, deep contrast, and a great presentation of texture, which gives that film-like "roundness" to objects I mentioned above.

The best way to buy a lens like this is to look for old film SLR package deals in your local market classifieds (like Kijiji). I bought my Takumar 55 earlier this year as part of a $140 package deal that included 2 Spotmatic Cameras, 1 Minolta SLR with lens, the Bushnell 28mm, Bushnell 90-210 Zoom, a Vivitar 70-210 Zoom, 1 SMC Takumar 200mm Telephoto, 1 set of Close-Up Filters and several other filters of various sizes. So, I suppose this would put the price of the lens lone at about $15.00, and it's a far superior lens to that plastic Canon EF-50 f1.8 that sells new for $139.00.


  1. Greetings... I got to your blog from your post on the Photivo Flickr Group. Enjoyed your article on Takumar lenses. I use three SMC Takumars on my Sony SLT-A65 (which has some great features for using manual lenses!) and love them. They are great lenses, and going manual makes you slow down and think about how you are actually using the lenses qualities. Fun. Nice blog too, btw!

  2. Thank you Al, and welcome. The Takumar's are hard to beat, and so nicely compact too!


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