I know, there is no such thing as “best”, at least not in broad terms. First, best is subjective. Second, I think you have to be specific when using that word to describe anything.
I have managed to simplify my photo-kit over the last few years. When I was carrying around two massive Canon DSLRs I also carried a bag of heavy L lenses. Why? Because that is what I was told I needed to do if I wanted to be considered a professional photographer. Today I carry around a couple of mirrorless cameras and a handful vintage lenses. I couldn’t be happier.
Since discovering the Fujifilm X-E1 a few years back, I learned there was a whole other world of fantastic vintage glass waiting to be appreciated. The idea of using and owning glass from many different manufacturers wasn’t really practical before mirrorless cameras came along. In the film days, it was almost impossible.
The 50mm lens is a great focal length, perhaps my favorite focal length. I have a few different versions and I like them all for different reasons. The one thing you will notice in the images below, the image quality between them is so close you can hardly see the difference. The biggest differences between these lenses is light transmission a.k.a. t-stop. The Canon lets in more light at the same aperture as Konica Hexanon, but not by much. The Hexanon allows more light to pass through than Nikkor lens. I believe the most important thing is build quality.
I prefer the “feel” of the Konica, but if I need a lens for low light, I’m grabbing the Canon 50mm f1.4 FDn (I also have the 50mm f1.8 FDn). The Nikkor is no slouch in the build quality department.
The Canon FDn 50mm f1.4
In retrospect, I should have used the 50mm 1.8 version for this post. I tend to reach for the heavier f1.4 out of habit.
This lens is great, nice handling, great optics, and reasonable priced. The body of the lens is made of durable plastic, but still feels very sturdy. The bokeh is pretty nice too. This lens at f8 is unbeatable.
The Nikkor-H 50mm f2
This lens is just lovely. It’s all metal and shiny. I love the scalloped focusing ring. My Nikkor-H was made around 1970 but it feels like it was made by hand yesterday afternoon. It’s a nice lens with very subtle contrast and color rendition, but its un-coated lens elements don’t love harsh light coming through the front element. I picked this lens up for $8.00 at a thrift store. The best $8 I have ever spent. It’s a joy to focus and makes wonderful colors. This lens is not “perfect”, by any means. There’s slight vignetting and distortion. I really don’t notice much chromatic aberration. I love using this piece of glass.
The Konica AR Hexanon 50mm f1.7
This become my go to 50mm lens these days. I love the way it feels in my hands, I love the way it looks. Focus ring is great to use. The diamond pattern rubber around the focus ring is nice. It’s all metal body just feels good in the hands. The contrast and color are stunning too. The bokeh is lovely as well. The minimum focusing is about 1.7 feet, it could stand to be a little closer. That’s ok though.
The things I love about these lenses is subjective from photographer to photographer. Each one is different enough for me to justify owning all three.
Adapting vintage glass is not for everyone. I would go so far to say, it’s not for most people. Manual focusing takes practice, which takes time. I know a fair number of photographers that can’t live without auto-focus. There’s nothing wrong with that. Camera technology allows lots of options for all kinds of photographers.
Most of us got into photography because it was fun. I take pictures everyday and when I choose a camera and lens and walk out the door, I’m still having fun.
three frames, three lens. The same ISO, shutter speed, and fstop for each lens. Shot in JPEG in camera and with no post production.
Do you have a vintage camera or lens you want to learn about? You should check out vintage-camera-lenses.com/, I referenced Walter Owens’ site in researching this to find the age of my Nikkor-H.
Photographer, videographer, and lover of all things analog.