Great 50mm lenses I have known

44 comments on Great 50mm lenses I have known
3 minutes

I’d wager most of us 35mm SLR shooters have shot 50mm lenses most often. After all, when you buy an old SLR that comes with a lens, most often it’s a 50. (Or a 55, which is within spitting distance of 50.)

Blogger Dan James recently considered the great 50s he’s shot, and it’s inspired me to do the same. Some of my favorites might surprise you! They surprised me. Because they’re not the 50mm lenses I shoot most often! Why am I not shooting these lenses more?

50mm f/1.7 Konica Hexanon AR

Konica Autoreflex T3

I have got to dust off my Autoreflex T3 just to shoot this lens again. Look at the color, sharpness, and bokeh it delivers! All of these photos are on Fujicolor 200. I like the first photo so much I framed it and it hangs in my home.

Ford F-500 fire truck
Spent tulip
Black Dog Books

50mm f/1.8 Auto Miranda

Miranda Sensorex II

I had no idea what to expect when I got this body and lens; I’d never shot Miranda before. But I was deeply satisfied with the look this lens returned. And I just love how the evening sun played off my vintage bicycle in this first shot. I shot all of these on Ektar.

1973 Schwinn Collegiate
Peonies on the coffee table
Pass and Stow

50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF

Minolta SR-T-101

I love the character of this lens, and its color rendition. I also own a much later MD 50mm f/1.7, and while it’s technically very good, it doesn’t deliver this MC lens’s delicious look. I wonder how the two lenses are different. These photos are all on Fujicolor 200.

Linback Garage
The barn on Sycamore Hill

55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax/SMC Takumar/Super-Takumar

Pentax ES II

All Pentax 55mm f/1.8 lenses have the same optics. But the Super-Takumar lacks the Super Multi Coating of the other two lenses, and the SMC Pentax is K mount while the other two are M42 screw mount. All of them deliver smashing sharpness and color, however, and are capable of delightful bokeh. The first two shots below are on Ektar, the next one is on Fujicolor 200, and the last two are on T-Max 400.

Old Point Tavern
Broken window

50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C./Canon FL

Canon TLb

Canon cranked out manual-focus 50mm f/1.8 lenses by the bajillions in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. They made many minor tweaks to them along the way: different coatings, different numbers of aperture blades, different focus grips, different mounts. The look I get across all my Canon 50/1.8s is so similar that I’ll bet they all share their optical design. The first two shots below are on Kodak Gold 200 from my FD S. C. and the second two are on Fujicolor 200 from my FL.

Allied Van Lines
At the Indianapolis Museum of Art
60 mph

50mm f/2 Nikkor-H•C

Nikon Nikomat FTn

I imagine that one F-mount 50mm f/2 Nikkor lens has much the same design as any other, at least from the manual-focus years. But I find that this Nikkor-H•C lens has character that my more modern 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lacks. These shots are on lost, lamented Arista Premium 400 film.

Allied Appliances
Fencepost *EXPLORED*

50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E

Nikon N2000

Finally, consider this underrated Nikon lens. It is sharp, and it yields color on workaday Fujicolor 200 that is so bold that I have to double check that I hadn’t shot Ektar by mistake. This lens is also light and thin. It lacks the heft and precision under use of the other lenses in this list but these results overcome it. I shot these on Fujicolor 200.

Every step of the way *EXPLORED*
Haunted Conservatory


44 responses to “Great 50mm lenses I have known”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Plus one for the Miranda…one of my favorite “dead” cameras, and the first professional grade system camera I ever bought back in 1970. Any of the “real” Miranda lenses, were pretty nice (I have the 35, 50, and a 105), but stay away from the “Soligor-Mirandas” (not so good)…I’ve almost bought the 25mm on occasion when I would run across it, but there was always a problem with the ones I was looking at…maybe some day…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When I got that test roll back from the processor I was astonished by the special quality that 50mm imparted onto my photos! My body has a problem with the shutter. I keep thinking I should either get it fixed or, more likely, just buy another body. They aren’t that expensive.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        You could try another body for the price. I don’t know if we talked about this before, but I bought a Miranda Sensorex, sort of working, about 8 years ago, to replace my original that I got rid of years ago. I sent it in to Essex Camera (no longer in business, but great), and it took them two tries to get it right, and they had their Leica guy working on it! I was told they had a lot of moving parts, which is why they were so whisper quiet and vibration free compared to a lot of other cameras! I remember when I traded mine in to get a Nikon, I was amazed at how much more industrial, loud, and “crashy” the Nikon seemed in regards to my old Miranda shutter! The Miranda seemed like a Rolex.

        One of the reasons I traded my Miranda in, even tho I liked it, was because I kept having trouble with the shutter, where all of a sudden, it wouldn’t open; so I’d get a whole blank roll, and it made no sound or noise different from it’s normal operation, so you didn’t know it was happening. It happened a few times, fixed under warrenty, but then I decided I just couldn’t take the chance any more as a budding professional. I was told that i was “fixed” on the Sensorex II, which is what you have here, but who knows.

        I have a few packed up I’d like to have worked on, but after Essex got flooded out and closed for good, I really haven’t the slightest idea who I would trust with it now. I need to find a 90 year old camera guy!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Another body it is then. And thanks for the tip on the original Sensorex’s shutter!

  2. Michael McNeill Avatar
    Michael McNeill

    Nice post Jim – some good glass you got there.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Michael!

  3. dan james Avatar

    Thanks for the link Jim!

    Some excellent 50s here, we are so spoilt for choice with vintage 50s.

    The Miranda shots are especially excellent. My experience of the brand is only for much later plastic kit that is very low budget. I think a UK electronics chain bought the rights to the brand in the 80s and used it for cheaper inferior stuff to the original Miranda equipment you have.

    The Konica photographs are great too – the first SLR I really fell in love with was an AutoReflex TC, a simpler, smaller and more plastic version of yours. I’ve had the T, T2 and T3 – mighty beasts indeed!

    The T4 is much lighter, or the later more automated models like the FS-1 are really fun, though I think some have electrical weaknesses. The original T, T2 and T3 I would think are virtually indestructible.

    The Nikon N2000 with that compact 50 looks like a lightweight and compact quality SLR option too, I know you mention this one often.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I just adore that Miranda 50! Writing this made me really want to get a fully functioning Sensorex II body to go with it. My body has a faulty shutter.

      My Autoreflex T3 is a joy. My first one had a dead meter, so I bought another that functions fully just so I could easily shoot its associated 50.

      1. dan james Avatar

        What mount is the Miranda? Is it compatible / adaptable with / to anything else?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          It’s a proprietary mount. Wonder if there are adapters?

        2. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          That’s one of the joys of Miranda! They really believed in adaptability! This was post war Japan, and they wanted to sell a product where the careful worker could use most of the other lenses they might own.

          I know the regular Miranda Sensorex had their proprietary 4 claw bayonet mount, as well as an inner mount threaded at 44mm. The body was slightly thinner than most 35mm SLR’s, by design (and that may have been why the shutter was “tweaky”), made specifically so a whole series of adapters were offered. Almost none of the adapted lenses worked automatically, but most all focused to infinity! I even saw an adapter that mounted the Exakta lenses with the arm, upside-down, so the arm release was over the body release of the Miranda and worked it correctly.

          I found a copy of the Sensorex manual, and Miranda themselves made adapters for Pentax screw, Leica Screw, Topcon, Exakta, Contax/Nikon Rangefinder, Contax/Nikon Rangefinder wide-angle, and Nikon SLR!

        3. Jim Grey Avatar

          What I wonder is whether there’s an adapter that would let me use my Miranda lens on another camera, such as a Canon EOS!

        4. dan james Avatar

          Jim yes it looks like you can get Miranda to EOS and Miranda to NEX, but as adapters go they’re not very cheap. Maybe worth it if you have a few Miranda lenses you want to use on a digital body too…

  4. Jon Avatar

    Hi Jim. Very nice work here. The cow shot is a favorite. I love my Konica T3 and lenses. If only I were man enough to carry it around.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The cow shot was a surprise. Have you ever gotten an image back that was just good, but when you shot it you were sure it didn’t work? This was one of those images.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      P.S. Man enough?

      1. Jon Avatar

        The Konica and it’s lenses are pretty heavy…..

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    One of your best posts ever! “Normal” lenses, I have found, are anything but. Many of the 50s I’ve shot have unique character. And some of the more common normals…Nikon 50 f/1.8, Takumar 55 f/2…are stunning performers that are super affordable.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! I think the 50 is such the default lens that many manufacturers have perfected theirs. And so I’m deeply disappointed by a meh 50.

  6. milehipentax Avatar

    Nice article and it includes many of my favorites as well. I’ve used lots and lots of 50s over the years. My current favorite is my pre-AI Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5. I have the version that adjusted the optics to perform a bit better over the entire focus range. Bjorn Rorslett has stated that the previous version is a gem of a macro lens but suffers with more distant objects. Since I find myself using my lens as a normal lens that happens to focus pretty closely when I need it, the later model is a little better fit for me even if it is (very) slightly crippled at macro distances compared to its predecessor.

    While it’s a bit slow, it’s eminently usable wide open and is perhaps the sharpest lens in my kit. Sharpness isn’t the only quality I look for in a lens, though, and this lens delivers wonderful color, contrast, micro-contrast, bokeh, etc. It’s just a joy to use and I’m always happy when I see pictures from it.

    1. milehipentax Avatar

      Forgot to mention that I love the F500 picture. I can see why you framed that one. Very nice lines and color to that one. All the pictures were lovely but that one stuck out for me.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ooh! I forgot about my 55/2.8 Micro-Nikkor! It’s another great lens. I shot it most recently on my Nikkormat EL:

      I didn’t know about the 55/3.5 Micro-Nikkor. I see from some quick Googling that the 3.5 preceeded my 2.8.

      You know, for most walking-around-outside shooting, f/3.5 or f/2.8 is more than fine. It’s only in lowish light that you start to really need f/2 and below. I could shoot my Micro-Nikkor in 90% of the situations I encounter that call for a 50mm lens.

  7. SilverFox Avatar

    Your scans are very clean. I’m struggling to get nice scans at the moment, not sure if it’s me being bad at it or if the negatives aren’t as good as they can be. I’d be interested to know your process if you have one.
    Nice Schwinn by the way :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I paid the labs to do the scans. I’ve only recently started scanning my own and I’m not always satisfied with the results. And thanks on my bike! It’s a 1973 Collegiate 5-speed. 🚴

      1. SilverFox Avatar

        Ahhh… we both are on a journey with our scanners then :)
        I have a ’73 Continental 10 speed awaiting some attention.

      2. Joshua Fast Avatar

        I was never happy with my scans until i invested in silverfast. The film profiles and exposure engine it uses makes results stress free and consistent.

      3. Jim Grey Avatar

        I didn’t mess around: I bought Silverfast right out of the gate. I knew I’d struggle fruitlessly without it.

  8. SilverFox Avatar

    I have a dirty old Minolta SRT101 which I picked up for virtually nothing in a job lot of cameras I bought. There’s a dent on the lens stopping filters from mounting but otherwise it looks like it should work okay. Needs a good clean though and if I can get it in good shape I’ll probably put it up for sale…. unless I fall in love with it or something ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh, love is in the air!

  9. Joshua Fast Avatar

    I have had two of the lenses mentioned in this article. I agree 500% about the Rokkor MC 1.7. I still rue the day I sold my SRT and that lens. I also had a Miranda Sensorex with the very early 1.9. The 1.9 does not have the same personality that the 1.8 had. However that camera is a jewel. I found myself picking it up instead of my F2, it was a much smoother camera.

    My favorite two 50’s of all time are both rangefinder lenses. My Nikkor 50mm 1.4 in LTM is one of the first lenses produced by the fledgling Nippon Kogaku as a copy of the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 1.5. Portraits wide open on this lens is mind blowing. A close second is a Summicron F2 DR (Dual Range). The dual range allows you to focus in the normal rangefinder field of 1m to inf but then to a second focusing field of .4-1m. Both of these have earned a permanent home, cemented by the fact I wait in front of the scanner like a little kid.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fortunately, SR-Ts and MC 1.7s aren’t hard to come by!

      I haven’t dipped my toes into the Nikon (or Canon) rangefinder scene yet. I’m afraid I’ll like them too much!

      1. Joshua Fast Avatar

        Well, i’ll say this, when i first started shooting film it was with a TLR and 70s slrs. After i discovered interchangeable lens rangefinders it changed my entire shooting game. Smaller bodies, smaller lenses and oh so much affordable glass. I own one slr now, a Nikon EM.

        If you ever want to dip your toes in the water, look at canon IV or P. Canon was doing the combined VF/RF long before the Leica M’s made their splash.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          ooooh, the Canon IV or Canon P are on my list. Someday.

  10. Sam Avatar

    The humble 50mm f/1.8 or f/2 has got to be the greatest, easiest to find, and cheapest lenses of all time. Great choices, great post!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, anytime I look for a new old camera with a mount that’s new to me, I always look for one with a 50 already attached. It’s a good lens to test the camera with, and they essentially come with the body for free.

  11. Stuart Templeton Avatar

    Love 50mm – my favourite lens!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s been my default. But after shooting a 35mm lens all over Ireland, I am finding 50 to be too constrained a field of view!

  12. ehpem Avatar

    Good review – very helpful to see results side by side like this. I have quite a few of these lenses too, often on bodies that don’t work, so I have not shot them. Though I shoot my Takumars on my EOS bodies all the time. Now I am inspired to give them a try. The Nikkor E-Series can probably share an adapter with the older 24mm Nikkor-N I use a lot. Now, is there any chance of mounting the Rokkor and Miranda lenses on a working camera, or figuring out what is wrong with their bodies? And, I must check my plasticy Konica body to see what is on it – that is a camera that probably works that I have not tried. It was a gift that did not inspire, yet.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I just bought a screw-mount adapter for EOS and so will be experimenting shortly with that. I might even buy a used EOS digital camera so I can shoot Takumar digitally!

      I gather from other comments above that there are Miranda EOS adapters. As for the Rokkor, I’ll bet it mounts on later Minolta bodies such as the X700 and the like. But you can pick up SR-T cameras for little money; that might be the better way to go.

      1. ehpem Avatar

        I have found that a few (very few – most notably EOS3) EOS mount cameras won’t work with a plain m42 to EOS adapter and need a chipped adapter. I like the ones with chips anyway as they give focus confirm and will note the focal length in EXIF data. Be careful of the wider angle lenses as they can extend too far into the camera causing mirror strikes with full frame digital like the 5Dii though not a problem with smaller sensor cameras like the T3i T4i etc. I have successfully modified (with an axe file to the rear lense housing I blush to admit) a Tak 35/3.5 work on my 5Dii but the 28mm was not happening though it works fine on T3i. On the other hand the original Tak 17/4 works fine on the 5Dii as do all the 50/55s I own and longer lenses too. Can you tell I used to be a Spotmatic shooter?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I never would have guessed! :-)

  13. […] via Great 50mm lenses I have known — Down the Road […]

  14. offertonhatter Avatar

    I am a sucker for the “nifty fifty” having several versions on different mounts. I shoot both digital and film, so I am getting a feeling on how they perform on both formats. Since one of my digital bodies has a high demanding 36MP, you would think that older lenses are lacking. On the contrary, the Pentax/Takumar 55mm F1.8 is an absolute dream of a lens! It could be my favourite of them all. But the SMC-FA50mm F1.4 and SMC-DFA50mm F2.8 Macro run it very close indeed.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That Pentax/Tak 55/1.8 really is wonderful! I have three, a Super-Tak, an SMC-Tak, and a SMC Pentax.

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