Photography

Shooting the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens

In case you can’t tell, I’ve been on a jag of shooting my prime manual-focus Pentax lenses. It’s also given me a chance to shoot up some film that’s been sitting in my fridge for far too long. So: my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens went on, and a roll of Kentmere 100 went in, my Pentax ME. And I took it along when I went to visit my son at Purdue. We drove across the river into Lafayette and strolled through downtown.

Signboard

I’ve always enjoyed this f/2 prime, but after I bought my 50/1.4 it never got much play. I admit it: I liked the cachet of having that f/1.4 lens on my camera. Look at me, the photographer with the f/1.4 lens! But for everyday shooting I didn’t really need that extra stop.

I have generally not, however, enjoyed Kentmere 100. It’s soot and chalk, prone to blown highlights. But it did all right under this lens. And what a grand theater marquee that is!

Lafayette Theater

A mural down one alley featured all these faceless people. I can’t decide whether it’s cool or creepy, but either way it’s compelling.

Your face here 1

Lafayette’s downtown is lovely, chock full of old buildings that appear to have been maintained or restored. So many Indiana downtowns have not been so fortunate. My hometown of South Bend lost half its downtown buildings to urban renewal. My college town of Terre Haute saw many of its old downtown buildings torn down from neglect.

Looking up

My son and I also walked through a park on Lafayette’s east side. This shot of a tree in the park shows a little of Kentmere’s highlight-blowing tendencies.

Tree

On a different day I shot this flag. I’m a little bummed out to see that light leak in the bottom corner. A couple other shots were so afflicted. Could my ME need new seals? Is it finally time to send it out for a good CLA? The answer appears to be yes on both counts.

Flag

Finally, here’s a new McDonald’s. Actually, this is an old McDonald’s. Believe it or not, this was until recently an iconic red Mansard-roofed McDs. They tore the old skin off and put on a new one. I don’t know what is making the company remake its buildings in such generic style. Take off the golden arches and this could be any office building anywhere.

McDonald's

This lens handled flawlessly and returned sharp results, as it always does. The Kentmere mostly kept its highlight-blowing tendencies at bay. The only clinker was the light leak this roll revealed.

Standard

19 thoughts on “Shooting the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens

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  2. I was very underwhelmed with Kentmere 100 myself. I have 2 rolls in my fridge that might sit there until summer. Have you tried Kentmere 400 yet? Performance kinda reminds me of Tri-X with a little HP5+ thrown in. I’ve had great results pushing it to 1600. Negatives have zero curl and they scan great. I liked it enough that i bought 100′ of it and it’s my “go to” black and white.

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    • When the Kentmere 100 works, it really works. I shot some scenes with this camera/film at the same time I shot the same scenes with another camera on Tri-X and I like the contrast on the Kentmere shots better. But when Kentmere fails, it fails spectacularly, and I haven’t figured out how to avoid those failure situations. And I’m not going to try. Why bother when there are so many other good b/w choices out there?

      Thanks for the tip on Kentmere 400! I might give ‘er a go one day.

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  3. Your first shot of the sign and trash can on the sidewalk has beautiful separation and really shows what a cheap but classic design like this is capable of. I also haven’t made much use of my SMC 50/2 since picking up my SMC 50/1.2 but I agree, it’s great to make use of these smaller, slower lenses for daylight shooting when the speed and extra size/weight aren’t needed, particularly on a little ME body.

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  4. Christopher Smith says:

    Great shots Jim on a fine lens and camera. I have had reasonable results with Kentmere 100 using my Nikon F3 with a AF Nikkor 35-70mm f3.3-4.5, I even had one of my shots “In Explore” on Flickr.

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    • Nice! Getting Explored is always fun.

      I have one of those 37-70 Nikkors too – the barrel distortion is wicked at the wide end, but otherwise it’s a fine lens.

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  5. These common “kit” lenses can really produce stunning image quality. I am so impressed with the Pentax 50 and 55mm primes of this era. And I think you are a brave man to shoot Kentmere. I’ve never had results as good as yours.

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    • I think the trick with Kentmere 100 is to shoot on gray days. That’s what I did here for the most part and the film seemed to like it. And yes, Pentax 50s of this era are brilliant!

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  6. Jim I love the M series 50/2, I’ve got some lovely results and have picked them up for as little as £6. Insanely good value.

    I’ve also had the 50/1.4 and 50/1.7 and there’s so little difference in performance, it’s hard to justify the extra stop and cost. The best compromise is probably the 50/1.7 but for value, compact size and light weight the 50/2 is better, especially on a compact M series (or digital) body.

    Of the M 50/2 lenses I’ve had, some have a plastic aperture ring, which makes them a bit lighter, but for me doesn’t feel as good as the versions with a metal aperture ring.

    Then there’s the later A series 50/2 which I think are the same optically but with an improved coating – the certain display a delicious rainbow of colours in sunlight. These can be also be used in Program and shutter priority modes on compatible cameras like the P50 and the much later and excellent MZ-6, arguably the ultimate lightweight, compact and versatile Pentax 35mm SLR.

    I’m so tempted to try out a few K mount lenses again (as you might recall I’ve honed down exclusively to M42 lenses these days).

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    • I’ve always been curious about the A-series lenses. I haven’t bought a camera yet that takes them, so I’ve stuck with my Ms. Perhaps a P50 or an MZ-6 will be in my future.

      I haven’t owned a 50/1.7, but I do own a 50/1.4, and frankly under everyday conditions I like the 50/2 better.

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      • The A series work just like the M series on older K mount cameras, just they have the auto aperture setting too for compatible bodies.

        I’m not a big fan of program modes so I just used them Aperture Priority, same as the M series.

        The main thing I remember about the A series is the stunning looks of the coating, probably as impressive as I’ve seen on any lens by any company.

        I wouldn’t rush out to buy a P50, but they do have a lot to offer – great VF, program modes, if you need that.

        One of the MZs is far more worth a try, I’ve had a couple of MZ-5Ns and MZ-6s. Excellent handling, very compact and light, great metering, and though the VF isn’t as good as that of the M series (it was designed for AF lenses), it does still have a visible and audible focus assist feature which I found useful using them with M and A series lenses… Essentially they were Pentax’s equivalent to Canon’s late EOS film bodies.

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        • I do like a little program mode here and there. It makes for easy shooting, to be sure. But I don’t need a whole host of cameras with program mode; the couple I have already are enough.

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  7. Dan Cluley says:

    I have both the A and M versions of this lens and I can’t say I’ve noticed any quality difference between the two. On the other hand, I’ve never really tried a head to head test.

    The A does play nicer with my DSLR, so it’s more likely to get used these days.

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