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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


On Illinois Street

56th and Illinois
Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Kodak Gold 400

Margaret and I keep walking Indianapolis neighborhoods, considering where we might like to settle after we’re empty nested in a few years. The neighborhood around 56th and Illinois appeals deeply to me.


Photo: Street scene, 56th and Illinois, Indianapolis


On Illinois Street

Planter box on Illinois Street
Pentax K1000, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Kodak Gold 400

I think every film has its use. I just hadn’t found the right one for Kodak Gold 400 yet. I just haven’t liked the color I get when I use it. But it yielded surprisingly good color in my K1000 with this 55/1.8 lens. It’s still truer-than-life Kodak color, saturated, candylike. But it captured the dusky hues here pretty well, and that’s not something I expect from consumer-grade Kodak film.


Photo: Planter box on Illinois Street.


Shooting the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens

I am wasting my time shooting any normal prime lens on my Pentax cameras other than this 55mm f/1.8. Just look at this! Such color, such sharpness, such sensitive detail! On workaday Kodak Gold 400 no less!

At Second Presbyterian Church

On the same day I photographed Second Presbyterian Church with a 28mm lens, I brought my Pentax K1000 with this 55mm f/1.8 lens too. While that 28mm lens really brought this giant church into the frame, this 55mm lens did a much better job of capturing the church’s detailed beauty.

At Second Presbyterian Church

That Kodak Gold 400 surely likes red. And this lens handles beautifully.

At Second Presbyterian Church

I took the K1000 and this lens to several favorite photographic haunts, including Juan Solomon Park. I’ve shot its colorful playground many times since it opened several years ago.

At Juan Solomon Park

There’s actually been a playground here since before I moved to Indy in the 1990s. The city just redid it from the ground up when they used this park site for a building that is part of an expansion of sewage services to this part of the city. The old playground was fine, but the new one is top flight. I especially love the colorful play surface of soft replaceable tiles.

At Juan Solomon Park

I also took the K1000 over to Broad Ripple one chilly day for a walk. I’ve photographed this unusual bridge railing many times. The bridge was built in 1906, but a couple years ago the railing was altered. The row of blocks below the links was added, I assume to increase the railing’s height for safety. The purist in me thinks this was a shame.

Rainbow Bridge

I just thought the painting on this dumpster enclosure was interesting.

Dumpster Enclosure

I usually shoot my 50/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens on my K-mount cameras, but it doesn’t deliver the color or detail that 55/1.8 does. I’ll just admit it: I use that 50/1.4 partially because of that vaunted 1.4 number, as if it says something about me as a photographer. Nuts to it. I’ll let my work do the talking. And with this 55/1.8, I’ll definitely have something to say.


Shooting the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens

I found a deep appreciation of a 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera after shooting one all over Ireland last fall. The wider field of view over my usual 50mm lenses was just so darned useful. Yet I could still move in close without wildly distorting my subjects.

So I wondered if 28mm would be even better. Spoiler alert: worse.

Because at 28mm, it’s super hard to avoid what I like to call “The Twist,” a kind of distortion you get when you shoot something long, straight, and flat. Like this:


Photoshop can correct all sorts of problems but I haven’t been able to get it to correct that one. If you know how, do let me know in the comments. Of course, there’s always the good advice: don’t shoot scenes like that.Which I heeded through the rest of this roll of Kodak Tri-X, scanned myself on my Epson V300. I shot these with my Pentax KM, which I totally need to shoot more often because it is a jewel.

I drove over to Second Presbyterian and stood in my usual spot to shoot this stately church. At 50mm, I can’t get it all in. At 28mm it looks a little lost in the frame. 35mm might have let it fill the frame better. Or maybe I should have just walked closer.

Second Presbyterian

Which I did for this dramatic shot. Finally I started to find this lens’s mojo.

Second Presbyterian

I drove a mile or so south to the Meridian Street bridge over the White River and found this graffiti under one of the arches. I’ll share more shots from that bridge visit in an upcoming post. If you think the highlights are blown out here, you should have seen them before I gave them a good Photoshopping.

Meridian St. Bridge

I visited common photographic haunts with this lens, including nearby Juan Solomon Park. I couldn’t have gotten this shot at 50mm, and maybe not even at 35mm.

At Juan Solomon Park

I also drove over to 56th and Illinois to get this shot I’ve shot before. Sometimes it’s just comforting to revisit covered photographic ground. Every lens, camera, and film can see a scene in a new way.

56th and Illinois

I’ve also started taking morning walks through my neighborhood. My stupid left foot is still not fully healed going on three years after surgery and I’m gaining weight from inactivity (and probably age). I’m tired of favoring that foor and I just need to get mobile again, so I’m walking through the pain. Anyway, we finally had a skiff of snow in this unusually warm winter, and I photographed some tire tracks in the street.

Light snowfall

I’ve shot this lens before and didn’t love it, and this roll of film didn’t help. I think it’s because its inherent distortion limits what I can do with it. It’s acceptably sharp, and (on color film) it renders color well enough. Faint praise, I know, but I managed to squeeze out a few good shots with it on this roll of film. There are some scenes for which this lens is a smashing fit, it turns out. And for that reason alone I’ll hang onto it.


Great 50mm lenses I have known

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