Photography

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

Flowers

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.

Tulpen

Old Point Tavern

Tulip

Selfie

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

Flower

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*

Moo *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

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Cameras

Inspecting vintage film cameras before you buy, part 1: The fundamentals

There you are, looking at an old camera. And you want it. But you hesitate. How can you tell what condition it’s in so you don’t get burned?

BCSuperSilette

A basket case

I’ve been burned. Like when I bought this Agfa Super Silette. Nothing on it worked – not the rangefinder, not the focusing ring, not the shutter, not anything.

Because I’ve been to the school of hard knocks, because I’ve learned the hard way, my pain gets to be your gain. This is the first of three articles in which I’ll share how I assess an old camera’s condition. Today I’ll explain how to check a camera’s basic functions. Next time I’ll share some tips on advanced features and on cameras with electronic components.

But know right now: all you can do is reduce your risk of being burned. Even the simplest camera can fail you in ways that you’ll be hard pressed to detect through inspection. But my tips will help you avoid most of the junky cameras out there. And you might even be willing to live with some problems, or wish to try to repair them. Your inspection will help you decide whether the camera is worth the money.

Here’s how I break an old camera down.

Voigtlander Bessa

This old folder has some cosmetic blemishes but the bellows are good

Inspect the body. Does it look like it’s been through a war? If it does, it has; move on. But small dings and scratches and moderate exterior wear generally mean that the camera got normal use.

If the camera has focusing, aperture, and shutter-speed rings or knobs, turn them. They should turn freely, but not feel loose.

Look through the viewfinder. You should be able to see through it. This might seem obvious, but I’ve bought more than one camera with viewfinder faults because I didn’t check this.

If the camera folds open, check the bellows. Generally, pressing a button on the body pops it open. If the bellows is cracked or flaking it will likely need to be replaced. It’s costly to have done and painstaking to do yourself. Most common cameras aren’t worth the cost or hassle. Even if the bellows looks sound, pinholes might still lurk in the creases. It’s hard to check for this in the field, as you need a very bright light and a dark room. But I never let pinhole worries stop me from buying, as pinholes are easy to repair with dabs of black fabric paint.

Inspect inside the camera. Open the camera back. The camera should be clean inside. It’s not happened to me, but I’ve heard of others who’ve found fungus and mold growing inside cameras they thought of buying. Steer clear.

Some cameras have foam light seals where the back meets the body. Check their condition, because they all eventually turn to goo and need to be replaced. Gooey seals invite light leaks. You can replace the seals yourself with fresh foam rubber, but it’s a tedious job. To shoot such a camera I usually just tape up every gap with electrical tape.

Check the shutter’s condition. With the camera open, if you can see the shutter, look at it. On a simple leaf shutter, you should be able to see the little spring that provides the shutter’s action. I’ve known them to go missing. But it might also be visible only through the front of the camera, so check there too. On a diaphragm shutter, the leaves should be uniformly arranged. A little oil on the leaves is okay, but a lot is not. On a focal-plane shutter (such as on a 35mm SLR), look for gaps, wrinkles, debris, and pinholes, all signs of trouble.

Ansco B-2 Cadet

This box’s lens was very dirty – I cleaned it with a swab and rubbing alcohol

Check the lens. Ideally, the lens will be clean and clear. A little internal dust and even light scratches usually don’t affect a lens’s performance, but deep scratches usually will. If you find haze or fungus (which looks like etching) inside the lens, walk away. Unless, that is, you want to try your hand at disassembling the lens to clean it. I won’t do it, but others are braver than I am.

Haze and schmutz are different things, by the way. You can (gently, gently) clean off schmutz just by wiping.

To check for these things, look down at both ends of the lens in good light, and then hold the lens up to a good light source and look through it. In a pinch, you can use the flashlight on your smartphone as a light source.

When the lens is built into the camera, open the camera back, set the shutter to B, and press and hold the shutter button.

On interchangeable-lens cameras, dismount the lens. Some lenses screw off. For the rest, you press a button or a lever on the camera body near the lens and twist the lens off.

Check whether it winds and the shutter fires. The winder should function, ideally smoothly, and the shutter should snap cleanly.

Argus A-Four

Cocking lever – cocked – on top of the lens barrel

If the shutter doesn’t fire, you might need to cock it. Look for a cocking lever on or near the lens barrel. Move it until it clicks into place. Other cameras cock during winding via a pin on or near the takeup spool. You can usually cock it with a finger while the back is open.

Try the shutter at all available shutter speeds. It’s common for a shutter to stick open at its slowest speeds. This isn’t always a dealbreaker for me as I seldom shoot that slow.

Even when you can fire the shutter, you can’t check its accuracy and its full functioning. I’ve tested cameras where the shutter sounded okay but was wildly inaccurate. This is always a gamble.

♦ ♦ ♦

These simple checks are just the beginning, but if a camera doesn’t pass them, move on. Most common cameras are plentiful enough that you should just wait until you find another one in better shape. Unless, that is, the price is right and you know how to repair what’s wrong!

Next time: battery corrosion, busted rangefinders, weak light meters, and bad bellows.

Wrapping up the series: the most powerful tool in your camera-inspection arsenal.

Standard

Kodak 35

Made in U.S.A.
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

A review of this Kodak is forthcoming.

Photography
Image