Quick comparison of some fast 35mm options

Started Aug 25, 2012 | Discussions thread
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ProfHankD
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Quick comparison of some fast 35mm options
Aug 25, 2012

For APS-C, the field-of-view equivalent of a "fast 50" would be a "fast 35" or so. There are lots of options... of which I now have four, having just bought the FDn last week. So, here's a quick and very informal comparison....

In brand-alphabetical order, the contenders are:

  • Canon FDn 35mm f/2; $105 in 2012; FDn mount; build quality B+

  • Fujian 35mm f/1.7; $23 in 2012; C mount; build quality C

  • Pentax S-M-C Takumar 35mm f/2; $125 in 2009; M42 mount; build quality A+

  • Vivitar 35mm f/1.9; about $10 in a lot in 2011; FD mount; build quality A

All these lenses are apparently in excellent condition; the Fujian was purchased new.

Let's start with how they do with a distant scene shot at f/8 -- a typical real-world shooting scenario. Here are 100% 640x480 crops near the center of my 24MP NEX-7's frame:

All look pretty good -- which shouldn't surprise anybody. Resolution is very good for all (and too close to call with such an imprecise test), but contrast if highest for the Fujian and FDn, slightly lower for the Takumar, and lower still for the Vivitar. Color is probably best on the Takumar and poorest on the Vivitar, but the Takumar was tested a bit earlier in the day than the others, so lighting was different and it's again too close to call.

Ok. How about the same thing wide open:

Well, so much for the Fujian. The FDn would win an MTF50 test, but the Takumar actually resolves just a touch better. The Vivitar isn't bad either, but looses out mostly because of a little glow making everything softer.

I'm not showing bokeh tests here, but the Vivitar's touch of glow does good things for the transitions in out-of-focus areas... so even if it's a defect relative to sharpness and color, it still helps in other ways. The FDn also has slightly prettier bokeh than the Takumar because of a potentially-deliberate defect: the FDn seems to have some undercorrected SA near wide open. The Fujian has terrible, although quite distinctive, bokeh.

From what we've seen so far, I think we can agree that the Fujian isn't a serious option, but the other three are all viable. Let's see if the edge performance changes that, again by examining 100% crops shot wide open:

At first glance, the FDn looks like the obvious winner. With more careful study, we see it's really that again the FDn has better contrast, but the Takumar might actually be capturing a touch more detail and with slightly better colors/tonality, so postprocessing might favor it.

The Vivitar isn't too far behind, but the Fujian sure is. It looks terrible here, but it is worth pointing out that (from other tests) I know a lot of the reason it looks so bad is extreme curvature of what should have been a focus plane. The Fujian can be fairly sharp at the edges if we refocus to sacrifice other areas of the frame.

In conclusion, the Fujian isn't really a contender for a fast normal on APS-C, but the others are all ok. That's really the point: the better old lenses from most manufacturers are nearly all more than good enough to be viable on even 24MP APS-C... especially stopped down and/or with a little postprocessing. This is good news, especially if you're on a budget....

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