Compact 50mm shootout

Started Nov 3, 2015 | Discussions thread
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Stacey_K Veteran Member • Posts: 8,945
Compact 50mm shootout

Last night I got my small pile of 50mm lenses and did a shootout. Below I will list the winners and losers and describe why.

50mm f1.8 LTM canon (silver/black w fine ribbed focus ring). This little guy IMHO won the shootout. From f2 it's nice and sharp with very pleasing bokeh. At f2.8 it's -really- sharp. It has a nice smooth focus transition and the handling is great with a separate fstop and focus ring. Being an LTM lens, it's easy to mount on an A7 and the avalible helical focus mounts expand it's close focus ability. Only downside is the weird 40mm filter thread but there are modern coated polarizers made in this size so not a big problem.

Soviet J3 50mm f1.5 LTM. This lens wins of the ultra fast 50's and wide open it fairly sharp with lovely bokeh. With both set at f2 and at f2.8, the canon is a bit sharper and has equally smooth bokeh. The J3 has the fstop ring that moves when focusing which loses points with me on handling. But I'm going to hang onto if for when I want to play with a fast lens wide open.

Soviet J8 50mm f2 LTM. This lens is close to the performance of the J3 wide open but doesn't really bring anything to the table the J3 can't provide and has the same handling issues. Given the canon is sharper and has nicer rendering, the baby Jupiter isn't one I plan to keep. It is a good performer for the money.

Leica 50mm f2 summicron DR in M mount. This is an interesting lens someone asked me to sell for them. It was quite hazy inside, so I had it cleaned for them before the sale. It performs very similar to the J8 IMHO, with maybe a bit smoother bokeh. The whole DR thing is quite irritating to use, but I understand why it was designed this way for rangefinder use. Wide open I still give the nod to the little canon lens for sharpness and bokeh rendering. Given what these sell for, this lens already has a new home lined up for it.

Zeiss Opton Sonnar 50mm f2 in Contax rangefinder mount. I expected this lens to perform better than it did. The J8 is every bit the equal and honestly, I think it outperforms the german lens it is a copy of. The bokeh shows a lot of outlining, not what I expect from a zeiss sonnar and it flares quite easily. The old Contax mount requires an expensive adapter for the normal lenses and again, the aperture ring rotate with the lens, both are reasons against it's handling and use.

Nikon 50mm f1.4 in rangefinder mount. Again, this lens shares the expensive adapter required by the above Zeiss lens, but I had high hopes for this lens so I bought one to try it. I was quite disappointed in the performance. Wide open it's a veiled flare mess which appears to be some uncorrected optical aberration. It's worse at infinity but still bad at close distances. The soviet J3 totally stomps all over this lens wide open. At f2 it changes dramatically and actually pulls slightly ahead of the J3 in sharpness but still is behind the canon. The bokeh is just "ok" but the J3 and the canon are much smoother. At f2.8-f4 it's quite sharp but again, no better than the canon and the bokeh is just "meh". Given the mount issue, plus the LTM lenses can focus much closer with the right adapter, this isn't a keeper for me.

The last 3 are SLR lenses.

OM 50mm f1.8 silver nose. While sharp from wide open, it has a cold/clinical look to the images and the bokeh is fairly busy looking. It's a good performer but I just didn't care for the look of the images it produces. Reminds me a lot of the 50mm f1.8G nikkor AF-S lens, another lens that was sharp but I didn't care for.

Nikkor pre-Ai 50mm f2 "H". This lens shares the look of it's images with the little canon LTM lens but again, the canon has a slight edge in sharpness at f2, at f2.8 it's a tossup. Both have a nice warm, organic look with pleasing bokeh. Much nicer IMHO than the OM lens.

Nikkor pre-Ai 50mm f1.4 "S". This lens shares the optical problems of the rangefinder 50mm f1.4 wide open, but doesn't sharpen up like the rangefinder lens does at f2. It's by far the worst performing lens of the lot. And it has really bad outlining and a choppyness to the bokeh as well. This one is staying on the display shelf with the original Nikon F body it came on.

My take away from this is: the little Canon 50mm f1.8 LTM is a gem of a lens both mechanically and optically. Used on a helical mount, it's a great combination for daily shooting on a Sony A series in a very compact package. Below is a picture of the style I am using.

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