Vintage Lens Sharpness List (< $100)

I’ve been collecting quite a few vintage lenses, and I consider some of them to be very good lenses, while others seem lacking.  I’ve decided to create a “Sharpness list” for these old lenses (most are older than 30 years old, and some are over 40 years old).

I should mention the methods I’m using to determine what is (at least according to my eyes) a sharp lens.   I am using an image focus comparison chart (a “fine resolution” spoked star chart), affixed to a wall, and illuminated with daylight.   The camera is a Pentax K5, mounted on a tripod, and spaced six feet away from the chart.  The electronic focus peaking of the K5 is used to focus the camera, with supplemental manual adjustments as needed.  The latter introduces a bit of subjective bias, perhaps, according to my set of eyes.

Lens Maker Focal length Largest Aperture Focal length used Aperture(s) Used Mount
Yashinon-DX 50mm 50 mm f/2.0 50mm 2.0, 8 M42
Pentax Super Tak 35 mm f/3.5 35mm 3.5, 8 M42
Fujinon 43-70 mm f/3.5 50mm 3.5, 8 M42
Pentax – A 50 mm f/1.7 50mm 1.7, 8 K mount
Tokina 75-150 mm f/3.8 90mm 3.8, 8 K mount
Asashi Pentax Takumar 70 – 200 mm f/4 90mm 4, 8 K mount
Sears MC 28 mm f/2.8 28mm 2.8, 8 K mount
Soligor 35-70 mm f/2.5 50mm 2.5, 8 K mount
Y mm f/ 50mm 2, 8 M42

Figure 1: Somewhat subjective ranking of my collection of old lenses. *

So, I somewhat arbitrarily decided to use wide open and f/8 apertures to rank my sharpness list.  Most lenses are pretty good at f8, and wide open aperture values are always interesting.  For zooms, I stayed away from the ends of the ranges, and tried to select a consistent focal length for similar zoom lenses.   Also, I’ve not included smallest aperture comparisons, nor have I included maximum focal distance comparisons.  Mainly, this is personal subjective bias since I’m mainly a non-telephoto shooter.  These setups are fairly time consuming as it is!

Thus far, it’s a Pentax and Fujinon game (sharpest are at the top of the list).  We’ll see how it goes as I add more of these old lenses.  Note that the table in figure 1 is not meant to mean that the included lenses are sharp ones.  These are randomly selected lenses that may be pretty good, or not very good, depending upon how much the reader believes my opinion.  I haven’t added a “not in my bag” demarcation line, because (as was stated) – it’s all an opinion based on one set of eyes.

04/22/2019 edit:  Yashinon-DX added to the top of the list.  Nice piece of glass for very low $$$.  See Caveat associated with using this old film era lens on a DLSR:

Caveats of Vintage lenses …

in other words, I may have been at the flea market, found a lens, and had a “why don’t I give this one a try” moment.   In a couple cases, I think maybe I’d like to relive the moment.

Just to emphasize how much value can be found in these vintage lenses, I could note that I looked also at a very recent (~$500) lens, to compare its sharpness chart to the vintage lenses.  This new lens (to remain nameless) – would have been number four on the list!

Another thing to add is that sharpness is not the end-all be-all of a lens.  There are other factors that may make a lens desireable, even when it is not of the tack-sharp variety.  For instance, I find the listed Tokina to be a favorite, where color is more important than sharpness.

The lenses on this list are what you might call Ebay bargains, although some of them came from antique stores and flea markets.  None of them was purchased for over $100.  This is important, because there are many very good lenses that would probably make the top of the current list, if they were included, but are not, because of the cost.

I have Nikon and Yashinon specimens to add shortly.

To be continued …

  • – If one lens is better than another at wide open aperture, and the other is better than the first at f8, then I call it a tie, and mark it with an asterisks.
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