The 50mm focal range if often considered as the standard in photography. On a full frame camera or when shooting 35mm film, its field of view allows for a wide range of possibilities, ranging from portraits and closeups to street or landscape photography. As vintage 50mm prime lenses are often reasonably fast lenses with maximum apertures ranging from f1.8 to f2.8, they also offer nice depth of field options as well as good performance in low light. In a nutshell : these lenses rock, and having one with you all the time will only be a good thing!
About this lens
The Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4 that I own is the second version of this lens, made of 7 glass elements. The first version of this lens is said to produce even better pictures thanks to its additional glass element, for a total of 8. However, it is also much rarer and more expensive as it was discontinued quite quickly due to high manufacturing costs. Still, the 7 element 50mm f1.4 Takumars remain legendary lenses praised for their numerous qualities.
I personally love this lens, and if I had to choose only one to carry with me, it would definitely be this one. At f1.4, night shots become easily approachable, and portraits turn out beautifully dreamy : quite soft but still sharp enough to make the details matter, with beautiful background blur. Bokeh is fantastic, colors are great, and contrasts are quite good for such a wide aperture. However, at f1.4, it is also quite hard to master as the depth of field is extremely shallow. At f2, this lens becomes suddenly way easier to handle and more versatile, while retaining its beautiful bokeh and depth of field possibilities. It also becomes way sharper and the contrasts become more realistic. The lens remains a fantastic performer at all apertures, up to its minimum f16 aperture. The lens can flare easily with sunlight, which I personally like, but any lens hood can fix this if needed. The lens features only 6 aperture blades, so the bokeh will look hexagonal when the aperture is below 1.4. However this has never been an issue for me. The build quality of this lens is also amazing, like all Takumar lenses of this era. The focus and aperture rings are easy to handle and despite being almost 50 years old, the unit I own is still in perfect shape.
One thing people like to mention about this Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4 is that it is radioactive. Indeed, one of the glass elements of the lens is made of thorium which in a nutshell causes the lens to be radioactive and get a yellow tint as it gets older. While I’m no specialist, there seems to be no danger at all associated with the use of this lens. The radiation level is quite low and can realistically not be dangerous if the lens is used normally. I’ll let you check your friend Google for more details about this. Still, it is true that because of its radioactivity, the glass of the lens can turn yellow. It can have an impact on pictures, and it absolutely did when I took my first shots with it. However, there are two easy ways to solve this issue : you can either use post-production softwares like Lightroom or DxO Photolab to fix the colors on your shots, or reduce the yellow tint of the lens by exposing the lens to UV rays (spring and summer sunlight will work perfectly) or to some LED lamps (I can recommend the jansjö Ikea lamp as that’s the one used and that it worked for me) for several hours.
On my side, I was able to purchase this lens on eBay for ~50€. I bought this lens a few months after getting the SMC version out of curiosity and because I wanted to compare both. In the end, both versions take extremely similar pictures, as expected. However, they differ in some ways (other than their appearance and handling caused by the different outer housing and design) :
- the yellow tint of the glass was way stronger and harder to remove on the Super-Takumar version (I exposed both lenses for the same amount of time under the same jansjö LED lamp)
- the SMC version has rounder bokeh thanks to its additional 2 aperture blades, but its focus ring is a bit stiffer (at least on my unit)
- both lenses have similar flaring characteristics, but the Super-Takumar tends to flare a bit more easily probably due to lower quality coating
After purchasing this lens, I stopped using the SMC Takumar 50mm f1.4 to use it instead. Despite the lower quality bokeh when stopped down, I like its handling and outer design better. I feel like it’s easier to nail shots and get more precise focus with it.
I hope you enjoyed this little article. I am very likely to update it with new test shots and information, so don’t hesitate to come back and check it out. If you have any comment or suggestion, or if you own that lens and would like to give your opinion about it, feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me!