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  1. #1
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Takumar Hair Splitting

    Next in my series of "why is the world like that" questions concerns the screwmount Takumar lenses.

    By the time the lenses were at the Super / Super-MC stage, I am trying to figure out why Pentax would produce a pair of lenses like the f1.4 50mm and the f1.8 55mm. In terms of aperture, the difference is negligible, and likewise in terms of focal length. I wouldn't see a reason for someone to own both. I am sure most people chose either of these.

    Ditto for the 35mm Takumar: they exist in a f3.5 and an f2 version.

    But why did Pentax produce such apparently nearly identical lenses, and above that sell them at different prices? The one thing I know is that the f1.4 50mm and the f2 35mm had thorium which cause them (like my 50mm f1.4) to yellow slightly after age.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  2. #2
    Donald Qualls's Avatar
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    The half stop faster lens was a big deal when f/1.4 was the fastest SLR lens you could buy. Conversely, the 55 f/1.8 was significantly cheaper than the faster lens, but could use the same filters (because the slightly longer, slightly slower lens had the same barrel diameter).

    A couple years later, you could collect a $100 premium for f/1.2 vs. f/1.4 (which was real money in 1970).
    Photography has always fascinated me -- as a child, simply for the magic of capturing an image onto glossy paper with a little box, but as an adult because of the unique juxtaposition of science and art -- the physics of optics, the mechanics of the camera, the chemistry of film and developer, alongside the art in seeing, composing, exposing, processing and printing.

  3. #3
    Marco Gilardetti's Avatar
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    The lens lineup (optical design) and optical optimization is usually different among these cases. f:1,4 "normal" lenses are designed for best performance at wider apertures, where usually the f:1,8 gets "weak". But on the other side, the cheaper f:1,8 usually beats the more expensive f:1,4 in sharpness with diaphragm fully closed.

    You see, as in most cases, one's strong point is the other one's weak.
    I know a chap who does excellent portraits. The chap is a camera.
    (Tristan Tzara, 1922)

  4. #4

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    I recently took a 35 f2 and a 35 f3.5 on a trip.
    The f2 with its built in radioactive yellow filter is superb even in backlight. The f3.5 was multicoated and even at f8 is dreadful in the corners.
    There are two versions of the f2 -one uses a 58mm filter. There also exists a 35 f2.3 which I really haven't tested much. It seems ok.
    Mark
    Mark Layne
    Nova Scotia
    and Barbados

  5. #5

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    Hi All,

    Somewhere recently (it may have been in Keppler's "The Pentax Way") I read that with the Spotmatic etc. viewfinder optics the 55mm lens gave a true life size view of the subject (not sure why that matters) whereas the 50mm only gave 0.9X life size. The way I read it was that buyers were invited to choose between life size or half a stop faster.

    I have several of both focal lengths but rarely use the 55mm as I find that for the kind of things I'm photographing the difference in viewing angle, albeit small, is often significant. (In case anyone asks why I'd have lenses I don't use, I'm also a collector and they turn up attached to bodies!)

    Slightly off-topic, I was always amused by the adverts for the then "new" SMC lenses which showed two supposedly identical shots into the sun, one without an SMC lens and one with. The reduction in flare was staggering - until you looked closely and realised that the scantily-clad yound lady had moved over for the SMC shot, obscuring more of the sun than in the other shot!

    Best wishes,

    Steve

  6. #6
    df cardwell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Roberts
    ....snip....the 55mm lens gave a true life size view of the subject (not sure why that matters) .... snip....
    Steve
    Shooting with both eyes open, with a 'life size image', is a rare pleasure. Like eating a ripe tomato, it has generally become a memory of another age.

    .
    "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
    and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"

    -Bertrand Russell

  7. #7
    titrisol's Avatar
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    The 1/2 stop made a lot of difference back then.
    IMHO the 55/1.8 is a sharper lens than the 50/1.4, even fully opened
    Mama took my APX away.....

  8. #8

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    The 1.4 is useful in limiting DOF. Which is why it is optimised for large apertures.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by mhv
    Next in my series of "why is the world like that" questions concerns the screwmount Takumar lenses.

    By the time the lenses were at the Super / Super-MC stage, I am trying to figure out why Pentax would produce a pair of lenses like the f1.4 50mm and the f1.8 55mm. In terms of aperture, the difference is negligible, and likewise in terms of focal length. I wouldn't see a reason for someone to own both. I am sure most people chose either of these.

    Ditto for the 35mm Takumar: they exist in a f3.5 and an f2 version.

    But why did Pentax produce such apparently nearly identical lenses, and above that sell them at different prices? The one thing I know is that the f1.4 50mm and the f2 35mm had thorium which cause them (like my 50mm f1.4) to yellow slightly after age.
    Not to point out the obvious or anything like that, but if you dismantle the two lenses you'll find that they're not quite the same. The 50/1.4 contains more glass and is a more complex design. It cost more to make that the 55/1.8. Going from f/1.8 to f/1.4 is not a tiny step.

    The 55/1.8 is an older design, dates from the days when "normal" lenses for 35 mm SLRs weren't at all retrofocus and had to be longer than the conventionally accepted normal focal length for the format (50 mm) to clear the mirror.

    As to why people were willing to pay a premium for 50 mm and f/1.4 over 55 mm and f/1.8, I'm not sure. When I bought my first Nikon in 1970, I chose the 50/1.4 rather than the 50/2.0 because I thought I'd need the speed. I mean, it was often pretty dark where I then lived, even at noon. And I used the speed; I have a couple of barely acceptable shots taken a little after sunset that would have been impossible with the slower lens. But after I got a 55/3.5 and realized the absurdity of carrying two lenses of about the same focal length, I learned that a fast lens wasn't the only way of coping with, um, darkness and got rid of the 50/1.4.

    The short answer to your question is, "Because."

  10. #10
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Thanks all for your great responses, it does make much more sense now. Together, they make the picture complete: manufacturing, design, optimization.

    As a comparison, I looked at the current Nikon lens lineup and they still sell both an f1.4 50mm and an f1.8 one. The f1.4 closes until f16, while the f1.8 can close to f22. Pentax also sell an f2.0 - f1.4 pair of 50mm primes, although both can close to f22. The desing also is different between the two (5g5e for 2.0; 6g7e for 1.4).

    So I guess even 30 years later, those differences matter to some people!
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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