Why other? Because it wasn’t made for the camera I use. It’s the first non-native lens I bought, a Takumar 50mm f1.4, produced for Pentax Spotmatic cameras from 1964 – 1975. My copy was made in the 70’s and is coated with Thorium, an innovation at that time, meant to reduce glare. No longer in use, the coating is slightly radioactive. I hope I haven’t alarmed you – it’s a very nice lens.
It’s fair to say I still am a novice when it comes to photography, especially the technical aspects. I never took a photography class, though I did go to art school. Until about ten years ago, photography was essentially a documentary process for me, and I only used basic point and shoot cameras. When digital came along I bought a simple digital camera and adapted happily – after all, I didn’t miss a darkroom experience that I never had in the first place.
As I became more and more interested in photography for its own sake, I upgraded to an interchangeable lens camera. I went through several of them as I looked for the best combination of features for my situation. My current camera, an Olympus OM-D EM-1, is old by today’s standards, but it works for me. It’s relatively small, has excellent image stabilization, is weather-sealed, accepts a host of lenses made by Olympus and Panasonic, and is solidly made.
After getting the OM-D EM-1 with its standard kit lens, I began exploring different lenses. I was curious to know just how using a different lens affects the outcome of an image. I learned that prime (fixed focal length, or non-zoom) lenses are generally sharper than zoom lenses. The kit lens was a zoom and I wasn’t crazy about it, so I bought a prime that I could use in a variety of situations, a 20mm f1.7 by Panasonic. On my micro 4/3rds camera it’s like a 35mm or 40mm on a “normal” camera. I loved the 20mm and used it often – for travel, landscapes, closeups, you name it. I was getting the bug. I saw what changing a lens can do.
As I read about different lenses I began seeing discussions about a certain vintage lens with a very enthusiastic following. My curiosity was piqued. It sounded like the kind of lens that would render outdoor scenes with a certain poetic finesse, and I was drawn to that idea. I do like the technical bells and whistles that make modern lenses render scenes with great veracity, but I think there’s a place for both kinds of photographs – those with a more impressionistic look and those with a perfectly documented look. Of course there are many looks besides those two; that is just one polarity I tend to be very aware of.
I found the Super Takumar lens I’d read about on Amazon and bought it (in 2014) for $145, with tax and shipping. These days you can find it for less than that – a bargain compared to modern lenses. I bought an adapter online too, which set me back another $10 or $20, and then I was off and running!
Getting used to the lens was a challenge; for a long time, the focus seemed wobbly. I missed using autofocus and knowing my image would be sharp where I wanted it to be sharp. Maybe the lens wasn’t attached to the adapter properly, but in any case, after a little fiddling and by returning to the lens over and over again, I got used to it.
Each frame requires focusing. You must set the aperture, too. That’s a great way to make you slow down and think before shooting. Pretty soon changing the aperture and focusing the lens both become second nature. The all-metal lens has a satisfying, solid feel and is heavy for its small size. You feel like you’re holding something worthwhile. The mechanics are a joy – being a tactile person, I appreciate the smooth feel of the well-engineered focus and aperture rings.
I go back to the vintage lens when I want to shake things up a little, or when I recognize conditions are good for using it. I think it has a special affinity for spring greens and the warm colors of autumn leaves. Not so much for snow. It’s recognized as a great portrait lens; maybe I’ll explore that one day. For now, it’s a lens I appreciate for its unique rendering and for the way it helps me see the world a little differently.
A review of the lens is here.
I’ve shown photos made with this lens before here.