That Vintage Lens

Eight years ago I read about a vintage lens photographers admire for the bright, “dreamy yet sharp” images you can make with it. One reviewer liked the “organic” transition from sharp to blurred. Another mentioned clean contrast, and another praised the color rendition. What interested me most was the “delicious” bokeh. Making photographs with soft, out-of-focus backgrounds was something I dreamed of doing long before I had a capable camera. I was already enjoying a macro lens for that ability so I thought maybe the vintage lens with all the enthusiastic reviews was worth trying. What is it? An Asahi Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4, an all-manual, solidly-constructed piece of glass from the 1960s and 70s. I created a post about it four years ago and today I’m revisiting that vintage lens.

The lens.

In the fall of 2014 I bought one at a reasonable price (far less expensive than new lenses), along with an adapter to fit it to my camera, a Panasonic Lumix G-3 at that time. I took it out right away and sure enough, the photographs it produced were different from anything I’d made with a digital lens. I had a lot of difficulty focusing the lens but there was something appealingly old school about the photos, even when they weren’t focused right. The results I got were unpredictable compared to my modern lenses. It clearly wasn’t suitable for everyday use. But to express a different view of the world, using it was more than satisfying.

You may have seen my 2018 post about the Takumar but I don’t expect anyone to remember the details so here’s a quick overview. The Takumar 50mm f1.4 is capable of sharp definition and great contrast but many people enjoy using it more for the classic, slightly soft rendering it produces. Often I’m looking for an expressive quality in my photography, not a clinically accurate recording of reality. When I use the vintage lens I tend to look for subjects that don’t require edge-to-edge perfect focus. It’s hard to describe what kind of scene is likely to work best – you really have to get to know the lens. For that, some adjustments are necessary.

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1. One of the first photos I made with the Takumar. October 2014.
2. Sharp enough without feeling cold. Birches, October 2014.

Manual lenses can be a challenge for those of us who are used to digital cameras. You can’t use autofocus – there’s no electronic communication from lens to camera. And if you’ve been spoiled by focus peaking (the digital camera feature that highlights what’s in focus so you can put sharpness exactly where you want), then you’ll have to figure out another way to evaluate your focus. (I’ve read that it’s possible to use focus peaking with manual lenses, but I haven’t figured out how to do it). The viewfinder image is too small to judge whether the focus is correct and even on the screen, it’s very hard to see what you’re doing. I put my reading glasses on and turn the focus ring slowly while examining the LCD screen, a very deliberate process. For close-ups, I might rock toward and away from the subject in tiny increments. If I want to ensure a usable image I’ll make several photographs at slightly different focal lengths.

Another step in the process is setting the aperture – you have to take your eye away from the camera and look at the aperture ring on the lens while you turn it. With my regular lenses, an intuitive flick of the thumb is usually enough to change the aperture but a manual lens requires a little more thought. There won’t be any information in the viewfinder or on the screen to remind you what the aperture is. Nor will there be any data about lens settings when you download the files. It’s mechanical, not electronic.

Does this sound tedious? Yes, it’s a challenge. But slowing down can be good. Like many people, I have a tendency to move quickly from one thing to the next. This lens forces me to be more deliberate.

These photos are arranged chronologically, from 2014 to 2022. The earliest are jpegs – I didn’t begin shooting in RAW format until 2017. All of the images have been processed to varying degrees.

Like many Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lenses made with a thorium lens coating, my lens had a yellowish cast. In some situations the added warmth was pleasing but ultimately I decided I didn’t like dealing with a yellowish hue in every photo. In February 2021, I removed it using a technique I read about online that involved leaving the lens in a box for several days with a blacklight bulb shining on it. After that, it was easier to color-correct and process the photos.

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3. Reflections of fall color from a Japanese maple by a pond at a botanical garden. This was probably made at f2 but the camera can’t record data from the lens, so I’m not sure. November 2014.
4. Japanese maple. Purists don’t like the edges on the bokeh bubbles and the tendency of the lens to produce flare and fringing. I can live with those imperfections. November 2014.
5. We took the ferry to Vashon Island and came across this very photogenic, old building. November 2014.
6. In January 2015 I brought the lens along on a trip to southeastern Arizona.
7. By 2016 I had switched from the Panasonic Lumix G-3 to an Olympus EM-1. Both cameras use the same lens mount so I didn’t need to buy new lenses. The Olympus had more features, was very weather-resistant, and weighed less. Red elderberry leaves and shadows, April 2016.
8. Wildflowers and grasses have gone to seed. September 2016.
9. Autumn leaf color using an in-camera effect called soft focus and the Takumar. October 2017.
10. Another photo that I made using the same in-camera filter and the Takumar lens. October 2017.
11. A view through the whitewashed windows of a conservatory in Tacoma, Washington. November 2017.
12. Volunteer Park Conservatory. In this photo, the colors changed in processing. November 2017.
13. Two ferns, Bracken and Sword fern, declining with the season. December 2018.
14. Twigs in the rain at home. December 2018.
15. I really enjoy using the lens wide-open and getting lost in tangles of twigs. It’s like entering another world. March 2019.
16. A Madrone branch with peeling bark. The focus isn’t quite sharp anywhere in this photo but the all-over softness works well, I think. August 2019.
17. A view through the plastic siding of a greenhouse. January 2019.
18. Twisted safety fencing. October 2020.

19. Hyacinth leaves. February 2021.
20. Madrone bark. March 2021.
21. Stormy skies over the Salish Sea. October 2021.
22. Heart Lake reflection (converted to black and white). March 2022.
23. Intentional camera movement. Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia), September 2022.

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If you’re thinking of trying “that vintage lens” check several online sources to find the best price and don’t forget to order a good adapter. And give yourself time to get to know the lens.

***

I just heard that Pharoah Sanders died on Sunday, at the age of 81. I used to listen to him, Miles, Coltrane, Santana, and so many others on New York CIty and Newark, NJ jazz stations back in the early 1970s. A fellow art student who was born in Harlem and freshly returned from the Vietnam war introduced me to modern jazz, a complex music culture that seeped deep into my psyche. Hearing Leon Thomas’ soothingly tenor on “The Creator Has a Master Plan”, a collaboration with Pharoah Sanders, brings back a whole era. May they both R.I.P.

The Gentle Pharoah Sanders (1940 – 2022)

“The Creator Has a Master Plan” from the album Karma on Impulse! Records, 1969.

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79 comments

    • Thank you very much, Ian. I haven’t said much about my workflow. I use LightRoom on a desktop. Of course, all these photos were made with digital cameras but even when I take photos with my iPhone I import them into Lightroom and process them there rather than on the phone – I like seeing what I’m doing on a full-size monitor and I like LightRoom for its capability and ease of use. For color correcting I usually start simply, with LightRoom’s auto correct, then adjust as necessary, by eye. I use almost every tool on LightRoom – contrast, color grading, tone curve, adjusting highlights, shadows, whites & blacks, vibrance, clarity, luminance, hue, you name it! – but I don’t typically use every tool on a given image. Some don’t need much, some need more. Hope that helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. F1.4 can really be fun to explore and play with. I started a series of images awhile ago and it kinda got back-burnered. Your post reminded me of those dreamy qualities it can bring wide open.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good, I hope to see some of those soon. ๐Ÿ™‚ I sure wish I knew what aperture I used on photos made with the Takumar but I’ve never been willing to take the time to write it down or make notes on my phone. Maybe someday.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your observations about slowing down, needing to be more involved with the process. I haven’t the equipment, the ability or (frankly) the interest to emulate you in photography, but I do appreciate the joy of making conscious decisions, taking conscious control, rather than always having some algorim decide for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All fantastic, Lynn, but #10 really appeals to me. Love the sense of mystery.

    โ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ช
    โ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซ

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent images, congratulations. I like your approach to photography and blogging: “Take your time”. It is very tempting to let the camera/phone and image processing software, including AI, do all the work. I think the paced, manual way and the results are more satisfying.

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  5. your photos go straight from my eyes to stomach – delicious is the only word I can think of. Thank you for all the info though a technical step too far from my level (I have a Pansonic Lumix G6). Love #6,10,11.17 which show just how consistent your talent is

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laura, you made me laugh, thank you! I like that. No it’s not too far at all – really. It’s worth playing with. Just look for the lens at a good price. The adaptors aren’t expensive. Screw the lens into the adaptor and the adaptor into the camera and experiment. I’m sure you would get some great results, with your eye (and soul). I wasn’t surprised that you liked #10 but I am surprised about #17. Interesting! Thanks for commenting, Laura, and have a good evening.

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  6. Love images 1, 2 and 3, 5, 11, 12 and 13. Good to see you having fun with this lens. Personally, I am a fan of wider apertures, I regularly use f1.4, f2.8 to get soft backgroundsโ€ฆsharpness is overrated!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A really interesting post. As someone who gave up using an SLR and interchangeable lenses years ago (my back thanks me even if my photos do not!) I nevertheless found this intriguing and was briefly tempted to go back to those days! Your photos are so beautiful and atmospheric ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

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    • And greetings back to you, Harrie, Joe just yelled it but I’m not sure you heard him. Today we’re going to meet a German blogger-photographer who lives in San Diego now. He and his wife are on a very long road trip. We’re going to meet for lunch and take a walk around Deception Pass. Wish you could join us! It’s good to know that the Dutch jury awarded the prize to the most ebullient photo of all (don’t you like that word??). ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Dank u for sending us some rain – we need it – please!).

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  8. A very informative post and, as always, accompanied by beautiful photos.
    Not being an expert in the matter, I liked knowing the term “bokeh” and its beautiful effect!
    I wish you a good week and thank you for sharing your long experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Dulce. I almost forgot to include the link for “bokeh” but when my partner read the post and said that I misspelled
      “bouquet” I knew that I needed to add a link. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you have a good evening and a happy week. Take care!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. There’s that lens again! ๐Ÿ˜Š And a wonderful set of photographs, just beautiful. I am generally loath to choose favorites but the luminous leaves in #10 really stand out to me (I remember it from a previous post). I also have a particular bias toward #22…it has the same vibe I remember from those days (early 1970s) shooting Tri-X black and white film with the same lens. I was curious when I saw the picture of your lens so I got mine out. Exactly the same text on both yours and mine; your serial number is lower. Beautiful lens.

    {FYI: The links at the end of the post didn’t work for me. When I look at the links, link text is in the URL.}

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a memory you have. I wish I could put into words what it is about some of the images that come from this lens. A vibe remembered from the 1970s is one way. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I understand there were quite a few versions of that lens. Did yours yellow over the years?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I loved that camera and lens. I really don’t know the history of the lens though. By the time I got mine, it had a Honeywell Pentax name on the lens cap and camera.

        If they yellow over the years, then mine probably did. It looks very much like the photo of yours. I shot transparency film for color and I don’t remember any particular color cast on the slides back then.

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        • They say if you can’t find the lens for sale online, then look for the camera you had or one like it, and that 50mm lens may come with it because it was such a fine, popular lens. Probably the yellowing wasn’t there when you were using the lens back then. Do you or did you ever digitize any of your old slides? It would be nice to see some of them.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. An interesting collection focusing on the history of your vintage 50mm and you’ve shown a variety of techniques you’ve accomplished with it. That wide AZ landscape is a stunner, the autumn leaves with the figure on the bench is a creative thrill. I remember the conservatory windows, so beautiful in its diffused light. Love the madrone branch, and your dancing Hyacinth leaves is a fab image. A terrific tribute to your lens and photographic vision. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • The AZ photograph looks slightly off to me, color balance-wise. I can’t seem to make it better but I decided to include it anyway. Maybe it doesn’t look off to you, that’s good! I’m partial to the dancing hyacinth leaves, too. Glad you like that one! Thanks a lot, Jane!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I can remember earlier posts with photos taken with this classic lens. There is no doubt that you can create some beautiful images with it. It’s difficult to pick a favorite but I’m pickin’ #22. Simply a great shot.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love what this lens can do. There are many photos in this collection that appeal to me but faves are 1, 3 (just gorgeous!), 10 and 12. I don’t get out often enough even with the macro that I bought – need to practice more!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s easy to get used to one lens and keep using it, believe me, I get that! I have a nice, small zoom lens that you might have – a 14-42mm EZ f3.5 pancake zoom. I was just beginning to use it again when it malfunctioned a few days ago. I think it’s broken now. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ A first-world problem so I’m not really complaining! Thanks for stopping by, Alison. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Howard. An online photographer/poet friend encouraged me to try a Lensbaby a while bak. I have one that isn’t made anymore and required an adapter. There’s a post with photos here

      Sunday in the Yard with Lensbaby


      There are more here:

      Distorted Realities?


      The images seemed a little too contrived to me and it was very difficult to get anything – even a sliver sometimes – in focus. No doubt people make beautiful photographs with Lensbaby lenses but I didn’t have the patience to put in the work that was necessary. Looking at the photos from those posts now makes me think I may try it again. So thanks for leading me on this detour!

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  13. I think most of these shots would be awesome with any lens, but this one does add a certain something. I have the same question as howg2211 – ever try a LensBaby? A similar idea on softness, but maybe a bit more extreme and tilt shifty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s Howard Grill above, a photographer and cardiologist who lives in PA but has worked as a traveling physician on the OR coast – I think Coos Bay. See my reply to him. Yes, a little more extreme but worth looking at again. Thanks so much, Dave.

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        • Yes, sorry I didn’t specify – the one I have is a used “bendy” kind and was what I felt I could afford when I bought it. The rigid-barreled Velvet would be easier to use. Even on ebay, most used Velvets are over $300.00, and new they’re over $500. Somehow it makes more sense to me to spend that kind of money on a “normal” lens rather than something for occasional use. I don’t think I’d go that route except once in a while. But you’re right, I like what they have at that link. Thanks, Howard!

          Like

  14. RIP indeed. I’m a jazz fan, as well. How wonderful it must have been to hear so much in NY.
    I remember several of these images from your earlier posts about your vintage lens. A fitting combo with jazz greats somehow. The type of soft effects and varied focus you can achieve with it results in one of my favorite styles of images, and you use it particularly well. I especially love the Japanese maple leaves in water – which I don’t remember seeing before. The twigs, madrone and others, I remember well.
    The clarity of digital appeals in its sharp detail at times, but it’s often harsh or static to me, and I’m always drawn back to the serendipitous variance of manually focused and set images. Something was lost in the art of photography when so much became automated and digitized, though much was gained as well. New tools, new tones. Like music on old vinyl records through analog systems compared to an MP3 through digital systems. Both have astounding beauty in their own way.
    Thanks for sharing this gorgeously composed set, full of the exquisite intuitive movement and harmonious happy accidents of live jazz in visual form.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Before you imagine me spending hours in smoky jazz clubs back in the 70s, remember I was a student and couldn’t afford that. But being around someone who was an aspiring jazz drummer and hearing good jazz on the radio all the time had an effect. Thanks for pointing out the affinity of the vintage lens with jazz. The serendipitous variance, nice… ๐Ÿ˜‰ Something lost, something gained, exactly. Such a great comment, Sheri, thanks. I hope you’re outside enjoying this weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: That Vintage Lens – MobsterTiger

  16. Don’t tell me about technique, will ya ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I love your pictures here, what you created with that great lens. The blur is beautiful. It reminds me of my old analogue SLR. In my next life I will invest in this kind of equipment! # 3, 4, 11, 12 are my favorites, than all the others ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you do more with this lens!

    Liked by 1 person

    • ๐Ÿ™‚ You make wonderful photographs with the camera you have and your closeups get better and better. I really like having a camera that allows me to switch lenses…and you can buy a very good used camera for a lot less these days. Anyway, it’s nice to hear that you like this look. Would you agree that it’s hard to describe what’s different about it? Thanks for picking out your favorites – no doubt I will keep picking up the lens from time to time. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • It is and it is hard to follow, if you are not “in the topic”, as we would say. You have a good point with used cameras. Maybe I should take a look again if I can’t find a cheap offer in this direction. With my SLR I used different lenses too and it was a lot of fun. Nevertheless it is a joy to watch pictures from an expert (I suppose you won’t like that word ;-), no, from an artist like you ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, at least look around online from time to time to see what they cost. I really don’t consider myself an expert because in my mind, that word implies much more technical knowledge than I have. But I do like thinking of myself as an artist. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  17. 21- elicited a sharp intake of breath…
    too many others to stop and remark upon, though, as always they DO deserve a pause.
    (can you tell I’m trying to get caught up as best I can?) ๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ™

    Liked by 1 person

    • She likes her stormy skies… ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope you’re feeling better. It’s been a bit rough, between your worries about a loved one’s health and the disappointing move of the grands. Things will improve!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Looks like I may be coming up for air… at least there are hints and promises of stormy days to come… (the GOOD kind!!! ๐Ÿค—) Hope you’re enjoying the refreshing change in seasons.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Honestly, I wish there was a real change in the season but we’re bone-dry up here, no measurable rain since sometime in June and the only thing in the forecast is a slight chance toward the end of the month. That’s very unusual here – dry is one thing, but this is worse. I know you’re familiar with rain-wishing.

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  18. I read with great interest about your path with such an analogue, non-automatic, old lens.ย  I myself have never felt strongly drawn to such an attempt, although I can see and appreciate the qualities of the photos produced in this way.ย  There is a large group of supporters of these lenses in various Internet forums.
    So I was looking forward to your perspective on the topic – and of course I wasn’t disappointed.

    There seems to be a bit of luck associated with this type of photography when you describe how you took several photos just to be sure of the wanted result.ย  The birch trees in image #2 show a soft sharpness that could otherwise only be produced with image editing software, if possible at all.
    I find amusing the effort you had to go through to remove the yellow cast from the photos… and also to figure out how to do it.ย  It takes a lot of engagement to expose yourself to all that.ย  But I can understand your attitude: if you decide to do something, then do it right.ย  And doing things more slowly, carefully can’t be wrong, if necessary with methods that slow us down a bit ๐Ÿ™‚.

    Would I have noticed that these pictures were taken with the manual lens?ย  Nevertheless, they are so typical of your way of taking photos that I might have simply taken them for particularly finely processed photos of you.ย  And whatever lens used, Heart Lake in black and white would always be my favorite shot here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not only do I sometimes make more than one photo to improve my chances, but I still don’t know what I’m going to get. Maybe that’s part of the fun. “Soft sharpness” is a good way to describe the subtle differences between the old lens and my new lenses. As far as the yellowing goe, it was pretty strong and after a while, I just was done with it, mentally. So I googled how to remove it and all I had to do was order a weird light bulb online, then set it up in a box. Of course, this kind of thing appeals to you-know-who so he got involved, which made it more fun.
      I get that you wouldn’t necessarily know these were made with a vintage lens unless I told you. You can’t always tell. But there IS some quality there that keeps me coming back. ๐Ÿ™‚
      That being said, I wonder if the BW of Heart Lake would be essentially the same using a new lens. I think it probably would be.
      Have I walked in circles enough? Thanks for coming along!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  19. I am not sure what happened to my comment on this post. I must have forgotten to tap on โ€˜post commentโ€™! I like that youโ€™ve centered the post around the one lens. It certainly handles bokeh really well! I have Canonโ€™s 100mm macro f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.4 and they both produce nice bokeh. Some of these look familiar and I still love you B&W Heart Lake Reflection. Wonderful post and images.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And what happened to my reply? OK, I have a good excuse too – I was traveling. Anyway, thanks for going back, Denise, I appreciate the effort and time it takes. Glad you enjoyed the post! It’s tough to focus but it does have a special kind of magic. ๐Ÿ™‚

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