Asahi Optical Co., Ltd. was founded by Kumao Kajiwara in 1919 in Japan and became one of the leading manufacturers of photo cameras and lenses. The production of photo lenses started in 1931 but the true success came to Asahi only in 1951 when Asahiflex — first Japanese 35 mm SLR camera — came out. First Takumar lenses for Asahiflex camera had M37 thread mount, after some time the M37 thread was replaced by M42 and the lenses with M42 mount were produced till 1975 when threaded mount was abandoned due to release of the new Pentax system based on K bayonet mount.
Asahi Takumar 1:1.4/50 is a fast full-frame manual standard prime which exists in lots of incarnations:
- Super-Takumar (1964-1966) – optically consists of 8 elements in 7 groups, single coated. Allows to select manual or automatic aperture mode by a special switch on the housing. The aperture has 6 blades. Weighs 245 g;
- Super-Takumar (1967-1971) — optically consists of 7 elements in 6 groups. The late production batches obtained early version of multi-coating (3-4 layers). Weighs 230 g;
- Super-Multi-Coated (1971-1972) – multi-coated (7 layers), allows metering without preliminary closing the diaphragm to shooting aperture. The aperture has 8 blades. Other characteristics are the same of Super-Takumar’s (1967-1971);
- SMC (1973-1975) – cosmetic update of Super-Multi-Coated model. However, the late production batches had even more sofisticated coating in comparision with the Super-Multi-Coated model. Weighs 252 g.
Early variation of Super-Takumar (8 elements in 7 groups) was costly in production for Asahi so they decided to simplify the optical scheme. A question that arises when looking at this line of models — how to distinguish the earlier version of the Super-Takumar from the latter one? You have to pay attention to the depth of field scale on the lens barrel — there is a red bar on the scale near the f/4 aperture value, and if the bar is located to the LEFT of the value — you’re dealing with late variation of the Super-Takumar, and if the bar is located to the RIGHT — then you’re looking at the early variation. Moreover, the aperture mode switch of the earlier version has M — A markings while the later variations marked as MAN. — AUTO. Additional sign — only the later version of Super-Takumar (1967-1971) has the dot which marks the F/2 aperture value.
With the transition from M42 thread mount to Pentax K bayonet mount in 1975, this model was not abandoned and the optical schemes of the following models are based on Takumar 1:1.4/50:
- smc Pentax (1975-1977) – has the best build quality among the smc Pentax lenses.;
- smc Pentax-M (1977-1984) – the build quality is also very high but both the length and weight of the housing are slightly reduced;
- smc Pentax-A (1984-1989) – has fully automatic aperture which could be controlled from the camera;
- smc Pentax-F (1989-1991) – autofocus lens;
- smc Pentax-FA (1991-2004) – the further evolution of smc Pentax-F; currently in production.
In 1980-90s the Pentax Corporation «resurrected» Takumar brand for the series of single-coated budget lenses. Such lenses were marked as Takumar (Bayonet) to distinguish them from the old threaded ones. Thanks God, Super-Takumar 1:1.4/50 does not exist in such variation.
So, we have determined that our sample of Takumar 1:1.4/50 is the ultimate variation of the Super-Takumar model in the line of Asahi M42 lenses. In this review the lens was used with the Canon EOS 5D full-frame camera via M42 — Canon EF adapter without chip. There was no focus confirmation, but the metering was performed by the camera automatically in the stop-down mode. Theoretically all you have to do is just to select the desired aperture and rotate the manual focus ring until you have your subject sharp in the viewfinder. The problem however is that Auto ISO feature is available with this camera only in fully automatic mode and the images are stored in JPEG format only (hence the picture quality will suffer from software compression). Moreover the ISO range which camera selects automatically in this mode is limited to the range of 100 — 400 only, which is insufficient in some cases. That’s why I had to shoot in Tv (shutter priority) mode and periodically look at the images the camera displays immediately after they are made, and if the picture was wrongly exposed, I had to decrease the shutter speed or to increase the ISO value. However soon I get used to such procedures and performed them «automatically».
Build Quality and Characteristics
The build quality of the lens is great (in fact, this is pretty typical for the most lenses of the late 1960s) and is not comparable not only to the modern high-quality plastic lenses, but even to the all-metal Pentax Limited series of lenses. The black housing of the lens is completely made of metal, including thread mount, has the light weight of 230 g and a length of 43 mm (when focused on the infinity; not including the caps).
The manual focus ring has width of 13 mm, is well damped, has no play, rotates smoothly and with proper resistance. The condition of various control elements of the lens depends on the year of manufacture and the level of preservation of a particular lens. The angle of rotation of the ring is big (approximately 225 degrees) and more than sufficient to provide accurate focusing. The front element is pushed forward only by 7 mm when focusing on the minimum distance of 0.45 m. There is a distance scale and depth of field scale of course.
When you move further from the minimum focus distance to the infinity the rear element of the lens gradually extends and at infinity goes at several mm beyond M42 — Canon EF adapter. The retracted rear element will block Canon 5D’s mirror after the shutter button is pressed and the mirror will stuck in the half-opened position. The image will likely to be ruined. So please be informed that the focusing on the infinity with Canon EOS 5D and this lens is actually not available.
The aperture ring has the following markings: 1.4 — 2.8 — 4 — 5.6 — 8 — 11 — 16. F/2 and F/2.4 aperture values are also available, the F/2 value is marked with a white dot on the aperture ring. There are half stops between F/2.8 and F/16 but they are not indicated on the scale. The aperture works in manual and automatic modes, there is a corresponding switch on the rear part of the housing. The switch is irrelevant for today’s digital cameras.
The aperture has 6 blades, its opening is not circular, but this is not so surprising, because the production of the lenses with a circular aperture started only in 1987 by the Minolta Corporation — 12 years after withdrawal of Asahi Takumar lenses from the production. Super-Multi-Coated and newer variations all have 8 aperture blades.
The diameter of the filter thread is 49 mm — a common size among Asahi (Pentax) lenses. The filter thread does not rotate when focusing, making it easy to use polarizing and gradient filters. No filters were used during shooting for this review.
Optically the lens consists of 7 elements in 6 groups. The Super-Multi-Coated and SMC Takumar variations are equipped with multi-layer coatings which teoretically result in greater resistance to flares and ghosting and better overall contrast of the images. The optical elements of the reviewed lens do have noticeable yellow cast — a common characteristic of many Asahi Super-Takumar lenses.
Paradoxically the focusing with the full-frame SLR Canon EOS 5D camera in manual mode is noticeably more comfortable than with the APS-C mirrorless Fujifilm X-Pro1. There are several reasons. The X-Pro1 is equipped with electronic viewfinder (EVF) and window finder and of course supports Live View mode. In EVF mode you see exactly the image that the camera will record to the memory card, but the viewfinder itself is not very big, so the accurate focusing is sometimes problematic. As for the Canon EOS 5D, it’s an old SLR camera and it does not equipped not only with an EVF (which is quite understandable), but — suddenly — does not offer Live View mode! But fortunately it has a really large optical viewfinder (OVF) so there are no problems when focusing at the maximum apertures — the OVF is bright and big and the sharpness of the subject achieved by the rotation of the manual focusing ring could be noticed immediately. Of course the image in the OVF could not be called bright say at F/4 and with the further closing of the aperture the OVF gets noticeably darker and the manual focusing becomes not so comfortable. But you simply could use autofocus lenses at such apertures — the quality of the images will be the same or even higher.
The tested lens exhibits soft-effect at F/1.4, furthermore the image has a light yellowish cast. I am pretty sure the lens could exhibit great sharpness at F/1.4 but the partially degraded optical coatings hinder this. The borders of the frame are soft at F/1.4, become better at F/2-2.8 and from F/4 don’t lag behind the center of the frame (when shooting at the infinity). The overall contrast is equally very good at all apertures.
The lens has weak vignetting at F/4, it looks like a slight darkening of the corners of the frame. Just close down the aperture down to F/2 and the vignetting is gone. The distortion is not visible. The same goes for the lateral chromatic aberrations.
The quality of the bokeh is very good. The depth of field at F/1.4 is very thin even with the APS-C sensor and if you want, you could achieve truly impressive separation of the main subject from the background. The background blur is very soft when shooting at short distances but looks pretty peculiar at F/1.4-2 at the distances of several meters. The degree of blurring, however, also depends on the distance between the front element of the lens and the subject, the distance between the subject and the background. The out-of-focus highlights are round at F/1.4 in the center of the frame but become hexagons starting from F/2. At the corners of the frame the out-of-focus highlights look like «cat’s eyes».
The longitudinal chromatic aberrations (colored halos in front of the focus point and in the background) are small at F/1.4. The aberrations become lighter with further closing of the aperture and invisible from F/4.
The Super-Takumar 1:1.4/50 is the fastest model in Asahi line of M42 lenses. The lens has its own «soul» and by and large does not leave to be desired for anything more. Mechanically it’s perfect and the only serious optical flaw OF THE REVIEWED LENS is soft-effect at F/1.4. However I can’t say that it greatly spoils the image, in my opinion. Despite the fact that this version of the lens is not equipped with the most advanced optical coatings I can’t make any reservations to overall contrast and sharpness of the image (except for F/1.4).
Author of the review and photos: Evgeny Artemov, firstname.lastname@example.org