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Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by mathjeff0, Dec 31, 2017.
Given that I critically tested all my lenses, I actually do know which are good enough . . .
I have lots of them.
Some are fixed to the camera - the Xenon lens on my Retina IIIc being an example.
Others are interchangeable. For 35mm my Zuiko lenses are quite special, but the Canon EF lenses are quite useful too - even the one that was originally designed for APS film.
Even the kit zooms on my Canon auto-focus SLRs are capable of excellent results.
For special purpose use - like close focus photography of flat subjects, or hand-held photography under dim light - some of my lenses are better suited to their intended purpose.
But they all have the ability to render fine, nuanced detail at magnifications that please - like when used for slide projection.
The quality that you can get from just about any major manufacturer's lenses for 35mm film is amazing. Special purpose needs aside, if you are trying to solve quality problems by looking for a new lens, I am afraid you are looking in the wrong direction.
I was working in a lab and we used the Micro Nikkor 55 f/3.5 as a reproduction lens for duplicating slides, it was very good at doing that. A couple of times I borrowed it for weekends, it became a much loved lens, but probably wasn’t that flash on infinity subjects, but still quite good at infinity.
The faster updated version the Micro Nikkor 55 f/2.8 was released in Australia around December 1979 I tried one and bought one for myself. It came with the PK 13 extension tube which enables you to take 1:1 images, although the front of the lens is perilously close to the subject when doing 1:1.
For a couple of years this was my take anywhere lens as it gave super sharp images pretty much for everything; the other reason for taking it everywhere was quite simple, it was the only lens I had for my Nikon body; I was switching from Pentax to Nikon.
The sharpest and best of anything I have shot in 35mm land, has been with the Micro Nikkor 55 f/2.8 and a very good tripod on FE2 and F3 bodies.
At f/5.6 to f/8 it is in another league to almost anything I have ever used. Add the sturdy tripod and the lens is so sharp it’s a wonder it doesn’t cut the film.
I bought my 55 f/2.8 lens brand new, it was never abused but it was worked very hard for about 10 years, then it was used far less as I had other Nikkor lens available. I did find on one extremely hot day, a bit of a problem. I had been shooting in portrait mode with a tripod and started to get shutter sticking, or so I thought. Turned out the lubricant on the helices had started to run into the aperture blades and gum up the works. I had the lens pulled apart and given a service and it has been good as gold ever since. I have heard these lenses do have this issue, so beware that you may require a service on one of these units.
The next best lens for sharpness and resolution I personally have used in 35mm land, is the Nikkor 85 f/1.4. This lens works extremely well at f/1.4 but is decadently sharp from f/4 to f5.6 and a half.
There are others, but these two are the stand out performers in my armoury of Nikkor and non Nikkor lenses.
Sharpness cannot be considered in isolation without considering contrast. I saw a series of photos years ago to illustrate the differences. It was photos of a cat, one lens had high sharpness and poor contrast, the other had moderate sharpness and high contrast. The low contrast photo look flat and muddy - while sharp, the low contrast made it very difficult to distinguish the fur. The high contrast lens on the other hand brought out all the detail in the fur and made the photo look much more pleasing and realistic, even if the ultimate resolution wasn't as high. The eye was fooled though so the higher contrast image looked sharper, even if it wasn't.
Matt's questions were quite perceptive, if you had answered them it might give a better idea of what you are looking to achieve - high sharpness on it's own generally doesn't look good. Things like edge fall off and corner illumination are also important.
The lenses that typically do the best in MTF charts are telephotos in the 180-400mm range.
All the lenses I use improve by being stopped down, even a little. Sharpness wide open is relative, things appear "sharp" until you compare the same image one or two stops down. Try putting a wide aperture lens on a d-camera in movie mode at base ISO, and filming a static object. It's one of the best ways of determining the character of a lens. It removes aspects like grain and developer acutance from the equation, and shows exactly where the image is sharp, and where sharpness falls away and vignetting begins.
As others have suggested, perceived sharpness can depend on centre sharpness relative to edge sharpness. If you're interested in very wide aperture lenses the character of the out of focus elements also play a part in lens choice. If the question is what wide lens looks good on a budget, the Canon FD 50mm 1.4 is a perennial reply. To my eyes the Nikkor 50mm f2 looks pretty good wide open. Lens sharpness is like HiFi, you pay exponentially more for diminishing returns to the point where the improvement is in the imagination of the perceiver.
Contax G lenses are supposed to be just about unbeatable in 35mm. To be honest though, if you’re obsessed with detail, I’d skip right over 35mm and look at a medium format camera. A lot of old folders will render more detail than the finest Leica lens. Step up to something like a Mamiya 6 or 7 and there will be no comparison.
I shoot 35mm for grain, character and as a fast ‘notebook’.
You have missed the holga lens...
I didn't vote because i would have voted for the Contax lenses as a system but it wasn't an option. Ive used plenty of Leica R lenses over the years and find them excellent but the best lens typically cost more than $500. The 50 Summicron is cheap and excellent, most people love it but i find it kind of boring but very sharp.
Consider the Contax 1.7 and 1.4 50mm lenses, most seem to prefer the 1.7.
I also have the micro Nikkor 2.8/55 and concur it has an uncommon evel of sharpness.
How about the Russian F2 85mm with M42 screw thread and a preset aperture ring. Virtually no coating to speak of, bubbles galore in the glass all the way though o every element and multiple ghost images on the negative. Yes really I could get more contrast out of a simple meniscus lens on a hand magnifier.
A good thread. I love sharp images (I don’t know how to define that, but I know what I mean). I just bought a 55mm f2.8 micro Nikkor based on the responses so far.
Given that Nikon in their wisdom chose to keep their lens mount the same, unlike Canon who changed theirs when they went to AF, you could almost claim even the latest lenses save the S type which can't be used on manual camera will surely keep the crown in the Nikon stable.
The wide range and variety of responses to your thread answers your question. As the answers show, even highly mathematically technical responses are in the end based on subjective premises. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s just the way it is.
Should you be in the market for a new lens or camera with a new lens, perhaps you should ask which lens would be best for your particular use for a lens.
And why exclude Leica? With persistent searching you should be able to find a “user” at a reasonable price.
Nonetheless, your question stimulated a great variety of informative responses and made interesting reading.
I wasn't able to find the Modern Photography test of the Nikkor Macro. But the bars in their test results are not "error bars" they represent the entire range of recorded values. The Summilux was the sharpest at center and 1/3 out. Having mentioned that, if someone were to ask me my impression from looking at my negatives, I'd say my Makro-Planar 60 has produced some jaw dropping negatives of near objects. Although I don't have a Macro Nikkor (yet) I suspect its performance is similar.
Didn't say it was meaningless. Just beaten to ragged pulp.
Most lenses are better than most photographers
I heard that expression often including the one about most cameras are better than most photographers but I don't really understand what that means.
I can't say which is the sharpest lens for a 35mm S.L.R. because I haven't tried them all, but the sharpest Canon FD lens I own is the 35mm f2 breech lock Thorium lens..
If I had to guess, my vote would be for the Leica 50mm APO Summicron ASPH, but at $7795 it's a bit of a stretch. If I were limited to using just one lens, it would be my Olympus 50mm f/2 macro. I have never been disappointed with its performance. The 75mm Rokkor on my 1959 Minolta Autocord is plenty sharp too. You can improve the sharpness of any image by using a faster shutter speed (or better yet, a tripod). Camera shake is likely the main cause of a lack of sharpness, not lens resolution. Of course, it's a balancing act. Stopping down the lens a couple of stops also increases the sharpness, but you need a slower shutter speed.
I cannot think of a single lens in my accretion of gear that is unsharp. This includes large format lenses from the century before last to the 1980s, fixed lenses on 35mm rf cameras, fixed lenses on other than 35, about 20 or so 50-55mm standards for several slr and rf mounts, plus my outfit of Nikkors from 20 to 135mm. Even the 35 to 70 zooms on a pair of plastic Pentax IQ Zooms are decent, as is the Minolta beercan zoom that came with a Maxxum 7000.
Standouts: Nikkor H 50 f:2, compared to the 50 f:1.4 and f:1.2 the -H was better wide open than either of the faster lenses at f:2, vary slight bbl. distortion, the only Nikkor 50s I use.
Leitz Summitar, stunning center sharpness and nice contrast, field curves towards the lens, no perceptible distortion. Takumar 55 f:1.8, 55 f:2 - same lens, the f:2 has a restricted aperture: great lenses, very very sharp, nice contast, as good as any and embarassingly cheap usually with some version of a Spotmatic as a rear cap. Nikkors 105 (Sonnar), 28 f:3.5, two more favorites. 55 f:3.5 Micro Nikkor, best close up, more than adequate at infinity. 85mm f:2 Jupiter 9, typical Sonnar glow with a crisp core wide open, sharp with nice contrast at f:4 and smaller. I can go on and on.
Use any of these at f:11 and you won't be able to tell them apart.
You won't get the best of any lens unless it's on a tripod; most any decent lens can out-resolve most any common film. A lens shade even on multicoated lenses will improve contrast. A slow shutter speed will soften any lens.
In terms of sharpest lens, not just the normal but in total, up and down the range from wide to super tele. Leica, either M or flex, most affordable Minolta SR, not on the list Konica. I don't know if Konica ever made a bad lens, their 55 .17 is one of the sharpest lens made, the 57 1.2 is very sharp at 1.2 to 1.4 will the 1.8 is sharpest at f8. Pentax K are not slouches, many limited editions manual focus lens are still in production. In daily use, I guess is every system listed will out resolve Tmax 100.
I have an old Dagor type lens, maufacturer uncertain, that gives the most incredible perception of sharpness of any lens I've ever used. It's mounted in a Goerz Sector shutter with a serial# in the low 2000s, which puts the shutter at 1904. There are no markings on the cells, 8.25" focal length and uncoated but bloomed. When well printed it gives a 3 dimensional look, sharply focussed details seem to rise from the print, it has to be seen. I have many other Dagors but none give quite this combination of tonality, contrast, and resolution; I'd love to know just what it is.
Here are the cameras with the lenses that I considered the sharpest I have used:
Pentax Spotmatic 35mm SLR
50mm f/1.4 8-element Takumar
Fuji ST705 35mm SLR
50mm f/1.4 Fujinon
Contax G-1 35mm rangefinder
45mm f/2 Zeiss
Leica M6 35mm rangefinder
Zeiss 35mm f/1.4
Leitz 21mm f/1.4
Nikon F2 and F4 35mm SLR
55mm f/3.5 Nikkor micro
105mm f/2.8 Nikkor micro
180mm f/2.8 Nikkor
80-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor AF-S zoom
The Nikon 43-86 f/3.5 zoom was the worst lens I have ever used.
I do not understand this.
Unless you want shallow depth-of-focus on just a central subject. But using a wide aperture is not neccessarily done for just this.
The subject may be at the side of the image, or stretch over the whole width.
It means that few photographers will use any camera to it's full potential.