Triple Underdog – 3 Humble 50mm Lenses That Far Exceeded Expectations

Many vintage lenses have impressive reputations online.

But in my direct experience over the last four years or so, disappointingly often I’ve found them to be expensive and over-hyped.

In contrast, I’ve found a few with very modest (or virtually non-existent) reputations, but still capable of very impressive results.

Here are three of these dark horse performers, and why I like them.

1. Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2, Pentax K Mount

In Pentax K mount the yardstick tends to be Pentax’s own M lenses, not least of all the Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7.

But I’ve had a few 50/2 Rikenons and they’ve given the Pentax lenses a very close run for their money.

Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2

The little Rikenon comes in two sizes, one version more compact than the other. I suspect they’re otherwise the same, and I certainly got equally good images from both.

Whereas with some lenses you try to avoid shooting at their maximum aperture, the Rikenons are great from f/2 onwards. The robin shot below is at f/2, and is straight out of camera (NEX) without any processing.

Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2

Being more plastic than the Pentax-M 50/1.7, they’re lighter too, especially the compact version.

If I had a Pentax K mount body and just one of these Rikenon 50/2s, I’d be more than confident of capturing excellent images time and time again.

Pentax ME, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

Something like a Pentax MV plus the Rikenon would be a fantastic, compact set up – pretty much as small as a full frame 35mm SLR and lens gets. The cheapest I picked up one of these lenses was something like £5.

2. Cosina Cosinon-S 50mm 1.8, Pentax K Mount

Again in K mount, I got this with a Cosina CS-1 body unbelievably cheaply (less than £10) and was expecting cheap results.

But, despite being a bit crude to use compared to the best in K mount, the Cosinon-S was more than adequate in the final image.

Sony NEX 3N, Cosina Cosinon-S 50mm f/1.8

I never got to test it on some of my favourite hunting grounds (or with a film camera), but even with fairly mundane lunchtime walks I captured enough to see its potential.

I should not have been surprised then when its Auto Cosinon 135/2.8 sibling in M42 (another bargain at around £15) gave me such memorable results too.

Sony NEX 3N, Cosina Cosinon-S 50mm f/1.8

I later learned that whilst Cosina didn’t make that many of their own branded cameras and lenses, they’ve made them for virtually everyone else, including Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Konica! And still do – some Voigtlanders, amongst others, are made by Cosina.

3. Centon MC 50mm f/1.7, Pentax K Mount

This brand I’d not even heard of and bought it for around £15 attached to a Ricoh AF SLR, assuming it was a Rikenon 50/1.7, after the pleasing results the 50/2 version mentioned above gave me.

It was instead a Centon, a Chinese manufacturer apparently, and seemed like brand new. The build quality was surprisingly tight, and the focus smooth, both aspects superior than the Rikenon or Cosina above.

Sony NEX 3N, Centon MC 50mm f/1.7 lens

I sold the Ricoh body for most of what I paid, so this lens ended up costing me literally a couple of pounds.

Again this was in Pentax K mount, which goes do show that you don’t need to buy a lens with Pentax stamped on to get decent results. Or even that you need to stick with Japanese and German optics.

Sony NEX 3N, Centon MC 50mm f/1.7

In conclusion, in 50mm lenses at least, there are so many capable options out there, you don’t have to pay a fortune or for one of the biggest names, which sometimes don’t live up to their online hype and expectation anyway.

What’s your favourite 50mm lens? Which lenses in your collection have been dark horses and impressed you far more than you anticipated? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.


14 thoughts on “Triple Underdog – 3 Humble 50mm Lenses That Far Exceeded Expectations”

    1. Thanks! Yes I thought of including my Helios 44-2 as it only cost me £7 (and I’ve had at least a dozen other Helios 44s that cost less than £10) but they’re pretty well known now and harder to find cheap. Ditto with the Pentax-M 50/1.7, the prices have gone up. I may do a sequel post with another three, including the cheaper but virtually as capable 50/2 version.

    1. That’s a good tip for those of you in the US – Ricoh made a lot of the Sears stuff I believe.

      I agree re the performance, and I would even suggest that in some conditions the Rikenons seem sharper than the Pentax lenses.

  1. I fully agree – the 5-6 elements in 4 groups design of the 50mm “standard lens” was optimsed a long time ago and the patents lapsed. As a result near eveyone could make a 50mm at F1.7 to 2.0 (and a 135mm at F2.8 to 3.5) with high resolution in the centre and ths got sharp to the corners by about F4-5.6

    The biggest difference in performance I see today is from the build up of “haze” on the internal elements as the lubricant gases out and deposits on the glass.

    The second key step to better image quality is to fit a suitable lens hood to cut out lateral lens “veiling flare” – with a crop sensor body there is a rim of redundant glass that just sets up internal reflacetions, and you need a longer hood than for 35mm film. I like those 3-step rubber fold out ones which cist £2-4 from web sellers.

    Add to your list the “vivitar 50mm F1.7” and Miranda/Petri 50mm F1.7 K-mount (this latter is a cosina model and appeared under many brand names worldwide). These often come with old £10 boot sale cameras and make great adapted fast-aperture portrait lenses of “100mm equivalent” perspective on micro 4/3 cameras.

    1. Thanks Paul. Those two focal lengths you mention (50/55mm and 135mm) were the two I had many lenses in, and all were so good it made it hard to let go of them.

      Back in the 70s and 80s when most of them were made I think this was less of a problem as they were mostly new at the time, and comparatively far more expensive. The average amateur photographer wouldn’t be able to justify buying half a dozen 50mm lenses at full, or close to full price.

      These days though, we have so many lenses available to us used, and for very little outlay, that it’s hard to not buy up half a dozen of each!

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