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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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