Lens Love is an ongoing series of posts about the vintage lenses I’ve used and loved most.
The dry technical data and 100% corner crops of brick walls can be found elsewhere. What I’m more interested in is what specifically about a lens makes me love using it, and why I believe you should try one too.
Today’s lens –
Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 Pentax K Mount
When I first held a Rikenon 50/2 I was underwhelmed, to say the least.
A lot of plastic, “only” f/2, “only” full stops on the aperture ring, and a minimum focus of “only” 0.6m.
Against the likes of the lovely SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7 and almost as lovely Auto Chinon 50/1.7 – both of which are faster, better built (plus more metal) and focus to 0.45m – I didn’t expect the Rikenon to hang around long.
But then I shot a roll of film with it.
And was highly impressed with the photographs.
Then I tried it on my NEX, and got a lucky “right place right time” shot of a robin with the Rikenon wide open at f/2 that remains one of my favourite ever images I’ve made.
What initially seemed weaknesses turned into pluses.
The plastic aperture ring is actually the smoothest plastic aperture ring I’ve tried, way better than a Pentax-A 50mm. It’s perfectly usable, and always slots in reassuringly to the next stop.
Intentionally I think, and very cleverly, Ricoh enhanced the assured feel by making it only full stops.
Plastic aperture rings with half stops I’m often over shooting where I intended to turn the ring too then going back and forwards (you know like when you almost bump into someone, then both move one way, then both the other way, until finally four or five sways later, the improvised stranger dancing ends, and you pass your separate ways) before finding the right setting. Yes I’m talking to you again Pentax-A lenses!
The full stops actually make it lovely and simple to use (again I wonder if Ricoh intended this in the design).
I hardly ever use f/11 or smaller, so the most I have to click is four stops from f/2 to f/8 or vice versa. Meaning it’s very easy to remember where you are on the scale even if you’re not looking at it. My SMC Pentax-M 50/1.7, for example, needs eight clicks to go from wide open to f/8.
The expansive use of plastic make it very light – around 135g.
The smaller version (there are two sizes, to my knowledge) is very compact too, protruding less than 30mm from the camera when focused at infinity.
It’s approaching what you might call a Pancake, for a 50mm lens. The so called Pancake Pentax 40mm f/2.8 is only 25g lighter and 12mm flatter, and by all accounts is not a great performer.
That “slow” speed of f/2 virtually disappears as a barrier when it’s makes such pleasing photographs wide open.
The first photograph in this post, the robin photograph, and the tap shot below, were all shot wide open at f/2.
I really, really like the bokeh of these lenses wide open, and the sharp areas are plenty crisp for my needs.
Most 50s need stopping down two or three stops before they really perform, negating their f/1.4 or f/1.7 advantage, and losing the shallow depth of field and round highlights you get shooting wide open.
Whilst the focus ring is not quite as smooth as a runny honey dripping from hot toast, it’s silky enough that you never think about it.
The short throw from minimum distance to infinity of around a third of a turn, will please some who like to adjust focus quickly.
Finally, for the skinflints like me, these Rikenons can be had for less than £20 all day long, if you’re patient, less than £10.
Are there any downsides?
That minimum focus of 0.6m is a bit disappointing for someone like myself who loves shooting up close.
But if you really need to shoot nearer than 0.6m, you could use close up filters, an extension ring or a macro reversing ring. I used the latter with a 50/1.7 Rikenon with excellent results, and have no doubt the 50/2 would be at least as good.
I’ve had four or five 50/2s and two 50/1.7s. The f/1.7s are very good, but the f/2s really stand out, and I’d much rather have one of these.
Overall I’d highly recommend the Rikenon 50/2, not just if you’re looking for a Pentax K mount 50mm lens, but if you’re looking for any 50mm lens to adapt to digital too.
Very light and compact, a simple to use and navigate aperture ring, and very good performance from wide open at f/2 onwards.
Plus as they’re Pentax K mount, the film and digital body options made by Pentax alone are vast. Widen the net to Pentax K mount film bodies by other brands (including Ricoh themselves) and digital options (Pentax DLSRs and others via adapters) and there’s a winning combination out there for all of us.
Don’t hesitate to add one to your collection if you have the chance!
Have you tried a Rikenon 50/2? What lens would you recommend in Pentax K mount?
Please let us know in the comments below.
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