Asahi Pentax 200mm f/5.6 M42 Lens – First Thoughts

Being firmly in a DSLR phase currently, I’ve been using vintage M42 lenses like the Helios 44-2 and Jupiter-37A.

But you can’t talk about M42 without mentioning the greatest range of lenses ever made in that mount – Asahi Takumars.

I’ve had perhaps 20 Takumars overall, and, foolish as it seems in retrospect, sold on about 18 of them.

With just two remaining I felt it was time to explore another one or two more.

Rather than seek to directly replace some of those I regret selling – like the 105/2.8 preset, 135/3.5 preset, 50/1.4, and even the unusual but very capable 120/2.8 – I thought about something different.

A few explorations via PentaxForums and eBay later, I stumbled across a lens that on paper doesn’t fit at all with my usual instinct in buying a lens.

Focal length? 200mm.

Longer than all but one other lens I’ve ever had, strange for someone who favours 35 and 50mm most of the time.

Maximum aperture? f/5.6.

Slower than even the zoom lenses I’ve had! As I tend to use my Pentax DSLRs at ISO100, 200, or at a push 400, if I’m to avoid camera shake and (unintentionally) blurred images this will definitely be a sunny day kind of lens.

Minimum focus? 2.5m.

The majority of my photographs are within half a metre, let alone 2.5m. I’ll have to adjust to standing this far away for flowers, rather than being so close I have to hold my breath so as not to move the petals.

So what led me to consider what seems on paper to be such an slow, awkward and atypical lens compare with what I usually shoot with?

First of all, it’s a Takumar.

As I said before above (and many times elsewhere), they’re just the most luxurious lenses I’ve used, nothing else feels as good in my hands, and no other lenses feel quite as well made (though a few Pentax K and M lenses aren’t far off).

Second, I want to explore bokeh and blur more.

Some of those I’ve been following on Flickr have been posting delicious shallow depth of field shots lately, and I want to try more myself.

Although you can get shallow depth of field with a wide lens (I’ve taken plenty of pictures with my Ricoh GRD III and its 28mm lens, at the closest focus of 0.01m), obviously the longer the lens, the more scope for isolating the subject and forcing the background to dissolve.

I have a set of M42 extension tubes that I’ve used many times before, either with lenses that don’t focus close enough on their own, or just to get very close to particular subjects.

With the Takumar 200/5.6 and an extension ring, the depth of field can be shrunk even more.

I’ve never used extension rings with such a long lens before, so aside from the physical length being potentially unwieldy, I’m excited to see what’s possible.

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Third, as with nearly all Takumars I’ve used, the 200/5.6 is one of the most compact lenses available in its focal length.

I don’t want to be carrying a cumbersome bazooka, and this lens is more discrete and lightweight that many 135mm lenses, or zooms that reach the same maximum focal length.

Fourth, although the 200/5.6 has a slow maximum aperture of f/5.6, I’ve read that it can be relied upon to deliver great images wide open.

Something I love with any lens, and similar to my Jupiter-37A which gets used wide open more often than not, as does the cracking little Pentax-DA 35/2.4.

I’ve had lenses in the past that might be fast at f/1.4 or f/1.7, but are so soft (even for me!) until you close them down a couple of stops, that maximum aperture is next to useless. I doubt I will be stopping down the Takumar 200mm very often at all.

Finally, it’s an early preset aperture Takumar.

This means you set the aperture you want to close down to on the outer aperture ring, then the inner aperture ring rotates between wide open and the aperture you preset. There are no click stops, giving you infinite adjustment.

Now, I know I just said I expect to shoot this Takumar wide open most of the time, but if and when I do want to stop down, to explore different degrees of blurred background, I can do so with the same degree of fine control I do with other preset lenses I have, like the Helios 44-2 and Jupiter-37A.

Initial experiments in the garden with our roses blooming in abundance were very promising.

The final look (see photograph above), using my Pentax K-30 at ISO400 and the colour set up I recently settled on, seem to be deliciously film-like and “vintage”, to use two overused terms!

More to follow once I’ve used my new (60 year old) Takumar on a few further photowalks.

Do you have any Takumars? If not, why ever not?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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4 thoughts on “Asahi Pentax 200mm f/5.6 M42 Lens – First Thoughts”

  1. Hi Dan,
    Lovely pictures there! I have considered buying this lens because of the form factor, but have yet to cross paths with one. Same with the 105. I did get a very clean 135/3.5 at the flea market last year, but I have not used it yet. I have never even seen a preset Takumar lens, but I do have the 50/1.4 eight element lens I bought with a very sad looking SP. It’s a fine lens alright, but I can’t see what all the fuss is about. The Pentax lenses are all beautifully finished and silky smooth.

    1. Thanks Jon! I think they’re fairly rare, there are that many 200mm Taks about, and many seem to be f/4, not the early f/5.6 preset aperture version. They’re pretty well regarded! https://www.pentaxforums.com/lensreviews/Takumar-Tele-Takumar-200mm-F5.6.html

      The 105/2.8 is an absolute gem, especially on an APS-C camera where it fives a field of view of 157.5mm. The 135s on APS-C are 202.5, which is significantly longer, obviously.

      Hold on to the 50/1.4, they’re only going up in value! I had one and as lovely as it was, it was no better, and perhaps not as good as the 55/1.8 which are usually about a quarter of the price.

  2. It’s good to sometimes step outside your usual practices! I’d say “welcome to the world of telephoto” but I rarely shoot with anything that short! *LOL*
    Except for my current experiment, which the weather (and work) keeps interrupting. 😉

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