The Fabulous 55s

The first SLR I owned, back in 2013, was a late ’70s Praktica BMS Electronic, with a Prakticar Pentacon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

It turns out that whilst this wasn’t the most refined SLR ever made, it was pretty reliable, and the Pentacon 50/1.8 is very decent indeed. 

I later went on to enjoy perhaps half a dozen earlier Pentacon 50s, in various guises, and all in M42 mount, and loved them so much they inspired a series of “Lens Love” posts here on 35hunter.

But we’re not here today to talk about 50mm lenses. We’re here to discuss, er, 55mm lenses.

On film, the difference between 50 and 55mm isn’t huge, but enough that when I first shot with a 55mm lens (an SMC Takumar 55/1.8) it felt larger and more intimate when looking through the viewfinder, than the 50mm view I already loved.

So began my affair with 55mm lenses.

Since then, aside from a handful of Takumar 55/1.8 and 55/2s (from Super-Takumars onwards they’re essentially the same lens, Asahi just “crippled” the 55/1.8 slightly wide open and sold it at as entry level 55/2 lens, rather than design a whole new lens) I seem to have owned and used quite a few, and one way or another enjoyed them all.

Here are a few worth highlighting.

Asahi Takumar 55/1.8 and 55/2

As I said, essentially the same lens, my favourites are the Super-Takumar version which still has the metal knurled focus ring.

The later Super-Multi-Coated lenses still have the metal focus barrel but extra contacts at the rear which can interfere with adapters when using the lenses with adapters on non-M42 cameras, which I found to my disappointment when I had one.

The later model still, the SMC, still has the extra contacts, and a rubber waffled focus ring, which I didn’t like as much as the metal knurled ones.

Optically, none of them disappointed and today I have an old Auto-Takumar 55/2 with 10 blades, and a newer Super-Takumar 55/1.8 which is arguably my favourite, most capable, and most luxurious lens I’ve ever owned.

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Auto Mamiya/Sekor 55mm f/1.8

This came attached to a very clean but rather ugly and clunky Mamiya/Sekor 1000DTL, and both camera and lens worked like new.

I soon sold the body (I already had a Spotmatic F by now, the only M42 body anyone needs) but kept the lens for a while.

Very smooth, compact, and capable of excellent results, I couldn’t fault it.

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I sold it later in a purge to reduce duplication, and given I had the Takumar and a little Fujinon too, the Mamiya/Sekor despite a very respectable and close third in lofty company, had to go.

Talking of which…

Fuji Photo Film Co Fujinon 55mm f/1.8

This cute Fujinon went toe to toe for a considerable time with my Super-Takumar, and was never found wanting.

It really was – and is – a delightful lens, and some quite rightly say one of the best 50 or 55mm lenses ever made.

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Again, the victim of a purge where the best 55mm I had was (just, based on feel) the Super-Takumar, and I also had a 58mm Helios 44-2 which I never plan to part with, off went the Fujinon.

Porst Color Reflex MC Auto 55mm f/1.4

I found this browsing the German eBay on the advice of a Greek friend who’s picked up many a bargain there, not least of all by learning about some of the rebranded lenses sold in Germany.

Porst and Revuenon are names that arise frequently, and with research you can usually find their original pedigree – which is often well regarded.

Seeing the listing of the this Porst Color Reflex MC Auto 55/1.4, it was love at first sight. Just look at that huge hunk of blue glass!

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It was no slouch performance wise, but not quite up there with the best 55s I’d had, and the extra bulk and weight of it being f/1.4 didn’t really justify the fractionally faster maximum aperture.

Still, I wouldn’t object trying one again at the right price!

Auto Chinon 55mm f/1.7

Another beautiful piece of old school metal and glass, this cost around £20, I think attached to a camera (but not the Praktica pictured below).

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Smooth to use and lovely end results, it was another 55/1.7 that was easy to love.

But another that went in a purge when I realised I had half a dozen lenses that did much the same.

I had this lens during my predominantly film photography era, so hardly shot any digital images with it. It would be interesting to compare with others on a DSLR now, but whilst it’s a lens I’d find hard not to recommend, it’s not one I have a burning desire to seek out again.

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Petri CC Auto 55mm f/1.8

My most recent 55mm, and one of only three I have remaining (the Takumars being the other two), it’s been very impressive so far.

Very pleasing bokeh, like a washed out watercolour, and whether an original feature or not, it has a clickless aperture so operates much like my Helios 44-2 preset aperture, ie the depth of field is infinitely adjustable.

Which on Aperture priority mode on my Pentax DSLRs works beautifully.

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How about you, do you have (m)any 55mm lenses? What do you like about them? 

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 “The Fabulous 55s”

  1. I had a Yashica J-5 with a Yashinon 55mm f1.8 lens. It was decent, but not spectacular. I didn’t really use it much. It was a ‘back-up’ to the Pentax Spotmatic, which as you know is a camera that doesn’t need a back-up!
    Curiously I find that as much as I still have an interest in the equipment my main focus (pun intended) has shifted away from that aspect of photography to the images themselves. I’d say 90% of my film work was about trying out the hundreds of cameras whereas now the few I have are a means to and end more than the reason d’etre. This post by Eric Woods triggered that thought: https://ericlwoods.com/2020/07/27/rnf-most-any-recent-digital-camera-will-do/
    The modern equipment doesn’t have the character of the old film cameras, but is capable of producing great images just the same. His car analogy is correct, don’t you think? Using the film cameras would be a lot like driving a classic. Well I’ve done both and now my vehicles and cameras are dull but practical and I concentrate on the destination rather than the journey.

    1. Some interesting points Marc, and I like the car analogy, but I couldn’t get far beyond that car section of that article, way to gear-centric and dull (to me!). I agree that most cars are pretty bland these days and it should be easy for a brand (or at least one model from a brand) to stand out with some original design and features. It baffles me why so many of those Nissan Juke type cars and their clones sell in their thousands, they’re not quite a car, not a 4×4, not an SUV, and so ugly! I’d rather have a proper 4×4 like a Land Rover or Land Cruiser or a people carrier like a VW Sharan, something more focused on a single dominant purpose. And how many car ads now seem focused on the car having the right connections that your phone will integrate with it seamlessly, aside from other features, like, you know, the engine performance, efficiency, eco-friendliness, luggage space, safety and so on. How many people have sat navs in built into cars more than three years old that are now half useless because they’re not updated anymore and missing new roads, roundabouts etc? I’ve said enough, ha ha!

      But yes a classic car you buy because you love how it looks, how it feels, how it performs. Not the phone connectivity! And if you just want something reliable and efficient and safe to get you from a to b you get a middle range Toyota or Honda and don’t care what it looks like or what others think.

  2. I have one… the SMC (K) 55mm f2. While it’s a lens that has given me great pictures, it suffers from something it’s been said all of those copies will eventually suffer from.. deterioration of the glue between the two glued elements. As a result, it’s a bit softer with low contrast now, as this deterioration creates quite a bit of haze inside. It’s a shame, because it was a great lens.
    But I don’t really have plans to search out a replacement… I think having the SMC (K) 50mm f/1.2 as my go-to manual focus lens, and the SMC-F 50mm f/1.7 as my go-to autofocus lens in that range, has me covered. And the SMC-M 50mm f/1.7 also gets used for the sheer pleasure of using an almost-pancake lens that performs incredibly well.

    1. There are many great Pentax 50s, I agree! Even the humble M or A 50/2 delivers very well, in my experience. I had a 55/1.8 K, and I liked it hugely, but I preferred the Super-Tak with the metal knurled focus ring, and I believe the K version was the same lens just with a K mount bayonet.

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