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Friday, 2 January 2015

Vintage versus modern: 85mm lenses

I thought it would be fun to compare a modern portrait lens I recently obtained to an older one that was my prized posession until now.

The two contestants are:

M42 smc Takumar 85mm 1.8 (built in 1972) - manual focus

and the new

Nikkor AF-S 85mm 1.8G (built from 2012 on) - autofocus

My test setup:

I shot this scene on a tripod with manual focus on the eyes (in liveview) of mr. frankenstein's monster here with a flash, trying to keep total exposure approximately the same. I went through aperture 1.8, 2.0, 2.8, 4 and 8.
I should not that the Takumar behaved as if it was slightly longer than 85 so I had to move the trippod about a cm back to get the same framing. All images were shot with a Nikon D610 and 1/160 of a second at ISO 100.

100% crops on the face:

The result came out as quite interesting.

These lenses have very different characteristics. The Nikon is clearly sharper at 1.8 and 2.0 while, to my eyes, it seems the takumar may have a slight advantage at f4 and f8. They seem to be tied at 2.8. This has to take into account as well that I have to use an adapter for the M42 Takumar lens which includes a lens for infinity focus. I would argue that this is a good sign that the lens inside the adapter (amazon) does not mess things up too much and, if anything, points towards this 1970's lens being even better than shown here with a camera that accepts it without infinity focus adapter.

There is some green fringing going on in the Nikon 85 while the Takumar shows no signs of chromatic aberration across the board.

Now the sharpness at f1.8 and f2.0 one can see as a letdown on the side of the Takumar or a feature. It certainly has a special-soft-focus quality to it so you might actually like that look on portraits.

Keep in mind that these are 100% crops from a 24MP sensor. On images in more typical resolution the soft focus effect actually translates in smooth transitions and a dreamy overall look.

See here for the scenes at 1.8

All in all I think the more modern 85/1.8 certainly has an edge at low apertures if your aim is a very neutral rendition of your subject. If you are in for some vintagy charm you should however consider trying out the Takumar.

smc Takumar 85mm @ f2.8

In the next article I will have a look at some lenses in the 50mm range including the Nikkor 1.8G, Helios 44-2, Funijon 55 1.8 and the Volnar-9

Have a happy and inspired new year everyone!

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