|Sean Carpenter | profile | all galleries >> Equipment >> the Normal Lens Shootout >> Round 1 >> Match 6: (3) Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm vs. (14) Super-Takumar 1:1.4 50mm||tree view | thumbnails | slideshow|
Odds are, if you are reading this, that you have a friend who at one point in time owned a Super-Takumar 50/1.4. Produced in the halcyon days of the Asahi Optical Co., the Super-Tak 50/1.4 was a staple from roughly 1964 through 1971. It shifted from 8 elements in 7 groups to 7 elements in 6 groups, a design which persists in the most modern FA version today. It is readily available through used outlets, and indeed was my first M42 screw mount lens. As a matter of fact, it is the only lens of which I bought two just in case something happened to the first!
The Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4 is also a fairly common lens, although it was produced for a much shorter period. It was an update from the Super-Takumar version and was shortly superceded by the SMC Takumar one. The primary difference is in the lens coatings, with the introduction in 1971 of Pentax's trademarked Super-Multi-Coatings.
It was not uncommon in 1971 to have lenses with several layers of coatings, but the seven SMC layers were a technological breakthrough. They are purported to allow much greater light transmission and reduce the risk of flare. Just a change from 97% light transmission to 99% transmission (which the Super-Multi-Coating is purported to exceed) means a change over these lenses' seven elements in overall light transmission from 81% to 93%! While neither scientifically tested nor calibrated, shots taken with both the Super-Tak 50/1.4 and S-M-C Tak 50/1.4 come out more exposed from the Super-Multi-Coated lens.
These two lenses are mechanical gems. Common lore has it that every one of Pentax's fast 50s was sold at a net loss, and that if they were released today would be an expensive lens indeed. True or not, these two lenses certainly are built to fine standards, all metal and glass with smooth focus throws and deliberate detents in the aperture ring. The scalloped focus rings are wide and easy to grasp and use, with the equally-usable aperture ring marked in half-stop increments from f/1.4 to f/16.
The S-M-C Tak 50/1.4 is slightly bigger and weighs about 30 more grams than the Super-Tak 50/1.4. Both still feel solid and firm both in your hand and on the camera. The Super-Tak 50/1.4 has only six aperture blades, whereas the S-M-C Tak has eight.
There is one other difference between the two, and it has to do with a radioactive element. [Please note that this is all speculation that I've gleaned from various Internet sources.] Apparently the Super-Takumars had one of the elements coated with a radioactive substance that, over time, decays and imparts a yellow tinge to the elements. Both of my Super-Takumar 50/1.4s are indeed yellowed, as you can see from the view of the front elements here. Some have proposed exposure to UV light as a cure for the yellowing, but I have not tried this myself.
There is little difference between these two lenses as far as usage. They both mount to digital SLRs through an adapter and operate in stop-down mode via a switch on the lens. Pentax cameras will meter in aperture priority mode with the lens stopped down.
Side view of both the Asahi Optical Co. Super-Takumar 1:1.4 50mm, left, and the Asahi Optical Co. Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm, right.
These 100% crops compare the sharpness of both lenses. The Super-Tak 50/1.4 is noticeably softer at wider apertures than the S-M-C Tak 50/1.4.
The Super-Tak 50/1.4 was once described as 'looking like it is smeared with Vaseline' when wide open. While perhaps not that dramatic, it certainly is softer (as can be seen in 100% crops here) at all apertures than the S-M-C Tak 50/1.4. In everyday scenarios you can even discern that the Super-Tak 50/1.4's sharpness is better in the center than at the edges. It does impart an overall effect of a dreamy, almost-soft-focus lens when used at f/1.4.
The S-M-C Tak 50/1.4, however, is tack sharp at f/2.8 and acceptable at f/2 and wider.
In addition to a subtle difference in sharpness, these lenses do offer slightly different out-of-focus rendering characteristics. The first obvious difference is caused by the different number of aperture blades. The S-M-C Tak 50/1.4's eight aperture blades create a smoother, more circular shape for out-of-focus specular highlights.
Also noticeable is a subtle difference in the smoothness of the blur disk. Both lenses exhibit bright rings around the edges of their blur disks, as can been seen in the crops of the leaves, but the S-M-C Tak 50/1.4 starts to even out starting at f/2 whereas it is still noticeable in the Super-Tak 50/1.4 sample.
Despite the yellow coloring of the Super-Tak 50/1.4's elements, there is little noticeable difference in the output from these lenses.
This was another fun round of testing, with two exquisite lenses. While I don't personally mind the glowing softness of the Super-Takumar 50/1.4 wide open (indeed it is reminiscent of early Pentax 35/2 lenses), I can't deny that sharpness won this match for the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4. The Super-Multi-Coated Tak also has an advantage in out-of-focus rendering, but both lenses are finely crafted gems that are wonderful to use.