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Sean Carpenter | profile | all galleries >> Equipment >> the Normal Lens Shootout >> Round 1 >> Match 7: (7) Sears Auto 1:1.4 55mm vs. (10) Nikkor-S Auto 1:1.4 50mm tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Match 7: (7) Sears Auto 1:1.4 55mm vs. (10) Nikkor-S Auto 1:1.4 50mm

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This is the only fully-non-Pentax matchup in this round, and it shouldn't have surprised me that usability was less than stellar for both contestants. The Sears 55/1.4 is a nicely-made M42 screw mount lens which unfortunately focuses backwards. The Nikkor-S 50/1.4 was fully converted to K-mount, but because of different tolerances on my *ist DS than my K10D, it only fits on the former. Both of them caused metering issues on the borrowed *ist DL that was used for this comparison, and neither one left me wanting to keep them in the bag.

Physical Comparison


The Sears 55/1.4 is a nicely-built, metal, weighty lens. It is reported to be nothing more than Ricoh's Rikenon lens with a different name on it, which would make sense since I purchased the lens with a Sears TLS camera that looks eerily like the Ricoh Singlex TLS.

In any case, the Sears 55/1.4 has a scalloped metal focus ring that turns smoothly yet definitively. As mentioned earlier, though, the lens focuses backwards from Pentax lenses, which can be disconcerting when shooting with more than this lens alone.

The Nikkor 50/1.4 is one of the early-1960's, pre-AI (and pre-'C' coating designation) silver-and-black Nikkors. It has decent heft to it, and is of similar size to the Sears 55/1.4, both of which are bigger than the comparable Pentax offerings. It also sports a scalloped metal focus ring, that feels similar to the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 (like rubbing two pieces of paper together) rather than the smooth slide of the Sears or Pentax lenses.

Both of these lenses only offer single-stop detents on the aperture ring. The Nikkor 50/1.4 has seven straight aperture blades, whereas the Sears 55/1.4 has six.

Physical Usage

The Sears 55/1.4 mounts on digital SLRs through an adapter and operates in stop-down mode via a switch on the lens. The switch, however, is bigger and more prone to be accidentally hit than comparable Pentax lenses. Pentax cameras will meter in aperture priority mode with the lens stopped down.

The Nikkor 50/1.4 was converted ('hacked' as some would call it) by me to be a full K mount. However, as mentioned previously, I need to go back and put some further spacers in the mount to allow the bottom of the aperture ring to clear the K10D's mount. As it is, the lens mounts cleanly on the *ist DS and *ist DL models.

Both of these models were annoyingly erratic in metering with the cameras. I'm not sure if it is because of the lens coatings, but these two lenses produced more up-and-down than I'm used to with regards to proper exposures. I uncharacteristically moved into Manual shooting mode towards the end of my testing.

Side view of both the Nippon Kogaku Nikkor-S Auto 1:1.4 50mm, left, and the Sears Auto 1:1.4 55mm, right.
Click here for to see the front elements.

Optical Comparison

The scene rendered here by the Nikkor 50/1.4, while admittedly difficult, was rendered poorly by both lenses.
Click here to see more samples by these lenses.


I've always felt that both of these lenses were sharp even wide open, and my walk around confirms this. Obviously the biggest challenge with the very wide aperture lenses (like all the others in the Shootout) is getting the proper focus point when shooting at extremely shallow depth of field. My center crop from the daylilies shows how a minute difference in focal point can cause quite a difference in perceived sharpness. While the f/1.4 version for the Nikkor 50/1.4 might not show it, both of these lenses are capably sharp in the plane of focus.

It does appear that the Nikkor 50/1.4 lacks a touch of contrast when wide open, especially when compared to the same shot by the Sears 55/1.4. By f/2.8 there is a clear increase in both sharpness and contrast, and by f/8 it looks to be performing better than the Sears 55/1.4.


The differences here are quite subtle, moreso than I would have suspected from two very different lenses. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two is a difference in perceived depth of field. To my eye, the Nikkor 50/1.4 looks to have more depth of field than the 5mm in focal length would dictate, but this doesn't have an impact on the overall rendering.

Both lenses had problematic rendering of the tree scene (click here for crops) at f/1.4. I would lean towards the Sears 55/1.4 rendering wide open, although both are rough, but I start to prefer the Nikkor 50/1.4 at f/2.8 and smaller. The six aperture blades of the Sears 55/1.4 are still showing up at f/8 in a fairly noticeable way.

On the daylilies, however, there is a very subtle (almost inconclusive) harder edge on the Nikkor 50/1.4 than on the Sears 55/1.4 at all apertures. The crops here show just how small a difference there is between the two.


Two lenses, different focal lengths, different mounts, produced years apart, by very different manufacturers - and I could toss a coin to pick between the two. The rendering of the trees probably goes overall to the Nikkor 50/1.4, whereas the daylilies goes to the Sears 55/1.4. I shot numerous other scenes (check out the samples here) and they all tend to be about the same.

On the build, the advantage goes to the solid-feeling Sears 55/1.4. Usability would go to the Nikkor 50/1.4 if it weren't for the fact that I need to do more work on it before it fits my K10D.

Because there is so little to differentiate the two, and it is more difficult to use the Nikkor 50/1.4 as-is, the winner of this matchup - for me - is the Sears Auto 1:1.4 55mm.

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