|Sean Carpenter | profile | all galleries >> Equipment >> the Normal Lens Shootout >> Round 2 >> Match 11: (2) SMC Takumar 1:1.4 50mm vs. (7) Sears Auto 1:1.4 f=55mm||tree view | thumbnails | slideshow|
Of all the lenses in this shootout, with participants from Pentax, Nikon, and Fuji, the Sears Auto 1:1.4 f=55mm is the one lens without tremendous lineage. When the Sears 55/1.4 was produced, circa 1967, it was not uncommon for the distributors, such as Sears, JC Penney, Revue, or Porst, to stamp their name on the product rather than the actual producer doing so. With the slowing of this practice and the eventual phase-out of many of the manufacturers' brands of cameras, the Sears line came to a close.
This means that the Sears 55/1.4 is not a very recognizable name to modern consumers, and can be found for very little money on the used market. Indeed, my copy came with a Sears TLS camera and a matching 135/2.8 lens for US$16 delivered.
But it does not mean that the Sears 55/1.4 is any less rewarding a lens than its name-brand counterparts, to which its Round 1 victory can attest. In fact this lens was probably made by the Japanese producer Tomioka, which merged into the Kyocera Optics group, later responsible for the highly regarded Contax brand and its Zeiss (Japan) lenses.
The SMC Takumar 1:1.4 50mm, on the other hand, comes from the Asahi Optical Company during its reign as the top producer of 35mm cameras. Its lens design, initiated a few years prior, still persists in the modern Pentax auto-focus version today. Its lineage is clear, and holds a reputation as one of the best 50mm lenses produced.
The Sears 55/1.4 is a bigger and heavier lens than the SMC Tak 50/1.4. The Sears weighs about 310 grams, or about 80 grams more than the SMC Tak 50/1.4, and has 55mm front threads to the SMC Takumar's 49mm ones. On the camera, the Sears has more substance and presence than the SMC Takumar does. The Sears 55/1.4 has an all-metal construction, whereas the SMC Tak 50/1.4 is metal with a rubberized focus grip. Despite my normal preference for all-metal construction, the SMC Tak 50/1.4 has such a smooth focus throw and nice tactile feel I am reluctant to pick which one is better.
There are some limitations to the Sears 55/1.4 physical design, however. Its aperture ring has only full-stop clicks, whereas the SMC Tak 50/1.4 has half-stop ones. The Sears 55/1.4 also has an Auto/Manual aperture lever on the back of the lens, almost fully on the bottom of the lens when mounted, that is bigger and more likely to get accidentally switched than the SMC Tak 50/1.4's smaller and more discreetly-placed one. The Sears 55/1.4 also focuses backwards from the Pentax and Nikon lenses, with infinity on the right.
Ramifications of the Build
The Sears 55/1.4 employs six straight aperture blades, whereas the SMC Tak 50/1.4 has eight. This can lead to much more noticeable geometric patterns in certain situations with the Sears.
The SMC Tak 50/1.4, as its name would imply, employs the Pentax-patented Super-Multi-Coating. Herb Keppler reported in his best-selling 'The Pentax Way' that a "Super Multi-Coated Takumar requires no lenshood and no UV filter." While perhaps suffering from a bit of hyperbole, the Pentax Super-Multi-Coatings on the SMC Tak 50/1.4 did in fact manifest themselves in the course of this matchup.
The Sears 55/1.4 makes no mention of its coatings, but it probably employs a multi-coating typical for its age. Some of the consequences of inferior coatings is decreased overall light transmission, increased ghosting, and increased flare. Without designs to deliberately test for these aspects, several shots made it absolutely evident that the Sears 55/1.4 suffered from inferior coatings to the SMC Tak 50/1.4. The most drastic and noticeable was a simple backlit flower shot shown at right in which fully two-thirds of the image is covered behind obvious flare. Keeping in mind that the purpose of the flower shot was not to test for flare, and indeed I didn't notice it in the small review LCD at the time, this sort of effect can and does happen in real shooting circumstances.
After noticing the above flare and more subtle forms (like in the left-side branch of this shot) I returned with both lenses and, sans lens hoods, tried them both. They both produced flare, with the results from the SMC Tak 50/1.4 shot less offensive than the Sears 55/1.4 shot, both at f/1.4. While perhaps not quite at Mr. Keppler's assessment, it certainly appears that the SMC Takumars employ an advanced coating process for their time.
This shot, taken by the Sears Auto 55/1.4 at f/1.4, produced tremendous flare in a backlit situation.
|Image Quality - The Rest Of The Story|
This shot, taken with the SMC Takumar 50/1.4 wide open, shows some of the artistic capabilities that both of these lenses offer with their fast f/1.4 apertures.
Build-related aspects and artifacts aside, both of these lenses produced comparable results. Shots with specular highlights, like shown in a series of 100% crops here show that both lenses have noticeable and distracting bright rings at f/1.4. By f/2.8, however, the SMC Tak 50/1.4 solidifies it blur disks nicely and the Sears 55/1.4, while much improved over wide open, still has some uneven illumination to its highlights. By f/4 the main difference between the two is in the more noticeable hexagonal shapes of the Sears 55/1.4's six aperture blades.
Shots of a lower-contrast subject, as shown in the 100% crops of a daylily here, show that the Sears 55/1.4 produces very attractively smooth bokeh even at f/1.4. Wide open, I give a slight edge to the Sears 55/1.4, but at f/2.8 and f/4 the edge (also slight) goes to the SMC Tak 50/1.4.
In practice, both lenses produce overall excellent results at all apertures. They both are sharp in the plane of focus, encouraging creative use of the extremely shallow depth of field afforded these fast lenses. The SMC Tak 50/1.4 has excellent sharpness even at the very edges of the frame, as can be seen in the unsharpened 100% crop of this shot at f/2.8. With the application of even a small amount of sharpening, shots from both these lenses are crisp and detailed enough to print as large as the camera will bear.
The name printed on a lens should mean nothing; all allegiances and entanglements should be based on the attributes of the lens itself, not by whom it was made or marketed. I like to think that by ranking the Sears Auto 1:1.4 f=55mm as high as I did, and above Pentax and Nikon specimens, that I adhered to this philosophy.
So it is based on the performance, specifically the superiority of the Pentax Super-Multi-Coating, that leads me to declare the Asahi Optical Co. SMC Takumar 1:1.4 50mm the victor of this match. They both offer lenses that are well-made physically and optically, yielding wonderful results and both tremendous bargains. The SMC Takumar 50/1.4 is more resistant to flare and generally has as good or better out-of-focus rendering, and both lenses are sharp where they need to be.