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Sean Carpenter | profile | all galleries >> Equipment >> the Normal Lens Shootout >> Round 2 >> Match 9: (4) Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm vs. (5) Micro-Nikkor Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Match 9: (4) Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm vs. (5) Micro-Nikkor Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm

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The Final Product - What These Matchups Are All About

Round 1 compared crops and analyzed sharpness, bokeh, and other attributes of lenses. Rather than re-hash what would essentially be the same statements in this round, this matchup will look at the finished product. This means that instead of identical settings between the two lenses, the images to follow are edited to my liking as I normally would. My typical editing routine (always in Adobe Camera Raw/Photoshop CS2) starts with eliminating noise reduction and selecting a strong contrast curve. From there I normally fine tune the color balance and adjust exposure, and usually deepen the shadows. I also apply a slight unsharp mask after resizing for web viewing.

If anyone is deeply offended by my editing each photograph individually, I'll happily provide unedited RAW (or minimally-edited JPEG) files via e-mail if you leave me a comment. As is always the case, 100% crops never have any sharpening applied!

Match 9: (4) Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm vs. (5) Micro-Nikkor Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm

In Round 1, the Nippon Kogaku Micro-Nikkor Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm won a rather unimpressive victory over its inexpensive rival. In that match, I declared the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 the victor based on it being better (albeit barely) as a macro lens than its competitor was as a low-light lens.

Round 2 sees the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 pitted against the Asahi Optical Co. Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm, a lens that proved decidedly good at its intended function. In Round 1, the S-M-C Tak 50/1.4 beat its non-Super-Multi-Coated kin in a match of two pretty wonderful low-light lenses by showing excellent sharpness and a fine bokeh.

The Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4 as a Macro Lens

Macro lenses are those capable of very close focusing and maintaining a very flat field of focus. A typical modern macro lens focuses to where the image recorded is its actual size on the sensor, which is normally referred to as 1:1 or 'life-sized' reproduction. The Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 reproduces 'half life-sized', or 1:2. (Note that due to the slight variation in distance to the film between brands, the lens actually reproduces images slightly less than half-life size on Pentax cameras.)

But there has long been methods for increasing magnification, one is by using extension tubes that allow the lens to sit farther away from the film/sensor than normal. This has an effect of allowing a closer focus point, but has a negative consequence of limiting the infinity focus point. With a short (20mm) extension tube, the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 can focus from a few inches to only about two feet away. The S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 with a ~32mm extension tube has approximately the same focus limits.

50mm lenses, in fact, are quite popular candidates for extension tubes, since they generally produce high-quality images and can focus closely on their own. (The S-M-C Takumar has an approximately 1:7 reproduction ratio without extension tubes.) One potential down side in theory is that the plane of focus isn't as flat when using a non-macro lens for this type of close-up work.

Pentax K10D, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4 with ~32mm extension tubes.

So, for this matchup I decided to 'up the ante' on the S-M-C Tak 50/1.4 by trying it out with extension tubes to see how the final product compared to the macro-dedicated Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5.

This shot of a growing Purple Cone Flower bud was taken with the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4 lens mounted on approximately 32mm extension tubes.
Click on the image for a larger view.

This is the same flower bud taken with the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 mounted on 20mm extension tubes.
Click on the image for a larger view.

Focused at this distance, both lenses were about 6 inches or so from the tip of the flower, although both could have focused closer. Both of the above images are sharp at full size and can be reproduced at typical print sizes without issue.

These samples raise one of the downsides to using extension tubes, or even simply the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 at its closest focus distance - namely, the lens is very close to the subject! This isn't too much of an issue with flowers or stationary objects, but it can certainly cause difficulty. Moving objects, especially skittish ones like dragonflies or spiders, don't allow you to get within 4 inches of them. Also, as exacerbated by using a lens hood, getting so close to your subject can block the incoming light, even when using a flash. You have to be careful to either make sure you have side-lit subjects or take pictures without direct lighting.

Sometimes overcoming the close focus is more about the photographer, and not the subject - to which the pictures below may attest.

The above shot, taken with the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4 lens with ~32mm extension tubes, was only a few inches from the bee. Not everyone would be happy getting this close!

The shot below, taken with the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 with 20mm extension tubes, took some patience with both the sunlight and the fly.

Inherent in macro (and all) photography is the trade-off between aperture and depth of field. Especially at very close distances, the plane of focus can be very narrow - sometimes only a few millimeters - so using a smaller aperture is necessary to increase it. However, a smaller aperture allows less light and therefore slower shutter speed or higher sensitivity. Even more tenuous is the fact that the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5, as with all close-focusing lenses, has a smaller effective aperture at very close distances - so even though the aperture ring is still at f/3.5, the lens itself is at a smaller aperture. (See this Nikonians forum post for expansion on effective apertures.

Taken with the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 wide open, 1/100th second at ISO 250. This shot did not use extension tubes.

The shot on the left, taken in bright but overcast daylight, was at the closest focus point for the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5. In addition to the shallow depth of field, as can be seen on the daphne leaves, this shutter speed is relatively slow for a daytime shot. For macro photographers who don't use much flash in their work, the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 can be a slow lens in use.

The shot on the right was taken in overcast daylight with the S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 with ~32mm extension tubes. I deliberately kept the lens wide open to promote a very shallow depth of field and create an abstract image of this somewhat unusual double daylily. A similar shot, taken with the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5, is here.

I took an unsharpened, un-resized crop for the image on the right. Click here to see the crop.

Taken with the S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 wide open, ~32mm extension tubes, 1/400th second at ISO 100.

The Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 as a Low-Light Lens

To be fair, one of the huge advantages that the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4 owns over the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 is a two-and-a-half stop advantage in light gathering. For each one stop, there is a doubling (or halving, depending on which way you're going) of light - significant because two and a half stops is over five times as much. That additional light means the difference between 1/150th second or 1/25th second at the same sensitivity (ISO) value, which in turn makes a big difference towards camera shake.

Until a manufacturer develops a noise-free ISO 6400, low-light performers like the S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 are going to be coveted for the fast shutter speeds they command. There is also an advantage for creative use of the very shallow depth of field inherent at wide apertures, like in the Double Daylily Abstract mentioned earlier.

Pentax K10D, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4 @ f/1.4, 1/160th, ISO 250.

Pentax K10D, Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 @ f/3.5, 1/60th, ISO 500.

As the above images clearly show, shooting the same subject under the same light affords quite a different latitude for shutter speed and ISO. The Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 is going to be sharper and have a deeper depth of field at f/3.5 than the S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 at f/1.4 - but at the cost of shutter speed and ISO. For the sake of comparison, I also took the above shot with the S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 at f/3.5 to compare sharpness, and indeed it compares well to the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5. (The difference expounds upon this section, as the S-M-C Takumar suffers from slight image shake!)

Click here for a resized copy and here for a 100% crop with the S-M-C Takumar 50/1.4 at f/3.5. Compare the crop to this one by the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 at the same aperture.

In Conclusion

After the Round 1 performance of the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 I held out little hope that this lens would make it past the second match. While I'm happy to say that I was correct, and that the Asahi Optical Co. Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm lens is the winner of this match, this comparison helped me learn a little about both lenses.

As I believe my samples show, both of these lenses performed admirably. Because of the limited working distance of extension tubes, they are not always the most convenient to use. But as this matchup showed, a good-quality 50mm lens (like the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50/1.4) can create close-up images through extension tubes that are more than passable.

I am also (back to) impressed by the overall image quality of the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5, and while it doesn't really replace a modern macro lens, it can still produce excellent images. My biggest complaint about the Micro-Nikkor in Round 1 was mainly due to its performance stopped down. For this matchup, I kept the Micro-Nikkor wide open and re-realized why I liked this lens so much in the first place. In addition to the samples galleries below, which were taken for this matchup, feel free to check out my Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4 50mm Gallery and my Nikon(s) Gallery.

Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:1.4/50 Samples
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Micro-Nikkor Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm Samples
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