Asahi Takumar 50mm f/1.4 Lens

My Sony NEX-6 has a couple of features that make it practical to attach old lenses to it. I bought a few old lenses on eBay, but one of them is really standing out for me – an Asahi Takumar from around 1971. It’s heavy, the lens elements have gone a bit yellow with age, and mould has grown inside it, but I got it for a great price, and it’s producing some really nice images. Wide open, it tends to give things a warm, creamy look that reminds me of an oaky chardonnay. Stopped down a little, things quickly become sharper, and the colour cast is reduced.

The Experience

It’s a slightly different experience shooting with a manual lens. I learned photography with manual focus lenses, using a Canon AV-1, with a 70-210 zoom and 2x converter. Lenses at that time were all manual focus, and were designed for it. You twist a ring, and it stops at infinity (focussed on the far distance). Twist the other way, and it stops when it gets as close as it can.

Most modern lenses are autofocus, with a focussing ring to let you take over when you want to. The ring isn’t usually directly connected to the lens elements, though, and on many lenses, it doesn’t stop at the ends. It’s there for ‘emergency’ use more than as something they expect people to use often.

With a manual lens, the camera also can’t control the aperture – that’s set manually by another ring on the lens. Again, it stops at the widest and narrowest ends, and clicks between stops (well, most do). Set the camera in Aperture Priority or Program modes, and it works like Aperture Priority, you just can’t control the aperture where you normally would. Set it to Manual or Shutter Priority, and it’s all manual. I probably use Aperture Priority more than any other mode normally anyway, so it doesn’t feel like too big a jump. The aperture ring on the lens is a nicer way to change aperture than the control on the camera.

The camera doesn’t know what aperture was used, so you can’t check in the EXIF data when you’re looking at your shots later, which is a shame. It’s good for learning to be able to check what aperture was used for which shots. If you use old manual lenses, you might not even know what lens was used for a shot. I’ve taken to working around this by taking photos of the camera and lens with my iPhone, which then pops into Aperture alongside the photos I was taking. Make sure the camera’s time is set reasonably accurately, and the ‘notes’ should slot into the right places among the photos.

Live Preview

Because the aperture is actually being stopped down when you adjust the setting, not when you take the photo, you see the depth of field you’ll get live on screen. In that way, it’s even an improvement on the sort of SLR this lens was designed for.

Focussing

The camera can’t do it, so you have to handle focussing yourself. It’s easier than manually focussing with most modern lenses, but still takes a bit of getting used to. I haven’t had to focus manually for years, other than the occasional specialist shot, like when I took photos of star trails at night. Fortunately, the focus peaking feature of the NEX makes it relatively easy to see what’s in focus and what isn’t.

After using the Takumar a lot for a couple of weeks, going back to an autofocus lens actually felt a bit clumsy – less in control than I had been with manual.

The Results

You can see a lot of photos taken with this lens here on PigPog – they should all be tagged with Takumar50f14. A few of my favourites:

Dry Leaves (Kit Lens vs Asahi Takumar)

I took the same photo with the kit zoom that came with my Sony NEX-6, then the Asahi Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4. Sony kit lens first:

Dry Leaves (Sony 16-50 Kit Lens)

Nice colours, but the background can’t be blurred out much. Next up, the Takumar:

Dry Leaves (Super Takumar 50mm f-1.4 Lens)

The background blurs out really nicely, but the colour is completely different – oddly, the Takumar has lost a lot of the warmth, though it’s mostly lost the intensity.

I liked the more intense colours from the kit lens, so I edited a little in Aperture to give the Takumar shot a bit more of that look, and I think I like this one best:

Dry Leaves (Super Takumar 50mm f-1.4 Lens, Edited)

Quite similar to the Sony colours, but with the shallow depth of field from the Takumar. Still a bit different in colours. I’m not entirely sure between this one and the original Takumar shot, but the difference in colours between the first two is interesting. Either the old lens just isn’t passing the colours through, or the camera is interpreting colour very differently with the legacy lens. Either could be the case. I’d assume it might be to do with the mould inside the old lens, but the same thing has been seen by other people on DPReview.

Sparrows

Sparrows in the hedge by the side of the Grand Western Canal. All snapped with the Sony 55-210 zoom lens. I’d love a lens that could go a bit wider, but the nice thing about this one is that it fits quite neatly into a coat pocket, so I can take it with me when walking, without needing to take a bag. Camera on one pocket, long zoom in another.

Autofocus speed is a bit of a weak point for the NEX range, but I was quite happy with how well it picked out the birds, rather than ending up focussing on the branches they were between.

Sparrow 1

Sparrow 2

Sparrow 3