Nifty 50 Shootout

Nifty 50 Shootout

On film the 50mm was the standard lens. Nearly every camera came with one, and they can be had used for a dime a dozen. The question remains, which one is best?

A standard lens is one with a focal length roughly equal to the diagonal of the film or sensor used in the camera. This provides a fairly natural looking field of view with little magnification over what our eyes see. These lenses were common from 135 (35mm) film cameras with a film diagonal of 43mm. Most manufacturers used 50mm as their standard lenses because this focal length was easy to make inexpensively as it was also about the same focal length as the film to lens-mount distance.

Flash forward to digital and the APS-C format (a carryover from APS film), and there are a lot of existing 50mm lenses, but now we have a 1.5 or 1.6 crop factor and these have the same field of view as a 75mm used on a 135 format camera. They might not be quite as useful as a “standard” lens, but they still serve as an inexpensive way to get good image quality. The question remains, which one is the best? I will state right now, that most lenses in this class are adequate in most regards. There aren’t many bad 50mm lenses out there, but some are certainly better.

Here is the list of the contenders. I will update this as I acquire more 50mm lenses.

  • SMC Pentax M 50mm f/4 Macro * NEW *
  • SMC Pentax A 50mm f/2 * NEW *
  • SMC Pentax A 50mm f/1.4
  • SMC Pentax F 50mm f/1.7
  • SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8
  • Helios 44-2 58mm f/2
  • Yashinon DX 50mm f/1.7
  • Industar 50mm f/3.5

This comparison is only for the optical performance of the lenses as tested on a chart and using Imatest software to analyze the results. It doesn’t include sample pictures or bokeh analysis. Lens test charts follow the short write-ups for each of the lenses.

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  1. Zhou Yu says:

    Good review. Maybe my impression was wrong. I felt that F50 f1.7 had slightly better performance over A50 f1.4 at the maximum aperture. A50 has appreciably lower contrast at the largest aperture. I know the comparison may be unfair for A50.

  2. Zhou Yu says:

    Moreover, I have Mamiya M42 55mm f1.4 and Yashica M42 50mm f1.4. The Mamiya outperforms the Yashica in a significant margin, although both are very well built.

  3. Thomas says:

    Nicely done!
    Have you tested any of my favourites:
    FA 50/2,8 Macro and D-FA 50/2,8 Macro?

  4. admin says:

    No, I haven’t had a chance to test either of those macro lenses, but if I do I will add them in.

  5. Phil Goh says:

    It would be nice to see how the DA* 55 and the Sigma 50mm stack up. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Sigma and would be interested to see how it performs.

  6. Eric J. says:

    Hi Eric,

    Very informative review.

    I agree with you that Pentax should release the F 50/1,7 as an affordable DA prime, such as the DA 35/2,4 (great lens it seems). I’m liking the results of the 50 Macro, a lens I might pick up if it ever shows up.

    Excellent work!

  7. pa dinneen says:

    nice, helpful article; thanks. it’s either the 1.4 or 1.7 for me.
    Patrick Dinneen.

  8. Greg says:

    Fantastic to see some real figures on the pentax macro 50/4.

  9. Jonathan Wilson says:

    I recently got a SMC 55 f1.8 and I am very impressed with its performance. In normal use the results are just so much better than my A50 f1.7 (and the A is in mint condition). The only aperture where it is not better is f2.8 – where it is almost exactly the same (and thats a good thing because I liked the A50 at f2.8).
    Looking at your results I now understand this better because the 55 is particularly better at the edges.
    Also (and I know this is subjective), I think the bokeh is much nicer on the 55 than the A50.
    Some day will have to get a 1.4!