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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Good, bad lenses
Old 07-18-2018   #1
Roger Hicks
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Good, bad lenses

Which are your favourite good, bad lenses? The ones where there are plenty of "better" (sharper, contrastier, more distortion-free) lenses available, but where you prefer the results of your "inferior" lens?

Some of them are very expensive: the last pre-aspheric Summilux is a good example. Some are only fairly expensive, such as the 50/1.2 Canon I used for this series or the 58/1.4 Nikkor, but that's another lens which, like the Summilux, has gone up a lot in price. Others, though, can still be found silly-cheap if you're lucky, especially in less popular mounts: 58/2 Helios in M42 mount, or its ancestor the 58/2 Biotar which alas I have only in Exacta mount. Then there's the 135/1.8 Porst which I have in M42, having idiotically sold its Nikon-fit cousin which came with a different label.

I sometimes think of buying a camera which would let me use more of them: possibly Pentax, ideally Leica (I already have a Nikon/Leica adapter and M42/Leica adapters aren't expensive) or even (holds nose) full-frame mirrorless. Then I could try some of the Praktica PB-mount lenses I have...

So: favourite "good, bad" lenses, and how to use them. Suggestions?

EDIT: I'm not talking about lenses that are good in the conventional sense but cheap. I'm talking about lenses that objectively are detectably flawed, but still have a certain "magic" to them. The Takumars are a bad example. Yes, I think the 85/1.9 does have "magic" but it's not really detectably bad in any way.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #2
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In m42 I would have to say I get consistently good results with the 85mm 1.8 Takumar. I mount it to full frame canon or spotmatic F and I like it better for BW portraits than the 135L. I try to convince myself to like the canon better, but I'm drawn to the takumar. Another good m42 is the Fuji 100 2.8. Possibly my favorite lens for color and its tiny.

M-mount, I have a nokton 50 1.5 and rigid cron, but I tend to grab the collapsible cron most and use it as a general 50 on BW film.
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Old 07-18-2018   #3
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I had a Helios-44 but didn't get along with it and sold it a few years back. Recently I found another (minty) copy at a antique fair and am giving it another shot.
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Old 07-18-2018   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ccoppola82 View Post
In m42 I would have to say I get consistently good results with the 85mm 1.8 Takumar. I mount it to full frame canon or spotmatic F and I like it better for BW portraits than the 135L. I try to convince myself to like the canon better, but I'm drawn to the takumar. Another good m42 is the Fuji 100 2.8. Possibly my favorite lens for color and its tiny.

M-mount, I have a nokton 50 1.5 and rigid cron, but I tend to grab the collapsible cron most and use it as a general 50 on BW film.
Ah, yes. I have the 85/1.9 Super Takumar and that's very good too. Another great cheapie is the 85/2 Jupiter but I gave mine away.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #5
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I need to pick up a Zeiss Contax RF to M adapter to use my Carl Zeiss Contax RF 50mm f2, 85mm f2 and 135mm f4 Sonnars on my digital M bodies just for fun.
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Old 07-18-2018   #6
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I was really asking about lenses that AREN'T all that good, but where their shortcomings give a "look" that means you put up with poor resolution (Canon 50/1.2, Porst 135/1.8), low contrast (Canon 50/1.2), field curvature (Nikkor 58/1.4), coma (Summilux) etc.

Sorry I didn't make myself clearer.

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R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #7
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I think the 50/2 Summar fits this category. By no means a very good lens, but it does have a "look."
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Old 07-18-2018   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob-F View Post
I think the 50/2 Summar fits this category. By no means a very good lens, but it does have a "look."
Dear Rob,

And likewise, not an especially cheap lens; which is exactly what I meant. It's about a great "look" from a lens that has been replaced by the manufacturers by by something "newer and better" -- but which isn't as good for the pictures YOU want to take.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #9
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My recently purchased Makinon MC Macro 135 2.8 35m MF lens fits that category......sorta. Wide open it doesn't have a lot of contrast, or even when stopped down. It's pretty soft at 2.8. But those qualities and others make it one of the better portrait lenses I've ever used, so I'm happy. It delivers exactly what I was looking for.

You should get your Summar cleaned Rob. Mine took softish, flarey photos until I sent it out to be cleaned. It came back sharp as a tack even wide open, and was my favorite Leica lens after that. A clean Sumar is a wonderful lens. Much sharper at f2 than a 50 Summicron.
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Old 07-18-2018   #10
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Anyone else use the Canon 50/1.2? That's what gave me the idea for the question. Years ago I reviewed it for Shutterbug and I found it interesting to compare what I said then with how I feel now, 13 years later.

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R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #11
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We all have budgets for, in my case, a hobby. Sometimes you like your ‘inferior ‘ lenses because you cannot justify the expense of the ‘better’ lens. I like the results of my 52mm f2.8 FSU lens because, at $12 I’m just not going to be too critical. The first batch of negs looked fine to me, at least under a loop. Haven’t enlarged any yet.

PS: yes I know, not really the question you are asking. Sorry about that.

Last edited by zuiko85 : 07-18-2018 at 07:43. Reason: Thought about it a little more.
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Old 07-18-2018   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
I was really asking about lenses that AREN'T all that good, but where their shortcomings give a "look" that means you put up with poor resolution (Canon 50/1.2, Porst 135/1.8), low contrast (Canon 50/1.2), field curvature (Nikkor 58/1.4), coma (Summilux) etc.

Sorry I didn't make myself clearer.

Cheers,

R.
Ah,

all clear now!
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Old 07-18-2018   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zuiko85 View Post
We all have budgets for, in my case, a hobby. Sometimes you like your ‘inferior ‘ lenses because you cannot justify the expense of the ‘better’ lens. I like the results of my 52mm f2.8 FSU lens because, at $12 I’m just not going to be too critical. The first batch of negs looked fine to me, at least under a loop. Haven’t enlarged any yet.
Fair enough, but this stands outside budget to some extent. The 35 pre-aspheric Summilux, for example, is silly-expensive but has a unique look. The Porst, on the other hand, is silly-cheap but has a unique look. I'm talking about lenses that are objectively inferior but which we like not despite their faults, but because of them.

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R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #14
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I have been shooting my Meyer-Optic Domiplan 50/2.8 lens in M42 lately. This lens is renowned for being a very inexpensive, East German kit lens with a horrible reputation. A large part of the reputation comes from the inconsistent quality control and the remaining part is probably the result of the poor build quality that has not held up well over the years.

It is a triplet (which is the main reason I own it) and a good copy of this lens has all the foibles of its design melded seamlessly with its price point. In other words it is certainly no Cooke Series XVa.

However, I did happen to find a decent copy for about $20 and if used within its limitations (do not try to shoot wide open!) it does give you some good images, occasionally very good ones.

Like many triplets it can actually be quite sharp in the center but it definitely loses it in the corners. Fortunately it has very good out of focus performance so you can effectively erase unimportant backgrounds with judicious use of the aperture and sufficient separation from your main subject.

But it probably isn't the best landscape lens in the world, and you certainly want to be careful to lock in a good focus or everything seems to fall apart. I have also noted it is much better on film but a digital sensor is not nearly as forgiving.

It is actually a pretty good portrait lens and I suspect will turn out to be a decent macro performer with a good set of extension tubes.
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Old 07-18-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Fair enough, but this stands outside budget to some extent. The 35 pre-aspheric Summilux, for example, is silly-expensive but has a unique look. The Porst, on the other hand, is silly-cheap but has a unique look. I'm talking about lenses that are objectively inferior but which we like not despite their faults, but because of them.

Cheers,

R.
Yes, realized too late my comment didn’t really address your question. A good question to. Years ago had a ‘better’ multicoated 35mm f2 OM mount Zuiko that I got for a c-note and was pristine. Turned out I preferred my beat up old 35 f2.8 Zuiko, there is just something about that lens, as pedestrian as it is.
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Old 07-18-2018   #16
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The old single coated non Ai Nikkor 50 mm/f.14 does not compete with today's optics but it has a look I favor on my Nikon F. I dare say they were meant for each other, but also looks unique on a Nikon D610. Can be had for a song although John White converted mine for more body options.
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Old 07-18-2018   #17
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I like some of the old Cine lenses on m4/3...old uncoated Cooke and Zeiss from the war years come to mind here..
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Old 07-18-2018   #18
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I wonder if a CZ Jena 35/2.8 Flektogon qualifies for your rubric. In any case, for not much coin, mine (acquired in Exakta mount for a Varex IIA or B, I forget which) gave me a delightful way to poke my eye far closer to some subjects than I usually did:









Shot on Portra 400. I sold the Varex with its fast 105mm during one of those bonfire of the vanities periods (regrettable), but have kept the Flekto mounted on some sort of digi-adapter—Panasonic, Fuji? I don’t even use those digital bodies now. Probably I should try to locate another Varex.
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Old 07-18-2018   #19
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pioneer View Post
I have been shooting my Meyer-Optic Domiplan 50/2.8 lens in M42 lately. This lens is renowned for being a very inexpensive, East German kit lens with a horrible reputation. A large part of the reputation comes from the inconsistent quality control and the remaining part is probably the result of the poor build quality that has not held up well over the years.

It is a triplet (which is the main reason I own it) and a good copy of this lens has all the foibles of its design melded seamlessly with its price point. In other words it is certainly no Cooke Series XVa.

However, I did happen to find a decent copy for about $20 and if used within its limitations (do not try to shoot wide open!) it does give you some good images, occasionally very good ones.

Like many triplets it can actually be quite sharp in the center but it definitely loses it in the corners. Fortunately it has very good out of focus performance so you can effectively erase unimportant backgrounds with judicious use of the aperture and sufficient separation from your main subject.

But it probably isn't the best landscape lens in the world, and you certainly want to be careful to lock in a good focus or everything seems to fall apart. I have also noted it is much better on film but a digital sensor is not nearly as forgiving.

It is actually a pretty good portrait lens and I suspect will turn out to be a decent macro performer with a good set of extension tubes.
This is indeed very important: using a lens within its limitations. A lens which is truly awful for one application may be magical in another.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #20
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I had a couple of pre-AI Nikkors that I liked a lot. The cheap silver barreled 35/2.8 was a favorite despite lacking sharpness just about everywhere. I think I bought it new for $75 and I gave it away to a friend who was glad to get it despite it being pretty worn out. Also the 50/1.4, also with a silver barrel. It had terrible barrel distortion and it wasn't very contrasty but I kind of liked the flat look, especially with Kodachrome. I got it used with an FTn body, both of which were stolen a few years later.

In the digital era, I used a Canon 17-40L as my normal lens on several APS-C bodies. It was a lens that got no respect from internet forums and I admit the edges, especially the corners, were always soft at all focal lengths. But it had a nice look to the Raw files, both for color and black and white. I sort of wish I hadn't sold but I had pretty much stopped using Canons so it had to go.
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Old 07-18-2018   #21
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I guess the more I’ve gotten into photography, I struggle to look at a lenses difference as a weakness. I find it rather a strength. I think one of the main reasons I enjoy older lenses is their ergonomics and size. It makes shooting much more enjoyable.

A modern lens which I adore is the canon 35L v1. It’s been replaced by a version 2 which on paper is “better” and some will say how the sigma art “smokes it” but the 35L v1 is a perfect lens IMHO for the canon DSLR. If I could only have one lens in that system, it would be it.. The sigma and newer canon v2 have been designed to maximize sharpness, yet the v1 seems to render in a much more subtle and natural way.

And I’ll still stand by the Collapsible Cron for m-mount. There are intangible things that are difficult to explain with words about how these lenses take in and project the light, and It is all highly subjective as to which is “better”. I personally feel that “better” should be put to the wayside and replaced with an understanding of what “works for” the image one is attempting to create.
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Old 07-18-2018   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ccoppola82 View Post
I guess the more I’ve gotten into photography, I struggle to look at a lenses difference as a weakness. I find it rather a strength. I think one of the main reasons I enjoy older lenses is their ergonomics and size. It makes shooting much more enjoyable.

A modern lens which I adore is the canon 35L v1. It’s been replaced by a version 2 which on paper is “better” and some will say how the sigma art “smokes it” but the 35L v1 is a perfect lens IMHO for the canon DSLR. If I could only have one lens in that system, it would be it.. The sigma and newer canon v2 have been designed to maximize sharpness, yet the v1 seems to render in a much more subtle and natural way.

And I’ll still stand by the Collapsible Cron for m-mount. There are intangible things that are difficult to explain with words about how these lenses take in and project the light, and It is all highly subjective as to which is “better”. I personally feel that “better” should be put to the wayside and replaced with an understanding of what “works for” the image one is attempting to create.
Something which occurs to me here is self-reinforcement. We buy a lens that gives us good results. This encourages us. We get better results because we have confidence and know what the lens can do... The opposite of a vicious circle.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #23
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My vote for a good bad lens will go to the (Hugo) Meyer -Optik Görlitz Orestor 50mm 1,8/50mm-can be bought under €40...don't know how to post my pictures, so here's a review of this lens: http://www.morningcoffee.photo/new-o...image-gallery/
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Old 07-18-2018   #24
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The fully manual f3.5 30mm Hugo Meyer Lydith , later re- badged as the 30mm Pentacon has always given me pleasing images and yet I have more expensive and classier and faster Auto stop down diaphragm lenses in the 28mm to 35 mm focal length range that I could choose from.
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Old 07-18-2018   #25
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Being an Olympus OM user, i would say the cheapo 28 f/3.5. There are plenty other lenses with lower distortion but it is flare resistant, tiny and is plenty sharp. Sells for peanuts. Has rewarded me with plenty good pictures.



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Old 07-18-2018   #26
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The fully manual f3.5 30mm Hugo Meyer Lydith , later re- badged as the 30mm Pentacon has always given me pleasing images and yet I have more expensive and classier and faster Auto stop down diaphragm lenses in the 28mm to 35 mm focal length range that I could choose from.
This is exactly what I was getting at. "More expensive and classier and faster Auto stop down diaphragm lenses" -- but the manky old Lydith gives you better images. "Better" of course in the context of what you want.

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R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #27
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Being an Olympus OM user, i would say the cheapo 28 f/3.5. There are plenty other lenses with lower distortion but it is flare resistant, tiny and is plenty sharp. Sells for peanuts. Has rewarded me with plenty good pictures.
Which is what it's about. And the distortion is hardly disastrous. I remember looking through a cheap 28mm in the late 70s/early 80s, and stepping back in alarm because I thought the building was about to collapse on me!

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Old 07-18-2018   #28
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Auto Cosinon 50mm 1.4 in M42. Quite soft and prone to flare but dreamy/creamy
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Old 07-18-2018   #29
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Quote:
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So: favourite "good, bad" lenses, and how to use them. {munch}

The Takumars are a bad example.
If you want an example of a notoriously BAD lens that I actually enjoy shooting with, it has to be the Takumar 28-80 f3.5-4.5 zoom!

It shows noted barrel distortion when zoomed wide, and starts to show pincushion distortion when zoomed out close to max. See the two examples below. At "normal" focal lengths it's very OK.

However, it's small for a zoom, reasonably light, and very quick to use. I've been using it lately with a Pentax MG (smaller than the K1000) which is itself somewhat quirky. I can carry this combination around comfortably and easily.

I'm finding that I'm choosing this lens more and more over my main zoom, which is an Ozunon 28-135, which does not show nearly as much distortion and has a longer max zoom, but it's larger and heavier and more of a "grenade launcher" type of thing.

Edit: I just added a third image below (shot with the Takumar 28-80) which does not show nearly as much distortion. IIRC this was probably 35-40-ish in range and things look a lot more straight and parallel.

As to a couple of "good" lenses (good in my mind, I know many of you are far more picky than I am) that I enjoy shooting with, the Vivitar 28mm f/2.5 M42 is really growing on me. It's nothing really special, but it performs quite well and is fun to shoot with both in daylight, and it's fast enough to do city street scenes and such at night.

Also, and I don't have enough experience with it but I'm getting it slowly, is the Promaster branded (yes, yes, yes, I know!) 28-80 M42 zoom, as kind of a companion to the above.

The Ozunon 28-135 (K mount) is another I've found to perform quite well. I just had this CLA'd. If you never heard of it, that model was mostly sold here in the States under the Vivitar brand.





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Old 07-18-2018   #30
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In my case it would be the Ektar f7.7 / 203mm vs. the Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S f5.6 / 210mm. I have both, and while the latter is a bit sharper and with more coverage radius etc., the little Ektar is so much lighter and therefore my go-to lens for travel...
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Old 07-18-2018   #31
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A have a really nice CV 35/2.5 LTM (a very good lens), and I almost never use it as I much prefer my 1954 Jupiter-12 35/2.8, a lens I think qualifies for the good bad lens category.
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Old 07-18-2018   #32
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My vote is for the 50mm f1.4 Nikkor-sc in ltm.
In comparison to v2 and later Lux's in sharpness, contrast, and distortion, it is not on par, but it makes up for it in bokkah.
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Old 07-18-2018   #33
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Helios 44-4 58/2. One of those "swirly bokeh" lenses. My sample is quite unique in that it was professionally modded to focus to infinity on a Nikon body without an adapter. It also has a focus confirmation chip. Originally, I bought it as a portrait lens for DX. I held on to it when I sold off all my DX bodies and lenses but held on to this one.
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Old 07-18-2018   #34
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I would mention the Nikkor-H 2.8cm f/3.5, almost never mentioned as "the best" 28mm in F mount... Introduced in March 1960, I have a factory AI'ed version and (one reason) I like it is because of it's place in "history". There is a nice write up at Nikon's Thousand and One Nights No. 12...
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Old 07-18-2018   #35
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In my case it would be the Ektar f7.7 / 203mm vs. the Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S f5.6 / 210mm. I have both, and while the latter is a bit sharper and with more coverage radius etc., the little Ektar is so much lighter and therefore my go-to lens for travel...
More character, too. I still have the Apo-Sironar but gave the Ektar away. A pity, as (on maturer reflection) I liked the Ektar better. Mind you, I'm npt sure that the Rodenstock is actually technically superior. An eight inch f/7.7 is not that hard to make.

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R.
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Old 07-18-2018   #36
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In 1980 I took a photo on a borrowed 28mm f/3.5 Nikkor which had seen better days (someone had broken the Ai prong off which takes a fair bit of doing). I got a print made - a Cibachrome - and framed it and this has hung on my mother's wall ever since. Last year I copied the original Kodachrome slide, spent ages cleaning the dust of decades t.off it and reprinted it - a marginally better print - which I have and will frame and put on my wall. The lens was a cheap and battered one and they are still cheap to buy but somehow I have never got around to actually buying one - yet.

A cheap lens? - relatively, yes. A bad lens? - not so sure I'd describe it as bad, but certainly not in the top league today. A good lens? - well the one picture has had staying power certainly although technically its ok it wouldn't pass a critical eye when it comes to absolute technical precision.

I suspect good/bad lenses are such when they yield images which are worthwhile in spite of their shortcomings.
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Old 07-18-2018   #37
Swift1
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There is an eBay seller that currently has 4 or 5 Helios 44 converted to F mount with infinity focus.
A few weeks ago he had one that had been professionally repackaged into a AF Nikkor lens body.
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Old 07-18-2018   #38
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Got a Lentar 250mm 5.6 mirror with a large amount of fall-off and not sure it has high resolving power, but transparencies of flowers taken with it have them standing out beautifully. Sure it does not rank with the Minolta 250 reflex in terms of stats. The results I like are due completely to its technical deficiencies. Thanks for starting this thread, Roger -- except, of course, for the effect it will have on cheap good bad lens prices.

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Old 07-18-2018   #39
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I’m usually very exacting about my gear, shooting medium-format film and 42 MP digital to maximise resolution and tonal range.

But I have a soft spot for the humble Soviet Jupiter-8 - I’ve an early silver one. Not the sharpest or prettiest pencil in the box, but I think the aberrations, poor flare control and muted colours give it bags of character. It’s also tiny compared with my usual lenses (shift-tilt monsters).

I tend to use it for personal photos rather than for the “serious” stuff I do for exhibitions.

Not the greatest of photos, but the veiling flare gives this view of Brighton, UK, a romantic air...

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Old 07-18-2018   #40
Ko.Fe.
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I could write one page about FSU RF lenses here and people's myths, but I'll try Wilco to Roger.

So, Vivitar 16-35 in EF mount. Amazingly sharp, but awful on digital colors.
I'm sure it is perfect lens on film .
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