Old Nikon lenses vs. Pentax

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by jackm|1, Aug 12, 2010.

  1. I normally shoot a 5DII, but when I want a change of pace and that film look, I'll go to my old Pentax MX and SMC-M lenses (28/2.8, 50/1.4, 135/3.5). I've been very happy with it, but then my uncle planted this seed in my head that has me wondering. He said that back in that era, Nikon was considered the gold standard, then Canon, Minolta, Olympus, then Pentax. I'm 36, so I wouldn't know. Is this true? I get great results from my Pentax film gear:
    How much better could a Nikon be? I'm thinking of getting a Nikon FM2 to find out. I can't imagine the 50/1.4 could be any better at all, but I think I use my 28mm more than the 50, so that is a major consideration. The Pentax 28/2.8 has a 5-blade diaphragm, so I think it's a mid-grade lens. Seems sharp though. Does the Nikon 28/2.8 blow it away?
  2. Jack, this thread has all the hallmarks of a pineapple grenade, but let me tell you my little story, for which no one else may agree. I started with Mamiya Sekor and Pentax cameras and lenses. I was not thrilled with the image quality. I wasn't getting the saturation I had hoped for, and some lenses had less than ideal sharpness and contrast compared to the old Zeiss Ikon Contessa I used, but you can chalk up a lot of it to poor lab quality back in the 70s.
    Besides wandering into medium format, I invested heavily in a Canon FD system, which I loved because it was so reliable and well built. Lenses were fine, but not easy to find in my area. When I joined up with a US distributor of cameras, I met a colleague who worked for Nikon. He wanted me out of Canon (of course) and loaned me most of his lenses (between 16mm and 500mm) to shoot an airshow. When I received the images back, I was so impressed with the exceptional sharpness, color, quality and consistency across the lens line, that I sold almost all my Canon FD equipment (held on to my Canon EFs), and bought a Nikon FM and a bunch of lenses.
    Though I still enjoy shooting Canon's now, I mostly shoot with Nikon and find no reason to change. I owned a 28mm f/2.8 briefly, and it didn't strike me as one of the better lenses in the line up. But I later bought the f/2 version and it was very good. It is just that 28mm seems to be an awkward angle for me. I prefer a 24mm / 35mm combo. I don't think anyone can quantify what is acceptable build and image quality for what you need a lens or system for.
  3. Pentax lenses have always impressed me, and I am a Nikon user since 1971. I even bought a Spotmatic just for old times sake, and to use a 50mm f1.8 SMC Takumar which is an amazingly sharp lens. How do the brands compare, i.e., is Nikon better than Pentax? In my opinion it is just a matter of preference for availability of lenses, features, durability, etc. But optics? No sneezin' at Pentax optics, for sure.
  4. Nikon has no monopoly on good lenses, now or then. Some of the best lenses ever made, like some of their Sonnar copies, are fantastic, of course.
    Some of my Nikon (all non-AI) lenses work beautifully on my various APS-C and 35mm sensor Canons. In fact, the difficulty of using non-AI lenses on Nikon digital bodies was one factor in my happiness with Canon EOS cameras. [With the larger mirror on the 5D series, some Nikon wide-angle lenses have rear projections that won't fit without modification (which I am loathe to do). Almost everything works on the APS-C Canons.]
    But M42 lenses, including the Takumars, also include some absolutely classic glass. I can't resist linking again to Herbert Keppler's comparison of an East German 1950 Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2 with a 2006 Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens (LINK).
    I know less about the K-mount lenses from Pentax, but surely they're no worse than the M42x1 mount ones.
    The nice thing about shooting an EOS camera is that you can have it all (well, almost, you really can't get much use out of Canon FD lenses). Although some people haven't yet figured out that you stop down after you focus, many lenses (the Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8, the PC-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8, and others) are no more difficult to work with than they were on their original mount bodies.
  5. I have a small selection of 1960s Pentax Super Takumar lenses and a larger selection of 1960s-1980s Nikkor lenses. I find both to be excellent. The Takumars, particularly the 55mm f/1.8, are incredibly sharp. Nikon had a wider selection of lenses and accessories, but Pentax was quite competitive optically. Also, Pentax's lens coatings seem more flare-resistant than Nikon's, at least for pre-1970 lenses.
  6. The best of the crop of Pentax and Nikon lenses are/were capable of exceeding the limits of film and sensor resolution.
    Certain lenses develop reputations based on rendering of OOF highlights ("bokeh") or being flare-resistant or having exceedingly close focusing capability. I've got a couple of Pentax lenses for which there is no Nikon equivalent and vice versa.
    The benefit of one system v. another is as much an ergonomics/system integration/cost and availability question as anything. Nikon stuff is generally larger and heavier than Pentax, and this was enough of a consideration to keep me wedded to the Pentax LX (film, manual focus) system for many years. I'm spread across both systems now.
    Re: availability of high-end lenses, almost all of the better Pentax glass is esoteric and hard to source at a moments notice. In the USA at least, Nikon wins this battle hands down.
  7. There's a reason people spend money and effort to adapt Pentax lenses to other mounts -- the image quality. Pentax's SMC (Super Multi Coating) has always been very highly regarded. Even the Super Takumars (prior to SMC) deliver superb IQ with simpler coating.
    Pentax's Limited lenses are living legends. According to Mike Johnston (TOP) "Popular Photography in its March 2002 issue called the Pentax SMC-FA 31mm Limited one of the greatest prime lenses it had ever tested (the other two were the Voigtländer Heliar 50mm f/3.5 and the Nikon Nikkor 45mm f/2.8P Tessar-type." The rest of the Limiteds are no slouches, and if you spend time in Nikon or Canon forums you will hear respect for those little jewel-like primes.
    All manufacturers are capable of making middling lenses, and great lenses. Shoot what you like. And your beauitful pictures speak for themselves.
  8. If you had shot those photos with a Nikon, Canon, Leica, or any other 35 mm camera, they would be virtually indistinguishable. Particularly at screen resolution and after scanning. In my opinion (as a long-time Nikon shooter with tons of great Nikon gear) the answer to "How much better could a Nikon be?" is "Not enough to matter."
    By all means switch to Nikon if you want to, but don't expect a dramatically visible improvement in image quality. Ruggedness, perhaps, or the user interface will be more to your liking, or the viewfinder will be brighter, or lenses easier to find, but not "Wow! Look how much better the photos look!"
  9. Recent acquisition of a M43 camera has seen me getting adapters for my Nikon and old Pentax SMC M lenses, and then (rather sadly) testing them close and at infinity. OK, its on an M43 sensor, but at least it's the same for both sets of lenses. The Nikon 50/1.8 AFD, stopped down a bit, and a pre-AI Nikkor 55/3.5 are superb; Nikon 105/2.5 AI is good, as are Pentax 50/1.7, 100/2.8 and 135/3.5. All will get used on the M43 - and the Pentax lenses are very small and light for their performance. Verdict? More difference between individual lenses than between makes (and focal lengths 50 and above transfer better to M43 - 28/2.8 Pentax and 24/2.8 AIS Nikkor not so good).
  10. Thank you all for the very candid and refreshingly honest replies. I promise this was no grenade! I think I should concentrate on how nice and green the grass is here on this side of the fence! I will look into that 31mm lens too.
  11. I have complete camera and lens kits for my classic Nikon and Pentax (SMC M42) gear. Pentax SMC lenses have a clarity and color rendition that is nothing short of superb. They work very well with my 7D and film EOS equipment. The SMC 35mm f/3.5 is amazing. It's the unique multi-coating that gives them the contrast pop and flare resistance. Back in the 1970's Norman Goldberg, of Popular Photography, did a comprehensive flare test of many Japanese and European lenses. Check out this link and scroll to the bottom and enlarge the chart, that was published in Pop Photo, to see how the various lenses fared.
    Sadly, many of the fine M42 SMC 50mm f/1.4 lenses have yellowed due to radioactive elements and need UV exposure to clean them up. I don't believe any of the later K mount lenses have this issue.
    The Nikkors are terrific too on EOS. There are a number of manual focus Nikon lenses that, I have found, are unique standouts. The 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor (Stunning resolution), AI-S Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (bokeh like butter, beautiful color), AI-S Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 (crisp edge-to-edge) and the PC Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8 (big but crazy sharp!). All are excellent on EOS and Nikon digital cameras. I'm sure there are others but thats what i have tried.
    If you are getting good results with the Pentax lenses like you show in those nice photos, and you already own a bunch of Pentax gear, just go with it. The K mount SMC Pentax lenses are top shelf. But if you find any of the above Nikkors for a good price, snap them up!
  12. I strongly disagree with your uncle. Older Pentax Takumar lenses may have been inferior to some so called "gold standard" Nikon lenses, but SMC Pentax M lenses like those you own don't take a back seat to Nikon or any other lens maker in image quality. I'm coming at this as a former Pentax sales rep and later an Olympus rep. I traveled with a whole trunkload (literally -- thousands of dollars worth) of sample equipment when employed by both companies, and the film and processing entry on my expense account read like the national debt. It was this professional experience that convinced me of the Pentax superiority over Olympus, at least.
  13. Louis -- I think it is only the non-SMC 50mm f1.4 lenses that suffer from that yellowing phenomenon (Super Takumar vs. SMC Takumar).
  14. If you want to buy a FM2 and Nikon lenses, email me
  15. Thanks again, this is good to hear. I felt my Pentax kit was something special, but my uncle made me second-guess it. No worries, Uncle P.!
  16. Back in 1974/75, I bought a Pentax ESII and Spotmatic F along with a truckload of SMC Takumars. Along with getting frustrated with how long it took to unscrew then screw in lenses, I noticed several shortcomings with the SMCTs. First, the 50mm f/1.4 lens had unacceptable distortion, while the 200mm f/2.8 had severe color fringing. I suspect I had trouble with a couple of other lenses, but it was so long ago, I forgot.
    Eventually, I went through a number of Leica R lenses, Canon FD lenses, and Nikkor AI/AIS lenses. My favorite lens system was Nikon, and it still is.
  17. SMC Takumars where and are superb lenses. they had a way of "drawing images" that was superb. Back in the 80's I changed to Nikon and spent a year trying to reproduce the creamy quality of the pentax lenses. Today I use Nikon and Olympus equipment and find both to be great but Olypus is closer to the old takumar look.
    I still have some screw mount Takumars that I use with adaptors on my Oly equipment and they stil are superb. The only problem is a yellowish tinge that needs white balance adjustmeny.
    If you have equipment that gives the results you showed here, stick with the equipment, don't doubt the3 quality.
  18. There always have been, and always will be, some people who believe fervently that they own(ed) the single best brand lenses and cameras. There never was, and never will be, a single best brand of almost anything: cars, computers, cellphones, and certainly photography cameras and lenses.
    Many Pentax lenses in screwmount (which go way back when) are generally considered of such high quality, and are so easily adapted to a wide range of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, that their price on today's used market tells you right there what most people really think about the quality of their optics.
  19. Will - Yes, you are right, thanks for the correction.
    Vincent- I can't say I've notice unacceptable distortion in mine but I will agree that the longer focal lengths do exhibit some color fringing, although I would not call it severe in the SMC 200mm but the Pentax SMC 300mm f/4 was worse in this regard. I found this true with all early teles before the introduction of ED glass which Nikon did use in their later MF lenses.
  20. “…back in that era, Nikon was considered the gold standard, then Canon, Minolta, Olympus, then Pentax. “
    When your uncle made that statement, was he talking about 35mm SLR camera lenses or was he talking about 35mm SLR camera systems?
    The reason I ask is because back in that era, the Nikon system was the 35mm SLR gold standard among professional photographers. It is still a great system but has lost its gold standard luster among professionals to Canon.
    Keep in mind that there were other gold standards. The Leica was and still is the gold standard for 35mm rangefinder cameras. The Rolliflex was the gold standard for the twin lens reflex medium format cameras. Large format cameras had their own gold standard (probably the Linhof).
    By the way, I find it interesting that the modern Nikon, Pentax, and Leica digital bodies can still use their old lenses from the era. Whereas, Canon, Minolta and Olympus cannot.

  21. By the way, I find it interesting that the modern Nikon, Pentax, and Leica digital bodies can still use their old lenses from the era. Whereas, Canon, Minolta and Olympus cannot.​
    Depends which "old era" you're talking about. Modern Pentax cameras can't mount the M42 lenses used on all pre-1975 Pentax SLRs. Basically, Pentax did the same kind of thing Canon and Minolta did, just ten years earlier.
    As for Nikon, their situation is more complex. While the basic F bayonet hasn't changed since 1959, various other aspects make it problematic to mix cameras and lenses of different periods. You can't mount pre-AI lenses on most post-1977 cameras without modification; some modern cameras can't meter with non-CPU lenses; you can't use modern "G" lenses on cameras that lack the electronics to select apertures; and so on. Nikon seems to be the only major SLR brand that requires a complicated compatibility chart (like the one on Ken Rockwell's site) to determine which cameras work with which lenses.
    Leica, on the other hand, has evolved much more slowly than any of the SLR lines. It took them until the M7 to even introduce aperture priority AE, and even the latest digital M9 doesn't have autofocus. (I'm not saying that it should, just that it doesn't.) Having changed less than any of the SLR product lines, they have that much less need to fundamentally change their lens mount.
    As for Olympus, their decision to use the Four Thirds sensor would be ridiculous if they were still using a lens mount designed for a full-frame 35mm camera.
    All of these companies' decisions in regard to their lens mounts and other camera features generally make sense if you understand their strategy and the ways they have tried to differentiate themselves from their competitors over the years.
  22. Modern Pentax cameras can't mount the M42 lenses used on all pre-1975 Pentax SLRs.
    Technically true, but practically not a problem. A simple $40 adapter lets you use M42 lenses on K-mount Pentax bodies with full functionality. It's one of the best features of the Pentax line. M42-EOS adapters are in widespread use also.
  23. Yes, I have an M42 to EOS adapter. I wouldn't call the level of functionality it provides "full" because the camera can't control the aperture; the auto/manual aperture switch on my Super Takumar lenses has to be set to manual. If the M42 to K adapter properly supports the automatic aperture on all Pentax SLRs (including digital), then I'll concede your point. Does it?

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