Sharpest 50mm lens at any aperture under f/2.0

Discussion in 'Modern Film Cameras' started by richard_golonka, Nov 14, 2018.

  1. Wasnt sure where to put this, so I posting here. I have been using a free pentax MG for 5 years with a 50mm f/2.0 lens that I found in the basement. Time to upgrade everything. I have shot so much with this, probably 200 rolls. Its the only camera I have, but time to retire it.

    I have many requirements, but I will focus on the most important one first and the most common situation I find myself in.

    I typically walk around the city at night, looking for interesting scenes with odd or bright lighting. Lots of contrast. And I do this with film. Either cinestill 800T or delta 3200 black and white.

    With ilford delta 3200 shot at 1600 and f/2.0 I can usually get most things at night I like at a 1/60 shutter without a tripod. And I do not want to incorporate a tripod. I hate drawing attention to myself as sometimes I wander around at night in some suspect areas (they are always the most interesting) so I don't want to stop and start pulling out equipment.

    I would like to use a larger aperture than f/2.0 that is also capable of a sharper image at that larger aperture than what I am using now, and get these shots with a faster shutter. This will also permit me to try out lower speed black and white film in these situations.

    I will spend all of the money on the lens first and then find the cheapest functional body to attach. My budget is high, I would spend 100 dollars or 2000 on a lens. I would prefer to find a sleeper pick over an obviously expensive famous lens. I want to spend as little as possible on the actual film body, so nikon f5,f6,canon eos 1v out of the question. I'm targeting a 2000 dollar lens here max and a camera body no more than 300 dollars.

    Again, I don't care about sharpenss at f/8, I care about the best possible edge to edge sharpness at anywhere between f/1.2 to f/2, because of that where I will be trying my best to handhold at 1/30.

    I want this to fit on a camera with a shutter speed of 1/8000. I also want to start experimenting with wide open huge depth of field in bright sun/deep shadow with ISO 25-50 film, but also very grainy 3200 film at smaller aperatures in the same very bright/sharp shadow conditions...just to see what the film looks like at extremes...just because I can. These both require a very fast shutter.

    I am thinking one of these cameras, but I don't know much about lenses. If you are familiar with any of these cameras, I am sure you know of a 50mm lens that will meet my needs:
    1) Minolta Maxxum 9 - ...are Minolta lenses...decent??
    2) Contax RTS III - I am sure Zeiss has a 50mm sub f/2.0 for me...
    3) Nikon f100 + ?
    4) Canon eos 5 or 3 + ?
    6) Pentax pz-1p or z-5p + ?

    Im not looking for the best answer, I am just looking for your answer :) Interested to know what others would do, because well, I like talking about cameras. I will in the end, do what I want of course haha.

    Thanks for listening
  2. 5mm off topic: A Tamron 45/1.8 with stabilizer seems the sanest choice to me, on the current market. - Lens speed ain't everything, when it comes to leaving tripods at home. - If the stabilizer gives you 2 stops of handholdability (I guess it promises more) only a (still out of budged) Noctilux 0.95 might be able to somehow compete but I think I'd miss DOF / hate the focusing challenge that comes with such an aperture.
    I'm no big fan of my Pentax F 50/1.4 or Pentax AF in the dim or dark, so I'd recommend sticking to EOS.
    I have no clue about Nikon's AF evolution. AFAIK they started with screwdriver AF, like Pentax and Minolta and that concept tends to focus a bit slower than the in lens motors they brought out later. But which film bodies support those? - I recall borrowing a Minolta 5000 and getting vexed by it's AF not locking on subjects. Early Nikons (F601?) didn't impress me either and my Pentax SFXn is quite horrible too. Minolta lenses are called Sony A mount these days so maybe there is something Zeiss, that might float your boat?
    EOS bodies never had screwdriver AF, that 's why I dare to recommend them, although Canon's current 50mm offerings don't seem that great or up to date.
    If a manual focus Nikon is an option the slightly longer (55 or 58mm) Noctnikkor might be a lens to look for. - Although I did a roll or two behind one on a borrowed FG20 I did not test it outdoors at night to know if it really gives an edge. - Once again I don't recommend getting into extremely fast glass especially for film photography. Shooting it is hit & miss focusing wise and average results tend to look a bit like "high end Lomography" with it's famous slogan "out of focus instead of autofocus" to me. Looking at results from my wide open 70-200/2.8 I probably have to issue a warning: Any AF body 50/1.4 combo isn't unlikely to require AF micro adjustments by a service tech, to really shine.

    I wouldn't expect sharpness miracles from old school compact 50/1.4s. - The bulky Sigma Art or a Zeiss Otus seem more likely to perform convincingly.
  3. This is fantastic, thank you. Suggestion to stay with an EOS body because of better AF is well taken.

    I did not know Tamron made stabilized 45mm/1.8! I actually did not know anyone made one of these. That is exactly what I was looking for.

    Some Minolta 9s were upgraded at the time to handle new Sony lenses, although it looks like this Tamron does not have VC in a Sony mount. Which leaves one option, a Canon EOS. Are we sure that the Tamron will run VC with an EOS 1/3/5 film camera? I will investigate.

    The Tamron is weather sealed...hmmmm. This would make a good combo with an EOS 1v. There goes the budget already...


  4. Well the RTS III (which I own) does have the vacuum system to make the film flatter on the baseplate. And it's a great camera (though the electronics might be a little fragile at this point in time). And the 50/1.4 lens is a great lens, but it's probably not at its best wide open. And some of the posters above, when they mentioned image stabilization, had a point. The RTS III is more a studio camera or at least a tripod camera. You'll lose a lot more sharpness shooting handheld than you will with a lesser lens usually.

    Anyway, there's one company who's specialty is sharp WIDE OPEN. That's Leica. That's their thing. They are expensive as all heck, but you'd probably get what you want from a Summilux if you could afford it. Or you could investigate the X cameras (not discontinued) such as the X model 113. it has a 50/1.7 equivalent lens fixed which is supposed to be very good and it's a Leica so probably excellent wide open.

    I will say that I haven't used that camera or a summilux, but I have a 50/2 and 35/2 Leica lens and those things are plenty sharp wide open. And if you're looking for sharp in the middle and you're not too picky on the edges, the 7 Artisans 50 1.1 might be an option. It's a chinese lens, but a pretty one and super cheap.

    Anyway, good luck in your search. Never used the Minolta 9 but I did use Minolta film cameras nearly all my life up to the 600si and I thought they were great cameras.
    Fiddlefye likes this.
  5. It's pricey, used and new, but the AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G seems to get universally good reviews for both its resolution and rendering.

    It should be full compatible on any Nikon film camera made since the mid to late 1990s-especially the F5, F6, F100, and N80.

    Other new popular choices are the Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4 and the Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4. The latter is manual focus. Both of these lenses are available in both Nikon(F) and Canon(EF) mount.
  6. That's the one that popped into my mind too - right after my first choice, the large and heavy Sigma 50/1.4 Art (but you get almost Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 performance for a fraction of the price). The Tamron is on sale too (for quite some time already) - $200 off ($399 instead of $599).

    Being a Nikon guy, I recommend the F100 :cool:

    If it wasn't so expensive, I might give one a try myself ;)
  7. "Sharpest 50mm lens at any aperture under f/2.0"

    - Wow! Couldn't you find a more contentious and unanswerable question to ask?

    If you narrow it to lenses that are suitable for use with film. "Either cinestill 800T or delta 3200 black and white." - then the answer is; almost any 50mm lens between f/1.2 and f/1.9 ever produced!

    Seriously, outside of a few early f/1.2 designs, you really won't see any difference using those two films.

    I have a number of 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses, and even using them on a high-resolution digital camera reveals only minor differences. Chinon or Nikon. Canon or Praktica. Fujinon or Pentax. They're nearly all based on the old Planar design and have a performance it's difficult to put a cigarette-paper between. Short of being downright damaged or mis-assembled, you'll be hard pushed to detect the slightest difference on those high-speed films.

    Throw in the fact that you'll doubtless be hand-holding the camera, and any attempt to find the 'best' lens will be an exercise in utter futility.

    So, Jochen has a good point in recommending the Tamron 45mm lens with image stabilisation. Tamron probably make the best VC system out there, but it's only available in a limited range of mounts.
  8. Unfortunately yes...I've not even seen one in the flesh.
  9. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    but wouldnt your DOF be so shallow it would be almost impossible to get anything past the tip of a nose?
  10. Yes, I think the Tamron is the way to go. The f100 is a less expensive alternative. I am considering it too.

    Ahh, I would really like that Minolta though, with the Tamron. Is there any possible way I could make that Tamron lens work on the Minolta (one that has been previously upgraded by the orignial owner to use Alpha lenses, this was a thing back then) with an A-mount to EM or F mount adaptor? Or would that be too many layers and too many years for the metering and/or VC on Tamron to work?
  11. I agree, but I wanted the option of going past f/2.0 (because this is what I have now) with a sharper lens, and if it did that successfully wanted it to hav the potential to look somewhat respectable. I have no piece of kit limiting my choice here, so I can pick anything.

    Keep in mind, the only reason I am looking for such a low f, is for light, and because its film I am stuck at 1600 for color and 3200 for black and white unless I do a huge push (prefer not to). I think the option of a f/1.8 with optical stabilization is perfect for me. Would still consider others at f/1.4 that are non-stabilized with good autofocus (my eyes are not great). But the Tamron is definitely leading the way at the moment.
  12. I agree, but what about in comparison to my current lens though? This is the crux of the question.

    SMC Pentax-M 50mm F2 Reviews - M Prime Lenses - Pentax Lens Reviews & Lens Database

    Which according to others, is actually pretty darn good. I don't know, its the only one I have ever used haha.

    But thus far I have received some great suggestions to consider which I suspect are at least technically better. Will I notice it? Maybe not, but oh well :)
  13. The Tamron lens does not have VC in Sony A mount.
    Technically, you could mount the Nikon version onto the Minolta's A-mount - I am not aware of any adapter though that preserves the electronic functions (and it would be doubtful that the Minolta body would know what to do with them anyway). So you would have neither AF nor VC.
    The Canon version of the Tamron can't be mounted on a A-mount body as the register distance is too small.

    So either get the Canon or Nikon version with a matching camera; forget the Minolta.
  14. Okay, you are shooting film which gives you a huge variety of options. I'm a Nikon guy so that's what I'll stick to. The 50mm f/1.4 is a super lens and the 1.2 is a favorite. I tend to use mostly manual focus and that's what I would do here. I would get an AI version of either and put it on an F2A, an FT3, an FM/FE series body or if you want autofocus get an F4S, an N90S, maybe an F5. I have all of these except the F5 and can say they are easy to use and just run and run. Prices on all of these are quite good.

    Rick H.
    Fiddlefye and 2mnycars like this.
  15. I find myself agreeing with Rodeo Joe. I've used a bunch of different 50mm lenses over the past 35 years or so. But I guess if I had to pick one, it would be a Leica screw mount 50mm f/3.5 collapsible Elmar. It is the sharpest lens -- with great contrast -- that I've ever come across.
  16. . . .
    I agree with the suggestion above of the Tamron 45mm f/1.8 stabilized lens. At 1/60 without a tripod, it will give you sharper results than any f/1.4 or f/1.2 50, 55, or 58mm.
  17. If you're looking to get a brighter viewfinder image with a wider aperture lens, then you may be sorely disappointed.

    I know for sure that the optical system of Nikon's viewfinders gives no apparent increase in brightness beyond an f/2 - f/1.8 lens. Fit an f/1.2 and there's not a jot of difference visible between it wide open and with the preview lever stopped down to f/1.8. Nothing, not even a change in apparent depth-of-field.

    A lot of other SLR camera viewfinders behave the same. Why? I don't really know the answer to that, but it's a fact. Your viewfinder definitely won't be twice as bright fitting an f/1.4 lens instead of f/2.

    If you want full functionality of that Tamron lens, then forget Minolta. I suspect a Canon Eos is going to be the most economical way to fit the Tamron, and with the widest choice of film bodies.
    C'mon, it's gritty high-speed film you're using. You won't notice any difference in image quality between a low-end amateur body and a high-end pro one.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2018
  18. On being asked for directions a countryman replied "I wouldn't start from here". It is very tempting to tell you how I would go about taking sharp photos in the gloaming ,(hint D4), but that is about me not you. Trying to answer your question I have looked at my stock of film gear and made two choices, they have to be items that I own and know. 1) a Contax RTS11 with Zeiss 50 1.4, 2) a Nikon F100 with 50 1.4 AFD. You said an F5 is out, otherwise it would be my choice. For all my good intentions I can not resist urging you to consider an 85mm lens for street work, the Contax Zeiss 1.4 and my present favourite, the Nikon 1.4 AFD, are in my view sharper lenses than the 50s. I do own three 1.2 lenses and they would not be my first choices for this work. The best night film shots I have taken were on an OM1 with 1.8 lens which seemed extremely fast back then. I have to say that sharpness is not my priority for night shooting, my favourite photo book for this is Hackney By Night by David George. All the best, Charles.
  19. Sharpest is relative, and when you want black cat in a dark closet pictures you are abandoning any reasonable claim to sharpness in the traditional sense. You can have speed or you can have sharp, but not both at the same time. Not even for all the tea in China.

    Here's where f/1.0 and f/1.2 lenses, and such like, come in. I still use my Nikkor-S 55mm f/1.2 lens, but wide open it is nothing to brag about.

    Go digital and get a nice camera with ISOs in the thousands -- then you will still have to compromise -- that that case with noise, but ....
  20. It's not just a duality. It's Sharp, fast, and cheap -- you just can't get all 3. Fast and Cheap -- 7 Artisans lens and similar. Sharp and Fast Leica Noctilux 50/0.95. But do you want to pay $10,000 for it? I don't. And don't forget weight! Sharp and Cheap? Well maybe some Voigtlanders or the Zeiss ZM lenses relatively speaking.

    It's possible to get that superfast glass to be sharp, but you have to throw a LOT of money at it.

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