The Asahi Optical Company, marketed as Pentax in most of the world and, for a time, as Honeywell in the United States, was one of the premier camera manufacturers back in the 1960's and 70's. Pentax popularized the M42 lens mount (a 42mm threaded mount first used by Zeiss in 1949), to the point where many people refer to M42 as the "Pentax screw mount." M42 was used by many manufacturers back in the day, which makes those lenses and bodies very easy to come by on the used market.
|1967 Super-Tak and 1974 SMC Tak|
Pentax gradually replaced the M42 mount with its proprietary K-mount (or PK-mount) from 1975-1980. Though probably unrelated, the reputation of their Takumar lenses also diminished significantly after 1980. My 1984 copy of a Takumar (Bayonet) 135mm f/2.5 lens supports this opinion, unfortunately.
|Super 50/1.4, Super 55/1.8, and SMC 50/1.4|
So, about this lens. It contains 7 optical elements (pieces of glass) arranged in 6 groups. The aperture ranges from f/1.4 to f/16. Minimum focusing distance is 0.45 meters (18") from your sensor, which means about 14" from the front of the lens. It takes 49mm screw-on filters, which is a very common size for that era. All of the above specs are shared with the S-M-C and SMC versions. The Super-Tak weighs in at 230g (8.1 oz), which is lighter than either the S-M-C (252g) or SMC (265g). That's almost twice as heavy as Canon's modern 50/1.8 (130g), which is known as the "plastic fantastic" for good reason, but lighter than Canon's modern 50/1.4 (290g). The Super-Tak 50/1.4 was made from 1964-1971; the S-M-C from 1971-72, and the SMC from 1973-75. My 1967 Super-Tak is the oldest lens I own that can be used on my DSLR's.
The entire Super/S-M-C/SMC line has a great reputation among manual lens enthusiasts. They're pretty sharp wide open, but when stopped down to f/4 or farther, they're wicked sharp. Other than autofocus, no significant advancements have been made to 50mm primes since the mid-1970's, so optically, the SMC Takumar still represents the state of the art for this type of lens. This lens that I bought for $35 is every bit as sharp as the modern Canon 50/1.4 that sells for $400. For my purposes, autofocus isn't worth paying ten times as much for the same lens. Photos shot through these 1960's lenses (I've got a few from that decade) each have a different look about them that's quite different from the sanitized look of modern, auto-focus zooms. It's hard to put your finger on just how to describe it, but you can see it if you look closely at the three photos below. I like it, personally.
|Super-Tak 50/1.4 on Canon 7D|
Alas, with that shallow DOF comes some difficulty in focusing accurately. It doesn't take much of a change to make your desired focal point unacceptably blurry. There are two ways around this, both of which I employ when possible. Most current DSLR bodies have a LiveView feature that allows you to see on the LCD exactly what the sensor sees. By zooming in 5x or 10x on a high contrast edge in LiveView, it's easy to tell when that edge is in focus. Unfortunately, 10x can jump around a lot when hand held, so this really works best on a tripod. This method is also rather slow, so it only works on static subjects.
|Split image circle with a microprism ring|
As with most lenses (except Olympus and several older lenses), the aperture ring is right at the base of the lens, so those with large fingers may have some trouble turning the ring quickly and accurately. The ring turns in half stop increments, so it's easy to count the number of clicks when adjusting the aperture with your eye up to the viewfinder. Due to the half or whole stop increments in most manual lenses, I've also set my 7D body to adjust its shutter & aperture settings in half stop increments rather than the third stop increments that it came with. Look through your custom functions for this option (on the 7D, it's CF I-1).
The automatic setting -- which is the only setting that some M42 lenses have -- is accomplished by a small stop down pin that sticks out the back of the lens mount. When a native camera wants to close down the aperture to the setting on the ring (as it would just as the shutter button was pressed), a lever inside the camera body would press this pin into the lens. I mention this because there are two types of M42-EOS mounting adapters. One type has a little flange inside the M42 threads that will automatically depress this pin whenever the lens is attached to the adapter. The other type has no such flange. When using a lens like the Super-Tak 50/1.4 which has an auto/manual switch, it's best to have an adapter without a flange so that you can flip the aperture back and forth as described above. However, many M42 lenses lack this auto/manual switch (possessing only an automatic mode), so those lenses require a flange in order to make the lens stop down to the specified setting all the time. Without the flange, such lenses could only be used wide open.
Speaking of adapters, M42 lenses typically provide the lowest cost of entry to the world of manual focus because the adapters are so simple to machine (often costing $10 or less) and because the lenses themselves are so plentiful. Takumars are a great place to get your feet wet. Most of my posts talk about use on a Canon EOS body, but you can also use these M42 lenses on modern Pentax bodies with an M42-PK adapter, or on Olympus 4/3 DSLR's, or on Olympus or Panasonic micro-4/3 bodies, or on Sigma DSLR's by using different adapters.
Another interesting note about these Takumar 50/1.4 lenses and the related 35/2 lenses -- but apparently not the 55/1.8 or any other focal lengths -- is that the rear glass element often contained thorium, a radioactive element. The levels of radioactivity are low enough that you'd never notice. In fact, you'll absorb more radioactivity by eating a banana. However, thorium does cause the rear element to yellow over time if the lens isn't used regularly, which introduces a yellow cast to all your photos. Don't confuse this yellowing with the yellow-looking coating on the Super-Taks. To see if your lens is yellowed, look through it at a brightly lit, neutral grey surface. There's much disagreement regarding exactly which other lenses are affected and why the yellowing occurs, but we all know it happens on these 50/1.4's. To fix this, simply set the lens on a window sill in bright, direct sunlight for a few weeks. A UV plant grow light will work in a pinch if you happen to be wintering at the South Pole.
|Infinity on left, minimum focus on right|
|SMC Takumar 50/1.4, sans fungus|
Well, this is probably enough of an introduction to one of my favorite lenses and its family. I hope it will inspire some of you to experiment with this great old glass. If you want to take some time to learn more about how to use older, manual lenses on new, digital SLR bodies, check out my introductory post on the subject, or my Yashica 75-150/4 article, or my Tamron 90/2.5 article. As always, if you have any questions or comments about my Super-Tak 50/1.4 or anything else, please leave a comment below.