My story and thoughts on Asahi Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4.
45cm min. focus
1: Super-Takumar with 8 lens elements
2: Super-Takumar with 7 lens elements
3: Super-Multi-Coated Takumar with 7 lens elements
4: SMC Takumar with 7 elements
The radioactive Zeiss Killer - one cannot think of a cooler name than this. Asahi Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4 is without doubt a legendary lens from the 1960s with lots of stories and tales. For example, how it earned the name "Zeiss Killer"; how one can tell the earlier 8-elements from the later 7-elements version; how Asahi lost money producing and selling every single copy of the earlier version; how the radioactive thorium caused the yellowing of glasses; how dangerous the radioactivity is(n't); and the funniest - how an IKEA lamp could save this lens from yellowing. It is one of the most beloved, accessible and affordable lens for vintage lens lovers.
*Look for the little vertical red line in the middle photo. If it is to the left of the 4, like here, it is the 7-element version; to the right of the 4, it is the 8-element version.
Logically this lens served as my first entrance to the world of vintage lenses, and emotionally I also developed a sentimental connection and attachment to this lens. So far 3 copies of the 7-elements versions have come across my path, but still I haven’t tried the 8-elements version yet. Theoretically it is another lens with different optic design. Is it really better? Probably yes when it bore the weight of killing german optic giant's Planar lens. It is for sure much more expensive and rarer to find. But as long as a lens gives me the urge to go out, carry it around, to look through it, to play with it and to make photos with it, it is a good enough lens for me.
The first copy I encountered was lent to me from a friend (don't remember which version). Back then I just bought a Sony A6000 and started taking photography more seriously. I was looking to buy my first 50mm prime lens and wanted to try the Takumar out. I played with it for a few days. Before then I only had experience shooting with the standard kit zoom lenses which only have maximum aperture of f3.5. It was also my first encounter with a manual lens. You could imagine how I was blown away when I first looked into the viewfinder through this Zeiss Killer with aperture of f1.4. It was as if having a new eye opened. Suddenly the world became so bright and dreamy. I fell in love with this lens immediately.
It was around Christmas time in Amsterdam. I couldn’t stop walking around and making photos with it. I was considering to acquire a copy, but I knew that I would need a lens with autofocus for future potential photography works. At the end, I decided practicality was more important and bought a second-hand Sony 50mm 1.8 OSS APSC lens instead, which is also a very nice decent lens.
A few years later, I moved back to Hong Kong and upgraded to a full-framed A7RII body. I needed a real full-framed 50mm lens, but I couldn’t afford e-mount lenses. They were (and still are) very expensive. Vintage manual lenses became my only option. And guess which lens I bought? Right, I got my second copy on eBay from a Japanese vendor. It was the Super-Multi-Coated version if I am not mistaken. It was in very good condition beautifully packed in the good Japanese manner, and came with a lens filter, an original Asahi plastic lens hood and both front and back covers. A really beautiful set.
During this period, I was travelling back and forth between Amsterdam and Hong Kong because of work and a beautiful girl living in Amsterdam. One day this girl also bought an e-mount camera. Guess what I gave her as a present? Yes, my beloved Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens. Since then a few years passed. Life drifted us apart and I lost access to my beloved lens. I have acquired and experienced other vintage 50mm lens, and for work I use an automatic Sony Zeiss 55mm 1.8 ZA lens, a very good lens. I shouldn’t need a Takumar anymore, but, still, I felt very sad losing it. I missed my good Takumar and I wanted it back. So I acquired my current third copy (Super-Takumar version). It came on a Pentax Spotmatic camera body. No lens hood, no accessories. The glasses were heavily yellowed with some dust particles inside. But with life and mainly help from Google I learned to clean and fix lenses myself.
With time, bravery, patience and care, many old lenses can be brought back to life and shine once again, just like us.
Better just look at the sample photos and decide if it is to your liking rather than reading cold words about it. Bokeh is a delicious, attractive and addictive thing. I understand that totally, but we should also realise, that what makes a great image great is more about timing and story-telling; and what makes a great lens fun and enjoyable to use is more than Bokeh and sharpness. However, I wouldn't mind looking at a bokehlicious photo. It's delicious indeed!
Focusing manually is not difficult at all on modern cameras with the help of focus peaking and magnification. After some practice, focusing could become precise and quick, especially with well-designed lens like this one. The focusing ring is conveniently placed and runs very smoothly. Focus throw is comfortably set (about 210 degree). It is very delightful to use.
Robust all-metal construction, yet light (230 g) and compact to carry around. I dropped it once. Shame on me. But no damage!
Image Quality and Chromatic Aberration
At f1.4 the image is a little bit soft and with noticeable aberrations, especially in harsh environment, but it is already very good, easily correctable, and useable for daily Facebook and Instagram purpose. Let’s admit it, nowadays our photos mostly end up there and being viewed on a tiny cell phone screen. Does one really need a very sharp lens to make interesting photos? But it is a VERY sharp lens! Stopping it down a little bit improves the quality dramatically. Not much difference from f4 onward. At f5.6 the image is very very sharp, so sharp that I would say it is too honest for portraits.
There is a little bit of distortion, but it can be easily fixed with just one click on the computer. In general distortion in vintage prime lenses shouldn’t be a big concern. Even some modern lenses are designed with distortion in mind and to be corrected digitally later.
Very sensitive. It can flare quite heavily. (Now I miss my original Asahi lens hood.) One could say that it is the lens’ character. Maybe later versions could handle it better with better coatings? If you can’t beat them, join them. I like integrating the flares into creative and artistic purposes.
Because of yellowing of the glasses, one has to be careful with color and white balance setting. I like making black-and-white photos and to manipulate colors in post-processing anyway, so this problem doesn’t bother me at all. But if it bothers you, better get a cleaned copy or an IKEA lamp! Rumour says that a particular model of IKEA lamp could perform miracle on the sick and deceased. (Ok, Jansjö, if you must know.)
In conclusion, what do I think about this lens?
Every seeker should find it, try it, fall in love with it, own it and, hopefully, keep it. And if you lost it, you would miss it.