View Full Version : Old lenses versus New on the Pentax K20d or any other camera

Colin Mountford
03-12-2011, 8:33am
Hi, as you can see I am new here, but I have to start somewhere, my question is, are the old lenses better than the new ones produced today? Is the glass better quality of yesteryear compared to today in terms of sharpness, I am mainly asking about Prime lenses, 50mm etc. do you think that the lenses today have the same sustainability of the older lenses? Is my question too long? I'm sure the question has been asked before, but anyway.....

03-12-2011, 8:44am
The definitive answer is ... it depends!

Some old glass is brilliant, eg. the SMC 50/1.7; some of the new limited primes are considered the best primes there are (any brand).
FWIW Even the new DA L 31/2.4 plastic fantastic is pretty good, albeit cheap build.

A side effect of older glass is that is 35mm format, and on a crop sensor you lose the edge due to cropping, so you also lose any edge softness.
I.e. old 35mm glass will do well on a new cropped sensor body.

So look at the reviews, talk to people using the older glass.

03-12-2011, 9:56am
Hi, as you can see I am new here, but I have to start somewhere, my question is, are the old lenses better than the new ones produced today? Is the glass better quality of yesteryear compared to today in terms of sharpness,.....

I'm not sure if you are only asking about Pentax lenses, if so then I really have no idea, never used them.

However, if you mean other brands and lenses in general then you'll find that there are very many lenses which where made for cameras that are now obsolete which are still the the best of their kind. A couple of examples are the Contax 28/2.8 MM (from the 80's/90's) and the Leica R 28/2.8 E55 or V2 (from the 90's). Both of these lenses are no longer in production and are arguably the best of their kind.

I have a little write up on 'Alt' lenses here (http://photocornucopia.com/1027.html). I'm a big fan of them.

Many much older lenses, from 50's and 60's, also stand up extremely well compared to modern lenses however as lens design has advanced so have certain lenses. A modern zoom such as the Canon 70-200/2.8 IS II is about as good as any prime in any focal length. It really is a modern miracle lens.

I have a test of enlarging lenses (http://photocornucopia.com/1038.html) which spans probably 4-5 decades and the performance of the lenses is not significantly different. In fact the older Schneider 135 Componon-S may have outperformed the later version of the same lens in certain conditions. I use lots of the older enlarging lenses because they perform exceedingly well, even compared to the modern versions.

One significant advancement in modern lenses is the multi coatings used which are far superior to most older lenses (with one or 2 exceptions such as the Contax/Zeiss T* coating which is excellent). Canons modern lenses have outstanding coatings which makes them a better choice for use on digital bodies where the sensor is prone to reflecting light much more than film did. Many old lenses have adequate coatings that do work quite well but lenses older than the 1950's may have no coatings at all. This is not always a bad thing as it can add to the character of the lens and the images it produces but it may not be desirable in normal situations.

... I am mainly asking about Prime lenses, 50mm etc. do you think that the lenses today have the same sustainability of the older lenses? Is my question too long? I'm sure the question has been asked before, but anyway.....

There's very little in it between the best and worst 50mm lenses when they are stopped down to about F8, in fact you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the most and least expensive one. However the differences are often very significant wide open or in many other respects such as vignetting, flare, corner sharpness, bokeh etc.

I have no shortage of very good 50mm lenses (Zeiss/Contax, Leica, Olympus and others) yet my favorite (but not the best optically) is a lens which cost me nothing, but worth only about $15 dollars anyway. A lenses flaws can give it character and make it much more interesting than a lens that is optically perfect (or close to it).

Industar 50-2, http://photocornucopia.com/1041.html

http://photocornucopia.com/images/Lenses/Industar_502/ind_011_400.jpg << (C) image changed to URL


Colin Mountford
03-12-2011, 7:55pm
Thanks guys I thought I would try to kick start my questions with something that might get some constructive feedback. I hope, I particularly found of interest about the amount of light entering the digital sensor, production of older lenses may well have been made by the smaller companies buy hand or less high tech gear especially polishing the optics, the fact that multicoatings are used on the newer lenses due to this fact.

So, does that mean with older primes, you should very well use filters, ND etc to compensate?

03-12-2011, 8:00pm
If the amount of light entering the sensor is not what you wanted, no need to use an ND filter, just change the aperture or shutter speed. ND has its place, but it isn't really an answer for not getting the camera settings right in the first place.

I agree with the above - it depends - Lenses from a lot of era's have been good, as have some been bad. Each lens needs to be assessed on its own, to determine if it is good for your use or not. Certainly lens (and camera) technology has come a long way, and whilst their are some great/fantastic older lenses around, there are equally some brilliant current model lenses too.

04-12-2011, 7:11pm
As you put the question in the Pentax area I'm assuming you are interested in the older Pentax/ Takumar lenses & even other m42 mount lenses of the Takumar era. Go to the Pentax Forum and look @ the lists as follows as an example;


The main failing of many of the older glass is that they are only MF, but the quality of images produced can equal or better many of the modern lenses. I have a modern era LTD Pentax lens which is stated as among the best Pentax have made and the build quality only = the older Pentax K/M & A lenses, I have seen many images produced with the lenses that I have and I'm of the opinion that the older glass with good coatings are almost unbeatable.

Because the older lenses are cheap and still available it is worth picking them up & putting them to good use.

04-12-2011, 10:10pm
From my own experience of the early Pentax lens, and I'm talking 'K' and 'M' series, the main area they are found wanting, other than the lack of auto focus, is in coatings to control CA's, and particularly purple fringing. If you don't use them in areas of high contrast you can avoid most of those problems.

An A* 85mm f1.4 sold for $900 this week on eBay.

I have an 'M' 50mm f1.7 and it's as sharp as a tack. However if you do decide to acquire some older primes, bear in mind that prior to the 'A' series, they had no contacts to transfer lens settings to the camera, rather frustrating when looking back on a sessions shots.

01-01-2012, 5:19pm
Modern lens coatings might be the one real advantage for modern lenses. Sensors react to light differently to film with the above mentioned chromatic abberation being the result. Old glass does have its charm though and well worth exploring.

JM Tran
01-01-2012, 5:29pm
from the amount of free time I had working at the 2nd hand camera store years ago, the answer is that IT DEPENDS ON THE CAMERA SENSOR for old lenses

playing with some good old lenses on the Pentax K100D and K10D or K20D yielded generally good results, but using a K mount adapter and fitting the said lenses onto a Canon 5D2 or 1DsMKIII or MKII revealed its flaws on more demanding full frame sensors - not being able to resolve enough details even when stopped down, and poor corner sharpness performance. I would imagine the older lenses would not fare as well in dealing with flare when used outdoors too.

same with the Pentax 645D - swapping some of the old MF glasses onto it yielded pretty good results, solid but not as impressive compared to the latest lenses just released with the 645D. But at 1/3rd of the price of the new ones - its a bargain (sort of)

The only old lenses I would bother buying and use are Pentax Limited and FA* and A* lenses to a degree.

25-04-2012, 8:42pm
Hi Colin,

If you want a good macro lens a Vivitar Series I 105mm f2.5 is an excellent choice. It has the A setting but is manual focus which is not a problem with macro. The only problem is that they are few and far between. I purchased one for a friend from the USA a couple of months ago for US$425 shipped.