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Old Nikon lenses vs. Pentax

Jack Michaud , Aug 12, 2010; 12:02 p.m.

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?

Thoughts?

Responses


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Michael Axel , Aug 12, 2010; 12:11 p.m.

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.

Greg Jones , Aug 12, 2010; 12:14 p.m.

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.

JDM von Weinberg , Aug 12, 2010; 12:24 p.m.

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.

Craig Dickson , Aug 12, 2010; 12:26 p.m.

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.

Ivan J. Eberle , Aug 12, 2010; 12:29 p.m.

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.

David Scott , Aug 12, 2010; 12:34 p.m.

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.

Martin Gomez , Aug 12, 2010; 12:50 p.m.

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!"

Zane Johnson , Aug 12, 2010; 12:58 p.m.

It's tough to beat a 50mm Pentax from any era.

John Farrar , Aug 12, 2010; 01:25 p.m.

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).


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