Normal (50-55mm) f/2 prime lenses seem to be the most dismissed and disregarded of all the normal lenses for 35mm film photography. "Fast glass"...f/1.4, f/1.2 and even silly f/.95 lenses are sought after, bragged about and fetch the highest prices. The f/2 and, to a lesser extent, f/1.8 lenses were typically sold as kit lenses with SLR cameras during the film era. Like many gear-obsessed photographers, I have often found myself yearning for the fastest lens in a given focal length even when I rarely find myself in situations where I need to open my lenses all the way up.
When I started exploring Pentax M42 mount cameras and the extraordinary Super Takumar lenses of the Spotmatic era, I naturally opted for the 50mm f/1.4 Super Tak as my first Pentax screw mount lens. Based on my first few meager attempts at using the 1.4 and better yet, looking at what more talented photographers have posted on Flickr shooting this lens, the f/1.4 Super Takumar and Super Multi-Coated Takumar are probably right up there with some of the best lenses ever made for 35mm photography. Even today on digital cameras, these old Super Taks really perform.
From my research, it seems that the Asahi Optical Company (Pentax) was very obsessed with Leica at this time. More than obsessed, they wanted to beat Leica in the quality of lenses. Well engineered and finely made, it is said that Pentax couldn't charge enough to re-coup their costs on the early Super Takumars. Having shot Lecia Summicron lenses, I will say that these Pentax lenses do have a unique, silky-smooth focus and satisfyingly clicky aperture ring. Why is all of this important? Well, a camera and a lens have to have a certain feel to them to get you to want to pick them up, hold them and shoot them. These Takumars really do!
One of my first Nikon lenses was a pre-Ai 50mm f/2 Nikkor. It's super sharp and it was super cheap. My latest f/2 normal lens is a 55mm Super Takumar that came mounted on a black Spotmatic SPII I bought. Having already acquired the 1.4 version of the 50 and the 1.8 version of the 55mm, I didn't give much thought to the slowest of the normal Super Takumars. The f/2 version of the 55mm lens was created as a less costly lens to bundle with Spotmatic bodies, but the quality-obsessed engineers at Pentax just couldn't find many ways to cut costs. I really think the engineers pulled the wool over the eyes of Pentax management because I can't find any difference between the feel and performance of this lens and the more costly Super Taks.
I took my black Spotmatic, this lens and a roll of soon to expire Portra 400 out for a walk on the Bill Kortum trail along the Sonoma Coast. It was a sunny day with some fog drifting in. Twenty feet down the trail, I came across this bird on a post.
I shoot far more black and white film than I do color and I am rarely satisfied with my color work, but when I got these scans back from the lab, I was very pleased. The colors delivered by the f/2 Super Tak are very pleasing to me and expressed the vision I had when I pressed the shutter.
The Kortum Trail crosses several wetland areas along the coast. In these areas, boardwalks have been created to protect the fragile environment.
I visit this trail often because it is close to my home, often affords nice photo opportunities and is a great place to clear my head. I often see people just standing along the cliffs, staring off into the ocean. Look closely at the photo below and you'll see someone doing just that.
I love the light fog and misty sea spray along the coast, but I've had a hard time capturing it properly on film. The 55mm f/2 Super Takumar is the first lens I have used that did an accurate job of capture.
The sun started getting low in the sky, so I headed back to the car. I spotted this couple posing for what I can only imagine were pre-wedding photographs. I didn't have time to meter, just dialed up what I thought would work and clicked the shutter. Despite the flare, this lens did an amazingly accurate job of capturing the late afternoon light and the scene as I saw it.
Back at the car, I snapped this shot of the Pacific.
Back in town, I stopped to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner. I tool this photo of some boats at the dock. I didn't compose well. Just clicked off the last frame on the 36 exposure roll. I don't even remember metering. When I got the scans back, this was the image that pleased me the most because it is a very good example of what happens when a fine lens gets everything right. The colors in this shot are nearly perfect: the sun on the canopy of the boat in the foreground, the color of the orange buoys and the blue containers on the dock. The sky. Even the color of the water that day. The 55 f/2 Super Tak got it all right.
I don't know that I would have gone out looking for this lens. I probably never would have given the 55mm f/2 Super Takumar a second look if it didn't come mated to a body I was buying. This is a lens that handles so nicely, it wants you to shoot it. And it delivers images so nice, you certainly will. I love this lens!