The Planar Killer

Once upon a time, Asahi Optical Company (Pentax) had a dream that they could design and build the finest standard 50mm prime lens in the world. It was a daunting task in a time when Leica and Carl Zeiss dominated with their Summicrons and Planars. The Japanese threw money at the project. Lots of money. And cash was no object, because pride was at stake. Knocking the German lens manufacturers out of the top spot would forever cement Pentax's reputation for fine optics. So it was that in the early 1960s, the first Super Takumar lens was born. Design and development costs aside, the 8-element 50mm f/1.4 Super Tak was so expensive to build, Pentax lost money on every one sold. The press raved, Pentax took the crown and this special lens faded away, replaced by a less-expensive-to-build 7-element version.

I took my 8-element Super Tak out for a spin on a recent Sunday walk through Stillwater Cove State Park, not far from where I live. I used Kodak Portra 400 film exposed at half the box speed in my Spotmatic SP camera.

This lens is sharp and renders colors wonderfully, just like all the Super Takumar and Super Multi-Coated Takumars I've tried. There is a subtle increase in sharpness over the 7-element version, at least to my eye. What intrigues me is the interesting swirly bokeh this lens produces. I want to experiment more. Any photographic tool that encourages you to get out and shoot more is worth the price of admission.

The 8-element Super Takumar 50/1.4 does not boldy announce itself to the world. The only way to tell it from the 7-element version is to look for the infinity focus tick mark, which is located to the right of the number 4 on the lens barrel rather than the left as is the case on 7-element versions. The rear element also protrudes noticeably.

This lens was produced for only two years (1964-1966), making it somewhat rare. Collectors have driven up the cost, but if you enjoy browsing on eBay like I do, you might come across one being offered by a seller who has no idea they're selling a legendary lens. This is a lens that is worth the hunt.