The Super Takumar 55mm f1.8 is an all-time classic and one of the best vintage lenses commonly available today.
Come learn why you should get one here.
Whether modern or vintage, 50mm lenses are often the go-to prime lens for the photographer wishing to move on from using the kit lens.
They’re readily available, relatively cheap, and a nice length for portrait photography whilst still being short enough for general street style shooting.
However, this isn’t a review of a 50mm lens. It’s of a 55mm.
The day I bought this Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8, I did go to the shop with the intention of buying a 50mm.
So why would I come away with this one instead?
And is it a lens you should be looking to buy too?
All will be revealed in this review as we explore:
- the history of the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8
- how old your Takumar is
- using this classic lens on a digital camera
- the image quality of this vintage glass
- shooting street at 55mm
- the radioactivity of the lens (seriously)
- why I chose it over a 50mm f1.4
- if you should or shouldn’t buy one
Let’s start at the beginning.
History of the Asahi / Pentax / Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8
Before I bought this vintage lens, the only Asahi I knew was the beer.
However, there was once a camera manufacturer in Japan known as the Asahi Optical Co.
It was founded by one Kumao Kajiwara who named the lenses produced after his brother, the painter Takuma Kajiwara.
In the years that followed, the Asahi Optical Co., Ltd. became what we now know, generally, as Pentax, which is now itself a subsidiary of Ricoh.
The first lot of Takumar 55mm f1.8 lenses date back to the late 1950s and were known simply as that: Takumar 55mm f1.8.
As newer versions were released and used on cameras like the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, they were given prefixes like Auto, Super, Super-Multi-Coated, and SMC.
Production of the lenses ended in the mid 1970s.
How old is my Takumar 55mm f1.8?
If you have a 55mm Takumar and want to know how old it is, you can figure it out by the name and by the product code found on the reverse of the auto/manual diaphragm switch, if there is one.
Mine is a Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 with the product code 37101 which, as you can see from the table below, makes it from sometime between 1965 and 1971.
|Takumar 55mm F1.8||–||f1.8 – f22||1958|
|Auto-Takumar 55mm F1.8 (early)||–||f1.8 – f22||1958 – 1960|
|Auto-Takumar 55mm F1.8 (late)||345||f1.8 – f16||1960 – 1962|
|Super-Takumar 55mm F1.8 (early)||345-2, 345-5, 33450, 34520||f1.8 – f16||1962 – 1965|
|Super-Takumar 55mm F1.8 (late)||371, 37100, 37101||f1.8 – f16||1965 – 1971|
|Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 55mm F1.8||37104, 37101,37106||f1.8 – f16||1971 – 1972|
|SMC Takumar 55mm F1.8||37104, 37101, 37106||f1.8 – f16||1972 – 1975|
Using the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 on a digital camera
I mentioned why this would be so in my post on Focal Length, and you can follow that link to remind yourself of that explanation.
With the adapter, the lens is actually a little longer than the (old) 18-55mm Sony NEX kit lens.
In my review of the F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8, I talked about how the small size (of the adapter as much as the lens) was something I was very fond of.
So does the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 lose points for being so big?
Not for me.
I think most photographers slip very easily into ‘taking pictures’ mode.
When you’re out and about and just doing what you have to do to get the shots you want, without thinking too much about how, the size of the lens becomes immaterial.
My fingers are on the aperture ring, which is actually a nice distance from the camera thanks to the adapter, and the focus ring at the front of the lens.
The aperture ring turns very freely on my lens, with a healthy sounding click as it moves onto the next f value.
I say value, rather than stop, as it does allow you to use half-stops, aside from between f11 – f16.
The focus ring on my Super-Takumar is very smooth, and this classic lens just feels like it was well built in the first place and has been looked after ever since.
Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 image quality
The image quality of the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 has never been in question.
Indeed, many users of manual focus lenses rate it among the best vintage lenses commonly available; especially when the price is taken into consideration too.
Mine has spent as much time on my camera as any other lens I’ve owned, and I’ve taken some of my very favourite photos with it.
They’re plenty sharp enough when you nail the focus, and with good contrast and colours too.
I don’t do zoomed in test shots of mundane things at different apertures. Looking at real world results from a lens is far more interesting and useful.
The gallery below is full of some of mine.
Street photography with the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8
I bought this classic lens because I needed something around 50mm for a photography class I was taking at the time.
This was studio-based, and so the lens was really to be used for portraits and other shots taken in a controlled environment.
Before I bought it, 55mm was what I considered zoomed in.
It was the upper reach of my kit lens, and I only went there when it was really needed; it’s not like I walked around with my kit lens fully zoomed in all the time.
So how much use I’d get from this classic lens outside of the class workshops, I wasn’t sure. I thought at the time it would just be too long to do any kind of street shooting.
Again though, photography is all about trying new gear, challenging yourself with new limits, and making the best of the lens you have with you.
As the gallery shows, I did get to grips with the focal length, and I ended up really enjoying the street photography I did with it.
I think the focal length actually has an advantage for street photography beginners, in that you can keep a little distance from your subjects if you’re still nervous abut approaching them.
For example, I don’t think I would’ve got close enough to get the following shot with a wider lens on my camera.
Is my Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 radioactive?
Yes it is.
One thing that I was surprised to learn about the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 – after I’d bought it – was its radioactivity.
A yellowing of the glass is a sign of this.
Very briefly: the radioactivity comes from the use of such compounds as thorium oxide (me neither) in the construction of the lens.
I’m no expert, but you can find a lot of information about this in various places on the web.
With that in mind, should you be worried about this vintage lens affecting your health?
Personally, I’m not.
The information I’ve seen seems to suggest the radioactivity is minimal, and no more of a danger than the radioactivity encountered when flying or being x-rayed.
So no, I’m not overly concerned.
You might feel differently, and this issue might put you off buying a Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8.
That’s up to you.
It never crosses my mind when I’m using it though.
Why buy a Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8?
When I took a trip out to the huge Xing Guang Photographic Equipment Market in Shanghai in search of a 50mm lens, I didn’t have this lens in mind.
There was no way I could; I’d never actually heard of Super-Takumar.
Before finding it tucked away in the corner of a shop, away from the cabinet with most of the other vintage lenses for sale, I’d tried a few different manual focus 50mm lenses on my camera.
A couple of old Nikkors, a Konica, and a Yashica. Some of which were f1.4.
In truth, we’re actually a bit spoilt for choice when it comes to great value manual focus 50mm lenses.
Unfortunately, the 55mm f1.2 Ricoh beauty I saw in one shop was out of my price range.
The decision to buy the 55mm Super-Takumar lens was based primarily on test shots.
Bar the Ricoh, I put every vintage lens mentioned above on my Sony NEX and took test shots with each.
They were all similarly priced. Or close enough for the price to not be a factor in my decision. So it all came down to picture quality.
And the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 won.
There was, though, one more thing I had to decide.
Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 or Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4?
It’s a question often asked.
Usually, as a rule, the faster lens you can afford, you go for.
So why did I go for the f1.8?
The answer lies in the length.
On full frame cameras, the classic length for portrait lenses is 85mm. With DX models, where the crop factor means the focal length of your lens is really x1.5 of what it says, the cheaper, common 50mms are pretty close to 85mm. 50 x 1.5 = 75.
Close enough to be negligible when the lens is so relatively cheap.
I was given the choice though, for just about the same price, to have a 55mm lens. When multiplied by 1.5, this gave me a focal length of 82.5mm.
Closer to the classic 85mm.
I also took into account the extra length compensating for the smaller aperture when it comes to achieving that shallow depth of field; separating my subject from the background.
If you want to learn more about focal length, check my article here. I did my best to explain it as simply as I could.
Perhaps you think I made the wrong choice. That a 50mm f1.4 lens was the better option.
Perhaps it might have been, for you.
I took test shots with them all (which were also a matter of taste; you may have preferred the shots from one of the other lenses), considered my options at the time, and went with the 55mm.
It was the right choice for me, and I have not regretted it since.
Buying a Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8
Maybe I got lucky finding my Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 having no prior knowledge of what it was.
Maybe it was fate.
But when you choose a lens based on the quality of its test shots, you know you’re picking up something good.
I love mine, and it’s not just me who thinks it’s one of the best vintage lenses commonly available.
With the build quality matching the image quality, and the price (even with the adapter added) making it affordable to most, I can see why the Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 is thought of as one of the best vintage lenses still used by photographers today.
I’d recommend you track one down for yourself too. 😀
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All sample images taken with Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8
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