Some say the only lens you’ll ever need is the one you have with you.
But I would add an extra caveat, based on my five years of buying, testing and, let’s be frank, fumbling around until I get something half decent from, dozens of vintage SLR lenses.
That addition is simple – it has to have the word Takumar on the front.
Because, over this period and these many optical flirtations and explorations, I’ve emerged the other side loving Asahi’s classics more than anything else.
Plus, given the extensive range they made, there’s something for all of us, from the wide angle wanderers and the tunnel visioned telephotoists, to the macro maniacs, and everyone in between.
My own set has settled, for now, on these five Takumars.
Here’s why I love each of these, and Takumars in general, and why, if you haven’t already, you should have at least a couple in your arsenal too.
Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5
Tiny, all metal build, with super smooth knurled metal focus ring and exquisitely weighted aperture ring. With 35mm film, I’ve struggled with 28mm – there’s just too much in the frame, too many elements.
But on my Pentax K10D with its APS-C crop sensor, the 28mm gives an equivalent 42mm field of view – according to many, the perfect “normal” the human eye sees.
It’s still, for me, quite a radically wide perspective compared with the 135mms I’ve been using most in recent months, but this difference is challenging in a good way. And using this little jewel of a lens is a constant delight.
Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8
The one that started it all for me, the first Takumar I bought around 4.5 years ago, and indeed the first M42 lens I had. Of all the 50/55mm lenses I have since, I can’t say that a single one has felt better to use, or performed better than the humble Tak 55/1.8.
On film I love 55mm, it gives that slightly large than life perspective in the viewfinder compared with a 50mm lens.
With a digital APS-C sensor the 55mm is 82.5mm field of view, which is getting comfortably into the more up close territory I like these days.
The blend of sharpness versus out of focus background quality with the 55/1.8 is near perfect for me, on film and digital, and incredibly pleasing to my eye. I’ve said here before, if I had to shoot just one lens for the rest of my photographic days, it would be this one.
Takumar 105mm f/2.8 Preset
An unusual focal length, and I expected this lens to be significantly bigger in size. But it’s tiny, slim and, like all the others, divinely smooth in handling and focusing.
I love preset aperture lenses. They work great on film, and even better, in my view, with digital.
Preset the outer aperture ring to the minimum you want, then open the inner ring wide open. Focus, compose, then gently close down the inner ring until the image (and most vitally, the depth of field) is exactly how you want it to look, and shoot.
This lens is probably my second favourite behind the 55/1.8, as it gives that closer perspective, and increased depth of field, without needing to stand 2 or 3m away from the subject like with longer lenses.
Takumar 135mm f/3.5 Preset
This is from the same era as the 105/2.8, also preset, and also wonderful to use. It’s only slightly bigger too, and smaller and lighter than most 135mm lenses.
Whilst similar in use to the 105/2.8, but arguably even better in the final image. Both lenses are older, pre Super, Super-Multi-Coated or SMC, so the coatings are less sophisticated. I thought this might impact the quality of the images, but they’ve delighted me so far, especially the colours when used with the K10D.
Super-Takumar 150mm f/4
Given my fairly wide range of 135mm lenses, whilst I was tempted by a Super-Tak 135/3.5, I thought it wasn’t going to be much different to the preset version.
I assumed the next lens up in the range would be 200mm, but that seemed too long and awkward, especially as it gives a 300mm field of view on APS-C.
Then I stumbled across a 150mm f/4 Super-Takumar. The reviews were good, so I gave it a chance.
It’s early days with the 150/4 and I’ve only really played around in our garden with it, but no regrets so far!
I’m sure you’ll have gathered from above the major appeals of the Takumars. Beautiful all metal and glass build quality, very smooth mechanically, compact and light, and excellent performance.
What I haven’t yet mentioned are two other crucial factors.
Whilst I’m finally settling down to a very small handful of Pentax bodies (four – two film, two digital), I have used M42 lenses on M42, Pentax K, Contax and Yashica (C/Y mount), Minolta AF and Canon EOS film bodies, and Pentax K, Sony Alpha, and Sony NEX digital bodies.
M42 is a vast world, and there’s a camera body (or three) for all of us to use those lenses, with a simple and cheap adapter if necessary.
A common theme to my writing here is spending as little money as possible on photography, like under £5 on a lens, and shooting film on a shoestring.
The Takumars fit into this beautifully, and a working, if little worn, lens can be picked up from around £10-15. The most I’ve spent on any of the above is around £75 for the 105/2.8, but it is quite rare, is an unusual focal length, is in near perfect condition, and performs amazingly. It’s worth every penny.
The whole set of five (which to most people I’m sure seems more than one would ever need) only cost me around £200.
Many pay more than that for a single, plastic, AF zoom lens. Yuck!
Add this to say, £15 for a K mount or Spotmatic film body, or the £50 I recently paid for the little Samsung GX-1S (a rebadged Pentax *ist DS2 I understand), and it’s a very affordable set up for such world class and luxurious kit.
The cheapest Takumar is usually the 135/3.5 (non preset) or the 55/2.
The latter being a 55/1.8 with slightly hindered maximum aperture, but otherwise identical, and therefore equally stunning in use and final image.
One of these with a Spotmatic or older SV or S2/H2 can usually be had for under £50, sometimes way under.
In the last five years, having gone through at least a couple of lenses a month, the clear frontrunners have been the Asahi Takumars.
Everyone should have at least one – but beware, once you do have one, it might make you seriously reconsider all the other lenses you have!