|Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 18-55mm lens.|
I have several vintage lenses that I occasionally attach (using lens mount adapters) to my Fujifilm X-E1 digital rangefinder-style camera. A good way to expand your glass on the cheap is to buy old lenses from the film era. Many of these lenses also have unique characteristics that you just won't find with finely tuned modern glass. Besides that, I like the experience of shooting with manual lenses.
I had the idea yesterday to compare the lenses that I have, and, for the heck of it, threw in the "kit" Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm lens (which I shot at 55mm) that came with my X-E1. The vintage lenses that I used for this experiment are an X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM, an Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm, and a Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm. These three old lenses can be purchased for under $50 each (and the adapters can be found for around $10 each).
The Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm was made beginning in 2012 and was announced along with the X-Pro1 camera. It has 14 elements in 10 groups. It can focus as close as about a foot away. It is considered one of the best (if not the best) inexpensive zooms ever made.
The X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM was made between 1980 and 1985 for Fuji's Fujica X series 35mm film cameras. It has 5 elements in 5 groups. It has a minimum focus distance of just under two feet.
The Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm is a Soviet Union lens that was made between 1971 and 1992, based very closely on Leica Elmar f/2.8 50mm from the 1950's. It has 4 elements in 3 groups and has a radioactive coating. It has a minimum focus distance of about three feet. This lens is known for its "soap bubble" bokeh.
The Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm is a Soviet Union lens that was made between 1958 and 1992, based closely on the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar f/2 58mm from the 1920's. It has 6 elements in 4 groups. It has a minimum focus distance of about 20 inches. This lens is known for its "swirly" bokeh.
For this experiment I set the X-E1 to shoot JPEG, ISO 800, Shutter 4000, DR400, Auto-White-Balance, Astia Film Simulation, Color +2, Sharpness +1, Highlight Tone -1, Shadow Tone 0, and Noise Reduction -1. I set the lenses to f/4 and manually focused (I also auto-focused a shot with the 18-55mm lens, more on that in a moment).
I went to my snow-covered backyard and placed a pair of my daughter's boots in the fluffy white stuff. I placed the X-E1 on a tripod. The conditions were overcast, with areas of thicker and thinner clouds, which meant that the lighting was fairly even yet constantly changing (but only slightly).
I edited the JPEGs lightly using Nik Color Efex, applying an identical "recipe" to each. I also gave each image an identical light sharpening using Nik Sharpener Pro.
Below are the images:
|Boots In The Snow - Fujinon 18-55mm lens.|
|Boots In The Snow - X-Fujinon 50mm lens.|
|Boots In The Snow - Industar 61 lens.|
|Boots In The Snow - Helios 44-2 lens.|
The biggest difference between the images is focal length. The Fujinon 18-55mm (shot at 55mm) and the Industar 61 are the same focal length. The Fujinon 50mm is slightly wider and the Helios 44-2 is slightly more telephoto.
The one image that stands out as "different" than the others is the Industar 61 version. It is slightly darker, less vibrant and warmer. This may be due in part to changing light conditions, however, I think it is also a byproduct of the lens itself. I like the way it makes the image look and prefer it over the others.
Another difference that I notice upon close inspection is that the Fujinon 18-55mm lens has the most contrast. Also, the Helios 44-2 lens seems to give the most "separation" between the boots and the background.
Now let's "pixel-peep" and look closely at some crops. We'll compare sharpness first.
|Fujinon 18-55mm boot crop.|
|X-Fujinon 50mm boot crop.|
|Industar 61 boot crop.|
|Helios 44-2 boot crop.|
It's really hard to tell which image is most and least sharp. All four lenses produce very sharp results, and there is no clear winner or loser. The zoom lens matches the three prime lenses, which is actually quite amazing!
One tidbit that I will add here is that the Fujinon 18-55mm lens was auto-focused for this image. I manually focused two different exposures with it and one using auto-focus. The two manually focused exposures were not focused correctly (slightly behind the boots). No surprise, for manual focus, the three manual focus lenses are superior.
Now let's look at bokeh!
|Fujinon 18-55mm bokeh crop.|
|X-Fujinon 50mm bokeh crop.|
|Industar 61 bokeh crop.|
|Helios 44-2 bokeh crop.|
Bokeh is the quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photograph. As you can see, all four lenses have good bokeh.
The two Fujinon lenses produce nearly identical out-of-focus backgrounds. The Industar 61 lens is only very subtly different. The Helios 44-2 lens produces a more creamy, blurry background.
Here's another look at bokeh, this time from the corner:
|Fujinon 18-55mm corner bokeh crop.|
|X-Fujinon 50mm corner bokeh crop.|
|Industar 61 corner bokeh crop.|
|Helios 44-2 corner bokeh crop.|
If you look closely at these crops, you get an idea of how each lens handles highlights in bokeh. Each one is a little different, none are terrible. I think the two Soviet Union lenses give the best results, but only marginally.
So what's the verdict? Which lens wins?
I was a little surprised that the Fujinon 18-55mm lens holds its own very well against the primes. I knew it was good, but I didn't realize just how good, I guess. I like the look that the Industar 61 gives to an image. I like the bokeh produced by Helios 44-2 and the separation between the subject and background. The Fujinon 50mm didn't stand out against the other options, but it proved to be a good lens capable of excellent results. So there isn't a clear winner or loser, but four quality (budget friendly) lenses with their own strengths that produce excellent results.
My favorite of the four lenses are the two from the former Soviet Union. Russia was good at reverse-engineering the best German cameras and lenses, and the Leica and Zeiss glass that the Russian lenses are copies of are considered some of the best ever made. There isn't a huge difference in image quality produced by the Russian lenses and the Fujinon lenses, but the subtle differences give unique character that seems to be lacking in modern camera equipment.