[Opinion] How about 50/0.95 lens with respect to 4X5 photography?

Portrait with Canon 50mm f0.95

In this photo, background (banyan tree street) is equally important to the main subject, a model, therefore the story turns out ‘where it is & what does she doing’ rather than ‘who?’ in tighter portrait photo.

Background blur in the full-body shot is one of the characters of 4X5 camera. 50/0.95 renders very similar image indeed. Of course, 85mm f1.2 or 135mm f1.8 can do the same job, but remember their Field of View is a narrower telephoto and very different from standard FOV of 50mm seen here.

I encountered the Canon 50mm f0.95 lens when I build up vintage lens collections gradually. In the beginning, it was not useable in the professional digital medium. Back then, Canon DSLR was the main platform to utilize vintage lenses and the Canon 50/0.95 originated with Canon 7S in 1963 is not attachable for any DSLRs.

The lens revived when mirrorless camera reached in the market finally. Full frame Sony A7 can take any kind of lens from 18xx’s Petzval brass tube to latest AF versions.

Canon 50/0.95 is infamous as ‘dream lens’ on the internet and I found the reason why soon. The lens is soft, dreamy soft & nowhere to find a good focused area in the photo. It has poor imaging quality and too shallow depth of field, so you can imagine the end result when these 2 are mixed. This kind of lens requires practice in manual focusing to nail down where exactly to focus and understanding how much area in the photo to be in focus.

For the next coming months, I bought another Canon 50/0.95 lens, test them side by side & sell a less desirable one. This is an effort to sort out sample variation of such an old lens. No matter what quality they produced, all of them had gone through a different life for 60 years. Some are stored well, some are stored poorly, used a lot or less, abused, dismantled for cleaning & assembled poor skill …and so on….  Therefore, none of them is equal in performance these days.

2 of Canon 50/0.95 under comparison test

Fortunately, selling Canon 50/0.95 again in the market was not a difficult or any financial burden because it is highly sought after by collectors and users. I did the same sequence (buy one more, test and sell) 2 more times along 2 year period, so total 4 of Canon 50/0.95 tested and I finally keep the winner.

Background blur (= main subject isolation) in 50/0.95

At the distance of a half body shot, 50/0.95 lens completely dissolved the details in the background. Often the blur like this turned out too much, but in this particular case, it works well. There was a table and 2 persons behind, if not dissolved completely, would be very much distracting.

In general, too much blur renders less clue in the photo, so aperture needs to be controlled to achieve the desired effect, e.g. have background separation from the main subject, but not lose detail to provide extra clues for the storyline. So it is not the more blur is better.

Compare to 4X5 portrait

50/0.95 delivers a very close perspective and rendering. From here I can extend the field of view (make a wider view as if 35mm) and do selective focus (simulate Tilt adjustment) with panoramic stitch in PS.

Portrait with Mitakon 50/0.95

The background rendition of Mitakon is softer, more even and muted

Mitakon 50mm f0.95 lens is a lot more modern stuff as it was released in 2014, against Canon 50/0.95 born in 1963. In between them, only other 50/0.95 lens is Leica Noctilux released in 2004.

I used Mitakon 50/0.95 in parallel with Canon 50/0.95 for 5 years with great satisfaction. They are working differently so I treated them totally different lenses. Mitakon delivers pleasing color ,but Canon gives somewhat washed-out color more suitable for BW or so. Indeed, Mitakon blessed with multi-coating technology, but Canon stays in the single coating in the 1960s when the lens coating was still in a premature period.

Mitakon renders uniform image quality over the frame, but Canon shows only ⅔ areas of the frame is sharp due to strong field of curvature inward direction.

Background blur is noticeably different, Canon makes harsh and structured pattern while Mitakon renders softer and melting blur.

Both are manual focus lenses for Sony A7 but a key difference for me is Leica rangefinder. Only Canon 50/0.95 is working with M9 (lens mount converted Canon 7s to Leica M). Because I use both Leica and Sony, the Mitakon gradually reduced workload until I finally decided to sell.

Leica M mount 50/0.95 from TTartisan, 2020-07

In this month, the new lens from China, TTartisan 50/0.95 released. This is flesh news for me since I had dropped Mitakon due to M9 useability and now they offer Leica M mount directly. If the new lens has equal performance with Mitakon, I will take one definitely. So far, I am watching the initial reactions from the market about this new offering….



to be continued




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