Vintage lens review time!
Some weeks ago I was browsing the classifieds as I regularly do, in search of good ol’ photography gold. My search never really broadens enough to include the word “Ricoh” but on this particular day I wanted to see what the going rate for the Ricoh GR was. What popped up was something quite different.
A fast fifty? A really fast fifty? That I hadn’t heard about? That couldn’t be. Nonetheless it was certainly so. The seller seemed to charge a very reasonable price, but I had to check on eBay just to get an idea of the general price range of these lenses. Surprise! Not a single Rikenon 55mm f/1.2 was for sale on the entire eBay network! As I researched further I found out that the lens had some siblings under different brand names. The Yashinon 55mm, The Vivitar 55mm, and The Revuenon 55mm. The lens might have been manufactured by Tomioka in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s, or it might have ben produced by Cosina. I simply couldn’t find a straight answer to the manufacturing site! (if any of you readers know, please leave me a message)
EDIT: Stefano Dessi pointed out that the Porst 55mm f/1.2 is optically different, and that the Rikenon is Tomioka produced. Thank you for that, Stefano!
So indeed quite a rare lens when branded under the Rikenon name it seems, yet its siblings can be had for around 300-400 USD. Thats a pretty damn good deal on a fast fifty that performs like this one.
My copy is a 7 elements in 6 groups, 9-blade aperture, 58mm filter lens. It weighs just around 320g and it is surprisingly compact for a large aperture lens. The barrel is solid metal, with engravings that are unfortunately not etched in. This means that the markings will wear off much more easily. Mine already has some of the markings partly worn off. No big deal, but still…
Focussing is buttery smooth, and from close to infinity you have to turn about 170 degrees. Aperture only has full stop clicks, but they are solid nice feeling clicks.
My copy is a Pentax-K mount. So I had to buy some new adapters. I couldn’t get my hands on a speedster/Lens Turbo for the Fujifilm X mount, so I tested the full frame potential of this lens on my Sony A7
Now THIS was where I was very pleasantly surprised! The IQ of this lens is simply stunning.
Wide open it has lower contrast than many of the other fast fifties I’ve tested. Still sharp, but just low on contrast. This can easily be corrected in post, and in contrary to having super contrast off the lens, the flat appearance actually gives you much more versatility in post. The Black and Whites are a joy to work with, since shadows are retained so very well.
Put this baby in f/2 and beyond and it will sharpen up considerably. It will give punchy contrast off the bat, and at f/5.6 it has its sweet spot. I buy these lenses to use them at wide open aperture, so I don’t care much for the stopped down performance. But if you want to take this into the studio, you surely could.
I did a little comparison with the Rikenon 55 f/1.2 and the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2. Both shot at f/5.6 the below shots clearly show that the Rikenon can easily hold its own against even one of the best modern portrait lenses around.
And the 100% crops clearly show this as well. Make sure to click these to view the full size file.
Bokeh is a little busy, but nothing too much. I like my booked this way, cause when rendered great by the lens, it adds to that classic look to the images. So if the specular highlights aren’t perfectly smooth and creamy, I don’t really mind. (Just as long as I don’t see onion ring artefacts. HATE those with a passion!)
As stated I didn’t have the opportunity the get a hold of the PK-FX focal reducer, so the full frame aspects of this lens was shot on the Sony A7. This gives the true 55mm f/1.2 focal length and DOF. On the X-T1 this becomes an 82mm f/1.8 in terms of focal length and DOF full frame Eq. It will naturally give you some more compressed and cropped images. But the files from the X-T1 sings. This lens is made for night time use, so I made a sample gallery of night pictures as well as the usual general use sample gallery.
Pictures as usual variously processed using Lightroom 5
General usage samples using the Sony A7 and the X-T1
Night of the Rikenon – Shot with the X-T1
The Rikenon 55mm f/1.2 is a great performing vintage lens. Ultra fast yet small, great build, and some SERIOUS image quality. Left wide open it gives your files great flexibility because of the low contrast stopped down it is as razor sharp as the modern Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 lens. No small feat! It performs like a champ in the dark. And coupled with the X-T1 and its incredible ISO performance it gives you some cool after dark pictures.
Its an incredibly versatile lens, and if you can’t find the Ricoh branded version, there are a lot of other branded versions such as Revuenon, Porst, Yashinon, and Vivitar. They are cheap, and most will set you back around 300 USD.
(Stay tuned for a review of the Minolta Rokkor MD 85mm f/1.7)