Lenses SLRs

Pentax 50mm f/1.2 SMC lens on Film with a Pentax LX – by Aivaras

October 17, 2022

This wouldn’t be review of camera body or lens, there are plenty written. What I’ll share is my personal story of how I come to this set. One more aspect why I’m writing this is that when I was considering the Pentax 50mm f/1.2 lens I found there to be a lack of proper film photos within shared results. So what to expect from it? For those who will be exploring the idea of buying this same glass, hopefully, this piece of writing might be useful.

I just had to come to this particular “corner“; a combination of lens and camera body, that most of film Pentaxians should confess they think about.

Pentax LX

For me it was an inevitable destination. When I started to shoot 35mm film, I started with low grade Pentax body and ten years later, after trying several bodies, I’m more or less settled on what works best for me. I’d split my 35mm film equipment into two line-up’s: autofocus and manual focus. In AF department I’m settled with top of the range MZ-S model and medium range MZ-3. While this equipment lets me do whatever I think of, I still have a desire to use manual focus body. This need is based on few aspects: pleasure from tactile feeling of more robust and precise mechanical equipment and slower than AF photography process. I already had and tested a Pentax ME super – this one I had to let go because I couldn’t see whole viewfinder with my prescription glasses. A Pentax SuperA / SuperProgram – this model for me was totally love / hate affair. I bought and sold it three times… While specifications of camera, finder, performance and body design with back and front grip is almost perfect, but what annoyed as hell was this mode / shutter control system with finicky mode change dial with this small integrated button. Try to use it in with winter gloves and you’ll sell this camera in a heartbeat.

So, what other options for body? K2 DMD was and still is interesting, buts its very rare. Pentax MX was one of the first candidates, but I tried one and I can’t see whole finder with my glasses on. So, naturally my mind settled on top of the range LX. I have had it for the year now, and there is no turning back. I might be tempted to try few other models, but I know that LX will stay in my hands the same way MZ-S is forever with me (“forever” is as long as it will work before eventually breaking).

So what were main LX selling points for me?

High level eyepoint, bright finder with convenient readouts. As I mentioned before, ability to see whole finder with glasses on is very important for convenient framing and focussing. Mine is equipped with FA-1 eye level finder. Focus screen is bright and convenient for focusing at any part of screen.

Ability to use waist level finder. LX has interchangeable finder system and there is an option to attach FF-1 wlf. Its simple and elegant fold down chimney with integrated magnification loupe, similar to most of medium format cameras. I like to use it for low level shots.

“Traditional” control system with shutter speed selection dial. It’s logical and convenient.

Reliable metering. LX has very sensitive and advanced for the time metering system. It just works.

Grip. There is an option to attach few available grips to this camera and its totally worth it. Handling of this body with grip, especially with bigger size lenses makes it very ergonomic camera.

Portability of system. It’s quite small camera for what it has to offer. Less weight and less space in my camera bag is a good thing.

Good TTL flash capabilities. Since I started my photography hobby, I had one or another digital camera for low light shooting. Not anymore. I just can’t “connect” with them. I’m only analogue shooter these days. For low light I like to push my film and I started to learn flash photography. This most probably will be a topic for the future. Getting back to LX camera, let’s say that it has better than average TTL flash capabilities with Pentax dedicated flashes that makes thing easier for such flash novices as me.

There are no perfect cameras. LX also has some drawbacks that are worth mentioning. First of all – it’s quite an old model. Years, abuse and lack of proper maintenance made some of bodies to show their weakness; a “sticky” mirror problem. I’m not sure what the exact technical problem that causes this is, but at the end of the day the result is that mirror comes back with delay or stays down and doesn’t return back. Luckily there are skilled people who can fix this. I experienced this myself but my case was a very lucky one (lucky for me). I purchased LX from good reputation seller and it came with problem, the seller was that good that returned it back and made full CLA on their account. In my case it was even better for me, as I’m sure that I’ll  now have a long time without additional repairs.

The second drawback is minor. I don’t like the LX way of putting the strap on camera when the grip is mounted on the body. The camera hangs on its left side. When you want to use it, you have to take it by right side, which becomes bottom when it hands on your neck or shoulder. There are several workarounds for this issue. Solution “A” there is a model of grip, that has a mount for strap on the grip. This solution is good, but a “theoretical” one, as it’s almost impossible to find this model of original grip. However, there is an eBay seller that makes new wooden grips with this strap mounting pin.  Solution “B” I use straps with lanyard attachment and I managed to put it between body and grip. Not the most elegant solution, and it might become not secure, as I don’t see if lanyard breaks, but it works for now.

To sum up – Its very good camera. Many advantages and only minor issues. Let’s talk about the lens.

SMC Pentax 50mm f/1.2 lens

Its big. Its heavy. It sucks… light.

Mine is the “K” version. As far as I know there are two iterations of the “K” version, different by engraved name on front of the lens: The “A” version and special “A Special” version.

The “A special” was made and sold together with limited production of Pentax LX 2000 cameras.

I picked “K” version, because I don’t need “A” function of lens and because as far as I experienced other Pentax lenses – “K” and “M” versions had better build quality and better materials compared to “A”. I haven’t had the opportunity to hold “A” 1.2 lens in my hand, so I’m not sure if it’s the case. In terms of formula of the lens and the glass, I think that all Pentax 50mm f/1.2 lenses should be the same… unless anyone has more information on differences?

Anyway, its high-quality product made of a lot of glass and metal with rubberized focusing ring. Due to heft and front weight balance, I’d say that it better when camera body is equipped with the grip. On LX this lens is “at home”. For what it is, it is still compact. I don’t have anything much else to say about physical properties of the lens, and so we can go to most interesting part: The results.

As far as I use it, there are two “modes”; either I shoot it wide open, or at F8. At F8, the Pentax 50mm f/1.2 is sharp, contrasty and I don’t see many differences compared to other Pentax 50mm, I wouldn’t recognize picture taken with this lens, or 50mm 1.7 “F” or “M”, or even 50mm 1.4.

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX,Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Tri-X 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX,Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F8, Kodak Portra 400

The situation is different with the Pentax 50mm f/1.2 aperture wide open. If you manage to hit the focus (yes, it’s a challenge, DOF is very thin), it starts to sing. It’s not that sharp and contrasty as F1.7 lenses, it’s not so dull looking as wide open as F1.4 lenses. It’s something entirely different. There is a bit of “glow” effect but its reasonably sharp and contrasty. What I see additionally it gives a sense of depth to picture.

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Tri-X 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Tri-X 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Kodak Portra 400

Pentax LX, Pentax 50mm f/1.2 @F1.2, Kodak Portra 400

Note, that this lens is susceptible to flare, I’d recommend to use lens hood all the time. Additional, natural bonuses with this lens: for shots in low light you can use higher shutter speed compared with f1.4, f1.7 and f2 versions and your finder will be noticeable brighter. For me the Pentax 50mm f/1.2 lens became the main lens on the LX body and I’m vey happy to own and use it.

Aivaras

www.beautifulgrain.com

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Jens
    October 17, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for this review of a Pentax LX with a SMC 50mm F1.2. !
    Wonderful beast of a lens ! So well designed camera !
    I love your samples shot with the open aperture, remarkable performance !
    A few month ago i purchased first a nice ME Super, second a minty SMC-M 50mm f1.4.
    I’m very happy with this gear !
    Both are well designed and fit very comfortable in your hand.
    The SMC-M 50mm f1.4 is in of the best standard lenses i ever had, especially in the range from f1.4 to f2.8. ( i’m talking only about analogue usage ).

    • Reply
      Aivaras
      October 18, 2022 at 6:53 am

      Thanks! ME super – is cool, it was my third Pentax body. 🙂

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    October 17, 2022 at 6:15 pm

    Nice kit. Pentax was the sports car of the SLR’s, Nikon was the truck.
    The f/1.2 lenses were designed for use in high contrast situations with (mostly) 400 speed black & white films. News conferences, theater performances, etc. High contrast situations. By the time the Pentax LX entered service, Kodak and Fuji were producing excellent 400 speed color negative films. These films supercharged news reportage. Glory days for film photographers.
    I like the pics of the person with the ice cream and the glasses on the sideboard. You really exploit the shallow depth of field and the soft hues of the color film. Well done.

  • Reply
    Huss
    October 17, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    Lovely pics! Really enjoyed them.

  • Reply
    Sokol
    October 17, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    I have the same combo, albeit with the the newer model of the LX, hope It lasts me longer. The setup is overwhelming, so much so that I hesitate to take it out that often(I should though!). I disagree with you about the K 50/1.2 being identical to the other 50s stepped down, I find its color rendition to be one of the best I have ever seen, even compared to more modern lenses, but this, of course, is more visible in digital. Very nice article!

    • Reply
      Aivaras
      October 18, 2022 at 7:04 am

      Interesting comment about visual properties of different 50s, when stopped down. Your remark made me to study an archive of my photos. I guess its personal preference… so far my favorite Pentax 50mm of all times stays… tension… fanfares… 50mm SMC-F 1.7

  • Reply
    Lee
    October 18, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    Those images at f/1.2 have plenty of “pop”. I particularly like the images of the glasses on the counter, and the black and white with the cats. At f/8 this lens seems to do a great job with sharpness, color, and contrast. That’s good to see, but shooting at f/8 is not really the reason one buys such a lens, is it?

  • Reply
    Michael J
    October 18, 2022 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks for the review- I do know how good the LX is, I’ve just never found a good one when I’ve had the money for it! I’ve been using the 50mm 1.7 M-series, generally on an ME Super for nearly 30yrs (!) and it’s such a great lens, sharp when required and likewise soft and warm. I’ve never quite been able to justify the marginal gains for f1. 4 or f1. 2 but you make a good case for the faster one. Good point in comments about the original intended use of it, too.
    My regards to the handsome cat!

    • Reply
      Aivaras
      October 19, 2022 at 5:07 am

      All those 1.7 lenses are very very good.

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