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Archive 2012 · Mechanical qualities of lenses
  
 
briantho
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p.2 #1 · p.2 #1 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


The best built lenses I've seen are the Contarex lenses. Nothing comes close. Try using one, you'll be amazed.


Aug 03, 2012 at 10:40 PM
telyt
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p.2 #2 · p.2 #2 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


Keith B. wrote:
Nikon was too cheap to build the helicoids out of true dissimilar metals, like Al vs. brass. Instead, they went with--in most but maybe not all of their Ai/AiS lenses---Al vs. Al, claiming that making the two mating surfaces out of different Al alloys qualifies as "dissimilar". In order to cover up the fact that two similar metals gouge each other's surfaces if they really come into contact, they slather in extra grease.


Sometime in the 1970s one of the US photography magazines compared the build quality of several well-known brands of lenses and reached the same conclusion. In my limited experience repairing a few lenses I'd agree.

Of the lenses I've used I'd rank the Leica-R lenses easily as the best built. Pentax (Takumar), Canon FD and Minolta MC follow, and because of the helicoids I'd rank the Nikkors (pre-AI, AI and AIS) below these, and AF-Nikkors lower still.



Aug 04, 2012 at 12:43 AM
wiseguy010
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p.2 #3 · p.2 #3 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


carstenw wrote:
I would rate the manual lenses I am thoroughly familiar with as follows:

1) Modern Leica R/M (older stuff is less good)
2) High-end Voigtländer SLR lenses like the CV125
3) ZF/ZF.2/ZM lenses
3) Old Nikkors (pre-AI, then AI, then AI-S)
4) Olympus (they are not bad, you can just tell that they were built for low weight)
.


I have both ZF and Voigtlander (90 and 180) and the ZF's are quite a bit better than the Voigtlanders. The ZF's have a very consistent feel, but my Voigtlanders both are very different. Focussing the 90 is easy, while the 180 is quite stiff.



Aug 04, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Gunzorro
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p.2 #4 · p.2 #4 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


Interesting that build quality is not necessarily equivalent to image quality. My experience with Nikkor and Pentax lenses is that they were better built, material-wise, in their early versions, but the optics and lens coatings improved overall as they modernized. Not saying the optics were bad, and some lenses didn't change the optical design, while cost savings went into the lens mechanics and barrel.

I'm not completely well versed in all MF brands, but I prize my few newer Leica R lenses over others. Even the older ones have excellent and smooth movements.



Aug 04, 2012 at 01:38 AM
shoenberg3
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p.2 #5 · p.2 #5 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


Out of cheaper lenses (less than 200), Takumars feel and are extremely solid.


Aug 04, 2012 at 06:27 AM
JeffG
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p.2 #6 · p.2 #6 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


i owned many canon lenses. only the weather sealed L lenses didn't collect lots of dust. after 2-3 years regardless of useage amount any non-L glass i owned i needed to clean (well, only those i would routinely shoot at smaller than 5.6) but L lenses were dust free for many years. actually i just sold my 17-40L which i've had since it released in 2003 and it was still dust free.




Aug 04, 2012 at 06:51 AM
zhangyue
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p.2 #7 · p.2 #7 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


IF Leica R has the same build as M, then Leica is top. Zeiss is 2nd, My nikkor and Rokkor(only had a 50MM 1.4 manual) at about the same level. but definitely below ZF.

I have three AIS before, now still have 50mm 1.2. The focus ring is very smooth (almost too smooth) and have slightly play. Zeiss has well damp but also slower. I like the turning feeling of ZF but must admit Nikkor is better for quick shooting. I can use one finger focus with 35mm1.4 and 50mm1.2, which is very fast. (but not 85mm1.4)

When put Planar 50 on hand, I almost feel it get similar build quality as my M 50lux ASPH lens. Less density, but everything is perfect balanced in terms of weight, damping and turning length etc..





Aug 04, 2012 at 06:55 AM
rico
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p.2 #8 · p.2 #8 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


briantho wrote:
The best built lenses I've seen are the Contarex lenses. Nothing comes close. Try using one, you'll be amazed.

Contarex solidity, for cameras and lenses both, is legendary and I hope to try that system one day. Contax RTS is cheaper in build, but only in a 1970s sense. Leica needs to be qualified by era: modern specimens like my Apo-Telyt-R 280/4 and Elmarit-M 28 ASPH are merely fine, while those from the Golden Era (circa 1960) operate in a different realm. Leitz Summaron 35/2.8, chrome Summilux 50, collapsible Elmar 90, Telyt-V 280/4.8 are simply beyond the manufacturing capability of today's Leica or any other modern production line, such was the mechanical precision. Even the classic accessories like external VFs, adapter rings and flash handles have unreal build and finish. I also have two Leitz projectors from the 1970s (straight trays), and the internal construction is amazing, including motorized AF! These are fully operational today, and weigh a ton.



Aug 04, 2012 at 07:38 AM
thrice
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p.2 #9 · p.2 #9 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


I'm with Carsten.
My F mount 180/4 voigtlander was better built than my ZF 50/1.4 or my ZM's.

With regard to Takumars, mine were all VERY well built/damped and very clean (suggesting a relatively high degree of dust resistance).



Aug 04, 2012 at 08:27 AM
carstenw
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p.2 #10 · p.2 #10 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


rico wrote:
modern specimens like my Apo-Telyt-R 280/4 and Elmarit-M 28 ASPH are merely fine, while those from the Golden Era (circa 1960) operate in a different realm.


I don't understand this comment at all. Modern Leicas are mechanical wonders. The modern lenses are lighter than the older ones, which were tanks, but they are not less well built.



Aug 04, 2012 at 08:49 AM
 

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edwardkaraa
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p.2 #11 · p.2 #11 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


I personally do not equate build quality with heavy weight or sturdiness. It's rather the quality of the material, smoothness of operation, the general feel. Some of the lenses mentioned like the Takumars are heavy but do not give any sense of quality. Nikon lenses are probably one of the most sturdy but again there is a lack of quality. In my personal experience, Leica comes in first place, Contax in second, modern Zeiss in third.


Aug 04, 2012 at 09:53 AM
timballic
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p.2 #12 · p.2 #12 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


edwardkaraa wrote:
I personally do not equate build quality with heavy weight or sturdiness. It's rather the quality of the material, smoothness of operation, the general feel. Some of the lenses mentioned like the Takumars are heavy but do not give any sense of quality. Nikon lenses are probably one of the most sturdy but again there is a lack of quality. In my personal experience, Leica comes in first place, Contax in second, modern Zeiss in third.


I'm in agreement here. I would rate Contax lenses highly (although the focus friction varies.) I wouldn't put Nikkors in the same class, not that they are bad just that I always found they developed a bit of play in the focus after a while, (reason explained above)

Some of the best I've come across for build were a couple of Topcon's Topcors (58mm and 135mm) that I owned until last year, really beautiful mechanics. Don't hear much about them here.



Aug 04, 2012 at 10:29 AM
AhamB
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p.2 #13 · p.2 #13 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


(Super-)Takumars are indeed very solid and super smooth, even the low budget 55/2.

Canon new FD seems still very sturdy (at least the helicoid) but not very smooth (50/3.5 macro).

Anyway, these ordered lists are obviously quite subjective. One thing I noticed with the Rokkor 58/1.2 is that the filter ring looks like it's very thin and soft as butter (the ones that have been bent are _really_ bent).

Regarding the Contarex quality: it may have been great but I've read that you need to have expensive maintenance done on them (sometimes involving manufacturing special parts that are no longer available), and if you don't they can degrade to the point of becoming unusable.



Aug 04, 2012 at 11:12 AM
edwardkaraa
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p.2 #14 · p.2 #14 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


I used to have a few Canon new FD lenses (among others 20/2.8, 50/1.4 and 100/2). I used to believe they were very nicely built, until I switched to Contax. I remember at that time, I thought the difference in build quality was quite clear, even surprising.


Aug 04, 2012 at 11:33 AM
carlitos
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p.2 #15 · p.2 #15 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


This discussion is focused on 35mm lenses; just curious about lenses such as Hasselblad, which would be a Zeiss lens. Or Mamiya. I was never to impressed with the build quality of the Hasselblad lenses, but that is with limited use, and maybe I was expecting too much from such a vaunted system. Leica construction was certainly better I thought. On the other hand, I thought the Mamiya lenses for modern 645 were well made. And certainly the lenses for Mamiya 6 & 7 are well made.

But Nikon and Canon were photojournalists lenses, built to a cetain level of robustness. I was never going to throw my lenses into the back of a rental car, so I figured Nikon lenses (non AI) would last me a lifetime, which they are doing. And the build quality of my 2 ZF lenses are equal to or better to anything I've ever handled, rented, or owned. The Leica lenses I've owned were better built, but that comes down to materials, which you are paying for.

My only beef with the ZF is the knurling of the focusing ring. I wish the machining was not so finely textured. Though it has never been a problem during actual use, I would have preferred the hill-and-valley knurling of earlier era lenses.



Aug 04, 2012 at 01:43 PM
jotdeh
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p.2 #16 · p.2 #16 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


Aren't the outer barrels of many modern Hasselblad lenses made from plastics? Which I find interesting... is the 'cold' feel of metal something that makes you feel "quality", and when the lens feels warm, it feels of plastic, which you associate "cheap" with?
Do you think a lens made from high quality plastics could achieve a similarly nice feel as metal lenses?
And what about durability? I sometimes get the impression that plastics are far superior to metal. When you drop a metal lens almost certainly something is going to bend / dent, whereas with a plastic construction, if it survives, it survives with no permanent signs of the accident. Also, the plastics can be coloured through and through - the paint on metal, especially at edges, wears of incredibly quickly...



Aug 04, 2012 at 02:15 PM
sebboh
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p.2 #17 · p.2 #17 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


timballic wrote:
I'm in agreement here. I would rate Contax lenses highly (although the focus friction varies.) I wouldn't put Nikkors in the same class, not that they are bad just that I always found they developed a bit of play in the focus after a while, (reason explained above)

Some of the best I've come across for build were a couple of Topcon's Topcors (58mm and 135mm) that I owned until last year, really beautiful mechanics. Don't hear much about them here.


really!!!!

i've always been very disappointed with the build and quality of parts used in contax (c/y mount lenses, earlier contax lenses are a different story). when you take them apart you can see they used cheaper less sturdy parts than takumars or metal ring rokkors (though they are better built than the pentax and MD rokkor lenses that were there contemporaries).

the precision of movements in c/y lenses is my biggest point against them – 90% of the ones i've tried out had aperture stops that were loose and inconsistant focus damping (or catches). don't even get me started on how easy it is to stop the focus movement by pinching the ring. on the other hand those old taks and rokkors that were babied much less seem to have those types of issues only around 10% of the time.



Aug 04, 2012 at 04:45 PM
AhamB
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p.2 #18 · p.2 #18 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


jotdeh wrote:
Aren't the outer barrels of many modern Hasselblad lenses made from plastics? Which I find interesting... is the 'cold' feel of metal something that makes you feel "quality", and when the lens feels warm, it feels of plastic, which you associate "cheap" with?
Do you think a lens made from high quality plastics could achieve a similarly nice feel as metal lenses?


It's not so much the "cold" feel but the feeling of solidity. A lens with a very thin metal shell will still feel cheap, more so than a lens built of high quality plastic/polycarbonate (like some Canon L or Nikon G lenses).

I think plastic can be superior only for parts like lens hoods. Lens barrels and internal assembly structures may not stay bent like (thin) metal does, but they will be more prone to break (screws breaking through the plastic and such).



Aug 04, 2012 at 04:57 PM
AhamB
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p.2 #19 · p.2 #19 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


sebboh wrote:
really!!!!

i've always been very disappointed with the build and quality of parts used in contax (c/y mount lenses, earlier contax lenses are a different story). when you take them apart you can see they used cheaper less sturdy parts than takumars or metal ring rokkors (though they are better built than the pentax and MD rokkor lenses that were there contemporaries).

the precision of movements in c/y lenses is my biggest point against them – 90% of the ones i've tried out had aperture stops that were loose and inconsistant focus damping (or catches). don't even get me started on
...Show more

I never pinch my focus rings during normal use. I don't see when/how you would even notice that except when deliberately testing the rigidity of the construction while turning the focus ring... Also, I can't pinch my Makro-Planar 100/2.8 and stop the ring from moving; maybe if use a lot of force but I'm not going to try that.

W.r.t. to older lenses such as Super Taks and Nikkors having higher quality parts -- too bad they don't come with Zeiss optics inside them, then they'd be interesting to me.

The aperture stops are crisp on all my Contaxes and the focus rings are pretty smooth and consistent (esp. on my 50/1.4). I can believe that there is variation among copies though, depending on how much abuse they've received, so their build is definitely not perfect, but IMO that is reflected in their price.



Aug 04, 2012 at 05:05 PM
carstenw
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p.2 #20 · p.2 #20 · Mechanical qualities of lenses


carlitos wrote:
I was never to impressed with the build quality of the Hasselblad lenses, but that is with limited use, and maybe I was expecting too much from such a vaunted system.


I would phrase it differently. The Hasselblad Zeiss lenses have very good build quality, but aren't always smooth. They are very robust, but the haptics are sometimes a bit crude.

But Nikon and Canon were photojournalists lenses, built to a cetain level of robustness. I was never going to throw my lenses into the back of a rental car, so I figured Nikon lenses (non AI) would last me a lifetime, which they are doing. And the build quality of my 2 ZF lenses are equal to or better to anything I've ever handled, rented, or owned. The Leica lenses I've owned were better built, but that comes down to materials, which you are paying for.

Apart from the helicoids of the Nikkors, which apparently wear out (I have never personally seen it happen), I would say that the Nikkors can actually take more knocks than the ZFs. I prefer the feel of the latter, and they are clearly more refined, but a bump in the wrong place could really mess them up, whereas the old Nikkors were just tanks. There are just so many levels to build quality it is hard to compare on a level playing field.



Aug 04, 2012 at 06:50 PM
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