Top 5 vintage 50mm prime lenses for under 50$
There are a lot of different 50mm prime lenses available in the used market. The abundance of choice can be overwhelming. Here is my list (in no specific order) to help you find an ideal 50mm lens for less than 50$.
Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm 2.8 – the Original Nifty Fifty
The Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm 2.8 is one of the reference lenses in the 50mm segment. For a very long time this lens was the mac daddy of the fifties lenses. The Tessar might not be the fastest lens in the list but it is one of the sharpest. It also offers a good bokeh. The Tessar is a very versatile lens and is rather easy to shoot with.
These lenses were made in abundance and are therefore available for a modest price. Although older, rarer versions tend to be more expensive, you can obtain the late black version (sometimes even a Zebra version) for well under 50$. If you plan to shoot on a digital camera I would recommend getting a M42 mount lens, as there are a wider range of adapters available for this mount.
Helios 58mm f2 – the Bokeh Monster
I know, I know – it’s not REALLY a 50mm lens. The Helios is 58mm! But this lens is so interesting that I didn’t want to omit it from this list – hope you can live with 8mm additional focal length. The Helios 58mm f2 is one of the most manufactured lenses ever. It was the prime lens of many Soviet Era cameras (most notably the Zenit cameras). The Helios 58mm is actually a clone of the Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f2 (ok, now you see where this is heading).
Bokeh lovers will love the Helios 58mm. It delivers incredible swirling delights. If you are into more experimental and arty photography you will be in heaven with this gem. Besides the bokeh you will also have loads of lens flare, chromatic aberrations and vignetting to play with. This lens can also be rather sharp when you stop it down a bit. The lens has click-less aperture settings, which also make it a favorite among videographers.
All in all you get a Biotar type lens at a fraction of the price (of course this one does not really have Carl Zeiss built quality – but you have to draw the line somewhere). The Helios 58 is normally the lens I recommend for vintage lens newbies. You won’t spend much but you will get a lot to experiment with. Although prices have been going up lately you can still find this lens at a very interesting price.
Industar 50-2 / f3.5 – Tiny but Mighty
You want something small and almost weightless? Look no further! The Industar 50-2 is exactly what you are looking for. The lens has a very compact pancake like design. This is the perfect travel companion or back-up lens. The flat design makes the Industar very unobtrusive – which is great for street photography.
At f3.5 it is the slowest lens in the list (for a 50mm lens an aperture of 3.5 is really not that impressive). No, it’s not an available light monster. But the rather slow lens makes up with neat looking, pretty sharp images. It might not be my first choice for portraiture but if you are on the move this is lens perfect!
Pentacon 50mm 1.8 – the Allrounder
The Pentacon 50mm 1.8 is often overlooked. Ok, Pentacon might not seem like the sexiest brand. This East German conglomerate has a bit of a bad reputation – I think that’s not fair. Some of their lenses are extraordinary good and a a proof of their heritage (Pentacon was formed when optical brands from Dresden and Meyer-Optik Görlitz merged).
The Pentacon 50mm is the fastest lens on this list. At f1.8 it’s great for available light photography. Although not the sharpest lens ever made it does produce nice images. Colours are punchy, vignetting is not that bad and the short minimum focusing distance means you can really get close to your subject. The lens might not excel at anything in particular but it is a very good all-rounder. Great value for money!
Nikon / Nikkor 50mm f2 – the Milestone
Last but not least: the Nikon 50mm f2. What a great lens this is – even by today’s standard! When this lens came out it blew the competition straight out of the water. The Nikon 50 2 set a very high bar for all fifty millimeter lenses that followed. Optically the lens really excels. Sharpness is superb. Bokeh is very nice and colours are delightful. The focusing mechanisms is increadibly smooth and precise.
This lens is often overlooked “because it is not that fast”. Honestly this does not do the lens justice at all, there is almost no difference between a f2 and a f1.8 lens. Once you see the image quality this lens produces you will be absolutely blown away.
Unbeatable value for money!