How to Eliminate Mirror Hang with a SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.4
April 4th, 2015
Several years ago I (like many other photographers) discovered the joys of shooting vintage glass on my modern DSLRs. I’ve tried out a number of old lenses in various mounts, including M42, Contax C/Y, Pentax K, Tamron Adaptall, Konica, and at least one other that I cannot remember. My favorite of these is M42, as this mount (often called the screw mount) is very easy to adapt to other mounts. The fact that it screws into the adapter means that the lens mount tends to be more stable and less prone to feeling “wobbly”. Still, the majority of these mounts are easily adaptable to the Canon EF mount through inexpensive adapters (typically less than $15) that are very easy to find on Ebay. For a while I haunted the pawn shops in my area and cleaned out their stock of old lenses. I also have bought a few off of Ebay and Kijijii (sort of a Canadian Craigslist for those unfamiliar). You can check out a gallery of images taken with these lenses on Flickr here. The majority of these I ended up reselling on Ebay; some at a profit, some for cost, but almost never at a loss. I’ve tried at least thirty vintage lenses, but these are the one that have stayed with me when others have moved on.
- SMC Takumar 28mm f/3.5
- Super Takumar 35mm f/3.5
- SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.4
- Zeiss Planar T* 1.7/50mm
- SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8
- Helios 44-2 (58mm f/2)
- Vivitar 135mm f/2.8
- Super Takumar 150mm f/4
The SMC (Super-Multi-Coated) Takumar 50mm f/1.4 is one that left the fold for a while and only recently reentered it. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve got four 50mmish primes (part of the reason that I don’t own a modern 50mm), and so I had decided years ago that the 50mm f/1.4 just wasn’t worth the hassle. The 55mm f/1.8 was nearly as good, and I was able to use it on my full frame DSLR bodies without any issue. The SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.4 was another story. I discovered that when focused near or at infinity, the rear flange of the lens would catch on the mirror of the camera body when the shutter activated and cause it to hang (often producing a partially black image). The lens would hang until the lens was backed away from infinity focus and it could release. Another shot could not be taken until this was done, and there was also the risk of causing permanent damage to the camera (although I’ve had this happen dozens of times over the years with at least three different bodies and no damage). Still, it didn’t seem worth the risk to a two thousand dollar camera for an $80 lens. One workaround was to only shoot near infinity in Live View mode (the mirror stays out of the way during Live View and a DSLR acts more like a mirrorless body). The one issue with this is that it is easy to forget to back the focus away from infinity before turning off the camera or exiting Live View. There was the mirror hang again!
I periodically get the itch to use these lenses, and during a recent period where I had a modern throwback to this era (the Rokinon 50mm f/1.4), I decided I wanted one again. Shockingly, the problem with the mirror hang still existed! I had found that I was able to fix a wobbly adapter mount for my Zeiss Planar T* 1.7/50mm by putting some double sided taped between the native lens mount and the adapter, so I thought I would give it a try with this lens and seem if it would move the lens ahead just enough that the flange of the rear element would no longer catch at infinity.
Here is a quick little video to show you just what I did and how it enabled me to be able to focus through the focal range without the dread mirror hang.
As an added bonus I have found that images appear…better. It’s as if the lens is better aligned with the sensor and is producing better results. I still have infinity focus as well…so this seems to be a win-win.
Here is a gallery of images that I took the same day I shot this video. I used a Canon EOS 6D body with an EG-S focus screen installed to help manual focus (my keeper rate is very high with this combination). Several of them are shot at infinity, and other than one (a portrait oriented shot of a tree lined, snow covered path), they are all shot at either f/1.4 or f/2. I should also point out that is, to put it kindly, the ugly time of year. Even so, I got a number of nice looking images in a thirty minute walkabout. They have not received any post-processing and are straight out of camera. As you can see, the lens has unique color (quite warm) and very nice bokeh. It lacks a little contrast wide open, but makes up for it at smaller apertures.
It is still a very capable lens many decades after its release, and the build quality is beautiful. The focus ring is beautifully damped and moves very smoothly. It has eight aperture blades, although the aperture becomes octagonal by f/2.8. Still, an octagon is better than what the nifty fifty (EF 50mm f/1.8) and its five blades look like when stopped down, and this lens is built more like a Zeiss than like the “plastic fantastic”. This lens is still a very compelling option at the 50mm focal length, particularly when you consider that one can often find one well under $100 (I paid about $80 shipped for my very nice copy).