I remember fondly the halcyon days of film SLR’s, when it was hard to keep track of how many brands of cameras there were and where the different brands were made. I am thinking of that period of time extending more or less from the early 70’s to the early 80’s, a happy time that slowly faded away as autofocus took over. For me in those times Konica was always shrouded in mystery. Their cameras looked and acted clunky, not bad quality, just rough. Few people used them, but those who did were generally devoted to them. They talked about how rugged they were, and about how good the optics were. I could associate ruggedness with the uncouth Konica look, but good optics? Fast forward thirty years or so, to the time when I began to realize how much I was missing by having become an “all digital” photographer. My first timid experiments with using manual focus lenses on digital cameras were with OM Zuikos and my Olympus E-5. I was completely blown away not only by the quality of the images, but also by how easy it was to recreate much of the feeling of the old days with a digital camera. The fact that you could shoot many many more images and have more to work with than when one was tied to the cost of film, and that images recorded on a good digital sensor are better than anything that film could ever deliver, were the icing on the cake.
One day, during my trip down memory lane in the company of OM Zuikos, I remembered Konica – how about trying some Hexanons? It turns out that you could not do it with the E-5, the flange distances of the four-thirds and Hexanon systems are so close to one another that it is not possible to make an adapter. That all changed when I got an EM-5. The transition to mirrorless was, for me, the opening of enormous vistas. Now it became possible to get extremely precise focusing, and to do it much more faster than it was ever possible with film SLR’s. And one could do this on bright articulated LCD’s, which made it all look as if one was shooting with old Rolleis. And just about any lens ever made now became fair game. Shortly after getting the EM-5 I bought my first Hexanon, a 50mm f/1.4. Since then I have bought and sold a fair number of Hexanon lenses, and I have kept a few that I consider to be their best primes. In fact, probably some of the best primes ever made in those focal lengths. In addition to the 50mm f/1.4, I own a 15mm fisheye, a 21mm f/2.8, a 24mm f/2.8 (second version, f/22), a humble but outstanding 28mm f/3.5, a 40mm f/1.8 and a 105mm f/4 macro complete with the original helicoid. Some of the ones I sold I let go because, even though they are outstanding lenses (50mm f/1.7, 55mm f/3.5 macro, 85mm f/1.8, 100mm f/2.8 and 135mm f/3.2), I was not using them all that much and I was looking to fund other purchases. Others were disappointments (24mm f/2.8 first version, 35mm f/2.8, 200mm f3.5, 300mm f/4.5). And the 21mm f/4, although an excellent lens, is not in the same league as the superb and much more modern 21mm f/2.8.
The 50mm f/1.4 is one of the better known of the great Hexanons, and is a good place to start showing some of the reasons why this long-defunct optical tradition deserved a much better fate. If you have ever handled Hexanon lenses you may relate to this: they scream progressive rock-and-roll era. The heft, the colors, the materials, the shape, the feel, the obvious slide-rule and drafting-table engineering. Those enormous front elements, with the distinctive pinkish/golden Hexanon coating. The harsh-clicking aperture ring. They look, and are, indestructible. But ultimately what really matters is the optics, and here the good Hexanons shine. Here are a few samples of what the 50mm f/1.4 can deliver. As always, I prefer the images to do their own talking. Whenever I am trying to find information about an unknown lens, or compare my experiences with those of others, I prefer to spend time looking at the images made by other photographers than reading discussions that are either sterile (e.g.,discussions of details only seen in pixel-sized blow ups) or purely subjective (e.g., whether the bokeh is “busy” or not). I don’t want to inflict any of that on you, as I value and appreciate the time that you are investing in this site. Let me just say that I enjoy the very realistic and saturated Hexanon colors, the exceptional sharpness coupled to a very elegant bokeh, and the natural contrast that this fast prime has to offer. The rest is up to you.