Roll some Floyd, man!  The Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.4

Roll some Floyd, man! The Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.4

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.




9 comments on “Roll some Floyd, man! The Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.4
  1. Hi

    This is a great opinion on the Hexanon line of lenses.
    Since I see you have some knowledge of the Zuiko line too, perhaps it woudl make a nice blog post if you compare them side by side.

    It doesn’t have to be very long. Just a list of the Hexanon keepers you already mentioned and the Zuiko keepers you have, and why you chose them over the other brand(s).

    Best Regards

    • Thank you Cvitan – that is an excellent suggestion. I am slowly putting together reviews of all of the lenses that I have decided to keep, and I think that what you suggest could be a good way of summarizing and comparing impressions. It may be a while, though. In the meantime, if there are some specific lenses that you are considering and I can be of any help I’ll be more than happy to tell you what my experiences were. In general, you can’t go wrong with either Zuikos or Hexanons, but there are a few things to be careful about. For example, not all Hexanons 24 and 28mm lenses are equally good, in my view, but the good ones are outstanding. Just let me know if I can help.

  2. Hi Alberto

    It would be nice to get a comparison of equal OM and AR lenses.
    Since you already mentioned AR 24 and 28, I would be interested in these remaining comparisons:
    OM 21 F2 vs AR 21 F2.8
    OM 50 F1.4 vs AR 50 F1.4 vs Contax 50 F1.4
    OM 85 F2 vs AR 85 F1.8 vs Contax 85 F1.4

    I have a Zeiss Contax Plannar 85mm F1.4, and it’s a real beast. However its very big compared to a Konica, and even more to an Olympus.
    Will I get comparable results with these smaller alternatives?

    Best Regards

    • Hi Cvitan,

      I’m working on the 21mm lenses. I should have something ready in a couple of weeks – stay tuned! I don’t own a 50 mm Planar, but I was planning on comparing the Zuiko and Hexanon with one of the Contax zooms at 50mm, which I do have (35-70, 28-85 and 35-135). I know that a “full open” comparison would be meaningless, but above f/4 or so they look very very close. I think that the Hexanon has the brightest colors and most interesting bokeh, the Zuiko is the sweetest or smoother or soothing, hard to describe, just very pleasing, and the Zeiss zooms may be the sharpest. But it would be unfair to say that the other two are not sharp, they are very sharp too. As you say, Zeisses are beasts in every sense of the word. The oldest optical tradition in the world, and it shows !!

      All the best


  3. Lance King says:

    I appreciate the review, and your photos are terrific!

    I’m a Fujifilm X shooter, and while I’ve had a Hexanon adapter on hand for some time, I just bought the 50mm f/1.4, myself. I was lucky enough to get a copy that seems pristine (as is the Konica FS-1 body that came with it). I did a few quick test shots with it this afternoon, and so far I’m really impressed. I think tomorrow I’ll break out the tripod and do some more careful work with it.

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