I got acquainted with this lens without intending to. Andreas Buhl, in his compendium of all things Konica, compares it somewhat unfavorably with the more modern and certainly magnificent Hexanon 50mm f/1.4. Largely because of this opinion, the 57mm f/1.4 lens was always low in my interest scale. So low that I never looked for one. Some time ago, however, I got one in a lot together with several other lenses. The Hexanon 57mm was dirty inside and out and the aperture was stuck but, like most Hexanon primes that I have come across, it was easy to take apart and clean. The whole process from a dirty lens with a stuck aperture to a fully functional lens with immaculate glass took about an hour. When I was done it was late at night. Being of the impatient denomination, however, I could not wait until the morning to try it. One of my cats was sleeping on my computer chair, on which I can get some good light from a desk lamp. So I put the lens on my Sony A7, woke up Engels and took a few shots of him with the lens wide open. Two of those shots are included in the gallery below, they are the ones of the orange cat. Of course I chimpped (who doesn’t?) and was somewhat astonished by what I thought I saw – that looked like a really good lens! Magnify the image on the LCD and zoom-in on the eyes – wow!! Was it really possible? I downloaded the raw files and did some quick-and-dirty processing on Capture One. The pictures blew me away. The remarkable sharpness on Engels’s eyes, with the lens wide open, held up under full resolution. But it was not just that – the soft, fluffy bokeh!! The seamless transition from in-focus to out-of-focus areas. The almost complete lack of chromatic aberration. And the somewhat unique, warm and old-fashioned color rendition. Wow indeed.
The following morning I got one of my other cats – the grey-brown tabby with a pink collar – to pose for some outdoor shots. I was still impressed. Could it be possible that I got a particularly good example, one from the top 1%? At this point I remembered to consult with the other Konica encyclopedia, and found out that Jean-Jacques Granas states that “It performs extremely well, but in other ways than the 50/1.4”. I could immediately relate to this – my thoughts exactly. I was still curious about whether my particular lens was special in some way, however. I searched ebay and found another dirty one with a stuck aperture for a great price. Another hour or so of cleaning and the lens looked virtually new. Then, over the last couple of weeks, I spent some time with it wandering around peak autumn colors close to home. Some of the pictures that I got are shown in the gallery that accompanies this post – all shot RAW with a Sony A7 and processed in Capture One. The results were, in my view, as outstanding as those obtained from the first lens. Of course, two examples do not make for meaningful statistics any more than one, and both lenses are of the same vintage, all-black all-metal, produced between 1970-73. But I have a strong suspicion, reinforced by Jean-Jacques somewhat laconic opinion, that my two lenses are in no way special. That this gallery indeed showcases what the 57mm f/1.4 Hexanon is all about.
So, is the 57mm lens better or worse than its younger 50mm sibling? I don’t know, I think that it depends on what you are looking for. As far as I can tell they are comparably sharp. Perhaps the 57mm is a bit less “harsh” – more like the 50mm f/1.4 Zuiko or – dare I say it? – the 50mm Summilux. The bokeh of the 57mm lens is, to my eye, more pleasant than the somewhat wild bokeh of the 50mm. It has a soothing “vintage look” that is missing from the newer lens. The colors are not as vibrant as those of the more modern lens. If I had to choose a word to describe the color rendition of the 57mm Hexanon it would be dignified, or perhaps elegant. I love the 50mm Hexanon, but if I had to keep only one I would choose the 57mm, without a second’s hesitation. If you are after a lens capable of trademark Hexanon pyrotechnic rendition, then you should choose the 50mm f/1.4. If, on the other hand, you are after a satisfying classic look, then perhaps the 57mm f/1.4 is the best choice. Either way you can’t go wrong. But do I need two identical lenses? Not really, no matter how good they are. I put the first one, which has a little ding on the focus ring, for sale on ebay. It is still unsold as of this writing.