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TL;DR: got any recommendations for a cheap fast manual non-radioactive 50mm prime?

I have an a6500 with the 16-70mm kit lens and also the 30mm f1.4 Sigma lens, which I love by the way. However, I want to use some legacy primes to experiment with different focal lengths, perhaps a tilt adapter later on, etc.

I also don't want to use a radioactive lens, because firstly I don't have a basement in my small apartment to "hide" the lens away when I'm not using it, secondly, I have a dog, thirdly I just don't want to take the risk.

I have shortlisted it to the following:

  • Minolta rokkor-md 50mm 1.4 - might be radioactive?? but f1.4 is very fast and apparently it's sharp too
  • Helios 44m 58mm f2 - this is a lens primed for its swirly bokeh but I've heard on crop sensor bodies the bokeh doesn't swirl as well
  • Auto-Takumar 55mm f2 - this has great "soap-bubble" bokeh, and works well on crop mode. The only thing holding me back from pulling the trigger on this lens is that it may be radioactive (according to the Angry Photographer it's not but others say it is, and Pentax was notorious for radioactive lenses in that era) and also it's very RARE and fairly expensive. I'm in love with the look of the Takumar lenses, by the way.
  • Konica 50mm Hexanon f1.7 - this lens is very sharp wide open and very inexpensive, don't think it's radioactive (is the bokeh any good?)
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF/AFD - not that vintage but fairly cheap and certified non radioactive (lens-makers stopped using thorium in the mid-80's)

Anyone got any suggestions/tested the radioactivity of these lenses? Also, does the radioactivity vary from lens to lens? Thanks.

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  • 1 month later...

Don't worry about the radioactivity in those low-cost lenses. It's not enough to affect you, even if you use the lenses every day for a lifetime.


All the lenses you listed are safe and excellent--as is the Olympus M. Zuiko OM 50mm 1.8 and the Super-Takumar 50mm 1.4 (8-element version if you can't stand the thought of radiation). The Takumar 55/2 also comes in a 1.8 version. You can't go wrong with any of them.


I'd recommend the Super- or Super-Multi-Coated Takumars over the Auto-Taks, though--better flare control (although I have an Auto-Tak 55/2.2 that I love if I shoot with a hood).

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I agree about Pentax lenses but have additional reasons:  


Most adapters have "less than ideal" latches on the front 

flange, but the M42 mount uses no latching mechanism.  


The "A-M" switch ... 10000% more useful on an adapted 

lens than it was when mounted on a Pentax film camera.   


But depending on the adapter design, you may hafta saw 

of the auto iris pin. Some adapters are "Pentax oriented" 

in that they do NOT push that pin, expecting you would 

be using Takumars with the A-M switch ... so no need to 

remove the pin. Other adapters are "generic M42", thus 

they have a flange that depresses the iris pin.  


Perznally I prefer the Nikon E-series pancake 50/1.8. The 

E-series sometimes get a bad rap, but you won't be using 

the corners, so celebrate a reputation that lowers its price. 

There's a non-E pancake as well, only difference is that it  

has multicoating ... costs verrrry little more. 


Another great low cost lens is the Konica 40/1.8 pancake.  

There is also a very compact 45/2.0 Minolta, just a bit too 

big to call it a pancake, but smaller than most 50s. 

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But depending on the adapter design, you may hafta saw 

of the auto iris pin.

Why would anyone saw off the auto iris pin? That would make the lens fully auto at full-width aperture with no way to control the aperture manually. The best way to make an auto M42 lens manual is to put a short length of plastic tubing around the aperture pin inside the back of the lens. That holds the pin depressed so the lens aperture can be controlled manually. Please don't glue the pin down with superglue. That not only ruins it for vintage M42 camera shooters (like me), but the cyanoacrylate fumes put off by the glue can cloud the glass.

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Guest Jaf-Photo

Vintage lenses tend to have more character. Therefore, the best way to choose lenses is to study sample photos. Then you'll know if they are for you. That goes for any lens, by the way.


Sample variation also tends to be greater with vintage lenses. That depends on how they have been handled and stored. So, you should be prepared to buy and try more than one copy.


There are a few vintage lenses that are very radioactive. Google for those and avoid them. For the rest, it's not a problem.

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Why would anyone saw off the auto iris pin? That would

make the lens fully auto at full-width aperture with no way

to control the aperture manually. 


Not true. Quite the opposite. Read more carefully 

concerning if the use of the "A-M" switch on M-42 

Pentax lenses.  


Your silly idea about jamming the pin into the hole 

locks the lens in manual mode, regardless of the 

"A-M" switch. When the pin is allowed to remain 

out [full open viewing/focusing] the "A-M" switch 

instantly switches it between open/viewing and 

the dialed-in aperture, with no need to turn the 

aperture ring back and forth while reading f/stop

numbers or counting clicks. 


Many ... most but not all ... adapters will keep the 

pin depressed at all times, denying the user the 

convenience of the "A-M" switch. If you had been 

a regular user of these lenses, you would never 

have written advice to the contrary. 

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The Minolta Rokkors are not radioactive (and radioactivity in any lens is very minor). Any of the 50mm lenses made by Minolta are fantastic. The MD ƒ1.4 is great, and the MD ƒ1.7 is also a really wonderful lens to shoot with.


Remember, a 50mm lens on an APS-C mirrorless with an adapter is going to have a crop factor of 1.5, so it will perform like a 75mm portrait lens. If you want a true 50mm "normal" feel, look for a much harder to find Rokkor-X or "plain" MD-III 35mm ƒ2.8, which would put you right about 52mm.





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Apart from some rare Kodak arial lenses, which you should not store under your bed, none of the old radioactive lenses are a threat to your health. Their radiation is not even passing your skin, you'd need to grind and inhale or eat them to be at any risk. And, believe me, I'm very concerned about radiation, I checked my food with a Geiger counter after Chernobyl melted down and I'm very concerned about eating fish or seaweed now, when I'm in the far east or US west coast.


But if you want to avoid them completely, go for the razor sharp Minolta Rokkor PG 50mm f1.4 (a tad more pricey) or the older 55mm f1.7 with beautiful bokeh, which can be found really cheap.


Another option would be the 35-70mm zoom, which is slower, but as good as a prime and very versatile on a crop sensor, going from normal via portrait to mild tele. 

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Amen on low-ratio mid-range zooms from camera 

maker brands ... but try to avoid the "kit lens" type.   


You can usually, but not always, expect the good 

ones are constant aperture, and the kit type is the 

variable aperture. The low zoom ratio [2:1] should 

not cause the designers to resort to variable max

apertures unless low price is the 1st, 2nd and 3rd 

design priority. 

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The 35-70 mm by Minolta I mentioned has an impressive construction to keep the aperture constant: it tracks the zoom mechanically and slightly opens the aperture when zooming in. Impressive, and still smooth after 40 years. Will any electronic solution last that long?

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Guest Jaf-Photo

You don't really need an f4 zoom in that interval with the crop factor added to fl and aperture. You'll do much better with the fast 50 the OP was asking for.

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  • 7 months later...

I have purchased quite a few Minolta lenses and quite happy to “recycle” legacy glass. I have the 35mm f2.8, good value and reasonably sharp, I have had read that the 35mm f2 was as far as Dyxum was concerned was the best value in the 35mm arsenal. I saw one, late model at $265 US a restyle verserion and took the plunge. Well this lens is a revelation, tack sharp, Minolta colour built well and very close to the Minolta 35mm f1.4. 

This lens, and the 28mm f2 and the 50mm f1.4  D are the real deal, the must haves from the Minolta wider standards.

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  • 11 months later...

My pick is the Minolta MD Rokkor 50mm F2. The image quality is outstanding (It's a Leica Summicron derivative)

Second choice would be the FD Canon 50mm F1.4 SSC. It's extremely sharp.

I probably tested something about 30 lenses and the two above mentioned lenses are superb and, believe me, cheap.

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