- Tamron 28-75mm 1:2.8
- Canon EF 50mm 1:2.5 Compact-Macro
- Canon EF 28mm 1:2.8
- Tamron 17-50mm 1:2.8
- Canon EF 24mm 1:2.8
- Konica Hexar AF
- Sigma 12-24mm 4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM
- Minolta MC W.Rokkor - NL 21mm 1:2.8
- Canon BG-ED3 Battery Grip
- Canon 10D
- Sigma EF-500 DG Super EO ETTL
- Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II
- Sears 55mm 1:1.4
- Minolta X-370
- Canon EF 28-90mm 1:4-5.6 III
- Canon 400D (Rebel XTi)
Sears 55mm 1:1.4
I really wanted to love this lens. It was manufactured to high quality standards and was reasonably fast at 1:1.4. Some quick online research indicated it was built by Tomioka and had a reputation as a respectable performer. With my M42 to EOS adapter I thought it might be an affordable alternative to Canon's EF 50mm 1:1.4. And it even sported an American brand name.
Maybe my affection started from the multiple positive first impressions. The build quality seemed top notch. The lens was heavy, almost all metal, and had a well damped focus mechanism. The aperture ring moved nicely with positive clicks at each setting.
Next I spent some time examining this lens and its protruding back element. I had a concern that the mirror and the back element might try to occupy the same space at the same time. This was especially a concern at infinity focus. On my Canon 10D and 40D bodies there was adequate room. This doesn't mean this lens can safely be fitted to all EOS bodies.
Closer inspection revealed a few less than positive details. Only full stop clicks were provided. Another shortcoming specific to my copy of this particular lens was some yellowing of the glass. I've read about yellowing and, apparently, exposure to UV light will sometimes reduce or remove the yellowing. I didn't try exposing it to ultraviolet light so I cannot comment on the effectiveness of that type of therapy. Despite these issues I decided to give this lens a try during a real photographic assignment.
The first low light challenge that presented itself was a play put on by my daughter and her classmates. I brought two cameras and one 430EX II flash. The camera with flash was used to guarantee that I would have at least a few images. But most of the images were made with a 40D and this Sears 55mm 1:1.4 lens. Focusing was a challenge as I was shooting most images wide open or at f2. The ISO was set at or near the 40D's maximum. And the shutter speeds were still challenging slow.
After the event I was pleased to see that some of the images turned out. Many did not due to camera motion blur. Even the sharpest of the bunch weren't very sharp. The yellowing was not a problem as the 40D was set to 'Auto White Balance' which factored in the yellowing of the glass.
Although I didn't dislike the lens after the theatre experience it did appear to be loosing it's shine.
Assignment number two was a seemingly simple bicycle product shot. Bicycles are unique in that they can be placed more or less completely in the focal plane. This allows me to shoot with a large aperture, keep most of the bike in focus, (the ends of the handlebars being the exceptions) and easily loose any background distractions in out of focus bokeh. The Sears 55mm 1:1.4 was selected for its shallow depth of field potential. But after a few starts and stops I realized the lens was not delivering. Sure, the background was nicely blurred. But at F1.4 and F2.0 the bicycle was not especially sharp. I didn't expect too much at 1.4 but at 2.0, which was better than 1.4, I expected sufficient sharpness.
A quick series of sample shots were taken and analyzed. Stopping down two stops is said to bring out the best of most lenses. I found that this lens did not behave like most lenses. Each stop of aperture from 1.4 to 5.6 increased the sharpness a little more until, at 5.6, it was at about it's best. Instead of two stops from wide open to optimal sharpness, this lens wanted four stops to achieve optimal sharpness. These tests also revealed noticeable vignetting up to f2.8.
At this point I was just looking for a reason to move on to something else. Unfortunately, I found it.
A non assignment that required low light photography came up. The Sears, being the fastest lens I owned, was chosen. But the shutter speeds weren't that much faster than the Tamron 17-50mm 1:2.8 zoom I often use. A few comparisons were done against two 50mm 1:1.8 lenses. It turns out that both 50mm 1:1.8 lenses were approximately 1/3 of a stop faster than the Sears 55mm 1:1.4. I retested to verify that my results were correct. I inspected the Sears to verify the aperture blades were opening fully. And then I retested again. It is possible the yellowing was costing the lens a stop of light. Maybe the manufacturer stretched the meaning of 1:1.4. Regardless, this Sears 55mm wasn't fulfilling it's role as a low light lens.
And with that sad bit of news the love affair ended.
Which was too bad because the lens does have positive traits. It reminds me of the high quality manual focus gear produced when I first entered photography. I saw no other bad traits such as excessive flare or lack of contrast. The color rendition, which was being manipulated by Canon's auto white balance, could not be accurately commented on.
Caution should be exercised when judging other Sears 55mm 1:1.4 lenses. I may have had a poor quality copy. Maybe the yellowing affected the sharpness AND the light transmission. I cannot say for sure. Despite this lenses respectable reputation I didn't find it to be 'keeper'.