Vintage 20mm Shootout

This shootout has been long time coming! I’ve collected quite a few vintage 20mm lenses in the last few years with Canon FD being my latest addition. I just sold my Pentax-A 20mm F2.8 and I decided that I have to do this shootout before I send it out to its new owner. It would be great to have a few more 20s in this shootout, including the Olympus 21mm and Nikon 20mm, but the lenses that you will see in this shootout are the only ones that I actually had available to me.

This test is completely unscientific, but I hope that it will be useful to those of you who are looking to invest into wider glass or starting to build up a set of lenses and possibly this test will point you in the right direction as far as choosing a brand and look to go with. I did my best to present every lens in this test in the most accurate, impartial way, but please don’t take my opinions are hard facts. My opinions are just as valid as yours, because when it comes to vintage lenses, choosing the best one is completely subjective. There are many factors to take into account including the price, sharpness, contrast (or lack of), character, built quality, compatibly and overall value for money.

So let’s have a look at each lens individually before we compare them against each other. Starting with the cheapest and ending with the most expensive one.


Soligor 21mm F3.8 – Technically not a 20mm lens, but it’s really close and being twice cheaper than the next cheapest lens in this comparison, it definitely deserves a place this comparison. Looking at the specs below, it doesn’t sound impressive at all, especially when you compare it to the other lenses in this shootout, but for around $80 it’s actually not such a bad lens.

Highlight of this lens: Swirly Bokeh


  • Average Price on ebay – $80
  • Focus Throw – Approx  270°
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.30m
  • Filter size – 72mm
  • Weight – 317g
  • Aperture Blades – 6
  • 5 Aperture settings from F3.8 to F16
  • Made in Japan


  • By far the cheapest lens in this comparison, the tight budget option.
  • Possibly the most solid lens in this comparison.
  • The focus ring is very smooth and pleasant to use with a whole 270° of rotation.


  • Slowest lens in this comparison.
  • Only 5 aperture settings from F3.8 to F16 makes it difficult to pick a perfect setting.
  • Least impressive closest focusing distance in this comparison.
  • Not particularly sharp wide open.


MIR-20M F3.5 – This lens definitely stands out visually. It’s the biggest and heaviest lens in this comparison. The massive front spherical element means that there is no filter thread on this lens.  The upside of this massive peace of glass is that this lens is definitely a bit wider than the others, no by much but it feels like there is an extra 1mm in there.

Highlight of this lens: Low Contrast Look


  • Average Price on Ebay – $200
  • Focus Throw – Approx  220°
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.18m
  • Filter Size – NONE
  • Weight – 470g
  • Aperture Blades – 6
  • 9 Aperture Settings from F3.5 to F16
  • Made in USSR


  • Best closest focusing distance in this comparison.
  • Very solid, similar to Soligor.
  • Known to share the amazing flare characteristics of other Russian lenses like MIR-1B and Helios 44-2.


  • Quite a slow lens at F3.5
  • Softish wide open (at-least my copy, more about it later)
  • No filter thread

canon fd 20mm

Canon FD 20mm F2.8 – Very different lens when compared to MIR, but costs pretty much the same (prices on ebay always vary). While the previous 2 lenses barely have any coating, this one has a beautiful S.S.C (Super Spectra Coating) both on the front and back elements, which means it holds the contrast and vibrant colours much better than the previous 2. Now this is where it all becomes subjective as many people choose vintage lenses for their low contrast character while others simply want cheap alternatives to modern lenses that will produce similar results at a lower price.

Highlight of this lens:  Value for Money


  • Average Price on Ebay – $200
  • Focus Throw – Approx  170°
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.25m
  • Filter Size – 72mm
  • Weight – 305g
  • Aperture Blades – 6
  • 13 Aperture Settings from F2.8 to F22
  • Made in Japan


  • Great overall package (speed, sharpness, contrast) at affordable price.
  • Really nice built quality, a pleasant lens to use.
  • 13 Aperture settings allow for a very precise adjustment of exposure and look.


  • FD mount is not as compatible as other mounts in this comparison
  • Other than that I can’t think of anything this lens does worse than others considering its price.


Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 20mm F2.8 – It’s not the most expensive lens, but it’s close! Being a Zeiss lens (even if only an M42 version) higher price is not really a surprise, especially considering its impressive specs! If not for its price, judging by the specs alone would make it winner for video use!

 Highlight of this lens: Best Specs/Features for Video


  • Average Price on Ebay – $400
  • Focus Throw – Approx  270°
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.19m
  • Filter Size – 67mm
  • Aperture Blades – 6
  • Weight – 350g
  • 13 Aperture Settings from F2.8 to F22
  • Made in DDR


  • Very impressive closest focusing distance.
  • Good size focusing ring with 270° of rotation.
  • 13 Aperture settings allow for a very precise adjustment of exposure and look.


  • It’s quite pricey for a vintage lens
  • Not as sharp wide open as I’d expect at this price


Pentax-A 20mm F2.8 – this is the most expensive lens in this comparison as it’s quite rare, but turns out it’s not the only reason why it’s the most expensive lens in this test. It’s painfully sharp, saturated and contrastive, very much like some of the better modern lenses. That is both great and not so much because it doesn’t really have much of a vintage character.

Highlight of this lens: Sharpness


  • Average Price on Ebay – $450
  • Focus Throw – Approx  90°
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.25m
  • Filter Size – 67mm
  • Weight – 245g
  • Aperture Blades – 6
  • 10 Aperture Settings from F2.8 to F22
  • Made in Japan


  • Amazing sharpness, great colours and contrast.
  • Most compact  & lightest (but not too light) lens in this comparison.


  • High contrast/high saturation look might not have as much vintage appeal as some would like.
  • Focusing ring rotation same as on Nikon lenses. Can be very confusing and off-putting to some.

Now that we’ve had a quick look at each of these lenses individually let’s get into more detail on how they compare. As I mentioned already everyone has their own priorities, so feel free to share you own concussions in the comments section too!

Download high-res stills shot for this test here:


As you can see in my test video above every lens has quite a different overall look and you don’t even need to look a right res stills to see which lens is the sharpest. It’s of course the Pentax, which is perfectly sharp even wide open. To judge every lens even more precisely though, I took some stills with every lens on a Sony NEX6 and compared all of them at 100% digital zoom (see 100% crops below). Again Pentax absolutely screams “sharpness”! At F5.6 it looks like it’s digitally sharpened! By the way, the camera was set to standard settings (all dials at 0) to represent an average shooting situation.

Wide Open – 100% crops – click to zoom in
F/5.6 – 100% crops – click to zoom in

Although generally this amount of sharpness is sought after, I feel like it’s almost too much, especially when using this lens to shoot video with a camera that has aliasing, moiré and various compression artifacts. It brings out these imperfections more than any other lens. Many highly respected DPs often choose older lenses because they provide a slightly softer look which compliments digital sensors very well. I’m afraid this lens will not give you that look, but on the other hand it will be a great lens to shoot 8K RAW with 🙂

The next sharpest lens in this comparison is actually the very affordable Canon FD. It’s really close to Pentax too, especially at F5.6. I also kept comparing stills between Canon and Zeiss, because I expected Zeiss to be up there with Pentax or at least Canon. Even though Canon and Zeiss are close at F5.6, wide open Zeiss just has no detail when compared to Canon. I’ve also compared the Zeiss to Mir, which looked the softest in the video, but at 100% digital zoom, Mir (wide open) shows more detail than Zeiss (wide open). There is something strange about the Zeiss F2.8 shot though, so unfortunately I suspect a possible camera shake on that Zeiss shot. I wish I could reshoot this segment to be 100% sure, but Pentax is now gone. The interesting fact about these two lenses though is that MIR-20m is based on Zeiss Flektogon. It has had additional modifications, but sharpness on these is suppose to be similar.

Out of the bottom 3, MIR actually appears to be the sharpest wide open judging from the stills and identical to Zeiss in my test video. I think the reason why it’s perceived as softest is the low contrast look that it has. The lens actually holds reasonable amount of detail even wide open. I think it is quite safe to say that Soligor is the softest lens wide open, but all bottom 3 look almost identical at F5.6.

PENTAX is certainly a winner in this round!


Again it’s safe to say that Pentax has the highest contrast & most saturation. As I explained before, this can be good or bad, you can decide that for yourself. My personal opinion is that in every day shooting situations (especially sunny exteriors) I’d like a bit less contrast to give me more room in post to adjust the contrast to my own taste (unless shooting in LOG).

Canon follows the Pentax quite closely with quite a high contrast and saturation, which is good for matching it with modern lenses but for me, again it’s a little too high to have that vintage appeal.

This is where Zeiss and Soligor represent that safe middle ground between the high contrast/saturation and low contrast/desaturated look.

Mir of course has that very low contrast look which is probably a result of that large front element that picks up the light from every direction, resulting in flare and loss of contrast. Just to be clear, some people love the low contrast look and it’s not difficult to bring that contrast back in post if needed. Keep in mind that there is also a Multicoated (MC) version of MIR-20M which most likely has higher contrast and saturation, possibly close to Zeiss.

Apart from Contrast and Saturation every lens seems to have its own tones and colors. Some are really warm look as produced by Pentax and Canon, others might like MR more with its colder tones. Again, for me Soligor and Zeiss have the most natural tones that make a great starting point for grading.

Every lens in this test has the right look for the right job, but most people won’t have 5 different wide lenses to choice from and for me the winner is this round is the Zeiss as it’s has the most natural, balanced look.


I’m afraid to say that the very perfect Pentax doesn’t have that much of a “vintage”/ “film-like” character, which many vintage lens fans absolutely love. Canon is again, similar. Both lenses have pleasant bokeh but, but it’s nothing to write home about.

Zeiss and Mir also share a similar character and bokeh, possibly because of their technical similarities. I find bokeh produced by these lens, especially Zeiss is really smooth. Mir’s low contrast of course gives it a bit of more character but it’s not as dramatic as I hoped it would be (Helios 44-2 owners will know what I mean).

Strangely enough Soligor has that cool, vintage character, especially when it comes to bokeh. Although it looks a little busy, its swirly character gives it that look I hoped MIR would have. It looks much more like a painting, which is what I often look for in vintage lenses.

Purely subjective, but for me the winner in this round is Soligor!

Built Quality/Usability for Video:

Like most vintage lenses, all 5 lenses have a great built quality. Soligor and Mir stand out to me as the most solid, but the others are not that far behind. Even the lightest and smallest Pentax feels nice and solid. Both Soligor and Zeiss have very impressive (approx) 270° focusing throw which is great for a follow focus & very precise focusing. At the opposite end, the Pentax has about 90° focusing throw, which is quite common in modern lenses. Personally I like to have more than 90° of rotation, but some people like short throw for quick focusing.

As far as focusing rings go, Soligor probably has the smoothest, but others aren’t bad either. The aperture adjustment on Soligor though is really disappointing as it’s limited to just 5 settings, while Zeiss and Canon have the best range of settings (13). Unfortunately neither of the lenses have a step-less aperture adjustment,  but the simple construction of the M42 mount should make the de-clicking of MIR and Zeiss quite easy!

One of the biggest disappointments in terms of usability is the lack of a filter thread on the MIR-20m.  You can still use it with a matte box to add NDs or a polariser but you can forget about shooting wide open in bright light (this applies to video rather than photography).

It’s really hard to choose a winner in this round, but I’d probably have to say that Zeiss is the best overall package in this category.

Value For Money:

Choosing a best value for money lens is very subjective as some base their decisions on the price, other on sharpness, etc. As I said before, Canon ticks a lot of boxes at a fairly affordable price. The FD mount might not be for everyone though (especially Canon EF users), but I personally think Canon FD lenses in general present the best value for money and same goes for this lens, therefore it’s a winner of this round.

Overall Winner:

Well there isn’t one. I sold the Pentax already because I needed money and I’m not sure I’ll be able to force myself to sell any of the remaining 4 as each has something that I like about it.

Every one of you will have your own winner and I would absolutely love to know which one you’d pick and why, so please leave a comment below!

I try my best to make this website a great resource for people interested in vintage lenses for video use, so I hope you’ve enjoyed this & other posts. I hope they will help you save some money on your future lens investments too. I’ve joined the ebay affiliate program to help me run this website, fund my tests & lens giveaways, so if you found this content useful and would like to help me produce more similar content, please use the ebay links in this post if you’re planning to buy one of these lenses or bookmark or use this link if you want to buy anything else on or this link if you shop on You will not be spending a penny more using these links, while still helping as eBay will pay out a small percentage from any purchase or successful bid, which in turn will support new content on Thank you.

11 Responses to Vintage 20mm Shootout

  1. I recently discovered your site and I’m super amazed by what you can do with these vintage lenses. At the moment I have a Canon 5d mark II and I was wondering if these lenses would be great to use with imy camera? Or what russian lenses do u recommend for a my 5d mark II? Thanks

    • Hello. Thank you for your comment. You can use these lenses on Canon 5D, however you need to keep in mind that some of them might hit the mirror of this camera when you enabling the live view mode. Unfortunately due to the large mirror 5D cameras are not the best for vintage lenses like these.

  2. i respect your work, but this is useless for me. decade old lenses 200-450$ ? better buy a new manual one. usually my limit is 100 $, everything above i check new lenses.

    • Everyone has a right to choose what’s best for them. As I mentioned at the start of the post, some people (like yourself & partially myself too) choose vintage lenses because they are cheaper alternatives to modern equivalents. Others choose them because they enjoy using them more than modern lenses. Personally I prefer the look, built quality and the the value for money. Although they seem pricy to you, but take a look at the cost of modern Zeiss 21mm lens and the Zeiss Jena will seem very cheap once again 🙂

  3. Hi Alan –
    do you have any experience with FR on the MIR 20M? I use the LT2 (EF-NEX further adapted to M42) Seems to work fine – focussing endpoint maybe 1mm beyound infinity.
    I was really disapointed reading the 28mm Canon nFD would not be usable with a FR. MIR 20M an the nFD 28mm look very similar in respect to the back element … dont dare to do a test myself – dont want to damage my FR ..

    thanks for your time Alan!

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