There are a few reasons why people choose vintage lenses over the modern equivalents. One of them is that organic, film-like character that is missing in most modern lenses. The E.Ludwig Meritar 50mm F2.9 is one of such lenses, bursting with character that many of us really love! The only lens I’ve tried so far that has more character than the Meritar 50mm F2.9 is the legendary Helios 44-2 58mm F2. If you are familiar with the 44-2, you’ll know that any lens similar to it will be pretty magical. Like the 44-2, Meritar 50mm F2.9 doesn’t just lose contrast when pointed at the sun; the flares have all sorts of rainbows and colors to them. It also produces slightly swirly, but smooth bokeh when used wide open. Colours are quite diffused when compared to lenses that have strong multi-coating. All of these things are imperfections, but I love them! Hopefully the video above gives you a good idea of what the character I’m talking about is.
So let’s take a closer look at what this lens is and who is it for. E.Ludwig Meritar 50mm F2.9 was made using a very simple, but interesting Cooke Triplet (3 elements in 3 groups) optical formula, which I believe is where a lot of its character comes from. It’s the same formula a new $1500 Mayer Optic Trioplan 100mm F2.8 will be using. Not the price I agree with, but it shows what people are prepared to pay for some character. Thankfully E.Ludwig doesn’t have such a crazy price tag and can be found for around $50/£30 on ebay, although it seems to be more common in Europe than US.
Meritar 50mm F2.9 was produced in M42 and Exacta mounts. The M42 version is easily adaptable to most modern cameras, while Exacta adapters might not be available for some less common modern mounts, so keep that in mind if you decide to buy one.
It’s a tiny lens, which can be good or bad, depending on what you are planning to use it for. Like the Industar-50-2 that I reviewed recently, this lens is absolutely great as a fun, holiday/day out lens. Its size and tiny focus ring will not make it popular on professional shoots, but that doesn’t mean you can’t used it for serious creative projects; One feature that filmmakers will like is the step-less (preset) aperture adjustment. On other hand something that might put off many off is the focusing direction; which is the same as on Nikon and Pentax lenses. The users of these lenses will feel right at home but I’m so used to the opposite direction that and it messes with my brain every time I try to focus with it.
As far as sharpness goes, the center sharpness is quite good even wide open, but edges are soft on S35 sensor, which makes you wonder how soft are they on full frame. To be honest considering what I’d be using this lens for, I almost see that as a feature rather than a downside. I like the sharpness fall off, as it contributes towards the overall vintage look. This is lens far from perfect, but it’s not even trying to be perfect. If you want a cheap, sharp, clean 50mm, there are plenty of other options out there. The character is the main reason why you’d want to use this lens.
Below are some specifications I haven’t yet mentioned:
- Minimum focusing distance: 0.7m
- Focus ring rotation: 270°
- Aperture Blades: 5
- Filter Thread: 35mm
- Weight: 120g
- Dimensions: 50 x 41mm
And to get a better perspective of how good or bad this lens is, let’s take a look at PROS and CONS.
- Fun lens, full of character
- Compact size
- Click-less aperture adjustment
- Smooth focus and aperture rings
- Very Cheap
- Easily Adaptable to most cameras
- Can be too small for large hands &/or professional use
- Quite slow for a 50mm prime
- Focus rotation throw of 270° can be impractical when pulling focus by hand
- Character might not be to everyone’s taste
- Built quality is not great
Overall, it’s yet another lens that some will love and others won’t touch. Everyone will have a different option on such lens, but considering its price, I think it’s well worth a try. Luckily for you, soon there will be an opportunity to try one of these lenses for free as I’ll be giving away one of my E.Ludwig Meritar 50mm F2.9 primes to one of you guys. They giveaway details are coming shortly!
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