28mm lenses are some of the most affordable vintage lenses that one can buy. Almost every manufacturer made them, sometimes in multiple versions.
Today I will be talking about the 28mm lens that I’ve been using the most myself, not that I think it’s the best out there, but you will soon understand why it has been my 28mm lens of choice on multiple occasions.
The lens I’m talking about is of course the Tamron Adaptall-2 28mm F2.5; slightly faster than an average vintage 28mm lens, but only by a quarter of a stop. Tamron might not sound like a glamorous brand but this lens actually feels really nice and solid; much more solid than some of the modern lenses that cost many times more. The focusing ring is very smooth with 140° of rotation and of course hard stops at each end (Canon EF users will understand). There are plenty of distance marks on the barrel as well as a depth of field scale to help out with focusing (not that I ever use it). The focusing ring does not extend when focusing which is great for a follow focus use. The front though does extend a little bit, but that should not present any issues even for matte box users. More importantly the front element does not rotate which means any filters you have on the front will be affected when focusing. 49mm filter thread on the front is great for cheap filters but you can always buy a step up ring for any size filter.
My favorite technical characteristic of this lens though is at the back of the lens: The Adaptall-2 lens mount system. It’s the most versatile, flexible mount system that I know of. This doesn’t apply just to this lens but to all Tamron Adaptall-2 Lenses. Basically, back then Tamron came up with a similar concept that we now all use when adapting old lenses to various new cameras, only now we buy adapter rings that go on top of the mount. The Adaptall lenses actually allow you to swap out the whole mount, which is a much more solid way to adapt such lenses to various cameras. Not only is it possible to adapt this lens to various old mounts like OM, MD, M42, PK (in case you want use a focal reducer or your favorite XX to E-mount/MFT adapter) but now you can even buy mounts that will give this lens a native MFT, Sony-E, Canon EF, Samsung NX mount. This is the only lens (mount system) that can be used on both Canon FD and Canon EF cameras. One day I can use it with my FD Lens Turbo II focal reducer on my Sony camera and next day I can swap the mount and use it with a Canon EF camera. There is no other mount that allows such flexibility and this is one of the big reasons why I like these lenses so much.
All of that is great, but what about the optical performance and character? This is where some people love it and others hate it. Tamron 28mm F2.5 in not the sharpest lens wide open, although I think it’s definitely usable wide open as my test video hopefully shows. It is known to be soft around the edges, especially on full frame camera. Personally I haven’t really noticed softness that much in my real life use and in some cases I don’t even mind, but I understand that it might be a concern to some people so I’ve done a few (unscientific) chart tests shots against the Canon FD 28mm F2 which is a much more expensive lens just to see how bad the Tamron really is, at least on APC-S/Super35. As you can see below the very edge sharpness is not that different wide open and one could argue that Canon is even softer. At F4 Canon cleans up very nicely while Tamron still struggles to achieve the perfect sharpness. Keep in mind that this is the top right edge of the frame where you are unlikely to have anything important in the frame. 28mm is not the widest lens you’d want to use on a Super35 camera, so although the edge sharpness is disappointing I’ve never felt that it affected my images in either the test video or the music video I used it for.
This lens flares easily and produces all sorts of flares, including pretty interesting “rainbow” flares (see 0:44-0:46 above). I love them, other people hate them. The interesting thing is that although the flares have quite a cold feel to them, this lens generally produces vibrant, warm colours. I think it’s a nice mix.
I also quite like the slightly messy and swirly bokeh which definitely has a vintage feel to it. This is again something that others might dislike as it’s all pretty subjective.
My favorite vintage lens is Helios 44-2 58mm lens. It far from perfect but have more character than any other lens I own. The biggest reason why I like and use the Tamron 28mm F2.5 so much is because I feel that it matches the Helios quite well as a wider lens. I’ve shot the music video below mostly with these 2 lenses. Both are incredibly cheap but were good enough for me even though I could have used my Canon EF L lenses (now sold) instead.
Conclusion: Yes, it’s not a perfect lens, far from it, but many of us choice vintage because we like those quirks and imperfections. Considering how cheap this lens is I see no reason why one should have one of these as part of a creative vintage set.
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