Pentacon 500mm f5.6 Vintage Lens and the Fuji GFX 50s
Over the last year I have shifted to using more and more vintage lenses with my Fuji GFX 50s. Having access to vintage medium format lenses that provide sharp and distinctly different looks compared to modern digital lenses has been a joy. Lenses from Carl Zeiss Jena for the Pentacon 6 lens mount in particular have been great to shoot with. Using vintage lenses on modern digital cameras breathes new life into these amazing tools. Therefore, I felt required to try some of the Pentacon made lenses. The Pentacon 500mm f5.6 lens is the first of these lenses that I am writing a review for. Let’s see how this lens performed in some real world applications.
The viewpoint of this review is based on real world experience. I mounted the 500mm f5.6 on the Fuji GFX 50s and set out looking for everyday photography situations where this lens should be used. I’m not going to go into MTF charts, perfect scenarios in the studio, etc. I want to provide a review of how my copy of the lens handled while using it.
Pentacon 500mm f5.6 And The Pentacon 6 Mount
The Pentacon 6 mount lenses were made for the Pentacon 6 SLR medium format camera. The camera shot square frames and was a waist level view finder camera (I can’t imagine using this lens with that type of manual camera given it’s weight and size). These lenses and cameras have such an amazing history, being built in East Germany in the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s. If you would like to learn more specifically about the mount, visit the Pentacon Wiki Page as a great starting point.
Lets get into the lens review.
The Lens –
No 500mm lens has ever been labeled as “tiny” or anything even close to that. The Pentacon 500mm f5.6 is no exception. This lens is huge! It is large, metal construction, and super heavy. I’ve seen conflicting specs online for this lens, but when I weighed mine it is 9.8 pounds. Therefore, this is not a lens you just carry around and shoot with handheld. Check out the image below that from left to right shows the Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 300mm f4, Pentacon 500mm f5.6, and the Canon 500mm f4. These other lenses are large and the 500mm is even larger.
The Lens Physically –
The glass is clear, and free of scratches and fungus. All the moving parts work as they should. Actually, the lens is in amazing shape given it’s age. My version is multicoated signified by the “MC”. Consequently, that means this was the most recent version of the lens. This lens came in earlier versions without the multicoating, but I’ve heard the image quality was the same with all of them. I’m not sure how this one compares to the earlier versions because I have never shot with one of them.
As is the case with all vintage lenses, the Pentacon 500mm is all manual. As a result, this eliminates these lenses for many before they even try them. For those of us that get past it, manually focusing and controlling the aperture can actually be a joy. I use manual focus a lot for my photography, so it does not bother me in the least. The focusing throw is long and smooth, and even better than a lot of modern lenses.
- 118mm filter ring
- 409mm in length (That’s over 16 inches)
- Minimum focusing distance of 6.1 meters (20 feet)
- Weight is 4445 kg (9.8 lbs)
- Came with a leather case
This lens is solid and tank like. It feels very high quality when holding it.
Mounted To The Modern Fuji GFX 50s –
An adapter is needed to mount the vintage lenses to the modern, mirrorless, digital cameras, like the Fuji GFX 50s. The Pentacon Six to GF adapter made by Kipon does the job. I wish the Kipon adapter locked in some way when the lens was mounted to it, but that is for a different review. I tried taking a couple images handheld with very mixed results. However, I really prefer it mounted on a tripod. Be aware, this lens/camera draws lots of attention based on the size. It is not the lens and camera combination if you are trying to be inconspicuous.
How the Pentacon Lens Performed –
The Pentacon 500mm f5.6 lens is really designed to be good at one type of photography. That being, stay far away from your subject and still be able to fill up your frame with the subject. This comes in handy for wildlife, or taking images of things far away that you can’t get close to. Therefore, I set out with this lens and the Fuji to find some wildlife in the city.
Let’s start with the fact that this lens was made for a medium format camera, and for that reason there is no vignetting in the corners when you shoot using the Fuji GFX 50s. This is awesome, because I have shot the Canon 500mm f4 made for full frame, and it definitely has black corners that have to be cropped. That is not necessary with the Pentacon.
At f5.6 the Pentacon is sharp enough, but doesn’t really wow me. Note below, the No Parking sign when not cropped produces an okay image, and could probably be sharpened when processing the image. It is interesting though when you zoom in to the screw and really see just how soft the focus is. Again could be sharpened in processing, but not sure it will print well at large sizes. This image was taken on a steady tripod with a shutter release cable to reduce the camera movement as much as possible. The lens got better at f8 and really was at it’s best at f11.
The Pentacon 500mm f5.6 For Wildlife –
How does this lens handle out in the field taking pictures of moving subjects that don’t stop moving even if you ask very politely? To answer this question I went to Lincoln Park in Los Angeles, and took images of the birds there.
The above image shows just how well this lens can do at f8, on a tripod, and lots of light. The shutter speed was 1/850. As a result, the eye and beak have great detail and focus. This image also details how shallow the depth of field is even at f8 with this lens. It is very easy to separate your subject from the background.
The colors produced by the Pentacon 500mm and Fuji GFX are really amazing. In short, it is everything I would expect from the Fuji GFX camera. The image below completely shows off the color this lens and camera can produce. The pelican was swimming in the water and the reflection was just in the perfect place. The image is cropped slightly and post processed with a little contrast, sharpening, and color correction. It really shows how this lens is fully capable to produce good images.
Some Things That Weren’t Great –
Sharpness Of The 500mm-
This situation really just kept coming up again and again. The Pentacon lens produces good images, but just isn’t as sharp as the Carl Zeiss Jena lenses made for the Pentacon 6 mount. With sharpening in post I was able to really clean up the images, but that had it’s problems as well, like adding lots of noise quickly. I shot this same building with the CZ lenses and looking at the crop it is easy to see the difference. Note the result below for the Pentacon lens. When cropped it is really easy to see that this lens is okay, but it isn’t great. This image is after sharpening in post.
Noise With the 500mm –
Given that the raw files shot with the Pentacon 500mm always needed lots of sharpening, I learned quickly that there is an immediate trade off. The images before sharpening displayed very little to no noise, but as soon as I added sharpening the noise showed up faster than I was used to with other lens. To get a faster exposure time I was increasing my ISO to 800. The Fuji can shoot at this ISO without any problem, but with the 500mm lens needing so much sharpening in post I got a lot of noise. Check out the images below. The first image is the uncropped image. The next image is cropped showing no to little noise. Lastly, is with a little sharpening applied and the noise is there immediately. It is most noticeable in the goose’s eye and the background.
Last Little Nitpick –
Maybe I got really spoiled shooting with the Carl Zeiss Jena lenses, but the Pentacon 500mm just did not have the fine detail I am used to seeing in images shot with the Fuji GFX 50s. In the image below you can see that the heron’s eye and beak are really sharp. Where the problem comes in is the feathers. This lens just doesn’t have the same detail or micro contrast I’m used to seeing the the CZ Jena lenses, or the modern GF Fuji lenses. Am I being too hard this lens here, maybe, but I print large a lot for clients and this would definitely show up with a large print. It is just something to point out to be aware of.
- Image quality is good.
- Color rendition is as expected.
- This lens has a lot of reach for wildlife.
- The price is right. MC versions in great condition can be had for ~$250.00.
- The lack of fine detail and somewhat soft images are disappointing.
- This lens is heavy and large. All metal construction and all that glass add up to almost 10lbs to carry around.
- All manual. Focusing, aperture all done manually.
- Not good at f5.6. This means slower shutter speeds or higher ISO to use f8 or f11 for usable images.
Final Thoughts –
I really wanted to like this lens when I decided to review it. It was super exciting to take out something so massive, so much glass, and so much reach. In the end, I still really want to like this lens, but I just keep coming back to the fact that it falls a little short. When I compare it to images taken with the Carl Zeiss Jena DDR 180mm or the Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Sonnar 300mm f4 I see just how special those lenses are compared to other lenses I’ve used. With the CZ 300mm I can crop to the field of view of the Pentacon 500mm and have more detail than what I get with the Pentacon.
The images the Pentacon 500mm f5.6 creates at f8 or f11 are totally usable. It has a great reach for wildlife photography. The colors are what I would expect when I use any modern or vintage lens with the GFX 50s. Unfortunately, in the end this is not a lens I will probably ever use again. There are so many options out there and I would really like to find one of those options that really gives me a wow factor instead of a it’s good.
If you are in the market for a long lens for medium format and you are on a budget this is a good lens to look at given the price vs the image quality. If you are looking for vintage glass that knocks your socks off, I would probably look elsewhere.
What are your thoughts? Don’t forget to comment and tell me what you’re thinking.
Don’t forget to look at the images on my site in the galleries starting at: https://mjvphoto.com/the-art/. Hopefully you find some of them inspirational for your own photography adventures, or maybe you find an image you want to call your own.