Do old MF lenses give better image quality compared to new kit lenses?

I have Sony a6000 and I use it with the kit lens Sony E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS.

I shoot as a hobby and I am not a photographer. Generality I find the image quality of the kit lens is good, but I read some bad reviews about this kit lens. And the opinion of many people is prime lenses give better image quality (sharpness, colors ...). The kit lens does not make very good background blur so I want a lens with f/1.8

I can't spend money on new prime lens as Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS (SEL-50F18) which has very good reviews. Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN is still too much for me at the moment.

What I try to find now is if an old MF prime lens will give better quality pictures than the kit lens.

How the kit lens Sony E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS compares to the old prime Minolta MD Rokkor 1.7 50mm (or other similar lens within the same price range)?

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ If you shoot as a hobby, congratulations: you are a photographer. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Oct 28, 2016 at 14:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What does "image quality" mean to you? What are "better quality pictures"? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Oct 28, 2016 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm for image quality I mean better sharpness and less distortion. \$\endgroup\$
    – vladiz
    Oct 28, 2016 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ SELP1650 is a tough to compare case since that design relies HEAVILY on electronic corrections (uncorrected, the 16mm is FAR from rectilinear)..... \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2019 at 1:06

5 Answers 5


Does old mf lenses give better image quality compared to new kit lens?

You'd have to test it, or find tests others have made with those specific lenses. "Old MF lens" spans a huge range of image quality; there is not a single answer for all of them.

The test I like to use is to print an ISO 12233 still image test chart onto two pieces of letter-sized paper, which gives about an inch of overlap, so you can choose where to cut or fold one to mate up with the other. (Ideally, you'd use a wide-format printer to print it onto a single sheet, but I don't have access to one.) Print it at the highest resolution your printer supports onto high-quality matte paper. Tape it up to a vertical surface, and light it well.

Once, I did this test by taping the chart to a portable whiteboard and putting it on an easel out in the sun, because I needed to test a small telescope, and couldn't get it to focus closer than the longest free-space dimension inside my house.

Put the camera on a tripod and use either the camera's 2-second self-timer feature or a remote shutter release to avoid camera shake from the button press. Fill the camera frame with the chart.

Minolta MD Rokkor 1.7 50mm (or other similar lens within the same price range)?

Here's an ISO 12233 test of a similar lens, which probably gives image quality a bit better than the lower-spec lens you're looking at, at about 2× the cost, an SMC Pentax-M 50/1.4:

Pentax test image, small

(Click image for full-size version.)

The "M" designator means it was from before Pentax cameras even had auto-aperture features; it came out in 1977.

Note the significant barrel distortion and color fringing. At full-size, you will also see a fair bit of blurriness.

Now, here is a different 50/1.4, Canon's design made 16 years later:

Canon test image, small

There is more barrel distortion in this lens, but there is no color fringing, and it's sharp clear out to the edge of the frame. This is a much better image, overall, because a bit of barrel distortion won't ruin most pictures, and you can correct for it in post if it's an actual problem. You can't fix blur and CA nearly as easily in post, and doing so loses more image quality than fixing a simple distortion like this one.

Now, simple image quality aside, you also have to decide if you're willing to give up on autofocus and auto-aperture.

As for autofocus, I came up on a manual-focus camera, so I thought I'd have no problems doing this...until I ruined a series of family portraits by focusing just behind the group with the aperture opened wide enough that the subjects fell out of the zone of acceptable sharpness. In hindsight, I could have turned on my camera's 1:1 zoom feature to get a pixel-level view on the camera's rear screen, but I didn't know that at the time. And, knowing it now, I realize that this means I'm going to take even more time to take those shots I still take with my collection of manual-focus Pentax lenses.

Auto-aperture is less of a concern, since rotating an aperture ring is scarcely more difficult than whatever control your camera already uses. The main losses are that you don't get visual feedback of the selected aperture on the camera's screen, and it doesn't get stored in the image's EXIF data. On the plus side, it means you're operating in DoF preview mode full-time. :)


1) First of all. Forget the "bad reviews"... forget the reviews in general. If you like the way your lens works, enjoy taking photos. You need to test your lens and know the specific flaws you detect. Ok then you can read a review to understand what you already see.

2) In my humble opinion. Manual focus in a digital camera without a focusing screen is a pain. Any improvement you have in sharpness you can have, you will loose it focusing the wrong distances. Specially in wide apertures. Not even with live view.

3) Depending on how old are we talking about. I have some old interesting prime lenses. Old enough to have some chromathic aberrations on all of them, things that I did not noticed when using film back in the days.

4) You will use a manual lens probably in a studio with controlled situations, a tripod, a still life that is not moving. If not, use an auto focus lens. There is no hurry. But if the lens is really cheap, go and buy it and have fun with it.


Here is a test. Nikon 3300, Both at 5.6, ISO 800, 1/60, white balanced with the kit lens. (Excuse all the dust, but gives some references to see how sharp it is)

Kit lens on the left. A 1970's f1.4 prime to the right. (I probably did not focus the exact same spot on both cases)

Sharpenes test

I see a little more sharp the image on the right, (the old prime). But not that significant. A little green tint is present.

But when using the old lens at 1.4 a lot of distortion apears.

enter image description here

This obviously is a case by case topic.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Would disagree about the "not that significant" here - upper right looks great, upper left looks meh :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2019 at 8:24

Modern lenses have some advantages when it comes contrast, because coatings have gotten better, but there are some vintage lenses with great contrast like the Contax Yashica Carl Zeiss Planar T* series. There's a chance you will find you prefer the lower contrast of vintage lenses. Also, you would think that primes would be better than zoom lenses as a rule (because of the added complexity of a zoom lens), but you can find plenty of examples of modern mid range primes being significantly outperformed by zoom lenses twice or three times the price.

The kit lens you mention seems to be among the better entry level kit lenses available, but according to this review on photozone.de, it struggles with Chromatic Aberration and distortion. I can't provide any definitive comparison between the two lenses as they would never appear in the same review, but it would be reasonable to assume that if a vintage prime lens is considered as sharp, then it is sharper than an entry level kit lens. However, there's a wide range of image quality for vintage prime lenses. Some are fantastic by today's standards, some are horrible, some suffice as novelties. This could all be irrelevant if the lens you get your hands on is already damaged.

Modern lenses tend to be more consistent (I would say clinical) and have fewer optical imperfections, but that is also what drives a lot of interest in vintage lenses. You can find lenses that have very characteristic looks because of "optical imperfections", that would've never been made today. That's why I would recommend to look at the photographs other people have produced with the lenses you are considering (on Flickr), next to the reviews. That will give you a better sense of what you can do with the lens, and put the shortcomings in any review in perspective. Maybe it's favorable to you. In any case, the lens you are looking at has a large aperture, which will enable you to photographs you couldn't with your kit lens. It has an interesting look and is very cheap, so if you are intrigued by the photographs taken by it and you can find a decent copy, it will be a great lens to explore photography with.

If you are looking for other vintage bargains, it's worth looking at the M42 mount. There's a lot of interesting prime lenses with great value. A lot of the Takumar lenses have a cult status today because they are sharp, have pleasing bokeh and a good build. Keep in mind that some M42 lenses have a protruding rear end that can collide with a mirror on a DSLR or a sensor on a mirrorless. You should always research the compatibility of the specific lens you are looking for with your camera mount and with your specific camera model.


Generally and not always, non-kit lenses of similar basic spec are liable to be better quality than kit lenses (as they try to keep kit lens cost low) and Primes are generally superior optically to zooms in a somewhat dearer price range. But the very best zoom lenses will outperform entry level primes, and some kit lenses perform remarkably well.

I've seen the Sony E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS described as being remarkably good for a kit lens, by people who think their opinion is worth noting. I have one which I use with an NEX5N & 5T and while I do not wish to compare it with any degree of accuracy, I find it a superior performer to many kit lenses that I've encountered in the past.

Any given older prime such as the Rokkor MD f/1.7 540mm would need specific data (which I don't personally have) even though I do have one of those lenses "somewhere". I'd expect it to outperform the kit lens, and the f/1.7 will give you the desired small depth of field. BUT do not abnandon the kit lens. The 16mm is very suitable for some things that the 50mm is totally unsuited to.

The www.dyxum.com site is a good source of information.

Lenses here

Agh. Fail !!! A-mount lenses only.

BUT - you can but a 'manual' e-mount to a-mount or emount to MC/MD adaptor for umnder $US20 (possibly under $10). You can acquire old primes for close to $0 - especially the MC/MD lenses which have limited attraction to most people. Buy an adaptor or two and play.

I just looked on ebay Agh! I'd look in"opportunity shops"and garage sales. People have realised the lenses are "useful" for emount (of course). Probably $50-$100 range on ebay. Free should be achievable.


I've shot weddings and sporting events using a Pentax 50mm on my Sony (all manual settings and focus). I love it and price point is about the same as the Minolta you're considering. I got lucky and got the Pentax SMC 50mm 1.4 for $40 with box even, usually its around $70 while the 50mm 1.7 is around $40.

It largely depends on what you mean by quality though.

Bokeh: This is a hallmark of a lens and will generally be better in a vintage prime than a modern kit. A modern kit is still a kit with a variable aperture that doesn't open as wide. For a 50mm getting down in aperture (bigger opening) is really terrific! Even if you then shoot at a 2.4 its still less than most kit lenses will give you and sharper.

Flare: I've shot with all sorts of old and new lenses on a Sony and the flare is the biggest thing against old lenses. Some of them can be bad. A quick look at the Minolta which is not one I've used has some people saying earlier ones had better coatings. So that's something to consider. Pentax SMC has a great coating and is better than my Nikkor 85 1.8.

Now this is the biggest thing to consider... how do you like shooting, what do you like about photography, what excites you and feels good?

The Sony Kit lens is great. But I hate how it feels in my hands. I've also used the Sony G 90mm Macro which is considered one of the sharpest lenses around currently... meh. It just doesn't excite me and feel good in my hands. I love having a metal aperture ring, some glass, and not much else. So really take that into account. If you haven't tried it than I'd say go for the Minolta or the Pentax I suggested to see what you think. Keep in mind the adapters are about $45 depending on the exact one you get, and once you have the adapter you might like to buy other lenses within the same mount.


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