Review: Yashica ML 55/2.8 Macro

Update (December 23, 2016): re-did macro tests, changed crop locations of landscape test, reverted sharpening to default for all test shots.

Update (August 18, 2017): re-did landscape tests, edited resulting evaluation/conclusion.

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So I was originally looking for a short macro that would hopefully double as a macro and landscape lens, mainly for travelling and my other favourite subject – food. The Sony FE wasn’t out at the time, so the Leica R 60/2.8 Macro was my initial infatuation but I couldn’t find a copy that satisfied my price/condition criteria – most that were in half-decent condition were too expensive for my liking and the cheaper ones were pretty banged up. I own a bunch of other Contax/Yashica lenses so naturally I looked at the Makro-Planar 60’s but decided they were also on the expensive side. Eventually I found my way to this lens which I couldn’t find many recent reports about on the net so I thought I’d give it a spin.

Specifications

Mount Contax/Yashica
Focal length 55mm
Aperture 2.8 – 22, no half clicks, 6 straight blades
MFD/magnification 0.25m / 1:2 (official specs, but mine focuses past the 0.25m mark)
Design 6 elements / 4 groups
Dimensions (w/o caps) / Filter thread 66 x 61 mm / 52mm non-rotating
Weight (w/ caps) 315g
Price $162 USD from KEH (2016), but I’m sure you could get one for much cheaper

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Image Quality

Landscapes
(100% crops of Sony A7II raws, default sharpening in LR)

Macro (1:2)
(Default sharpening in LR)

Macro (1:1, 29mm extension tube)
(Default sharpening in LR)

Macro (1.66:1, 64mm extension tube, just for fun!)
(Default sharpening in LR)

Reference frames


Evaluation

  • Landscapes: F2.8 shows significant haze/spherical aberration and vignetting, sharpness in the centre is acceptable whilst the periphery isn’t terrible but affected by the vignetting and a decrease in contrast. F4 reduces the haze/SA/vignette significantly, but for good edge-to-edge sharpness it needs to be stopped down to F5.6-11.
  • Macro: F2.8 shows a similar characteristic to the landscape test. F8 gives peak central sharpness but F11 has slightly better corners at the cost of a marginally weaker centre. The 1.66:1 test is pretty extreme but stopped-down the result is quite okay.
  • Throughout using the lens I never really noticed any field curvature, most macro lenses are well-corrected in this regard anyway
  • I’ve never really seen CA with this lens and I haven’t tested it for coma, but with the amount of SA wide-open I wouldn’t expect it to be great unless stopped down
  • The front element is very recessed, however if you DO manage to get a bright light or the sun in the frame you can expect to see a drop in contrast, but it doesn’t seem to ghost easily, if at all, it actually flares quite “artistically” (see sample)
  • Bokeh is fairly neutral, it obviously becomes hexagonal after stopping down but I wouldn’t say it was particularly good or bad

In Use

On FF (A7/A7ii, 24mp)

  • Landscaping: like most of my old lenses, the ∞ mark is quite accurate and reliable meaning I can pick between F5.6-11 depending on the required DoF and shoot away. Most old 50s are generally good at these settings anyway but I would say this lens produces nice landscapes in the aforementioned range.
  • Macro: F2.8 can be used in a pinch in e.g. dark conditions, but it’s pretty impractical for most macro situations, especially since things like food aren’t generally flat (except for pancakes mmm…) and therefore going to need more DoF. I find F4 and up more practical in that regard, and thanks to the A7II’s IBIS those pesky dark restaurants are much less of a problem (thankfully food doesn’t move, or shouldn’t…). For the macro situations I would normally use this lens (food), it produces nice results, although I rarely print or display such shots bigger than A2. For edge-to-edge perfection wide-open I’d be looking elsewhere.
  • On the manual focusing experience, I would note that the focus ring takes a 270° turn to go from MFD to ∞, however from 1m to ∞ it’s only a ~20° turn making it a little challenging for in-between distance shooting. In some situations this is actually good though, since having a huge focus throw can make you miss a shot. Another thing about focusing this lens (especially wide-open) is that the micro-contrast isn’t quite up to my other C/Y lenses so it isn’t as obvious when you’re in focus (i.e. it doesn’t “snap” into focus like some Zeiss lenses do).

Conclusion

Pros -Good stopped-down performance at all ranges
-Usable central performance wide-open
-Relatively cheap for a short F2.8 macro
-Solid build
Neutral -More expensive than other brands’ F3.5 macros but slightly brighter
-Recessed front element negates need for a hood, but can flare if not careful
-Focus throw can be problematic in some situations
-Only goes to 1:2, but means it’s smaller/lighter than other old 1:1 macros
Cons -Peripheral sharpness/contrast wide-open at all ranges could be better, doesn’t significantly improve until F5.6
-Vignette/haze/spherical aberration wide-open

Overall, despite having a few issues in test situations, in real world use it pretty much satisfied my purpose for such a lens. In fact it can pretty much be used like a slower standard lens with a close-focusing ability. I was pretty stingy in spending on this lens as it’s a focal length I only use in select situations, so it was a bit hard to justify spending how much its Zeiss/Leica counterparts were asking for. For what I paid (and I paid more than I probably should have), I think this lens gives a solid performance.

Alternatives

  • Sony FE 50/2.8 Macro – I’ve played with one in a store and my impression is that it has better sharpness and contrast wide-open, and stays a bit ahead stopped-down. The AF is a bit slow/hesitant as reviews report, but I guess it would still be helpful for general purpose use, although AF isn’t really necessary for macro. Another pro is that the Sony goes to 1:1, but on the other hand costs 3-4x as much.
  • Any other old 50’ish macro – I haven’t used many others around this focal length but the Yashica is faster than most (2.8 vs. 3.5 usually) with a few exceptions (e.g. Leica R 60/2.8 or Contax/Yashica 60/2.8s – which go for anywhere between 2-4x the price). I tested the Leica R briefly and the IQ is better wide-open and stopped-down performance was a little better. The bokeh and microcontrast were also more pleasing. In general terms, my old Minolta MC Rokkor 100/3.5 Macro was inferior at far distances, so I would say the Yashica is actually well-corrected at ∞ for a macro lens of its time.
  • Any other 50’ish prime with a close-up filter or tubes – cheaper, saves carrying another lens but on the other hand can be quite inconvenient. IQ is generally inferior (but not unusable) at similar apertures compared to a dedicated macro like the Yashica.

Samples

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