As a self professed classic film compact camera junkie, the ability to use some of the lenses that were originally affixed (not interchangeable) to those cameras, is intriguing. In the past I’ve written about converting the Summarit 40mm f/2.4 from the Leica Minilux and even using the converted lens with the Techart autofocus adapter. Today we have another personal favorite – the 35mm f2 lens from the legendary Konica Hexar AF.
The Hexar AF camera had a reputation for being an autofocus equivalent to a Leica M body with the Leica Summicron 35/2 lens mounted – with some claiming the Hexar lens is a legitimate Summicron killer. The camera even had a silent shooting mode that few if any competitors with a motorized film advance could claim. I’ve owned the camera a couple times over the past ten years and always felt the lens was the star of a fine package, but one with limitations, such as a max 1/250th sec shutter speed. That slow max shutter speed always ended up limiting shallow DOF shooting and souring my relationship with the Hexar AF.
When I learned that Mr. S Miyazaki of MS Optical in Funabashi City Japan could perform a conversion of the lens to Leica M-mount, I figured maybe it was time to see how it performs on a digital body. The first step was to source a dead Hexar AF on eBay and I found one for around $100 shipped. With my donor camera in hand, I shot off a request to Dirk Rosler at Japan Exposures for assistance with the conversion. Dirk essentially acts as a broker between the buyer and Miyazaki San. I believe Bellamy Hunt at Japan Camera Hunter can do the same. Once I registered my information on Dirk’s site and mailed off the camera to him in Japan, there was nothing left to do except wait a few weeks for the conversion to be completed. When it was, Dirk sent me an invoice for around $600 USD and mailed the lens back promptly – I believe the whole process took less than a month.
Miyazaki San is well known for his lens conversions and I think the Hexar lens is one of his best, due to the tiny size (under 70 grams) of the final product. For Sony shooters that still don’t have an autofocus 35/2 for their a7 or a9 cameras, this Hexar is a viable option when paired with the Techart autofocus adapter.
It also works fine on M-mount film bodies, including the Hexar RF. Hexar on Hexar!
No doubt, it looks cool but the miniature size does have some drawbacks. Aperture is marked with dots (no numbers) and the use of two small pins to activate aperture and the focus helicoid can initially be confusing given their close placement to each other. A little practice makes up for the challenging controls and once you get a feel for the focus throw you remember the joy and benefit of hard stops. You also reacquaint yourself with the beauty of an occasional missed focus – something we are less accustomed to seeing with today’s impressive AF systems.
Where the lens really shines is in its rendering. The Hexar is unique in a way that you won’t likely see in a modern lens. It can be plenty sharp wide open but not as cutting as something like the Zeiss 35/2 on the RX1RII. Where it gets interesting is both in the quality and character of the bokeh and in the deep field performance when stopped down. This first batch of samples focuses on the shallow DOF performance and was shot using autofocus. I think you will agree that the bokeh is attractive in a very distinctive way. Click on one to see them all larger with an option for full size.
The lens very much reminds me of the RX1’s Zeiss but with a less perfect bokeh circle – it can look oblong – and just a hair less resolving power. Still, pretty gorgeous, right?
Once I was satisfied with the shallow DOF results it was time to stop down the Hexar and see how it rendered a deep DOF scene. The results were stunning and turned me on to a completely different way of shooting. With some experimentation I found the sweet spot for a quasi hyperlocal setting on the lens. This allowed the lens to be shot as a pure point and shoot in manual mode with zero focus delay – think a street shooter’s dream. Once I saw the sharp and detailed results, this became my preferred mode of shooting, even though I had access to AF with the Techart adapter.
The following set from a recent vacation to South Padre Island wraps up this little review and was shot in manual focus, often using the technique described above. Overall, I’ve found the Hexar AF lens to be deserving of its stellar reputation. With an all-in cost of $700 and some time and effort, you can have a unique lens that resolves just fine with today’s sensors, while delivering a slightly esoteric look when shot wide open, classic rendering stopped down, and the flexibility to be used on both film and digital bodies.