Nitpicking Lenses—Comparing the Industar-50 & Canon 50mm f/1.4

Can inexpensive Russian glass hold up to the pinnacle of Japanese rangefinder optics? I take these two lenses for a head-to-head test—and come to some surprising conclusions.


Nitpicking Lenses—Comparing the Industar-50 & Canon 50mm f/1.4

One of the things they don’t tell you when you build an app is that you have to relentlessly promote it. I’m terrible at this. In a bid to overcome my procrastination and capture some footage for Crown + Flint, I set out yesterday on a walk through my neighborhood in Lisbon with a fresh roll of One Hundred color film, my trusty Canon P, and two lenses I wanted to compare: The venerable Canon 50mm f/1.4 (the “Japanese Summilux”) and a KMZ-made Industar-50 50mm f/3.5 (previously reviewed).

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 is a hefty lens, with great handling. The Industar-50 came with a wonky Zorki-4, and feels dodgy as hell—it was filthy (but cleaned up OK), is made from aluminum (so it is very light—which isn’t a bad thing), and the fit-and-finish is 100% crap (everything wobbles). On my walk around Lisbon, I took every photo twice, once with each lens. I assumed that the difference would be night and day. You can tell from the way I'm writing that I was wrong.


First up, a disclaimer: I scan my own film, and I am still learning how to process color film in Capture One. It's a tedious, manual process that returns results I’m not entirely thrilled with. I'm not very pleased with the way the colors in the following images turned out. But the processing is if nothing else consistent, so we can draw comparisons even if we aren't eager to print and frame the images as is.

First shots

Let’s just begin here. These shots were essentially wide open for the Industar—I didn’t shoot anything faster than f/4 in this series. So, we should see some differences between them. But can you tell the difference? The left one is lighter (might be an artifact of my processing). The right one is a bit more magenta (a fairly consistent difference between the two lenses, so I don’t think this is an artifact of my processing.) Can you guess which image is which lens?

Let’s zoom into the corner, that should give the game up, right?

The one on the left is less sharp. But—spoiler alert—I think this is missed focus because this finding isn't at all consistent across the shots I took.

Answer: Left is the Canon, right is the Industar. Surprised? I was. There is very little meaningful difference between these images.

In Search of Nits

Here is a shot that is fairly representative of the entire set. Shot at f/11, we should be near the sweet spot for what these lenses are capable of, or maybe just a bit past it. And the differences in these two images are a little more representative of the differences in the lenses, I think, these differences being more consistent across shots.

Zooming into 100% on the middle of the frame, it becomes apparent that the image on the left doesn’t have as much contrast as the image on the right. It feels flatter, and not in a good way. It's also a little more magenta, so from that you can probably guess which lens produced which image.

Left is Industar, right is Canon.

But a little boost to the clarity and saturation sliders, and a slight white balance correction makes most (though not all—look at the trees) of that difference go right away.

I have no idea where the flare in the lower left of the Industar image came from, though. The sharp edge on the bottom is suspicious…

More Nits

Here are some more images at 100% zoom. See if you can pick the Canon from the Industar.


  • “Highrise”: Left, Canon; Right, Industar
  • “Station”: Left, Canon; Right, Industar
  • “Stairs”: Left, Canon; Right, Industar
  • “Station platform”: Industar; Right, Canon
  • “Tiles”: Left, Canon; Right, Industar


What’s the lesson to learn from this exercise? Sometimes differences are overblown, even if I made them up in my own mind. I would be happy using either of these lenses. Indeed, I’m seriously going to be taking the Industar out more often now, as if something happened to it, it would be a lot cheaper to replace, and I'm never shooting at f/1.4 during the day (not in Lisbon, land of eternal sunshine, anyway).

  • The Canon has better contrast, sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t. But when I know I need to get a sharp shot, I think I'll lean towards the Canon.
  • The Industar is perfectly sharp from f/5.6, or anyway as sharp as the Canon.
  • The Industar—to my surprise—was much easier to focus in the street.
  • The Industar has a mild magenta color cast that can be reasonably easily compensated for, and honestly if I didn't have side-by-side images to compare I wouldn't have known.
  • I’m super digging the pastel colors of the One Hundred color film, it suits Lisbon’s pastel color palette very nicely.
  • One Hundred is extremely prone to light piping, the first several images were pretty badly affected (see “Clothes” above), and the first two images were trash. But I also got 40 frames from the roll, so…
  • I’ve clearly got some internal biases against Russian glass because it looks and feels cheap. Hell, it is cheap. But that doesn't mean it can't hold its own.

Wait, did you say an app?


Funny you should ask—I did say something about an app. If you're wondering how I was able to keep track of which lens I used for each frame, and the camera settings, then wonder no more! Crown + Flint is a mobile app for iOS and Android that offers a super accurate light meter that also tracks every bit of metadata across each shot. It's faster to use than most hand-held light meters because it knows what your equipment is (and isn't) capable of, so it will never suggest camera settings that you can't actually use. And it tracks your film collection from purchase to archive. It's my constant companion in the field—I built it for me, let's be honest here—but if you're shooting film you should give it a try.

Crown + Flint
The digital companion for your analog lifestyle. Improve your analog technique, capture shot metadata, manage your film collection.