Having taken a look at the color side of things here, we now turn to monochrome; without a doubt, this lens will see far more use with black-and-white film (as will most of mine these days), so there’s good reason to look at it closely. Removing color from the equation also helps to more easily identify some of the rendering characteristics of the lens. So let’s see what it can do.
I’ve shot in several different conditions with the Serenar 50/1.9, so hopefully I can present a sufficient variety of examples to give a good sense of the range of images one might expect – and it is quite a range. Having a less-than-perfect optical design, the qualities of the images produced are very much dependent upon the settings chosen, especially the aperture. More modern lenses will often produce fairly similar levels of sharpness and contrast across the frame from wide open to fully stopped down (I know that there are measurable changes in this, but I’m talking about photographs of real-world subjects, not test charts); that is not the case with the 50/1.9, as we will see.
The photo above was taken wide open (with a red 25 filter in place). You can clearly see that, while there is reasonable center sharpness, there is also considerable and rapid fall-off in sharpness toward the corners. There is some field curvature as well. As with the color photos shown earlier, overall contrast is low. The surrealistic look here is obviously not suited to general purpose photography, but can be used to good effect in some situations.
Another shot taken at full aperture. The multiple bright light sources show clearly how the Serenar glows a lot wide open. This roll was pushed two stops in development, so contrast is somewhat higher and the tonal range is compressed. To my eye, this lens is particularly well-suited to street shooting at night – the grainy, atmospheric photos it produces on pushed Tri-X or HP5+ have a timeless feel to them, which I like very much. In spite of the shallow depth of field available wide open, I did not find it terribly difficult to shoot quickly (of course, you will compromise ultimate sharpness at times, but then if you’re using this lens, that’s not your objective in the first place).
One more wide open photo (again with red filter) shows the unique character of the out-of-focus areas (I’m really trying to stop using the word bokeh entirely). The transition is fairly smooth, but somehow unsettled. It’s really swirly in the center, with bright points forming oddly shaped artifacts. It reminds me a lot of Petzval lenses, and should be quite suited to portraits.
Stopping down a bit, things sharpen up fairly quickly and the photos start to look a lot more “normal”. From f/5.6 or thereabouts, there isn’t a lot to distinguish photos from the Serenar from those made with many other 50mm lenses, at least at first glance. Contrast comes up nicely, though certainly not to the levels of ultra-sharp modern lenses; it still looks a bit vintage, but nowhere near the way it does opened up. Since the aperture scale lens only goes down to f/11 (though there is a little additional movement past that mark, giving perhaps f/12.5 at the full stop), there is no concern about diffraction. Center sharpness remains quite high all the way across the aperture range.
This last picture shows how relatively flare-resistant the Serenar is. There is a bit of flare, but in fairness I did provoke it by shooting essentially straight into the sun. As always, a dirty or scratched lens might be more prone to flare of one sort or another, but clean and in good shape, you can shoot into the light (I’m not a big fan of the term contre-jour either, but it’s better than bokeh) without too much concern. I normally keep a hood mounted, though I take it off when using filters; in this case (and most others), it’s more for protection of the lens than flare control.
So that’s a look at the Serenar 50/1.9 in black-and-white. Hopefully, between this post and the previous one, there’s now a slightly larger body of objective information out there for those interested in this lens. Subjectively, I’m really happy with the images it has produced thus far. I love the look wide open at night, especially combined with pushed film. It’s an unfairly maligned lens, I think; it certainly has it’s limitations, and significant ones at that, but once you’re aware of them, it’s easy to work around them and even use them to your advantage.