Many vintage lenses from 1940s to the 1960s are actually radioactive. The yellow tinge on the front element is the telltale sign that a radioactive material was added to the optical glass. If you’ve never seen any of these lenses, you must be curious about the “look” that they create. Paris-based photographer, filmmaker and weird lens enthusiast Mathieu Stern shows us using a Super Takumar 35mm f/2!
First, he tells us that these radioactive lenses have Thorium Oxide added to the glass to improve their optical properties. As the radioactive particles decay, they cause the yellowing we see on the glass. Of course, it will affect the color of the photos. However, this discoloration can be easily treated, as he previously shared in a separate video.
Naturally, the idea of handling and shooting with a radioactive lens will raise safety concerns. So, Stern also shared some important information about the radiation levels you’ll get with significant use — six hours per day everyday for a month. The quick answer: It’s totally safe!
As for the featured lens itself, Stern also noted that it’s a small, fast and lightweight lens with an outstanding build quality. Focusing is smooth, and if you focus correctly, you can get sharp photos even at wide open aperture. It’s sharpest at f8, with beautiful colors and lots of contrast.
So, what happens when you shoot with this tint left on the lens? “I feel it gives a warm, nostalgic feel,” Stern said. But, see for yourself in his sample footage!
Have you shot with a radioactive lens like the Super Takumar 35mm f/2? Share your results and experience with us in the comments below, or drop them in our group discussion if you’re already part of the Photofocus Community!