The Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2, Special Edition (Review).

[Disclaimer:  Similar to my Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 and Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f/1.2 posts, this is a user report and is not intended to be a comprehensive lens review.]

[Note: This write-up contains original content as well as content I've previously posted here, here, here, and here.]

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Introduction.

The Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 Limited Edition is a very special lens, coveted for its optical (and non-optical) attributes.  I’ve had the pleasure of owning one for six months now, following a year-long search to secure it, and have photographed with it extensively on both digital and film Leica-M cameras.

Despite using the KH 60/1.2 on an almost daily basis, I never imagined that I’d be putting the effort into a write-up for it, for a number of reasons.   Firstly, Yanidel posted an excellent review of it in late 2010 (as an aside, it is his work with it that first put this lens on my photographic radar, as I suspect is the case for many current KH 60/1.2 admirers).  Secondly, the lens is very difficult to characterize.  It is in possession of so many attributes and nuances that it is impossible to discuss them without seemingly entering into a discussion of not just one lens, but of multiple.  It has multiple personalities, so to speak, and they, moreover, are difficult to grasp.  In short, I didn’t think I could post a write-up that would do this lens justice.

However, the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 continually generates great interest from readers of this blog, and I’ve had many inquiries about it.  I realized after six months of using it and answering questions about it that I, indeed, did have some ideas I wanted to convey, and that I did have a personal perspective I wanted to share.

With all that in mind, I present to you my thoughts on the ever enigmatic, much celebrated, and sometimes maligned, Konica Hexanon 60/1.2.

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Background.

Every story has a beginning.

For the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 Limited Edition, the story begins in 1999 when Konica decided to manufacture a limited production Leica Thread Mount (LTM) lens.  They made only 800 of them, and sold them for approximately US$1600 (source: cameraquest).

In 2003, Konica merged with Minolta.  Three years later, Konica Minolta sold its digital SLR camera division to Sony and exited the photography business (source: Wikipedia).

Many KH 60/1.2 lenses are now sitting in boxes, on collectors’ shelves.  Some of them are being used by photographers like me.  Occasionally – actually, rarely – one of them is put up for sale.

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In a class of its own.

There was a time, not too long ago, when most Leica enthusiasts were unaware of the existence of the KH 60/1.2, or did not take much notice.  Today, however, the “Hex 60″ has gained a sort of cult following.  It is, in fact, one of the few non-Leica manufactured lenses I can think of that commands a price premium over other, comparable, lenses (as of the writing of this post, the lens – if you can find one for sale – is often priced used at over US$5000).

Comparable lenses?  There’s the rub:  there are no comparable lenses.

The Hex 60 is the only lens ever made with a (rather unconventional) focal length of 60mm AND a maximum aperture of f/1.2.  Add to that a theoretical minimum close-focus distance of 0.8 m (compare this to the Leica Noctilux at 1.0 m), and this lens truly earns its status as a niche optic, capable of achieving pronounced bokeh and subject isolation.

Furthermore, the Hex 60 is the lightest and smallest exotic (which I will arbitrarily define as f/1.2 or wider) lens in the normal focal length range.  For your interest, I’ve shown below how it stacks up against two other well-known exotic lenses:

Konica Hexanon 60/1.2:

  • Weight = 410 g
  • Length = 54 mm

Voigtländer 35/1.2 (Version I):

  • Weight = 490 g
  • Length = 78 mm

Leica 50/0.95:

  • Weight = 700 g
  • Length = 75 mm

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Before continuing…

I’m always careful to represent my lens write-ups as brief user impressions (as opposed to comprehensive reviews) because I want to limit the discussion to the issues with which I’ve had direct experience, or which interest me.  To do a proper review would require engaging in all sorts of tedious tests in which I have no interest.

To that end, I use fast lenses at their widest aperture.  That’s their raison d’etre and that’s why I seek them out – it rarely matters to me what a lens does at f/2 or f/4.  Similarly, I’m only concerned about the bokeh (out-of-focus rendering) at the widest aperture.

Also, I normally photograph people, so performance at close-to-mid distances and central sharpness are important considerations.  I’m rarely concerned with lens performance at infinity or in the corners.

The rest of this write-up, then, will concentrate on how the Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2 behaves within these very strict parameters.  In this way, I hope to convey in detail why I find myself often reaching for this lens.

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Bokeh @ f/1.2.

Bokeh refers to the out-of-focus elements in an image.  The rendering can be smooth or harsh, or anything in between and photographers usually obsess over it because it can enhance – or detract from – an image.

Lenses render bokeh differently, and we often speak of a lens’ character in this respect (lenses can also exhibit other characteristics, of course).

The Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 often yields bokeh that could best be described as being on the wild side, or harsh.  I often prefer such wild bokeh to the more refined, or smooth, look you get with certain more “perfect” lenses, like the Leica 50mm Summilux (f/1.4) Asph.  Others, I know, would disagree, especially when the bokeh competes for attention with the foreground elements, and I would have to concede that point.  Still, a completely marshmallow-y background holds very little appeal for me.

The interesting thing is, the character of the bokeh rendered @ f/1.2 by the Hex 60 can vary greatly, depending on the subject matter being photographed.   It can indeed be harsh, but can often be remarkably lush, containing both smooth and bold elements.  Finally, under very specific circumstances, it can be wonderfully painterly, like pleasing strokes of thick paint pigments brushed on an artist’s canvass.

What follows are several examples illustrating the three different bokeh “flavours” that come with Konica Hexanon 60 @ f/1.2, depending on the subject matter.

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1. The Hex 60 and “Harsh” bokeh @ f/1.2.

The bokeh of the Hex 60/1.2 is often harsh when foliage is present in the background.  Typically, we find that the blur circles are rendered with rather “hard” edges (the Leica 50mm Summilux Aspherical would fair better and render in a more smooth manner):

(please click on the images to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M3 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

(Foliage, by the way, is a bit of a “torture test” for lens bokeh, as it can bring out some rather jarring results, even in lenses that are generally thought to render in a smooth fashion).

In its worst form, the bokeh from the Hex 60 can occasionally be downright unpleasant.  If this was all this lens was capable of, it would not be of much interest to anybody.  Fortunately, the lens redeems itself in other situations.

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2. The Hex 60 and “Lush” bokeh @ f/1.2.

This the way the Hex 60 renders bokeh most of the time.

In the images that follow, even though the same f/1.2 aperture was used, the backgrounds have been rendered more gently than those above, but are still bold. There is a wonderful tension between smooth and bold here that I have arbitrarily termed lush.

(please click on any of the images to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

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3. The Hex 60 and “Painterly” bokeh @ f/1.2.

Finally, the KH 60/1.2 can occasionally render bokeh in a breathtakingly painterly manner, i.e., as if painted by an artist’s brush.  This is what I strive to coax out of this lens, because when it is achieved it is unparalleled in its beauty.

Here we see it in the painterly rendering of the ocean in the background:

(please click on the images to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

Here we see it in almost the entire image:

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

Here we see a remarkable example of it in the water, boats, and sky.

(please click on the image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

And finally, here we see it in the top left figure caught in mid-stride, as well as in the water and clouds (incidentally, this image is rather special because it simultaneously displays an example of lush bokeh within the mid-ground):

(please click on the image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

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Bokeh, redux:  The Hex 601/.2 vs. the Noctilux 50/1.0, wide open.

This is a bit of a diversion, for those interested in comparisons.

It’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison, I’ll admit, because these two lenses render very differently, and each has its own charm.  Still, many people interested in one of these lenses will often be curious about the other, as evidenced by the many email messages I’ve received asking me to make comparisons.

With that in mind, here is a (very) brief bokeh comparison.

In the scene below, the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 and Leica Noctilux 50/1.0 (E60) were shot wide open on the M9.  No post-processing whatsoever was used, other than the file conversion from DNG to JPG.  The M9 was shot in manual mode on a tripod.  The focus was on the word “TATiRi” on the guitar head (the difference in the field of view is attributable to the 50mm vs. 60mm focal lengths).

Here is the overall scene, as rendered by each lens:

(please click on the images below to view)

↑Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 @ f/1.2.

↑Leica Noctilux 50/1.0 @ f/1.0.

That famous peripheral “swirly” pattern bokeh of the Noctilux f/1.0 is certainly evident above (as an aside, the Nikkor Noct 58/1.2 is also known for this).

In the next several images, we see pairs of 100% crops, sampled from two different areas in the scene above:

(please click on the images below to view)

↑Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 @ f/1.2 (bottom left 100% crop)

↑Leica Noctilux 50/1.0 @ f/1.0 (bottom left 100% crop)

↑Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 @ f/1.2 (top centre 100% crop)

↑Leica Noctilux 50/1.0 @ f/1.0 (top centre 100% crop)

I won’t make any further comments, and leave it to you to choose the more pleasing bokeh.  In the end, it comes down to taste anyway.

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Central sharpness @ f/1.2.

I’ve found the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 to be remarkably sharp in the centre at f/1.2.

It’s certainly sharper than the Noctilux f/1.0 @ f/1.0 (yes I know, at f/1.0 the Noctilux is at a slight disadvantage, but I’m comparing the wide open performance of each lens).  To illustrate the point, here is the central 100% crop from each lens, taken from the scene employed in the previous section:

(Once again, the focus was on the word “TATiRi” on the guitar head, the M9 was on a tripod, and focus bracketing was used to ensure that the sharpest image from each lens was attained.  The difference in the field of view is attributable to the 50mm vs. 60mm focal lengths).

(please click on the images to view)

↑Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 @ f/1.2 (centre 100% crop, no sharpening)

↑Leica Noctilux 50/1.0 @ f/1.0 (centre 100% crop, no sharpening)

Doing away with comparisons for a moment, let’s look at other examples of central sharpness @ f/1.2:

In this scene, we see our young lad eating some yummy gelato.

(please click on the image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

And here is the 100% crop, where the focus is on the eye:

(please click on image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2 (100% crop, no sharpening).

In this last example, we see our young lady at the beach:

(please click on image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

And here is the 100% crop, where you can clearly see the grains of sand on her face (Note: sharpening was used here, as I was too lazy to dig up the original unprocessed file):

(please click on image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2 (100% crop, +sharpening).

Without a doubt, the Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2 is quite sharp at f/1.2.

For additional observations regarding sharpness, please see Yanidel’s excellent review of the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2, as he describes performance across a range of apertures, in addition to f/1.2.  Here is a particularly salient excerpt:

From F1.4 to F2.0, sharpness hits a maximum on center… tests show that no other lens in the full M range reaches the [Konica Hexanon's] maximum rating at F1.4…and only a bunch do at F2, including stellar lenses such as the 50mm Summilux Asph.

Yanidel, 60mm Hexanon Review

Interestingly, Yanidel regards the KH 60/1.2, much like I do, as a multifaceted (in his words: “a three in one“) lens— but for different reasons.  In his view, the multiple personalities are revealed depending on the aperture selected.  That is, depending on whether f/1.2, f/1.4 – f/2.8, or greater than f/2.8 is chosen, the Hex 60 can render in a “classic“, “high central sharpness“, or across-the-field-sharp “modern” fashion, respectively (I largely agree with this, though the sharpness @ f/1.2 in my copy is quite impressive).

So, it would seem, this lens’ chameleon-like nature not only manifests itself in its varying bokeh @ f/1.2 (as I’ve illustrated in the preceding section) depending on what’s being photographed, but also in its overall rendering, depending on which aperture is selected.

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Close focus distance.

The theoretical minimum close-focus distance of the KH 60/1.2 on a rangefinder camera is 0.8 m.  I write theoretical because, in practice, the minimum is actually somewhere between 0.85 and 0.90 m on an M-camera, depending on the particular copy of lens and also the LTM-M adapter being used.

Either way, when you combine the minimum focus distance with the 60mm focal length, intimate shooting and powerful subject isolation are possible.

Here is an example of how close you can get, without the need for cropping:

(please click on image to view)

↑Leica M3 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

This minimum focusing ability of the KH 60/1.2 is actually very important to me, because I like to get close when photographing, and I find myself constantly frustrated by lenses, like the 50mm Noctilux, which have a minimum focus distance of 1.0 m.

____________________________

Additional thoughts.

Many lens discussions involve commentary about a lens’ tendency to exhibit lens flare, among other things.  Suffice it to say, the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 sometimes struggles with this when aimed at bright light sources (but then again, so do lenses like the Leica Noctilux 50/0.95 @ f/0.95 and the Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.2 @ f/1.2):

(please click on the image to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2 (lens flare, bottom right).

In truth, lens flare and other phenomena such as purple fringing may be coaxed out of all fast exotic lenses – it’s just part of the territory.  In practice, I don’t find the KH 60/1.2 any worse or better with respect to these issues than other well-regarded exotic glass, and so will refrain from any additional analysis or commentary.

On the other hand, the resolving and micro-constrast abilities of the KH 60/1.2 are remarkable, right up there with Leica’s finest (and this is normally where non-Leica lenses usually fall short); I’m constantly amazed at the crispness of the images.

Finally, the KH 60/1.2 vignettes slightly wide open, but much less than the Noctilux f/1.0, so in this regard it is superior.

This is the best Leica lens that Leica never made ;).

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More KH 60/1.2 sample images.

(please click on the images to view)

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

↑Leica M9 and Konica Hexanon 60mm @ f/1.2.

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Conclusion.

The Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2 Limited Edition, by virtue of a combined collection of attributes, including a 60mm focal length, f/1.2 maximum aperture, light weight, small size, and 0.85 – 0.90 minimum focus distance, represents an undeniably unique optic.  It is capable of producing biting central sharpness and micro-contrast, and can render bokeh in a harsh, lush, or painterly fashion.  Although a sometimes difficult lens to tame (I’m still learning), it is without a doubt a special optic that rightly deserves its status as a much coveted lens.

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I hope you enjoyed the discussion and sample images.  If you would like to see more of my images created with the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2, please see here.

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—Peter.

36 thoughts on “The Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2, Special Edition (Review).

  1. Michael says:

    A great write-up and excellent images – thanks for taking the time to prepare this user impression.

  2. Godfrey says:

    Excellent write up on a very interesting lens! Thanks!

  3. efix says:

    This lens has always puzzled me. The odd focal length, combined with such a huge maximum aperture, and the rendering that I, personally, find apalling — I don’t get why it even exists and less why anybody would want to use it …

    But that’s just me, you know! So long as you enjoy it … ;-)

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Felix,

      I must say I’m a little perplexed by your use of the word “appalling” in connection with this lens (seems harsh and I wonder if you looked carefully at the example images), but in the end I understand that the lens will not appeal to everybody.

      Cheers,

      Peter.

      • efix says:

        I really mean it! I find this lens has one of the most hideous signatures. This is purely from a perspective of personal aesthetic preference, mind you. Your motives and composition are excellent – you know that I’m a great admirer of your photography. I just can’t get friends with how the “Hex 60″ draws. I had similar sensations with the Nokton 35/1.4, but nowhere as strong as with this lens. For example, when I compare the Hex to the Noctilux, I find the Noctilux’s drawing very pleasing, with considerably “softer” bokeh, that distinctive swirl, and its warm colours. The Hex, on the other hand, looks terribly harsh to me, has none of that swirl, and much cooler colours. And I get a little dizzy from its bokeh — while the Noctilux makes me feel warm and comfortable. Strange as it may sound, but that’s how it is :-)

        • Prosophos says:

          Thanks for clarifying Felix. I have a better idea of where you’re coming from, though still share a markedly different view (except for certain instances, where the “harsh” bokeh of the Hex is at play). As you write, it’s all a personal thing… the kind of things we crazies obsess over!

        • johhny says:

          I agree- well shot photos, but the rendering of this lens bothers my eye.

  4. William Fulcher says:

    Thank you for a lovely and informative write up. Your example photos are excellent.

    Have you experienced any problems adjusting your M9 to focus properly with your Hexanon? I know others have had some difficulty with this and it has made me reluctant to “try” to obtain one.

    Best,

    Bill

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Bill, thank you for the comment.

      Indeed, I was experiencing some back-focusing at far distances, but not at near-to-mid distances (which, fortunately, is where most of my shooting is done). However, I recently found a vintage Leica LTM-M adapter to replace the generic adapter I was using, and the focusing now seems to be spot on. I will report more on this in the future, as I gain experience with the Leica adapter.

      Hope that helps,

      Peter.

      • Guy says:

        Interesting that you had the same success with the Leica-brand adapter that I had. In my case the difference in focus accuracy was really amazing.

        • Prosophos says:

          It was you Guy that inspired me to try it out, although I haven’t had a chance to fully evaluate it. I had previously read some conflicting statements online and then when you wrote to me about your experience, I thought it was worth a try, even though my back-focus issue wasn’t as pronounced as yours.

  5. Mads Pallesen says:

    Very nice write-up, Peter. But most important of all – amazing pictures! You have such a great eye for photography, I am a big fan of the way you convey emotions through an unique mixture of composition and “the right moment” – all saved forever through light. Just great!

    Thanks, Mads

    PS. Any suggestions on a lens that would give a personal and interesting signature but at an amateurs price level? Voigtlander 50 f/1.1? And what about SLR lens for use in film (Nikon)?

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Mads,

      That’s just about the best compliment I can get… thank you so much for taking the time write that.

      I haven’t had the pleasure of using the Voigtlander 50/1.1, so I can’t comment with any kind of authority. You probably already know, however, how I feel about the Voigt Nokton 40/1.4, so that would be my best recommendation (on a budget, or even if you’re not on a budget). Alternatively, the Voigtlander 35/1.2 (either version I or II) is excellent too!

      For a Nikon film body (good for you!), I’d go with the old 35/1.4 AIS (manual focus lens) or even the new one if money is no issue, but it’s bigger and heavier. Or, any of the various 50/1.4 formulations. It really depends on what your preferred focal length is.

      Hope that helps and thanks again for your kind words!

      Peter.

      • Mads Pallesen says:

        Thank you so much for your recommendations. I’m interested in trying out rangefinder photography so time in the future. For now, I’m shooting film on my Nikon FE2. I got the Nikkor-s 50mm 1.4 (Ai-converted), so it sounds like I’m on the right track. :-)

        Merry X-mas to you and your family!

  6. Ron says:

    Wow, I’m jealous :-)

    I’m also one of those turned onto this lens by Yanidel’s blog and love the varied character it exhibits. I very much enjoyed your photos with it, as well as the write up, and the one for the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4, which I finally acquired last week. I’m looking forward to learning it… and will continue to casually search for a copy of the elusive 60 Hex… you never know!

    • Prosophos says:

      Ron, you could photograph ANYTHING and EVERYTHING with the Nokton 40/1.4…it can be the one and only lens anybody ever needs (I should heed my own advice!). Congratulations on acquiring it!

  7. David Chia says:

    A noble effort Peter.

    And one many will refer to over time – of that I have no doubt. I admire your dedication and passion in this pursuit and your generosity in sharing only enhances my respect for you, both as a person and a photographer.

    I too have been fortunate enough to secure a good copy of this lens and it has greatly enhanced the joy I derive from photography. While I am not in the habit of comparing lenses I own, just reading your notes on this lens and the Noctilux, I would like to add that one of the more important attributes for me is the not insignificant weight and bulk advantage the Hex possesses. It certainly finds more time in front of my camera than the beautiful and large Leica fast lens.

    I appreciate the time you must have put into this little task. Thank you.

    David

    • Prosophos says:

      Hello Dear David!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by.

      As always, you are as perceptive as ever… I was walking around for days (in a daze!) trying to string my thoughts together for this post…

      I couldn’t agree more with you about the size/weight issue… that’s why I made it a point of mentioning it in the article. When I recently went on holiday, it was the KH 60/1.2 I reached for, over any other exotic lens. In fact, the whole experience made me re-think my lens line up.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment, and my best wishes to you and your family for 2012 and beyond!

      Peter.

  8. Guy says:

    Well done on an excellent review, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The images you chose to illustrate your points are all superb.

    Regards
    Guy

  9. bwbears says:

    It is amazing how you utilize the lens to its very best and every picture in this series is stunning. Very nice job!

    • Prosophos says:

      Thank you! I owned the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2 for several months and was shooting with it almost daily before I decided to organize my thoughts and write about it.

  10. Peter says:

    I also have the Hex and still learn to use and appreciate it. It is no Disney-perfect Leica renderer to be sure. That’s why I like it. Of course all sweet-as-a-pie picture lovers have all the right to disdain it for the sake of their own glass.

  11. agplatt says:

    Peter,

    Do you still have it?

    regards
    Guy

  12. Glen says:

    Peter
    Do you mind sharing your reasons for selling the Hex 60? You seemed to enjoy it so much until I read the above comment.

    • Prosophos says:

      Hi Glen,

      I enjoyed it immensely. Photographed with it daily for a year.

      I love the images I made with it.

      But every year I make the decision to start new… I sell almost every lens and start again.

  13. Benyiam says:

    Where I can get this lens? Now, I’m in HK
    Thanks

  14. dimension2 says:

    Great review, and wonderful images to go with it. You make some very interesting points, of ‘coaxing’ the best out of the lens. Glad you’ve been able to push the lens to get some very remarkable imagery.

  15. [...] Today I noticed an unusual spike in traffic to this site, mainly because of increased interest in my write-up of the Konica Hexanon 60/1.2. [...]

  16. [...] this para-sailing scene just over a year ago.   Soon after, I decided to bid goodbye to my Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2 [...]

  17. Chris H says:

    Hi Peter,

    First please excuse my English as I am from Hong Kong. :D Today I discovered your site while googling the Konica 60 1.2. What can I say? Stunning review and images. The M9 and 60 1.2 really shine on your hands! I managed to convince a collector in Hong Kong to sell me his brand new 60 1.2 at a great price – 50k HKD! Am off to London in early Feb, will bring both my A7R and MM to test the lens out and hopefully can share with you some alright images! HAHA. Have a nice day!

    Regards,

    Chris H

  18. Tom Madilao says:

    Hi Peter,

    Nice write up and thanks for sharing with us. What is your opinion of other old lens like the Rokkor 58 mm f/1.2, especially when it comes to the “bokeh” compared to KH 60 lens?

    Appreciate your thoughts

    Tom

  19. […] The really nice point about this lens, apart from the very pleasant bokeh it produces is the 0.8m close focus, which gives it a nice edge over other fast lenses. Sadly I cannot post pictures taken with this lens as it is not my lens to use. That and there are lots of images taken with this lens on flikr etc which are far better than anything I could do. If you want to read a good review on this lens, then you can find it here. […]

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