Modern camera lenses are fantastic. They’re ridiculously sharp, fast to focus and they’re well built. Let’s be honest, though. Modern lenses are a yawn fest! They’re often uninspiring, predictable, and they can be very pricey. This is why vintage lenses are becoming popular again.
There are, of course, advantages to modern lenses. Lightweight yet tough plastics, weather sealing and fast autofocus motors come to mind. Still, modern lenses use multiple dispersion elements and overkill coatings that make their optics too clinical. These “advances in technology” suck the life out of images. Manufacturers could change this, but they won’t.
Vintage lenses, however, add style, flair and character to images that modern lenses can only dream about. Another advantage of vintage lenses? They’ll help you become a better photographer.
So, we’re going to look at five reasons why your next lens should be vintage. Be warned, though. Once you go down this rabbit hole, you’ll have so much fun that you might not want to come back.
It’s easy to adapt and use vintage lenses
Thanks to focus peaking and enhanced digital zooming in EVFs and on LCDs, manually focusing lenses on modern digital cameras is easy. As a bonus, if your camera has IBIS, you can even use vintage lenses with stabilization. That’s a huge win!
But, what about adapting? There are affordable adapters from Fotasy, Viltrox, URTH, Fotodiox and others for just about every mount out there. Simply buy an adapter for your current camera mount that also matches the mount of the lens. Be it M39 or M42 screw mounts, Minolta MD and so on. For example, to use M42 screw mount lenses on my Lumix S5, I needed an M42 to L-mount adapter.
As a note, I do want to add that adapting vintage lenses is easier on mirrorless cameras than it is on DSLRs. Sometimes with DSLRs, the mirror can clip the rear of the lens. However, there are very few lenses that cause this problem. This is not an issue at all with mirrorless cameras, though.
You can try various lenses without breaking the bank
Picture this. Your favorite lens brand just released a new lens. You think you need it, but it’s a focal length you’ve never used before. Do you A, drop big money on it and hope you like it? Or B, buy a no-risk vintage lens with the same focal length for $100 or less?
My money will always go on the second option. Sure, you’re spending money that could be put toward the new lens. However, buying a cheap lens with a focal length you’ve not used before is smart. Also, not making your significant other have a heart attack because of the huge expenditure is priceless. I may have been down this road once or twice — haha.
For little outlay, you’ll be able to experiment to your heart’s content. If you don’t like the lens, you can resell it and get your money back. If you do like the focal length, you can make your modern lens purchase knowing that you’ll enjoy it. Alternatively, you might even find that the vintage lens is more than good enough for you.
Your choices are nearly endless
Another plus, there are some stunning vintage lenses out there that don’t cost a fortune. The spectacular Meyer Optik Gorlitz Domiplan 50mm f/2.8 (pictured above with image samples) can be picked up for about $50. The bokeh and the colors it produces will leave you breathless.
There are affordable lenses from Auto Rikenon (Auto Sears), Minolta and Fujifilm Fujinon. You also have the Asahi Pentax Super Takumar lineup to play with. Then there are Carl Zeiss Jena lenses. Russian Helios, Jupiter and Zenit Tair lenses are glorious and affordable. Don’t forget about Canon FD glass! All of these lenses feature spectacular build qualities, too. It’s really hard to go wrong.
Vintage lenses will make you a better photographer
Modern lenses and cameras have spoiled us rotten. We have autofocus systems and burst rates that allow us to capture a cheetah picking its nose; with eye tracking to boot! You can point, shoot, spray and pray, and capture anything and everything. But, where’s the skill (and fun) in that?
Vintage lenses will slow you down; trust me, this is a good thing. That’s right, vintage lenses will make you think. You’ll evaluate your shots and compositions more than you would with new lenses. You’ll also be more inclined to learn about terrific techniques like zone focusing, and more.
Your muscle memory will improve so much that, even when you do use autofocusing lenses, you’ll have no problem switching to manual focus to nail the shot. Vintage lenses will improve your skills across the board. It’s guaranteed.
Use the old lenses. Learn, grow and create with them. I promise that when you use vintage lenses and you nail the shot, you’ll cherish your images more than ever.
Forget Photoshop, vintage lenses are oozing with character
Are you tired of sitting in front of your computer trying to create the perfect vintage look? Believe it or not, old lenses will give you those vintage looks on your DSLR or mirrorless cameras. You’ll be able to create images with wonderful colors, surreal, dreamlike bokeh, and other unique characteristics in camera! That’s right, bye-bye computer!
The amount of time that can be saved during processing is huge. In fact, when I shoot with vintage lenses I only shoot in JPEG. There’s simply no need to fire up Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One or anything else. The images you get straight out of the camera will mesmerize you. There’s not a modern lens out there that can create images like a good vintage lens.
You’ve got nothing to lose
I’m not going to lie by saying that every vintage lens is good. Some are truly terrible. However, others are gems. The fun is in the process of creating and of finding out which lens is which. I’m also not going to say that every vintage lens is affordable. Some vintage lenses are very expensive. Canon dream lens (50mm f/0.95) anyone?
Vintage lenses are also readily available and easy to find. You can dig around eBay, KEH, garage sales and stores like Goodwill, and you’ll find a whole world of affordable vintage lenses.
There are plenty of cheap lenses out there to start with. I’m looking at you Helios 44-2 58mm f/2. I’m giving the Super Takumar 135mm f/3.5 a tip of the hat, too. So, before you drop a large chunk of change on a modern plastic fantastic, see what vintage lenses are out there. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Do you use vintage lenses? What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.