The Broke Photographer I: Shooting with Vintage Lenses

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Photography is an amazing hobby. After some experience, you look differently at the world in terms of shapes, compositions and colours. But man, photography is expensive. Chances are, if you don’t have a lot to spend or if you are just bad at saving like I am, that after you’ve finally bought that second hand camera, you don’t have hundreds of euros/dollars laying around to spend on additional lenses.

To get around this, I have some tips!

The solution, in my eyes, lies with certain lenses called ‘legacy’ lenses; vintage, outdated (hence: legacy) lenses which no longer natively fit on modern cameras, with one exception; but we’ll get to that.

Legacy

To me, the main legacy lens mounts are vintage Minolta (not the AF version) lenses, m42 lenses and finally Canon FD lenses. I do not have any experience with the Minolta lenses, so we’ll leave it at that.

m42

M42 lenses are vintage, screw-mount lenses which can be cheaply adapted to pretty much any system. Great thing is, these exist in a variety of price ranges, from under €30 for Russian “knock-off” lenses, the designs of which they took from Zeiss and such, up to more expensive, real deal Zeiss lenses. They are beautiful, often metal lenses with interesting names and nice quality optics. But, as with all legacy lenses, contrast can be lacking and chromatic aberration can be, unfortunately, not. Anyhow these lenses are amazing to use, especially the slightly up market, but still under a hundred, versions of any of the standard focal lengths, for example 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, etc.

Canon FD

I have used Canon FD glass for a while now on my Olympus OM-D E-M10 mark III, and I am happy! The lenses appear to be sharper and the build quality is a bit better than similarly priced m42 lenses. Handling is nice, manual focussing is a treat and the results, if you focus well, are lovely. I would really recommend these lenses, they made Canon great after all! The quality is just beautiful, and try getting all-metal lenses for under €75,- right now. Oh- and there are Canon FD L lenses, with the characteristic red ring, like the FD 50mm f/1.2 L.

A thing to look out for is the difference between Canon FD and FL lenses. The FL lenses are a bit older, but completely metal and glass and they feel amazing to use. Have a look at the Canon FL 58mm f/1.2, it’s beautiful and the aperture is amazing, especially for the price.

The exception

Nikkor D lenses. Nikon has always had the same Nikon F lens mount, so there are a lot of lenses if you have an adapter for this type of lens. But the Nikkor D lenses, which are still fairly new so the quality is pretty amazing, are great cheap-ish alternatives. The great thing about lenses with a D suffix is that they have manual aperture rings, but have more modern glass; a combination that you don’t see all too often but which is amazing. Because they are newer, a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D will cost about the same as two FD equivalents, but they are beautifully sharp, and if you ever switch to a Nikon system, you have lenses ready with AF and electronic apertures; win-win!

Tips

Manually focussing, especially for doing street photography, can be a challenge if you are like me. I learned to zone focus; accept a slight lack of bokeh, whack that lens down to f/5.6, lenses are generally a lot sharper at that focal length anyway, and learn to zone focus! This results in amazingly sharp images without having to pause for focussing, and if you get good at guessing the distance between you and your subject, your in-focus zone could be between 1,5-2,5 metres, so you would still have an out-of-focus background! Great stuff.

A second recommendation I would make is to choose. That is, choose a mount, get the adapter and stick to lenses from your chosen system, be it MD, M42, FD or Nikon F. Saves moving adapters around and restricts unnecessary confusion.

Oh, and if you have some money left, have a look at Leica M or R lenses!

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