Vintage, legacy, old, dusty, whatever, if it’s an old lens, I’ll use it! For the largest part of my photography, I’ve been using vintage lenses on my digital camera’s. Mainly, I’ve been sticking to my Fujifilm X-E1 with either canon FD or m42 lenses, and it’s been so much fun. So now, near the end of the year with Christmas coming up and everyone looking around for affordable presents, this may be the thing for the photographer to ask from Santa! Many camera websites advertise their gear as ‘Christmas gifts’, but who’s going to give a Fujifilm X-T3 for christmas? Or a Sony A7III? Because that’s the kind if Christmas deal I’ve been seeing around here lately, and it’s ridiculous! So in the spirit of this festive season rant, here is my three reasons why I will keep using vintage lenses.
Reason one: Control
Analog lenses require skill provide intuitive control. You have to know how to dial in the settings, you have to have the skill to be able to focus manually, and know the limits of possible automatic shutter speed and iso settings. It is this control that, also, provides amazing artistic creativity. Where auto focus would be fussy with windows, bright lights and trees, if you have learned to focus manually, this won’t bother you! Especially as you have to learn it out of necessity, as auto focus is not an option.
Reason two: tones
Modern lenses are often described as ‘clinical’. They are amazingly sharp, colour accurate and have incredible auto focus. While they are amazing feats of engineering, it does somewhat cause a lack of character, which is usually brought with a lens’ imperfections. I have a Takumar 50mm f/1.4, which is soft wide open, but has beautiful character and colour. Besides visual interest, it adds a new dimension to your photography. Say, you want a sharp photo with an older lens, what do you do? You stop it down to f/5.6, which usually renders very sharp photos. Problems! Less light, less bokeh, how do I still get an interesting shot? You learn to work with backgrounds, visual interest and problem solving if you don’t have a tripod at hand. Imperfect lenses are the best types of practice equipment.
Reason three: the price
Of course. Vintage lenses are amazingly affordable. The are, of course, exceptions, like Leica, Zeiss or Angenieux lenses. Well, that is not entirely accurate. Vintage lenses are still very affordable compared to their modern counterparts (compare a vintage Zeiss 50mm f/1.8 to a modern one), but my personal Takumar 50mm f/1.4 cost me €20,- at a thrift store. This included a body! Using vintage lenses is a wonderful way to learn how the different prime distances act, at prime lens apertures rather than zoom apertures.
So there’s that! My three reasons why I love using vintage prime lenses, and why you should bother loved ones about them for Christmas. Have fun doing photography, and have a wonderful December!