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Using vintage lenses for paid product photography work.

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Vintage lenses are like Marmite, you either love them or you hate them.

For me, I love them, I'll take a good vintage fully manual lens over the latest and greatest AF lens, any day of the week.

I use my vintage lenses for every aspect of my work, including paid work.

Today's lens in question (which is also my most used lens for product photography) is the Tamron SP 90mm F/2.5 BBar with an Adaptall 2 mount.

This lens is my tip-top choice and go-to lens for product work.

It's very sharp and it can very easily be mounted on pretty much any camera with its interchangeable mount, as a standalone lens, it's capable of 1:2 macro shots and when you add the 2x extender, it's capable of fully 1:1 macro shots! Being a 90mm focal length, it's also perfect for portraiture. It literally is a solid all-rounder.

When shooting with this lens, there are a couple of ways that I utilize it for maximum performance, depending on which camera I'm using it on.

If I'm using it on my Canon 5D mark 2 full-frame DSLR, I'll either use a field monitor (mainly because the rear screen on my 5D is small and my eyes aren't what they once were) but also because my monitor has built-in focus peaking. But sometimes, this isn't always an option (I'm clumsy, and sometimes I forget to charge my monitor) this isn't the end of the world, I have Magic Lantern installed, which also gives me focus peaking on my 5D mk2, this just takes me longer as I have to strain my eyes looking at the small screen, but it does work equally as well.

If I'm using it on my Olympus OM-D EM-1 there's not a lot I need to do, as this has focus peaking built in, and the screen is bigger than my 5D's, But the downside to this is that it has a 2x crop factor. Don't get me wrong, this isn't always an issue and sometimes it's a bonus depending on what I'm photographing and if I need a tighter shot to show details that I can't get on full frame.

When shooting products, I very rarely shoot wide open, most of the time, I'm between F/4 & F/11. Stopped down to these values, you really cannot tell that images were shot with a fully manual lens that's over 50 years old and costs less than £100. I actually picked up my copy for just £25 because it was full of fungus and needed a good strip clean.

Safe to say, I snapped up such a bargain, stripped it and fully cleaned it. It took me an hour and a half, it's now as good as the day it left the factory. It also paid for itself within the first week of my ownership, using it for just one paid job.

Do you want to see an image taken with this lens for a paying client? Of course, you do.

Here you go:

This image was taken with this lens attached to my Olympus OM-D EM-1 with the 2x adapter, giving me a full 1:1 macro.

I used one constant light and I believe that the lens was stopped down to F/8 which with the 2x adapter is actually F/11.

This allowed me to showcase all of the details of this watch. And guess what... My client loved the image and never once said to me, "I'm not impressed with the quality of this image, I'd rather you use an expensive digital AF lens"

Here's another paid job taken with this lens:

This image was taken without the use of the 2x converter at F/8, one constant light and one strobe.

Again, I wasn't once told that my choice of lens wasn't suitable for a paid job, in fact, I 1000% gaurentee that my clients didn't even know or care that the images were taken with a lens that's over 50 years old, that digital snobs would turn their nose up to and class as "trash" because it has no AF, no image stabilization and glass that would be considered inferior to their £1500 lens.

I guess the point of this post is to make you stop and think about the next time you want to go out and spend £1500 on a new piece of gear.

Just stop and think:

What am I going to use it for?

Is it worth it?

Am I going to use it enough to justify the cost?

Can I get just as good results with a cheaper option?

Don't get me wrong, we're all guilty of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) from time to time, myself included, I'd be an absolute liar if I said I wasn't. But sometimes, it's just good to stop and think whether it's worth it.

if you want my advice, just use what you've got, go out with what you consider to be your worst lens and shoot it, learn it, learn about its flaws and its character and make it shine!

Yes, getting shiny new gear is exciting, to begin with, and you fantasise about all of the things that you can do with it, "that you can't do with your older gear" but until you learn to make the best out of what you already have, you're not going to learn anything new. You're then stuck in an endless loop of GAS, and it really is a never-ending cycle that's very hard to escape from whenever you have the mindset that you need the newest, latest and greatest gear to create your best images.


No, really. It doesn't. It's you that creates your art, your cameras and lenses are just tools.

The powers and possibilities of what you can create lie in your hands, you as the photographer, you as the creator, you as the art maker, NOT IN YOUR EQUIPMENT.

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