Updated: Mar 24
If you’re one of the people who have never tried using vintage lenses on a digital camera, you might ask “why? Why would you want to use a vintage lens on your digital camera, when there’s so many great digital lenses around. They’re old, they have no auto focus, they’re often heavy and slower to use.”
Those reasons are exactly why vintage lenses have a dedicated following.
Let’s start with price, they’re cheap, some of my FAVOURITE vintage lenses, I’ve bagged for as little as £4 and I know exactly what you’re thinking “how are you ever going to achieve professional quality with something that costs so little” well, the fact of the matter is, back in the days when these lenses were being produced, things were just made better, these were the days when things were made properly, and just because something is cheap, doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
Don’t believe me yet? Well the photograph below was taken with a lens that I paid £8 for and that lens was the Pentacon 50mm F/1.8. When I show someone this photograph and ask them which lens they think that I used, they never ever for a minute tell me it was a lens that cost £8.
Next, the autofocus, or rather the lack of. This is by no means a bad thing, we live in a world where things are done for you and cameras “hold your hand” so to speak, with a vintage lens, you don’t have that. It forces you to slow down and think about what you’re doing, it also throws you in at the deep end and forces you to learn things that you’re not necessarily going to learn when using a fully digital lens. And you might be thinking “well I can’t focus fast enough with manual focus” at first, maybe, but with practice and time, it sort of becomes second nature, with enough practice, you’ll be able to focus pretty quickly, I even use my vintage lenses for paid work. Another helpful aid for manual focusing is that all vintage lenses have a Distance scale printed on the barrel, this lets you know your minimum focusing distance, your infinity marker and everything in between, and if you really struggle with focusing, you could always buy a chipped adapter that will beep when you’re in focus, just like your digital lens.
Weight of vintage lenses can sometimes be an issue, but as I mentioned further up, these lenses were produced in the days when things were built to last, and they were just built better. Vintage lenses are often made of an all metal and glass construction, not cheapo plastic that breaks if you drop it. I’ve personally dropped some of my vintage lenses (more times than I care to admit) and 9 times out of 10, all that’s happened is that I’ve gotten a vent filter thread. Tell me that’s all that would happen if you dropped a modern plastic lens. And hey, if you don’t like it as a lens, you could always use it as a weapon 💪🏻
If you want to go down the route of adapting vintage lenses to your digital camera, you’re never going to be short of focal lengths to choose from, you can get wide angles, zooms, telephotos, macros, standard. Basically, any focal length you can get in a modern lens, you can get in the vintage equivalent, but at a better price.
If you’re a bokeh hunter, you also don’t want to dismiss vintage lenses, a lot of them can produce fantastic bokeh, some lenses even have as many as 16 blades, which is great for producing super smooth bokeh, and will give circles instead of hexagons, look at this example below.
These lenses are so cheap, that you’re not actually losing anything if you try it and decide that it’s not for you, but my advice to you would be that if you do want to try it don’t just dismiss it straight away if you decide you don’t like it as soon as you put it on your camera, give it a little bit of time and see if it grows on you. If it does, great, you’ll soon find yourself going further and further down the rabbit hole that is vintage lenses, if it doesn’t, no worries, sell it. You’ll more than likely get back at least what you paid, if not slightly more.
Vintage lenses are also becoming extremely popular with the video community, and a lot of high budget movies have actually used vintage lenses to shoot their movies with.
Go ahead and try it, what have you really got to lose?