3 Reasons to Use Old Camera Lenses

I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. Technology moves fast–almost frustratingly fast. Everyone also has that one story about their new and ludicrously expensive computer, TV, or camera, only to find out that within six months it isn’t all that new or expensive. We can’t all keep up with the rat race. In fact, you shouldn’t keep up with the rat race. I will give you three reasons why investing in old lenses is not only a great idea, but also a fun one:

old camera lenses

“Canon FX” captured by William Warby

1. People want to talk about ’em.

This may sound a little funny but it’s true. The number of times I have been asked about my old lenses, especially by other photographers, has been shocking. This has been a great way for me to meet some great people, have some great conversations, and meet other contacts in the same field. Not many people consider using old lenses, but when you tell them why you do it (after you read this article) and show them the quality you are getting, they will laud you for your ingenuity.

2. They are inexpensive.

Companies love to release their new, expensive equipment with the promise that it will completely redefine your life. This is especially true with photography. Want to work for National Geographic? Well, not with that cheap glass you bought from us last year! The truth is that only 10 percent of a good photo is due to equipment. I recently started buying Canon FD lenses that were produced in the 70s. I am ecstatic with the quality I am getting from these, considering I paid between $30 and $100 on eBay. They outperform my $900 lens. These lenses have become a mainstay in my camera bag when I go out and shoot. Bonus: accidentally dropping a $30 lens in the ocean isn’t as heart-wrenching as dropping a $900 lens.

3. They make you a better photographer.

I believe that in order to become better at a craft you must constantly challenging yourself. These lenses don’t have a lot of the “comfort” features to baby you along. With Autofocus and image-stabilization, many photographers will just “spray-and-pray”, hoping for a quality photo from the bunch. This doesn’t make you a better photographer if your camera is doing all the work. Unless it is an absolute necessity to use these features, like for sports photography, you should be controlling everything manually. This allows you to gain a profound knowledge of how your camera works, how to focus properly and quickly, how to set proper exposures for the utmost creative control, and a whack of other benefits.

There you have it: my advice on why you should be buying old lenses. A fun and creative way to explore photography in a new way, whether you are a brand new photographer working on the basics or a seasoned one looking for a fresh new approach, this pursuit will unlock a new world of opportunity.

About the Author:
Bryce Humphrey is a photographer based in Windsor, Ontario.

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17 responses to “3 Reasons to Use Old Camera Lenses”

  1. Laurent says:

    Hi,

    Very good article, i think i will try theses lenses !

    But what did you have to buy to adapt theses lenses to your “new” camera ?

    Thanks a lot

  2. RegularGuy55 says:

    I have the same question about adapting older lenses to newer DSLR bodies. I have a LOT of Canon FD/FL lenses, but now I shoot with Nikon DSLRs.

  3. GEORGE R. says:

    There are dozens of adapters that will attach basically any legacy lens to any modern popular DSLR (and some ILC) cameras. They are cheap for the most part (although you can buy a ‘pro’ version for a lot more) and they work extremely well. Google Metabones, Novoflex, and Fotodiox, or just lens adapters.

    You must use your manual settings (exposure, aperture, ISO etc) on the camera and also you must also focus manually. Some cameras have ‘focus peaking’ to assist in the getting the image in focus.

    I haven’t has so much fun taking photos in years! Really brings me back ‘old school’. I’ve been collecting old glass for a couple of years and have found some outstanding lenses, both in resolution but also in the ‘look’ of old glass such as (and especially) old Zeiss glass.

    It’s easy and cheap to try it (think $15.00 adapter and $50 lens) and may put a smile on your face as you go shoot.

    As I’m writing this, I’ve just spent a day in Paris getting superb images on a Sony A7r with a Minolta MD 35-70mm f3.5 zoom lens. I purposely left my Zeiss FE Sonnar lenses at home and, frankly, could not be happier. The combination has a nice look and feel on the resultant images. And it’s been fun!

    Hope this helps!

  4. Bruce H says:

    You’ve let the cat out of bag now! The price old Canon, Nikon, Olympus & Pentax lenses on ebay will go go thru the roof now. Quiet, don’t tell anyone!

  5. GEORGE R. says:

    Opps! Sorry. Better get stocked up now, lol.

    I’m with you, Bruce, it’s made photography more enjoyable. Of course, people do look at you differently when you’re actually adjusting aperture and shutter and focus while shooting. You can see them out of the corner of your eye, watching, as you shoot to get different depth of field or exposure levels.

  6. GEORGE R. says:

    To your first question: I am using all 3 of the adapters I mentioned above, as well as some others (Fotasy etc). I use them mainly for connecting to Canon, Sony (NEX and A7r) and Leica cameras. I have about 25 adapters that I use in various configurations. So far, I’ve only had trouble with one (don’t remember which make) where there is a small notch in the lens that receives a little spring loaded male bolt. It was sticking and I needed to use a sharp object to move it out. It became looser after a short while and works fine now. So it isn’t really a problem in my experience.

    Second question: you have it right. Add about 50% to the focal length of a full frame lens in order to get the effective length on an APS-C size sensor.

    Happy shooting!

  7. RegularGuy55 says:

    I’ve started looking for Canon lens to Nikon body adapters. Some of the horror stories talk about adapters that won’t come off either the body or the lens after use. Do you have any good (or bad) experiences with specific brands of adapters?

    I don’t have the full-frame sensor DSLR cameras, mine are all APS-C sized. There are also some discussions about the magnification of old 35mm lenses compared to lenses for APS-C sensor digital cameras. Some sites suggest that there is a 50% increase in effect focal length when you mount a 35mm lens on an APS-C DSLR. If so, and I wanted an 85mm portrait lens, it sounds as though I’d use a 50-55mm focal length lens.

    Does that match your experience?

  8. I thought about doing this, but I don’t know how to determine what to buy. For newer lenses I depend on comparisons and dxomark.com

  9. Daren S says:

    The Sony alpha A series cameras that take the A lens will all accept the Minolta lenses that were used with the auto focus cameras. A perfect lens for this is the Minolta 70-210 f4 “beercan” the lens takes amazing photos and will still auto focus. The 50 mm 1.4 is another good Minolta lens that fits nicely, on the A mount Sony.

  10. Ben W says:

    Great article, I shoot an Olympus EPM-1 and have five Minolta mount lens which I use via an adapter. The biggest difference is that often I hold the lens and allow it to support the camera verses the camera supporting the lens. All my Minolta lens are completely manual, to focus properly I have my designateable button set to live view zoom and use it to fine tune my focus. I’ve even used basic extension tubes between my camera and the adapter to shoot macro. The manual vintage lens with extension tubes appear to give more flexibility than the autofocus lens with extension tubes because I have no problem adjusting f-stops. I’ve had good results shopping picking up used vintage camera’s with the lens. You can also get extra usable flashes this way but you have to be sure that they won’t burn out your camera. There’s an adapter available or you can (from what I’ve been told) use a wireless flash trigger on your vintage flashes. (Over simplified explanation, do some more research before you try it.) Finally by shooting vintage lens I now also have a rather complete Minolta x-700 kit for those rare times that film will still out perform my epm-1 or that I just feel like shooting film for artistic effect.

  11. Lee says:

    Love love love vintage lenses.

    The main reason for me to use them though is the qualities they add to my photos. Not ‘quality’ necessarily, but ‘qualities’.

  12. Michiyo says:

    How interesting! I’m so glad I didn’t get rid of my old Nikon lenses. What adapter would you recommend to adapt those to my DSLRs? I have a D40, D300 and D700. I tried googling it but only came up with adapters for the Nikon 1, which I’m not interested in getting. =)

  13. Ed W says:

    Just on train reading this and thinking the same thing. I’ve left my Nikon D200 at home and I’m carrying an entry-level Nikon D3200 with an old AI-S 50mm f1.8 series E lens alongside my Sigma 30mm. The Sigma is a beast – really big and heavy but the Nikon 50mm is so small! It’s heavy for its size as it’s a metal construction which is great – it still feels like you’re holding something special and of quality despite it being over 30 years old!

  14. Mickey says:

    I have a minolta 35-70, 1.4 that I used on my 9000. What adapter can I get to use with my Canon 70D. I tried it out on the 9000 yesterday and it worked beautifully electronically. Do I still have to focus in manual only or can I use it on the AV mode?

  15. Maria Sacadura says:

    I also have some vintage lens to use with my FujiXT1 (minolta35-70,3.5 . minolta rockor 1.7,pentax 100 2.8 and tokina 28 2.8). I bought from ebay the adaptors and they all perform very well: Thanks for a great article!

  16. Dan Richards says:

    I use very few new lenses. Even though my D3200 makes them manual, they still shoot excellently. Most of my lenses are old film lenses, and I have no problem using them.

  17. pegjayne says:

    I have an old Nikkormat FTn from the seventies but recently bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D3200. I have some great lenses and purchased adapters for the Nikkormatt. Are there differences in the adapters that I would need to repurchase adapters for the D3200 or could I utilize the adapters I have that were for the Nikkormat?

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