5 Reasons Why You Need to Try Vintage Lenses in 2020

Whether you're shooting on a budget, want to take shots with a singular look, or just enjoy experimenting with different gear, vintage lenses are a spectacular route to take.

I've had a bit of a vintage lens resurgence so far in 2020. My desire to buy and use different vintage lenses ebbs and flows as the years go by, but it's currently on an uptick. Just this week I wrote about the incredible 160-year-old Petzval lens and it came at a time when I was already pawing through vintage Leica glass.

I've had a lot of vintage glass over the years and as I wrote in an article some months back, most of them are useless. But that's because I was buying anything cheap and interesting to see what I could do with it. If your buying practices are more refined and informed, you can pick up some gems.

In this video, Mark Holtze (who has some of the most enjoyable production and b-roll of any YouTuber I've seen) goes over 5 reasons why you need vintage lenses in 2020. Price is certainly a strong motivator for me, but I also know that the applications of the lenses I buy are fewer. So the chief motivator for my purchase of vintage lenses is simple: they're fun. I love getting a new (old) lens, adapting it to my camera, and going off on a little trek to try it out. I just enjoy trying them out and seeing what images look like when you combine the old with the new. 

Do you shoot with vintage lenses? Are there any you recommend?

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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I have a Canon 50-200mm f4.5 L lens that was made in 1988. It is an EF mount, so there are no weird compatibility issues, and no awkward adaptor needed when using on my newer DSLRs.

I love the range of 50 to 200mm, as it is much more useful than the very limiting 70-200mm lenses that are in use now. The optics of the old 50-200 L are exceptionally sharp. Unfortunately, the autofocus is very slow and "clunky", although it is quite accurate when I give it time to lock in on my subject.

I have no use for any 70-200mm, simply because that is such a narrow zoom range. So the 50-200mm is welcome in my bag! I just wish the AF were faster.

I would love Canon to make a modern 50-200mm L. If they could cover this range with superior optics 30 years ago, why couldn't they do it now? I think they know it would be a great lens in every way, but fear that it would cannibalize sales of their other lenses, so they intentionally don't make it even though they could.

What do you think? Why do you think that Canon doesn't make a 50-200mm nowadays?

Wow Robert! I'm humbled to say the least! Thanks so much the share Robbert, I'm at a loss for words.

Another plus to going mirrorless...adapting vintage lenses to them. It’s pretty addicting if you like to shoot photos and especially videos.

My favorite to use is the Helios 44-2 on my A7Riii.

I’ve been using vintage Canon (and FD/FL mount) lenses for a number of years, with particularly great success with a 90 mm f/2.8 Vivitar macro lens on a Sony A6000. Manual focus is a natural for macro, and this particular lens is definitely my go-to.

My favorite recently is the Pentax Super Takumar M42 50mm f/1.4 on a full frame mirrorless (LUMIX S1 or S1H). I bought one of the “higher end” ones for $135 on eBay but they can be had for half that. And the adapter to L Mount is super cheap. Beautiful lens.

Is that the 8 element Joseph? The one with the protruding rear element? I have the 7 element "radioactive" one, it was my firs takumar. I recently purchased the 8 element "non radioactive version....Planar Killer" so it's in the post ;). Looking forward to comparing it to the less expensive version as well as it's arch nemesis the CZ 50mm 1.4 Planar ;).

The S1H, what adapter are you using for that? I was looking for M42 to L mount adapters. Thanks mate.

1 Reason Why You Don't Need To Try Vintage Lens In 2020: It's driving the prices up for the rest if us... ;)

Seriously though, adapting old lenses to newer cameras is a lot of fun and can be very addictive. For example, here's a 1930s large format lens mounted on a 1971' Pentax Spotmatic II.

I KNOW, I'm sorry for my part on the prices ;)...totally feel you on the addiction! Especially when you're doing something like what you did in your screen shot there!!!! MAMA!!!

Is there a "how to" for that? I need to learn!

Nothing to it, really. The Novoflex bellows fits on the Spotmatic mount. Of course, the lens itself doesn't exactly fit on the bellows (the lens thread was a bit too small), so I just put gaffer tape on the lens thread. That way, I could slide the lens thread inside the bellows thread. The tape holds it in place, while light-sealing it at the same time (see picture). And since it's a leaf shutter lens, I have to use a shutter release cable to lock the diaphragm open so I can see the image in the viewfinder and use the Spotmatic's shutter.
For info, the lens is a Schneider-Kreuznach Zecanar Anastigmat 135mm f4.5. It is a bit soft, with a nice bokeh and lots of character! And people always look at me funny when I shoot with this thing :)

Love it! Thanks Adriano!

Totally agree with this. I was an Olympus OM film shooter, but quit film. My primary camera is a fujifilm X100F, but I still had two OM SLR prime lenses on the shelf. Found a early model used OM-D for around 200.00, got an adapter and have been loving the experience and the results. It feels like shooting film, and in many cases looks like it as well. Do it!

I hear amazing things about the OM primes, a friend of mine just modded a set for video. Follow focus, front rings, de-click aperture and dedicated EF mount. They LOOK spectacular! Would love to shoot with them for sure!

Thanks Chuck!

I have a few vintage lenses...

Nice collection! You have a fav out of that lot?

They're all for different purposes, can't say I have a fave. I recently got into astrophotography some months back, and used the 135mm f/2 on an Olympus E-M10 Mk II (where it becomes a 270mm equivalent) to grab this:

wow! That's incredible!!!

Drawer number 1 of 7, around 200 lenses in total, though in my defense I do have the matching camera for every lens I own.
My preference for shooting on digital bodies is Soviet Medium Format lenses, the shot below was taken using an Arsat 80mm f/2.8 mounted to an old Canon EOS 350D

I need to look up medium format lenses and adapting them to digital. I'm sure it's similar to the crop you get from FF lenses on an APS-C sensor? Any you would recommend in particular?

The only one I have tried is my Volna 80mm, ignore the Arsat earlier in the comment, my mistake I get them confused as they are exactly the same lens only with slightly different mounts for Kiev 60 or Kiev 88.
It can be hard to focus but perseverance pays off and rewards you with interesting images.
In the example above I had decided to shoot a day of Paris Fashion Week just using adapted film lenses, got hardly any images as opposed to the usual daily total in the thousands, but I was pleased with every one I did get.

I adapted my dads old MD Minota lenses for my EOS RP. Having focus peaking is great. I have a 28mm 2.8 a 50mm 1.7 and the 80-200 macro. I also bought a 90-300 and a 3x converter which makes moon pictures fun. The color and rendering are great with the vintage lenses. The 50mm 1.7 is my go to for street and some slower paced portraits. I'm looking into more old MD lenses to add to my creative collection.

Adapting my grandfather's and dad's old lenses got me hooked. It's been a non stop adventure since! I haven't tried MD Minolta's yet but hear great things about them. Just never seem to come across any at lens fairs.

I used KEH for my 90-300. I was random swap meets and flea markets now. Since switching to mirrorless and having focus peaking I'm more interested in using vintage lenses. I just need to see what adapters they have out for the RF mount to better utilize other mounts.

I'm a big fan of Mark Holtze's videos. He does a fantastic job of encouraging me to spend more of my money

lol, i'm so sorry! Hopefully you're having some fun as a side effect. :)

Hell, I only have 2 newer(ish) lenses. Everything else is older...some much older. Shooting with any of the lenses...I can't tell much at all of any differences. Except perhaps with the Nikkor 105mm f2 DC lens and the Helios 58mm f2 lens. As far as technology has advanced through these years, I find it very interesting that lenses are this close in image capture. I am talking about the lenses only. Using the newer mid-zoom on the film camera gave me excellent images in comparison to the DSLR and mirrorless. But then, it also matters how and on what one is viewing the image. I can look at the slide, but what source do I look through when it is put on a disk? Different computers and other devices will vary in how we see the image. A slide is a slide is a slide. Putting it in the PROPER light temperature should remain constant in viewing.

So true Timothy! Thanks for sharing your take on that! I've heard from a number of sources who know much more than I do that the optics of some of these old lenses haven't changed THAT much in the past 30 years. More elements, additional corrections, motors etc , but the impact on the image hasn't moved as much as other elements of photography.

After I bought my D750 I needed more full frame lenses so I bought a handful of old film era lenses off ebay. One of the things I love about Nikon, no adapter needed to use over 40 years worth of glass. I own most of the E series and a few random ones including an old third party vivitar lens that I really enjoy.