The practice of buying old manual focus lenses and adaptors to use on digital camera bodies is growing in popularity as people discover the magic that still remains in old glass. Personally, I’m a big fan of vintage lenses and use them 99% of the time I go out shooting.
Here’s why I think every photographer should own at least one vintage manual focus lens.
Cost – typically, buying a second hand manual focus lens will be cheaper than buying a modern equivalent of the same length and aperture. Vintage 50mm prime lenses are inexpensive due to the number of them that were produced, and you could probably find an f1.4 model for less money than a new, auto focus f1.8, or an f1.2 for not much more.
Size – one reason hobbyists are turning more to mirrorless cameras is their size in comparison to DSLRs. Many old lenses are tiny, even with the adaptor needed to marry it to the camera body, so are perfect for mirrorless owners wishing to keep their camera set up as small as they can.
Picture qualities – qualities meaning character and feel, rather than the usual image quality concerns about sharpness and aberrations. Old lenses offer a different image style, a more classic look to your pictures. Modern lenses are great for sharpness, but sometimes at the risk of being a little soulless?
Fun & satisfaction – using a manual focus prime lens means working harder for your shots. You have to zoom in with your legs and focus with your fingers. The more effort we put into something, he more satisfaction we take from the results. Most people who enjoy photography will enjoy shooting like this with a manual focus lens at least once in a while.
Improve your skills – as mentioned above, using a prime lens, even an auto focus model, means having no zoom. This in turn means not every shot you could have got with your kit lens will be possible to shoot with your fixed length prime, so you have to think more about what you can shoot. You have to think about how to make the best of the restrictions you’ve placed upon yourself. Doing this with manual focus too will undoubtedly make you a better photographer, with a greater understanding of composition that will help you take better pictures with your kit lens too.
Join a community – while the number of people using classic lenses may be relatively small, their passion for their hobby is big. There are groups dedicated to the niche in all the places you would expect online. Offline, if I ever see somebody using a manual focus lens, I will stop and strike up a conversation about it in a way I never would a kit lens.
Versatility – because we are using an adaptor to match the lens to a body that it wasn’t designed for, we can easily and cheaply buy another adaptor should we buy a different brand of camera in the future. There’s no reason to sell the manual focus lens like we would our native lenses because they maybe aren’t compatible with a new, different brand of camera.
Give life to a lens – vintage camera lenses are robust and reliable, and a properly maintained lens will offer great performance for decades. The worst thing for them is to sit in a box, unused and unloved, stiffening up and developing mold. If somebody is selling one, it probably means they don’t want to use it anymore. Give it a home, give it a new life, and let it do what it was built to do – take great pictures.