My favorite vintage lenses

In my last post, I talked about vintage lenses, how to find them, and how to use them. Over the years, I’ve collected a few interesting vintage lenses that I’ve used for various things. Some are pretty common, while others are very uncommon or even rare. Here are some of my favorite vintage lenses!

Canon FD 50mm F1.8

Photo by Little Visuals on

The Canon FD 50mm F1.8 lens was a lens I found in a glass case in a Goodwill somewhere in Santa Clara. While this is a common lens, it’s one of the indispensable tools of budding photographers and cinematographers. The lens has an excellent combination of usability, versatility, and price. A precursor to the “Nifty-Fifty” prime lenses, this lens shines in situations where you want a sharp center focus, but a soft background. While at higher apertures, the picture is decently sharp. I tend to shoot at F5.6 when I want a sharp image, but the lens really gets interesting when you step below F2.8. Around that aperture, the background seems to fall away and the edges around the picture become softer, creating a kind of dreamy look. Step down to F1.8, and the picture turns into an impressionist painting, which is pretty useful if you’re filming a dream sequence!

I think I spent $12 for it, but I’ve reached into my camera bag for it more than enough times to realize that this lens is a keeper. The first time I used this lens was during the UBSCC British Motor Vehicle Show in 2017. I was very impressed with its smooth focus, decent bokeh, and sharpness at the center of the image. It’s great for portraits and close-ups!

  • Photo of a Rat Fink Poster

Spiratone Pluracoat 20mm F2.8

This particular lens has the distinction of being the first vintage lens I ever bought! This lens is very interesting because it’s a lens that has some historical value. Spiratone was an American company that produced low-cost lenses and lens accessories from 1941 to 1990. Its heyday was during the ’60s and ’70s when Spiratone had a Manhattan Loft-style store. This particular lens I bought on a whim during a visit to a Goodwill in Scotts Valley, CA. Little did I know how rare this lens actually is!

This is a highly versatile lens, thanks to its smooth focus throw, sharpness at higher apertures, and wide focal length. While the 20mm focal length is limiting, I find it great for landscape photography. I used this lens almost extensively during a family vacation to The Grand Canyon in 2018, and I took some breathtaking panoramas of the canyon as a result! Just like the Canon FD 50mm F1.8, it has decent bokeh and focus at F2.8, with softness around the edges of the photo. It could also produce some dream-like portraits at that aperture. I think I bought this lens for $12 too!

  • An elk drinking from a puddle in the road at the Grand Canyon
  • A Panoramic shot of the Grand Canyon with the Spiratone 20mm F2.8.
  • A shot of part of the Grand Canyon. Shot with the Spiratone 20mm F2.8
  • Sunset at the Grand Canyon. Shot with the Spiratone 20mm F2.8.

Vivitar 75-205mm F3.8 Macro Focusing Lens for Pentax

The Vivitar 70-205mm F3.8 Macro Focusing Lens. Found on
The Vivitar 70-205mm F3.8 Macro Focusing Lens. Found on

This lens is one of my unlikely favorites because it’s actually defective. I found it in another Goodwill, but I can’t recall where exactly. When I bought it, it was around $16. However, when I came home and tested it I found that the aperture iris wasn’t working. As it turned out, the iris is engaged with a small lever on the rear of the lens. When the lens is attached to a Pentax K-mount camera, the lever is pressed down, allowing the iris to open and close. Because I’m using an adapter, the lever is never pressed, so the iris stays open. On the other hand, this ended up becoming one of my favorite portrait lenses because of the permanently-open aperture!

Vivitar made all sorts of rebranded lenses for various cameras, so finding a Vivitar lens is very common. In fact, I would say that the majority of the lenses you could find in thrift stores are either Vivitar or something similar. The lens I got was made for Pentax K-mount cameras, so I needed another adapter. I’m amazed at how well this lens does Macro imaging in addition to shooting portraits at a distance. Thanks to the broken aperture, the background is very “creamy” while the subject is almost tack-sharp! Additionally, the one-touch Focusing/Zoom ring is incredibly easy to use. I first used this lens when I crashed the Concorso Italiano in 2017, and I’ve been using it for “artsy projects” since!

  • BMW 2002 at the Feb 2018 Orinda Cars and Coffee

Still on the hunt

This is just a small selection of some of the lenses I’ve used and still own, but (as of right now) are my favorites. I’m still on the lookout for some really cool vintage lenses whenever I pop into a thrift store, so who knows? I might append this list later!

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