A few years ago, I wrote about my collection of vintage lenses, and a guide for how to use them. At the time, I only had a handful of lenses that I was using, including my Canon FD 50mm F1.8, and Spiratone Minitel-M 500mm F8. Since it’s been about three years since I last wrote about photography, I figured I’d post an update! Here is My Favorite Vintage Lenses: 2022 Edition!
Nikon Nikkor-S.C. Auto 50mm F1.4
A member of the legendary Nikon “Nifty-Fifty” family, this lens was manufactured between 1973 and 1974. This means that this lens is the oldest one in my collection! I picked it up when I was still living in the Bay Area, at the Alameda Point Antique Fair. When I looked at this lens, I immediately knew the quality of this piece of kit, as it was heavy! Shockingly, the price was too good to walk away from: $30! Needless to say, I picked it up immediately!
The Nikkor-S.C. 50mm F1.4 is considered an “art lens”. This means that while the lens shoot wide open at F1.4, it’s not the sharpest at that setting. You get a lot of vignetting around the edges of the image, and the center stays soft. This creates an almost “dreamy” look to the photo. However, the Bokeh is really nice. The color, while a little on the cool side, tends to pop! When you step down to F2 or F4 the lens still creates a dreamy bokeh, but with really sharp subjects.
These characteristics makes the lens an excellent portrait lens for taking photos of people. The focus throw is also very smooth on my particular lens, which makes street photography a lot of fun. Did I mention this is one of the fastest lenses I’ve used? The combination of the focal length and smooth focusing makes this lens a treat to shoot evening street scenes with!
The name of the lens also denotes it’s design. The “S” stands for “Seven” which refers to the number of aperture blades. On the other hand, the “C” refers to the single anti-glare coat. While shooting next to light sources you can get ghosting and reflections, which can be pretty distracting. However, this is a small price to pay for getting really good low light performance.
I bought a Fotodiox Nikkor F-Mount to EF-S adapter and fitted my lens to my Canon Rebel T5i (EOS 700D). The conversion was very simple, and barely increased the overall length of the lens. As a result, my camera almost looks comical thanks to my massive camera body and battery grip! I recently took the lens out to the Main Street Oktoberfest in Placerville to test its low-light shooting capabilities. While it was a little hard to work the focus in lower light settings, I still got some great shots! I definitely recommend finding one for yourself, as this is now one of my favorite lenses to shoot with! You might have to shell out some cash though; great examples of this lens cost around $60-$100 online.
Minolta Rokkor-X 45mm F2
My Minolta Rokkor-X 45mm F2 was one of those accidental discoveries I made while still living in the Bay Area. One weekend there was an estate sale near where I was living, so I decided to check it out. I managed to find this lens on a table with the typical accoutrement of a hobbyist photographer. I was intrigued by the “45mm” making on the lens, and the price was only $20. So I decided to pick it up! Little did I know that this particular lens is considered an underdog among hobbyist photographers!
First introduced in 1978, the Rokkor-X 45mm F2 lens is tiny compared to some of the other lenses I have. It has a lightweight plastic feel to it as opposed to the other lenses of the same vintage. Not that I’m complaining; the lighter weight is great after shooting with my heavy Nikon Nikkor-S.C. Auto F1.4. However, this lens is solid performer in spite of its light weight. The bokeh and the vignetting at F2 is pleasing, while the color reproduction is very close. Just like the Nikon, there is some sharpness loss when shooting wide open, with a very narrow depth of field.
Where this lens suffers is when you’re shooting wide open and you’re relying on a viewfinder through a DLSR. At F2, you can get chromatic aberrations and some light bloom on your subject. This lens is also prone to reflections and glare, but I consider these “character flaws”. I’ve found that sometimes you don’t need a lot of sharpness to deliver interesting images. The sharpness loss is also easily fixed since the lens features half-steps in between apertures.
Where this lens really shines is when you’re shooting at F3-F4. The picture quality becomes much sharper, but you still have some nice bokeh for close up shots. The 45mm focal length makes it a great lens to use for travel and street photography. Its light weight and compact size makes it a great companion lens to have in any kit. Thanks to it’s light weight and performance, you’ll find yourself reaching for the lens on more than one occasion.
I’ve even used this lens a few times at Folsom Cars and Coffee. With a little processing the images can really come alive. And the best part? This lens can be had for around $40 online! I added a Fotodiox Minolta Rokkor (SR / MD / MC) SLR Lens to Canon EOS Adapter to use this lens with my Canon Rebel T5i. There are also adapters for mirrorless cameras as well. If you have the chance to get one of these, I would highly recommend it!
Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
Ok, so I’m breaking my rule a bit and adding a more modern lens to this list. However, the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM was first manufactured in 1998. That means that this design over 20 years old. Also, this particular lens was discontinued back in 2016, so in my mind, this qualifies as a vintage lens! I received this lens as a gift from a friend of mine when he visited a local swap meet. He managed to pick it up for $30 dollars, which I consider incredibly lucky! This is a solid mid-range camera lens that could so a little bit of everything! In fact, this is my lens of choice for shooting racecars at Laguna Seca!
The “USM” is a very large lens for it’s focal range, but that’s because of the hardware. The “USM” in the name refers to the ultrasonic autofocus system, which delivers quick and accurate autofocusing. This lens is also a telephoto lens, capable of wide angles at 28mm, and great zoom performance at 135mm. In addition to the autofocusing system, the USM lens also has built in Image Stabilization. This is essential when shooting fast moving objects (like race cars!).
The USM lens also features a dedicated manual focusing ring that works in tandem with the autofocus. This way, you can quickly focus in on your subject, and then fine-tune the focus a bit more. Thanks to its ability to shoot between F3.5-F5.6, you can actually get some decent bokeh and depth of field. The large lens diameter of 72mm though ensures that you’re getting enough light. On top of all that, this lens is sharp! When I use it with the AI Servo Autofocus Mode on my Rebel T5i, I can quickly bring an object into focus, keep it in focus, and take sharp photos in seconds!
There is one issue however. When shooting with the digital viewfinder on my Rebel T5i, I’ve noticed that the lens sometimes has trouble focusing. The autofocus would “walk” the focus back and actually fail to bring the subject into focus. However, when I use the eyepiece, it works perfectly. I’m not sure if this is a problem with my lens, or if this is a common issue. This only happens to me once in a while and when I’m using the digital viewfinder. So your mileage may vary.
I love this lens much that I made it the default lens mated to my camera body! I also grabbed a few accessories to make the lens really shine! The lens now has a 72mm Circular Polarizer Filter, and I managed to get a EW-78B II Dedicated Lens Hood for it as well. When people see my rig with this lens, they often mistake it for the Canon EOS 5D!
Now that we’re in a new year, there will be plenty of opportunities to find lenses in thrift stores and antique shops. In fact, not too long ago I picked up an entire vintage camera kit for around $50 dollars that included several lenses and a classic Ricoh SLR camera! I’ll have to take some time in between work and school to fully test out the lenses. Once I do, I’ll likely create a follow up post.