My Favorite Vintage Lenses: 2023 Edition

close up of old fashioned camera lenses
Photo by Joao Farias on

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

An example of the Nikon Nikkor-S.C. Auto 50mm F1.4. ©, 2022

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

An example of the Minolta Rokkor-X 45mm F2 lens on a Minolta XE-1. © Casual Photophile, 2022

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

An example of the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. © Ken Rockwell, 2022

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.

Happy shooting!

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

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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!

A Guide to Shooting with Vintage Lenses

Photo by Alex Andrews on

One of my hobbies other than shooting photos at car events and blogging is scouring local thrift shops for vintage camera lenses. Any photographer will tell you that there’s nothing quite like vintage glass. Why bother with an Instagram filter when you can get the look you want straight out of the camera? Using vintage lenses doesn’t just give you the opportunity to be creative with your photos. It can help teach beginners the fundamentals of photography. Plus, you won’t have to break the bank! So, here is my guide to shooting with vintage lenses.

Finding Vintage Lenses

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Finding an interesting vintage lens to shoot with is as easy as heading down to your local swap meet or thrift store. The majority of my lenses I’ve either acquired from Goodwill or as a trade at a flea market. You can usually find old cameras and lenses behind the glass cases at Goodwill or The Salvation Amry. You could also find them near the Audio/Video equipment next to vintage camcorders and projectors. In fact, you could even use old 35mm projector lenses as a camera lens, but that’s another story.

If the thrift stores don’t work out, sometimes you can find some interesting vintage lenses or even whole cameras at a flea market. I’ve often found some interesting stuff just laying around for cheap at some of the swap meets I’ve been to. I’ve even made trades for some lenses I had for something at the flea market. This can be a bit of a crap shoot though since more often than not the quality of the lenses depends on several factors.

What to look for in a vintage lens

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When I find a vintage lens I like, I always check for the following:

  • Condition of the body, glass, and mechanics
  • Type of mount
  • (Optional) Novelty

The most important thing to look for is the condition of the lens. I often look closely at the quality of the glass, the body, and the mechanical components. If the glass looks hazy or looks like it has “hair” in it, then the lens is no good. Moisture might have gotten inside the lens and a fungus is now growing on the glass. The body of the lens could have some scratches and even some dings in it while still being usable. But, if the mechanical components are affected by the damage, then the lens is also no good.

Second, I look at the lens mount. This part isn’t quite as important as the condition of the lens since there are aftermarket conversion kits available for adapting a different lens mount to your camera body. For example, I use a Fotodiox Canon FD & FL to Canon EOS (EF, EF-S) adapter with my older Canon lenses. If I’m set on a certain lens, I can quickly check if there are options available to adapt the lens to my camera body. Also, there are resources like that will help you figure out the type of lens you have and what kind of mount it uses.

The last thing I look for in a vintage lens is its novelty. This part is completely optional, but I can’t help but pick up a lens which I think looks cool or has a strange function! One of the coolest lenses I have I bought on a whim because I noticed that the aperture dial was broken, but the glass and lens body were pretty much perfect. The lens ended up becoming one of my favorites for portrait photography thanks to its wide-open aperture, zoom, and ergonomics!

Shooting with a vintage lens

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Shooting with a vintage lens can get pretty tricky, but the results are almost always rewarding. I mentioned earlier that sometimes you’d have to find an adapter to adapt an older lens to your newer camera body in order to use it. While this can get tricky, later purchases of vintage lenses could be guided by whatever adapters you already own. I’ve already got several for Canon FD lenses, Minolta MD lenses, and Pentax K Mount lenses!

After mounting your lens, you would have to get used to shooting completely manually without the use of autofocus. While you can get adapters that allow you to use the autofocus controls, it’s not quite as fun as doing it the “old-fashioned way.” Setting up your camera to shoot with a vintage lens could require some experimentation as well. I usually set my camera to its “Aperture Priority Mode” since I would be controlling the aperture, zoom, and focus manually. In addition, I wouldn’t have to worry about shutter speed since the Aperture Priority mode automatically adjusts it. I usually set my ISO and my light balance manually, but you could also leave the ISO on Auto. If you’re just starting out with a vintage lens, I would suggest that you start shooting on Auto so you could get used to adjusting the lens manually.

In Conclusion

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Shooting with a vintage lens is rewarding, but it does take a lot of work. Sometimes it could take more than a few tries to get it right with a lens. Even then, sometimes the lens you found might work for you. However, a lot of these lenses are rather affordable, so if a lens doesn’t quite work out, you’re not going to be out a lot of money! Furthermore, a lot of vintage lenses are collectible, so you could trade them at swap meets or flip them on eBay! In the end, using vintage lenses will help you become a better photographer, and you’ll end up with some great photos!

Photo of a Rat Fink Poster
I used my trusty vintage Canon FD 50mm F1.8 “Nifty Fifty” lens for this photo from the 37th All-American Get-Together.