In my last post, I talked about my latest collection of vintage lenses and how well they shoot. I’ve also said that I’m still on the lookout for more vintage lenses! Whenever I find myself in an antique store, I always look for old camera equipment. On a recent trip to Jackson, California, I found myself in one of the local antique shops. Inside one of the glass cases was a collection of vintage lenses that all looked interesting. However, there were two that stood out. One of the lenses I ended up buying was a Yashica Yashinon DS 50mm F1.9, for $15. Little did I know what an interesting lens this is!
In a world filled with all sorts of “Nifty-50” lenses, this lens is somewhat special. The Yashica Yashinon DS 50mm F1.9 has the interesting distinction of being a very good bokeh lens, while still maintaining sharpness across the board. There’s even some swirling in the Bokeh effect! While not as dramatic as the Helios 44-2, this lens wide open almost creates a “halo” of bokeh around your subject. I took the lens out for a quick test run with my Canon Rebel T5i and a Fotodiox M42-EOS adapter. While I had a short amount of time before sunset, I was pleased with the images this lens was producing.
I shot most of my images wide open at F1.9 in order to test out image sharpness. Usually, shooting wide open with a vintage lens isn’t ideal, as you lose sharpness. However, this lens didn’t lose much sharpness at all wide open. It’s even sharper than my Canon FD 50mm F1.8. Well-let scenes came out sharp with a natural contrast, while still retaining that dreamy Bokeh effect. Comparatively, the Canon FD 50mm F1.8 I own almost becomes washed out where it looks like a dream sequence on a soap opera. I imagine that shooting at F2.8 would not only produce much sharper images, but still keep that distinctive Bokeh effect!
The Yashica Yashinon DS 50mm F1.9 also produces images with a slight yellow tint, which I find helpful. Often when I’m shooting with a vintage lens, the colors tend to be on the cooler side. I usually have to adjust the white balance in order to produce an accurate result. Not so with the Yashica! Although some scenes did come out a little too warm, I was still pleased with the results. This lens also works very well as a Black and White photography lens. Black and White images with this lens have great contrast and detail. In addition, the vignetting in color and black and white images feels natural. This makes for both a nice landscape lens, and a great portait lens!
I did notice a few weaknesses of the lens. The focus throw tends to be long, and sometimes sticks. The stickiness might be from the age of the lens however. Also, the lens doesn’t do too well when shooting close to the sun. Images get washed out and the lens flare is massive. I would suggest getting a polarizer and a lens hood when shooting in direct sunlight. I also noticed that there are no half-steps in between apertures. This is a minor nitpick, however.
Despite these minor flaws, the build quality of this lens is very good! While the lens is smaller than my Nikon Nikkor-SC 50mm F1.4, it still feels hefty. The majority of the construction is metal and glass, with a rubberized focus ring. In other words, this is a high quality piece of kit for a really good price! I got really lucky finding this lens for $15! Normally, you can find the Yashica Yashinon DS 50mm F1.9 on Ebay for between $30-$60. Now compare that with some other well-known lenses, and you’ve got yourself a bargain!
While I only just started messing around with this lens, I plan on taking it with me on a later excursion to really test out how it works at higher apertures. I might even take it with me to the next Folsom Cars and Coffee! The possibilities of this impulse-buy lens is exciting. I also mentioned that there were two lenses I looked at. I’m going to have to order yet another adapter in order to use this other lens. But, it was definitely the stranger of the two I picked, so it might be worth it!
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.
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.
One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is having the opportunity to be able to go to some interesting places and observe nature! Recently, I managed to take a short trip to the Hayward Shoreline to see the flora and fauna. Plus, I needed an excuse to bring out one of my weirder vintage lenses specifically for the purpose of wildlife photography: my Spiratone Minitel-M 500mm F/8 Mirror Lens.
Watching nature through a strange lens
This is a very weird lens. In most cases, it’s actually pretty difficult to use because of how narrow both the aperture and the depth of field is, in addition to the huge focal length. But, when you get the focus right, you get this very interesting bokeh effect because of the shape of the mirror. Because the lens is designed like a reflecting telescope, you get “donut-shaped” points of light instead of the typical circular or geometric dots. The end result is pictures which sort of remind me of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. And thanks to the 500mm focal length, I can get some decent shots of wildlife without getting too close.
Knowing the quirks, I decided to bring it with me on my hike on the Hayward Shore. I was hoping to capture more birds since the shoreline is known for a variety of cranes, herons, and others. While I only found a few birds, I did get some shots of the ground squirrels that were practically everywhere.
The Minitel-M is a powerful lens for macro photography. The quality of the above image definitely shows what the lens can do from a short distance from the subject. Because of its quirkiness, however, I had to shoot with the digital viewfinder. The focus just seems to be a little “off” through the regular viewfinder. That might be because I was shooting with a filter, and maybe it threw off the focus a bit? I need to test it more.
A certain combination of natural and artificial
The Hayward Shoreline is beautiful if you’re a fan of the windy, salty air from the ocean and vast salt marshes. The day I went, there was barely any people walking on the paths, leading to a sense of tranquil isolation. That ambiance is easily shattered though because the park itself is in the flight path to Oakland International Airport; one of the busiest airports in the Bay Area.
Between listening to the waves crashing and the birds chirping, the drone of jet engines interrupted nature constantly. It was as if being reminded I was in one of the busiest metro areas in the world. I didn’t mind too much though. The planes were only slightly louder than the wind itself on that particular day. If I had the choice and a little more time, I would definitely visit again. At least then, I’d be able to get used to using the Minitel-M.