Sunday, 10 October 2021

Vintage Lenses in Your Mirrorless/DSLR

Another photography tutorial, yay! So, this time I come here to preach on the one-way-trip of using vintage lenses on your DSLR/Mirrorless camera. Main advantages? They cheap AF, huge variety, excellent build. Did I saw cheap? But well, there are some "cons" to this as well, and it is that these lenses are manual--this means that you need to focus on your doll, because your camera will be unable to do it. However, most cameras now have some tools to assist you with this, so I will be explaining.

Let's start!


On some of my first tutorials, I explained the types and parts of cameras, and the lenses. I will assume that you watched those.

So to use a vintage lens, the first thing that you need is a mount adapter. This is basically like a regular adapter that you use with an electrical plug: it will change the lens mount so that it can connect to your camera mount. These vintage adapters are usually about $10-20. I have a single SonyE-to-MinoltaMD mount adapter that works for five lenses, and then I have the SonyE-to-PentaxK for another lonely lens. So it is quite cheap.

The other device worth mentioning is a macro adapter. This will basically make your lens behave "miopic"--it will only work closer to the target, but it will allow you to take photos of details. So it is quite handy, and also ranging about $30-40. However, you do not need this. This is kind of like a "toy" if you want to modify your lenses a bit.

So, when you are adapting, insted of putting your lens straight into the camera (top photo), you screw the lens to the adapter and the adapter to the camera (middle photo). And if you want the macro adapter, you basically put the lens into the macro adapter, that into the regular adapter, and finally into the camera. Look below:

Focusing Manually - Peaks

Low and behold technology (and the lack of thereof!). Vintage lenses are manual focus only because they don't have electronic components--which is part of what makes them so cheap. Also, if you change your camera you only change the adapter and that's it, the lenses are still usable. Because the lens are manual, you need to basically "turn" the focusing ring to actually make the lens focus on the target. This is easier than it sounds.

First! You camera has a function that is called "peaking" or "peaks". Most cameras have it. This will overlay some lines on top of your image only when you are shooting (it doesn't appear in the actual focus). I am not going to explain how to turn this feature on, but here is a very lengthy list of tutorials for some popular models: Overall, and whatever your camera is, the focus peaking works the same: it will put a colour line (red, in my pictures below) on the areas that will be in focus when you take the photo with the current settings. The stronger the line/peak, the more in focus it will be. If you look at the photo below, you will see that Aion's horn, left eye and check, and a bit of the wing were in focus. The finished photo is below.

So basically, you want to move the focusing ring (or bring your camera closer/farther away) until the section that you want is highlighted with some nice peaks. But wait!!! There is more!! Let's go to the next title.

Focusing Manually - Distance and Focusing Ring

Okay, every lens has a bunch of numbers and information written there. This 2min video has a quick rundown of them. Overall, one of the rings is a focusing ring and it has a distance written there (often in both metric and imperial). The "active point" is at the center of the camera (alined when you look from straight up).

How does the focusing ring works? Basically, if you look at the photo on the right, my Minolta 50mm is saying 0.45m--this means that the lens is set to focus on whatever is positioned at 45 centimeters from the center of the camera. Which center? well I marked it on a bright green. Every camera should have a similar symbol. If you now pay attention to the peaks, the lens is focusing on the shelves *behind* the dragon, because *those are at 45cm*, and the dragon is closer! Whatever is closer (basically, less than 45cm) or father away (more than 45cm) will not focus!

What to do if it doesn focus? Well, either you turn the ring to increase the distance (if your object is farther) or to diminish the distance (if it is closer). You can also resort to move the camera back and forth.

Now, on the right we have my monstrous CZJ 100-300 with the macro adapter. So even if the lens says it should focus at 1.5 meters, it was actually on about 75cm, which roughly half--that is what the macro adapter allows you to!

Focusing Manually - Stable Camera

Until you get the gist of focusing like this, the best thing you can do, is put your camera in an stable position. Do you need a tripod? Not necessarily. As you can see below, for this tutorial, I was literally just using two tables, and I lifted the lens to get a nice angle using the lens+mount caps. Ha! Of course a tripod is awesome (I recommend a gorilla-type tripod), but some lenses are too heavy for it. For example, my Minolta 200mm and CZJ 100-300mm literaly tilt the dang tripod over-so-dang-slow!

Another thing that contributes to stabilise your camera, is the shutter speed. I'm not going to explain that here, please go watch this tutorial that I made. Additionally, there are some camera bodies (especially those quite pro and expensive) that have in-body-image-stabilisation (or IBIS). Every company/brand calls this differently, but basically, this is something in the body of your camera (not the lens) that will stabilise your shaky hands.

Also, with a bit of practice, you can get terribly sharp photos! Look at these zoom-ins on Aion's photos! *chef's kiss*

Some Lenses Suggestions

Of course, I can't rant without going into the actual lenses. I personally have a price range: over AUD50 (below I doubt its quality) and less than AUD300. Also, when you search for vintage lenses, check for the following: a good lens must not have haze, fungus, dirt, oil in the blades, stiff rings. If the lens has *any* of that, DO NOT PURCHASE IT--it will need a service and it isn't worthy.

Some recommended acquisitions are:
  • Minolta MD 50mm f1.7. This usually is about $150. Excellent thing, ultra-sharp, can find it everywhere. There is an f2 version, but get the f1.7 if you can. I have this one.
  • Minolta MD 56mm f1.4. Another beast in small size. Excellent, even better than the above. About $200-300. I also have this one.
  • Minolta MD 35mm f1.8. Very rare to find, and it is an excellent lens. I haven't been able to get my hands on this, but it is very recommended.
  • Pentax 135mm f2.8. I have this one, it is also a terribly sharp lens, excellent photos. I have it with a Pentax-K mount. Great for MSD and SD dolls.
  • Jupiter-9 85mm f2. If you find this in a decent state, with the ring going up to f22, priced about $300 and with a mount that it is NOT bayonet, throw your money at it. I have been scouting for this beast and haven't been able to find one. Very difficult to get, usually ships from Russia/Ukraine. Excellent for MSD to SD dolls.
I hope this was useful! I will leave you with some photos here, and please, let me know if you have questions!

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