The ultimate guide to Vintage Glass
As requested, a guide on vintage glass. I would say Iím one of the more knowledgable ones when it comes to the old stuff on NS and sharing is always a good thing, so here goes. Iíve divided the guide in a couple of sections.
- 1 Ė Vintage glass, why?
While some of you may be familiar with vintage glass, some of you may not. Either way, old glass is something you should be glad to know something about. First, letís address what vintage glass even is. Commonly, vintage glass is a reference to a group of lenses that are older, from the MF (manual focus) era.
While thereís an increasing interest by a group of people to adapt their old lenses to their modern digital cameraís, a lot of shooters donít even know this is possible (and thankfully so).
Let me point out the many advantages vintage glass has over modern day AF (auto focus) lenses.
- Price: because most people nowadays rely on autofocus for getting their stuff in focus, people dump their old lenses for very low prices, simply because the demand is much lower. Both the high supply and low demand as well as the much simpeler technologies used in the lenses, they are relatively much, much cheaper.
- Optical quality: You would say technology changed a lot in the last decennia (and I fully agree) but when it comes to technologies in the making of glass, very, very little has changed. While itís far from acurate to say all vintage lenses have very good optical quality, a lot of the higher-end lenses are just as amazing as todays higher-end lenses: the only difference being that older high-end lenses are reasonably priced. Some lenses from the 50ís, 60ís and 70ís have little air bubbles in them, this isnít a sign of bad glass: quite the contrary actually. These air bubbles indicate the use of high end glass: the hotter the glass is when molded, the better the optical quality, but also the more air bubbles there are. These bubbles donít affect the optical quality.
- Build quality: untill the 80ís, plastic wasnít a common material to be used in every day use. Our generation grew up with everything made of plastic, but untill the 80ís, plastic was rarely used, let alone in the making of housings for lenses. Pretty much every lens produced before around 1985 is made with metal. Lenses made before 1975 are mostly 100% metal. Especially Soviet-made lenses are build like tanks and can be dropped with no consequences. Nowadays lenses feel like toys compared to most vintage glass
- Focus: Especially for video, thereís absolutely no reason to buy contemporary glass instead of the older stuff, as AF during video doensít work anyway (and if it does, it blows). The focus with older lenses is incredibly much better compared to that of modern lenses. The focus ring is bigger, much smoother and the focus throw (the amount of degrees the lenses has to be turned from MFD (minimum focusing distance) to infinity is much bigger (resulting in being able to make much finer adjustments). While you may think MFíing is hard with a modern lens, with older lenses, itís much, much easier, simply because everybody had to manually focus.
- The aperture of all vintage glass is set on the lens, not in camera. I find this a very big advantage. I like setting the aperture on the lens itself much better than doing it through a button/setting/menu on your camera. Itís much faster. The disadvantage to this is that when shooting stopped down (at higher f-stops) the viewfinder darkens significantly. You can compose your image first and then stop down. On your LCD it shouldnít darken (your camera compensates for it).
- The price of most vintage glass is rising. While a year or 5 back EVERYBODY made the the change from analog to digital (resulting in RIDICULOUSLY low prices, even for amazing Leica and Zeiss glass), a lot of people are going Ďback to their rootsí by shooting film or are adapting their old lenses to their digital cameraís, resulting in an increase in price in most lenses. Vintage glass Iíve had for a longer period of time are most of the time worth more now than they were when I bought them. Good investment (unlike modern glass).
Ok, by now you should know more or less why you would want to shoot vintage glass. Thereís a shit ton of advantages and basically two disadvantages: you have to manually focus and there is barely any good older zooms out there. Iíll eleborate the latter a bit further:
The first zoom lens dates from the late 50ís (I think) but it was complete shit, like all zoom lenses were till somewhere in the 80ís. While primes of the 60ís are no worse than of today, zoom lenses have seen a tremendous amount of optical increase in the past decennia. Not untill the 80ís was there any zoom lens that was worth getting or that came anywhere near the optical quality of primes. Personally I love shooting primes, but if you want a zoom lens, thereís not a whole many that can compete with newer, AF lenses (while there are some that trump any AF zoom in terms of IQ (image quality), think of the Zeiss 35-70.
Now that youíre up to date as far as vintage glass goes, letís see how you can adapt them to your digital camera.
- 2 Ė Which brands and mounts can be adapted to my camera?
Most brands have their own mount to attach a lens to a camera, while some used mounts by other manufacturers or made lenses for cameraís not made by the company. Older cameraís used a screw mount that used a thread to screw a lens onto a camera. Later on, the bayonet replaced the more common screw mounts, because they were easier to use, as well as more secure.
Now, the factor that determines whether a lens can be used on your digital camera or not, is the flange to film distance (FFD). This is the distance from the rear element of your lens, to where your sensor (or film) is. If the distance for your camera is bigger than that of the lens you want to adapt, you wonít be able to, because the mirror will hit the rear element of the lens. Even though the FFD might on paper be big enough, a lot of the older lenses have a rear element that portrudes a little into the camera when focused at infinity. Sometimes, this prevents the mirror in your SLR to move up, because it hits the rear element of camera, thus preventing from taking an image. This is one of the reasons why you wonít be able to adapt vintage glass (or you can adapt it, but canít focus to infinity, resulting in you being able to use only Ďhalfí of your lens).
In the case of Canon, because the fullframe cameraís have a bigger mirror than crop cameraís (while they have the same FFD) some lenses can only be adapted to croppers, while the FF cameraís wonít have mirror clearance.
You can buy an optical adapter to prevent the mirror from hitting and allowing you to use lenses with a shorter FFD with cameraís with a bigger FFD, but those adapters GREATLY decrease the optical quality of your lenses, not making it worth it to do so.
Thereís a very nice wikipedia site that has listed all the flange distances, check it out here:
Easily put: any lens where the register distance to itís designated camera is bigger than that of your current camera, you should should be able to adapt it. You have to take into account the size of the adapter ring though.
Canon has a register distance of 44mm, Nikon of 46.5mm. Thatís the reason why you can adapt Nikon to Canon, but not the other way around.
The following mounts can be adapted with an adapter ring to Canon:
- Nikon (F-mount)
- Pentax (K-mount)
- Praktica (M42 (screw mount))
- Olympus (OM-mount)
- Contax/Yashica (C/Y-mount)
- Tamron (T/T2 Ė screwmount. Similar, but not the same as M42!)
There are others, but these are by far most common!
The following mounts can be adapted with an adapter ring to Nikon:
- Tamron (T/T2 Ė screwmount. Similar, but not the same as M42!)
- Leica (R-mount. Not to be confused with M-mount. You canít adapt M!)
- Nikon (F-mount)
As you can see, you can adapt a lot of lenses to Canon, while you only adapt to two to Nikon. The great thing about Nikon is though, that Nikon has never changed itís mount, allowing you to shoot with any Nikon glass that was ever made for a Nikon SLR, whereas Canon chaned their SLR mount two times (first from FL to FD, then from FD to EF), allowing you only to use Canon glass from 1986 or later.
While Minolta/Sony uses an FFD of 44.5 (0.5mm bigger than Canon) it canít be adapted because of issues with mirror clearance. Most Minolta (Rokkor) lenses can be converted to the EF mount though (changing the mount, not adapting it).
- 3 Ė The great list of great glass
This is a list that will surely change and expand as I will be updating this guide. Itís only a small list of lenses that are definitely worth checking out if you want to give vintage glass a try. While thereís a great many lenses that are absolutely fantastic, those are pretty expensive most of the time. Every lens on this list should be under 200$.
The reason there isnít many ultra long or ultra wide lenses, is that the optical quality is just very bad compared to modern glass. The distortion, sharpness, ghosting and CA on most lenses shorter than 20mm and longer than 135mm is mostly really bad, not making it worth to buy the lens.
Itallic = cheap (should be around 50$ or less)
23mm and under
Tokina 17mm RMC f/3.5
Vivitar 17mm f/3.5 (the 67mm filter thread is the same as Tokina)
Zeiss Flektogon 20mm f/4.0
Olympus OM Zuiko 24mm f/2.8
Nikon Ai-S 24mm f/2.8
Sigma Super Wide II f/2.8
Olympus OM Zuiko 28mm f/3.5
Olympus OM Zuiko 28mm f/2.8
Vivitar Close Focus 28mm f/2.8 (Komine build)
Pentacon 29mm f/2.8 (hit or miss - some are great, others suck)
Mir24 35mm f/2.0
Nikon AI-S 35mm f/2.0
Olympus Zuiko 35mm f/2.0
Mir-1 37mm f/2.8 Ė Very good distortion control
S-M-C Takumar 35mm f/3.5 (the f/2 is not so great)
Super-Takumar 50mm f/1.4
Super-Multi-Coated (S-M-C) Takumar 50mm f/1.4
SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.4
Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.4
S-M-C Takumar 50mm f/2.0
Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 (and itís variations: 44m, 44-1 (13 blade diaphragm), 44-
3, 44m-4, 44m-6 Ė optically the same)
Contax/Yashica 50mm f/1.7 (Zeiss made)
Jupiter-9 85mm f/2.0
Nikon AI-S 80mm f/2.0
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 (while not vintage, itís an MF lens and to be honest: if you want to get a good 85mm, get this one. No vintage glass beats this)
Meyer-Optik GŲrlitz Orestor 135mm f/3.5 or f/2.8 version
S-M-C/SMC Takumar 135mm f/3.5
S-M-C/SMC Takumar 135mm f/2.5
Jupiter 37a 135mm f/3.5
Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm f/3.5
Tair-11a 135mm f/2.8
Contax Zeiss Sonnar 135mm f/2.8
Additional information regarding different lenses and models
Two versions of the S-M-C Tak 135mm f/2.5
- Code: 43802 Ė 5 elements in 4 groups (slightly worse)
- Code: 43812 Ė 6 elements in 6 groups (awesome lens)
- For differences see:
Additional explanations about some brands and makes:
Asahi Takumar (later Pentax):
Thereís 4 different kinds of Takumars:
- Takumar. These arenít of very good optical quality. Not worth trying.
- Super-Takumar. These are optically much better, but still suffer from flare because of the lack of good coating
- Super-Multi-Coated Takumar. My favorite. Full metal housing, great coating.
- SMC Takumar. Optically the same as Super-Multi-Coated, but incorporates plastic in the build. I prefer S-M-C over SMC
There were three big players in the vintage glass market: Germany, Japan and the USSR.
The differences are mostly as follows:
- Germany: Mostly the best glass. Think about Zeiss, Leica, Voigtlšnder with great build quality. As good (and as expensive) as it gets in the world of vintage glass.
- Japanese glass. Now, Iím not totally up to date when it comes to this but the one thing thatís very important to know when it comes to Japenese glass, is that thereís a difference between brands and manufacturers. While a company like Soligor sells good glass, this doesnít mean they made it as well. Soligor must have sold tens of different kinds of 28mmís, all made by different manufacturers. Different manufacturers include:
Some manufacturers made great glass (eg. Tomioka), while others made both good and bad glass (eg. Chinon). The manufacturer with Japanese glass is MUCH more important than the brand. Find out who manufactured the lens, not who branded it.
A brand like Vivitar (although not Japanese) got pretty much all of their lenses out of Japan and just rebranded them as Vivitar. Thereís really good, but also really terrible lenses under the Vivitar name. It all has to do with the manufacturer!
- Glass out of the USSR. Soviet glass was mostly made and ripped of from German glass (just like Japanese glass). Think about the dozens of cameraís and lenses that were based on a German camera or lens. The Soviets did a remarkably good job when it comes to ripping of though. They put out some great cameraís and lenses for a fraction of the price of their German counterparts. A lot of the lenses from them were based on optical schemes the Russians got when they entered eastern-Germany (where the Zeiss factory was. For example, a lens under the Carl Zeiss Jena brand was in fact NOT German made, but Russian made)
Glass from the USSR has mostly the best build quality, best price, are mostly a little slower (in terms of aperture) and arenít as Ďcomplicatedí as Japnese lenses (in terms of different makes. Most Soviet lenses didnít really change throughout production.
There's a LOT of lenses made in the pre-90's era. Many more than nowadays, it's impossible to list them all and there's a great many lenses that can be discarded solely on brand name, just because they never really put out anything good, some common ones include:
- Prinz Galaxy
- Pentacon (sells a great many shit lenses. Some good ones, notable their 135mm's and 29mm's.)
Brands where most of the stuff is good, though there might be some ones that aren't as good:
- Carl Zeiss
- Carl Zeiss Jena
- Fujinon (especially their ECB lenses are superb!)
- Steinheil Munchen
- Nikon (Nikkor)
- Olympus Zuiko
- Contax/Yashica (Zeiss made)
- Helios (if you like interesting bokeh)
External links on vintage glass with lots of info:
Pentax K-mount: http://www.bdimitrov.de/kmp/
Nikon serial numbers: http://www.photosynthesis.co.nz/nikon/lenses.html
Nikon: Non-Ai, Ai or Ais:
Vivitar: To find out which company made your vivitar lens:
Rokkor (Minolta) - How to convert to EOS:
Thatís it for now!
If you want to add or ask something, I will add it later on and put it in a revised edition.