Legacy Lenses On Modern Bodies
A quick iPhone snap of the Sony A6000 and a small sampling of my legacy lenses and lens adapters.
The first time I tried the Sony A6000, (and the Sony A7 for that matter), I was fairly pleased with the image quality – especially the A6000 – but frustrated by the lack of sensibly priced lenses for the bodies. There are a few very nice Zeiss-made lenses for the new Sony mirrorless cameras, but there is a serious lack of decent, nicely priced options…there really are no decently-priced quality Sony branded lenses available…the closest one would be the Sony/Zeiss 35mm, but that lens is f/2.8 and costs $799! The 55mm f/1.8 Zeiss is a great lens, but it is $999. Not wanting to have to start again with buying quality glass, I ended up returning both the A6000 and the A7 at that time.
Recently, the A6000 came down briefly in price and I ended up getting a kit for a great deal. Had I known I was going to end up using legacy glass on it, I would’ve just gone for the body instead of the kit because the kit lens really kind of sucks. Oh well.
Right after I got the second A6000, I got a Fotodiox Pro Nikon G/NEX adapter so I could play around with some of my Nikon lenses with it. With the A6000’s great “focus peaking” feature that helps manual focusing, I started to really have a good time using the camera this way. So I started looking around for some old, inexpensive lenses…Legacy Lenses.
I found a few that were very affordable so I decided to give them a shot, and I also got a Fotodiox Pro Nikon G/Fuji X adapter so I could start using legacy lenses on my Fuji bodies as well. I initially got a bundle of odds & ends gear for about $30 that included a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E prime. The Series E lenses were introduced around 1979 – my version is from 1981. It’s a great little lens…and I mean little. I think it’s probably the smallest, lightest prime that Nikon has made. My particular version is in absolutely mint condition. The only thing I would consider a bit of a con is that minimum focusing distance isn’t quite as close as the Nikon G 50mm f/1.4 AF-S lens that I use with my big Nikon kit. It becomes a 75mm f/1.8 on the A6000 and X-T1 bodies.
Nikon Series E 50mm lens – probably the smallest & lightest 50mm Nikon has made.
In the same bundle of gear that had the Series E lens, there were a couple M42-mount lenses…a Hanimex 135mm f/2.8 and another 50mm lens that I later found out is actually a Zeiss prime…a Jena DDR 50mm f/2.8. The Hanimex is a real piece of crap – it’s not built very well and it closest focusing distance is somewhere around 7 feet! It ended up in a junk drawer. The Zeiss is a bit strange. It’s not what you’d expect from a Zeiss lens…which is why you can find them pretty cheap. Mine is in average condition and cost about $10. At f/2.8, it’s not very fast for a “nifty fifty”, and the Bokeh is a bit unusual too. It can be fun every now and then, but it’s not a lens I’d go to frequently.
I found a little Vivitar 135mm f/3.5 for about $10 in Nikon non-AI mount and got it. I gotta say, I really like these old Vivitars. They are built like tanks, and a lot of them are actually really nice optically. I barely remember when Vivitar made quality items – the company now seems to specialize in budget accessories. I happen to have a Vivitar branded charger for my A6000 batteries since Sony goes the cheapskate route and doesn’t even give you an external battery charger with their cameras anymore. Anyway, many of the old Vivitars are wonderful lenses. The little 135mm f/3.5 was my first Vivitar and is mint – perfect glass and the body looks like new. On the crop bodies, it becomes roughly a 200mm lens and it has very nice Bokeh.
After acquiring that lens, I started searching for other Vivitars. It’s actually kind of fun…they are widely available and it’s fun to search for ones in great shape, but at good prices. There are a lot of Minolta MD mount lenses out there, so I decided to get a couple MD/NEX adapters and also an MD/Fuji X adapter and start the hunt. Two lenses intrigued me right away – the 70-150mm and 75-205mm Close Focus zooms – and after researching them I learned that they are widely appreciated around the photography community, especially the 70-150 lens. Available in both a one-touch version as well as a two-ring version, I opted to search for a one-touch version because most feel it is the better of the two…sharper and the close focus ability works throughout the entire zoom range. I ended up finding a beautiful copy of the lens in MD mount on Etsy for only $15 so I snagged it. When it arrived, I was very pleased to find that it looked like a brand new lens! You never really know what you’re going to get no matter what the description says and the pictures show, but knock on wood I have been pretty lucky so far. (UPDATE: Out of all the legacy lenses I’ve acquired so far, two of them had real problems when they arrived, but I got full refunds from the sellers on both and one of them even let me keep the lens.) At the same time I found the 70-150 lens, Etsy had one of the 75-205 two-ring lenses priced at $11, but there was no mention of the mount type. I was fairly certain it was Nikon AI mount – in the picture, it looked like it had the tell tale silver tab on the aperture ring. It looked like it was in great shape, so for $11 I figured I’d chance it. It arrived a day after the 70-150 lens and was in fact a Nikon mount, and it too looked like a new lens. Another great score! The 70-150mm f/3.8 becomes a 105-225mm and the 75-205 becomes a 112-307mm, both at f/3.8…fairly fast for the type of lens. Both have much closer focusing ability than normal zooms in that range which makes them even better, and both are built like tanks like most of the old Vivs. Both have serial numbers starting with 22 which signifies they were made by Kino Precision (who made the nice Kiron lenses) and is one of the companies that made Vivitars in the past and are among the most sought after. The 70-150 lens is a 1982 and the 75-205 is from 1978.
Sony A6000 with Vivitar 70-150mm f/3.8 Close Focus Lens
Wanting to get something that might make a good street photography lens on the A6000, I started looking for something like a 28mm lens. After my luck on Etsy with the telephoto lenses, I looked there again. I found a 28mm f/2.8 lens in Nikon AI mount made by Cimko. I had never heard of Cimko and there wasn’t a whole lot of info online about them either. The lens looked in great shape though and was nicely priced at $14, so before putting down the higher price that the Nikon and Minolta 28mm lenses were going for, I thought I’d give the Cimko a shot to see if I was going to like a 28mm on a crop body. The Cimko took about 4 days to arrive, and as luck would have it, it too was in like new condition. It turned out to be a very solid, sharp lens and I’m really glad I took a chance on it because I saved myself a lot of money by getting it and not a higher priced 28mm – it is every bit as sharp as a real Nikon 28mm at a sliver of the price a Nikon would have cost me.
With these lenses, I was pretty set to go out and have some fun – which is the main reason I got into using these old lenses in the first place. If I’m shooting something serious, or for a paid gig or something like that, I’m obviously going to either use my Nikon gear or my Fuji X gear. This legacy stuff is just for going out and having fun. I still get on some of the online forums and read about other legacy glass that people are discovering or recommending. I get on eBay or Etsy and do searches for old lenses – I set the sort for Lowest Price First and just start looking. One day when I got on eBay and did just that, I spotted a Minolta Rokkor-QF 50mm Macro f/3.5 lens that looked cool. I did a little research and learned that it is a very highly respected piece of glass and originally came in a set that included the lens (which goes to 1:2 natively), a Macro Extender that makes it a true 1:1 Macro lens, an MD Reversing Ring that will allow you to mount the lens on the camera backwards for super macro beyond 1:1, and a leather carry case for all the pieces. All the ones for sale online that I was finding were either just the lens or the lens and the macro extender. Prices varied wildly from around $60 for rough copies all the way up to $350. A couple days went by and I saw a new listing of the whole kit – I got excited! Upon looking, I saw that the lens wasn’t in the greatest shape – the front was dented and the glass had some dust. It was also priced well over $100. I passed. Etsy had a couple – one just the lens and one with the extender and I was getting close to picking one of those to go with when I spotted a new listing on eBay for what could only be described as a New In Box kit! Here was the lens, the extender, the reversing ring, the leather case, the case strap, all the caps, and it was all in the original box! Not wanting to go through the whole eBay bidding ordeal, I sent a message to the seller to see what they’d take for the kit as a Buy It Now and happily worked out a great deal. Two days later, I rushed home and tore into the box. Everything was just like the seller described and was absolutely BRAND NEW! Not a spec of dust, nothing…in fact it appeared to never have been even mounted on a camera. I’ve bought new lenses that didn’t look as new as this kit from the early 80’s!
The Minolta Rokkor QF 50mm Macro with extender and reversing ring – as mint as the day they left the factory!
I’ve recently added more lenses to my Legacy Lens Collection…I just got a couple mid-80’s Minolta MD lenses. I got a 50mm f/1.7 and a 28mm f/2.8. I’ve always had a soft spot for that era of Minolta glass because my first serious camera was a Minolta X-700 that my Mom bought me when I was young. These lenses are really sharp, have great coatings, and are pretty inexpensive when you find them used. There are several extremely nice Minolta’s out there and they are usually solid and in great condition and fairly plentiful due to their popularity in the past. The 50mm MD is my current “50mm of choice” – thought I will sometimes reach for the Minolta 50mm Macro if I am going for razor sharp! I also picked up what has become one of my favorite lenses now – a Tamron 35-80mm f/2.8-3.8 CF Macro Model 01A zoom. I recently posted about this lens HERE. I liked that lens so much, I started researching the Tamron Adaptall-2 lenses and kept seeing good things about the Tamron 80-210mm f/3.8 Model 103A zoom so when I found one of those in excellent shape for $17, I snagged it as well.
Wild Geranium; Sony A6000 with Tamron 80-210mm f/3.8-4 Lens
I also picked up some Asahi Pentax Super Takumar lenses which are loved by many. I bought a 35mm f/3.5 which is considered a jewel of a lens, and also a 55mm f/1.8 and a 135mm f/3.5. All three are from the mid-60’s but are in absolutely beautiful condition. Their build quality is great and is a big reason so many people like them – all metal and very solid feeling and I especially like the solid metal focus ring – something I wish the Minolta lenses had instead of their rubber covered focus rings. They also have good contrast for older lenses and can usually render very nice bokeh. The 35mm is my favorite of the three and it’s small size and beautiful build is just wonderful, but it suffered from what I have discovered is fairly common for the lens – it didn’t focus at infinity very well. A quick look on the internet revealed that this issue is found in a number of the Super Takumar lenses, especially the 35mm. I found a step by step how-to article HERE that showed how to open up the lens and adjust it, so I went ahead and gave it a shot. It was pretty straightforward and simple and within an hour I had my 35mm focusing sharp at infinity! I’m so glad I went ahead and did it. The 55mm showed a little softness at infinity too, so I opened it up to adjust it as well. It was a bit harder to fix – the front trim ring was very hard to remove unlike the one on the 35mm due to some thread wear or damage I think, and since I didn’t pay very much for it I actually used a small jewelers screwdriver to get the ring off…something you don’t really want to do that close to a lens element! I ended up getting it unscrewed completely but the trim ring ended up suffering some scratch damage – only aesthetic damage though luckily, but I ended up getting it sorted too. The 135mm was fine from the get-go. The glass on all three is mint (even after adjusting the 35 and 55!). I really love the build quality of these old Super Takumar lenses, but overall I actually like the Minolta MD lenses a bit more and their performance IMO is as good as the Super Takumars and Nikkors. I like the focus throw of them a lot – it is long enough that you can really dial in good focus, but not too long. I will keep my eye out for nice Minolta glass in the future.
I recently started a little project of shooting faces, fairly close up with shallow depth of field, in black and white using either the A6000 or an XT-1 with an old lens on it and I’m having a great time doing that.
SIDENOTE UPDATE 6/10/2015: I recently got the Sony A7II body and gave it a shot and found the in-body image stabilization was great…I easily got great results handholding the A7II with the Tamron 80-210mm zoomed out to 210 at a 1/15 shutter speed! I did end up returning the A7II though because I didn’t love the image quality believe it or not. I’m sure many won’t believe me, but I tested the A7II against the Fuji X-T1 – both with a Tamron 35-80mm f/2.8 lens via the appropriate NEX and Fuji X adapters. Keeping everything the same (ISO, SS, Aperture, lighting, etc.) – I honestly preferred the Fuji images and thought they looked better! Also, at low ISO’s the A7II is fine, but it falls behind other full frame offerings at higher ISO’s, (as well as the X-T1 to be honest). I’m not saying the A7II doesn’t have good image quality because it does…it’s just not as good as I personally think it should be for a brand new camera at that price point. I think the just announced A7rII might be the better way to go as it offers much higher image quality/resolution as well as greater high ISO performance while offering the main reason I got the A7II – the in body stabilization. I may try out an A7rII when they are released, but I very well might be happy enough with whatever replaces the A6000 as I’m sure it’ll offer in-body stabilization and obviously be considerably less expensive than the A7II & A7rII. UPDATE 2-3-2016: Sony has announced the A6300 as the replacement for the A6000 and it DOESN’T have in-body image stabilization! This is a huge mistake in my opinion, and as such I will NOT be upgrading to the A6300.
If you have a mirrorless camera, you really owe it to yourself to get an adapter or two and try out some of these legacy lenses on it. Can you get better contrast and sharpness with a modern lens? Yeah, I’d say definitely, but there’s something about using these older lenses that a lot of people enjoy – myself included. It is a lot of fun, and you can get some cool results as just about all of these older lenses have their own character…their own soul if you will…that makes shooting with them a great experience.
My search for legacy lenses continues…
Usually inexpensive; adapters available for just about every lens mount imaginable; the “hunt” for lenses can be fun (and addictive); on crop-sensor bodies, you use more of the “sweet spot” of the lens; true manual focusing instead of the “focus by wire” of some modern lenses; unique character for many lenses; sometimes you come across a real gem of a lens for next to nothing.
Buying used (especially online) can be a gamble; no autofocus or auto exposure (although modern feature like focus peaking and the WYSIWYG nature of mirrorless cameras make it fairly painless); you may need a new bag to carry all the cool lenses you’ll inevitably end up with – and it’ll be heavy because the majority of these older lenses are solidly built and heavy; prices are slowly creeping upwards as more and more people are discovering using them on mirrorless bodies; older lens coatings sometimes aren’t as good as modern coatings and you could get less contrast or more chromatic aberrations than with a modern lens.
Fujifilm X-T1 with the Cimko 28mm f/2.8 lens.
Quick Ratings For My Current Legacy Lenses: