Recycle, reuse, reshoot. As long as you don’t mind manually focusing and establishing your exposure, why pay a ton of money when there are so many used, high quality lenses available? Sure there are many optical and automated benefits to modern lenses, but sometimes, for the money saved, I can deal with the shortcomings of older, out of date lenses. Using older, “legacy” glass on multiple cameras, either via a proprietary mount or adapter, can provide a fun, reasonably affordable and beneficial experience…
I stumbled across a cache of Canon FD lenses accompanied by an old beat up F-1 camera for less than an EF 50 f/1.4 lens on my local craigslist site. The box of old gear included a 35mm f/2, 55mm f/1.2, 100mm f/4 macro, 400mm f/4.5 and a couple of slow zooms. The owner knew that a couple of the lenses he was selling were worth the price of admission alone, but just wanted to get rid of them. Looking through Ebay, I knew what he was saying, and also figured out how some folks on Ebay were making their money… For me, I was more interested in using these lenses (speaking of ebay) via the FD>m4/3 adapter, and even have been having fun using them with an FD>EF adapter. On my full frame 5DII, the FD lenses exhibit quite a few shortcomings and are certainly under-performers on a high resolution full frame sensor when needing to be translated by an adapter with a sub-par optical element, but hey, for the money, I’m just happy to have an f/1.2 lens to play around with. On my 40D and my Panasonic GF1, they are awesome. By eliminating the edges of the image circle (by way of smaller than full frame sensors), it has cut out most of the issues these lenses have been showing on the 5DII. (the e-bay links I’ve provided above are for the adapters I personally bought from those same sellers, they both function as advertised and I would buy from either seller again) If you do get an adapter from either of these guys, let them know I said hi.
I have been a critic of the larger, bulky, slower (and not cheap) lenses currently being offered by the micro 4/3’s camp in an attempt to seemingly attract the P&S converts into a low profile system camera, as opposed to (in my opinion) offering up what the system really should be focusing on, being size (or lack of to be more specific) combined with decent IQ (for the overall size of the camera) which is where it trumps other entry level system cameras. I am not in charge of the bottom line at these companies, so I am sure people much smarter and more savvy than I are in the positions making these choices for good reasons. I am a big fan of fast prime lenses and because Panasonic and Olympus have been slow in bringing fast, low profile, prime/pancake or fast zoom lenses of varying focal lengths to market, I have figured I would save myself some money by buying older glass. If I were going to have a bulky lens hanging off the front of my GF1, why not save myself some cash and get some solidly built, high quality, fast manual focus legacy lenses? That said, Panolympus may still get a bit of my money with fast, wide, pancake primes, in the future (or if the 7-14 f/4 price gets cut in half), but I doubt I will spend much for any other dedicated micro 4/3 lenses personally. The lenses being offered are certainly quality lenses from what I’ve seen, but too rich for my blood priced as is.
That said, I am a big fan of the micro 4/3 system, and feel the two best qualities it provides (or is capable of providing) over other systems are; #1 – size, followed closely by #2 – its third party lens compatibility. Most other factors are eclipsed by the other camera manufacturers and cameras being offered currently. The fact that I can fit a relatively large sensor camera with a fast standard lens in my coat pocket is cool. If I have to carry a bigger camera bag around, I may as well bring my other cameras out, OR, a bag full of my already purchased and other cheaply acquired manual lenses and adapters just for the fun of it. So why use large, heavy, third party lenses on these small compact cameras you ask? Well, because it’s cheap (or free if you already have the lenses) and it’s fun. That brings us back to the topic at hand.
While I do hope that Panasonic adds sensor based stabilization to the next in the GF line (or Oly adds a decent LCD screen, better AF and gets rid of the menu labyrinth they may get my money) I am pretty happy with the GF1’s performance with my FD lenses and do enjoy the ‘manual’ shooting experience. As I mentioned in the previous post linked above, I really have had fun, and have benefited my technique, shooting manually. Here are a few examples using the GF1 and EF mount cameras with Canon FD lenses (all shot RAW and converted in Aperture 3):
The Canon FD 35mm f/2 SSC lens is a near perfect mate for the GF1 in my opinion. Relatively affordable, great balance, nice manual focusing dampening and very painterly bokeh straight out of the camera. It provides a 70mm equivalent field of view, great for much of what I enjoy shooting.
The Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 SSC was the main reason that I bought the bunch. I am a fast glass fan and have never personally owned a lens faster than f/1.4 so I thought why not give it a try. Wide open it is soft. I wouldn’t consider this lens to be a performer when sharpness in low light was a serious concern, but the results can be really, really cool. I had to wait for my FD>m4/3 adapter to show up, so I did a bit of shooting on the 5DII just to see how it would go, I’ve since seen the same thing with the other lenses, the smaller the sensor, the cleaner the image from corner to corner. Cutting out the edges of the image circle on this guy certainly helps, but personally, I like vignettes and edge blur if used right.
The 35 f/2 and 55 f/1.2 both provide an almost painting like quality to images shot wide open. Stopping down can sharpen up the image, but I like to shoot fast lenses wide open, or near wide open most of the time and like to look at their performance, or quirks at the larger apertures. Why have a fast lens if you don’t use its speed as it’s primary function? The 35 is sharper than I would have guessed it to be, but the 55, wide open at least, is more an “artistic” lens. It could be my copy and I hope to get hold of one of the Noktor 50 f/.95 to do some comparisons to see if the extra $600 or so would be worth the extra speed in the micro 4/3 realm.
The Canon FD 100mm f/4 macro is as sharp as you’d want it. Doing a little searching around, this lens in good condition commands around $150 and I’m sure even better deals can be found. Even at that price, I’d say it is worth it for a true 1:1 macro lens. Many 35mm and 50mm legacy “macro” lenses may only go 1:2 at maximum magnification without extension tubes, so if you are looking for a true 1:1 life size macro lens that will double as a great portrait/short tele lens, keep it in mind.
What to say about the Canon FD 400mm f/4.5 SSC? The thing is a beast, but compared to the EF offerings, it is much smaller and lighter. It looks like a telescope attached to the camera. On the 5DII, it certainly suffered in the corners, but the center fared well. On the GF1, it turned into an absolute monster. Because the high ISO performance of the GF1 is mediocre, this combo is really only decent in good light.
(This vignetting was entirely down to the lens and adapter’s inability to get the right amount of light across the entire full frame sensor. Just something to live with on a full frame digital camera I guess. Actually, I usually add a vignette anyway so it’s fine with me.)
Why do we take pictures? I’m sure there are quite a variety of answers to that type of question. Personally, I take pictures because I love to. It is fun and a much better way to waste my time than exercising or drinking. I have been enjoying this legacy lens renaissance and have saved myself some money. I doubt I will do much in the way of paid work with any of these lenses, but I will guess that I’ll catch a few shots here and there that I will put to some use and arguably already have. Between a couple cameras, adapters and these new lenses I have enough to keep me entertained and enjoying the variety for a very long time, not to mention enough range to cover more shooting situations than I ever have before. I doubt (much to Mrs. Squeeze’s frustration) that I will go the rest of my life not ever buying another lens, but I must say that I will certainly give older lenses a more serious look. Have a glance at your local craigslist site, check ebay or find a local camera store specializing in used camera equipment. I found one here in Portland called Blue Moon Camera and Machine, and they are a great shop and film lab. I’ve talked to them and they are happy to send lenses all over the place via USPS, and they have a ton of older glass in the FD, OM and Nikon flavors (as well as a bunch of other stuff too) combined with a knowledgeable and friendly staff. They have their entire used camera and lens inventory on their website which, as far as I can tell they keep up with regularly, with prices and conditions as well as an “inquire” link to ask about a particular lens, or camera. If nothing else, it is a good reference for what might be a fair price for many of these legacy lenses if you are looking elsewhere. Stop in there and say hi.
All in all, I have to say that I have been impressed with the return for such a small investment. Look to make sure that the lenses operate correctly and aren’t wrought with fungus, but otherwise, there are deals to be found! Sure, older lenses don’t benefit from the newer coatings, or certain advancements in optical element design all the while needing to be manually handled, but they are built like tanks and can certainly provide good results. It has been nice getting back to basics regarding exposure and manual focusing and has helped me reassess certain aspects of my photography. I’m really happy I’d found this box of gear on craigslist and decided to give it a new home. I now have a few lenses that, even if their equivalents were offered in a dedicated mount for EF or m4/3, I’d have paid out the ear to acquire them by comparison. Have a look around, you may just find yourself a great deal out there.