5 Reasons Why You Should Buy Vintage Lenses


Gear Focus

Aug 3, 2021

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Glass and lens choice are arguably the most important aspect of your image as a photographer or videographer. The issue is, most of the highly sought after lenses and new lenses cost a fortune! There is another alternative and that lies in vintage lenses.
Vintage lenses? Probably not what you think of first when you're looking to buy a new lens. However, we are here to give you 5 Reasons why you should look into vintage lenses.
Now I'm no expert on vintage lenses. I've only recently started dabbling in this world. However, our good friend Mark Holtze collaborated with us on this epic and super fun-to-make video!

Vintage lenses can lead down a very deep rabbit hole, so with our video and this blog, we only going to scratch the service. There is a ton of information out there on vintage lenses, and Mark's channel also has a wealth of knowledge. Plus he's a good friend of ours. Check out his channel and give him a sub while you're there!


Reason #1 - Unique Look

Vintage lenses
If you've been involved with filmmaking for any amount of time you will probably have heard of the Helios 44-2 lens. Its known for its insanely unique swirly bokeh. It gives off a type of dreamy effect. Now this isn't something you'd necessarily want to use all the time. However, those effects can be quite pleasing if used correctly.
Canon FD lenses are another fairly popular vintage lens go-to. I personally have two of them, the 24mm f/2.8 and the 35mm f/2 (point behind). The great thing about these lenses is they have that "vintage look." Switch to 24mm. They give a softness to the image without being out of focus. This right here is the Canon 24mm.
Lens Choices are another tool in telling your story. Having lenses with a variety of feels is a great way to enhance your story.

Reason #2 - Ease of Use

Another reason to look at vintage lenses is that they are super easy to use. For example, take my canon FD lenses. I have an EF adapter that cost me maybe $50. So I can also use it on my BMPCC6K which has an EF Mount. I also have a cheap adapter for my EOS R so I can use the lenses on RF mounts. If you don't want to deal with adapters and just want to convert the mount, there are several low-cost, DIY kits out there that will permanently (but not irreversibly) convert your lens. We've had this done on a few lenses and will doing that on a few more as well.
Most vintage lenses are extremely flexible when it comes to mount types. Adapters are cheap which makes using them across all camera systems extremely easy. You can find a common mount like the Canon EF mount and really use these things!

Reason #3 - Lower Cost

So adding to your growing list, these are my favorite reasons WHY shooting with vintage lenses is cool and number one point blank is accessibility. Generally speaking you can find these full frame lenses for LESS, I’m trying to avoid the word “CHEAP” because that cheapens their value…but you get the picture. Photography can be expensive, especially lenses. Often times the price of a modern lens might might be a little much, especially if we’ve never SHOT with that lens or focal length before. When things are more affordable we’re a bit more willing to take chances on them, that will get you the experience you need to really push your boundaries… maybe beyond what you would have been able to normally. Lenses tend to be the one thing that can have the biggest impact on your photography.

A Low-Cost Vintage Lens Example

Take for example the Canon FD 70-210mm f/4 telephoto lens, it’s a manual focus lens that predates canon’s EF mount. It cost ME $50. Before I purchased it I was considering the Sony FE 70-200mm F/4 to use with my a7SII. That lens costs $1400. After picking up and shooting with the Canon FD lens, I discovered that the 70-200mm focal length isn’t really something I use a lot in my work. Had I bought the 70-200mm modern version of that lens I would have been out $1400 vs the $50 the Canon FD lens cost me. Vintage lens On the FLIP side, it was through my dedicated experimentation using a Super Takumar 35mm f/2 lens which cost me $100 that I discovered I REALLY love the fixed 35mm focal length. That helped inform my decision to buy the Contax Carl Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lens for $1500. That would turn out to be a very worthwhile investment. It’s KIND of like TRY BEFORE YOU BUY and you’ll learn a lot about what you like to shoot by being able to experiment with different lenses. 

Reason #4 - Learning/Teaching

The second thing I love about shooting with vintage lenses is how much you will learn while using them. Because these lenses predate auto focus, you’re going to have to do some manual labor to get those sharp photo’s. It can be a bit tricky at first, but like anything, practice makes perfect. You challenge the body and the body will respond. Because these lenses use a mechanical focus over a focus by wire system, it really makes it easier to dial in your fine focus details, mirrorless cameras make manual focusing much easier as well with focus aides such as peaking and focus zoom, two tools I use quite a lot when shooting with vintage lenses. It does mean you’ll have to slow down a bit more, but that can be a good thing! Often times when taking the time to compose a nice shot, playing with the focus can help you see more potential in your composition that would have been missed with an autofocus lens. It definitely takes some practice, but it gives you a bit more ownership over your image. There really is nothing better than nailing a shot when you’ve had full control over pretty much every aspect of it.

Reason #5 - They Can Grow With You!

The last thing I love about shooting with vintage lenses is that they can grow WITH you. On one hand you can find super cheap, weird wonderful lenses and just be happy you’re saving money by being able to do more. But on the OTHER hand and this totally happened to me, you’ll find there’s enough latitude in this practice where growth potential is endless. What started out as just an affordable way to experiment turned into a workflow I use in my professional videography work in TV/Doc series filmmaking.  The Helios 44-2, for example, is one of the most mass produced lenses of all time, with an interesting history by the way. This is a customized one, but you can find the lens online for about $50.  This is a RE-HOUSED HELIOS 44-2…the exact same optics inside, but with a custom rehousing built around it for a professional video workflow. It cost more, but is meant for a completely different set of parameters.  These wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the value the original lenses offered.  Shooting with vintage lenses really is a Pandora’s box. I had NO idea simply adapting my grandfather’s lenses to my mirrorless camera would completely transform my professional video work, but also inspire a channel pretty much dedicated to them. There’s a lot to learn, but learning is fun, it’s kinetic, there’s motion in it and the last thing I want to do in my life right now is stagnate. 

Buy Vintage Lenses

Vintage lenses have a ton left to offer even after all of these years. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars on a lens. There is great glass still out there for much less. You may have to put in a little extra manual labor, but the payoff is definitely worth it. If you're looking to purchase a vintage lens or any other camera gear, head on over to Gear Focus! Or, list your vintage lenses for sale if you are thinking of downsizing your gear list.

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