Adapt and Rediscover the Charm of Vintage Lenses

Exploring the creative possibilities opened by legacy glass

By Fenwoodian in Articles and Tips on May 23, 2019

Welcome to the exciting world of adapted lenses: this is where old, manual focus, modestly priced, prime lenses are rediscovered and given a new life on modern digital cameras!  Adapted lenses are being used more and more for producing fine art images, especially when exceptional bokeh, color, and 3D-like depth are required.

There are two ways to adapt a lens. 

  1. Attach a temporary/removable mount to the rear of the lens. These temporary adapters can be “dumb” (having no electrical communications with the camera) or “smart” (having full electrical communications with the camera).  The dumb temporary rear mount adapters are usually inexpensive and of low quality. The smart temporary rear mount adapters are expensive and do enable auto focus.  Both varieties are fast and easy to attach and remove from a lens; but they are not as tight and secure as a permanent mount is.  Temporary mounts by design are loose and bit sloppy.  They can wobble/rotate/shift. 
  2. Attach a new permanent mount to the rear of the lens. These permanent adapters are usually “dumb”. Their prices fall in between the two types of temporary adapters mentioned above.  These permanent adapters at a minimum will require removal of the original lens mount, and will often require significant modification to the lens.  

Various lens adapters

I prefer the permanent adapter option.  Permanent adapters offer a more secure attachment to the camera.  Premium permanent adapters, if installed properly, will result in no loss of image quality when used.  The same cannot be said of the temporary/removable types of adapters.

Editorial note: the genuine Pentax M42 to K-mount adapter is by far the most popular adapter for Pentax users looking to get started with adapting lenses, since M42 lenses are abundant, easy to adapt, and work without any optical limitations.

7 Reasons to Adapt Lenses

There are dozens of reasons why there’s a resurgence in using old adapted lenses.  Below are the seven reasons why I sold my auto focus, modern zoom lenses and replaced them with vintage prime, manual focus glass: 

  1. They don’t make lenses like they used to. In the old days, they used toxic compounds in their optical glass (toxic lead, radioactive thorium oxide).  Due to environmental regulations this type of glass can no longer be made.  Also, older lenses did not use exotic ED glass and aspherical molded elements in their designs.  Modern computer designed lenses put a premium on sharpness at the expense of color fidelity, micro contrast, 3D-like depth and bokeh.
  2. Older manual focus lenses with metal construction last longer than modern lightweight plastic auto-focus zoom lenses.
  3. Vintage lenses use a simpler optical design. Most of my favorite lenses have optical elements numbering in the single digits. I don’t care the rendering produced by high element count lenses.
  4. Older lenses often have “defects” that are designed out of modern lenses. Defects like vignetting and field curvature that create depth in photos. 
  5. Many individual old lenses produce images that have their own look, personality, soul, character, and signature. While images produced by modern lenses look mostly the same.
  6. Manual focus prime lenses are easy to repair and clean.
  7. Vintage lenses are cheaper than modern lenses. I often buy cheap older lenses that are defective (fungus, dust, scratches, oil on blades, stuck aperture, stiff focus) or being sold for parts. Often they are quickly repaired and good as new.

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