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04-13-2013, 11:29 PM   #1
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Lenses - Old vs New

Aside from coatings and auto-focus... Is there really much difference between new lenses and old? Many primes have kept the same optical formula for decades - only changing construction materials. Even some 30yr old zooms hold up by todays standards. (i'm subconsciously trying to convince myself into a purchasing spree)

04-14-2013, 01:00 AM   #2
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It seems that the biggest difference is with the zoom lenses. Modern zoom lenses are more performant than older zooms. In terms of primes, the difference is small to nil.
04-14-2013, 01:14 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by jkomp316 Quote
Aside from coatings and auto-focus... Is there really much difference between new lenses and old? Many primes have kept the same optical formula for decades - only changing construction materials. Even some 30yr old zooms hold up by todays standards. (i'm subconsciously trying to convince myself into a purchasing spree)
I have a bunch of old lenses (primes) and a few new ones. I really love the oldies but compared to modern lenses I find that in general they have one weakness: flare resistance (and I do use hoods for all my lenses). In backlit conditions you often get ghosts and veiling flare (loss of contrast and washed out colours). My few modern lenses (18-55 WR, 55-300, 15 limited) are much better in this respect.

Some of the oldies, especially longer ones (M135/3.5 and M200/4) also display rather a lot of CA and PF in critical conditions (backlit high contrast scenes). This winter I shot some frosty trees against the sun and the out of focus ones looked like christmas trees (lots of bokeh fringing).

But none of this is a big problem for me. You just have to learn the weaknesses of the lenses and use them accordingly. And considering how cheap you can get them it's a no brainer for me. If I can get a super sharp (it is) 135/3.5 lens with lovely colour rendering for $40 then I don't complain about the problems above. I love the oldies and use them more than my modern lenses.
04-14-2013, 02:27 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by jkomp316 Quote
Aside from coatings and auto-focus... Is there really much difference between new lenses and old? Many primes have kept the same optical formula for decades - only changing construction materials. Even some 30yr old zooms hold up by todays standards. (i'm subconsciously trying to convince myself into a purchasing spree)
Good primes from the past perform very well even today. Especially in terms of sharpness.
The biggest improvements over the years - to me - are reduction of chromatic aberrations caused by new materials and glass types, and the overall performance of complicated zoom constructions.

04-14-2013, 04:39 AM   #5
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Generally the differences from new lenses to older lenses, if we disregard coatings and AF as you state, are design, manufacture method, materials used, communication, control and optical formula. These same differences can be found in every consumer level product, due to advances in various engineering fields and economics. I believe modern era pentax compatible lenses are equal enough that any of those differences is either tolerated or adored. They're continued value is in how they add to our pool of available choices, bringing bargains, unique qualities and sometimes superior characteristics, that we can hang on our camera to get a pleasing photo. We have probably all seen demonstrations of a skilled photographer being made to use a substandard camera and lens combo on purpose, and still managing to create a superior photograph. I have a growing set of various out of production lenses as well as current lenses for the reasons I presented. LBA is as good a justification for it as any. Presently AF is becoming more important to me as my eyes age, surprisingly entirely independent from the rest of me.

That was the long version, now the short: No.
04-14-2013, 04:46 AM   #6
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Well, other than coating and AF, there is a number of smaller things. Like automatic metering, Quickshift (generally a new feature), shorter focus throw and absence of distance scales (due to AF), lack of aperture ring, different materials. Sometimes even though the optical design is the same, they still have to use different glass materials due to newer regulations or better cost. But old primes certainly are great, especially once you slap a hood on there. Zoom lenses might not be as practical in design, because in the past they used to be more unwieldy (with push/pull designs, awkward "macro" modes..) and probably don't perform quite as well, but they are usually appropriately cheap.
Oh, and modern lenses are recognized by the camera, so it can do things like "distortion correction", if you use that.
04-14-2013, 05:04 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by jkomp316 Quote
Aside from coatings and auto-focus... Is there really much difference between new lenses and old? Many primes have kept the same optical formula for decades - only changing construction materials. Even some 30yr old zooms hold up by todays standards. (i'm subconsciously trying to convince myself into a purchasing spree)
I have to ask the same question. With primes specifically, many people have been touting this idea that a FF or 24mp crop sensor is going to out-resolved all the old Pentax lenses. CA, distortion, AF and whatever else aside... if you're just comparing pure sharpness, I don't see how that's true at all. It seems Adam and the others tested the FA 77 to be sharper than the DA 70. There's a great lens test where the old A*85 1.4 has a slight edge on the newer Canon 85 1.2L. If sharpness is what you're looking for, I think it depends on the lens, but I still don't think any upcoming sensor (FF or crop) is going to out-resolve the good ones for at least a few years. Does anyone have a different perspective on that?
04-14-2013, 05:16 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by hcc Quote
In terms of primes, the difference is small to nil
I hope your right, because that's all I've got.

Seriously, they work for me most days and produce the images I need.

04-14-2013, 06:10 AM   #9
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As I've grown older and my eyesight ins't what it once was, auto focus has become an important photographic tool so that's the main reason I have purchased some new primes. I still get a lot of use out of my manual glass. There are also some metering issues with older lenses but that can be worked around.
04-14-2013, 09:47 AM   #10
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Computer aided design / manufacturing has resulted in enormous advances in all forms of precision engineering, optics included. Factor in technological improvements in materials and now you have complex formulae with aspherical elements and extra-low dispersion glass that wouldn't have been achievable twenty years ago, let alone forty.

Here's a non-zoom example. To get 1:1 magnification thirty years ago, you'd either have had to fork out for an enormous, pant-wettingly expensive 200mm device or reach for the bellows. Today, you can get 1:1 with lenses in the 30-35mm range.

Another example. Minimum focus distance for the M/A* 300mm is 4m. F/FA* 300mm is 2m. DA *300mm is 1.4m.
04-14-2013, 11:06 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by PANGU_yien Quote
I have to ask the same question. With primes specifically, many people have been touting this idea that a FF or 24mp crop sensor is going to out-resolved all the old Pentax lenses. CA, distortion, AF and whatever else aside... if you're just comparing pure sharpness, I don't see how that's true at all. It seems Adam and the others tested the FA 77 to be sharper than the DA 70. There's a great lens test where the old A*85 1.4 has a slight edge on the newer Canon 85 1.2L. If sharpness is what you're looking for, I think it depends on the lens, but I still don't think any upcoming sensor (FF or crop) is going to out-resolve the good ones for at least a few years. Does anyone have a different perspective on that?
I've been getting excellent results with old primes on my K20D. Yesterday I used an SMC 35/2.0 and a Super Takumar 105/2.8. I was photographing highly detailed subjects at mid apertures, using a tripod. The results are sharp enough for my standard gallery print size, which is 24x36 inches. Detail and sharpness are important parts of my personal style- I get a lot of favourable comments in that regard. I generally work with newer lenses for convenience, but enjoy playing with the old ones occasionally.

My sense is that the pixel density of a 24MP full frame would not be all that different from a 15MP APS-C, so good older lenses should be fine for that format. I can't speculate on how older lenses would hold up with higher pixel density. It may be possible to get a sense of this by looking at how older lenses are faring on other brands' bodies. My next planned camera upgrade will be in one to two years. I expect to rent a couple of bodies and see for myself.

Getting back to the original question, yes, newer lenses are in general somewhat better optically and certainly more convenient to use than older lenses. On the other hand, carefully selected older lenses, for the right price, can be a very good value for some applications. You won't embarrass yourself if you use older lenses well.
04-14-2013, 12:41 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by jkomp316 Quote
Is there really much difference between new lenses and old?
In Pentaxland at least,
old prime lenses cover focal lengths
that the new primes don't.

If you want a K-mount Pentax 24mm prime, for example,
it's going to have to be an old lens,
be it FA 24, A 24, K 24, or whatever.
New primes leave a gap from 21 to 31mm.
04-14-2013, 12:51 PM   #13
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I find that, in general, good quality modern AF lenses perform better than good quality old MF lenses.

However, there are many exceptions, some of them glaring.

And that doesn't take into account the pleasure of using older lenses, or the difference they make to your approach to photography while using them.
04-14-2013, 01:22 PM - 1 Like   #14
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The big difference isn't the lens so much as it is the sensor. A sensor [EDITS ital.:] can reflects light onto the back of the lens which shows up as a ghost, sometmes green. Many modern lenses have a special coating on the rear element where significant coating was rarely applied previously (I know you excepted coatings but I think this matters) to eliminate reduce sensor ghosting. Further, film often didn't register purple fringing very much so legacy lenses weren't designed to control for it, but a sensor sometimes captures PF in all its glory. Modern lenses at least attempt to control it (the optical formula requires the blue/violet wavelengths also are focused to the same plane on the sensor).

Since focus motors have to move the elements, it is a benefit to redesign lenses with less glass and lighter barrels, (or polycarbonate lenses and frames) to save weight. They have electronics and motors in the lenses, if not IS mechanisms. Over time we may find that new lenses actually wear out, where this seems quite uncommon for legacy lenses. In the past lenses were forever and bodies were for replacement - now everything is for replacement.

Sort of like sealed automotive wheel bearings - we consider it an advance that we don't have to lubricate wheel bearings any more, but when one fails the entire thing has to be replaced - often including the Anti-Lock brake sensor - so they are $1500 and up each. Your vehicle better have a 100,000 power train warranty that includes these because there is a significant probability one can go out beginning at 50,000 miles. A maintained traditional wheel bearing could last up to 1,000,000 miles.

Last edited by monochrome; 04-14-2013 at 07:03 PM.
04-14-2013, 02:15 PM   #15
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The thing I notice most about old lenses, especially telephotos, is purple fringing. I had an M* 300mm f4 that was very sharp but was almost unusable wide open in high contrast scenes.
Edit : Monochrome said it first
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