Classic Lenses FAQ
In this section I would like to provide you with some information about classic lenses, adapters and general tips that I have acquired that I would like to pass on to my fellow photography enthusiasts.
The whole concept of putting an old lens on your SLR or mft camera can seem a bit strange at first. All the technical details regarding adapters, depth of field, cropping and infinity focus can also be a bit overwhelming so I hope that this FAQ section will enable you to get a first understanding of what is important. If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me.
- Can I use any classic lens on any camera?
- Which adapter is right for me?
- Can I damage my Camera?
- Why should I use classic vintage glass?
- What do all the different brandings stand for?
- Where can I find old lenses?
- What should I pay attention to when I purchase old lenses?
- Which lenses are the most collectible?
- I have a few old lenses – which digital camera would you recommend?
Can I use any classic lens on any camera?
Not every Lens – Camera combination is possible. In some situations the design and optical measurements are too different and incompatible and no adapters are available. Compatibility is only possible if your camera has the same lens mount or if you use adapters. If you combine a camera and a lens that have two very different mounts, adapters can alter the image. Fortunately in most situations the combination of any mirrorless camera will work. Canon, micro-four-thirds and Sony Alpha cameras are more suitable to be combined with adapters.
Which adapter is right for me?
Finding the right adapter depends on two factors: the mount of the camera you are using and the mount of the lens you want to use. You fist need to identify the mount of the lens you have.
Can I damage my Camera?
In some rare cases yes. This has mainly to do with two factors:
- the size of the mount of your camera
- the amount of space available between the sensor of the camera (and the mirror if you are using a SLR) and the back of the lens
The mount of classic lenses might be larger than the mount of newer SLRs. This causes complications for the adapter. Some lenses retract into the camera body when focused to infinity. When this is the case and you operate the shutter, the mirror of your SLR can hit the back of the lens. As you can imagine, this is not healthy for your SLR. Therefore, make sure to check that the lens you want to use is compatible with your SLR (even if the adapter fits).
If you are using a Canon EOS, here is a neat compatibility list of manual lenses.
Why should I use classic vintage glass?
In my opinion, opting for classic vintage lenses has several advantages:
You will become a better photographer
In this day and age where everybody is snapping away with automatic cameras and autofocus. Taking the time to actually think about what you are photographing and what you want to achieve has become very rare. With old lenses you will have to set the focus, the aperture and in some cases the exposure manually. Of course this can be annoying at first. But stick in there and you will obtain a much better understanding of light, time and eventually composition.
Quality / price ratio
The actual build quality of classic lenses is unmatched by most modern plastic lenses. When set up correctly, the image quality you will obtain from a 150 Euro Flektogon lens will blow you away.
Size and weight
The main reason modern lenses are so big and heavy is their autofocus. Old lenses do not have an autofocus. Therefore they are a fraction of the size and the weight of their modern competitors although they are not made out of plastic.
What do all the different brandings stand for?
MC or Multi Coating or V or T – Coating
If the Lens is branded with MC or Muli Coating or V or T it means that the lens uses a multi coating layer (normally improving flare resistance). Older lenses and West German lenses are normally branded V or T while later east German production lenses are branded MC or Multi Coating.
1Q – First grade lens
Some East German lenses use the branding 1Q meaning that they are part of the batch of the highest quality lenses produced for this specific model. Lenses without that branding might be second grade.
electric or auto
Some lenses like the Pentacon 50 1.8 have the branding “electric” or “auto”. These lenses have 3 electric connectors at the mount which worked on old Praktica cameras with electric connectors (e.g.: Praktica PLC, VLC and EE).
That way the metering works with the aperture wide open (remember that you can switch between Manual and Automatic aperture setting on the lens).
If you have a “electric / auto” lens you can switch the lens into automatic aperture setting, put the aperture on say f8 and the camera will receive the information that you are planning to shoot at f8 and it can calculate the metering accordingly and will display it in the viewfinder. It can do that while aperture is still wide open and the viewfinder is still “bright” when you plan to shoot. This allows the photographers to set the focusing with the advantage of of bright and clear viewfinder.
The non “electric / auto” version forces you to close the aperture (if you are not planning to shoot with the largest aperture available) before the camera “understands” with which aperture it should conduct the metering. That is why the non-electric Praktica cameras have a little nob on the side of the lens so simulate closing the aperture.
Doesn’t seem like much now but back than it was ground-breaking! On modern cameras this does not make a difference.
“aus Jena” instead of “Carl Zeiss Jena” and T instead of Tessar
Some east German Zeiss lenses are branded as Carl Zeiss Jena while others are simply branded as aus Jena (German for “from jena”). This has to do with copyright law. After WWII the Carl Zeiss company was split up. Part of the production stayed in the communist East (and was subsequently branded Carl Zeiss Jena) while the rest of the company relocated to Oberkochen in West Germany. Some lenses and the name Carl Zeiss itself originated much earlier than WWII. The East German Carl Zeiss company did not own all the rights to some of the names and brands. Some lenses that were manufactured to be exported to capitalist countries therefore only bare the brands “aus Jena”, “T” (instead of Tessar), “B” (Biotar or Biometar), “S” (Sonnar) etc. in order not to infringe on the copyright.
Where can I find old lenses?
If you want to be on the safe side I would recommend going to a second hand camera shop. This will allow you to test the lens prior to purchase.
Another option is to have a look on Ebay:
What should I pay attention to when I purchase old lenses?
Don’t expect a new product when you are buying vintage glass. They are optical instruments and are therefore fragile. After 50 years of use and hundreds of hands that handled them, a lot might have happened. Some common issues are:
- scratches on the front / rear glass element. Be especially weary of deep scratches on the front element (the light will break differently when it enters the lens) and any scratches on the rear element.
- stiff focusing due to old lubricant and inactivity. This can be fixed easily. Nonetheless any mechanical object should be used and inactivity is not a good sign.
- aperture settings are stuck. The lens needs to be disassembled to be fixed. Repairs can be costly. The lens can still be used as is (i.e. with an open aperture).
- cleaning marks on the glass (is quiet normal and does not affect the image quality in most cases)
- Fungus – the lens will then look a bit cloudy inside the glass elements. This is by far the worst that can happen. Do not buy a lens with fungus inside as it can apparently contaminate your other lenses. Some people say it is possible to get rid of the fungus by “cooking the lens in an oven”. Try it at your won risk if you feel brave!
- dust and particles within the lens (also quiet normal). To some extent this is normal and will generally not affect the image quality.
- DIY handyman “repairs” such as repainting, modifications to the mount and re-branding of the lens. Pay especially attention if you plan to purchase a Leica / Leitz lens or camera as many offered items were originally Soviet FED and Jupiter lenses / cameras. Here is some information on how to tell a Leica is fake.
Which lenses are the most collectible?
The beauty of classic glass is that it is available in all shapes and forms, and for every type of budget. The most expensive lenses are not necessarily the best to shoot with. Among the most collectible lens manufacturers you will find Carl Zeiss, Contax, Nikon, Canon and Leitz / Leica. Other (very expensive) lenses include Astro Berlin, Dallmeyer and Angenieux. Although you are likely to pay a premium for these lenses, if they are well taken care of they will not loose their value.
I have a few old lenses – which digital camera would you recommend?
You want to be able to shoot a lot of different types of glass?
If money is not an issue a Sony Alpha is at the moment probably your best choice. There are loads of adapters available offering you a wide range of different lenses to use. As the camera is mirror-less focusing to infinity will work most of the time.
On a budget micro-four-third cameras are an option. They are very versatile when it comes to using vintage lenses as they offer a wide range of adapters. Obviously, the results will be cropped due to the smaller sensor.
If you are looking to purchase a full frame SLR I would recommend a Canon SLR as their mount has a larger diameter and allows various adaptors to be used. The main advantage compared to Nikon for example is that the Canon EOS mount is larger and allows more vintage lenses to be focused to infinity. On a Nikon you will mostly only be able to work in close focus range unless you use an adapter with a glass element (which will affect image quality).