5 affordable vintage wide angle lenses
Most lens manufacturer made a broad variety of wide angle lenses. Choosing the right one can be tricky. This is a subjective list of affordable vintage wide angle lenses in no particular order. Wide angle lenses can be used for various use cases and everyone will have a different criteria as to what makes a good lens. This list is simply a line up of lenses that I recommend for someone who is new to the game and does not want to spend too much. I am not including insanely expensive glass like Summicrons and Distagons. This list is purely for the budget conscious!
Although not mentioned here, I would also recommend older Nikon F and Olympus lenses. I am sure most of you are aware of these so I thought it is better to point you towards the more “obscure” choices that might not be on everyone’s radar.
Lydith 30mm 3.5 / Pentacon 30mm 3.5 – the compact travel companion
The Meyer-Optik Lydith 30mm 3.5 is a very compact (as the name suggests) and nowadays still rather affordable wide angle lens. Prices currently start at around $70. The lens is mostly found with the M42 and EXA/EXAKTA mount. The Lydith 30 was also manufactured under the name ‘Pentacon 30 3.5’ after the original Meyer-Optik brand was dissolved in the former GDR.
I am impressed by this lens every time I use it. It might look small but it delivers almost as good as a big gun (and there are a lot of tiny wide angle lenses which are absolutely superb, like the Summicron 35 – so size does not mater!).
The image quality of the Lydith is good. Colors are cracking and sharpness is pretty impressive for a wide angle lens in that price range. I also like the fact that at 30mm this lens gives you a wider angle of view than most competitors that will be in the 35mm range. A drawback are the fiddly ergonomics and the pretty standard bokeh. On the plus side (but that is subjective) I like the fact that the Lydith manages to combine the sharpness and contrast of a more modern style lens while still managing to keep some aspects of a more vintage lens, especially the vignetting. This makes for an interesting combination. All in all this is a good buy and well worth the money, especially if you look for a light and compact travel companion.
Little pro bargain hunter tip if you want to buy one of these puppies: the Pentacon branded version tends to be cheaper.
Pentacon 29mm 2.8 – the all-rounder
With a pretty short minimum focusing distance of 25cm and decent optical performance, the Pentacon 29mm 2.8 is a very affordable wide angle lens alternative. This was one of the most produced wide angle lenses coming out of the former GDR and it is still available in large numbers, hence the decent price. The Pentacon 29mm is actually a re-branded version of the almost identical Meyer-Optik Orestegon 29mm 2.8.
As the Pentacon brand is not that collectible, the Pentacon version tends to be much cheaper than its’ predecessor nowadays. Overall this is an undervalued lens that offers good contrast, minimum distortion and surprisingly little vignetting. The bokeh is not a world beater but the center image sharpness is pretty decent. All-in-all this is a good buy and a solid performer. It does not excel particularly but it is extremely easy to use and deliver good images.
Pentax Takumar 35mm 3.5 – the super bargain
On paper this lens is nothing special. A pretty basic 35mm lens with a rather slow f3.5. No wonder the Pentax Takumar 35mm 3.5 goes for around US$50. But boy does it deliver! The images are stunning for a lens in that price range. Images turn out high on contrast and with loads of saturation. In terms of sharpness the Pentax Takumar 35mm really excels and does not have to hide. There is no vignetting and distortion is minimal.
The coating on the Takumar is very efficient and there is almost no flaring. The only downside for vintage purists is that the images lack a bit of character. There is not the distinct vintage uniqueness that the other lenses offer. Also, the bokeh lovers will certainly be disappointed as this is not a low light animal. What you get instead is a very well made, easy to use and superbly balanced lens at an unbeatable price. This is hands on one of the best buys in terms of value for money, in any focal length.
Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm 2.8 – the classic wide angle
It’s a bit more pricey as you enter the “collector’s segment” but the Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm 2.8 is still a relatively mildly priced Carl Zeiss wide angle alternative. The 2.8 version is the predecessor of the Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm 2.4. The old school Flektogon was manufactured for a pretty long time and is available in various mounts, mostly in M42 and EXA/EXAKTA mount. This is a beautifully made wide angle lens that offers most of the characteristics of a classic vintage lens. Some vignetting and falloff in the corners make for beautifully “imperfect” images.
The Bokeh is probably better than that of most of the other lenses on this list. Due to the rather primitive coating used at the time, the Flektogon 35mm 2.8 can also be used to create pretty lens flares. With a short minimum focusing distance the Flektogon enables you to get close and personal to your subject. If you like your images to look unique and artsy, this is the lens for you.
Asahi Pentax Takumar 28mm 3.5 – the affordable street shooter
28mm is often considered to be the sweet spot for street photographers. It is a bit wider than 35 and gives and provides a wider range of the street scene. Yet it does not fall into the range where distortion becomes a distraction on most lenses. Many street shooters I know love lenses around the 28mm range. The Asahi Pentax Takumar 28mm 3.5 is among the most affordable good lenses in the 28mm focal length. As with the previously described lens, this 28mm lens is rather slow. But you do not need anything faster in most situations.
This lens is a good performer as it is the case with most Pentax lenses. The colours are radiant and images are high in contrast. There is a lot of detail and sharpness in the images. The coating is superb. The lens is well made and straight forward to shoot with.
The Pentax Takumar 28mm is also well suited for videography. Actually, if you want to have a “cheap” video lens set up, the Pentax line-up is the one I would recommend. They have a lot of great lenses that be be combined in a beautifully balanced set of lenses covering most important lengths. This trailer was shot on the Takumar 28mm: