Panasonic Gh4

Jan 142014

Why Use Vintage Lenses For Video?

If you shoot video, chances are you don’t need all the bells and whistles of modern day lenses. You don’t need autofocus and you don’t need USM. Image stabilization is the only modern day feature I feel is important for video. Since I am an analog guy I prefer the inferior coatings of vintage lenses; it makes your footage look a bit less perfect. So, going manual via vintage lenses is a pretty cool option because you have a wide selection of lenses that most likely will fulfill your video needs (aside from the image stabilization and premium lens coatings).

Most vintage lenses have a better build quality than today’s lenses. They might not be weather sealed like Canon’s L series, but they certainly feel as rugged as L series lenses. When I use my Canon 50mm 1.8 I often feel like I am about to break it. Despite not putting any extraordinary stress on the lens, the 50mm 1.8 always feels like it is about to break because it is so light and built out of low quality plastic. With my vintage 50mm lenses, the thought of treating the lens gently doesn’t even cross my mind. All metal, heavy, etc…

Vintage Lenses Are Cheap

No autofocus, no image stabilization, no USM, manual aperture, and inferior coatings means that the demand for such lenses is less than you typical modern day lens. You can find plenty of lenses that have decent optical qualities for under $100 on Ebay. In fact, I can go on Ebay right now and buy several good primes for under $100 total.

The Benefits of Buying Vintage Lenses for Video

Unique look. Vintage lenses often have lower contrast. They flare a bit more. There is a huge selection of vintage lenses and so you can cherry pick the perfect lenses for your needs. Currently, I am on the hunt for lenses with nice bokeh. What this means is that I have to find a lens that has a lot of aperture blades (I would like more than 11 blades, I hate pentagonal and hexagonal bokeh), and for the blades to be curved (to minimize the harsh jagged edges of bokeh when the lens is stopped down). Luckily for me, there are a bunch of lenses that fit the bill but because people seek them for their beautiful bokeh they cost a bit more than you would expect, ranging from ~$100 to ~$600+.

Most Vintage Lenses Have Good Focusing Rings

A lot of today’s cheap lenses are built without the manual shooter in mind. So lenses like the Canon 50mm 1.8, 40mm 2.8 and 18-55mm kit lens have small focusing rings making it difficult to focus. In this case you can fork over a bit of extra cash and get modern day lenses with better manual focusing, or you can save some money and go vintage. Personally, I think crappy focus rings are overrated. I have learned how to focus the 50mm 1.8 without any problems. But using a follow focus with the previously mentioned lenses could be a bit of a problem.

Warning About Cheap(er) Lenses:

The lenses with poor optics go dirt cheap. So you can accumulate a bunch of shitty lenses for very little money. Though once you stop them down, they usually are not too bad. Whatever you do, make sure to research the lens you are buying on Flickr. Flickr has groups for specific lenses that feature tons of photos taken with the lens. I have a 28mm Kalimar 28mm f2.8 lens hooked onto my Canon 60D right now as I write this. I would say its not very good under f5.6. It’s cheap and even when stopped down to 5.6 or f8 it is average (but very useable by my low standards). So do your homework when you buy cheap lenses. I also have an Olympus 50mm 1.4 which is just as sharp and contrasty as my Canon 50mm 1.8 and Canon 50mm 1.4.

Common Problems With Vintage Lenses

Some lenses will not be compatible with your camera because the sensor will be too far away when you mount the lens and you will not be able to reach focus. The general rule of thumb is this; find out the flange focal distance of your camera, and find out the flange focal distance required by the lens your are trying to adapt. You can look up these numbers on this Wikipedia page.

Comparison of two different flange focal lengths

Once you have found this information out you can figure out which lenses will be compatible. For a lens to be compatible with your DSLR body without any sort of optical adapters, the flange focal distance required by the lens should be greater to or equal to your camera body’s flange focal distance. For example since Olympus OM mount lenses require a 46mm flange and my Canon 60D has a 44mm flange distance, I can use OM mount lenses on my camera.

Mounting a vintage on your DSLR will usually require an adapter. In the above example, I would use an OM to EF adapter. There are two types of adapters you can buy; ones that physically increase the focal distance of the flange (and have no optics, they are just a metal ring or tube) and ones that have an optical element inside (this piece of glass makes sure everything comes to focus properly).

The adapter I bought for my OM lenses is a bit thick with no optical element and so my effective flange distance is actually a bit more than the 46mm required by the OM lenses (to work with my EF body, the adapter would need to be only 2mm thick!) and so on some lenses cannot reach infinity focus. However, some of my OM lenses can actually focus past infinity, and they work perfectly with my OM to EF adapter. If your lens cannot reach focus because the adapter has made the effective flange distance too long, you can actually hack your lens in most cases to allow it to focus beyond infinity. If you don’t want to hack any lenses you can buy an adapter that has a built in lens which should yield focus throughout the lens. The best way to figure out if you can adapt a lens to your DSLR is to go an amazon and type in “x to y lens adapter”, where “x” stands for the lens mount and “y” stands for the camera mount, if your search yields no products then the chances are that you cannot practically adapt your specified lens to the camera.

Another issue with manual lenses is the build quality of the required adapters. If you get a crappy adapter, your lens might be loose or too tight (getting the lens off the adapter might be tough). Also some adapters will be machined the correct thickness (eliminating flange distance problems), and others will have a less precise thickness. So do your homework. Some adapters come with focus confirmation. This is very useful for photography but not very practical for video since you will be monitoring your focus via the LCD. If you really want focus confirmation, you can buy focus confirmation chips on Ebay and manually glue them on – people do this all the time.

Lens Protrusions

Make sure that the back of whatever lens you are adapting does not have anything sticking out that may damage your DSLR’s internal components. I had to screw off some sort of metal plate on one of my lenses that served no purpose (the lens works fine without it on all my bodies, so I don’t know WTF the point of that metal was). Had I kept that metal plate on it would have came into contact with my DSLR’s mirror.

Vintage Lens Compatibility with Popular DSLR Mounts

Pentax K (PK) mount DSLRs can be used with: Canon FD lenses and Nikon lenses, however they will not focus at infinity. M42 will work perfectly fine. There are two types of M42 to K mount adapters: flange and recessed. Read here to learn more.

Canon EF M mount cameras can be used with: A shit ton of lenses. Too many to list.

Canon EF mount DSLRs can be used with: Olympus OM mount, Nikon F mount, Nikon G mount, Canon FD, M42, Contax Yashica (C/Y) mount, Pentax K (PK) mount, Minolta MD, Minolta MC, Leica R, Sony A mount, T mount, I am sure there are more…

Micro Four Thirds (MFT) (includes Panasonic GH series) cameras can be used with: Also, a shit ton of lenses. Too many to list.

Nikon F mount: Canon FD mount, M42, Leica R, Pentax K… Keep in mind, if you can mount it on Nikon F, you can mount it on Canon EF/EOS.

Can you adapt Canon EOS (Canon EF) lenses to Nikon F mount Cameras?

No, unfortunately you cannot adapt Canon EF lenses to Nikon F mount bodies. Doing so would not allow you to focus properly towards infinity. You can only go the opposite way; adapting Nikon F mount lenses to Canon EOS bodies. The good news? Nikon makes excellent lenses so there is not much need to attach Canon glass to Nikon bodies.

The “Top” Vintage Lenses

Honestly, there are too many lenses to list. And the best lenses are very expensive. So when I say “top” lenses, I really mean popular lenses that people use for video (the should work fine for stills as well). Right now I am too lazy to put any work into compiling a good list, so I will leave this blank until I am ready to post a quality list of lenses.

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