Which vin­tage lenses should you be buy­ing?

Practical Photography (UK) - - January -

Since swap­ping over to a CSC sys­tem I’m re­ally keen to try out some vin­tage glass. Are there any good buys for some­one on a bit of a tight bud­get? Keith Archer, Lud­low

Richard says: De­spite the in­cred­i­ble ad­vances in photo tech­nol­ogy that we are cur­rently en­joy­ing, there’s also a huge de­sire to em­brace ‘ana­logue’. The resur­gence of film is tes­ta­ment to this, as is the hunt­ing down of vin­tage lenses to use with digital cam­era bod­ies. With more of us shoot­ing on CSCs – which are more suited to cou­pling with older glass – there have been adap­tors re­leased that will let you at­tach al­most any her­itage lens to your shiny new cam­era. Sadly, the rise in ‘hip­ster’ pho­tog­ra­phy means that many of the more ex­otic ex­am­ples now go for prices be­yond the pocket of most hob­by­ists. There was a time when you could pick up the ‘holy grail’ Canon 50mm f/0.95 for a few hun­dred pounds; now you’re talk­ing sev­eral thou­sand. But there are some bar­gains out there that will def­i­nitely de­liver some vin­tage charm…

Carl Zeiss Jena Bio­tar 58mm f/2 £80-£150

Dat­ing back to the 1930s in its un­coated form, this six-ele­ment, four-group Gauss for­mula lens was made by the for­mer East Ger­man branch of the fa­mous Zeiss op­ti­cal com­pany. Typ­i­cally found in Ex­akta or M42 screw mount it’s nicely sharp wide-open – es­pe­cially near the cen­tre – and pro­duces very pleas­ing bokeh. On a cropped-sen­sor cam­era it makes for a fan­tas­tic por­trai­ture lens.

Pen­tax Su­per-Taku­mar 50mm f/1.4 £85-£130

Pen­tax’s Asahi Op­ti­cal Com­pany al­ways en­joyed a rep­u­ta­tion as mak­ers of su­perb lenses and this su­per-fast (es­pe­cially for the time) f/1.4 ‘nifty-fifty’ is no ex­cep­tion. It’s a ‘copy’ of a Zeiss Pla­nar, with seven el­e­ments in six groups, and has been pro­duced in var­i­ous it­er­a­tions down the years, in both M42 and K mount de­riv­a­tives. All ver­sions are great per­form­ers with dreamy bokeh, tack-sharp cen­tres at wide aper­tures and that dis­tinctly ‘vin­tage’ qual­ity. Grab one be­fore the prices rocket!

Zeiss Jena Flek­to­gon 35mm f/2.4 £80-£120

An­other won­der­ful old lens from the East Ger­man di­vi­sion of the Zeiss fac­tory, which dates back to 1950. It’s a six-ele­ment, five-group retro­fo­cus (which means that the lens body is shorter than its fo­cal length) model that comes in a va­ri­ety of de­signs, with the f/2.4 M42 mount ver­sion be­ing the pick of the bunch. It delivers out­stand­ing sharp­ness and colour fidelity, fo­cuses down to 190mm, and gives creamy bokeh, all in a com­pact pack­age that of­fers a good fo­cal length for cropped-sen­sor users.

Zenit He­lios-40-2 85mm f/1.5 £250-£300

Made in Rus­sia from the 1950s un­til the 1990s, this lens be­came so pop­u­lar among the vin­tage glass hunters that a new (and thank­fully not im­proved) ver­sion was re­leased in 2013. Usu­ally found in M42 screw mount fit, it’s a heavy, six-ele­ment Dou­ble Gauss lens, based on an old Zeiss Bio­tar de­sign. It’s not ac­tu­ally all that sharp wide-open, but it delivers that won­der­ful vin­tage ‘swirly’ bokeh in spades. It’s a great por­trait lens for full-frame sys­tems that pro­duces a dis­tinc­tive look.

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