Which vintage lenses should you be buying?
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.