21 Jan

Vintage lenses for large-sensor cameras - Part 2

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Tair lens Tair lens Uli Plank


Here's another chance to read part 2 of this beautifully detailed article on selecting a vintage lens for your large-sensor camera

Part 1 of this article is here

What To Look For

Minolta SR lenses (both MC and MD series - they fit the same bayonet) are not compatible with the newer AF mount, which Sony is still using after they bought Konica-Minolta. But you can get cheap mechanical adapters easily and these lenses are still underrated, so you can get very good lenses at reasonable prices from photographic sources on Craigslist or KEH and on Ebay. Their build quality is excellent, and if they haven't been ill-treated these lenses will show a very smooth focus even after 40 years or more. Some say the older MC series has slightly weaker coating than the later MD series, but I found it difficult to notice much of a difference. The biggest advantage is their consistency in colour rendering over the whole range, which is rare in other lenses. Minolta was one of the few manufacturers of quality optics who had their own plant for making specialty glass, and they obviously made good use of it.

Minolta made a very wide range of lenses, including some expensive professional devices like the 35mm shift lens and the 24mm VFC (Variable Field Curvature) for architecture or the 85mm Varisoft lens for portrayal. These are sought after and their low production numbers accordingly lead to high prices. But some very good and fast 50mm lenses like the 1.4 PG, the 50 and 100mm macros, the 100mm 2.5 or the 135mm 2.8 are still cheap and very usable. Lenses with legendary bokeh (more on that later) are the 35mm 1.8 and the 58mm 1.2, but these are not really cheap, while the 58mm 1.4 comes very close and can still be found for a good price. They also made a very good zoom 35-70mm with constant 1:3.5 which comes very close to primes in quality and was adapted by Leica under their own name – one of the very few classic zooms I consider truly useable for filming. I consider Minolta lenses an insider's tip, and I'm not alone – check outrokkorfiles.com.

Nikon F (non Ai) and Canon FD (non EOS) are great Japanese manual lenses too, but in comparison much more popular and the prices for used lenses are usually much higher without being necessarily superior in quality. A particular drawback of Nikon lenses is their reverse focusing. You'll need to stick to Nikon only or get a follow focus that can be reversed – otherwise it will drive you nuts to focus manually after switching between lenses. Some third-party offers can be great too, but the variation over the whole line of all the Vivitars, Sigmas, Tokinas or Tamrons out there is greater than with the proprietary lenses. One outstanding macro to mention is the 90mm 1:2.5 Tamron SP: check out how expensive even rental for a true cine macro would be! Another great one is the Tokina 90mm 1:2.5 Macro, lovingly also called "Bokina". Pentax K mount and M42 lenses can be quite good as well: some of their “Takumars” are real gems and still a bit cheaper than Canon or Nikon. But speaking of M42 (and M39), good lenses didn't come out of Japan only. While modern Zeiss lenses from Germany are really expensive (even second-hand), you shouldn't count out the former communist block - they knew how to make good optics too.

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