Shooting Digital with Vintage Lenses

I know others have done this, and I’ve really not tried this much – but vintage lenses can provide a look that can be different (even though subtle) from modern lenses. I was always pretty satisfied using vintage lenses on the cameras they were made for, but it is fun to mix and match these lenses with newer cameras.

My setup is a Canon EOS-R with a Fotasy FD-EOSR adaptor (readily available on Amazon or other online sites for less than $20). I also have similar adaptors for Olympus OM and Leica L39, but I’m focusing on my Canon FD lenses tonight.

It’s pretty easy to use these vintage lenses with a mirrorless camera (or a Canon DSLR in Live View mode) and the exposure preview setting enabled. This way, even though the lens doesn’t connect electronically with the body, the exposure is easy to set in stopped down mode, and as you stop down the aperture, you adjust the shutter speed to change the exposure and keep the viewfinder nice and bright. It actually works very nicely. Now focusing is another thing altogether. Since focusing on these old lenses is all completely manual, you just have to “eyeball” it. On the EOS R (and probably other mirrorless cameras) there is a zoom feature while focusing and composing that is especially useful. If you hit the zoom, your image is magnified so you can look at details in your subject and focus pretty accurately. You can do this handheld, but it would be more accurate (naturally) to use a tripod when focusing this way.

So, let’s take a look. Here’s a series of photos, the last 2 are with my Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 lens, the others are FD lenses – 50mm f/3.5 Macro, 50mm f/1.2L and FD 100mm f/2.8. This should give a small sampling of a few older lenses with one modern lens. I imported these with Lightroom, and didn’t do anything to the exposure, colors, white balance or anything. I just exported them and here they are.

Now, I don’t think there’s much difference in the “in focus” areas, the main difference is in the out of focus areas (bokeh). I like the way the FD 50mm f/1.2 lens renders the background wide open (third image). I think this looks good, but some may not like it. It is a matter of personal opinion. The swirly light rings almost appear to be layered and overlapping. I think it’s better than the look of the newer EF lens.

I’ll do this again when I get some of my old Russian lenses (shipping is pretty slow from Russia and Eastern Europe these days). I have an EOS-R to L39 (Leica thread mount) so I can have a ball with some very interesting old lenses. I’m not expecting great results, but it will be interesting. Tune back in about 2 months from now and see some of my examples with vintage Russian glass!