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Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?

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Redreflex:
First off, I'd just like to say that I'm reasonably new to this thoroughly enjoyable and informative site, particularly the forums.

My question is about whether old "vintage" lenses used on film bodies can be used on canon DSLRs?

I got my first L lens just 4 months back (24-70mm), and it's been a point of no return! Or at least I thought so... A buddy of mine has a Nikon D90 (bear with me, I know this isn't a Nikon forum), and got a new 50mm f/1.8 (released 2008 I think). He got his hands on a 30 year old 50mm f/1.8 in the past week and the optics just seems to blow the new one away (image quality, sharpness, colours), which is really quite a surprise to both of us. The drawback of course, is that this lens only has a manual focus function.

Would be very interested to hear whether this is feasible with canon DSLRs (I suspect not, although I don't recall where I read this), and if so, whether it's worth the cost savings particularly with having to manually focus all the time (I shoot a lot of my mobile 2 year old kid). Otherwise, I plan to only get L lenses in the future.

Thanks for your feedback!

gmrza:
You can use any Canon EF mount lens on a modern Canon DSLR.  That allows you to use lenses going back to roughly 1987 when the Canon EOS 650, the very first EOS body, was launched.  Unlike Nikon, when Canon launched the EOS range of SLRs, Canon made a total departure from the previous FD lens mount system, which used a mechanical linkage to control the aperture, in favour of a fully electronic body-lens interconnection for the EOS system.  That means you can't use old FD lenses on an EOS body, unless you find an adapter.
That said, it is probably a fair bet that many early EF zooms do not deliver the level of performance that modern sensors require.  The story is rather different with prime lenses - for instance the 50mm f/1.4 which is on the market today was introduced in 1993.  Later versions of that lens may have been tweaked a little, but the optics are basically the same.  You will find that there has been much less development of prime lenses than zooms, since zoom lens technology is much newer.  Some prime lens designs, like the Zeiss Planar date back as far as 1896, and the optics of many modern prime lenses are fundamentally the same as their ancestors - going back over 100 years in the case of the Zeiss Planar!

Redreflex:

--- Quote from: gmrza on April 04, 2011, 11:53:34 PM ---the EOS system.  That means you can't use old FD lenses on an EOS body, unless you find an adapter.
That said, it is probably a fair bet that many early EF zooms do not deliver the level of performance that modern sensors require.  The story is rather different with prime lenses - for instance the 50mm f/1.4 which is on the market today was introduced in 1993.  Later versions of that lens may have been tweaked a little, but the optics are basically the same.  You will find that there has been much less development of prime lenses than zooms, since zoom lens technology is much newer.  Some prime lens designs, like the Zeiss Planar date back as far as 1896, and the optics of many modern prime lenses are fundamentally the same as their ancestors - going back over 100 years in the case of the Zeiss Planar!

--- End quote ---

Thanks. So, where can I find an adapter, and can one expect image quality loss with this, 'leak' light, etc? So if I can find say a 24mm/f1.4 or 50mm/f1.4 from the film days, is that worth the cost savings, or am i better off with an L lens?

distant.star:

Just my opinion, but this seems like a really nutty idea. After going to the trouble of adapting (and you can probably only adapt zooms anyway), how much image quality improvement do you think you'll get over a modern EF L lens? I suspect there is no human who could look at such an image on a computer screen (or a print version) who could see any difference. And I'd be willing to bet any formal testing would show the newer lens was better.

To me this sounds like someone buying a 2011 Corvette and having his friend suggest he tear out the fuel injection system and install dual quad carburetors because they're cool and they really made those muscle cars go!

My suggestion is to focus on composition and the things that make a good image. The IQ altar is usually not the best place to worship.

jhanken:
In my limited experience since I have gotten back in to photography, in situations where you want to use a prime lens, you probably have fewer time-sensitive concerns that would require the focusing speed of an auto-focus.  In addition, you might often be using a prime in low light where a very open aperture and shallow depth-of-field can make auto-focus more challenging to use.  I think that in low light and shallow depth, auto-focus can be both a blessing and curse, and whether it is a blessing depends on your camera knowledge and ability to trick the auto-focus into performing to your bidding (e.g. setting your focus by pointing at the subject, depressing half-way to engage focus, then composing your frame the way you want it). For me, using manual focus on my auto-focus 50mm f/1.4 Sigma prime enhances the feeling of control and connectedness with what I am shooting.

I can't say what the story is on converting FD lenses to EF mount.  If you can find an adapter that allows you to use the lens but still focus to infinity (i.e. no change in distance to the sensor from the back of the lens) then, bully for you.  I think the primary reason for the ascendence of Canon to best-sellerdom in the DSLR world was the quality of their lenses at about the time the conversion from FD to EF mount took place, so you should feel pretty good if you can get the better FD lenses to work on EF cameras. 

I think the thing to remember is that, while L lenses are really cool from what I have seen and used, the cost of your very good FD lenses is basically free.  That is compelling.  If you can get them to work well, that is to be considered, but those lenses won't be best for every situation.

No knock on Nikon intended here.  Also, this is just an opinion from a guy who is still learning the digital ropes.  I welcome more learned observations.

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