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Author Topic: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?  (Read 10099 times)

Redreflex

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Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« on: April 04, 2011, 10:41:39 PM »
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!

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Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« on: April 04, 2011, 10:41:39 PM »

gmrza

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2011, 11:53:34 PM »
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!
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Redreflex

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2011, 12:57:27 AM »
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!

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

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2011, 01:37:50 AM »

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.
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jhanken

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2011, 01:47:54 AM »
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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Hillsilly

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2011, 02:47:42 AM »
As mentioned, there are some issues with using older Canon FD lenses.  However, screw mount lenses (AKA M42 lenses, Pentax screwmount ...) work well with a very cheap and readily available M42 to Eos adapter.  A lot of manufacturers made these types of lenses and you can now pick up some surprisingly good lenses to play with that are reasonably cheap.  If you're keen to play with manual focus lenses, I'd consider this option before using the older Canon lenses.  Of course, the lenses wouldn't be as good as Canon lenses....
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gmrza

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2011, 04:53:29 AM »


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?

If I recall correctly, Canon made a small number of FD to EF adapters, which were intended to allow pro shooters to use their big glass on the new EOS bodies.  There are still a few of those floating around, but like the 50mm f/1.0L, they cost way more than their original retail price.  There are apparently also some cheaper adapters floating around, but they are nasty!

Compared to the effort of getting adapters, it is probably a better bet either to look for second hand EF primes, or buy new ones.  You don't need to go for L series lenses - for instance, you will find many photographers who prefer the 50mm f/1.4 over the 50mm f/1.2L!  As I said, the 50mm f/1.4 has been on the market since 1993, so you may be able to find used ones at a good price.
Zeiss Ikon Contax II, Sonnar 50mm f/2, Sonnar 135mm f/4

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2011, 04:53:29 AM »

Fleetie

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2011, 05:09:54 AM »
I can, and sometimes do, use my Olympus OM series lenses on my EOS 7D, using an adaptor I found on the internet.

It works perfectly.

Obviously (with my adaptor anyway), the camera doesn't know what the lens is, or what aperture it'ss et to, and so you really need to shoot in "manual" mode, or play around to get the exposures right.

But other than that, yes, it does work. In fact when I bought the EOS 7D, I just bought the body, and started off using my Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.2 lens on it.


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NormanBates

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2011, 07:15:29 AM »
using canon FD lenses on EOS bodies is not a good idea: flange distance is smaller on the FDs, so adaptors need to have a lens element (which kills the lens completely) or lose the ability to focus at infinity

but you can use lenses for nikon, M42, leica-R, pentacon-six, and many more lens mounts, using cheap "dumb" adaptors (I get mine from fotodiox through ebay)

you'll have to focus manually (which I do anyway, because what I shoot is video), and you'll need the lenses to have an aperture ring (if aperture is controlled electronically, it will be stuck at maximum aperture, unless you use some pretty unconvenient tricks)

leica-R primes from the 70s and 80s are just as good as the best glass you can buy today (even better than the L primes in some respects) for a small fraction of the price
carl zeiss jena primes from the 60s and 70s are great too, but maybe not as much as the leicas (except for the sonnars: those ones are absolutely great!)
there are many other great brands and models but I don't know so much about them, my lens set is leitz+jena

you may want to visit this blog posts (video oriented):
http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2010/02/06/still-lenses/
http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2010/07/03/leica-r-mount-lenses-for-the-canon-hdslrs/

Redreflex

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2011, 09:19:53 AM »
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.

I don't disagree with you here. But IQ is a relatively easy win ($ dependent), whilst composition is much more difficult to excel in. So why not consider going for the easy win with an affordable "vintage" prime if it works, since this form part of the overall output? Plus it could be fun to try something new. Hence I raised the question.

Redreflex

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2011, 09:22:13 AM »
Question for all - has anyone found any old film "vintage" lens to be significantly superior to a current day sister lens in terms or image quality on a canon DSLR? Or has it just been a matter of price for those or who gone down this route?

7enderbender

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2011, 10:23:40 AM »
Question for all - has anyone found any old film "vintage" lens to be significantly superior to a current day sister lens in terms or image quality on a canon DSLR? Or has it just been a matter of price for those or who gone down this route?


I don't think there is an easy answer to that. I personally don't buy into the "made for digital" scenario or that today's lenses have to be better because DSLRs are oh so much sharper and better than film. I don't think that holds water but it is very difficult to test or proof. I actually have seen tests that seem to indicate that good film cameras with good film processed correctly are still resolving more detail than good digital cameras. Hard to say really unless you have the ability to make your own traditional prints. In any case, we might want to agree that it is a very close call. Or in other words: ever since "35mm" became a widely used format there has been a need for very sharp high quality lenses. And those have been around for a long time. A lot of Canon lenses are certainly in that category. Actually, a lot of the modern L EOS lenses were designed in the film days.

BUT - old Canon lenses (FD etc) do not work with EOS cameras because of differences in design. So - what the above person encountered with Nikon lenses is not available to us (though we could use old Nikon lenses...).

Or here is another example: I recently bought another copy of one of my favorites, the 50 1.4. How does it compare to my old FD versions of the same lens? I don't know. The optics are supposed to be 100% the same. The build quality is far worse. My old FD lenses are better built than my L lenses it seems. But I can't use them on EOS cameras, so it's a mute point.

But even if you find "vintage" lenses that fit the EOS system, "modern" AF systems make it difficult to use anything with manual focus. Today's viewfinders are smaller and darker than what these lenses were designed for and it's not that easy to even get an appropriate split prism or so to make things a little easier and more like the "good old days".

So, I would say, yes, a number of the old lenses are very good, maybe even better in some ways than EF lenses - but don't even go there unless you are into tinkering around with stuff. If you want to use the old lenses get an old camera to go with them and help maintain the market for film every now and then.

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NormanBates

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2011, 11:03:21 AM »
I've used the following two lenses:
* canon 50mm f/1.8 (2010)
* carl zeiss jena pancolar 50mm f/1.8 (ca. 1965)

they both cost around $130, and the pancolar blows the canon away in image quality
(edit: in the case of the pancolar, that includes a fotodiox M42-to-EOS adapter)

regarding sharpness, they're actually quite similar, as the canon is a really really sharp lens (and not just "for the price"), but in nearly every other respect the pancolar is worlds better (read: "amazing bokeh" vs "crap I don't want to see ever again in my images")
« Last Edit: April 05, 2011, 12:10:52 PM by NormanBates »

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2011, 11:03:21 AM »

daniel charms

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #13 on: April 05, 2011, 12:03:06 PM »
I've used the following two lenses:
* canon 50mm f/1.8 (2010)
* carl zeiss jena pancolar 50mm f/1.8 (ca. 1965)
Thanks for reminding me of the Pancolar. I've had one (same age as yours, coincidentally) sitting in the drawer for a few years now and other than some macro experiments, I haven't really used it, but I just took it out and put it on my 40D and the bokeh really is lovely - I had completely forgotten about it! I really have to take it out for a spin whenever I get the chance.

gene_can_sing

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #14 on: April 05, 2011, 12:28:53 PM »
Nikons to Canons are easy. Just get a Fotodiox PRO Nikon to EOS adapter. It's about $80. Be sure to get the PRO version. It's more expensive, but worth it.

I mostly shoot video with my Canon 60D, so I like the long focus throws of the old manual lenses. However, I use the modern Zeiss lenses in Nikon mount because it has a physical aperture ring, and I can use it on different brands of cameras and save myself serious bucks.

The only drawback with adapters is infinity focus does not fall on the mark, but usually a few millimeters before the infinity mark.

I also have a number of old nikon lenses and some FD lenses which I use on a 16mm Eclair ACL. I've used both old lenses and modern Zeiss and Canon EOS lenses extensively.

I will say that modern lenses are better image wise. A lot of the older Nikon and Canon FD lenses tend to flare more and have more purple fringing than the modern lenses, especially my old Nikons which have some serious fringing.

If I were a still photographer, I would really prefer modern lenses because autofocus is really nice for lots of stuff.

Basically, I like the mechanics of the old lenses for video, but I like the image quality of the modern lenses. But that's probably why my 2 main primes are the newer Zeiss ZFs. Great lenses.

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Re: Old film camera lenses for DSLRs?
« Reply #14 on: April 05, 2011, 12:28:53 PM »