Saturday, September 05, 2015

Vintage glass married to new digital technology

Recently I decided to explore the fascinating subject of marrying vintage glass to modern digital cameras. By this I mean the use of adapters to attach lenses from the 'good old days' of film photography to a modern digital camera. In my case this would be a Sony a6000.
Now you may be asking 'why?". Why buy an expensive new camera and then try and add old lenses onto the front? After,the combination would surely look ugly and anyway, aren't modern lenses so much better than the ones from the days of SLRs and film? Well, yes and no. Yes, the combination can look ugly and there may well be a mismatch between the size and weight (old lenses tend to be somewhat solid - very little plastics in the older ones). No, modern technology isn't always better. Some of the old lenses were very high quality glass and of solid design (both in terms of construction and in terms of the elegance of the lenses configuration). In fact, so desirable are some of these old lenses that they go for prices close to (or in rare cases more than) the cost of a new lens! However, the fact is that some very good lenses are available at very cheap prices. All you need is an adapter for your camera that can take a particular lens.

So for example, it's possible to add an old Yashica/Contax lens to a modern camera like mine. In fact there is a whole host of combinations available. So far I have bought lenses in M42 screw, Exakta, Rollei, Contax G, P/K-A and Mamiya 645 mounts. Some of these are lenses from the days when the DDR (East Germany) made lenses under the Carl Zeiss name. Now modern lenses under the Carl Zeiss name can cost a pretty penny - more like hundreds of pounds actually! yet I picked up a Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm/F2.8 lens for £30 plus P&P. It also came with a functioning Praktica MTL5 SLR!  The one below is the MTL 5 B version with a Helios 44mm F2.0 lens. Mine is the earlier version (MTL 5) with the CZ Tessar  50mm F2.8 lens.


It was made @ 1983-1985 in East Germany. This was the sort of camera my friends bought when I was a lot younger! we couldn't really afford anything more expensive. In fact, all I could afford was a Halina Paulette Electric (even cheaper than anything coming out of East Germany). In fact it cost £10 in 1967 and with I got a case, flashgun and slide viewer (with batteries)! I still have all those slides (Kodachrome 25 and 64) that I took on it and it was capable of taking some very decent photographs. if I get myself another slide scanner one day I will post some examples.


I have been trying it out on my a6000 and to say I am impressed is an understatement. Now, granted, it doesn't perform as good as a modern Zeiss Touit f2.8 50mm E-Mount. but when you consider that lens costs @ £630 you can see why I'd want to try out a Carl Zeiss lens costing less than £30! If you are wondering how good (or bad) this lens can be then here is an example image.


This was taken today at ISO 100 (ASA in old money!) at F8 and 1/350 sec. Now bear in mind I used manual focus and exposure control as with an adapter there is no communication between the lens and camera. You can use manual or aperture with some but it's best to stick with pure manual in my limited experience. Also, note that as the Sony a6000 comes with Focus Peaking to help with ensuring correct focus. The image has not been corrected (Photoshopped) in any way. I have included the full size image converted straight from RAW to JPEG for your evaluation. Not bad for a lens that cost less than £30!

I deliberately shot at this angle to the sun to see if there was any flare and also to see how the combination of lens and sensor coped with shadows and highlights. I think the combination works quite well. Now here is the same image corrected in Lightroom. Note: I only corrected for exposure (using LR default for Auto Tone) and added a little bite with LR Punch setting. No sharpening was undertaken at all.


This has brought back some of the shadow detail so that it's possible to see details of the inside of the shop (our local pharmacy). Overall I am quite pleased with these first experiments. More images and thoughts to come in future posts.

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