Educational

Old & New: Vintage Lenses with the Sony Alpha Series

I recently discovered that vintage lenses can be adapted to my Sony a7 ii. After picking up my first lens from KEH, I was hooked. I now have a small collection of different lenses and mounts to play with in my collection. Below, I’ll be posting some examples that I’ve taken with my lenses and some tips and tricks for you to get started.

Before you get started

  • Some versions and copies of lenses can yield slightly different results.
  • If you can, check the lens for any dust, mold or scratches before you buy.
  • Double-check the lens mount and make sure you have the correct adapter for your camera.
  • If you can, try and mount the lens to your camera before you buy. Test the sharpness at low apertures. 
  • Take advantage of focus peaking and focusing manually. 

Getting set up

The first thing that you’ll need is an E-mount to X” adapter, depending on your vintage lens. I have M42, M39 and Minolta MD mounts. I’ve been using adapters from Fotasy and they’ve been great and affordable. You can use an autofocus adapter to have autofocus, but YMMV on the results.
After you have your lens and adapter, you’re ready to start shooting. I set my custom (C1) button to Manual Focus Assist so that I can zoom in on details and ensure that I got the correct focus. In addition, make sure focus peaking is enabled, and you can even change the color and intensity to your liking.

Example Photos

The Kiron 28mm is really special. The bokeh is really unique and it’s sharp, even at f/2.0. It doesn’t do too well for wide-angle landscapes in bright light.
The Helios 44M-4 is one of my favorite lenses to adapt. It has really nice swirly bokeh and also does very well for general purpose snapshots in most lighting conditions.
The Jupiter 8 has a vintage look to it. It’s also much smaller than I originally expected. The clickless aperture is unique. I won’t be using this every day, but the effect of film and old-style photography really comes through with this lens. After later inspection, I realized that the lens has a good bit of dust inside. It’s still really neat, though!
The Minolta 50mm 1:2 is really great. It’s lightweight, and has very sharp images, even at f2. The colors are natural, but a tiny bit muted. It’s perfect for an autumn day!
The Minolta Rokkor f/1.4 is as good as it gets with vintage lenses. The build quality is great, and it’s sharp through every aperture. You’ll almost always find me with this lens on my camera if I’m adapting a manual lens.

3 Reasons to get your first vintage lens

  1. Photography in 2017 has so many ways for you to get the newest, fastest, sharpest and most expensive lens to put in front of your camera. Taking a step back and practicing the fundamentals is a great way to jumpstart your creativity and to learn more about the photography basics.
  1. A vintage manual focus lens will allow you to spend more time with your composition and your exposure. Instead of snapping a quick shot and moving on to the next, you spend time with each shot and really make it count. It’s almost like shooting with a limited number of photos (like you do in film photography).
  1. You’ll be able to find most vintage lenses for about $50. You can build up a small lens family for the cost of one modern day lens.

Final thoughts

There is a time and a place for the newest gear. It’s incredibly valuable to have an autofocus lens to be able to track an eye when shooting portraits. It’s also very valuable to tap a button to get your super sharp focus, almost instantly. However, for me, the fun in photography is making something physical. You’re able to produce unique images and moments when you expand the different options that you can make with a vintage lens and your Sony Alpha camera.

Bonus tips

  • Freelensing can give you some interesting effects.
  • You can take advantage of the manual focus and aperture and reverse mount these lenses for macro capabilities. 
  • Holy macro if you add extension tubes.
  • Stock up with lens caps and covers. Most of these lenses don’t come with any protection.
  • If you’re looking for a place to find more lenses, consider KEH, as well as the B&H used department, Craigslist and within your local photography community.
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