Oldies but Goodies

All photos taken with a Sony A7r

One of the appeals of mirrorless cameras is their small size, probably the micro four thirds cameras take advantage of this the best due to their smaller sensor size. But having got used to a full frame camera over the past 5 years, first with the Canon 5D and then with a Canon 5D mark II; which I still own and use, I just missed the depth of field control that a full frame sensor offers. I tried the Olympus E-M5, and liked it for a while, but in the end I moved on to the Fuji X-E1 which appealed due to its larger sensor (read more depth of field control) and great image quality. The Fuji is a great camera which I was/am mostly happy with, but then Sony announced a full frame mirrorless, the first of its kind, a game changer not seen since the original Canon 5D, I had to have one! Full frame in your pocket, take everywhere camera!

With the Sony A7r I got my depth of field control back, but as always, there is a compromise. In this case it is in the form of the size of the lenses, they have to be bigger due to the size of the sensor. Sony combatted this by releasing a very small Zeiss 35mm f2.8 which gives up a bit of that depth of field control for size. So far its proving to be an excellent lens, it has a nice mircocontrast to help get back some of that subject isolation normally achieved with faster apertures. The Zeiss 55mm f1.8 will be a slightly larger but acceptable size again and the Ziess 24-70 f4 will be slightly larger again. Still all much smaller than their DSLR counterparts due to the shorter distance from the lens to the sensor plain of a mirrorless camera.

So how can you get fast glass in a small lightweight package? Well, one of the other appeals of mirrorless is their ability to mount almost any lens via adapters, this is predominantly because most other cameras have a longer lens to sensor plane distance, so the adapter serves as a spacer to get the adapted lens to the correct distance from the sensor.

The easiest lenses to adapt are old manual focus DSLR lenses from the 1960-80’s, they’re generally fast, small, manual focus only and… cheap! Lens technology hasn’t changed that much really over the years, the main advancements have been in better coatings to control flare, contrast etc, image stabilization, auto focus motors etc., so some of these older lenses, though cheap are generally of pretty good quality, some are better than others of course, but with a bit of research, you can usually figure out the chaff from the wheat.

These next few photos are from a Konica Hexanon 50mm f1.7 ($40 ebay purchase). I forgot I owned it, I bought it a while back for my Olympus E-M5, but found it difficult to manually focus without the aid of the now common ‘focus peaking’ features of the latest mirrorless cameras and the Sony A7r. A $15 adapter later and I was using it on the Sony and finding manual focus pretty straight forward.

This lens has some glowy softness up to f5.6, but it actually results in some nice creamy black and whites as a result, while not being overly soft, shots below shot at f1.7

The next one is with a Canon nFD 24mm f2.8 which I purchased a few months ago for use on the Fuji X-E1 to give me a roughly equivalent field of view of a 35mm lens. Mainly because Fuji hadn’t yet offered a lens at this focal length at that time, $130 lens purchased from fredmiranda.com buy & sell forums. Again, great manually focused lens with another $15 adapter, @f5.6 below

Today my latest addition arrived from keh.com in the form of a $69 Canon new FD 50mm f1.4. this lens is up there with the most recent of lenses in terms of sharpness wide open, and it gets sharper from there. The value for money, size, image quality and build quality can’t be beat.

This next shot is at f2.8

These are shot wide open at f1.4

Over the summer I sold my Canon 85mm f1.2 and 135mm f2 lenses because I wasn’t using them enough to justify their cost. But with some of these manual lenses, you can have a draw full of them, each with their own unique character and not feel bad if they only get used a few times a year. Some are better for black & white photos, some more contrasty, some less, some sharper, some glowy, you get options! They're generally built like tanks, and you can use them on any mirrorless camera, so you’re not buying a lens to marry to just one brand of camera body.

The fixed focal length primes around the 50mm mark are generally the cheapest and most widely available, but there are bargains to be had across the board if you do a little hunting.