The ageless gear.
Technology will keep progressing at a pace in all areas, including photography. For example, we can see the rise in megapixels, the improving sensors, the intelligent camera processors, and the increasingly top-notch lenses. However, does every photography enthusiast or professional immediately embrace these advancements?
The answer is no.
Why? Because there are still individuals who find contentment with what they have: their trusty old cameras, worn lenses, and all things that radiate an authentic vintage photography feel.
The common cliché.
As a complete novice in photography, a common cliché of the underwhelming “WOW” factor to produce bokeh haunted me. Even though I had five Fuji lenses with auto-focus and excellent image quality, the bokeh still felt unimpressive.
I’ve decided not to buy another Fuji lens with a wider aperture because my savings have decreased significantly. And I’m not keen on selling the lenses I’ve bought because their resale value has dropped considerably. Based on my experience, I’ve learned to exercise more caution when choosing my photography equipment, as mentioned in my previous blog post.
But why should one consider vintage lenses?
One day, I reconnected with an old friend from junior high school who had a collection of dozens of vintage lenses from various brands. He invited me to his place and showcased some of his prized lenses. I tried them, and the results immediately captivated me.
Upon returning home, I researched various vintage lens brands whose characteristics would align with the soul of the photos I aimed to capture. After reading dozens of articles, I stumbled upon Jonas Rask’s piece about Minolta X Fujifilm. Jonas Rask ingeniously adapted full-frame lenses to work flawlessly on medium-format cameras like the GFX50S.
The pictures that he produces with the vintage lens’s unique qualities have the power to evoke a sense of nostalgia and create a distinct mood. The magic lies in the uniquely captivating bokeh, thus demanding a carefully chosen background. Besides the bokeh’s character, the color rendition from vintage lenses offers a unique signature. His pictures captured my soul, and I aim to establish the lens’s character as my signature style, allowing others to recognize my work without needing watermarks.
Finally, my first vintage lens.
After some research, I found a site that offers a good quality vintage lens at a decent price. I decided to buy a Minolta Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4. I fell in love instantly after a first try. The bokeh and the color rendering captured my soul. But there’s come another problem. One obvious limitation is that most vintage lenses are manual focus lenses. This means that you need to adjust the focusing ring manually to achieve your desired focus.
It takes time and practice to become proficient with such lenses, especially for those accustomed to auto-focus lenses.
Nothing is inherently tricky.
It’s just a matter of getting used to it. After spending months adapting to them, I learned there’s an easier way to achieve sharp focus with a manual lens, but you have to shoot with RAW files.
But first of all, a disclaimer: I shoot with a Fujifilm camera, and I don’t know if my tips work on other cameras.
So here’s the tip: shoot in black and white.
In manual mode, choose Focus Peak Highlight Red High for your focus assist. The red highlight will show a solid contrast, which makes it easier to nail a sharp focus because you shoot in black and white. And here’s where the magic begins. The RAW files are necessary because they will automatically convert into color when you process them in your post-processing software.
Though this tip might seem easy, it still requires a lot of practice to do it perfectly. After all, regular practice makes something that looks tough seem easy.
The beauty of the imperfections.
The use of vintage lenses, however, has drawbacks, and in some cases, these may outweigh the advantages. Because this lens dates back to the 1960s-1980s, another disadvantage, besides the manual focus, is the outdated technology, which makes images noticeably less sharp compared to modern lenses in both center and corner sharpness. Some lenses may exhibit Chromatic Aberration/Color Fringing and vignetting, which can be quite prominent. Despite this, there are many lenses whose quality also exceeds the rate of today’s lenses, with a note: The price spent is also comparable to the quality.
But for photographers seeking unique lens characteristics like me, all of those imperfections of vintage lenses make them perfect.
I have strived to incorporate this tone in my street and cat photography.
Who is best suited to use vintage lenses?
Those who wish to recreate the tones and color renditions of a bygone era for a specific style/character so their work has characteristics other photographers don’t have.
Furthermore, people who seek high-quality lenses at a more affordable price should consider the option of vintage lenses. Although they are now relatively inexpensive, they were initially priced comparably to today’s lenses. Nowadays, it is challenging to come across lenses with pristine optics and smoothly functioning aperture and focusing rings. This scarcity has increased their value. Additionally, with the growing popularity of mirrorless cameras, vintage lenses offer a match for their color rendition, thus contributing to the rise in prices.
Regarding the price.
Typical vintage lenses on the market fall within the 50mm – 58mm focal length range, often called the “nifty fifty” lenses, with apertures ranging from f1.4 to f2.8. Their availability generally keeps prices low, ranging from five hundred thousand to two million Indonesian Rupiah, depending on brand and condition. Wider lenses, such as those under 50mm (wide lenses), are typically more expensive, varying from one to three million Rupiah. Lenses narrower than 50mm, like 85mm (telephoto lenses), are generally pricier, with prices ranging from 3 to 5 million Rupiah, depending on the condition and brand. For lenses narrower than 85mm (100mm and above), the prices drop to levels similar to 50mm, perhaps due to the minimum focusing distance, leading to less interest.
However, prices also hinge on the condition and aperture of the lens. Lenses in good condition command higher prices than rare vintage lenses in poor shape, especially for super-fast apertures like f1.2 or even f0.95.
So, are you interested in using vintage lenses? Or perhaps you already use them as your daily photography gear? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.