Vintage Lens Honeymoon

Is Over.

Well, I kick-started my photography hobby for a second time recently after a hiatus of about 37 years. I bought into the theory that I could populate my lens arsenal with vintage stuff and save a bundle.  In short order I had over a dozen lenses in my possession, none made after the date they want to check on driver’s licenses in order to purchase hard whiskey.   Some were made not only that many years ago – but multiples of that many years.

I fought with these lenses for almost two years, trying to wrangle beautiful pictures from the bargain optics I’d procured.   In low light situations I discovered why many people have left these old lenses in the past.  In low light, the old lenses’s Achilles heel is presented.  The optics on vintage lenses tends to be better in the middle/center and gets poorer in areas that are closer to the periphery than the center.  This presents a dichotomy that works against the photographer whose two options are to open up the aperture (exposing those “bad” periphery areas) – or crank up the ISO to migraine grain levels,

Yeah – the Bokeh is OK on some of the wide aperture vintage lenses, but few of them put the sharpness that I desire onto the stuff standing in front of the bokeh.  All bokeh is no bokeh.  So yes Virginia, there’s a reason people buy new lenses.  Low light photography is certainly one of those reasons.

OK, so you can get some very interesting pictures with vintage lenses.  I have a few I like.  But, I had to work three times as hard to get them.  At the end of the day, shooting vintage, my keeper rate is low.  At the end of the day, shooting new-fangled glass, my keeper rate is low, but still three times higher than with vintage.

We each have our own metrics for measuring pictures, and maybe my sharpness requirements are in excess of those vintage glass lover’s requirements.  I’ve decided I need to upgrade my lens arsenal to something with birthdays in this millennium.   I’ll keep the vintage stuff for those days when I feel the need to take twice as long to shoot pictures, or I want a soft look.

Maybe you can get a sharp look from very good vintage glass that originally had good prices to match.  But – in my forays around garage sales and antique stores, I’ve yet to find such an item.  If it was a kit lens in 1967, 77, or 87 – you can probably forget about it.  If it was a consumer-grade lens, even aftermarket, then dittos. I use only three lenses (Pentax, Yashinon, Fujifilm) out of the bunch that I bought.  Occasionally I’ll use the Tokina as well.   While I sometimes do OK with these antiques, the thrill is gone.

For me, it’s entirely a sharpness thing.  I guess I have my priorities.

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