I use manual lenses on my digital camera and love it, and I want to share with you the reasons for this. Manual in this case means manual focusing and aperture. My lenses are old, made between the 60′s and the 90′s. Here are my reasons:
- Full control
- The AF-troubles
I always had trouble using autofocus, I often missed and lost images due to unfriendly auto-focuses. Could be I just had crappy AF-lenses, but to get a good one I would need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on something I probably won’t use.
- Slim or fat lenses?
The autofocus also need space in the lens, making them bigger. If you try an old manual lens for the first time you might be surprised how slim they can be.
- Manual aperture
Most of the lenses have manual aperture, but that doesn’t make much difference to me. I used to set aperture with a button, now I do it with a ring. I use M or AV-mode on the camera.
- The AF-troubles
Non-AF lenses sells for next to nothing, even if they are good. Some of my best lenses was purchased for $10. Some lenses can cost more, that is usually makers that are still in business (and well known) or those that have some cult value like some of the russian lenses. Zeiss and Leica also cost a lot. With Zeiss you can try to get one marked “aus Jena”, this was made in the east for the export market and not allowed to use the “Carl Zeiss” name so they just labelled it “aus Jena”.
- Build quality
No modern lens I have tried can match the feeling of the metal and glass in a an old Asahi-lens, turning the focusing ring feels like an expensive precision tool. The same goes for some of my Yashica/Yashinon lenses. This is of course only true for some makers and models. You need to know how to choose the right lens (or ask for help on forums). And, it almost goes without saying, you need one that has been well preserved and taken care of.
I feel many old quality lenses have very good bokeh. Two of my favourite lenses are very sharp but also have amazing bokeh and colours. Yet they are single coated.
“But hey, single coated lenses are crap I’ve been told”
No they are not, it’s a silly assumption that can be sorted under the next point on my list – the “newer is better myth”.
- The myth, “newer is better”
As I said, some of my favourite lenses are not multi coated. I have to admit I’m a bit satisfied that I’ve seen through the myth that “newer is always better“. Now hear this: Of all my favourite photographers, none of them used the latest camera of today… so why should I need to?
The term “better” is subjective, my preferred properties might not be yours. The lensmakers might be trying to build lenses without the properties I like. On top of that, some new expensive lenses have the same optical formula as they did in the 60′s and 70′s! :)
It is not the camera that makes the photographer, the camera is only a tool that can help. I’ve seen some people suggesting professionals needed to buy the absolutely latest just to show how professional they are (this was in a discussion on Nikon Dx3). That was one of the most stupid things I ever read! the professional photographer would get most value to his company and make great IMAGES. Not show other photographers who big his ***** … oh, sorry camera/lens is.
Image from WikiMedia Commons by 3268zauber, CC-license
But here’s a slight problem. I don’t like The myth, but it’s what’s keeping prices down. Since I started with old lenses, prices has been rising. Worrying. Indeed.
Disclaimer: Some old lenses are simply crap, precisely like some new lenses.
Here you can find a list of manual lenses I use and like. If you want to read other sites there is a lot of goodies under the links-page.