5 reasons I love manual lenses

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.

    Yashica ML 50mm/2

    Yashica ML 50mm/2

  • Price

    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”.

    A few bucks

    A few bucks

  • 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.

  • Bokeh

    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”.

    Bumblebee with bokeh

    Bumblebee with bokeh

  • 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.

    The herd will pay for anything new

    The herd will pay for anything new

    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.

21 Responses in “5 reasons I love manual lenses”

  1. enarku says:

    hello!

    First of all I would like to congratulate you for this very nice article you wrote!
    I can call my self a new photographer and I am really trying to improve my photography skills (so I would be very grateful if you could help me).

    I purchased recently a Nikon D40 with the kit lens (18-55mm, 3.5-5.6), and I would like your opinion on what manual focus to buy(on where to find and which one to take)!

    I love shooting street pictures, b&w, portraits, and night pictures!
    And if it is possible, could you tell me please where to find an adapter for my “niki” :), I have found some old lenses but they don’t fit!

    I am looking forward to your reply!

    Thank you!
    Wish you all the best!

    Regards, :)
    enarku

  2. Mattias says:

    @enarku: Hello and thanks :) Sadly with Nikon is a bit hard to adjust old lenses of other makers and mounts, but I think that the old Nikkor lenses should be alright. So there should be a lot of Nikons old manual glass that you can use. However do check at tests on for example http://www.mflenses.com on which lenses might be good since I have no first hand experience with Nikon.

    There are however adapters. You can use an adapter for lenses with M42 mount to Nikon with a correction lens inside it, but it’s expensive and you loose some quality of the lens. There are adapters for M42 to Nikon without correction lens, but then you loose focus range (you wont be able to focus to infinity).

  3. Richard Nuttall says:

    Nice article Mattias, well thought out, I would agree with pretty much all you say and would add the main reaons I use mostly manual lenses (I still use some of the newer autofocus for birds etc) is cost and build quality, I don’t believe for example that a Pentax 16mm lens, good though it is, will give me 4 times better of an image than a 16mm Zenitar though it costs 4 times as much. Also I have a 50-200mm auto Pentax zoom which is excellent, it gives fine images, but it feels like a plastic toy and I doubt whether its that much better than say my 200mm Pentacon or Jupiter 21, just a litle more convenient for the moving image. In case I’m not back for a while have a good christmas and my best wishes to you and your family.

  4. Me says:

    I love old lenses. I use Nikons with modern lenses for work, but for fun I run around with a Pentax K10D and lenses that are older than I am.

    It’s probably my least valuable lens (behind the 50 mm 2.0 that doesn’t even go in my bag, due to having the 1.2) but if I really want to enjoy myself I will crawl around in the bushes with a Vivitar 55mm macro. I’d rather spend an hour trying to get a damselfly to pose for me than take 100 photos of people, and I think macro photography is the best way to learn focus with modern viewfinders. We don’t get the feedback of old viewfinders, but when your depth of field is measured in mm you get a very tangible feel for when the focus is on.

  5. 5inister says:

    I use old lenses too, the only thing that bothers me is that exposure often does not work without electronical lenses. If you’ve found a way around this (one that’s not external lightmeter) please share.

  6. Mattias says:

    @Richard: Thanks :) I love my new Yashica MC zoom as you know, eventhough it was cheap. The price seam more in respons to the lack of information on the net, but it is superb in all but the speed (and a bit hard to focus). Merry christmas to you to.

    @Brians trackback: Thanks for the link ;)

    @Me: Wish I had a Pentax, it would be great for all my Asahi lenses. But now I use them on Canon DSLR. Will se what future gives… tempted by Pentax but then I can’t use my Contax/Yashica-lenses and that would be catastrof.

    @5inister: I actually haven’t encountered that problem very much. I use M and AV mode on my Canon with manual lenses (Asahi Takumar of different variations, Yashica and Yashinon, aus Jena, russians Helios/Industar/Mir) and it seams to work fine. Focus wideopen, stop down and measure light. Many of the lenses I have use buttons for this or have a “preset” ring.

  7. PO Cyborg says:

    Hi youngsters!
    U can rest assured that the main stock of Nikkor lenses are of O-P-T-I-M-A-L quality for your manual needs. Back in the old days (90′s) nikon ruled w supremacy. Just be aware that an optic w/o CPU won’t give U automatic exposure. Still plenty of top o the line optics around in the core Nikon AF sector.

    • Mattias says:

      Hello PO, thanks for your answer – I know so little about Nikon so it’s nice when other people answer those questions :)

      Och god jul och gott nytt däruppe i norr ;)

  8. Muurtegel says:

    I’ve just started with photography and I found out that my dad actually has some old Pentax lenses. So i bought a Pentax > Canon converter ring! Can’t wait to start playing with the “new” lense!

    I already use Manual Focus A LOT with my kit lens! ^_^

  9. Mattias says:

    Muurtegel: Congratulations :)

  10. Elle says:

    I’m not a good photography and I just learn to take a serious pictures but still not good and I don’t give it up, now I have Nikon D60 DSLR one and try to take a lot of picture,may be one day I can take a good picture I think.By the way I’ve read yours and got a lot of ideas and techniques,so thank you for that

    Elle

  11. Pancolart says:

    …most modern optics beats the heck out of older lenses… WRONG.

    When lens reaches around 95 percent of desirable sharpness in it’s DOF then it’s considered useful. When comparing sharpness in that 5% range it’s true modern lenses usually beats older. But this isn’t important for anyone else then lens sharpshooters. The point is in lens design and MF AF difference. Older MF lenses produced in 10.000pcs or even less are nowdays sought due to their unique vision. One could say these are eyes with soul. AF lenses have more then 13 elements which results in compressed detail and fake bokeh. I was sure for a while that folks using top CANON lenses blur their background due to it’s soft character. Well, i don’t like it :)! 5-7 elements optical designs mostly make “harder”, swirly bokeh that i prefer.

    Then there is another point in MF lenses. They have faults in special (or not so special) conditions – they are not multipurpose. All new lenses tend (try really hard) to be multipurpose. That takes some of the magic away again. One has to know the classic lens to produce good results! I see so many demo photos of vintage lenses that i know they are soo untrue since photographer used lens in totally unappropriate conditions. One must take into account the angle of light, the color of light… AF lenses admirer hates flares, MF lenses fan seeks and create them.

    Many dared to try vintage lenses. They picked a lemon (faulty sample) and gave up sadly. For example: i had 5x Zeiss Flektogon 2.8/35mm. All of them had foggy elements deep inside. Normal thing due to condensation and age. As such they were working on 70% of it’s full potential. When pro-cleaned story changed and photos were superb! I really like to see new plastic AF lenses after 40 years.

  12. Edyth Yuill says:

    Very instructive posts, you made some good points here and for positive most individuals will agree together with your blog.

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