Vintage Lenses in a Digital Age

Maybe you have an old film camera with some lenses, which you would like to be using again, or maybe you are missing, how you used to take photos. Either way, you can use vintage lenses on DSLR cameras.

nos·tal·gia – a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Vintage lenses on DSLR Cameras

The convenient, easy, and often less expensive route, is to buy an adapter that sits between the old lens and the digital camera. Usually, the adapter increases the distance between the lens’ optical elements and the sensor (what used to be the film) and thereby increases the focal length and reduces the lens’ aperture, sometimes by 1 f/stop. If the adapter has optical elements itself, it may also reduce the image quality. Unlike using a full frame lens on an APS-C body, the adapter changes the distortion and compression of the lens, acting a bit like an extension tube.

Each “stop” is marked with its corresponding f-number, halving of the light intensity from the previous stop.

While you might appreciate the increase in focal length (for instance turning your 50mm lens into a 63mm lens), nobody likes to lose a stop of light, or bokeh, or image quality. Still, using this Vello Lens Mount Adapter for instance, to adapt old Canon FD lenses to a Canon EOS camera body, is certainly better than not being able to use those old lenses at all.

Vintage lenses on mirrorless Cameras

Vintage lenses can also be adapted to new mirrorless cameras, which allow for a much shorter distance between lens and sensor. So even with a lens mount adapter, a vintage lens might still be closer to the sensor than originally to the film. For instance a full frame Canon FD lens can be mounted to an APS-C format Fuji X-Mount camera and also increase the maximum aperture by approximately one f/stop – no wonder they call it speed-booster.

Canon 5Xmm f/1.2 lenses across the FL, FD, and nFD lines

  • FL 58mm f/1.2 (I) introduced 3/1964
  • FL 58mm f/1.2 (II) introduced 3/1966
  • FL 55mm f/1.2 introduced 7/1968
  • FD 55mm f/1.2 introduced 3/1971
  • FD 55mm f/1.2 AL introduced 3/1971
  • FD 55mm f/1.2 SSC introduced 3/1973
  • FD 55mm f/1.2 SSC AL introduced 3/1973
  • FD 55mm f/1.2 SSC introduced Aspherical
  • nFD 50mm f/1.2L introduced 10/1980
  • nFD 50mm f/1.2 introduced 12/1980
Canon EF 50mm 1.4 – Canon FD 55mm 1.2
Canon EF 50mm 1.4 – Canon FD 55mm 1.2

Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 Lens

This particular copy of the FD 55mm f/1.2 was made in Japan in 1972. It’s much heavier compared to the modern EF 50mm 1.4 lens, but both share a 58mm filter size and 8 aperature blades.

* EF 50mm 1.4 FD 55mm 1.2
Weight 10.23 oz (290 g) 1.25 lb (565 g)
Elements/Group 7/6 7/5
Closest Focusing 1.48′ (45cm) 1.96′ (60cm)
Magnification 0.15x 0.109x

Mount Conversion instead of Adaption

Using an adapter to mount old Canon FD lenses on modern mirrorless cameras can be advantages. However, adapters come with some drawbacks, when used on full-frame or APS-C DSLR cameras. A much more involved solution is to completely replace the FD lens mount with an EF mount. Jakub Mika, located in Ontario Canada, manufactures polymer lens mount replacements for several vintage lenses.

Changing a lens mount on a 45 year old lens is a little more involved than some youtube videos suggest and there were a few “oh sh!t” moments, for instance when a small metal spring came flying at me or during the recalibration of the aperture-ring. My advice: wear protective eye-wear, use good lighting, be very patient when loosening those tiny glued-in screws, and take your time.

So here it is, the vintage Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 lens, now with a Canon EF mount.

 

Aperture

The diameter of an aperture is equal to the focal length, divided by the f-number

Canon EF 50mm 1.4 – Canon FD 55mm 1.2 both at f/2.8

This photo shows both lenses with the aperture stopped down to f/2.8. The older lens’ larger diameter of the actual glass, should explains the difference in weight.

1st Test Shot after the Lens Mount Conversion

It’s always an exciting moment, shooting with a new lens. But imagine that feeling, after finding a 45 year old lens on eBay and getting it shipped from Japan, finding a conversion kit and getting that shipped from Canada, replacing the lens mount and now looking through the lens on camera for the 1st time.

1st test shot, unedited out of camera (RAW to JPG conversion in Lightroom)

 

More Photos (all unedited – out of camera)

EF 50mm f/1.4 1/200s – FD 55mm f/1.2 1/200s


EF 50mm f/4 1/25s – FD 55mm f/4 1/30s


EF 50mm f/8 1/8s – FD 55mm f/8 1/6s


EF 50mm f/22 1s – FD 55mm f/16 0.8s

EF to Fuji X-Mount Adaption

This inexpensive Fotasy Canon EOS EF/EFS Lens to Fujifilm X-Mount adapter has no optical elements, no electrical contacts in the adapter ring, and provides no aperture/iris. The adapter itself doesn’t change the focal length, creating the same lens to sensor distance that was intended for the Canon lens.
Since this adapter does not provide an iris, it’s not ideal to adapt Canon EF lenses (which do not have a manual aperture control ring), but perfect for vintage Canon lenses.

Fuji X-M1 with a 45 years old Canon FD 55mm f/1.2
Fuji X-M1, Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 1/4000s

Outro

Using the mechanical aperture ring on a lens and shooting in full manual may bring back memories, but no, vintage lenses will not recreate that unique look of old film cameras. This particular copy of an old FD lens has a nice color rendition (less of the red color cast of today’s Canon lenses) but is a little soft, when used wide open. However, for the portraits that I’m shooting that might even be an advantage.

Even at 45 years, this FD lens is in extremely good condition, works well, and in my option often matches and occasionally surpasses the quality of the modern Canon EF 50mm 1:1.4 lens. If you still have some old lenses or find some cheap on eBay, it can be a fun and rewarding project to adapt or convert them, bringing ’em into the digital age.