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Using old lenses on a modern DSLR/mirrorless camera

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Old lenses and kit on a new camera

Using old lenses on your DSLR/mirrorless with adapters

Site Notice: Like many working photographers, our work has diminished greatly in these challenging times, so I'm at home a lot. The silver lining is that I've lots of articles and reviews to write - if you've any suggestions or questions, please do let me know - Keith
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Keith’s had a clear out and found quite a few old bits of camera equipment in various drawers and cupboards.

So, what’s worth using and what’s not?

This article has grown and been updated since 2009 – it links to lots of detailed articles/reviews.

Using old stuff…

Over time, I’ll put up some short articles about using old kit on our 5Ds / 1Ds Mk3 / 100D / RP

I’m not looking for the ‘perfect lens’, it’s mostly ‘for the fun of it’ and partly to remind me that although I’m a professional photographer, it’s still fun :-)

  • 2019 update: now includes EOS RP [RF mount]
  • 2020 update: Using tilt and shift, Soligor 300, Paragon 500
assorted lenses

Looking for old lenses and adapters?

My first port of call is still eBay

Support our site – using our eBay link gets us a small commission – thanks

The lenses

I’ll add items to the list as I find them.

35mm-and-55mm M645 lensesThese are not detailed lens tests, more aimed at giving a feeling for what the lens is like. I’ll try and include a few comparative images.

The lenses sitting around… (link goes to article – some still ‘pending’)

If you’ve found this page looking for info on a particular lens, and I haven’t tried it out yet, drop me an email and I’ll push it up the list :-)

Other assorted items

assorted-old-lensesArticles and items still to test

…and any more ‘junk’ I find in all the various boxes and cupboards here at Northlight.

Using old lenses with adapters

Many lenses are very easy to use with appropriate adapters, I’ve long used adapters for M42 screw fit and Olympus OM fit to the Canon EF mount, going back to my 11MP Canon 1Ds.

Both came at quite reasonable cost from eBay. A quick search for ‘EF adapter’ will find several. With the arrival of mirrorless cameras, there are now adapters in a huge array of combinations. Old lenses tend to be mechanical and avoid any complexities of interfacing one manufacturer’s proprietary electronics to another.

For these basic adapters, you may hear people on the forums say that cheap adapters are to be avoided.

However I’m of the opinion that this frequently comes from those of the ‘sharpness trumps all else’ school of photography, and the old lenses can definitely still have benefits and useful features.

I know some people collect vast piles of old kit and use it just for the sake of it, well that’s a fine hobby, but from my own POV, it ain’t why I enjoy photography.

tamron 35-70 f/3.5 on a Canon 1ds Mk3If you are looking for an adapter for a £2500 digital medium format lens, then it’s probably worth spending a bit more on an adapter than for a lens that would have difficulty raising £5 at a photographic bring and buy sale.

Right, an OM2 mount Tamron 35-70 CF Macro on a 1Ds3 – Why??

I’m just doing this for an experiment – If I want real sharpness and image quality, I already have lenses costing an awful lot of money, but then again who knows what I might find?

Other DSLRs also take adapters, however some need an adapter with a lens in it to allow for infinity focusing (i.e. the lens will only focus short of infinity – not a problem for macro use).

I suspect that some of the stuff tested here may even find itself on eBay some time, since being a professional commercial photographer, I’ve got a fair collection of Canon ‘L’ series lenses, which are not only very good quality, but have working autofocus, something you won’t get with old lenses. Adapters that support AF tend to have electronics in them and should be carefully checked for compatibility before spending much on them.

Am I going to use this stuff ‘for real’ – I suspect not* – if I wanted to make things purposely difficult and tedious, I might take a tripod with me everywhere and go back to film, say large format.
Some types of photography just don’t suit my temperament… YMMV! ;-)

*2020 – yes, a new tilt/shift adapter moves two of my old Mamiya MF lenses into the ‘OK for work’ category.

M42 to EF lens mount adapterThat said, some of these lenses may well produce quite acceptable results and be of genuine use to someone wanting to experiment (particularly on a tight budget).

The Canon EF mount is a very flexible design – you can see how much bigger it is than the M42 screw mount to the right.

Note that there is no mechanical activation of the aperture stop-down for the lens.

You will have to manually adjust the aperture ring of the lens (and you will forget sometimes).

Update 2014

I now also have an EOS100D 18MP APS-C DSLR

I’ll be testing this camera too with some of the lenses, such as this test of the Photosniper 300mm.

zenith photosniper and EOS100D

Perhaps that rifle stock isn’t quite so wise to take out than back in 1975 when I got the lens ;-)

Update 2019

The new EOS RP works really well with adapted lenses, see several in use in my EOS RP camera review

Here it is with the Olympus Zuiko 50/1.2

rp-with-olympus-50

Here with the Mamiya 210/4

210mm F4 on RP

Here with the MTO1000A

mto-2

Detailed view showing M42-> EF and EF->RF adapter.

mto-3

A test shot of the Moon with the MTO on the RP [click to enlarge]

the-moon

A (slightly cropped) shot taken with my 1978 MTO1000A 1080mm f/10 mirror lens. The moon was low, air not clear and I was using a medium size tripod and no cable release…

However, with a bit of contrast enhancement, it’s none too shoddy, and definitely worth having a ‘proper’ go some time.

The focusing of manual focus lenses with an EVF and focus peaking is so much easier than any DSLR I’ve tried. You also get a truer feel for the DOF available, in an electronic viewfinder. My EF50mm f/1.4 or Olympus 50mm F/1.2 really do give a proper feel for the narrow sharp zone

Update 2020

After using my four Mamiya medium format lenses for a few years with a simple M645->RF shift adapter I’ve now tried them with a much better M645->RF adapter on my EOS RP.

With ±15mm of shift and 10º of tilt it’s really useful – enough that the Mamiya 35/3.5 and 55/2.8 are ones I’d consider for ‘real work’

Fotodiox tilt/shift with the Mamiya Sekor C 35mm/3.5 | 55mm/2.8 | 80mm/2.8 |  210mm/4

shift-down

Tilt and shift at 210mm?

210mm tilt and shift

More Info

Canon view camera adapterPicture shows a 1Ds attached to a view camera

Assorted articles/links from Keith

Useful sites

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Site Notice: Like many working photographers, our work has diminished greatly in these challenging times, so I'm at home a lot. The silver lining is that I've lots of articles and reviews to write - if you've any suggestions or questions, please do let me know - Keith
...Why not sign up for our (ad free) Newsletter to keep informed about new articles and subscribe to my YouTube Channel


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