Using old lenses on a modern DSLR/mirrorless camera
Old lenses and kit on a new camera
Using old lenses on your DSLR/mirrorless with adapters
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.
Over time, I’ll put up some short articles about using old kit on our 5Ds/ 1Ds Mk3 / 100D
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
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.
If 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.
That 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).
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.
Perhaps that rifle stock isn’t quite so wise to take out than back in 1975 when I got the lens ;-)
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
Here with the Mamiya 210/4
Here with the MTO1000A
Detailed view showing M42-> EF and EF->RF adapter.
A test shot of the Moon with the MTO on the RP [click to enlarge]
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
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’
Tilt and shift at 210mm?
I’ll add items to the list as I find them.
These 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’)
- Zeiss Flektogon 20/2.8
- Olympus Zuiko 24/2.8
- Olympus Zuiko 50/1.2 (featured in a Canon 5Ds article and EOS RP review)
- Tamron Twin-tele 135/4.5 (featured in a Canon 5Ds article and Piccure+ review)
- Tamron 35-70/3.5 CF Macro
- Tamron 70-210/3.8-4
- Olympus TCON-08B, Olympus 0.8 Wide angle converter + several others
- Helios 58/2
- Sirius 28/2.8 used for x5 Macro
- Making your own telecentric macro lens
- Tair 3PhS 300/4.5 – The Photosniper lens – Tested on Canon EOS 100D
- Zeiss 135/3.5 (on 100D)
- Soligor 300/5.5 (on EOS RP)
- MTO1000A 1100/10.5
- Paragon 500/8
- Hanimar 135/3.5
- Sigma 70-150/3.5
- Mamiya Sekor C 35mm/3.5
- Mamiya Sekor C 55mm/2.8
- Mamiya Sekor C 80mm/2.8
- Mamiya Sekor C 210mm/4
- The 4 Mamiya lenses with Fotodiox tilt/shift adapter
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
Articles and items still to test
- MPP View camera
- View camera with 55mm Mamiya reverse mounted
- 1Ds Pinhole adapter
- Jessop slide duplicator
…and any more ‘junk’ I find in all the various boxes and cupboards here at Northlight.
Here’s a few of those lenses…
Picture shows a 1Ds attached to a view camera
Assorted articles/links from Keith
- Camera mounts and registration distances [ Archive.org copy]
- Mounts sorted by register distance
- M42 lens compatibility for 5D – lots of old lenses on a 5D
- Identifying a lens mount
- Tamron Adaptall-2 lenses
- Olympus Zuiko Lenses
- Alternative lenses – Forum on the Fred Miranda site with lots of info on using different lenses.
- 16-9 Adapter compatibility notes
- Manual focus lenses – and FAQ list by Bob Atkins
Never miss a new article or review - Sign up for our Newsletter (2-4 a month max.)
Enjoyed this article?
All articles and reviews are listed on our main Articles and Reviews page, or use the search box at the top of any page. Experimental items, hacks and how-to articles are all listed in the Photo-hacks category Some specific articles that may be of interest:
- Using old lenses on your DSLR
- The 1Ds digital pinhole SLR camera A Canon 1Ds pinhole camera, making a 50mm 'standard' pinhole and a 200mm zoom version - results are compared to a lens some £1400 more expensive.
- Canon View Camera An adapter ($20) to use an old MPP 5x4 view camera with a Canon 1Ds. Article shows details of construction and just what it can be used for. Could be adapted for any DSLR and many old large format cameras.
More of Keith's articles/reviews (Google's picks to match this page)