Adapting Vintage Lenses to a DSLR

Yes, you can use some old lenses on new digital cameras.

My attraction to mirrorless cameras comes from the ability to adapt old lenses. I have been using vintage lenses exclusively on my Fujifilm X series cameras. I enjoy manual focusing, so the lack of auto-focus doesn’t bother me.

The other day I brought the DSLR instead of a mirrorless. A DSLR presents some different problems.

I guess the most obvious question is, WHY? Quite simply, because I can. The next question, should you? Maybe, it’s not for everybody. Modern bodies don’t have a split prism, which makes manual focusing easier. I took my time and each lens really has some quirks that you have to overcome. Especially for still photography. I know plenty of video shooters that swear by vintage manual-focus lenses. Especially the Nikkor 50mm f1.4 on the Canon 5D cameras. I’m not a video shooter though. If I were though, I would rather use a nice Sony A6000 or the like.

The challenge; walk around and shoot all day with a bag full of vintage lenses on my full-frame DSLR.

the lens line up. all adapted with an EOS -> M42 lens adapter. (The Fotodiox adapter works well with the 5D MkI but not the 5D MkII)

  1. 21mm f3.5 Vivitar (made by Tokina) TX M42 mount
  2. 35mm f2.8 Chinon M42 mount
  3. 55 f1.8 Pentax Super Takumar SMC M42
  4. 135mm f2.8 Vivitar (made by Komine) M42 mount
  5. 200mm f3.5 Vivitar (made by Komine) M42 mount
  6. 90-230 f4.5 Bushnell (possibly made by Tokina) M42 mount

A bag full of these lenses is really heavy.

Each lens has it’s own quirks and with the exception of the Pentax 55mm lens I was using, each lens just can’t optically compete with their modern counterparts.

This is not a bad thing, this is what made shooting those old lenses so much damn fun. The 21mm f3.5 for example has pretty bad distortion and severe vignetting. It’s a difficult lens to get focused, but when you stop the lens down, a lot of vignetting disappears and there is a lot of depth of field. This lens also has heavy lens flair. I really like this lens, especially on my Pentax Spotmatic and Chinon CS and CX II.

if you dig up your grandpa’s old Leica III F with a nice old 5cm f3,5 collapsible lens, go pick up an M39 lens adapter and attach it to your mirrorless camera. Because of the flange distance is shorter on the old Leica than on an SLR with a mirror box it will not be possible to focus to infinity.

You must keep in mind, that every camera manufacturer uses a different flange distance. The flange distance is the distance from the film/sensor plane to the mount ring on the body.

The lens you want to adapt must come from a camera with a larger flange distance than the camera you want to adapt to. This is why mirrorless cameras are a good choice. Cameras like the Fujifilm X series and the Sony A7 series cameras are the fantastic choice for adapting these vintage lenses.

If you are shooting Nikon, you pretty much have to stick with F mount lens.

Mirrorless Mounts
  1. Fujifilm X-mount 17.7 mm
  2. Sony E-mount 18 mm
  3. Leica SL-mount (formerly T) 19 mm
  4. Leica M-mount 27.80 mm
  5. M39×26tpi mount 28.80 mm
SLR Mounts
  1. Canon FD-mount 42.00 mm
  2. M42×1 45.46 mm
  3. Pentax K-mount 45.46 mm
  4. Nikon F-mount 46.50 mm
  5. Olympus OM-mount 46.00 mm
  6. Canon EF-mount 44.00 mm
  7. Leica R-mount 47.00 mm

One more point to understand, the lens you are adapting MUST have an aperture ring. There won’t be any control through the camera. Also, there won’t be any communication between the lens and the camera.

I’ve been using Fotodiox Adapters and they seem to be working just fine. They make an adapter for just about anything.

I enjoyed the day of shooting with Noah Katz. It was a little more difficult to get the shots I wanted. Once I got the hang of it, it wasn’t so bad. There was definitely a lot more chimping than I am used to.

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