Using Old Manual Focus Lenses on a DSLR

If you’ve bought your new DSLR with a kit lens, it will do a good ‘general purpose’  job.

However most aren’t that ‘fast’ i.e. they have fairly small minimum apertures (f3.5 to f5.6 for a 15-85mm Canon), so for isolating a subject with narrow depth of field and nice ‘bokeh’ they’re not great.

This post shows a way to get that ‘look’ without spending a fortune.

Shallow Depth of Field – Helios 85mm f2

For fast apertures we need prime lenses e.g. 50mm f1.4 or f1.2, 28mm f2 or an 85mm f2 – all quite expensive as modern autofocus lenses.

So, just cheat.

EPL3 with 4/3 to Canon EF adaptor + Canon EF to OM adaptor + Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Buy or reuse a few old manual focus lenses with an adaptor, and get that light gathering ability and the lovely narrow depth of field on a budget until you can afford a modern version. If you’re a film photographer you might already have some nice old lenses you can use – that cheap 50mm f1.8 is one or more stops faster that your standard zoom already.

EPL3 with 4/3 to Canon EF adaptor + Canon EF to OM adaptor + 50mm f1.4 no 2

Zuiko 50mm f1.4 showing off!

Older lenses can give  lovely soft rendering of a subject which digital kit lenses won’t do – sometimes sharpness isn’t everything.

What You’ll Need

Old film lenses can be found on Ebay, boot sales, charity shops and via specialist dealers. By comparison with their autofocus versions they are really good value. As an example I bought a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm in OM mount for £10 recently. It’s lovely but weighs a ton!

Olympus 620 + Vivitar Series 1 70-210

Apart from the lenses you just need a  cheap adaptor per lens mount used. I’ve used a Canon EF to 42mm and a Canon EF to Olympus OM adaptor to attach lenses to a Canon 60D. Using a 4/3 to EF adaptor they can also be mounted on an Olympus Pen EPL3. I’ve used Fotodiox adaptors, which are very good, but others are available.

Canon 60D + Jupiter 85mmf2

What’s the Catch?

Obviously no autofocus but other than that it’s just like attaching a Lensbaby :-

  • Focussing is best done on the LCD.
  • Centre weighted exposure metering and aperture priority seems to work best.
  • Use RAW to correct any wayward exposures which are common at wider apertures.

Olympus 620 + Meyer Optik 50mm f3.5 Primotar

Depending on your camera, there may be a crop factor – an ‘effective focal length’ multiplier if you’re not using a full fame sensor. For APSC sized sensors it’s about  x1.6, for 4/3 or micro 4/3 its x2. So a 50mm lens will become an 80mm on APSC or a 100m on 4/3, so wide angle lenses become not quite so wide angle, and mid range lenses become telephoto lenses.

Macro lenses don’t really lose out that much against their autofocus versions if you’re on a tripod and using the LCD. All my macro work is done using a Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro lens.

Canon 60d + Zuiko 28mm f2

At more moderate apertures you’ll be better off switching back to the kit lens, but in low light or where a shallow depth of field is wanted these lenses still have life left in them.

Canon 60D + Zuiko 28mm f2

So a cheap way to get that expensive shallow depth of field look, and another option in your photographic arsenal.

If you’d like to read more, check the exhaustive biofos tests here for old Zuiko Lenses on an Olympus PEN or here for the same lenses on an Olympus DSLR.

For use of old MF lenses on a Canon 60D, check the Film, Camera and Lens Reviews tab.

For more lens types and some brilliant experimental photography,  Veijo Vilva has written some great articles.

Hope you give it a try.


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