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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Classic Glass

Your favorite optics live again—in digital reincarnation

Labels: LensesGear
Where older lenses really shine is in the bang-for-the-buck category. Even if you can't afford a 200mm ƒ/2.8 telephoto, you may well be able to spring for a 100mm ƒ/2.8 and an adapter that doubles its focal length, providing essentially the same thing for a fraction of the price.

What Do You Need To Make It Work?
Used lenses can be found at many photo specialty stores, on eBay and Craigslist, and in other peoples' attics. Lenses with aperture rings are easier to adapt than those without. If you want to get your feet wet, look for a 50mm prime lens from virtually any major manufacturer. Back in the day, nearly every 35mm SLR was sold with a 50mm normal lens of one sort or another, and there are literally millions of them in circulation. Because they're so common, you can often find them at ridiculously low prices. Act fast, however; every day more people discover how easy and powerful it is to adapt classical glass to modern cameras, and market prices are creeping upward.

Adapters are available from many sources. Two companies that offer nearly every possible combination are Fotodiox (www.fotodioxpro.com) and Novoflex (www.hpmarketingcorp.com). If they don't have the adapter you're looking for, odds are that it doesn't exist. Adapters can range in price from about $25 to around $200 depending on the mount combination, complexity and quality.

Adapters fall into at least four categories. At the simplest level, the adapter does nothing more than couple the lens to the camera body. One level above is the adapter that incorporates an internal mechanism to facilitate closing down the lens aperture. Needless to say, if a lens doesn't have an aperture ring (like most modern AF/AE lenses), this feature is imperative.

Moving farther up the ladder, there's a family of adapters that have built-in chips that enable focus confirmation. While not quite as effective as focus peaking, confirmation is very helpful. You'll find many adapters for Canon DSLRs with the focus confirmation feature.

A fourth type of adapter couples otherwise incompatible combinations of cameras and lenses and allows infinity focus by introducing a single glass element between the lens and body. Adding a slice of glass behind the rear element rarely yields sharp results, so beware before purchasing one of these adapters.

Precautions When Shopping For Old Lenses
The most common defects found in old lenses are internal fungus (often described as "haze"), oily or sticky diaphragm blades, and deep front element surface scratches. These are usually deal-breakers. A fourth but less common flaw is a seized or stubborn focusing helicoid—a lens that's cosmetically perfect to visual inspection may require more force than necessary to focus. That won't necessarily diminish performance, but it will make it harder and certainly slower to use.

The aperture ring should move smoothly and the detent at each ƒ-stop should click with authority. Dented filter rings are often forgivable, but be aware that they're always the result of impact, and that impact may well have caused damage that can't be seen.


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