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Monday, May 12, 2014

Give New Life To Old Lenses

A variety of inexpensive adapters opens up a whole new world of lens options

This Article Features Photo Zoom

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As much as I hate to admit it, when it comes to my gear, I can be a bit of a cheapskate. It's not that I won't invest in good gear. On the contrary, I like to invest in good gear and then keep it for years and years and eke out every last drop of usability before I buy something to replace it. Which is why it still troubles me that I have all these great old lenses lying around from my Hasselblad medium format film system that I just can't use in my all-DSLR workflow. So, I finally took the time to do something about it. No, I didn't sell the old lenses and invest in new stuff. I bought an inexpensive adapter to mount my old manual Hassy lenses onto my new DSLR. The results were great, and I had a lot of fun playing with those sharp old lenses. Better still, the experience spurred me to dig a little deeper into the world of affordable adapters that give new life to old lenses. Here's what I found.

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The adapter that I started with was a $59 Fotodiox Hasselblad to Canon EOS adapter. I tested it with a young model's studio session and found it easy to focus and relatively normal to use with the exception that aperture adjustments weren't made in camera, they were made on the lens barrel—just like the old days. Heck, if you've got these manual lenses lying around, adjusting apertures by rotating a ring on the barrel is no big deal. It can be comforting, even. And the Hassy portrait lens was just as sharp as I remember.

I was a Nikon shooter in the film era and I loved my F3s and F4s and the great glass that went along with them. But, I haven't had a lot of hands-on time with Nikon since I chose another path many years ago when I moved to digital. Like many photographers, I tend to feel like I'm locked into one camera system and can't use lenses from outside the family. But, that's the beauty of a Nikon to Canon adapter—or, equally, a Canon to Nikon adapter, or an adapter for practically any vintage of any brand of SLR lens to fit almost any other DSLR. There are plenty of options available from manufacturers like Redrock Micro, Cinevate and Novoflex, priced anywhere from $30 to $300. For a relatively small one-time investment, an adapter ring opens up a whole new world of lenses, effectively doubling what's available to fit any DSLR.

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Many DSLR shooters have been joining the trend toward smaller and smaller gear in recent years by hopping onto the compact mirrorless camera bandwagon. But, what about those of us who have hesitated to give up our investments in DSLR systems? Rather than abandon my DSLR lenses when I add a Micro 4/3 camera to my repertoire, instead I can consolidate with an adaptor to fit my Canon/Nikon/Sony/Sigma/Pentax glass onto my compact mirrorless camera. Talk about making a compact system even smaller: now the same set of DSLR lenses can do double duty. The biggest challenge is manually focusing with a camera outfitted with a tiny viewfinder or—even tougher—no viewfinder at all. Most cameras, though, make focusing via LCD fairly efficient with contrast indicators and zoom views to check sharpness.

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Were you always a lover of the Leica M series of rangefinders, but not so much since the transition to digital? Well you can put those great old Summicrons and Noctiluxes to use with an adaptor that allows you to fit any Leica M lens to almost any digital camera. The Fotodiox Leica M to Sony Alpha Nex adapter allows you to keep using a capable compact camera and those great old lenses, but this time with the benefits of the popular NEX mirrorless cameras.

If you want to use filters with your lenses, but you don't want to invest in a different sized filter for every lens in your arsenal, consider buying one filter that fits the largest diameter lens you have (say, a 77mm thread) and then using step-up adapters sized to the other thread sizes on the lenses in your bag. Let's say there's a 52mm thread, a 58mm thread and a 70mm thread. Armed with a 52-77 step-up ring, as well as a 58-77 and a 70-77, a single 77mm filter will fit all of your lenses. That's also a sound investment to make your gadget bag lighter without compromising its effectiveness.

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One funky type of adapter will reverse mount a 50mm prime onto your DSLR. Why might you want to do that? Well, as anyone who ever used a prime lens as a loupe to view slides on a lightbox can tell you, reversing a normal prime allows for macro focusing. That means you can flip your normal 50mm around and thread it onto a reverse adapter that fits your DSLR, and suddenly you've got a legitimate macro lens without adding any glass to your setup—that means no real compromise on image quality or loss of light and, more than likely, all for under 20 bucks. That's a minor investment that's sure to pay off with some fun photographs.

The downside to any of these adapters, of course, is that you're likely sacrificing some level of image quality when you abandoned designed-for-digital lenses in favor of old film era standbys. But, if you're happy with the results, and you have fun in the process, who's to argue? What more could you ask for from such an inexpensive accessory as a lens adapter?


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