How manual-focus and vintage lenses made me a better photographer

Jul 12, 2018

Dominik Vanyi

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

How manual-focus and vintage lenses made me a better photographer

Jul 12, 2018

Dominik Vanyi

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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I have been a commercial and wedding photographer for over 13 years. And from the beginning, I have been using Canon DSLR cameras and a variety of auto-focus lenses for the Canon EF system.

Switching to another camera system/brand did cross my mind because I made a substantial investment into lenses for the Canon system. Meanwhile I have gathered over 15 EF and EF-S lenses.

But in 2016 I decided to try a mirrorless camera and bought a SONY A7 r-II.

Because lens adapters exist that allow me to use my existing Canon glass on a Sony mirrorless camera I did neither plan nor anticipate that I will buy lenses especially for the SONY system. At least that was the plan.

But little did I know…

Prayer Flags photographed with a 50 mm / f0.95 lens

Watching a few YouTube tutorials about the SONY A7 system I discovered that there is an affordable 50 mm / f0.95 available, especially for SONY mirrorless cameras. I wanted that lens very badly.

Because ever since I saw the magic a lens with such a large aperture can do I wanted such a puppy also. And unlike the LEICA Noctilux which costs in excess of 10.000 USD this lens was quite affordable — just around 800 USD. Not too bad for a lens with an aperture of f 0.95…

So I ordered this Mitakon 50 mm / f 0.95 lens directly from China. A 100% manual lens.

For the very first time, I was using manual focusing.

This was perhaps the most significant turning point in my career as a photographer.

What the MITAKON 50 mm / f0.95 is capable of doing in terms of bokeh

At first, it seemed a rather limiting way of photography. I missed quite a few pictures. Because by the time I had the focus set properly the situation I wanted to photograph was gone. At first focusing by hand was a distraction from the actual process of making photographs.

But this did not discourage me. I quickly got used to manual focusing. And in the end, this made me become a better photographer and create better photographs.

Why? Because it forced me to compose my photographs differently.

Focusing manually made me slow down.

Rather than clicking away indiscriminately I found myself thinking much more about how I approach a photographic situation.

Putting in more thought and preparation when photographing was the best thing that ever happened to me as a photographer.

also an ideal lens for low-light photography

In a way focusing by hand has re-wired my photographic brain.

It’s hard to describe. I encourage all photographers who have never focused manually to try it out. Do not give up easily — it requires some practice.

The experiences I made with my first manual focuhos lens prompted me to buy another 10 manual focusing and vintage lenses since 2016. Some of which have become my absolute favorite tools for creating photographs.

You may think I am ‘rich’ so that I can buy that many lenses in such a short time. No, I am not !

You see another great thing about vintage lenses is that many of them can be had at a very low price. Some for less than 50 USD. Or to put it into perspective — all my vintage glass combined costs less than one new modern auto-focus lens.

True Vintage glass: made with a Helios 40–2 lens — made in the Soviet Union in the 60ies…

I still use my Canon lenses when documenting weddings. But less and less so. In fact, I recently did my first commercial assignment exclusively using vintage lenses only. Here is a link to the behind-the-scenes story of that project.

In fact, these very positive experiences with manual focusing & vintage lenses led me to discover SLOW PHOTOGRAPHYa (not so) new way of approaching photography and creating better photographs.

If you are interested to learn more you may want to join the SLOW PHOTOGRAPHY movement.

And that is how manual focusing and using vintage lenses has transformed me and my photography. Try it out for yourself…

May the light be always with you…

About the Author

Dominik Vanyi is a wedding photographer based in Bali, Indonesia. You can check out his work on his website and follow him on Instagram, Behance, and 500px. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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11 responses to “How manual-focus and vintage lenses made me a better photographer”

  1. Mhammad Nabeel Avatar
    Mhammad Nabeel

    The Asahi Pentax 50mm f1.4 & the Helios 58mm f2

  2. Nuri S. Gedik Avatar
    Nuri S. Gedik

    İf you have helios 40 you are right?

    1. Dominik Vanyi Avatar
      Dominik Vanyi

      I have the 44 and the 42 and love them both.

  3. Stephan Hughes Avatar
    Stephan Hughes

    All I use are vintage lenses on my a7rii. If you know what to look for and what to avoid, you can get some amazing glass!

  4. Widder Shins Avatar
    Widder Shins

    I completely agree about manual and vintage lenses. It’s all I’ve shot with for years. You can view my work at http://photolumiere.net if you like.

    1. Dominik Vanyi Avatar
      Dominik Vanyi

      Thanks for commenting Widder Shins. You have great work on your website. Would love for you to be part of the SLOW PHOTOGRAPHY movement. If interested pls see the link in my article above.
      May the light be always with you.
      DOMINIK

  5. Jimmy Harris Avatar
    Jimmy Harris

    Most of my vintage, manual focus lenses range from mediocre to junk. But there are a few gems that I prefer over any modern autofocus lens! And you’re right about manual focus being easier once you get used to it. I just whish more digital cameras came with split prism viewfinders (at least as an option), as they make manual focusing so much easier for people with glasses or less than exceptional eyesight.

    1. Dominik Vanyi Avatar
      Dominik Vanyi

      with Mirrorless cam and focus peaking – manual focusing becomes a breeze..

  6. rifki syahputra Avatar
    rifki syahputra

    Im using manual-vintage lens for the price
    nikon serie-e lenses are best bang for bucks

  7. Joseph Mangibin Avatar
    Joseph Mangibin

    Got my very first mirrorless camera without any lens kit. I opted to get a cheap manual lens instead and I’d say it was a good choice. Starting out at manual taught me to develop good habits like relying on my own judgement on how to take a shot — like adjusting aperture and shutter speed. Overall, just making me think more about how take a good photograph instead of relying on auto functionalities.

  8. Joshua Boldt Avatar
    Joshua Boldt

    I seriously love using old glass on my Fuji cameras. The little 12 dollar adapter I bought to use all my old Nikon lenses was worth every penny, times ten.