Should you be buying old lenses for your 2023 cameras?
Hands up, how many of us have a bunch of old (er, I mean vintage) lenses taking up space in a cupboard? Most of us who have at some point shot film probably own a few still. Many of the old Canon lenses were of exceptional quality and, of course, are now far cheaper than their modern digital equivalents.
You might be surprised to learn that you can get your hands on a telephoto zoom lens for as little as thirty dollars. But the real question is, can such a budget-friendly lens keep up with the demands of today’s modern photography? In this video, Carey West investigates the possibilities of using an old lens.
West is specifically testing out a Telesor MC Auto Zoom 85-205mm f/3.8 lens. He compares it with his Sigma 85mm lens, with both lenses stopped down to f/5.6 for comparison.
He actually shot the video with the cheaper lens, and honestly, it looks pretty good. The main issue is that it’s obviously a completely manual lens with no autofocus. This does make life a little harder, but many of my cine lenses are fully manual anyway, so not a deal breaker.
However, it is fairly apparent that the Sigma is just a much sharper lens, particularly with the help of autofocus.
The comparison photos are also quite interesting. The older lenses are far worse wide open than the newer lenses. The difference becomes less noticeable, as you might expect, as you stop the lens down to f/8 or smaller.
West also points out that these lenses have a significant amount more chromatic aberration than their newer counterparts.
Of course, this all needs to be taken with a huge pinch of salt. Some of the soft focus could be down to the manual focus technique of the photographer (especially watching the video footage of him shooting it!). Similarly, he is comparing a cheap no-name lens with a pretty decent one.
We all know that Sigma makes good lenses, particularly in their upper-quality ranges. Perhaps better would be to compare like for like. Some of the older Canon and Nikon lenses for analogue film cameras were super sharp.
In a similar way, modern cameras, particularly mirrorless ones, do have slightly different sensor distance ratios. This could be making a big difference in image quality.
All in all, if you have some old lenses, can find an adapter, and don’t mind manual focus, then these old lenses could be worth experimenting with for a bit of fun. If nothing else, you can pick them up cheaply, and they will give you a different look!
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe