Shooting with a 50 year old, $100 lens on a $6K camera

Apr 5, 2019

Neil Ta

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.

Apr 5, 2019

Neil Ta

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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So I made a big purchasing decision a few months ago by investing in the new Fujifilm GFX 50R camera. It is a larger-than-full frame, ‘medium format’ sensor camera. The 50Rwas by far the most affordable medium format option in its class at the cost of $4500 USD($5700 CAD). Despite the amazing image quality of the Fujifilm G series lenses, they can be prohibitively expensive and lack the wide apertures that full frame shooters are accustomed to. What excited me most about this camera was its ability to adapt other lens systems with F/1.4 lenses to create images with a very shallow depth of field. In an ideal world, I would be able to treat this camera like a medium format digital back.

Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor @ F/2 | ISO 200 | 1/320, 1/1250

My main workhorse camera is still the Canon 5D MK IV, so I’m already equipped with an arsenal of Canon EF mount lenses. I picked up the Viltrox adapter, the only one that seemed to be in stock in North America at the time. The Viltrox is a smart adapter, which enables both autofocusing and aperture functions while using the Canon lenses on the 50R. However, even with a smart adapter the autofocus was often too slow or inaccurate, so I would default to manual focusing instead. The Canon lenses aren’t designed very well for manual focusing, so the idea of buying into an old film lens system, specifically designed with manual controls, seemed very appealing.

Deep Dive into Old Lenses

When I looked into compatible film lenses for the GFX system, I had three basic criteria: 1) I wanted something that was going to be relatively affordable and available on the used market; 2) I wanted the lenses to be fast (wide apertures); and 3) I wanted a lens that was fairly compact so it would fit better ergonomically to the 50R’s rangefinder style camera body. I wasn’t overly concerned about sharpness, lens distortion, or how it handled chromatic aberration. After a bit of research, one interesting lens that came up over and over again was the Minolta 58mm F/1.2 Rokkor.

Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor @ F/2 | ISO 200 | 1/1250

I had a brief look at the prices and was somewhat surprised to see that this lens is still in high demand. In all honesty, the prices were a little more than what I wanted to spend ($400 USD+) especially considering I wasn’t even sure if this would be a truly viable option. Being the frugal blue-collar photographer that I am, I instead purchased its cheaper, less desirable brother – the 50 year old Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor. I paid a little under $100 USD for it. Paired with an inexpensive Fotodiox Minolta SR to GFXdummy adapter that only one camera shop in Canada had in used condition, I was good to go.

Real World Testing

Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor @ F/2 | ISO 200 | 1/1250

In order to test this lens, I wanted to mimic a real world scenario – no shooting charts, graphs, or straight lines on a wall. With the help of my friend Karen, a local real estate agent, we hit up a park for some natural light portraits. For simplicity, I shot the entire session at F/2 (full disclosure: I think it may have accidentally moved to F/2.8 for a shot or two). To my surprise, the lens performed a lot better than anticipated. The focusing ring was smooth and the metal construction of the older MC version felt nice in the hands. The 50R allows you to zoom into your focus point in camera (through the viewfinder or LCD), so it was easy to nail focus fairly quickly. I more or less hit ‘good enough’ focus every time, even with my bad eyesight.

The Results

Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor @ F/2 | ISO 200 | 1/1000

I’ve never been much of a pixel peeper when it came to portraits and I am a big believer in photos being “sharp enough”. Although the images looked pretty amazing in camera (with the standard film simulation), I applied a little bit of a bump in Lightroom using one of my Classic Chrome RAW presents. You can be the judge of the images that you see throughout this blog post and determine what you like or don’t like about how this lens renders the images. Personally, I can’t say enough good things about it.

Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor @ F/2 | ISO 200 | 1/1250

With more people viewing images on smaller mobile screens, a lot of the lens’ faults don’t appear too noticeable and definitely not deal breakers. It is not the sharpest lens. It suffers from chromatic aberration at F/2. There is slight vignetting in the corners (which can be fixed in the Lens Correction tool in Lightroom). The corners can suffer from that weird swirly bokeh because of rear lens element distortion (too small for the sensor). That said, the way this lens performs is exactly what made me excited when I bought this camera.

Other Lenses Tested

I did purchase a couple of other Minolta lenses as well; the Minolta 28mm F/2.5 MCRokkor and the Minolta 200mm F/4 MD Rokkor-X. Each of these lenses were also under $100 USD each. The main focus of this review was for the 58mm F/1.4 MC Rokkor but I did want to share a couple of sample test shots with these lenses as well. Thanks to Bun Cha the Dog and Toronto photographer Ben Roffelsen for standing in as my models.

Looking at the sample below, you can see there is some heavy vignetting around Bun Cha the Dog in the original image. The MC version of this lens is an earlier release, which had a metal focusing ring. Like its 58mm counterpart, the focusing ring is smooth. The focus throw doesn’t seem as long on this lens as the 58mm, so the speed of focusing from one end to the other would be quicker. Keeping the same 4:3 ratio, the lens seems usable with a bit of a crop and manual Lens Correction adjustment. In terms of sharpness, this lens seems sharper than the 58mm, though it is important to note I did not run tests on the 58mm at the same aperture (F/2.5). As a side, the image shows the minimum focusing distance for this lens on the 50R.

28mm Minolta F/2.5 MC Rokkor @ F/2.5 | ISO 3200 | 1/200 | Original (before)
28mm Minolta F/2.5 MC Rokkor @ F/2.5 | ISO 3200 | 1/200 | Cropped, Lens Correction

The 200mm F/4 MD Rokkor-X was a little bit more difficult to focus because of the increased focal length. When zoomed in to fine focus, my hands couldn’t hold it very steady to get a good read on the focus. Another factor in the focusing difficulty could have been the result of the newer rubber focusing ring on the MD version. It is more difficult to work with compared with the old metal focusing ring. Again, the before photo shows significant vignetting. If you maintain the 4:3 aspect ratio, you can crop the image slightly and apply a Lens Correction in Lightroom. The minimum focus distance on this camera is about seven feet on the 50R. If you prefer to shoot in a 3:2 aspect ratio, I think both the 28mm and 200mm lenses would work really well with even less cropping and Lens Correction.

200mm Minolta F/4 MD Rokkor-X @ F/4 | ISO 200 | 1/320 | Original (before)
200mm Minolta F/4 MD Rokkor-X @ F/4 | ISO 200 | 1/320 | Cropped, Lens Correction

Conclusion

Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor @ F/2 | ISO 200 | 1/800, 1/1000

As you can probably tell, I am super thrilled with the results produced by the Minolta 58mm F/1.4 MC Rokkor lens on the Fujifilm GFX 50R! I feel like I am able to achieve an almost-film look with old lenses mounted on new camera technology. The separation at wide apertures is pretty impressive and it’s my personal belief that the characteristics of the Minolta lenses (with its flaws) creates images that feel more authentic. Often times when I am shooting my ultra-sharp digital lenses like the Sigma 85mm F/1.4 ART, I find myself loving the separation it creates but not loving the more clinical, crisp, flawless look.

Minolta 58mm F1.4 MC Rokkor @ F/2 | ISO 200 | 1/1250

Ultimately, there are something like 30 different lens options that can be adapted to the Fujifilm GFX line of cameras. 35mm film lenses are a great option for those looking to take advantage of the wider aperture lenses. Medium format film lenses tend to be larger and have slower maximum apertures. The Minolta SR aka MC aka MD mount is serving me well so far and I can’t wait to create more work with them. Now who needs some photos?

About the Author

Neil Ta is a Toronto-based documentary, wedding, and commercial photographer. You can view his work on his portfolio or follow him on @neiltaphoto or @neiltaweddings. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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16 responses to “Shooting with a 50 year old, $100 lens on a $6K camera”

  1. Tom Dahm Avatar
    Tom Dahm

    All the time on my Sony bodies.

  2. Greg Hitchcock Avatar
    Greg Hitchcock

    The model looks great for being 50 years ago. Commas. They are important.

  3. Dimitry Iacoviuc Avatar
    Dimitry Iacoviuc

    If I’ve had a pricey camera, would still use it. However, many old vintage manual lenses like Pentax, Zenitar and Helios (Russian ones) offer very interesting possibilities when combined with the modern DSLR like my Pentax K5. And of course many of them have the unique picture.

    1. Owen Strzelewicz Avatar
      Owen Strzelewicz

      Dimitry Iacoviuc I use a vintage Pentax 50mm 2.0 on my K-5. Beautiful images.

  4. Bill Worley Avatar
    Bill Worley

    It’s helpful to precisely capture the distortion. ?

  5. Alexander L. Harris Avatar
    Alexander L. Harris

    If you’re having fun with it and enjoying the results? Go for it.

    I went a little crazy recently and picked up three specially adapted FSU lenses when I finally updated from a D80 to a D750 (holy crap, night and day.. almost literally) one of those lenses almost expressly because it was cheap and soo tiny, an Industar 50-2 and I’ve enjoyed using them immensely.

  6. Joseph Jose Avatar
    Joseph Jose

    Good thing you picked an overcast day and not a sunny day when using a lens with pretty much no coatings.

  7. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    When you have perfect light it’s easy to get great pictures with pretty much any lens.

  8. Carter Tune Avatar
    Carter Tune

    I have many classic old lens, each producing a unique bokeh for my Nikons; but I also have an Yashica 45mm/1.7 and a Canon FD 50mm1.2 fully converted for Leica M.

  9. Richard Jacobson Avatar
    Richard Jacobson

    Yes

  10. Rob Gipman Avatar
    Rob Gipman

    Yep helios jupiter and Carl zeiss pancolar

    1. Neil Ta Avatar
      Neil Ta

      I’ll grab and test the Helios next!

  11. rich Mck Avatar
    rich Mck

    I think that punctuation is a must…Or perhaps a proof writer!?!
    The model is not 50 years old.

  12. Lars Oeschey Avatar
    Lars Oeschey

    Glass makes the picture

  13. Roberto Vivancos Avatar
    Roberto Vivancos

    That old camera still holds up, doesn’t it ?

  14. Nuno Brandão Avatar
    Nuno Brandão

    All the time, no regrets.

    https://youtu.be/E1uNdjNXhiw