Should you buy a scratched lens?

Aug 7, 2023

Markus Hofstätter

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Should you buy a scratched lens?

Aug 7, 2023

Markus Hofstätter

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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scratched lens

This topic brings often lots of emotion up. And honestly I was struggling myself buying lenses with scratches for some time. I still do. That’s why I wanted to take a closer look into this topic. Gary sent me a scratched lens some time ago and therefore made this video possible. Thanks a lot for that!

scratched lens
This old Ross projection lens got lots of fungi and scratches all over the glass

But this is not the first scratched lens that I got, I bought a used canon 24mm lens a while ago from a shop for very little money. I knew already that the little scratches will not affect the image, but I still had a bad feeling. After Some years I can assure you, that all images that I shot with it looked great.

scratched lens
my scratched canon 24mm lens – no issue at all to work with it

You still are not sure if you should get a scratched lens for a good price? Then have a look at my video, where I show how I shoot the plates with a scratched lens. I discuss this topic with a fellow wet plate artist who is also a specialist in renovation of historic photographic equipment: Denis of wetplatedreams.com Denis started recently a YouTube channel where he spreads his knowledge of historic lenses.

YouTube video

As promised I posted the hires scans of the plates underneath. One plate is shot with the old Ross projection lens and one is shot with this very new Zeiss Epic projection lens.

scratched lens
This projection lens is as clean as it gets

Can you guess which plate was shot with the scratched lens? Click on the highres crops to see them in full resolution. You can use the chapters of the video to chump to the part where I explain what plate was shot with the scratched lens.

Shooting wet plates with this projection lenses can be very tough, because the dof is very thin. I also think that one of the lenses had some chromatic aberration. That means, that the blue light is focusing on a different distance than the visible light. This is sometimes also called chemical blurring or chemical miss focus with the wet collodion process, because the wet collodion process sees only some parts of the UV light spectrum (about 420 to 490nm).

I can only focus on the light I can see with my eyes, but some lenses focus because of the chromatic aberration the limages for wet plates on a different spot. Thats how a miss focus can happen. But you can see how extremely sharp both lenses performed anyway. To judge the sharpness for image A, have a look at the top and the right side of the cropped scan.

Even I knew what was the plate that was shot with the scratched lens, and I still mixed them up and was convinced I was right when I showed it to my intern, shows how similar the plates are. This was another point that went to the scratched lens. Scratches and fungus mostly cover only a small percentage of the lens and thats the reason it won’t affect the image that much as you would think.

If you want to support me and get deeper into topics like that, you always can book a workshop or join our Patreon team. Or just book a portrait session . Check also my Instagram channel for latest news.

So what does that mean, should you buy scratched lenses? From our perspective, you definitely can buy scratched lenses. You will save money and still get the same results. It only affects the value. As always, it depends how big the damage of the lens is. More about that in my video. If you buy lenses as an investment, you probably will look for a mint lens, but here you have to put lots more money on the table.

At the end, it all depends on your needs.

About the Author

Markus Hofstätter is a professional portrait, events and sports photographer based in Austria. He has a passion for analogue and wet plate photography. He loves travelling to visit new places and meeting new people. You can find out more about him on his website or blog, follow his work on Instagram or Facebook or reach out to him through Twitter. You’ll find his prints here, some awesome merch here, and  you can support him on Buy Me a Coffee and Patreon. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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One response to “Should you buy a scratched lens?”

  1. Mike Shwarts Avatar
    Mike Shwarts

    Small scratches don’t make much difference. Check out this article.
    http://kurtmunger.com/dirty_lens_articleid35.html

    If all you are dealing with is a scratch and not loss of lens coating or severe lens damage, there is an old trick that helps. Get a black felt tip marker and a lens cleaning cloth. Go over the scratch or scratches with the marker. Press firm enough to get the ink down in the scratch. Use the cloth to wipe off any ink that is on the lens outside of the scratch.