Vintage Lens Photography
When building up a modern photography kit, you can expect to spend the largest portion of your budget on glass (a.k.a. lenses). Autofocus lenses can often cost as much or more than the camera body you plan to shoot it on.
You may find yourself asking questions like, “Will I use this lens enough to justify the cost?”
If the answer is “Yes”, then great! Go for it! If the answer is “No”, then read on because I may have another option for you!
Is An Expensive Auto Focus Lens Right For You?
I’m a big believer in real world examples so I’ll go ahead and throw myself under the bus.
A few years back, I was asked to shoot a wedding. Even though I had a handful of weddings under my belt, I was NOT a wedding photographer. The bride wanted me to shoot her wedding anyway due to my documentary style of photography (and at the time, I was the only one in my area who did that).
Planning for Wedding Shoot
After I had agreed, I realized I didn’t have a telephoto lens to shoot the ceremony.
Now, I had no intention of becoming a wedding photographer and my style of shooting was up close and personal so I primarily rely on wider lenses. But, I wanted to do the best job possible, so I went ahead and purchased a lens with a longer focal length.
Sure, I could have rented the lens but I told myself it was a really great, high quality lens and I would definitely use it going forward.
Plans Gone Wrong
As the wedding approached, I got more excited. I had been practicing a bit with the new lens and it really was superb. It was never my go-to but when I forced myself to pull it out, the images were stunning. Crisp, sharp, great color rendition. The lens was worth the money -- for someone who would use it regularly.
BUT, less than two weeks before the event, there was a death in my family and I had to pass that wedding onto a backup photographer. I knew she would do an amazing job and I wasn’t worried.
However, when I got home and the dust settled, it settled on that lens. I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me or the way I liked to shoot. Occasionally, I would pull it out because I wanted to shoot with that focal length but it was rare.
In the end, my thousand dollar lens became filler in my camera bag and I consider it one of the MOST foolish gear decisions I have ever made.
The Benefits of Vintage Lenses
The saddest thing about this experience was when I realized I actually had that same focal length all along - attached to my film camera!
A simple $13 vintage lens adaptor on Amazon would have allowed me to mount my vintage lens onto my modern camera body.
I purchased the adapter and I couldn’t believe it! To me, the images are even more beautiful than those shot with the expensive auto focus lens. There is a tangible, film like quality to them.
And there are other benefits of shooting with vintage glass as well. Here are a few important ones:
- Vintage lenses will force you to become more intentional. Shooting with manual focus vintage lenses has forced me to think through each frame and approach each shot with intentionality - almost as if I were shooting an actual roll of film. Instead of having a dozen shots of the same scene to cull through, I might have just one or two. Because I’ve slowed down my process to get the shot in the first place, I know whether I’ve nailed it.
- Vintage lenses are dirt cheap. Not only are they inexpensive, they are often a sturdier build quality than their modern day auto focus counterparts. You can readily pick them up for less than $50. Put simply, you can have an entire kit of vintage lenses covering every imaginable focal length for LESS than the cost of a single modern, auto focus lens.
- Vintage lenses will improve your photography skills. Any time you step outside your comfort zone and broaden your horizons, growth will occur. Using vintage lenses has made me a better photographer in so many ways. And that’s always a good thing.
My advice is to skip Starbucks this week and use that money to buy yourself a vintage lens. You will likely enjoy the change of pace and unique perspective. I know I do!
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