A great way to breathe new life (often at little cost) into your photography is to adapt old lenses to use with your digital camera. There are two main options when it comes to choosing old lenses for your digital camera – using an old manual focus lens, or modern, low-tech glass from Lensbaby, Diana or other specialists. Both solutions mean you will sacrifice some of the automatic features on your digital camera, but that’s part of the appeal.
The advantage of using the Lensbaby or Diana lenses is that to some extent you know what you are going to get, as each lens has been designed with a particular ‘look’ in mind.
So if you want the soft-focus look of using a very basic lens, you can choose the Lensbaby Plastic optic, or one of the original models for the tilt/shift effect.
When it comes to using old manual focus lenses, the results you get will be slightly more random, as each lens will give slightly different results – but that’s half the fun!
A 50mm f/1.8 is a classic lens that’s ideal when you are first starting out with photography. If you’re lucky, you can pick up these high-quality portrait lenses for a song.
Digital Camera magazine’s editor Geoff Harris got a pristine Olympus Zuiko 50mm lens with an equally clean OM10 SLR camera body for just £50 from a charity shop, and he probably could have got it even cheaper on eBay.
The wide aperture can produce very shallow depth of field, while the greater focal length on APS-C (75mm) or Four Thirds cameras (100mm) makes it a great choice for really striking people shots.
Old gear, new skills
But remember, you’ll lose many automatic features when using an old lens on a digital camera, so you have to focus manually (check out our in-depth guide to Manual focus: what you need to know to get sharp pictures).
Because you aren’t able to rely on the camera to set everything for you, it feels much more like shooting with an old-fashioned camera (for more on how your camera works, see Digital cameras: what the manual doesn’t teach you).
There’s also something very satisfying about setting the focus using a large manual focus ring compared with the small control on most autofocus lenses, again adding to the authenticity of your retro photography adventure.
Getting to grips with manual focus, and figuring out how to expose correctly with an old lens, may seem like hard work, but these skills will prove useful whatever gear you use.
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