old lenses

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by Ed_Davor, Apr 24, 2006.

  1. Ed_Davor

    Ed_Davor Member

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    I've been hearing a lot about how older lenses from 60's and 70's can have an affect on the look of the image.
    Whenever someone is asking for advice on how to get some sort of a retro look, people among other things mention old lenses.

    My oldest camera is an old 70's practica SLR, and I've made a lot of pictures with it, but I have never had a chance to compare it with my newer cameras from 90's, because it has been broken for some time.

    Besides the different flare type, I really don't know what I should be looking for when trying to indentify a signiture look of such old lenses.

    So does anyone have an example photo when such features are clearly visible, or better yet a side by side comparison with new lenses.

    If not, I would appretiante if you could tell me in words, what kind of effect do old lenses have on images?
     
  2. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    If you want old lenses for 35 mm interchangeable lens cameras that will affect your results, go for the bottom of the barrel. And I mean bottom. Pre-WWII Leica glass. Early Contax lenses. And then abuse the lenses. Shoot them wide open, perhaps a little out of focus, and to get the real effect, in dim light and hand-held.

    Oh? You prefer SLRs? Go for the bottom of the barrel. Petri. Economy lenses in Exakta mount. Kowa leaf shutter. Topcon leaf shutter. Spiratone pre-set wide angles. And then abuse them.

    I started shooting in 1970, got the best glass I could, still have some of it, and there's no {many obscenities repeated forcefully}vintage look about pictures taken with any of my lenses. Now that I've moved up a little in format, I'm using a few pre-WWI (I, not II!) lenses and the same is true of them. In spades.

    You want crappy pictures, just shoot crappy pictures. Out of focus, lens abused, hand held, with grainy film that's been underexposed and overdeveloped. What you want is better achieved with the right technique than with old lenses.
     
  3. jonnyboy

    jonnyboy Member

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    I have to agree, here. Most often the only real difference between old lenses of any particular line and the newer offerings is better flare control and slightly different colorations due to changes in glass and coatings. Often, in the past, people confused the color differences between brands as a sign of superiority of one brand over another and, really, what they were judging was their taste in over-all coloration in their pics. As to really old lenses (from the 20's on back), most of the higher quality types and brands will perform rather well within limits, depending on what formulation was used. Shoot....look at some of Jackson's photos of Yellowstone, made back in the 1880's to 1900. Before coatings, before multi-element/multi-group lenses, before effective lens cleaning equipment (photogs in the 40's would use their ties to wipe down a lens), folks were routinely churning out some really nice, sharp images. Granted, they were generally using what we now call large-format and mostly contact printing to get their images, but, at the same time, they were using fragile glass plates with what we would consider rather primitive emulsions.

    One other note: If it is a softer, rounder image you are looking for, many of the old, uncoated three element lenses of the 30's and 40's will fill the bill. Use 'em wide open or stop down a maximum of one stop and shoot away. I found the Zeiss Triotar on a Rolleicord IIa to be an excellent portrait lens in this regard, especially with 400 ISO film. Stopping it down to more than f/5.6 tends to sharpen the image too much.

    Jon
     
  4. HerrBremerhaven

    HerrBremerhaven Member

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    The 1960s and 1970s era of lenses from some companies offered somewhat larger apertures (in 35mm) than more recent and modern gear. When you think that in the last five to ten year most cameras came with a slow kit zoom lens, and would often be used in some program mode, then many shots end up with everything in focus due to the smaller apertures more common.

    Get some old 1970s era fast fixed focal length lenses, then use them as close to wide open aperture as possible, then you will get a very different looking image than someone using a modern autofocus zoom. This is the era of lenses I largely use, even though I did not grow up with these systems. There are a great many used deals out there, and many old manual focus lenses were quite well made, meaning that finding good quality used gear is not tough.

    In 35 mm, I started out with a used Leica M3 and 50 mm f2.0 and a used Nikon FM with 50 mm f1.4. Now I have many more lenses, all manual focus, and no zoom lenses . . . plus several more camera bodies. I tend to use them wide open, which means slow films and ND filters whenever I shoot in daylight.

    Now for a really, really old look, I have an AGFA Jsolette made in 1937. I just use my Sekonic L-358 lightmeter and some nice transparency film, and the ancient 85 mm lens gives me some vintage looking images. The look with this one has more to do with an uncoated lens that is a little soft, and that I need to transfer the rangefinder reading to the lens to sort of scale focus.

    Hope that gives you some ideas.

    Ciao!

    Gordon
     
  5. ricksplace

    ricksplace Member

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    Dan -Amen Brother! I have some old lenses (turn of the century -Zeiss Kodak Anastigmat 4 element 1903) that are razor sharp when used at their optimum aperature. Want fuzzy images? Try an old brownie box camera. Smearing vaseline around the edges of a filter (not on the lens) can give a good old world look too. Just leave the centre clear. As for old 35mm stuff, I have a 28mm spiratone that is good and sharp. My old Takumars are painfully sharp.

    Monaghan's medium format site (is it still running?) has a blind lens test where an elmar, summicron, takumar and olympus lenses were tested for lpm resolution. Warning -if you are a leicaphile, don't read the results.

    I took a few shots at a friend's wedding on Ilford 3200 in 120 with Zeiss lenses. People ooood and aahhhd about the old-world look. It was the grain they liked and the warm-tone prints
     
  6. bob01721

    bob01721 Member

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    I think that's what gives "the look" Ed is after—the grain. I'd guess that, from the 60's and 70's to today, there's far more difference between films than between lenses.
     
  7. gnashings

    gnashings Inactive

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    I have three words: Makinon wide angle lenses.
    OK - four - four words!
    I found mine to be the most wonderfully horrible lenses I managed to hook up to a reasonably modern camera.
    Now, if you really want bad - glue a Holga lens onto a body cap that fits your favourite SLR! It gives neat results, quite pridictably Holga-like.
    There are also lens-babies, but I'd be damned if spend money (the kind they are asking!) for one of those!

    HAve fun!

    Peter.
     
  8. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    "Vintage" doesn't mean crap, it means different.

    If you KNOW what differences are possible between fine lenses like the first 105/2.5 Nikkor and the second, you can exploit them to your advantage. The first, a Sonnar design, has a different signature than the second, a Planar. You can see the differences working close up, from f/2.5 to f/4.


    Exceptional 1950 lenses like a Leica 85 Summarex and 50 Summitar were obsolete by 1960, but their performance opened the world to many. Adrian Siegel's images of Toscannini and Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra are still beautiful, as are the pictures by Gene Smith and David Douglas Duncan. Smith and Duncan used lenses whose flaws were contributed much to the images, that would be impossible to replicate with new glass.



    A musician can choose from an array of instruments, strings, bows and so on to make the sound they choose. We can do the same. I keep a mix of new and vintage lenses in my bag to suit the needs.


    Here are a couple of Siegel's images, taken from the 1954 Leica Manual.
     
  9. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Monaghan's test was well intentioned, but kind of simplistic. As SK Grimes used to say, "Sometimes the test tests the tester". :surprised:

    .
     
  10. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    There was some nice German glass in the 1950s. My favorites are the Voigtlanders. I sold my Vitessa-L, because I wasn't shooting much 35mm, but the 50/2.0 Ultron is one of the nicest 50mm lenses out there for 35mm--

    [​IMG]
     
  11. Charles Webb

    Charles Webb Member

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    I am responding to this quote with "tongue in cheek". First off, I am somewhat offended that the lenses from the 60's and 70's are considered vintage. Heck I was born in the thirties, I certainly don't think of myself as "vintage". Most all of my new lenses were purchased during those time frames and since they have not worn out or quit working I have seen no need to replace them, they are still my new lenses.

    I certainly did not buy them originally to create a "retro" look for my photography. My mentors implied that if I wanted a particular look for my images, that I would need to acquire the additional skills necessary to dream up and create that look. The camera and lens was not considered to be the foundation of a particular "look". At that same time few photographers ever looked at the out of focus areas of their photographs as contributing components to a good image. Most often heard was "damn I wish I could of
    held more sharpness in this soft area". Thousands of dollars are now changing hands in searching for the "Holy Grail" of lenses, not with sharpness in mind, but what best reproduces the out of focus areas of a scene. As I have said in the past,"it don't take much to confuse me". :smile:

    I will get over being considered vintage myself, but I don't wanna hear no lip about "my new lenses" being vintage! :smile: Gotta git out of here and go clean my 105/2.5 Nikkor.

    Charlie................................
     
  12. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    It seems to me that the look that you are after won't be found in 60's and 70's lenses as they are mostly very sharp and contrasty. Go for something uncoated and shoot with a bright light source and the resulting coma gives a wonderful glow. I agree about the Triotar and an uncoated tessar wide open gives a marvellous old world effect. Find these on an old Rolei or Super Ikonta. Nicely rounded aperture blades make for great out of focus areas too.
     
  13. mcgrattan

    mcgrattan Member

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    Yes, 1960s and 70s lenses don't really sound like the right 'vintage' for a distinctly retro look.

    All the SLR lenses I use are 1970s Japanese screw-mount lenses, generally from less well-known but good-quality brands -- Rikkenon (Ricoh), Chinon, Polar, etc. They take wonderfully sharp and contrasty images and are also usually pretty fast lenses too -- with an adapter on my EOS film camera I'd put them up against any non-expensive new lens in terms of quality.

    The Industar 61 L/D that I use on my russian rangefinder does have a particular 'character' to the images, a sort of lovely 'glow' around the edges and in the highlights that I assume is the sort of thing that Leicaphiles have in mind when they rave about Leica glass. It's sort of a 'retro' look when shot wide-open but images from that lens are nevertheless very sharp and contrasty and if I shoot with the right film in it the results, again, are excellent by any modern standard.

    Tessar or triplet lenses are, I assume, more what people have in mind when they talk about a retro look. The tessar type lens on my Flexaret TLR produces pretty 'retro' or old-fashioned images when shot wide-open or near wide-open and is probably the closest thing that I have to that old-school look. The attached image has a sort of 'veiled' look that comes from using the Flexaret quite close to wide open and with the camera slightly facing into the sun.

    However, even that lens or the triplet lens on my Lubitel are capable of producing sharp, high-quality images when stopped down a bit and used with a lens hood. I actually went back recently and looked at some of my Lubitel negs from when I first got into shooting film about 4 years ago and they are really pretty impressively sharp given the limitations of the camera -- if I didn't tell you it was a 60 year old plastic-bodied thing with an uncoated lens, you'd never know.
     

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  15. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I use pretty new enlarging lenses (including the last production of 63mm El Nikkor) for my negs shot with older lenses in various types (mostly Canon NFD and some non-Ai Nikkor lenses), and I like this combination. I get pretty straight results from the negs.

    And for some reason, even when I neg-scan with my Nikon scanner, I don't see much difference in the look of these images on the computer screen. So I don't go too far off either way, and I can prepare the materials and the setting before going to print in the darkroom.

    I do a lot of brain-storming outside of the darkroom, and I like the quality of what 35mm negs produce. But what affects the final look also depends on the type of chemicals and the quality of paper. So, I try to stay as flexible as I can.
     
  16. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Restricted Access

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    interesting thread guys, but wouldn't all the other variables have just as much to do with the 'look' - exposure/development/film characteristics/filter/light quality/subject selection/paper charateristics/print developer etc/etc/etc
     
  17. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Kodak published all the curve data for the films going way back, it's easy to duplicate what the film was doing. There was a greater tendency for halation and scatter, of course, but good shooters made a point of KNOWING what they were doing, and a lousy image was not a charecteristic. Paper is paper. Don't think that good printing was invented in 1999, or restricted to the AZO/Pyro cult.

    3 things stand out from the vintage years ( to me, '30s - '50s ).

    - Two flawed, limited and incredibly beautifully designed lenses: Sonnar & Elmar

    - Expensive, slow, and precious film: shoot 35mm with the care of 8x10, and you're halfway to a 'vintage' look.

    - The thrill of making images in low light, and of having your camera with you... always. Wipe irony and postmodernism from your consciousness and you're halfway there.

    But the MAIN ingredient, the lenses. Learn how to exploit the strengths of an uncoated Sonnar or Elmar, and you're there.

    And for the heck of it, I shot a portrait yesterday with a 1936 Sonnar. It is NOT soft, but it muted the overlit studio in which I was working. Instead of the picture being about contemporary architecture with people in the scene, it was about an artist working in a new building. Big difference. Normal processing. Easy.

    Vintage lenses = another tool in the bag.
     
  18. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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  19. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    An afterthought. Many of the '70s lenses were re-designs of the '50s, using improved computational processes, new glasses, and ( important ) in consideration of efficient production methods.

    Lenses like Sonnars, which were unable to be adapted to the slight retro-focus designs needed for a 50mm to work with an SLR, had been weeded out of normal production in the 1950s. They were still found in short telephotos ( Nikon, Pentax... Hasselblad ), but had generally been replaced by Planar style lenses. In the '70s, the evolution was complete. The Sonnars were not suited to the manufacturing styles then adopted, which DID suit Planars ( and Plasmats in the LF domain ).

    Nearly all 35 mm lenses, therefore, from 50mm to 200mm were now all the same basic formula, with balancing of the design to suit either aesthetic or financial concerns of the maker.

    In other words, by the time the 1970's lenses were on the market, there were only slight differences between them. Some lenses ( 105 Nikkor or 35 Summicron, for example ) were standouts, but there were no longer 'signature' looks.

    Recently, Leica has produced some lenses ( 35/1.4, 75/2.0 ) that are significantly different in performance and appearence from the lenses of the '70s and '80s. A few lenses from Nikon ( 105/2 DC ) are a departure from the 'look' of earlier lenses.

    By the mid 1970s, most lenses were of similar design, manufacture, quality control, and varied only by price point. They should be seen as the 'baseline', rather than as 'vintage' lenses. Chances are, the lens on a new camera will be a '70s design - unless it is a zoom. And if you want a different look, dig deep into your wallet for one of the few 21st century lenses, or go back to a pre- 1970 lens.

    .
     
  20. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I see. Could that be also true for the enlarging lenses in any possible way? How about the condenser lenses used for the condenser-heard types of enlargers?

    I mean I know the differences in some models old and new, but I wonder where the "baseline" has been drawn.
     
  21. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member

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    Most enlarger lenses are either 4-element Tessar types, or 6-element Plasmats. There are a few rare 4-element dialytes too, but not many. The most "exotic" one is probably the Voigtländer WZ (2 elements soft-focus enlarger lens), but that is old.

    Some condensers are aspheric - mostly high-end 35mm enlargers. The rest are one- or two-element spherical.

    It's an interesting thought, that you have to get very new or very old to get something unusual. I think it might be correct, too. The largest variation in design and quality seems to have been the "Anastigmat explosion" in the beginning of the 20th century, when every lens maker had at least one "unique" flavor of anastigmat!
     
  22. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    How about the new voigtlander lenses? are these designs true to their names or just fancy planars?

     
  23. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    In terms of producing a print that has a "retro look" not only do you need to consider the lens type and age, but as already pointed out, the film/developer and paper/developer and enlarger. Using new papers and developers I have a hard matching the look of prints that I made in the 60 with my negatives of that time frame. I even converted a 35 mm enlager to point source, close but not an exact match. I have yet to find a replacement for Agfa Brovira #4. I still use my Retina and Pentex systems and my Wollensak lens on my Crown and Speeds, but the resulting prints do not match prints I made in the 60s and 70s on Medalist, Dupont, Agfa, and Kodabromide.
     
  24. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    I've got a 50mm Soviet Vega-11U enlarger lens, which is supposedly a 5-element design. (The Web page with that information seems to have moved or been taken down, though.)
     
  25. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    The Voigtlanders are really interesting: they are evolved planar / double gauss or whatever we call them this month, but the new design techniques really don't need to follow old forms.

    They have really great design, and have an efficient assembly. Efficient, but not perfect. So, they are quite fine performers, but not in the league of the latest Leica lenses. Value ? Extremely high. Erwin Puts talks about them pretty even handedly.

    As for the 'look' of the lens, and whether they have Vintage look ? No. Not to me.

    But for a RFDR shooter, put a couple in the bag for normal shooting, and hunt down a 1951 Nikkor or '30s leica lens for Vintage.
     
  26. Ara Ghajanian

    Ara Ghajanian Member

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    I'd have to say that the subject matter and lighting are just as important in giving something a vintage look. I took the shot below about a month ago. Most people who I showed it to thought that it was shot in the 50's. I used a modern camera (Nikon F3), a semi-modern lens wide open (Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AI) and fairly modern film (TMAX3200). It was the lighting more than anything that created this look. I think the grain contributed a lot too, but if I had shot a bass player from a punk band in the same situation in color no one would have thought it was from the 50's. In conclusion, I believe it's mostly psychological and very little to do with a magic lens.
    Ara
     

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