The photos you see below were all shot digitally on cameras that do not have the mounts natively of the lenses used to shoot them. You see the lenses used to shoot these images are between 50 and 60 years old. How could I shoot these old lenses on a modern digital system? I used a pair of Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC).
Over the last few years these types of cameras have become more prevalent in the consumer sector and with the introduction by Sony of a "full frame" MILC, now begins to enter the professional market. The question many of you of course who aren't acolytes of the modern camera world will have is what exactly is a MILF anyways? Granted the vast majority of you will be a bit more advanced and will know what they are, so for those of you please indulge me while I educated the less initiated among our readers.
Basically cameras use one of three systems to create a way to preview an image prior to shooting. The most common on cameras where you can change the lens involves a mirror in the path of the light between the lens and the focal plane which bounces the light into a prism and mirror system so you can see what the lens is pointed at. This is known as a Single Lens Reflex camera. When you see the contraction DSLR you are basically discussing a camera with this type of viewing system for composing and focusing the camera.
A MILC eschews the mirror in the light path either using direct viewing or some other system to compose and focus the image. In most modern digital MILC that would be either the rear camera screen (giving us a digital version of direct viewing such as one would have on a large format camera) or on cameras sold more to the enthusiast market an Electronic View Finder (EVF). I could discuss Rangefinders but that would needlessly confuse the situation, so let's just work with the above.
The benefit of using a MILC is that they tend to be much smaller that cameras with the same sensor size since there is no need to create space for a mirror and it's flipping and instant return mechanisms. Smaller cameras usually means smaller lenses and less weight to carry around all day when you are out shooting. There are of course drawbacks, but technology is quickly eliminating many of the issues. One of the benefits of all this is that the registration distance (the distance between the back of the lens to the focal plane is reduced. This has become a major selling point of these systems, many competing to get thinner and thinner.
Now why is this benefit? With such short registration distances this allows for a unique situation, if one can via adapter extend that distance and allow the mounting of other lenses, one could conceivably mount practically any lens one wanted at any time. Capitalism being what it is a small cottage industry around just that very idea has evolved in the last few years. Almost any MILC can currently be adapted for almost any lens mount out there. Now personally I don't understand why anyone would want to mount say a Canon or Nikon lens to an MILC outside of being a bit of a gear freak, but for those of us who have lenses for systems long abandoned prior to the digital revolution this becomes a very attractive option. I personally own two MILC systems specifically for this purpose. One is a Sony NEX-6 which I use with Olympus Pen F lenses from the 60's. The other is a Pentax Q which I use with Kern Palliard C-Mount lenses from the 50's and Pentax Auto 110 lenses from the 70's.
The above image demonstrates what I love about these old lenses. The draw of these lenses is due to the very different formulation as well as the fact that these lenses were hand built and hand polished. They had a very different character than modern lenses, a bit softer but still "sharp". Of course using these older lenses does incur some penalty on digital sensors. The biggest issue is that to modern eyes these lenses tend to have low contrast.
The major reason why is that lenses back in the 60's and 50's either had no coatings (the case with a certain Kern Palliard you'll see in part two) or are just single coated, like each of the Pen FT lenses I use with the Sony NEX-6. Of course more recent lenses, those built mostly in the 80's onwards tend to have a good look on a digital camera, but these older lenses do need some work.
Both of the shots above for instance were shot using a Olympus 38/1.8 for the PenFT. Being single coats the contrast was quite low compared to a modern lens. Another issue is that older lenses tend to be a bit warmer in color rendition than modern lenses, requiring a bit of work to adjust color unless you are willing to create a lens profile for it.
Of course if you are using a 500 series 'blad with a Phase One back, this is something you've probably done, but if you are using some funky lenses on a consumer digital, you've probably haven't, and if you are into Lomography may not want to.
Now granted the focal length's I am using on these systems are fairly easy to match with modern lenses for each system, but with that said, there is a certain charm and of using these older vintage lenses. The feel of a smooth focus ring, the satisfying click of the aperture ring, and most importantly, that unique look lenses of those eras give an image.
In part two we'll look at some images from the Pentax Q and go over ACR processes to keep in mind when working with these vintage lenses.