Time to adapt, literally.
Updated: Nov 5, 2018
For a while now, I've been thinking about new lenses that I need. Ok, "need" isn't quite accurate. Want. I want more lenses. But they can cost a pretty penny, and with the Fujifilm X series mirrorless line, you'd be hard pressed to find much under $300. I've been considering a 50mm or 55mm in particular, to use for food shots but also for portraits every now and then, especially when the composition calls for both. The price point has however limited me to my trusty 23mm, but it also recently dawned on me that I have a veritable smorgasbord of vintage glass from my father-in-law -
a Pentacon 29mm f/2.8, Helios 58mm f/2, Praktica 135mm f/2.8, Hanimar 135mm f/3.5, and a Jupiter-9 85mm f/2.
Not too shabby, eh?
The history behind some of these lenses, made in what was then the U.S.S.R. and East Germany, is incredibly fascinating and are touched upon here and here. Political and economic dynamics during the world wars and the relatively recent Cold War shaped lens engineering and determined what made it to market, or exchanged hands under the table. A more functional review of vintage lenses can also be found here.
Lens adaptors, which effectively bridge the gap in focal flange distance that is shorter in mirrorless cameras, are the way to go. The one I opted for is the Fotasy Brass Lens Mount Adaptor M42 42mm for my X-T20, which at a little over $10, is an absolute steal. Fotasy also has additional products for Nikon and Canon lines, and there are more advanced (and expensive) adaptors that include optical elements, speed boosters, and electronic chips that fully engage autofocus and image stabilization abilities of the lens, if built in. The Fotasy M42 is a no-frills adaptor, so focus and aperture settings are up to me. All but one - Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 - of my vintage lenses fit perfectly. Theoretically, the adaptor shouldn't affect the ability to focus at or past infinity and I haven't noticed any issues with this. Make sure to adjust your camera setting to "Shoot without Lens" on the X-T20 (under Menu > Set Up > Button/Dial Setting), or the shutter won't release. Additional features like MF Assist (my preference is Standard; the other two options seem more distracting) and Focus Check (assigned to the reverse dial or your button of choice) can be adjusted to further complement manual focusing. Needless to say, I've been thrilled with the possibilities that have opened up, having gone from 1 lens to an additional 4 in a snap.
The only caveat to me so far, is that quick point-and-shoot moments are quite challenging. But perhaps that will come with practice. Photo quality though, has been on par with any of the more modern lenses I've used so far. Below are sample photos of food, and a portrait shot of my Staffy pup, both taken with the Helios 58mm f/2 lens (seriously, my new favorite. I'm starting to see why this lens has a cult following).
So hit the thrift and antique stores and see what's out there. It's a great inexpensive way to experiment and expand your equipment. Image integrity is often not compromised and these lenses can lend unique character and a true vintage feel to your shots. No filter needed.