Back in 2012 I was doing a project in Los Angeles and that’s when I purchased my first Fuji Film camera. It was an X100s. My intention was I looking for a street camera. Something small, inconspicuous and people wouldn’t give a second thought if they happened to notice me taking a picture. After all, my Canon 7d was none of those things but as my primary shooter at the time, a heavy hitter.
At that same time I made the switch from Lightroom to Capture One Pro. The images that came from that camera were mind blowing to say the least. As it turns out the combination of these two changed the course of my shooting. Sense that time in LA I haven’t touched my 7d and I’ve been shooting Fuji ever sense. Next thing you know I had some serious G.A.S.(Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I soon found myself, the proud owner of a X-Pro1 and XR35mm f1.4.
Jumping head to the present day, I can hold my G.A.S. better. I’ve only made incremental jumps on camera model releases. Next purchase was the X-T1, which made the X-Pro1 my back up camera, and then finally onto the X-T3 which I am currently shooting. Which has turned the X-Pro1 into a dust collector. There is nothing wrong with the camera mind you, it’s just an unfortunate victim of generational atrophy. Quite frankly, that bothered me a bit. A perfectly good camera going to waste. Until now.
I was watching DSLR Shooter on YouTube and the subject was vintage lenses for video production. The host of the channel Caleb Pike talked about his collection of vintage lenses. He went over characteristics, things to look out for and price. On average these lenses are cheep. $40 to $70 for a lens. $10 to $25 for the adapter and you’re in business. So of course I immediately login to my eBay account and start the search for my new found obsession. My first obstacle was I haven’t even heard of most these manufacturers. I mean there is the obvious ones Pentax, Canon and Nikon. However there are others like Mir, Albinar, Helios, Voightlander or is it Voigtländer?
Then there is the matter of the mount: A-mount; A39; M39; M42; FD; T mount. Good news is there are a lot of selections. Bad news is there are a lot of selections and how to navigate them isn’t clear. So we throw the bones and read the entrails…google to the rescue. I found a site that has a database of lenses from the past. Pentax Forums. Personally, I’ve concentrated on M42 mounts due to their popularity, a large manufacturing base across many companies at that time and they are adaptable across all sensor formats from full frame to MFT.
Now there are few things you really need to be aware of if you decide to go down this vintage rabbit hole. First and foremost autofocus. No such animal. At photokina 1976, Leica had presented a camera named Correfot, and in 1978 they displayed an SLR camera with fully operational autofocus. However, it wasn’t until 1981 that the Pentax ME-F was released which used focus sensors in the camera body coupled with a motorized lens, becoming the first autofocus 35 mm SLR.
Program, auto modes and shutter priority modes…not going to happen. Due to their relative age and the fact that we are adapting these lenses to modern technology, the supporting mechanics are no longer used in current electronic camera bodies. However, aperture priority can be obtained by using aperture priority mode on most electronic shutter cameras. By doing this the camera will vary the electronic shutter speed based on the amount of light entering the lens and adjust the shutter speed accordingly.
The shooting process is also quite different. First off setting your camera up to use completely manual lens can be a bit frustrating. As in the case with the Fuji X series, it took forever to figure why my images, despite my best efforts, were coming out blurry. I was very careful to check my focus using the focus-zoom and the OVF along with focus peeking. But, when I hit the shutter button, the image would blur and the shutter would activate. So, I worked my way through the menus double checking every settings to see what I missed.
Shooting without a lens – enabled
Auto focus – disables
Focus Peaking – enabled
Focus peaking color – high
On the front of the camera there is a selector switch for (M)anual-(S)ingle Shot-(C)ontinuous focus – set to M
It took the better part of a day and many trips though menu hell to finally notice AF on shutter release. It had been staring at me all this time saying “HEY! Dumbass! Looking for me?” DISABLE. Success!!
By now you can guess how my X-Pro1 fits into the grand scheme of things. I’ve setup my X-Pro1 as my go to vintage/retro street camera rig. I’m good with that. I find myself grabbing this setup as I head out the door more and more. A daily driver if you will. The biggest advantage is that this setup forces you to slow down and think through your shot. What lens am I using? What are it’s characteristics? Based on those what f-stop, shutter speed and ISO match the shot in my head? Then I pay close attention to the focusing and finally press the shutter button. I’ve regained my appreciation for the art behind “You don’t take a photograph, you make it” as Ansel Adams put it.
If you get bitten by the vintage lens bug I hope this has shed a little light on what’s involved. One other thing that I almost forgot to mention is that I’ve adapted and shared these same lenses on my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K adding a different dimension to my video work. Now go out and shoot!