Posted by - Hat

My Experiences With Vintage Manual Lenses On Mirrorless Cameras

My journey into what has now become my main method of photography started about a year ago when I got my first mirrorless camera, a Sony A7R II. I had made plans to pick up an FE 50mm F/2.8 Macro and a Canon 24-105 F/4L for the Sony, but by the time I got the body I had no money for lenses, and I did not want to wait yet another month to use a camera again. Then I got tipped off by a random post for a $24 Vivitar lens from the 1980s, I began my search for cheap vintage lenses that I could use on my A7R II while I was getting money for real lenses. So I soon ended up with a Canon nFD 35-105 F/3.5 and a Canon nFD 50mm F/3.5 Macro, and was absolutely stunned.

Taken on A7R II & nFD 50mm F/3.5 Macro

The image quality that came out of the 50mm macro absolutely astonished me. It was the sharpest lens I had ever seen, despite being nearly 40 years old. The 35-105 did not fare so well. It had not been taken care of over the years, and I eventually was forced to trash it as the images were unusable.

After the success of this 50mm, I found my next lens, the 100-300mm  F/5.6L. This lens was supposed to be one of the best Canon nFD zoom lenses, and it very much did not disappoint.

Taken on A7R II & Canon nFD 100-300 F/5.6L @ 100mm

The lens became my favorite go to for anything I wanted to stay further away from, which made the 50mm macro rather unusable. After using it for about a month, I realized I needed a dedicated 100mm ish lens, and eventually settled on the Nikon AF-D Micro-Nikkor 105mm F/2.8.

Nikon AF-D Micro-Nikkor 105mm F/2.8
Canon nFD 100-300 F/5.6L, Nikon Micro-Nikkor AF-D105mm F/2.8, and Canon nFD 50mm F/3.5 Macro
Taken on Canon EOS R and Nikon Micro-Nikkor AF-D 105mm F/2.8 

The Nikon 105mm and the Canon 50mm Macro have become my favorite go to lenses. They are both tack sharp, have satisfying focus rings, snappy aperture control, and are overall a lot of fun to use. All of these lenses have followed me as I switched from a Sony A7R II to a Canon EOS R, and have significantly impacted the way I shoot. I am more apt to change the F stop of the shot, as I can simply turn a tactile ring to do so. Having to rely on my own movements to focus the images has given me the skills to quickly and accurately focus a lens no matter the situation. At one point, as I was walking a trail, a deer ran out in front of me, and I was able to bring up my camera, quickly focus, and snap a quick photo before it ran off.

While the shot was perfectly focused, the shutter speed was still too slow to freeze the deer's motion. The full control over all aspects of the image, from focus to aperture, without needing to break my focus with a screen to change any of those settings. Full manual control has gotten me closer to my images in ways that would have been significantly more difficult or annoying to do on anything newer. If you have a mirrorless camera, and don't know if you'll enjoy shooting on a manual lens, pick an older FD lens in whatever focal length you want to try, and give it a shot. You likely won't regret it.


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