Old Glass On a New Camera


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Note: This is not a technical or equipment article. The intention of my photography articles will be to inspire, and have an attitude of experimentation, exploration and awareness of beauty. There are so many articles about equipment, technical aspects and techniques of photography. I won’t be trying to add to that vast sea of content. I will more be looking at the spirit of photography. So technical and equipment aspects will be in that larger context of joy and intention to create. Photography helps one see the world differently, more vividly, more deeply, and enjoy whatever one sees. You see more and more, as one of my painting teachers said about painting…same is true with photography!

In this article I show some quick experimental shots from the first night with the new (old) lens.
In the next article I’ll show some daytime experiments.

This is a vintage 50mm f1.4 Olympus ZUIKO prime lens from the 1970’s, attached to a recent mirrorless digital camera, the Fujifilm X-T2, using a Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapter.

I became fascinated with film SLRs recently, having shot with an old Pentax from the 70’s. It showed me the beauty possible with vintage tools, and simplicity of the old cameras, and the clarity of the old lenses. (Check out shorpy.com for many examples of amazing photography from the 1800 and 1900s done with extremely simple equipment).

The vintage Olympus prime lenses beautiful lenses. They truly do not make them like this anymore. One of the things that makes the lenses special is the Thorium-doped glass they used in the lenses.

The very first shot shows how one can have a shallow depth of field even at a distance with this lens: look at how the woman, about 35 feet away, is in focus but things in front or behind aren’t.
There’s quite a lot of chromatic aberration – not sure why this is since I haven’t noticed it as much with other shots.

These were my first shots – literally trying the lens and adapter for the first time. I stepped outside the office and onto the sidewalk right at dusk and shot what I could see that had visual potential, finding scenes with some interesting light. In particular, I wanted to test out the effects one can get with the depth of field, see what the bokeh was like, and color rendition, and the overall feel of the photos that are in-potentia with this beautiful little tool.

I didn’t record the exact aperture – the only thing the camera can’t record because it does not connect electronically to this mechanical lens – but the first image is at or near wide open, as you can tell from the blurriness of the background and the size of the bokeh circles (blurry lights).

These images are pretty much straight out of the camera – no Photoshop alteration other than very slight Levels adjustment, pulling in the ends of the brightest and darkest pixels, and resizing the photo.

f1.4 (approx.); 1/80 sec; ISO 400

1/13 sec; ISO 400

With this second image, the aperture was smaller, so you can see there’s a bit more depth of field and the light circles are smaller.

As you can see, the colors, bokeh, contrast, are beautiful. And sharp right to the edges.

One of the secrets of these older lenses is that they salted the glass with Thorium 232. This radioactive substance (I’m serious – Google it if you don’t believe me!) helps increase the refractive index of the glass, low dispersion (thinner glass therefore), micro-contrast, depth, and I hear gives the images a certain look. It is no longer legal to use this in lenses and modern lenses are only better in terms of zoom, autofocus, and other ways peripheral to a prime lens. I was wondering why the lens had a beautiful gold cast to the front element!

1/34 sec; ISO 400

Colorful dusk light, looking across the street.
One of the amazing things about a fast lens like this is that you can get a relatively shallow depth of field even at a distance. You can have subject that is 40 feet away and out of focus, while beyond that the image is sharp. You can see this with the trees across the street on the far right.

1/20 sec; ISO 400

The purpose of this image was to test the bokeh – you can see it has a nice round, flat calm shape. The spiral of lights around the palm tree came on as I was standing out there.

The above two images are with the lens stopped down to a smaller aperture. You can see the nice star pattern  halos in the Christmas tree lights around the tree trunk on the left in the closeup.

1/18 sec; ISO 400

I included this image just because I like it – perhaps it’s the depth, the detail, the figure (“street photography”!) – but you can see the beautiful crispness of this old beauty, despite having some dust inside it (which I plan on removing once I figure out how to take it apart…).

1/13 sec; ISO 400

This shot is fun and delicious because of the fine detail, the long range view in contrast to the close view and the blurry sign in the lower right, the glow of the light on the palm tree trunk, the halo around the street lamp…

Check out some of the fine detail from a 100% crop of the above image. Look inside the pine tree: perhaps this is what is meant by “contrast detail” with these radioactive lenses.
No sharpening in Photoshop, just straight out of the camera, with a small amount of Levels applied:

Of course, part of the picture is the wonderful colors of the Fujifilm camera. It’s part of why I love the camera. Fujifilm has a long history, being a maker of film, in paying attention to and understanding color in a way that photographers appreciate. When I started shooting with this camera and looking at the photos, I said “Wow, this is an artist’s tool!”

This shot is more a demonstration of the speed of the lens I suppose, since it was handheld and 1/40th of a second (also a testament to the image stabilization in the Fujifilm lens). Also, you can see how it’s in focus in the texture on the wall in the upper left, but not on the right: shallow depth of field. Also it’s just kinda cool looking.

1.4 sec.; ISO 400

The above shot was after it was getting dark but there was some glow in the sky at the horizon, captured better by the camera than what the eye could see in this case – and demonstrates again the speed of the lens. I managed to do 1.4 seconds handheld somehow. I love the colors. And this was not even Velvia film simulation mode, but Standard.

Later that evening I went to a photo show – the APA “Untitled” (I’ve had photos in this show two years ina row but didn’t enter this year) – in downtown San Diego, and did some shots of the party. That’s when I really became conscious of the crop factor when using a 35mm lens on an APS-C camera. In this case the crop factor is 1.5, so this 50mm lens acts like a 75mm one. In practical terms, it’s like having a small amount of zoom, which is tricky when you are in a small gallery space! I managed to get a couple of decent shots by standing a distance across the room from subjects.



If you’ve gotten some value from my articles and photo inspirations, please consider contributing so I can continue to spend more time inspiring you. Use the button below to send a donation via PayPal. Thank You!  – Eric Platt