Since discovering film cameras and vintage lenses some five summers ago, I’ve been through a fair bit of glass.
Enough to become concerned about being a lensoholic.
What I’ve learned from this experience – and I appreciate compared with some people’s lens count this is a tiny drop in the Atlantic – is which lenses I like most and why.
I thought it might be useful to outline how this has evolved.
Regular readers might have gathered I’m not really a zoom kind of guy, and when I do use them, I treat them as a prime lens.
By using them in this way – in short, setting them at one zoom position, ie one fixed focal length, on any one photowalk – I’ve had access to a whole range of focal lengths in one lens.
This might seem like stating the obvious, but I gather that most people use zooms by simply standing in one position, scanning around until they seem something interesting, zooming the lens until the subject fills the frame how they wish, then releasing the shutter.
Absolutely nothing wrong with this – it’s likely why zooms were originally developed, to be able to capture different shots without switching lenses.
But I’m a simple kind of guy, and just like to concentrate on one focal length at a time, and try to get to know how the world looks through that perspective.
Two zooms that have helped me with this recently are the Pentax-A 35-70mm f/4 and Tokina SD 28-70mm.
There’s little to choose between them in size, weight and performance – both will give very pleasing results.
So, with the Tokina say, using the guide numbers on the barrel I can use it as 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 70mm.
The Tokina is plenty good enough to give pleasing results at these focal lengths. Plus it has a “macro” mode at 50mm to get really close, down to around 0.2m. This also gives one a taste of the world that close, where most 50mm lenses typically focus down to about 0.5m.
The Pentax is even more useful, in my view.
It might only go to 35mm wide, but also has handy markings at 40, 50, 60 and 70mm. Plus it focuses pretty close at all focal lengths, from around 0.55m at 35mm, 0.27m at 50mm and 0.25m at 70mm.
Again this gives the user a great sample of a range of focal lengths, and closer focusing than most prime lenses.
So to anyone starting out with vintage lenses, despite my love of beautiful old primes, especially Asahi Takumars, I would recommend picking up something like the Pentax or Tokina zooms featured here (both gave me change from £10) and experiment for at least a few months with one focal length at a time.
Then, when you find which you like best, maybe explore a prime lens at that focal length.
This makes a lot more sense – and will save you a lot of money and lens gathering – than buying a bunch of beautiful expensive lenses at focal lengths you never warm to.
Affordable compact zooms – even if they don’t establish a permanent place in your photography kit – can be a fantastic step along the way in helping you find the focal lengths you enjoy seeing the world through most.
Which focal lengths do you enjoy most? How did you discover them?
Let us know in the comments below.
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