Old Lenses, New Tricks

When I got my X-E1 I decided to get a mount adapter so I could try out some old film lenses to open up some more creative possibilities. After a bit of research it seemed like m42 screw mount lenses would be ideal. They’re cheap and plentiful as the mount was popular across a wide range of cameras for several decades. I mentioned to my Dad I was interested in getting some m42 lenses and it turned out he had some near mint condition Pentax Takumar’s from his college days. So I took possession of a 50mm f1.4 SMC Takumar and 135mm f3.5 Super Takumar. These old lenses were made at just the right sort of time to have damn good optics and have basic lens coatings which help minimise flare and improve contrast.

DSCF0581Summer, 135mm, 1/500 sec

Both lenses have nice bokeh, the 50mm in particular. The 135mm can show some quite pronounced bokeh fringing wide open so is best used stopped down slightly, at least if being used for a colour shot. It’s impressive how sharp they both are considering their age and the demands placed on them by a 16 megapixel APS-C sensor.

DSCF0859Canalside Garden, 50mm, 1/100 sec

I find focusing the lenses fairly straight forward using the magnified view to check for critical focus.  The X-E1’s 2.0 firmware which added focus peaking definitely makes things easier still. Shooting moving subjects is undoubtedly a challenge so you need to carefully consider your composition and pre-focus as much as possible. The 135mm’s focus ring requires a considerable amount of turning to go through its range which has the advantage of making focus very accurate, but the downside that it can be frustratingly slow if you’re in a hurry.

DSCF5514Impervious to Water, 135mm, 1/320 sec

There are lots of great m42 lenses out there that are easy to adapt to use on mirrorless cameras (and less easily on Canon and Nikon DSLRs). If you stick to names like Pentax and Zeiss you won’t go far wrong. Of course there are plenty of super cheap lenses from obscure branded Russian, Japanese and German companies and some may be fantastic, but it will be a lot more hit and miss. The older a lens is the more likely it will have performance issues on today’s cameras, so if you want a lens not just to use as a toy or special effect purchase, go for a later model with coated glass. Also beware of dust and fungus – never buy old lenses from sellers who don’t show you the innards or at least guarantee the glass is clear. A few dust spots won’t hurt and are inevitable, but fungus and other nasties will degrade the optical quality. Also make sure aperture rings are functional as they can seize up after decades of inactivity. On auto m42 lenses you may need to adjust the auto/manual switch before the aperture will close so beware of that.

Armley Mills

Spinning Mule, 23mm, f4, 1/20 sec

 This past weekend I had the opportunity to explore Armley Mills, an industrial heritage museum on the outskirts of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England. With a plethora of old machinery preserved inside including the amazing spinning mule, pictured above, the mill is a treasure trove. It was fairly dark inside and with bright sunlight streaming in through the windows, exposure was a little challenging, that said the overall light was wonderful. The muted colours inside and strong contrast lent itself beautifully to black and white. All pictures were captured with my X100.

Bobbins, 23mm, f2, 1/125 sec

Working the Mule, 23mm, f2.8, 1/125 sec

Empress Works Pully, 23mm, f2.8, 1/60 sec

Onomichi City

Onomichi is a small city in southern Japan that lies on the coast of the Seto inland sea in Hiroshima Prefecture. It’s famous for its many temples and steep narrow streets. I took these photos while exploring the city in early November 2011 with my Nikon D7000. I had my 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 zoom with me but mostly used my Samyang 14mm f2.8 and Nikon 35mm f1.8.

Onomichi Backstreets, 35mm, f5, 1/160

The winding backstreets are  tightly packed with buildings, mostly homes with a few shops, bars and restaurants. Many streets like this were so narrow even a small Japanese car couldn’t hope to fit.

Saikokuji Temple, 14mm, f8, 1/500

I was a little early for the autumn leaves but you can still see a few turning here at this hill top temple.

The Last Temple, 14mm, f8, 1/320

The last of 25 temples on Onomichi’s temple walk. I think I missed one or two on the way, but it was satisfying to finish here, thankfully at the bottom of the hill.

Onomichi boats, 35mm, f4.5, 1/640

Behind the temples amidst the tightly packed houses in the back streets high on the hillsides are a number of derelict old homes which are being allowed to slowly collapse. With doors missing or fallen in and even whole walls having simply buckled and fallen away it’s not hard to catch a glimpse inside without having to put yourself in any danger (you really don’t want to be exploring collapsing old wooden structures thousands of miles from home no matter how good your travel insurance is).

Nature mirrors art, 35mm, f5, 1/160

Time stood still, 35mm, f5, 1/160

House of faded stickers, 35mm, f4, 1/100

The stickers in this old ruin caught my eye, things like this more than just the old detritus hint at who might have once lived here. A cat lover and basketball fan perhaps? What would they make of their home now, rotting and falling apart?


Welcome to Light Priority

Welcome to Light Priority, a place to showcase, sell and talk about my photography and gear. I’m still in the process of fleshing out the site so don’t be surprised if new sections pop-up, disappear or get moved around. Hopefully you’ll join me on this journey as I try and turn my hobby into more of a business. I’m not expecting to get rich, but it would be great if it could at least supplement my income and help pay for new equipment. I’m hoping to sell prints and postcards and you’ll also be able to help the site by clicking affiliate links. I’m also open to the idea of sponsorship and if you’d like to send me some camera gear to review that would be awesome.

If you’d like to get in touch or submit feedback you can use the Twitter  or drop me an email to rory @ lightpriority.net. A proper contact page will be added soon. To keep the noise down I won’t be allowing comments on pages or posts but I still welcome feedback.