1. Price & Value
Yes, we know: price is an important aspect for anyone who decides to buy a certain product. Most vintage lenses have a low price, which makes them affordable for the majority of people. TIP: an entry level modern 50mm f1.8 costs 3 to 5 times more than an entry level 50mm f1.8 vintage lens. A serious modern 50mm f1.4 lens costs 10 times more than its vintage equivalent.
2. Build Quality & Reliability
Vintage lenses are made of metal, not plastic. They generally have an astonishing build quality, no wonder so many of them are still fully functional even 40-50 years after they hit the market. TIP: just look around to see how many 5 to 10 years modern plastic lenses are still in working condition. If kept well, vintage lenses will only add value in time and will not massively depreciate as most modern lenses do.
3. Optics & Performance
There are normal vintage lenses and there are great vintage lenses, so it is a matter of knowing what to choose depending on your needs and on how much you want to spend on a classical lens. TIP: they use good quality glass, so you’d be surprised to find that a f3.5 may look better on an old lens that on a new ordinary lens. Performance wise, normal vintage lenses are great for learning photography and manual focusing. For professional use in both video and photography, we recommend upmarket classical lenses.
There is a great variety of lenses out there, ranging from established brands, such as Carl Zeiss, Pentax, Pentacon and Olympus to lenses made by smaller and third party manufacturers, such as Makinon, Chinon and Soligor. TIP: The most common focal lengths are 28mm f2.8, 35mm f2.8, 50-55mm f1.8, 135mm f2.8; if you’re searching for 20mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8, 200mm f4, 300mm f4, you should expect to search a little more, as collectors and professionals tend to keep their special lenses.
Last but not least, many vintage lenses have specific optical qualities, such as color rendering, bokeh or sharpness degree, so if you’re searching for a certain look, it is easy to find out which one corresponds to your needs. TIP: sometimes you needn’t go too far: The 58mm f2 Helios 44-2 and the 50mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Tessar are two easy to find and very affordable lenses that have specific image rendering.
Neutral: single coating vs. multi coating: if you are concerned with things such as lens flare and you want a very controlled image, you should search for multi-coated classical lenses as the old ones were only single coated. And don’t forget to use a lens hood.
Cons: no auto focus / follow focus – it may or may not concern you, but that’s the one thing vintage lenses weren’t made for.