There is a famous saying that “old is golden,” and the same principle applies to the best vintage lenses. In my experience, these old lenses are still in high demand on the market. I would say that old fine lenses are cheaper than modern lenses and come in sturdy, portable bodies with manual focus options.
I have opened up a vault of vintage lenses and make a good amount of money running an average basic online site for buying these types of vintage lenses. I like to use this little catalog to guide people on what lenses are best for different situations.
But remember, with vintage lenses, you should not strive for perfection. You are probably looking for something that gives the image more character than ultimate sharpness. So when you get an interesting vintage lens at a good price, don’t hesitate to jump on it. This guide has been created to provide a starting point for your work.
Best Vintage Lenses For Mirrorless
These lenses come in a variety of mounts, and we have tried to include a wide range of mount options. Keep in mind, however, that with old lenses, manual focus is almost guaranteed, so you have a lot of freedom to adapt the mount. There are many adapters available to adapt old lenses to new cameras, which should allow you to use your old lenses freely.
A less commonly used way to differentiate yourself in photography is to use vintage camera lenses. Older lenses are more unique than modern lenses in terms of the type of coating, number of lenses, and number of aperture blades. This older lens technology produces features such as more pronounced lens flare, softer images, more chromatic aberrations, and unique bokeh. These features will make your images stand out and be more original than many other photographers.
Best Vintage Lenses For Mirrorless | Comparison Table 2022
Best Vintage Lenses For Mirrorless | Reviews 2022
How To Choose The Best Vintage Lenses For Mirrorless | Ultimate Guide 2022
Features to Consider When Buying a Mirrorless SLR Camera for Old Lenses
When you decide to buy a mirrorless SLR camera, there are many options available, with different features and prices.
However, while these cameras are great for using old lenses, they are not specifically designed for this purpose. So, even then, you may not need all the features. In other words, you might end up paying for something you don’t need.
We’ll talk about this later, but for now, here are three things you should look for in a mirrorless camera to get the most out of your old glass.
You probably don’t need to read this unless you’re going for a medium format mirrorless decadence like the Hasselblad X1D or the Fujifilm GFX 50S, but you have three choices when it comes to sensor size.
In order from largest to smallest, :
- Micro Four Thirds
When shooting with old lenses, the sensor on the camera is important because of the crop factor. You can read more about it here, but a brief explanation is as follows.
A full-frame sensor is the same size as the film frame of a 35mm (36 x 24mm) analog camera; an APS-C sensor has about half that area, and a Micro Four Thirds sensor has about 1/4 of that area.
This is important because it changes the field of view of the camera lens. With a full-size camera, a 50mm lens provides a 50mm angle of view. However, on a small sensor, this value can be multiplied to give the field of view you would expect from such a long lens.
- A 50mm lens on a full-size camera gives a 50mm angle of view.
- A 50mm lens on an APS-C size camera will give an angle of view of approximately 75mm (50mm x ~1.5).
- If a 50mm lens is attached to a Micro Four Thirds camera, the angle of view will be 50mm x 2, or 100mm.
- If you do not understand this calculation, do not worry. It is not necessary. However, it is important to understand that a full frame mirrorless camera is required to use old lenses at their designed effective focal length and angle of view.
When Canon and Nikon introduced image stabilization in their film cameras in 1995 and 2000, respectively, the system worked internally in the lens, not in the camera itself.
As time progressed and digital cameras became more common, image stabilization using an in-camera sensor was adopted by various manufacturers. This method is now common in mirrorless SLR cameras and is called IBIS (in-camera image stabilization).
There are many advantages and disadvantages to having image stabilization built into the lens or camera body that are not relevant to this guide, but the most important is that IBIS will work regardless of the older lens that is attached to the camera.
IBIS is a system in which the sensor moves and compensates for movement and camera shake during shooting. Because of the space and cost involved in integrating this system into a camera, not all models are equipped with it.
When using old lenses with mirrorless cameras, autofocus is not available, so focus aids, which are available on most models, are very useful.
Perhaps the best known is the focus peaking technique used in camcorders. It assists manual focus by detecting the highest contrast edges in an image and highlighting the areas that are in focus.
Not only the color of the highlights, but also their intensity should be able to be changed from weak, medium, to strong, depending on preference and camera type. It is also possible to set whether or not to magnify the in-focus area.
Focus peaking is obviously an electronic technology, which was not possible with older digital SLR cameras that only had optical viewfinders. Today, it is possible in the live view mode of some DSLR cameras, but it only appeared in cameras after mirrorless SLR cameras began to produce images directly through the sensor.
Other features to consider when buying a mirrorless SLR
While it is natural to want to use vintage lenses with a mirrorless SLR camera, that is not your only goal. This is not a cheap item, and you should choose one that will allow you to get the most out of your old lenses, if you choose to use them at all.
So, it is worth considering other features of these cameras that may not be directly related to shooting classic or old lenses, but may influence your purchase decision.
If you use the former, this will be redundant, but we will conclude this guide by introducing some features that we think are important for the latter.
Viewfinders and Screens
No matter which lens you use with your mirrorless SLR camera, a viewfinder will be useful. As you can see in the image above, the older Sony NEX-5N, which I shoot a lot of vintage lenses with, does not have one.
However, it is a relatively old camera. Most newer models now have viewfinders. The two most notable recent exceptions I found are the Canon EOS M200 and the Fujifilm X-A7, although both are from 2019. However, they are in the lower price range.
When taking photos in bright sunlight, the screen can be difficult to see, especially when using assist modes such as focus peaking, and the viewfinder allows framing without being distracted by peripheral vision.
As for using the screen, if you buy a mirrorless camera, you have one that tilts the screen to some degree. The degree of rotation, or 180-degree tilt, still depends on the manufacturer and model.
As mentioned earlier, mirrorless cameras are smaller than SLR cameras. This means that an APS-C mirrorless camera is smaller than an APS-C DSLR, and a full-frame mirrorless camera is smaller than a full-frame DSLR.
Of course, there are size differences among mirrorless cameras as well, with full-frame cameras generally being larger than APS-C size. This is especially true for Sony products.
In particular, Sony’s full-size cameras have an SLR-like (ironic) body above the lens to accommodate the viewfinder, whereas APS-C cameras have the viewfinder in the upper left corner and a more compact body.
One might think that the higher the price of a mirrorless camera, the more features it offers. In the case of built-in flash, this is not always the case.
It is difficult to say, but it has been found that the lower priced models have a higher percentage of built-in flash. And although I am not involved in the R&D of either of these companies, I can point to several reasons for this trend.
First, the built-in flash is not up to the standard used by professional photographers. If they were, they would not spend more money on an external flash. Therefore, camera manufacturers may think that people who buy high-end mirrorless cameras will not use the built-in flash much anyway.
One of the weak points of mirrorless cameras compared to SLR cameras is battery life. This is not only because the batteries are physically smaller, but also because more functions require the use of batteries, such as an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical viewfinder.
Typical figures are around 300 shots per charge, which is about the same for the 2019 Nikon Z50. However, thanks to Sony’s battery technology, the A7 III is capable of taking more than 700 shots.
Incidentally, this number was probably achieved as a test condition by optimizing the camera to make the battery last longer.
High ISO Support
The exposure triangle, or how ISO, aperture, and shutter speed work together, is a whole other topic, which you can read about in the article I linked earlier. In other words, the higher the ISO value, the faster the shutter speed in low light.
But this is not without its dangers, and I think it is just another set of numbers, like megapixels before it, that trick people into spending money on something that doesn’t need to reach its full potential.
Most mirrorless cameras have one native and one extended maximum ISO value. The former is the inherent ability of the sensor and the latter is the ability that the camera can push by processing the image with its own software.
In my opinion, as a photographer who uses a lot of low ISO film, these two values have now reached truly incredible levels.
No recent mirrorless camera has a native ISO below 12,800, and some, such as the Sony A9 II, Panasonic Lumix GH5S, and Nikon Z50, go as high as a whopping 204,800.
The problem with shooting at higher ISO values is that image quality degrades and the higher the number, the more digital noise appears in the photo.
Technology is ever-evolving and will get better, but in general, you can feel the difference when shooting at around ISO 3200 and above 6400. Beyond this value, noise can be too much for photos you want to use anywhere else.
If you are going to use your mirrorless camera on rainy or snowy days, or in windy, dirt, dust, or sandy environments, waterproof performance is important. It can also protect against moisture and extremely low temperatures.
Silicone rings or stickers can be applied to buttons, switches, and other vulnerable areas to provide waterproofing. Other features include the clever design of interlocking panels.
However, sealing is not synonymous with waterproofing or dustproofing. It is more about protection against drizzle than it is about protection against entering the pool.
In this regard, most manufacturers do not state exactly how waterproof a given model actually is. As a general rule, the more expensive the camera, the better the image quality. But if it were me, the more I spent on a camera, the less I would want to take it out in bad weather.
Finally, and very importantly, the native lens of a waterproof camera must also be waterproof. If they weren’t, the whole thing would be vulnerable.
In other words, if you are using vintage lenses on a mirrorless camera, you are actively introducing this vulnerability through the mount, adapter, or from the front of the lens or body.
The first thing that happens when you use older lenses on a mirrorless camera is that the autofocus system becomes completely useless.
However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. After getting into vintage lenses and silver halide photography, I have come to enjoy working with manual focus and only use zone focus when shooting in the city.
Nevertheless, if you want to get good autofocus at hand when using native lenses, rest assured that all new mirrorless cameras have very good systems.
I won’t bore you with the details, but SLRs use a phase detection autofocus system, while compact cameras use a contrast detection system. Mirrorless cameras can use either.
In general, they cannot track moving subjects as well as DSLRs, but they are surprisingly accurate for stationary subjects.
Which mirrorless cameras are suitable for vintage lenses?
Fujifilm’s X-A7 is another entry-level mirrorless SLR camera that is ideal for using vintage lenses. Panasonic’s Lumix G90/95 has a few more features than the X-A7 and is a bit more expensive, but offers very good value for what you get.
Can I use my old lenses with a mirrorless SLR camera?
The most likely answer is “yes. However, this requires an appropriate “adapter”. Some camera manufacturers offer optional adapters for lenses not made by them (e.g. Fujifilm, Panasonic has a Leica M adapter), while others only offer adapters for their own lenses (e.g. Canon, Nikon, Sony).
Can I use my old lenses with a new camera?
To use old lenses on a new digital camera, an adapter is required. However, this is not limited to old lenses; modern lenses are becoming available for use on a variety of camera platforms. As for us, we just want to show you how to use old lenses.
Well, this concludes all the objectives we will discuss today. Do you have any experience with these objectives? What are your impressions? What is your best vintage lens? Do you have a favorite lens that we didn’t cover in this article?
Please leave your comments below.
Have a great day!