View Full Version : Vintage Lenses with Character :)

12-Jan-2011, 19:54

I am interested in using vintage/antique lens for digital back. Modern large format lenses are sharp. Thus for character sharp to compete with those is not what I seek, but something to give a rendering with character that cannot be obtained with a modern lens. Subjects are landscapes and portraits.

Of course Heliar, Meniscus, Petzval and soft focus comes to mind. Any recommendations among these and of others, and among what is not $$$ such as Veritos and that will fit for a small image plane (medium format sensor) and with focal around 80-150mm?

Thank you. :)


12-Jan-2011, 21:41
I use a Great Wall DF-2 90mm lens adapted to fit onto my Hasselblad 201F focal plane shutter body. I milled out a body cap and used a 39mm threaded lens retaining ring from an enlarger lensto hold it onto the body cap.. Works out very well. It has a sort of petzval look. I get infinity focus too.

John Kasaian
12-Jan-2011, 22:15
Smear vaseline on what you've already got?

Steve Hamley
13-Jan-2011, 04:40
B&L Tessar Ic, Cooke Series II triplets, Kodak Portraits, Wollensak Veritos,...

Cheers, Steve

Armin Seeholzer
13-Jan-2011, 04:57
For your small Sensor you have to look to MF lenses with much character, they do a better fit! Imagons have been done in 120 - 150 - 200 mm the 120-150 would be a good match to your little sensor!
P.S. I'm using the 120 Imagon on my full format 35mm Film Nikon F5 do not like it with the D300 APSC Sensor of my Nikon!
As soon I have a full format Sensor Nikon it will get a lot of use on it!

Cheers Armin

Steven Tribe
13-Jan-2011, 05:05
You are unfortunately not alone in your idea and quest. Small lenses with character are not that common and often sort after. Most "old" lenses will perform too well on the limited sized sensor. Tiny projection petzvals are probably easiest to find. They exist under 4" in focal length. They usually just plain tubes with friction mounts.
I illustrate one - this has a back focus of about 2". It is marked as 4" EF. Barrel diameter (external) 42mm.

Ole Tjugen
13-Jan-2011, 06:36
With the exception of a very few lenses that were (and in some cases ARE) made to be soft, you will be surprised at how sharp many really old really crappy lenses are!

I have a cracked uncoated Rodenstock Eurynar which gives softened images, but even THAT is bitingly sharp where it counts...

13-Jan-2011, 07:28
With the exception of a very few lenses that were (and in some cases ARE) made to be soft, you will be surprised at how sharp many really old really crappy lenses are!

I think so, not only soft gives character ;)

Looking for what will bring me a perhaps artsy look, perhaps very old lens... to bring what I can grow with and long term enjoy to bring a certain look :D

It could be a 4x5 or larger also of course...

13-Jan-2011, 10:27
have you looked into making your own lens ?
they sell glass at the surplus shed ... and you could
make your own ... whatever you want.

one thing you might also try is put a filter stained with smoke
in front of a lens you already have, and take a qtip and clean parts of it off until it
gives you an effect you like.

or harvest a junk lens off of a folder or box camera. much less $$ than a darlot :)

Pete Watkins
13-Jan-2011, 11:12
I'll second taking a lens from an old box camera. I've got one from a Kodak No.2 jammed into a Copal 0 with a rubber washer.

Mark Sawyer
13-Jan-2011, 12:23
There's a trend towards using lenses from old movie cameras on DSLR's. Check the ebay prices on the desireable ones (Goerz Hypars, Cooke cine lenses...) and you'll see they're already up there with the LF vintage lenses.

13-Jan-2011, 13:14
The thing about common old lenses is they have character wide open. Look through the image postings here to figure out what you want. Study photo history to see the who/when/how of styles you like. The lenses still exist for it.
I'm not sure of the look you are after, so I can't make a suggestion to fit the look. There's a lot of subjectivity.

There are dslr mount backs (see ebay) and rollfilm backs for 4x5 cameras, so that might be a method to gain lens choices.

New lenses, customers expect perfect flawless images at all apertures.

One thing old lenses have over newer ones is they tend to have more aperture blades and smoother looking irises. Even if the images isn't sharp on the old lens, the blurs will look reallly smooth.

13-Jan-2011, 14:26
Make your own:

also, the Cyclops:

I've adapted many lenses to small digital formats. See the galleries in my "Pictorial Soft Focus Project" on my website. Unfortunately, they are not all inexpensive!

13-Jan-2011, 14:44
If what you're going after is the "soft" look of some lenses used by the pictorialists, or by many well known portraitists, a good solution is to buy one of the lenses that were used on good quality folding cameras. Some of them were for 120/620 film, with 6x9 format. The "normal" lens usually was a good Tessar-formula 105mm.
Many of them provided focusing adjustment via front lens screwing/unscrewing.
IT IS the same way variable softness is obtained on Velostigmat Series II and Paragon Series A highly prized lenses!
I found a nice Zeiss Tessar 105mm f/3.5 lens, probably coming from a Super Ikonta (the shutter had the attachment for the revolving lens, used on Zeiss Ikon cameras for framing the subject).
As an added benefit, the Compur shutter was a "standard" No.0. Not the semi-standard one, with reduced thread diameter at the back, that was used on many Zeiss Ikons.
It came quite cheap, but i'm sure that if you don't need a working No.0 shutter, or a "true" Zeiss Tessar, there will be plenty of choices, for a nominal fee.

I disassembled my lens, took out the unnecessary bits, and removed the lens cells: contrary to the majority of objectives with Tessar plan, there were three cells, instead of two. The two front elements were on two separate rings, to allow for focusing.
It's easy to understand that a distancing ring, placed between the two front elements, would alter the spacing between them, softening the image.
Any makeshift spacer would work, and you could try with different measures, before finding the setting you like, and making a definitive ring. No need to check for strict tolerances here, there is a screw-in thread, so its' easier to keep the lens on axis, than go off-center!

After i bought that Tessar, with the aim of adjusting it as a soft focus lens for 120 film, i got a very interesting PM from Jim Galli. I got in touch with him for something else, but what got my attention was a reference to the possible modification of a 300mm Kodak Ektar f/4.5. He had one on sale, and suggested that by removing the front element, and fitting in an accurately machined distancing ring before remounting the glass, it was possible to modify the "character" of the lens, getting a result not far from a Velostigmat Series II.
By chance, i happen to own the same lens: i bought it a while ago, just for the shutter. After i got that suggestion, i changed my mind; if i can find somebody who will machine a ring with strict tolerances, it's a test that must be done :D

have fun