The Best Vintage Lenses 2020: The Ultimate Guide for Every Photographer
We may all have cameras on our phones but it’s always important to take a step back and appreciate how far we have come. And indeed, vintage camera lenses are some of the devices that can help you get a glimpse of this journey.
In fact, just because of the fact that they were built in yester-years doesn’t mean that they aren’t fine in quality. Look even closer and you’re bound to discover a whole new level to photography thanks to some of these little-known glasses.
One thing we noticed about vintage lenses is that they’re purely manual focus models. Sorry if you’re used to AF, you’ve got to build your manual focusing skills to use any of these.
That notwithstanding, we generally find that these lenses tend to be well-built and quite solid.
This makes them quite different from their modern-day counterparts which are known for mainly comprising of plastic components.
So, in the following article, we are going to walk you through different vintage lenses that exist for different camera brands. Some of the major brands covered in the following review include:
Sit tight and let’s walk you through some of the vintage lens alternatives available at your disposal.
Best Vintage Lenses in Review – Quick List
They come in all shapes and sizes. But one thing is for sure, if quality is what you’re craving for, there’s something in vintage lenses that you can’t underestimate. Use the list below to arrive at a quick and on-the-point decision.
Table of Contents
- The Best Vintage Lenses 2020: The Ultimate Guide for Every Photographer
- Best Vintage Lenses in Review – Quick List
- Best Vintage Lenses for Canon
- Best Vintage Lenses for Fuji
- Best Vintage Lenses for Sony
- Best Vintage Nikon lenses
- Best Vintage Zoom lenses
- Best Cheap Vintage lenses
- Best Vintage 35mm lens
- Best Vintage 35mm lens
- Benefits of Vintage Lenses
- The Buying Guide for Vintage Lenses
- Which One Is The Best?
- Final Thoughts
Best Vintage Lenses for Canon
Canon is one of the biggest names in the photography world. So, we’ll kick off our reviews by looking at some vintage lenses available from this particular brand.
1. Canon 50mm Manual Focus f/1.4 Lens
One thing we really like about this lens is that it comes fully fitted with an original rear cap and a UV filter. This makes it a safe pair of hands for anyone looking for nothing short of perfection.
Most importantly, it is a hardy lens which means that you can count on it to put up a great performance in the long-haul.
The only precaution you need to take, however, is to keep in mind the fact that this is a manual lens. So, you need to have an understanding of how manual lenses work to benefit from using it.
But if you have that already figured out for you, this one can easily be the strongest video lens on offer. We particularly liked its video quality at 24fps.
And what’s more? It comes with a handy micro 4/3 system which can easily be adapted to suit a wide variety of cameras.
The icing on the cake is that the Canon 50mm comes with a relatively large aperture. And that makes it a perfect bet for low-light photography.
2. Canon EF f/4L 24-105mm Lens
Although it doesn’t come cheap, this piece of glass is definitely worth the extra dollars you’d need to pay for it. Not only is it well-made but also exceptionally versatile.
We’re talking about an incredible zooming range and quite some awesome wide-angle abilities. Its f/4 aperture provides you with a perfect balance for low-light and outdoor photography as well.
And on top of all that, this lens’ exterior is firmly coated with an Air Sphere coating. And as you might be aware, this goes a long way in reducing flaring and ghosting.
So, once again, even though it’s a bit pricey, the Canon EF 24-105mm still meets the grade as one of the finest lenses ever made by Canon, for Canon products.
3. Sigma 50mm HSM Lens f/1.4 Art
Time really flies and the Sigma 50mm never ceases to amaze. Launched over one decade ago, this is probably one of the best, age-old secrets for Canon fans.
To begin with, this lens comes with a really wide aperture at f/1.4. This alone makes it perfect for indoor photography or evening concerts where lighting is an issue.
And what’s more? You can play around with the aperture to a minimum of F16 meaning that you can comfortably use this lens even in outdoor/daytime photography.
And to top it all up, the Sigma 50mm boasts an incredible ability to focus. This makes it a perfect bet for the modern-day versatile photographer who may be craving for perfection.
It’s no wonder this particular lens remains a top choice for many professional photographers. We hope to see it remain relevant for a few more decades to come.
Best Vintage Lenses for Fuji
Fujifilm is one of the names that dominated the photography world back in the day. And the good news is that they still seem keen on remaining perched at the top of the market. Here are some of their awesome lenses that have stood the test of time.
1. Vintage Fujinon ITV f/12.5mm C-Mount Lens
It’s easy to underestimate this lens until you take a closer look and understand what it really has in store for you. And indeed, this particular lens came is built for toughness which means that it’s made from some extremely high-quality parts.
It’s no wonder it boasts some award-winning optics. And to crown it all up, you also get some amazingly smooth aperture with it.
And as far as durability is concerned, what you get here is a tough outer black metal. This is the kind of stuff you can bank even on a rainy day out there in the woods.
And although it may not have the bells and whistles of a modern lens, the Fujinon ITV f/12.5mm is sure to get the job done.
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Its limited aperture, however, makes it less desirable to use in dimly lit surroundings. And, therefore, your best bet is to use it for daytime/outdoor photography.
2. Helios 44-s Classic Lens
Even though its production stopped in the 1990s, this lens continues to remain popular especially among contemporary photographers. The lens is quite well built and certainly way better than other average plastic models.
It’s a manual focus lens, though, which means it takes quite some time to get acclimatized to. But even then it opens your door wide enough so you can get as creative as you’d like.
Surprisingly, even though it’s a prime lens fixed at 58mm, it comes with the abilities to produce an award-winning bokeh. It produces a soft and swirly bokeh – and that’s why it remains a popular bet for outdoor photography.
And if you’re planning to capture some awesome portraits with it, the good news is that you can count on its awesome color reproduction to keep winning.
3. The Takumar 35mm Pentax Lens
This lens has been around since the 1950s and, therefore, if you’re looking for an age-old lens that’s worth its weight in gold, this one would be a perfect option. One thing we like about it is that it comes with a relatively fast shutter (by any vintage lenses standards). This alone makes it quite practical for modern-day use.
Its overall build quality is for sure worth dying for. And on top of that, if image sharpness and quality are what you’re craving for, the Pentax Takumar is worth a second look.
The best part about the Takumarr is that it is reasonably priced and that’s because most people avoid it for underestimating its f3.5 speed. But what you end up with right here is something that’s of top-notch quality that also goes at a pretty tempting price.
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So, whether you simply want to add it onto your collection or use it for some wonderful outdoor photography, this is a wonderful lens by all means.
Best Vintage Lenses for Sony
Sony remains one of the leading brands as far as quality lenses are concerned. And, therefore, if you’re specifically looking for a vintage lens that can work with your Sony camera, we hope the following list will inspire you.
1. Leica 50mm Manual Focus Lens f/2.0
You can hardly ever go wrong with a 50mm lens especially if it has an f/2.0 aperture. Fortunately, this one from Leica has all that and then some.
A closer look at it reveals that it comes with a handy telescopic hood. This makes it ideal for outdoor photography and also provides it with the reinforcement it needs to function effectively for long.
Yet another thing we like about it is that it’s capable of delivering amazing image quality even when one needs to excel at a close focusing range.
It may seem bulky and heavy, but considering its vast potential, it is for sure one of the finest vintage lenses that money can buy.
2. Lensbaby Twist 60
With an incredible focal range of 60mm, this prime lens is a true workhorse. And if anything, it packs an f/2.5 lens which makes it a perfect bet for those twisty and swirly blur shots.
We’d go for the Twist 60 especially when looking to make some award-winning portrait shots. And on top of that, the lens remains a perfect bet for situations where you’d like to have the subject stand out.
Apart from portraits, the Twist 60 can do an incredible job of shooting still-life. It also excels at capturing textured backgrounds such as when you need to capture light streaming through some trees.
3. Minolta MC Rokkor-PF Prime Lens 55mm f/1.7
Looking for a compact and easy-to-use vintage lens? Well, perhaps you need to take a closer look at the Minolta MC. But in order for you to do that, you need to know how to make good use of manual focus.
Other than that, this lens provides you with a versatile aperture. Want to take some wonderful images in a poorly lit set up? You’d simply need to enlarge the aperture to the f/1.7 maximum.
Shooting in a well-lit place but want to capture some sharp images? You’d simply need to reduce the aperture to a possible f16.
That said, this being a prime lens tends to work best when the image is nearby. And at the same time, the lens’ minimum focus distance stands at 0.5m which makes it less desirable for taking selfies with.
And as far as durability is concerned, you’ll definitely be happy to learn that this unit comes with a machined metal body. Such a body is not only good looking and classing but also highly durable.
Check out our another related article: 10 Best Camera for YouTube Videos in 2020 – The Latest Buying Guide
Best Vintage Nikon lenses
Nikon has always been a leader in innovation. The following is a list of some excellent vintage lenses they have built over time.
1. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Manual Focus Lens
We can confidently tell you that this is Nikon’s best manual-focus 50mm f/1.8 lens that you will ever come across. It is smaller and much lighter than its predecessors. It has a solid build and is constructed out of 6 elements in 5 groups.
The barrel distortion is extremely low at 0.21% and this coupled with the well-controlled vignetting will result in very sharp and clear images. It is multi-coated to increase its flare-resistance.
The Chromatic Aberrations (CA) levels are also low and reasonably controlled leading to more precise images. It also has a fantastic resolution at medium aperture settings, assuring you of high-quality photos and videos.
The manual focusing process is very smooth, and you will get the worth for your money with this lens.
2. Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AIS
If you are looking for a suitable low-light manual focus lens which you can move around with quickly, then this model is just for you. To start with, its optical construction consists of 7 elements in 6 groups while it is multi-coated with the Nikon Super Integrated Coating.
It weighs roughly 8.8oz (250g) and its diameter measures 1.57” by 2.48”, with an extension range of up to 1.99”.
The lens has the ordinary moderate distortion of Nikon’s manual focus cameras which you can easily correct via the Photoshop’s lens distortion filter.
It has impressive sharpness at f/2.8 which will ensure that you end up with clear and high-quality images.
The lens is mostly made out of top-notch plastic which makes it durable and will serve you for a long time to come.
3. Nikon 55mm f/2.8 Micro AI-S lens
This model was introduced in 1979, and it will dazzle you just as it always has over the years. The lens consists of six elements in five groups and is extremely lightweight at roughly290g (10 ounces). It also measures 2.5" by 2.8" and comes with the Nikon HN-3 hood.
The first impressive bit with this lens is that it is sharp at every aperture and in the process delivers you crystal clear images. The distortion is so well managed that you will barely notice it in your photos.
It also has fantastic ghost resistance and no lateral color at all.
The lens is built like a tank to make it robust and feel good in the hands. It also means that it will serve you for a long time to come.
Best Vintage Zoom lenses
What are some of the best vintage lenses that money can buy? We compiled this list based on different user reviews and perspectives.
1. Minolta Maxxum AF 35-70mm f/4
This lens was one of the original ones to utilize a hybrid aspherical whereby glass and plastic were permanently bonded to make it affordable.
It is short and lightweight, with a constant aperture of f/4. You will be impressed by the autofocus operation which is fast and accurate, while the manual focusing takes about ¼ turn ranging from close in to infinity.
This lens will put color fringing under maximum control such that when you get down to f/5.6, it is eliminated. The distortion as well is fantastically controlled, and it is flat at 40mm and barrel to mild at 35mm.
2. Nikon Nikkor Ai 80-200mm f/4.5 zoom lens
First, this lens is very tough and can withstand hard falls and bumps. Also, it has beautiful scales which give it an attractive look as well as make it easier to read the various measurements on it.
The filter has a size of 52mm, and even though the lens is long, it still has a compact feel and is dense and well-balanced.
The lens utilizes the one-touch focusing/zoom ring which is convenient as it helps in saving time. It (the lens) is very sharp and has a constant maximum aperture of f/4.5.
Finally, it produces an excellent bokeh which lets you focus on your object of interest and it arrives with its original caps.
3. Tokina AT-X 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens
This model is a tough and fast ultra-wide zoom lens which comprises of thirteen elements in eleven groups; two of which (elements) are SD glass elements. It weighs 19.4 ounces (550g) and measures 3.3” diameter by 3.5” long.
The lens is pretty tough, and while its autofocus speed is relatively lower in comparison to other ultrawides, it is still at an impressive level. Also, the AF is very accurate.
When it comes to the manual focus operation, you will be pleased just as much. First, the process is quite smooth, and then you will experience a fantastic sensation from the metal ring.
It is also easy to switch between auto and manual focusing, which you will do by pulling or pushing the focus ring.
You will get to experience barrel distortion at 11mm and barely noticeable level at 16mm. This should not worry you as you can easily correct this by using the Photoshop’s lens distortion filter.
If you are using a Nikon D7000, then you should count yourself lucky as it does a marvelous job of correcting any lateral color fringes that may occur in the lens. The sharpness is impressive and remains constant at all focal lengths.
Best Cheap Vintage lenses
Looking for Affordable but quality vintage lenses on a budget? Look no further; we have listed them down for you.
1. AMAR (4.5/105) PZO Old type Poland Lens
This lens is manufactured in Russia and is one of a kind since when mounted, it can comfortably focus on all distances without any difficulties.
The lens has a focal length of 105mm and has a maximum aperture of f/4.5 and a minimum aperture of f/16. It weighs about 60 grams and consists of 5 aperture blades.
It is one of the best enlarging lenses especially when you mount it on bellows. You can shoot the smallest bugs in the wild from about 2-3 meters without interfering with their lives.
2. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E AIS lens
This lens was released in the 70s and is probably the lightest lens ever made by Nikon, weighing at 135g. It measures 2.5" in diameter by 1.3" in length, and its construction consists of six single-coated elements in five groups.
It is exceptionally sharp and has no distortion at all. The ghosting is very well controlled too and is barely noticeable.
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens has a high-quality build from strong and durable materials able to withstand harsh surroundings.
3. Soligor 28-80mm Minolta MD-Mount Zoom lens
This manual focus lens is compatible with all manual focus Minolta cameras and has a construction which consists of 7 elements in 6 groups.
It can focus up to eleven inches and stops down to f/16, while it is sharp down past f/4. It is also well coated to give it a fantastic flare resistance, while it tends to experience minor “pin-cushion” distortion.
The body has a rugged construction, and you will experience its adjustment to be quite smooth.
Best Vintage 35mm lens
The 35mm prime lenses are some of the most practical ones available. Talking about practically, here’s a comprehensive list of top 35mm lenses that have stunned the world since back in the day.
Best Vintage 35mm lens
1. Canon EF 35mm f/2 Wide Angle lens
This lens has been in operation since 1990, and many photo enthusiasts rate it quite highly probably due to its fast autofocus and the resultant high-quality images.
It has an optical construction consisting of 7 elements in 5 groups and is multi-coated with Optimized Super Spectra Coating.
The lens has a focal length of 35mm and a 63-degree diagonal, 38-degree vertical and a 54-degree horizontal angle of view. It weighs roughly 7.4 ounces (210g) and measures 2.7” in diameter by 1.7” in length.
The autofocus operation is fast, accurate and consistent and if you wish to switch to manual focus, you have to slide the switch on the ring to “MF”.
The bokeh performance will depend on your focus distance while the barrel distortion ranges from low to moderate.
The lens has an impressive flare and ghost resistance while the lateral color fringes are not visible at all. Finally, its construction is a combination of glass, rubber and plastic.
2. Zeiss Carl JENA Flektogon 35mm f/2.8 M42 Mount
This lens is one of the most affordable 35mm “Zeiss” lenses that you will ever find. It has a stunning appearance which will instantly sweep you off your feet. It has a solid feel and is somewhat bulky while it has a very smooth focusing.
It has a minimum focusing distance of 18cm, and it has very impressive sharpness. Being a wide-angle lens, it is very detailed and captures a lot.
With this lens, you will end up with minor vignetting and softer corners, a feature which makes it ideal for landscape photography.
Distortion is well-controlled and is barely noticeable, so if you are into architectural photography, this lens is just for you.
The lens is also contrast-less, and this feature will become ideal if you intend to take black and white photos.
3. Zeiss 35mm f/2 Distagon T ZE Manual Focus lens
This manual-focus lens is very affordable and has an incredible build, and you can be sure that at the end of the day, it will deliver you extremely top-notch images.
It has a wide focal length, and this makes it versatile. You can use it for weddings, architecture, photojournalism, portraits, landscapes and so on.
Vignetting is visible, but you can always reduce it by using a narrower aperture. The flare-resistance is quite fantastic while the Chromatic Aberration is kept at a minimum and you can only notice it from the mid to the outer areas of the image circle.
The lens also has an impressive bokeh, especially when the subject is reasonably close.
Finally, the lens features an all metal construction which gives it a solid feel and also ensures that it is durable and will serve you for a long time to come.
Benefits of Vintage Lenses
One benefit of using vintage lenses is that they give you plenty of room for creativity. This is mostly due to the fact that these lenses are fully manual focus ones.
If you’re a pro photographer, you know just how much freedom manual focus lenses can help you unlock. And thankfully, you get all that plus some whenever you go the vintage way.
So to sum it up, some of the benefits of using vintage lenses include but are not limited to the following.
Optimal Control Over The Entire Process
As we have already mentioned, there is nothing automatic about vintage lenses. You’ve got to learn and love using the manual focus tools in place.
Fortunately, this gives you a better understanding of the entire photographic process. It also helps your eye to see and take note of situations when you’re out of focus.
Most importantly, you can view the depth of the field while still on the move. How cool is that?
Value For Money
Not only do these lenses provide you with some vintage value that they have amassed over time, but also awesome value. In fact, compared to their modern-day counterparts, vintage lenses are generally cheaper.
If you want to stand out from the pack, you want to make sure that you also use a unique strategy. And if you’re active on Instagram, you probably have an idea of how powerful unique photos can get.
Now, the good thing with vintage lenses is that they provide you with an opportunity to create a wide variety of effects. Take the Helios 85mm lens for instance. Its swirly bokeh is almost always sure to stun.
The Buying Guide for Vintage Lenses
So, now that we have an idea of why you need these lenses, let us talk about how to pick the best one(s) for the job. And here are the important tips for you to keep in mind.
Make Sure It Works With Your Camera
The good thing is that we have broken down the list for you based on what different camera models use. All in all, you don’t want to end up with a lens that isn’t compatible with your preferred lenses.
Buy from A Trusted Retailer
It isn’t always easy to find quality vintage lenses these days. And, therefore, your best bet is to work with someone who has a clear track record. Fortunately, Amazon has a built-in reviews system that helps determine if a product is worthy of your money or not.
Your Style of Photography
Much as they are generally well-made, vintage lenses come with their fair share of strengths and weaknesses. So, you want to be sure to check the list of specs if you want to have a lens that suits your situation.
If you like taking outdoor photographs and videos of subjects from a distance, your best bet would be to settle for a zoomable lens. As for portraiture or situations where the subject is within a few meters, a prime lens would just be perfect.
Ergonomics & Build Quality
Ultimately, your best bet is a lens that’s easy-to-handle and practical to use. And just because a lens is vintage doesn’t mean that you have to compromise on the basics.
So, make sure that the lens you go for is powerful and also easy to control. And since they are all manual lenses, you want to make sure that you settle for something that's easy to control as well.
For instance, you want to have the rangefinder and manual focus rings being easy-to-use. And also, you want to just make sure that all the bells and whistles included on the lens are functional and practical.
Is It Compact
Unfortunately, only a handful of vintage lenses are compact and lightweight. So, in most cases, you should be prepared to carry quite a bit of weight with you. But fortunately, small-sized varieties are also available.
You only need to look close enough. And who knows, it’s always possible to find a tiny vintage lens to add to your arsenal.
Which One Is The Best?
Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all vintage lens. And for that reason, we’d recommend that you double-check your selection against the specific needs you might be having.
But if we were to pick just two of what we think are the best choices, we’d settle for the Canon EF 35mm which is a pretty well-made and reasonably priced wide angle lens.
We’d also go for the Helios 44-2 lens is quite durable and also excellent for capturing some awesome bokeh shots.
Ultimately, you will need to choose your preferred vintage lens by considering your unique needs. And fortunately, we have provided you with a buyer’s guide for that.
So, we wish you nothing but the best in your quest to find a quality lens with the potential to transform your experiences. Or should we just say a glass (not blast) from the past?