Everyone seems to have a camera these days, whether it’s a neat point and shoot or the latest iPhone. Though I grew up with film and had access to a range of cheap 35mm cameras, it wasn’t until recently that I investigated the use of vintage and old manual focus lenses on modern digital cameras. The first thing that struck me, upon receving my very first old lens in the mail (the Olympus Zuiko OM 50mm 1.8), was just how solid and hefty most of these lenses are! These things are not primarily built of cheap plastic like so many modern lenses.

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Jupiter-9 135mm f4 Lens
(E-PM1 1/125–f/8 60mm)

They often have aluminium barrels with knurled focus rings for ease of use; a necessity on lenses that demand manual focus most of the time. The second thing that struck me was the aesthetic quality of many of them. Indeed, lenses like the Russian Jupiter-9 below are just plain beautiful. Look at the shine on that aluminium barrel!

Another bunch I like are the East German made Meyer-Optik Gorlitz lenses. I was lucky enough to score three dusty old bodies on eBay: a worn out Zenit and two exhausted Prakticas. They were pretty much beyond repair, but one of them sported the classic Helios 44-2 58mm f2 lens, and the other a red V version Meyer Trioplan 50mm f2.9. The lot cost me $60 all up, and I was just hoping that at least one of the lenses was salvageable. The Helios is ok apart from oily blades and a tight aperture ring, and the Trioplan is worn, dented, slightly dusty inside, and seems to have some sort of debris stuck to one of the three internal glass elements. I’m still not sure what it is. I don’t think it’s fungus.

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Meyer Trioplan 50mm 2.9 red V lens
(E-PM1 1/250–f/8 60mm)

It looks like a tiny bug that had unfortunately cocooned itself in there 30 or 40 years ago and dried up! Anyway, the Trioplan is small, metal, solid and cute.

On the intriguing, and yet to try out, list is my Japanese made Gamma Terragon 35mm 3.5 in Exakta mount. I have no idea how it performs, and I can barely find anything on the web about it! All I know is that it looks cool and has a very sci-fi name. It’s the sort of mystery that always attracts my attention. I really hope it turns out to be a gem! One thing my research did turn up, however, is that it was most likely made by Fujita in the 1960s.

Apart from old lenses, I inevitably have an interest in old film cameras as well. Yes, you can buy a lot of cheap 35mm point and shoot cams on eBay, but I prefer the classic angles and shiny surfaces of cameras like the Yashica GSN 35 rangefinder, or the Agfa Silette series.

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Gamma Terragon 35mm f3.5, possibly made by Fujita
(E-PM1 1/250–f/9 60mm)

These are two sturdy bodies! The Yashica is actually bigger and heavier than I thought it would be. It’s a hefty piece of Japanese engineering. The Agfa, on the other hand, is just classic. It shines in the light and really begs to be used once again. I was fortunate enough to get the original box and instruction manual with it, but I have not yet had the chance to use it.

These guys look positively lovely beside my modern black Nikon D7100, with its buttons and screens. On the way are a Nikon F-301, Nikon N65, a Rollei 35 LED (they just look so tiny and quirky) and a half frame Olympus EE3. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they all work nicely. Furtunately none of them were very expensive. The N65, for example, was only $10! Can you believe that? Some people are literally throwing these away. That said, its been quite a few years since I actually loaded film into any camera, so it will be interesting to say the least. I suspect the experience will be a mix of familiarity and alienness, as I half remember what it was like to wait for film to be processed (and pay for it) and how much slower, and possibly more gratifying, things were not so very long ago.

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Agfa Silette Rangefinder from the 1960s

I remember clearly pressing the shutter button on my woeful but easy to use Advanced System Camera (Kodak’s last attempt to squeeze more out of customers) for the very last time before moving onto a pricey 1 Megapixel Kodak DSC3200 digital model (small fixed lens, all plastic, a tiny colour screen, and a battery burn through rate that would make your hair stand on end).

So, we’ll see how it all goes! I just need to clean them up, get some appropriate batteries and actually find the time to use them.

The last film photo I remember making

The last film photo I remember making

 

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