My Sony NEX-6 has a couple of features that make it practical to attach old lenses to it. I bought a few old lenses on eBay, but one of them is really standing out for me – an Asahi Takumar from around 1971. It’s heavy, the lens elements have gone a bit yellow with age, and mould has grown inside it, but I got it for a great price, and it’s producing some really nice images. Wide open, it tends to give things a warm, creamy look that reminds me of an oaky chardonnay. Stopped down a little, things quickly become sharper, and the colour cast is reduced.
It’s a slightly different experience shooting with a manual lens. I learned photography with manual focus lenses, using a Canon AV-1, with a 70-210 zoom and 2x converter. Lenses at that time were all manual focus, and were designed for it. You twist a ring, and it stops at infinity (focussed on the far distance). Twist the other way, and it stops when it gets as close as it can.
Most modern lenses are autofocus, with a focussing ring to let you take over when you want to. The ring isn’t usually directly connected to the lens elements, though, and on many lenses, it doesn’t stop at the ends. It’s there for ’emergency’ use more than as something they expect people to use often.
With a manual lens, the camera also can’t control the aperture – that’s set manually by another ring on the lens. Again, it stops at the widest and narrowest ends, and clicks between stops (well, most do). Set the camera in Aperture Priority or Program modes, and it works like Aperture Priority, you just can’t control the aperture where you normally would. Set it to Manual or Shutter Priority, and it’s all manual. I probably use Aperture Priority more than any other mode normally anyway, so it doesn’t feel like too big a jump. The aperture ring on the lens is a nicer way to change aperture than the control on the camera.
The camera doesn’t know what aperture was used, so you can’t check in the EXIF data when you’re looking at your shots later, which is a shame. It’s good for learning to be able to check what aperture was used for which shots. If you use old manual lenses, you might not even know what lens was used for a shot. I’ve taken to working around this by taking photos of the camera and lens with my iPhone, which then pops into Aperture alongside the photos I was taking. Make sure the camera’s time is set reasonably accurately, and the ‘notes’ should slot into the right places among the photos.
Because the aperture is actually being stopped down when you adjust the setting, not when you take the photo, you see the depth of field you’ll get live on screen. In that way, it’s even an improvement on the sort of SLR this lens was designed for.
The camera can’t do it, so you have to handle focussing yourself. It’s easier than manually focussing with most modern lenses, but still takes a bit of getting used to. I haven’t had to focus manually for years, other than the occasional specialist shot, like when I took photos of star trails at night. Fortunately, the focus peaking feature of the NEX makes it relatively easy to see what’s in focus and what isn’t.
After using the Takumar a lot for a couple of weeks, going back to an autofocus lens actually felt a bit clumsy – less in control than I had been with manual.
You can see a lot of photos taken with this lens here on PigPog – they should all be tagged with Takumar50f14. A few of my favourites: