35mm SLR lenses for a digital camera?


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Aug 19, 2010
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Hi. Having seen my son get seriously interested into photography, I seem to have caught the bug! I would like to invest in a new digital SLR but am concerned as to the cost of good lenses for landscapes, wildlife etc. I am told that some old 35mm lenses will fit new digitals - albeit naturally without the AF function etc.

I would welcome any suggestions as to which make of old lenses will work well with that particular brand of camera e.g. Canon, Olympus, Nikon etc. I have noticed that these older lenses go for very little money sometimes and being a "new" OAP, any cost savings like this would be welcome.

Thanks - Bill
There are three main choices for DSLR bodies and legacy glass (in my mind): Nikon, Pentax and Sony. Of the three, Nikon will have the greatest variety since they've not changed their lens mount in ~50 years. All of their old lenses will mount, my many will have limited functionality as you're aware, and some older ones (depending on the digital body you buy) will require you to set exposure manually.

Pentax has some great old glass, and in my mind is the best bang for the buck. Their DSLRs are under-rated I feel, and give consumer users a lot of value for their cost. Older Pentax bayonet-mount glass can be very good and is usually reasonably priced. Sony (Konica-Minolta mount) will be your best choice for inexpensive lenses, but also I think, the poorest performing of the three. Not to say that they're bad lenses, just not as good as the others. Of course you'll be up against the same limited functionality with all of the choices.
Of the three that was mentioned, my personal preference is Pentax for use with legacy lenses. He is right.. their cameras are very under-rated. K-mounts from the 70s all the way to present are all available in abundance (at good prices) and 100% fully compatible. Pentax was nice enough to maintain compatibility by still designing in the proper lens linkages necessary for metering, inbody aperture control (with Pentax-A and on), and auto stop down. Going even older 50s and 60s vintage glass in M42 mount can also be easily adapted (I collect Pentax/Takumar M42 lenses) as well... but you will have to manually stop down and meter with those lenses.

I highly recommend that you try to get a body that has a penta-prism viewfinder rather than the penta-mirror viewfinder if manual focus lenses will be used. Brighter better quality viewfinder equates to better ability to accurately focus. You should also consider a body in which a split focusing screen can be installed.

Another system to mention would be the m4/3rd systems adopted by Olympus and Panasonic. This are not DSLRs per say but Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) cameras. These cameras are the most highly adaptable because of their design (mirrorless) but also have smaller (2x crop) sensors. Almost any vintage manual focus lens of any brand can be adapted. They do have their advantages and disadvantages though.... (I have a Panasonic G1 and Olympus E-PL1). If interested, I could go into more detail.
I shoot Pentax, and I've got one lens that I used is from around 1958, and it works great. I don't know about Nikon (as tirediron mentioned), but with Pentax, their version of shake reduction works with the older lenses. With Pentax, almost all lenses from the 80's and up will mount on the camera, the older lenses (like I've got), require an adapter to mount them. The adapters range from a few bucks up to around $35 for a Pentax brand adapter. Just have to watch some of the cheaper ones, as they are not great, and won't allow you to focus to infinity. Another option would be a micro 4/3's camera. My dad has one, and he uses Minolta lenses, Pentax screw & K mount, plus a few odd Russian lenses. You just need an adapter for the different lenses that you want to mount.
I have a Pentax K10D and use a 100mm to 300mm lens from my old Pentax SLR. It works fine although the focal length is 1.5X so it shoots like a 150mm to 450mm. This suits me as I bought a 70mm to 200mm Pentax digi lens so have the full range up to 450mm now.
Thank-you all very much for your comments and advice. You've certainly given me a lot to think about.
You all seem to agree that a Pentax would be perhaps the better choice so I'll look around now.
Thank-you once again for taking the time to reply. I certainly have a lot to learn.
Very best regards - Bill
You can get an older Pentax DSLR cheap also. Good for learning. I started with the *istD, and just recently upgraded to the K7. I've still got the old one, and it does a fine job. Just the older ones don't have the shake reduction. If you want new, the KX is a great little camera for the money. It's probably one the of better cameras out, there in it's price range, for low light photography.
Like usayit, I have a m4/3 format Panasonic G1 & I can mount any old film camera lens with the appropriate adapter which cost from under 10 to about 50 dollars. Many of my lenses also cost in the same price range so you can get good glass for very little money.

Here is an example taken with a old Soviet Union lens that cost less than $30 including shipping from Russia.


Check out my posts & you will see almost exclusively shots from vintage lenses.

Odds are you will buy a digital camera with a "cropped" sensor. The "full frame" or 35mm film equivalent sensor cameras are big $$$$.

There is an issue here that turns up with the full frame digital cameras: Film didn't much care if the light that struck it came straight on or at an angle. So the lens designers didn't care either. Digital sensors do care and modern lenses for digital cameras are re-designed to take this into account. If you're using an old film lens on a cropped sensor body then you'll only be using the central portion of the image circle -- not a problem. If you do ever get a full frame sensor digital camera, old film lenses become a problem. You typically get some pretty bad CA out in the corners of the frame. The problem increases with wider lenses.

I'm still using my Samsung GX-1L which is a copy/rebrand of a Pentax *ist....

However.. If on a budget and searching the used market, I would recommend not going any older than a K10D, even better K20D. Both those cameras are good performers and IMO really signify when Pentax really started to come up to speed in DSLRs... (even though a bit late compared to the competitors). Both have in body image stabilization, 10mp+ (enough for large print), AND a penta-prism finder. Of course, there are newer bodies that are better choices but as expected require more $$$.

btw... here's something also to consider. Samsung GX-10 is a rebrand of Pentax K10D and the Samsung GX-20 is a rebrand of Pentax K20D. Often (like in my case), you can find Samsung DSLR version cheaper than the Pentax it was copied from... because of the name.. and often no one is paying attention to the "Samsung" cousins on Ebay.
I'd also suggest the K-x if you can afford it. It's been a major hit with the Pentaxians, good camera, and it can be found for well under $500 with a basic kit lens. Keep your eye out for the Takumars. They're mostly wonderful and well worth the investment, though they can be a bit pricey sometimes. You can use either the K mount lenses or the M42's but you'll need an adapter for the latter. I'd suggest official Pentax adapter for those as it does seem to be what's generally recommended over on the Pentax boards.
I really do appreciate the time and trouble you have gone to in assisting me.
I've got some work to do now but have a much better idea of what to go for.
Very best regards - Bill

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