Cheap Tricks: Use a Vintage Lens To Get More From Your Digital SLR

Save money—while still taking great pictures—by using a vintage lens with your digital camera

Mix and Match

Inexpensive adapter rings from China allow you to attach compatible off-brand manual-focus lenses to a new digital camera.Luis Bruno

One of the key features of digital SLR cameras is the ability to change lenses to get a wide range of shots, from ultra-zooms to super-close-ups. And now DSLR owners no longer need to spend a bundle on high-end lenses to take advantage of their camera's functionality—there's a way to use older, far less expensive manual-focus lenses instead. All that's required is a twist-on adapter ring, which you can find online for between $5 and $50. And since demand for old lenses is relatively low, if you don't already have a few in the attic, you can find great deals (some lenses cost as little as $10 on eBay). Look for vintage telephoto, macro or fisheye models as well, so you can afford to try different photography styles.

Make sure the lens you're buying is compatible with your camera, and ask in advance about scratches and whether the focus and aperture rings are in good condition. You'll have to get accustomed to adjusting aperture and focus manually, but once you do you'll find that vintage lenses are often smaller and lighter than the modern equivalents. In many cases, they even produce image quality that's as good as or better than those shiny (and pricey) new models.

Vintage Lens

Luis Bruno

Adapt a Manual Lens to Your DSLR

  1. Line up and insert the lens into the adapter. There is usually a dot or some kind of marking on both the lens and adapter to make it easy to see how the two fit together.
  2. Twist the lens while holding the adapter in place, as if you were mounting the lens on a camera body. The lens should make a click, or locking sound, when it's secured.
  3. The lens/adapter combination should now mount like any other lens you use on your camera. Line it up with your camera's mount (there may be markings to facilitate proper alignment), insert, and twist like you would when normally attaching a lens.

How to Find Compatible Lenses

The adapting process often means using one brand of lens with another brand of camera. For this reason, compatibility is never assured, and it's wise to do a little research before putting down any money or trying to create a Franken-optic that may not work at all (or worse, could damage your camera). Check out fredmiranda.com/forum/board/55 or forum.mflenses.com for discussions about various camera, lens and adapter combinations people have tried. Once you know what you're looking for, local photo stores and even pawnshops often have dusty shelves or boxes of underappreciated manual-focus lenses for sale. You can also try eBay, keh.com, bhphotovideo.com or fotodiox.com for lenses and adapters.