Saturday, August 4, 2007

Glass Counts

Visiting with a couple of friends yesterday our conversation on new photography equipment turned toward lenses. It's agreed that whatever camera you're using it's the lens that can make or break your picture.

Today there is a lot of "vintage glass" out there and people are hunting it down. In some cases prices are going up, but for the most part older, high quality optics can be had for reasonable to dirt cheap prices.

In the image above I have three of my favorites:
On the left is a Nikkor - O 35mm f/2 from the 1960s. For some reason this lens did not mass produce well so quality from sample to sample may vary, but when they got it right they really got it right. This is a sharp, sturdy, reliable lens. I had mine AI modified so it couples with the meters on all my cameras, even my F4 and F100. I bought this lens in 1989 in a shop in Berkeley. The repairman in the shop tested the lens when it came in and said it was one of the sharpest 35mm Nikkors he had ever seen. I paid about $75.00 for it.

The center lens is a Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AIS, arguably the sharpest wide angle lens Nikon has ever made. This is my standard lens. I never go out without it on my F100 and it accounts for 90% of my images. In 2003 I paid $250.00 for it in fine condition. Shortly after I received it I noticed lubricant leaking onto the diaphragm blades. I took it to the camera tech I had been using for years and had him take a look. He took it apart, cleaned it and repacked it with a new heavy duty lube. It cost me an additional $165.00, but when I picked it up he told me that it was one of the finest optics to come across his work bench and guaranteed that I wouldn't have any problem with it in the next twenty years.

The last lens in the line up is a gem. A Nikon E-series 135mm f/2.8. Nikon first made the E-series lenses in response to the popularity of third party lenses that increased in the 1970s and 1980s. E-series lenses typically had fewer elements than their Nikkor counterparts and some plastic parts. They were usually considered less rugged, light weight and optically inferior. In reality, in most cases, the E-series lenses were solid and optically sound. I've owned several Nikkor 135s and this compact E-series is every bit as sharp the Nikkor models. It's small and fast. Compared to the light weight, plastic AF lenses, made today, this E-series 135mm is a hefty work horse. I bought this one earlier this year for $76.00. It's a great telephoto for carrying around everyday and makes a nice portrait lens.

If you shoot film and aren't freaked out by manual focus lenses, you can find some very inexpensive suepurb optics that will out perform some of the newer, expensive lenses currently on the market. Happy hunting.

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