Fast vintage prime lenses

The following is a list of fast vintage prime lenses that won’t explode your wallet. All lenses have an open aperture of 2.8 or faster, which is a good base for bokeh hunting. If you are a friend of the 80/20 Pareto principle (get 80% of a vintage lens performance for 20% of the price), the list below could be of interest to you. 

Jump directly to the focal length and lens of interest:

Canon FDn 24mm f2.8

Prakticar Pentacon MC 28mm f2.8

Minolta MD 35mm f2.8

Minolta MC 50mm f1.7

Contax Zeiss T* 50mm f1.7

Nikon Ai 85mm f2.8

Raynox M42 135mm f2.8

Prakticar Pentacon MC 135mm f2.8

Canon FDn 200mm f2.8

 

Why using vintage prime lenses on modern camera bodies?

If you want to use a fast prime lens with decent image quality (e.g. for available light photography or portraits and a shallow focus technique), the price for new lenses are quite high compared to vintage lenses. 

If the size of the lens matters, vintage lenses with a lot of metal parts instead of plastics, also with no focussing and stabilizing parts are usually much smaller compared to nowadays prime lenses. Another reason to use vintage lenses, is the outstanding bokeh characteristics if you choose the right vintage lens. The much better build quality of vintage lenses compared to new lenses could be another reason to better invest in the old lenses. The need of vintage lenses for manual focus and manual aperture setting, forces the photographer to pro-actively plan the motive composition and tech parameters like focus point, depth of field, ISO value and exposure time of an upcoming shoot. This leads to more creatively composed photographs compared to the “click and shoot” style of fully automated photographs.

By using those vintage lenses with an adapter on modern mirrorless camera bodies like the Sony alpha 6000 or the Sony alpha 7 series, you can enjoy many high tech features of those top-notch cameras with your 30 years or older vintage lenses. The performance might be worse on the Alpha A7R camera family because of its very high sensor resolution, which brings some vintage lenses to their optical limit. You can use this lenses also on Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds / MFT camera bodies with appropiate adapters.

What the heck is bokeh?

The term “bokeh” will be frequently used in the reviews of following lenses. Bokeh has been defined as the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light. Bokeh occurs for parts of the scene that lie outside the depth of field. Photographers sometimes deliberately use a shallow focus technique to create images with prominent out-of-focus regions.

Bokeh is an adaptation of the japanese word “boke” into western languages. In Japan, boke means “deliberately out of focus” and has come into English as “bokeh”, with an additional “h” to show the pronunciation.

See more information about bokeh here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokeh 

Bokeh quality is, to some extent, a matter of individual taste. Rick Denney gives some good examples, which kind of Bokeh’s are distracting, neutral or pleasing: http://www.rickdenney.com/bokeh_test.htm

In this video, you will see 3 lenses which deliver a strong bokeh effect for portrait photographs (especially the “exploding bokeh” of the russian MIR-1B 37mm f2.8 lens):

What is the crop factor when using those vintage lenses with an APS-C sensor?

The crop factor is used to compare the field of view of cameras having a different sensor size with the same lens. 

On cameras with APS-C sensor like Sony alpha 6000, 6300 and 6500, you have a crop factor of 1.52, which means that a 50mm full frame lens behaves like a 77mm lens on a full frame camera if used on cameras with APS-C sensor. On Olympus and Panasonic cameras with Micro Four Third / MFT sensor you have a crop factor of 2. Get a good explanation of the crop factor here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_factor

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Canon FDn 24mm f2.8, approx. EUR 125 at ebay (2016)

vintage lenses canon canon vintage lens

Specs: 240g weight, 48mm length, 10 elements in 9 groups, 6 aperture blades, 52mm filter, Canon FD mount

Sharp from center to the edge even with open aperture f2.8, bokeh is ok but not overwhelming. It’s definitely better than the Minolta MD 28mm f2.8 at the same price level. I had both to compare and returned the Minolta. You can detect the newer FDn lens version by its not having the silver fix ring and no “S.C.” or “S.S.C.” coating marks in the front. All FDn lenses are S.S.C. (aka Super Spectra Coating lenses) without saying so. Keep in mind that a 24mm lens was a form of luxury in the 60s and 70s, and optical build complexity was higher than for 50mm or 135mm lenses. Therefore, the original price and today’s used price is above average compared to vintage lenses with longer focal length. According to allphotolenses, the Canon US consumer price list of January 1986 lists this lens at $287.50 USD. You will hardly find any 24mm vintage lens from Canon or Minolta beyond EUR 100.

An excellent overview about analog Canon lenses: http://camaracoleccion.es
Unfortunately, this website is still in Spanish only, but the information is worth translating into English with Google translator.

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1982. See what else was happening in 1982 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982

 

Prakticar Pentacon MC 28mm f2.8, approx. EUR 80 at ebay (2016)

 

Specs: 240g weight, 54mm length, 7 elements in 7 groups, 6 aperture blades, 49mm filter, Praktica B mount

The Prakticar Pentacon 28 mm f2.8 MC is a wide-angle prime lens with multi-coating, manufactured by the VEB Pentacon Dresden (Feinoptisches Werk Görlitz) in different versions from 1971 till 1991. It is an improved version of the Orestegon 29 mm f2.8 which was sold as Pentacon 29mm f2.8 also. The 29mm lens is inferior to the 28mm and very soft in the corners at open aperture.

See the discussion about this lens and some photographs here: http://forum.mflenses.com

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1983. See what else was happening in 1983 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983

 

Minolta MD 35mm f2.8, approx. EUR 85 at ebay (2016)

 

Specs: 170g weight, 38mm length, 5 elements in 5 groups, 6 aperture blades, 49mm filter, Minolta MD mount

Razor sharp from center to the edge, even with open aperture. Bokeh is so so. Because 35mm is a very popular focal length, the prices for 35mm lenses with f2.8 are quite high. Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1981. See what else was happening in 1981 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981

 

Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 50mm f1.7, approx. EUR 40 at ebay (2016)

 Minolta MC ROKKOR-PF 50mm f1.7 Minolta MC ROKKOR-PF 50mm f1.7

Specs: 240g weight, 41mm length, 6 elements in 5 groups, 6 aperture blades, 55mm filter, Minolta MC mount

Typical good Minolta color rendering, good sharpness and better than average bokeh. Great build quality and really inexpensive for the image quality it delivers. It was a kit lens for the Minolta SRT101. Less character than the Minolta 50mm f/1.4, but not really far away. Better get the MC Version instead of the MD version. Get advice for the right product version here: http://artaphot.ch

Check the image quality of this lens in the 50mm vintage lens shootout: https://tech-reviews.swiss-1.ch/50mm-vintage-lens-shootout/

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1975. See what else was happening in 1975 here: https://en.iikipedia.org/wiki/1975

 

Contax Zeiss T* 50mm f1.7, approx. EUR 160 at ebay (2016)

vintage lenses zeiss 50mm zeiss 50mm vintage lens

Specs: 195g weight, 35mm length, 7 elements in 6 groups, 6 aperture blades, 55mm filter, Yashica/Contax mount

Not really inexpensive, but probably the cheapest Carl Zeiss lens designed in West Germany that you can get (Contax/Yashica mount). A true performer in sharpness, contrast and flare resistance. Bokeh is neutral and with “cat eyes” at open aperture. Chromatic aberrations do almost not exist. If you can`t get hold of this Zeiss, the Canon FDn 50mm f1.4 or the Minolta MD 50mm f1.4 is a good high-end alternative, both for approx. EUR 85 on ebay (2017). The Canon 50mm is sharper than the Minolta MD 50mm f1.4, but the bokeh is better on the Minolta MD 50mm f1.4. Read the review from Andrzej in Canada about this Zeiss lens with some beautiful fotos from Japan on “The Weekend Lens”: http://www.theweekendlens.com

Check the image quality of this lens in the 50mm vintage lens shootout: https://tech-reviews.swiss-1.ch/50mm-vintage-lens-shootout/

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1980. See what else was happening in 1980 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980

 

Nikon Nikkor Ai 85mm f2.0, approx. EUR 195 at ebay (2017)

nikon nikkor 85mm vintage lenses vintage lens nikon nikkor 85mm

Specs: 310g weight, 61mm length, 5 elements in 5 groups, 7 aperture blades, 52mm filter, Nikon F mount

Some say this lens is legendary, some say it’s just better than average. Without a doubt this lens is one of the smallest and lightest 85mm full frame lenses ever. My tests results put it more into the “legendary” category. The bokeh of the lens at open aperture is outstanding and keeps to be nice when stepping down due the 7 aperture blades. The depth of field is so low with f2.0 that you have to focus carefully. 

pleasing bokeh with the Nikkor 85mm f2 Ai vintage prime lens
Klick on photograph to enlarge: pleasing bokeh of the Nikkor 85mm f2 Ai vintage prime lens

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com
https://kenrockwell.com
http://camaracoleccion.es

This lens was probably made in 1979. See what else was happening in 1979 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979

Get an excellent overview about analog Nikon lenses here: http://camaracoleccion.es
Unfortunately, this website is still in Spanish only, but the information is worth translating into English with Google translator.

 

Raynox M42 135mm f2.8, approx. EUR 60 at ebay (2016)

vintage lenses vintage lens

Specs: 350g weight, 86mm length, 6 aperture blades, 58mm filter, M42 mount

This lens is a miracle to me. The Japanese company that produces Raynox lenses was founded in 1963 and still exists today, though now it is known for its industrial optics and access lenses for video cameras. Because the not well-known brand of “Raynox” and the M42 mount, lenses like the 135mm are difficult to sell and appear seldom in ebay. Nevertheless, image quality and Bokeh are outstanding, if you get a lens in good condition. 

If you can get one in good shape, consider yourself lucky. I got mine for EUR 10 and wouldn’t sell it for EUR 100. I like the bokeh at open aperture, and sharpness in center and corner was better than my Minolta MC 135mm f2.8. The Raynox lens is very rare, if you are not lucky to get one, look for the wide spread Prakticar 135mm f2.8.

pleasing bokeh of Raynox 135mm f2.8 vintage lens
Klick on photograph to enlarge: pleasing bokeh of Raynox 135mm f2.8 vintage prime lens

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1976. See what else was happening in 1976 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976

 

Praktica Pentacon MC 135mm f2.8, approx. EUR 80 at ebay (2017)

Pentacon 135mm f2.8 vintage lens vintage lens Pentacon 135mm f2.8  

Specs: 465g weight, 97mm length, 6 aperture blades, 55mm filter, Praktica B or M42 mounts

The Prakticar Pentacon MC 135mm f2.8 was manufactured by the VEB Pentacon Dresden in the German Democratic Repblic. It is a compact telephoto lens at a very reasonable price and with good image quality. The earlier versions are with 15 and the later versions are with 6 aperture blades. Try to get the older version with 15 aperture blades for a better bokeh, when stopped down. For the bokeh at open aperture of f2.8, the number of aperture blades doesn’t matter. If you cannot get this lens, the Canon FDn 135mm f2.8 is a good alternative for approx. EUR 125 (2018). 

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1983. See what else was happening in 1983 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983

 

Canon FDn 200mm f2.8, approx. EUR 160 at ebay (2016)

Canon FD 200mm f2.8 Canon FD 200mm f2.8

Specs: 700g weight, 140.5mm length, 5 elements in 5 groups, 8 aperture blades, 72mm filter, Canon FD mount

You are in street photography with fast telephoto lenses? Looking for a vintage prime lens with 200mm and f2.8, beautiful bokeh creamy beyond believe and absolutely insane small depth of field? Chromatic abberations are there at open aperture but minimal to no flaring and minimal to no ghosting. 

Got the lens from Racquetfilm in Brisbane, Australia, an anlog photo processing service. See some nice analog photographs from the Racquetfilm photographers: https://racquetfilm.com/the-racquet-family/

When using a tripod, get an adapter with tripod mount. There are eight different variants of the Canon 200mm vintage prime lens with FD mount: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_FD_200_mm_lens

An excellent overview about analog Canon lenses: http://camaracoleccion.es
Unfortunately, this website is still in Spanish only, but the information is worth translating into English with Google translator.

Get more information about this lens here: http://allphotolenses.com

This lens was probably made in 1979. See what else was happening in 1979 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979

 

Rundown

I recommend focusing on Canon FD/FDn, Minolta MC/MD or Nikon Ai/Ai-S lenses for buying vintages lenses (mostly). Otherwise, the risk is very high that you will not be satisfied with the lens quality. And yes, prices are still rising for fast vintage prime lenses on ebay and elsewhere, so don`t wait too long if you want to build up a focal length range of fast vintage prime lenses.

Never ever buy lenses with fungus, scratches on the lens glass or oil on the aperture blades. I’ve heard horror stories from people who’ve bought contaminated lenses that, over time, infected other lenses in the camera bag with fungus. Some minor dust inside the lens is typically not so dramatic for optical quality.

Some lenses do not perform well because they are misaligned in optics. The lens might have fallen down or been treated badly. A good choice is to pay a little more on ebay as “instant buy” with the right to return the lens if your tests result in a poor performance. Better do not end like Jan Eufinger with his Hanimex Hanimar 28mm f2.8, “probably the worst lens of the world”: https://www.youtube.com

 

7 secrets to buy cheap vintage lenses online:

See my list of recommended zoom vintage lenses here: https://tech-reviews.swiss-1.ch/vintage-lenses-zoom/

Enjoy!

Because the life of a photographer can be so much better with the right set of vintage lenses …

 

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4 Replies to “Fast vintage prime lenses”

  1. Nice compilation of vintage lenses. I own the Raynox 25mm which performs quite well and got it for $25 usd. It’s not a well-known brand. You should have a look at the Canon fd 200mm f2.8 to cover 200mm.

  2. Or the pentacon 200 mm f4, slow lens but nice bokeh with 15 aperture blades. I got it for only 60 euros on ebay.

  3. You should add the inexpensive Nikkor 105mm f2.5 to this list. Its legendary for the Afghan girl with he green eyes photo on the cover of the National Geographic magazine.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_Girl
    Why would anyone prefer a Zeiss 50mm F1.7 for $200 if the excellent Canon FD 50mm F1.4 is available for $80?

  4. There is perceptibly a bunch to identify about this. I feel you made various good points in lens features also.

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