You may think that we are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing new lenses these days, but in the 1950s and ’60s there were more than 20 different lens mounts and a huge range of lenses for the enthusiast to choose from. Many of these optics can now be found on the second-hand market, and when added to the array of more modern lenses being resold they make up a huge collection for consideration.
Running your finger down the second-hand listings at the back of AP has its own peculiar thrill, mixing the excitement of a potential investment with the spark of inspiration fuelled by what a lens might offer your photography. However, with so many optics to choose from, it’s helpful to have an idea of what to look for.
So we have gathered together a collection of optics, with some modern and others that are older, classic lenses. There’s also the odd gem that is so economically priced and fun to use that it is too good to miss. Some of the optics listed are harder to find than others, so we’ve given them a rarity value out of 10, with 10 being the most rare.
As well as checking the dealers’ listings and the classified ads in AP, internet auction sites are good source of second-hand lenses. Also, check out local camera fairs as these are a great opportunity to see some older optics, meet the sellers and handle the lens before you buy.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 Mk I£75-£125
Compact and lightweight (190g) l Aperture range f/1.8-f/22 l Closest focusing distance 45cm l Canon EF mount
1 -This is as sharp as you would expect a 50mm lens to be. The wide maximum aperture means there’s bags of control over depth of field and this, plus its effective focal length of 80mm on an APS-C-format camera, makes it a great choice for portraits. Full-frame photographers will love it, too, and its metal mount gives it the edge on build quality over the current EF 50mm f/1.8 Mk II.
Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM£150-£200
Compact size (121.5mm) for is focal-length range l Internal focusing, so constant size l Closest focusing 1.5m
2 - This is a good lens that’s generally not too expensive, yet it has a metal mount that contributes to its high-quality feel. It provides a useful telephoto zoom range. On a modern APS-C-format DSLR the focal length effectively becomes 160-480mm, providing plenty of scope for filling the frame with distant subjects. This lens is still current, but it is relatively easy to find it on the second-hand market.
Centon 500mm f/8 Mirror Lens£50-£80
Interchangeable T-mount l Macro focusing down to around 5ft (1.5m) l Equivalent to 750mm on APS-C-size DSLR
3 - This lens offers a telephoto equivalent of a massive 750mm on a DSLR, but in a light and compact format. The fixed f/8 aperture means it is slow in anything other than bright sun, but it’s ideal for use on a DSLR with in-camera ‘anti-shake’ facility. As with all mirror lenses, specular highlights have a ‘doughnut ring-type’ appearance. These lenses often give slightly soft, low-contrast images, but this is easily fixed using software.
Galaxy FishEye Attachment£20-£40
Built-in aperture diaphragm l Full 360° fisheye l Ultra-wide images
4 - A cost-effective way to produce full 360° fisheye images by attaching to a short prime lens or fitting to a wideangle zoom for full-frame, ultra-wide images. This has a 49mm filter thread, so use step-up rings for lenses with other thread sizes. With care this can also be held in front of a lens, but to protect the front element it is recommended that a sky or UV filter is also fitted.
Minolta 50mm f/1.7 AF£80-£125
Konica Minolta/Sony fitting l Fast standard or short portrait lens l Compact and light
5 - Originally designed for Minolta AF film cameras, this lens is now finding favour with Konica Minolta and Sony DSLR owners, with many using it as their preferred prime lens. It is sharp and light and fairly easy to find, but prices are rising for good examples. Watch out for sticky/slow/oily aperture blades if the lens has been unused for long periods.
Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G AF-S IF ED DX£150-£200
l Nikon F mount l Designed for APS-C format l Three ED glass elements l SWM (Silent Wave Motor)
6 - This was originally offered as a kit lens with the Nikon D70, but was very good in its own right and makes an excellent alternative to the current 16-85mm VR. As with all Nikon DX optics, this lens is suited for use with APS-C-format DSLRs and its image circle doesn’t cover a full-frame sensor or 35mm film. Equivalent to 27-105mm lens in 35mm format.
Nikon AF Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED£175-£200
l Nikon F mount l Suitable for full-frame and APS-C-format DSLRs l SWM (Silent Wave Motor) l Internal focusing
7 - Although it lacks the Vibration Reduction (VR) of the current model, this is still a very good optic. It’s worth bearing in mind that VR doesn’t freeze subject movement and cannot quite replace the benefit of a good solid tripod with long exposures. This lens is equally at home on a full-frame (FX) camera as it is on an APS-C-format (DX) DSLR, where it has an equivalent focal length of 105-450mm.
Nikon Nikkor 200mm f/4 AI-S£275-£325
Nikon F mount l Excellent optical and mechanical quality l Compact for a 200mm f/4 lens
8 -This was a stunning manual-focus lens in its day and it gives the current range of Nikon lenses a run for their money. A very sharp 200mm f/4 optic like this is useful on full-frame cameras, but when mounted on an APS-C-format DSLR it effectively becomes a 300mm f/4, which is a great choice for wildlife photographers or those wishing to pick out details in a landscape.
Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.2£200-£300
Olympus OM mount l Ultra-fast standard/portrait lens l Manual focusing and metering required
9 -One of the best lenses in the Olympus OM range, this is still very sought-after by film camera users. The super-fast f/1.2 aperture makes it ideal for use in low-light conditions, but is still sharp at full aperture. It can be used on Olympus DSLRs with a suitable OM-to-Four-Thirds adapter, the prices of which have come down in the past year or so after highs in excess of £100.
Paragon 500mm f/8 Reflex (Pre-Set)£40-£80
Interchangeable T-mount (wide range of fittings) l Built-in tripod mount l Equivalent to 750mm on APS-C-size DSLR
10 - This is best used for static, tripod-mounted shots as the length and preset apertures make it difficult to handle. It’s 43cm (17in) long, but with care the rear section can be unscrewed for ease of transport. Check before buying as around 70% have a ‘milky’ internal element, which is impossible to clean. Some internet sellers charge very high prices! Also look out for its 300mm f/6.3 little brother, which is easier to handhold.
Pentax SMC 100mm f/4 Dental Macro£200-£250
Pentax K mount l 1:2 ratio on 35mm, 1:1.5 on APS-C l Manual focusing, but auto metering and aperture control on DSLRs
11 - Light, compact and offering excellent sharpness and contrast, this is essentially the same as the standard SMC Pentax-A 100mm f/4 macro lens but with extra barrel markings. It was originally used with a special holder and a pair of matched supplementary lenses (very rare) for extreme close-ups, but is perfectly usable as a stand-alone macro lens. Also available as a 100mm f/2.8 macro, but costs more than £300.
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM£275-325
Wide range of mounts l Designed for APS-C format l Excellent resolving power l Minimal vignetting wide open
12 - Although not an old lens, this is definitely worth keeping an eye out for on the second-hand market as photographers are starting to trade up to the newer f/3.5 version. This lens has an excellent build and lacks the barrelling seen with some of its rivals. The DC in its title indicates that it is designed for use on APS-C-format DSLRs, delivering a focal-length range equivalent to around 15-30mm, depending upon the DSLR.
Soligor 135mm f/2.8 (Pre-Set)£20-£40
Interchangeable T-mount l Fast portrait lens l Manual focusing, metering and aperture control required
13 - Perfect for use in a studio or other low-light conditions, the performance of this little lens may well surprise you – and it is made with real metal and glass so no plastic to be found here. Later versions had an auto diaphragm and fixed camera mount, but are slightly inferior in construction.
Tamron Adaptall 60-300mm f/3.8-5.4£50-£70
Interchangeable Adaptall mount l Focuses to around 6ft at 300mm l Fast equivalent to 450mm on APS-C-size DSLR
14 -With a wide focal-length range for a zoom lens of this age, this uncommon model is just starting to find fans among DSLR users. For a spectacular focal length range add a matched Tamron SP 2x teleconverter. It is a heavy lens and with no tripod mount, but it can be handheld with care.
Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8£20-£40
M42 lens mount l Excellent results with a growing following l Manual focusing, metering and aperture control required
15 - Easily found on many basic film cameras, this lens has more recently achieved a cult following thanks to the internet. Usually with an M42 screw mount, these can be adapted for use with many DSLRs, most easily on a Pentax K or Samsung DSLR with a simple Pentax M42-to-PK adapter (but beware of cheap Chinese versions).
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.5 Macro£80-£120
Interchangeable Adaptall mount l Approx 1:1.5 repro ratio on APS-C DSLRs l Manual focus
16 -This lens is ideal for when you need extra separation from the subject than is offered with a 50mm macro. A very good performer, even at the widest apertures and with a smooth focusing action. Also look for the Sigma 90mm macro with dedicated fitting and supplementary 1:1 lens.
Attaching and using second hand lenses
Checking a second hand lens for faults
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