When you’ve been into photography a while, you probably noticed the price tags on proper quality lenses right? For instance; a canon 35mm f/1.4 L lens will cost you a little over 1200€ and other lenses can cost you several thousands more. Even the more affordable lenses will start at around 399€.
But what if you (like me) don’t have thousands to spend on lenses, but you do want to have a lens of high quality, that gives very little distortion and lets enough light in to make proper photo’s even indoors. Well for all of this there is one kind of lens that gets you everything you want whilst at the same time gets you more in touch with your inner photographer.
An old Prime Lens.
A prime lens is a lens that doesn’t zoom, and therefore automatically lowers the amount of distortion in your picture and increases the amount of light that comes in. So you can have a very lightweight lens that gives you super sharp high quality images.
Now I picked up an old Ricoh XR Rikenon 50mm f/1.7 Prime lens for my Pentax K5 for less than 30 bucks a while ago, it fits perfectly because Pentax hasn’t changed its mounting standards over time. And the quality of the pictures shot with this lens are actually higher than that of my €600,- ‘’All-in-one zoom’’ lens.
You will have to say goodbye to autofocus and auto mode on your camera though. Because old lenses like this ask for oldskool manual settings and focus. While some may be put off by this, I personally think it’s a great way to be more in touch with the photograph you’re composing. It gives you the time to really think about the subject and how you want it. It’s not just ‘’CLICK’’, ‘’Oh garbage!’’ and ‘’Delete’’, it makes you search for the right settings, the right focus point and the right time to take the shot.
A 50mm prime also makes you use your feet rather than a zoom ring to get to a composition you want, and the magical part about it all is that pictures taken at a focal length of 50mm just look right. That might be explained by the fact that your eyes also have a similar field of view, it makes it all a bit more natural perhaps.
All in all it makes you more conscious of what you’re doing, ending up with a picture that has a whole lot more thought and love put into it.
Bokeh is something that many photographers absolutely love if done right.
Bokeh is the blur of the out-of focus area in a picture. It is the effect that creates the contrast between the sharp foreground or subject and the blurry background. You can create a very strong Bokeh if you use a very large aperture, and because our prime is in fact a prime, it can have massive aperture sizes. The 50mm often comes in f/1.4, f/1.7 or f/2 maximum aperture. If you compare this to the average zoom lens which often has a max aperture size of f/3.5 you can let a whole lot more light in with the average prime*, and therefore create a much stronger Bokeh, which most photographers do appreciate a lot.
*(The maximum aperture can be confusing because the smaller the number, the bigger the aperture size. So f/1.7 is a whole lot bigger than f/22 and f/1.7 will let a lot more light in than f/22. Just remember a lower number means bigger aperture opening.All Apertures under f/2 are seen as large/fast aperture sizes.)
Get one yourself!
These kind of old (analogue) lenses can be bought for Pentax, Nikon, Olympus, Canon and even Sony cameras, sometimes you’ll have to pick up an adapter, but it will still come very, very cheaply.
So look around your local second hand shop, and you’re bound to find an old jewel lying around in some dusty corner, it may very well end up being the best couple of coins you’ve ever spend on your photography.