Why You Should Use Vintage Glass While Shooting Street

Sony a6000 | Canon 35mm (FD Mount)

Sony a6000 | Canon 35mm (FD Mount)

Since switching over to the mirrorless camera system one thing that I've been most impressed with is the various type of lenses I can adapt to each system. So far I've worked with just about every mount, my favorites being the Fujifilm X-Mount, the Sony E Mount and the M43 mount, which is what I'm currently using at the time of writing this article.

As you could imagine switching between this many systems can get expensive, especially when you factor in buying new lenses... But not for me. Again, this is the main reason I love shooting with the mirrorless system, they allow you to adapt just about any lens to whichever system you have. Which means when I switched from the Fujifilm X-T1 to Sony a6000 I didn't have to buy Sony's super expensive 35mm, I just took my vintage Canon 24mm (FD Mount) and bought a cheap adapter for it and all was good.

It makes me wonder why don't more people shoot with vintage glass? And I get it to a certain extent, perhaps you have a high profile shoot and auto focus is important or perhaps you have OCD and all your lenses need to be native... Again I get it! But for those of you who solely shoot street photography, why are yo so invested in native glass?

I assume that it's due to a lack of education or awareness... So that's what this article is going to do... Let's talk about why you should use legacy glass as opposed to native glass as a street photographer.

Cheaper Glass

The glass is flat out cheaper. There's nothing more to be said here. For a decent street lens, plus an adapter, your looking at $60 bucks... and that's for an excellent copy. Huge savings!

Unique Look

Here's a fun fact, the majority of vintage glass was handmade... The majority of glass today... Machine manufactured. This means that all the lenses made today are pretty much the same, however, all the vintage glass that was made may differ, it all depends on how that employee was feeling that day haha. This can be both a good a good and a bad thing. Typically, we don't want to invest in lenses with flaws, but in certain cases this flaws can be quite flattering. 

For example, if you shoot with a Sony a7, then the Helios lens may be something to look into, as it gives off a effect that most modern lenses can't reproduce. This lens was made with a "flaw", but it turned out to be a fan favorite years down the road.

The unique looks these vintage lenses give off aren't just derived from flaws. Some are made to be soft, others are made to vingette... the options are truly endless. By incorporating vintage glass in your kit your images could potentially inherit a "style", one that other will have a hard time replicating in post.

Transferable

I spoke about this ealier, but besides price, this is probably one of the biggest advantages of owning Legacy glass. No matter what camera you have you're just a $10 adapter away from mounting that lens to your body. It's been huge for me and it's saved me so much money. These lenses can remain in your kit for the next 10-20 years... That can't be said about modern glass with all of it's electronics.

Cures G.A.S.

Most people who own vintage lenses own a shit ton of them. I know I have around 5-6 sitting on my shelf right now and that's after I sold off a few of them. We talked about this earlier but they are just dirt cheap. It's almost impossible to say no to a $30 lens that can potentially produce a look comparable to say... I don't know a lens that's $700 or so.

From the outside looking in it's a bad habit to have and the majority of these lenses are going to sit, but from a photographers stand point it's a habit that I think we are willing to make an exception for.

Legacy glass comes in just about every focal length and they're all priced in that $30-50 range. As a photographer you're going to have those moments where you just want to shoot with a 100mm macro lens. You won't know why, but you'll justify the need. If you were shooting with native glass, this might cost you somewhere north of a $1000, but with legacy glass you'll pay $70 at most.

What I'm trying to say is that when shooting vintage you'll still get that random need to buy something, so it won't totally cure G.A.S, however this habit won't break your pockets nearly as much. On top of that you get a feel for every type of lens, you're able to explore and create without limitation, it keeps you creative, all while on a budget.

Slows You Down

People typically look at this as a flaw. Vintage glass does not offer auto focusing capabilities... However, in street photography this is actually a good thing opposed to being looked down upon. The majority of us need to slow down when we shoot. Before we capture the scene, we first need to understand it, vintage glass can help you do that. You have to pick your focuses and when doing that you're deciding what's important to you in the scene, of course it's the subject, but you get to highlight or de-highlight other areas as well.

In a nutshell, by manally focusing, you get full control of what's included in your frame.

You'll Take More Risk

This is the final benefit of owning and shooting street photography with vintage glass... It's cheap, so you'll be a little less protective over it. I remember a while back I was downtown shooting and my current kit at the time was a Canon 60D and a Sigma 18-35 f/1.8. It was a heavy setup and anyone who looked at my gear could see that it held some value... I walked up towards a guy who was playing the piano and I thought, "this shot could be cool", however when we made eye contact he gave me the death stare...

I thought about my gear, what he might do to it and instantly I talked myself out of taking the shot. Fast forward a year later I was in that same area shooting with an X-E1 and a vintage lens and I had no worries. My setup was $300 tops... If anything happened to it, I'd just buy another camera and lens.

Of course, I'm not telling you guys to go out and he reckless, I'm just saying when you pay less for things they become a little more disposable. That's how I look at vintage glass.

Shot With Vintage Glass