When adapting old manual lenses to your digital camera, it is particularly important that the flange focal distance of the lens is longer than the one of the camera system that you are using.
The flange focal distance descrives the distance between the bayonet of your lens and the plain on which the light is supposed to represent the image, i.e. the film or sensor. If the difference of the flange focal distance is large enough, it offers enough space to use an appropriate adapter. If the distance is too small, the adapter must be fitted with a compensating glas element which compensates the missing distance by curvature of the light beams.
When selecting the adapter, it is important to make sure that you have a mechanically well processed adapter. The distance between the last lens and the sensor should be correct up to 0.01mm, otherwise the focus on “infinity” may be lost.
With cheap adapters from the Far East, the mechanical inaccuracy of the adapters means that there is a danger of both the loss of infinity focus and a fixed clamped adapter. In this case, the springs in the adapter snap so hard that the lens cannot be released without destroying the adapter.
Advantages of old lenses
For me, the most important aspect when using an old lens is the new thought-provoking impulse in terms of image composition. When using old lenses, where you adjust the aperture yourself and focus on your own, you have to deal with the situation and the desired photo. In addition, most old glasses are foxed focal leghts (objectives without zoom). So there is less room for manoeuvre when it comes to the image detail. This in turn leads to a greater awareness of the abilities of the objective and the desired result (and of course a heavier backpack).
The special and indivitual character of each specific old objective also speaks for itself. There are lenses that are “crips sharp” like the Zeiss Flektogon 20mm f2.8, but there are also lenses with incredibly beautiful “Bubble Bokeh” (light curling like soap bubbles) like the Meyer Optik Görlitz Trioplan 100mm f2.8. The helios 44-2 has a “Swirl” effect (twisted background). And so each old lens has its own unique, imperfect but beautiful features that can be used depending on the situation.
The price / performance ratio is one of the other advantages. A Helios 44-2 lens with 58mm focal lenght and an aperture of f2 is already available on Ebay for about 40$. For a corresponding “modern” lens you can certainly add a zero to the price.
Las but not least, when using old lenses and camera equipment, there is always a touch of nostalgia. Both my father and my grandfathere were more than enthusiastic about seeing their old lenses come back to life.
Which camera is suitable?
Basically, every digital camera is suitable for getting into photography with old lenses. There are adapters for all conventional digital cameras with interchangable lenses such as Sony, Nikon, Canon, Panasonic and Fuji. The only obstacle here is the flange focal distance of SLR cameras (as described above). Due to the necessity of the mirror mechanism, much space is lost. For this reason, the supposedly best cameras for use iwht old leses are the so-called “EVIL” cameras.
EVIL is derived from “Electric Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens”.
The use of an electric viewfinder (really small monitor) eliminates the need for a mirror to direct the light thorugh the prism into the eye. Due to this omission of the complete mirror mechanism, an EVIL camera has a much smaller flange focal distance than a conventional (D)SLR. This smaller flange focal distance allows the use of adapters that can be large enough to connect the lens with one kind of bayonet and the camera with an other kind of bayonet without the need for a compensating glas element or the loss of infinity focus.
Whether and howe well your camera is suitable for adapting old lenses can be found out in the respective sub category.