How to use vintage lenses on DSLR cameras

Did you know that you can use vintage lenses with a modern DSLR camera? Take a spin through a flea market, pawn shop or thrift store. There you might see some older camera lenses with heavy metal builds, high quality glass and wide apertures for less than $20.

When I started taking a look into vintage lenses, I mentioned it to my father-in-law. I always knew he was interested in photography. What I didn’t know is he used to work for his school’s newspaper. Over the years he accumulated quite the collection of lenses. He pulled them out of storage and offered them to me. Who was I to refuse free lenses? This sent me down a rabbit hole. I didn’t know how to get these lenses to work with my Canon T5i. At first I thought that adapting the lenses would prove to be a challenge, but it wasn’t. As a matter of fact, the process was simple and dirt cheap.

Vintage LensesLet’s talk about the lenses first. He passed down a mix of prime and zoom lenses. Most of the lenses are prime Nikon mounts – Nikkor or Vivitar lenses. My favorite is a Vivitar 35mm f/1.9. He also gave me a couple M42 mounts. One of the lenses is a 28mm f/2.8 by Marexar. I would have never been able to afford lenses with that wide an aperture unless it were for these being vintage lenses.

The look and feel of each of the vintage lenses is fantastic. My first proper camera was a Canon T2i DSLR. I still use a Canon T5i, which has very few upgrades over the Canon T2i, but I wanted to make a shift to video and the T5i has a solid autofocus system and a flip out screen. That said, the highest quality feeling lens I have ever worked with was a plastic fantastic. To be able to feel the heft and the cold of the metal build these lenses have has been quite the experience. It provides a feeling of confidence.

These lenses are all manual. You have to manually set both the focus and aperture. This could feel a little intimidating at first. I still struggle with manual focus, because the autofocusing system on the Canon is so good. Another thing to keep in mind is there is no image stabilization in the lens and with the weight of some of these metal lenses you can inadvertingly introduce some shake when taking pictures. This shake could lead to some blur in your pictures. My DSLR is an older one and does not have in-body image stablization as offered in some newer cameras. I am not sure that if you even have that feature if it is still available when using vintage lenses.

So, how do you mount vintage lenses onto your Digital SLR? It’s simple, you buy an adapter. I purchased an adapter for each mount.

Nikkor 50mm

Nikkor 50mm

For the Nikon mounts, I purchased a lens mount adapter made by Beschoi. This adapter goes onto the butt of the lens very smoothly and audibly clicks into place, which is a very nice touch. The construction is partly plastic, but mostly metal. It feels solid and feels like it will keep the lens firmly in place.

For the M42 mounts, these are screw on mounts, I purchased a screw mount adapter made by Fotasy. The adapter is made completely of metal. It has good heft to it. I have found occasions when the lens unscrews from the mount. Fortunately, none of those occassions proved to be catastrophic for the lens. It is just something to keep in mind, because, since these are manual lenses, you will be handling them quite a bit.

At the time of purchase, the Beschoi Lens Mount Adapter cost me $20.99 USD and the Fotasy M42 scew mount lens adapter cost me $7.59 USD. You can find vintage lenses in flea markets and thrift stores for as little as $3. So you’re talking about a really minimal investment that can open up a new world of opportunities to take your photography or even videography to the next level.

Have you had any experience shooting with vintage lenses? Let us know in the comments below.