Go retro and grab a bargain

A black headed gull shot with the Pentacon 200mm f/4 lens. Picture by Ivor Rackham.
A black headed gull shot with the Pentacon 200mm f/4 lens. Picture by Ivor Rackham.

My lovely wife Johanna and I stroll around Amble’s car boot sale on Saturdays in the summer. We don’t necessarily plan to buy anything, but end up chatting with lots of folk. Both it and the Sunday market are an important part of the community.

I’ll hang my smallest mirrorless camera from my wrist and snap a photograph when something catches my eye. Sometimes, I’ll spot something for sale and snap up a bargain instead.

A few weeks ago, I found a grubby, old, manual focus, 50mm lens for £3. I was looking for a replacement manual lens to demonstrate apertures on the photography courses I run; the one I use had failed. This lens had six, very visible aperture blades, so was perfect for that job. I took it home and cleaned it up.

Made in Germany in the mid-1970s, it was a Meyer Optik Görlitz Oreston 50mm f/1.8. There was no fungus inside; fungus is something to avoid when buying old lenses as it is contagious and will infect other equipment. The lens elements were unscratched, and the mechanical actions felt solid and unworn.

It has an obsolete M42 screw mount so I ordered a Gobe lens adaptor to fit it to my cameras. Gobe is a favourite of mine because it uses environmentally-friendly materials, produces great quality lens filters at very reasonable prices, and its customer service is second to none. Better still, it plants trees in Madagascar with every purchase.

The adaptor arrived the next day and I mounted the lens on my smallest camera. It has stayed there ever since.

The feel of the lens, with its solid build and firm mechanical action, takes me back to my old film camera days. The look of the images it produces is great too.

I like the hexagonal bokeh resulting from the six aperture blades, as opposed to the smooth, round balls of light produced by modern pro-lenses. The images are a tiny bit soft when shooting at f/1.8, but that gives an old-fashioned look. I like shunning the modern aesthetic and trying something different, and this lens certainly does that.

DSLR cameras are not designed for manual focus. Because auto-focus is so good, the viewfinder screens are much smaller than they were on film cameras. To get a sharp image often requires use of the live view screen.

However, one of the beauties of the mirrorless compact system cameras (CSCs) I use is that the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is

large and bright, and that makes manual focusing easy. Furthermore, I can programme a button to zoom in on the image to check it is pin sharp and it has focus peaking, which outlines the in-focus area.

Though a stop slower than some, it is still relatively fast, and at f/1.8, equal in speed to the good, affordable, modern plastic-bodied ‘Nifty Fifty’ lenses some manufacturers sell, another good buy.

Finding that lens got me wondering whether there would be other good film lenses out there. A quick search found plenty more and I bought a Pentacon 200mm f/4 for £30. It’s another lens I am really pleased with.

Forget new, expensive kit. Grab a bargain and go retro.

With Halloween arriving this week, the challenge words are ‘Dark’ and ‘Scary’.