Don’t Throw Away Your Old Lenses!

When the photographic bug bites you, it creates an interest and desire to make great photographs your whole life. You just won’t settle for second rate photos.

For many of us, that has created a camera case of old SLR lenses from the days before we invested in a digital SLR camera. We don’t want to waste those lenses. Are any of them useful any more?

There’s another scenario that leads to these questions. You’re out snooping through local garage sales, or browsing pages on eBay or Craig’s List and you see old SLR lenses for sale and at some real bargain prices: are they worth the investment?

They’re great, but

Many older lenses will serve you well with your newer digital SLR camera body, however there are a lot of “ifs, ands and buts” to add to that. Perhaps the single most important thing to understand is that your older lenses will generally not be compatible with all the “bells and whistles” that are being built into DSLRs today. If you absolutely need all the advanced features your camera offers, you may not want to bother with trying to use older lenses.

However, if you’re willing to experiment, make adjustments and learn some new skills, these older lenses may be a real goldmine.

To adapt or not

First, the old lenses from some brands will fit the new DSLR bodies from the same camera maker. New Nikon cameras will accept old Nikon lenses. It’s the same with Olympus and Pentax. Sony cameras will accept some Minolta lenses. Unfortunately, Canon cameras will not accept old Canon lenses without an adapter.

The next important point to understand is that the sensor that collects the image in all but the most expensive DSLRs is much smaller than a 35 mm film frame. In other words, your old 35 mm lens projects a bigger image than your new DSLR camera can use. Your new camera will only use the center of the projected image.

This means that your old 35 mm wide angle lens will perform more like a 70 mm short telephoto lens when you attach it to your DSLR. This gets even a little more complicated if you use an adapter. A variety of adapters are available and they will change the end result of your image size as well. Many act as a telephoto extension tube.

Learn manual control

Some adapters have the capability to enable some of the advanced features of newer DSLRs. However, many of these scenarios end up with the photographer using what is essentially a manual lens.

This may be a new skill for some photographers who are used to the camera doing most of the work. Yet it’s a great skill to have. There’s no substitute for advanced autofocus when you’re shooting fast moving sporting events, but to really understand composition and get full creative control, learning to manually focus and set the aperture is an absolute must.

Explore your old lenses, or poke around eBay a little. It won’t cost you much and the results could be very rewarding.