I've a collection of many old cameras most of which have 50mm lenses fitted. All the time now on sites such as Ebay I see old pre-digital manual focus lenses for sale to use on modern DSLR's with the appropriate adapter ring. I decided to see just how good some of these lenses are by conducting a not very scientific test!
I love my standard 'Nifty Fifty' Canon EF 50mm f1.8 and as long as you treat it with respect it is fantastic value for money. I also have a Canon 24-105 L series lens which is brilliant as an every day walk about lens and is also my go-to lens for weddings.
I also decided to try a Carl Zeiss Jenna, a Pentacon, a Meyer Optik and a very old Russian Industar.
To test the lenses, I printed a lens test chart to A2 size and set the Canon EOS 6D on a tripod and used manual exposure with a constant light source. To focus, I used live view and zoomed it in to 10x.
The first surprise was just how similar the Canon 50mm and the 24-105L at 50mm were. The exposures were pretty much identical. As the zooms maximum aperture is only f4 I only tried the two at f4 and f8. At f4 I think the 50mm just outdid the zoom in terms of sharpness but at f8 I think the zoom was fractionally better in the centre.
The Pentacon has achieved almost cult status in some circles but I was a little dubious about some of the claims. In practice however, it turned in a very good performance. It was not as good as the Canon but it was 30 years old and at f8 was very good indeed giving nice crisp images.
Canon's superb 'Nifty Fifty' 50mm f1.8
Meyer Optik Domiplan
Pentacon Auto f1.8
Carl Zeiss Jenna Tessar.
Canon 24-105 L
The next lens I tried was a Carl Zeiss Jenna Tassar. Carl Zeiss have the reputation for producing some of the Worlds best lenses so I had high hopes for this one. As soon as I took the first exposure I realised something was wrong. Sadly the aperture blades had stuck, so this one will have to wait until I can strip it and clean it. It just goes to show that old gear needs using to keep things free.
The next lens I tried was the Meyer Optic Domiplan. Even just trying to focus it, it was obvious that the image was soft.. very soft! Stopping down from firstly 2.8 then to f4 and finally f8 improved things slightly but unless you are after a soft focus effect this one is best avoided.
The last lens I tried today was an Industar 61. Sadly this one wouldn't focus at all on my dslr. The lens was designed for a rangefinder camera so I guess the elements are not in the right plane of focus when used on either a 35mm or a dslr camera.
Anyone thinking of using an old manual focus lens on your DSLR should realise that it might not work at all or if it does it almost certainly won't be anywhere near as good or as convenient as using a modern lens designed for your camera. With Canons' 'Nifty Fifty' costing less than about £80 brand new, has good auto focus, brilliant sharpness and is an f1.8, you'd be crazy to buy an old m/f lens and adapter to use regularly.