Vintage lenses can be fun and have some awesome creative looks and effects that are very desirable. Since the inception of mirrorless cameras, there has been a revival amongst collectors that scour the web and stores hunting down vintage equipment. Indeed, many of these rare gems can be more affordable than many modern optics and may even bring you greater joy when using them. Some of these vintage pieces often have better construction than modern lenses and when holding them, you can tell that they were built to last a lifetime.
For years, I built a collection of cameras and lenses–consistently trying to feed my lust for the pieces. And this is how you do it.
Hit the Classic Research Spots
Before you consider purchasing a vintage lens for your camera, you should do a lot of research. And there are lots of great places to find the information that you’re looking for.
YouTube: Many people that have shot videos with the lenses or about the lenses may have uploaded and done some research for you already.
Vimeo: The creme de la creme of the creative video community not only loves talking about their art but also their gear. It is once again a great way to see the results that you’ll get with the lenses that you want.
Rangefinder Forum: This is a great place to explore and chat with other folks about vintage lenses. The community has loads of this information all over.
Flickr: Folks are generally good at keywording their images, so if you’re searching for a particular Zeiss lens not only will you see images of said lens but you’re also bound to find images shot with it.
500px: As the other major photo pool, 500px can also be the place to find lots of images shot with the lens that you’re looking for.
Figure Out How It Will Work With Your Camera
Some lenses are crazier than others and sometimes require a crazy hack or adapter. For example, I obtained an old Argus C3 rangefinder and took the lens off. I wanted to use it with my Canon 5D Mk II and in order to do that I had to convert it to work with an EOS mount by taking it to an engineer.
Now, most lenses you won’t need to do that with: in fact a simple adapter can do that instead. But if you have a 58mm f2 lens for example, it will work differently on an APS-C sensor camera than a Micro Four Thirds camera. And there’s more than just that: if you’ve got your hands on a rangefinder lens then it most likely won’t work with an SLR.
First Try a Trusted Retailer
Your gut and many others on forums might tell you to go for eBay. But eBay can be super sketchy unless the dealer is someone with very high seller marks. There are many other alternatives to doing that though.
Craigslist: Yes, Craigslist can sound super sketchy but I’ve bought loads of gear off there before. As a couple of tips, converse over email and then agree to meet in person at a public place like a cafe, bank or somewhere else. And then check the gear. If you digg it, buy it. If not, then forget about it. Just make sure that you also bring your camera and anything else you might need to make the lens work first.
KEH: Perhaps the very best in used gear out there. Their website is constantly updated and one can find themselves perusing through and getting into a lot of credit card trouble.
Adorama: I’ve purchased most of my used gear from Adorama, as they often have the best selection and the best prices on this stuff.
B&H Photo: Who can forget the king of the photo industry? B&H’s used department has loads and loads of awesome gear and their ratings on conditions are very accurate. Of anyone on this list, their staff is the most knowledgeable.
FotoCare: FotoCare doesn’t have the selection that B&H and Adorama do, but you can find some serious gems there–especially Leicas.
Look around the web and try to get the best pricing or try to figure out what the best pricing should be for you. Want some Leica R glass? You may need to spend a pretty penny or two. Don’t ever be of the mentality that you should always be entitled to get something for cheap. Entitlement will get you nowhere.
However, be thrifty.
Do Not Go With USPS Shipping
USPS consistently has given me the worst shipping service, and it’s not just me. Most people on eBay recommend using an actual shipping service instead of the United States Postal Service. For what it’s worth, USPS often doesn’t care about your package and tracking it can make a nightmare look wonderful.
Be willing to spend a little bit extra to make sure that your lens gets to you safely.
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