Assessing quality of legacy lens?

Discussion in 'Adapted Lenses' started by Deleted member 25287, Feb 16, 2015.

  1. Hi,

    is there a proven / recommended approach to assessing the quality of some legacy lens? A checklist, a guideline?

    I keep reading about legacy lenses as "not sharp", "lacking contrast" - but how does one tell using a tripod, a camera, and that specific lens?

    Case in point: Sigma 75-300 4.5-5.6 APO for Nikon AI (AF) from about 1990.

    I splurged $10 on a Nikon -> m43 adapter just for the heck of it, but I am curious now how to really figure this thing out? Clearly enough, with my Panasonic GM1 I need a tripod to have any chance of a non-shaky shot. And now?

    This specific lens, by the way, seems to be somewhat controversial. Or rather - when reading reviews about "that lens", it is pretty much unclear whether folks really talk about *that* lens or about a non-APO version, a 70-300 version, some camera body challenges, so I am more interested in experimenting myself than reading specific reviews at, e.g.,
  2. ManofKent

    ManofKent Hopefully still learning

    Dec 26, 2014
    Faversham, Kent, UK
    The bottom line is does it take pictures you like.

    There are resolution tests floating around the internet for some older lenses, but short of use for bragging rights they're not a lot of use.

    Is the lens sharp enough for your needs at the apertures you're likely to use?

    Corner/Edge sharpness?


    Is their too much distortion? What sort of distortion?

    Does it perform well at the distances you want to use it for (some lenses are great close up but aren't optimised for distant subjects, and vice versa)?

    Do you like the way it transmits colours? Colour transmission can vary greatly even on modern lenses.

    Does it have enough/too much micro-contrast? Many portraitists prefer lenses with less micro-contrast.

    How smooth are the transitions from out of focus to in focus areas?

    What is the bokeh like? Smooth and creamy? Wild and swirly? Soap bubble highlights from an old triplet?

    Is it too heavy to use without a tripod?

    Basically if you like using it and you like the results that's the bottom line.
    • Like Like x 3
  3. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    It's hard to say it better than ManofKent did. Spot on. If you like the results from the lens, it's a good lens. Simple as that.

    Most legacy lenses will generally have lower overall contrast, and typically worse chromatic aberration (purple fringing) than any modern lens, especially the high quality native lenses on Micro Four Thirds. That leads to a lot of initial disappointment from people, but don't write a lens off because of it. Assuming you have access to any sort of post-processing software (and if you don't, I would consider a copy of Lightroom to be the single best value-for-money camera investment you can make to improve your images), it's really easy to increase the overall contrast or saturation from the RAWs, and Lightroom has an excellent tool to remove purple fringing - it doesn't leave the image completely perfect since there will be a slight grey halo at high contrast edges, but it often enough makes it entirely unnoticeable on a casual view, which helps a lot.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Apr 4, 2010
    • Like Like x 1
  5. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 10, 2010
    Kiillarney, OzTrailEYa
    if you like the images, then its good enough I'd say.

    if over time you discover why you no longer feel so inclined towards the images then you've learned something which is valuable ...
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Petrochemist

    Petrochemist Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 21, 2013
    N Essex, UK
    Camera shake might be common, but you should be able to get good hand held shots in bright light at least.
    600mm EFL, at f8 isn't such a challenge. :) 

    Personally I'd find an EVF more useful than the tripod.
  7. Mellow

    Mellow Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2010
    Florida or Idaho
    I always test lenses with a standard shot using a tripod. I've also done the same thing with my native lenses. Now that I have hundreds of such images, it's easy to judge what a new legacy lens offers, and how it compares to other legacy lenses and to native lenses of the same FL.

    Besides that, I do go on reputation, but be aware that especially with old lenses there may be huge copy variations that make one lens a gem and another a paperweight. You've got to test them to be sure.

    Good luck.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. profgregorio

    profgregorio Mu-43 Regular

    May 21, 2013
    Manila, Philippines
    My advice would be: Try before you buy. From my experience, a legacy lens can create different results on different cameras. Even the fabled Leica lenses had varying results on the Sony A7. So just keep trying out different lenses until you get the results that you like; if you get lucky, the results may just be stunning.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010

    I always test my old LTM Jupiter and FED lenses on a new digital camera since they have very different sharpness and edge characteristics infront of different sensors and sensor sizes. It is not at all logical. :eek: 
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Jüri

    Jüri Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 14, 2013
    I've been involved with some serious old lens hoarding and currently own about 20 of them. And I think it's very rare that an old lens would even come close to any modern lens. Old manual lenses usually have much poorer coating and the elements are not very precicely machined and aligned. This results in very low contrast, dull colors and low sharpness. So the only way to find out if you like some old lens is to try it out yourself.
  11. Wayneb

    Wayneb Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 2, 2013
    I am happy with many old lenses that I have found, prime lenses can be very good. Now some older zooms were not very good and lots of cheaper telephoto lenses have color fringing problems.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  12. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    I do think it really depends.

    My 80s Sigma 90mm f2.8 macro is the sharpest lens I own. The 20mm/1.7 is probably comparable in the center, but not better.

    Even an old, humble Tokina 28-70 f2.8-4.2 zoom that I have is very, very sharp when stopped down - I would say that by f8 of f11 it's about as good as the 16MP sensor can resolve. Yes, it flares easily, and isn't super sharp wide open...but if I don't use it that way, it's no problem.

    The other thing is, most of my old lenses are much faster than my M4/3 ones, so I can afford to stop them down a tiny bit to help them out.
  13. edmsnap

    edmsnap Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 20, 2011
    Edmonton, Alberta
    How amazing then that those old lenses created most every great photograph ever taken.

    It's such a shame that every picture ever taken prior to 2009 was dull, colourless, blurry, and without contrast. No wonder Adams and Bresson quit taking photos as they got older; they were probably disgusted by the crap that they were producing.
  14. ManofKent

    ManofKent Hopefully still learning

    Dec 26, 2014
    Faversham, Kent, UK
    There's some truth in older lens not always being precisely machined and aligned - sample variation in old Soviet era lens can be a big issue, two copies of the same lens can vary in performance quite a lot. Lens alignment isn't a big issue with lenses from the big brands - old metal bodied Nikkors were generally designed for the professional photographers of the day and made with extreme care - yes you'll get the odd one that's not perfectly aligned, but you get that with native m43 glass. It's not a real issue with what were expensive lenses in their day.

    Coatings have improved, but coatings were pretty good by the late 70's, and older lenses tend to be more flare prone rather than anything else - hoods solve most of the problem, and of course micro-contrast can easily be boosted post-shot with modern technology. Colour transmission is a broader issue - all lenses transmit colour differently - some old lenses give a warmer rendition than others but modern panasonic's tend to give a warmer rendition than modern olympus offerings. Again a hood resolves coating issues on most older lenses.

    Yes older zooms are frequently dissappointing, computer aided design has seen a real boost in their performance, but primes are a lot simpler. A lot of old designs will resolve as much detail as our sensors can record.

    Whilst it's rare to find a modern lens that isn't incredibly sharp, many older lenses are sharp enough, and how many modern lenses have 15-20 blades to give near perfect circular bokeh when stopped down a couple of stops?

    Yes most older lenses will need stopping down a little to give maximum resolution - that modern lenses can be so sharp wide open is amazing, but you don't always need to use lenses wide open, and maximum sharpness isn't always what you want. I'd never suggest someone should avoid using modern glass, but the joy of having other tools in our boxes is something I appreciate.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. Declan97

    Declan97 Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 3, 2012
    Padang, Indonesia
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