New or Old Lenses Better?

Discussion in 'Adapted Lenses' started by oldracer, Aug 9, 2015.

  1. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    I haven't done anything with adapted lenses, mostly because I don't want to screw around with non-automatic diaphragms. But I have a curiosity question for those of you who use both old and new lenses: In general, are the old high quality lenses (Zeiss Sonnar & Planar, Older film Nikon, Leitz, and Canon lenses, etc.) generally better or worse than the new lenses? I can think of some differences that might apply here:

    • - Old craftsmanship vs. modern manufacturing that reportedly produces quality variations from lens to lens.

    • - Old coating technology vs. better, newer AR coatings.

    • - Old light absorbing internal black finishes vs. newer, more absorbent finishes

    • - Rigid and precision all-metal construction vs. plastic.

    • - Old slide-rule & ray-tracing optics design vs new computer software design tools.

    • - availability of aspheric lens elements and low-dispersion glass to modern designers.
    I am sure there are others but I'm sure that you get the idea. On balance it feels to me like the newer lenses should have an advantage.

    What say you?
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  2. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Typically, modern optics are always better, because of tighter tolerances in machining and better coatings. The mass-production assembly methods are the only reasons that there is variation in finished quality in modern lenses.

    Older optics are better built, but the all-important glass is not the same, and then there are still the tradeoffs of the adapting process, which typically vastly lessen the image quality from what those lenses might originally have produced.
  3. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    Really? I would have thought the opposite: Adding a spacer tube has no optical effect, but typically the old lenses are designed to cover a full frame so the M43 sensor basically just gets the center sweet spot and it never sees the poorer edge-of-field performance with lower resolution, CA, distortion, etc. No?
  4. HarryS

    HarryS Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 23, 2012
    Midwest, USA
    One trade off of the adapter process is mainly when the front/back mounts aren't parallel. Lens testers say they can see .1mm making a dfference.

    Another effect is that M43 sensors use thicker layers of filter glass over the sensor than APS-C and FF. This affects the resolution of some lenses.

    See the Blogs for their comments on both of the above.
  5. joma416

    joma416 Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 31, 2014
    Toronto, ON Canada
    I have a few old lenses. I mainly started buying them due to affordability as I could not afford some of the native lenses I wanted. I have since been able to buy the native lenses so I don't use the legacy glass as often.

    The legacy glass I own tend to be metal and glass construction which give the feel of quality vs. the modern lenses which use a lot of plastic. But when the legacy lens is mounted on the body this tends to make the camera feel really unbalanced and difficult to handle. This is obviously more pronounced in the telephoto lenses. I have a few 135mm legacy lenses and I find them quite uncomfortable to use. I always feel like I am about to drop the camera. The normal or 50mm legacy lenses I have don't suffer this feeling and they are much more balanced mounted on the body.

    I also tend to shoot in aperture priority, so I actually enjoy having the aperture control on the lens instead of using the in camera controls. I am thinking about the PL15 because of this. I have a GX1 which doesn't have focus peaking, but does have magnification or zooming to assist in getting the focus right. It works pretty well, but I wouldn't take the legacy glass out when I want guaranteed results.

    I find the normal lenses fun to use from time to time. In fact, I would encourage people to get a normal legacy lens just for fun. If you are in the same situation as I was when I started, it provides a cheap way to try out faster lenses such as 1.8 or 2.0 apertures.
  6. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Legend

    Not any doubt. New lenses are vastly better in all technical aspects.
    • Agree Agree x 3
  7. dwig

    dwig Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 26, 2010
    Key West FL

    Poor adapters can reduce performance for several reasons. Poor machining can lead to the flange faces not being parallel, but only rarely. More commonly, the adapters lack good anti-reflection baffling. Their smooth shiny internal surfaces can easily result in flare issues.

    All lenses that are not specifically engineered for digital are prone to suffer as a result of the thick stack of components that makes up to sensor package. The telecentric designs used on m4/3 lenses results in what most would consider "better" performance.

    Keep in mind that "better" is a personal value judgement and not something that is a universal fact. Many users like the character of various classic adapted lenses even though resolution or contrast may not be what many would consider all that good.
    • Agree Agree x 2
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  8. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 1
  9. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    Canon 50mm f1.4 at f/5.6

    Lens design hasn't changed all that much however there is far less copy variation than there once was, coatings have come a long way and not just for the glass but also things such as aperture blade anti reflection coating or internal baffles which can make for interesting results if you deliberately do stupid things.

    That said, some of the best macro lenses ever made were made a long time ago. Macro lenses have almost always been designed and manufactured to a much higher level than ordinary taking lenses.
  10. mannukiddo

    mannukiddo Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 28, 2013
    I only have experience of older Nikon AI and no AI glass. Most modern equivalents of these lenses are better in IQ but all that old glass has great mechanical build and will easily outlast any modern Nikkor.
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  11. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    Last time I did a group test in the back garden the winner in terms of pure centre resolution was a 45mm I literally ripped off the front of a Yashica GSX ... and I wouldn't have predicted that result!!
    But : in general my modern AF lenses beat the pants off almost all my old lenses in every way except "character".
    For this reason I'm still going to be in the market for an obsolete A7S onto which I will mount a Jupiter.
    Nuff said.
    • Like Like x 3
  12. svenkarma

    svenkarma Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 5, 2013
    mark evans
    Thanks for posting that.

    I don't claim to know a lot about theoretical optical physics, but I do wonder how much these tests show in practical terms.

    In the section 'Real-World Implications' he says: "it would seem logical that lenses designed for film cameras and cameras with very thin sensor stacks won't do well on cameras with thick sensor stacks." But if this really were the case then shouldn't the difference be readily apparent in a blind testing of images between similar native and adapted lenses? Which I don't think it would actually be. Sure, that's an entirely subjective series of judgements, but then the Imatests he refers to at the start of the article actually use subjective judgement as one of their test bases.

    Imatest software author: “Imatest measures system sharpness as Spatial Frequency Response (SFR), which is pretty much the same thing as Modulation Transfer Function (MTF). These geeky technical terms have great value to engineers, but they scare off consumers, and they don’t quite answer the question, ‘How sharp does an image look?’“I recently added a measurement to Imatest that does, but it’s unfamiliar, even to most camera reviewers. It’s called SQF (Subjective Quality Factor). It includes print height, viewing distance, and the contrast sensitivity of the human eye. It was used internally by Kodak and Polaroid for years, and it is the basis for Popular Photography’s lens tests—but it was tedious to measure until I added it to Imatest."

    Also, since Brian Caldwell's chart references y=10, I am not sure why the author's charts are y=20 and y=25. The result is that the differences in this chart are rather less substantial than if you ignore the information after y=10:


    Because if you look at that chart using Caldwell's y limit, then the article's comment that the m43 4mm filter result is "clearly...worse" is only true for the tangential measurements and it is actually best for the sagittal (i.e. straight) lines . In which case might one not just simply conclude that for best performance you should always use an adapted lens with a lens hood!?!

    I'm not convinced that article shows native lenses are decisively better than adapted ones. Or indeed adapted ones with a focal reducer.
  13. VooDoo64

    VooDoo64 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 17, 2010
    Zagreb - Croatia
    Davor Vojvoda
    i would say, OLD lens are vastly better in build quality, and new lenses are vastly better in all technical and iq aspects. - far better coating for better micro-contrast make lens far sharper ect.. i have tested Vivitar 90 f/2.8 Macro, Tair 135 2.8, even Olympus 50-200 vs new 40-150 PRO and 40-150 PRO is at least 20% or more sharper than any of this lens and all of this lens have excellent iq - ofc only Tair have far better bokeh because od 20 blades
  14. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Old lenses aren't necessarily better in terms of build quality. Just because they were heavier and had more metal doesn't mean that's all that's necessary for build quality to be good. I've used some legacy lenses that had fairly big gaps that allowed dust inside, or just generally felt "unfinished." Being able to drop it on a hard floor and walk away without damage isn't the only measure of build quality.
  15. RichardB

    RichardB Snapshooter Subscribing Member

    Nov 19, 2012
    Maryland, US
    I'm not sure what you mean by non-automatic diaphragm, but neither meaning that I understand is a reason to avoid adapted lenses.

    If you mean that Micro Four Thirds cameras do not set the aperture on legacy lenses, you're right, but you can still get auto-exposure by using the camera's A (aperture-priority) mode. You set the lens's aperture and the camera sets its own shutter speed (and possibly ISO). Don't like the shutter speed? Adjust the lens aperture until you're happy.

    Many SLRs had another meaning for automatic diaphragm. The SLR would hold the lens open at full aperture, no matter what aperture you set on the lens, to keep the viewfinder bright. (A depth-of-field preview button would temporarily close the diaphragm down to the set aperture.) When you released the shutter, the SLR would automatically close the diaphragm to the selected aperture, expose the film, then reopen the diaphragm. That kind of automatic diaphragm is not used by MFT cameras with adapted lenses, but it isn't necessary. The MFT camera keeps the LCD or EVF bright no matter how small the aperture, to simulate the exposure it will make, giving you both a bright finder and exact depth-of-field preview.

    Legacy lenses are fun and relatively cheap. New lenses are technically better, but the difference isn't always perceptible, and lots of great photographs were taken with manual SLR lenses in the 1960s and 70s. Look in the sample images forum at some of the great photos being made with adapted lenses. You may enjoy the lenses so much that you'll want to see how they render images to their original medium.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  16. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    Old craftsmanship had plenty of quality variation from lens to lens. Plenty of Leica users talk about finding a "good" copy of a vintage lens.
  17. TNcasual

    TNcasual Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Dec 2, 2014
    Knoxville, TN
    New lenses are great.

    That being said, I have spent less than $250 on lenses and adapters, coupled with lenses from family. With that money I have three 50mm lenses each with their own character, an 19mm, an 35mm, an 85mm, an 130mm plus a weird 8mm movie camera lens that takes sharp macro images. It would be impossible to find all of these lengths and the qualities that these lenses give with native m43 lenses.

    There are just different ways of thinking something is better.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  18. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    New lenses are optically better, usually, but old lenses are fun and have character. I like both but usually just use the AF stuff.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  19. dwig

    dwig Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 26, 2010
    Key West FL
    The is the proper definitioin of "automatic diaphragm". There were also "semi-auto diaphragm" systems where the iris didn't open automatically but was either opened manually with some lever on the lens (e.g. early "Auto-Takumar" lenses) or opened when the camera was wound (e.g. Canon R series).

    Actually, the default operation for m4/3 cameras, in most cases, it to use an auto-diaphragm arrangement. While it is true that the EVFs can amplify the signal and thus make auto-diaphragm unnecessary, there are still advantages to using it. Auto-diaphragm reduces the EVF amplification yielding faster response to change (read: higher frame rate) and lens noise. It also allows better manual focus due to the shallower DOF when viewing.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  20. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    Wow. 19 replies. Thanks guys. Very informative. The info on sensor glass and thickness is something I never would have thought of. Thanks especially to agentlossing for that.

    Re automatic diaphragms I guess I was assuming that one would focus a legacy/adapted lens at full aperture, then stop it down to shoot just as people used to have to do with the inexpensive "aperture preset" lenses from Spiratone et al. (I never owned one.) With that approach, DOF can bail you out on small focus errors. I guess I'll have to think about it some more.

    Yes, I do get that some older lenses produce images that are maybe technically defective but nevertheless attractive to some. That wasn't what I was getting at with the question. I was really wondering about technical excellence and I think I have my answer on that.
    • Like Like x 1
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