Photographers. We always like new stuff, right? The newest, the fastest, the sharpest! You know the drill. I’m right there with the madding horde as well. We walk around the photo shows, hoping to resist, trying to be Odysseus tied to the mast, and thus prevented from making the mad, desperate leap to the rocky, deadly expensive shores known as “new gear.” But, sometimes, we just can’t, or don’t, resist. My garage is filled with things I had to have, things that would make my life easier, things that were just bound to work so much better and on such a scale that well, expectations were high, to say the least. I’ve done it so many times, that my sense of disappointment as I trundle yet another piece of savior technology out to the trash bin of my feverish hopes is actually somewhat dulled.
Sometimes, of course, the new stuff works. Hot off the presses gear, especially now, with the pace of innovation in these digital times, can be a blessing. And, it is advisable to keep up, at least on some hopefully measured, selective level.
But, there is reassurance in working with the old, and the used. The been-there-done-that gear that you keep hanging around the shop, waiting for an excuse to trot it out for the rare excursion. For me, being a lifetime Nikon shooter, there is huge reassurance in the resonant click of a lens with an F mount bayoneting onto the camera. Been hearing the same definitive click since 1973. Hearing the same click, ’cause it’s the same mount. All my old glass works, even my 500mm f8 mirror lens, a catadioptric beast I’ve always referred to as fat boy. It’s a chunky piece of glass.
It’s also sharp as a tack, though historically a bitch to follow focus with. Real narrow DOF, but the resplendent thing about the lens is what happens when the field of view falls out of DOF. The background goes into these wonderfully repetitive little donuts. Especially fun to play with city lights with this lens, say of the type you find in Vegas.
Here’s the cool thing. You put this ancient piece of revered glass onto a D810, and the aperture priority works. You are fixed at f8, and the shutter speed slides around accordingly. The focus confirm works, as well, which is wonderful news for my eyes, straining through this baby at night, no less. And TTL works like a charm. Which is something I get a kick out of, as the lens is easily 25 years old and the camera less than a year. These were shot with an SB910 fitted with an Ezybox Hotshoe soft box as the up front light, and a hand held second Speedlight, red gelled for background. You can tell it’s gelled red as it’s the light flaring my lens:-))) The soft box is perched atop a paint pole fitted with a Kacey Pole Adapter.
Moved fast and had fun out there. Our wonderfully feathered subject, dancer Charlotte O’Dowd, was a trouper, out there in the Vegas night in January. Shot a few with updated glass as well. The below I knocked out with a 200-400mm f4, which is my go to long glass. Sharp, hand holdable on most occasions, except here, at night, I went with the tripod. Also caught some flare on this, from a headlight this time (I swear!) and it turned out to be a favorite of the night.
So, old school— 500mm f8 (fixed) Nikkor Catadioptric telephoto. (Go see Efraim at Adorama. [email protected]) He sold me mine, used of course, for something like $300-400 bucks.
New school— Nikon D810, 200-400mm f4, SB910, Ezybox HotShoe Soft Box.
Nothing like the click of an F mount.
Wonderful images! I just started playing around with my Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 on my Canon 5D MkII with a Fotodiox adapter. I love the feel of the old lenses!
Wayne Smith says
Very inspiring! Just getting back into photography, I am loving the “Old meets New”. Just bought the D810 with the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 and Nikkor 16-35mm f/4. Big step from the D90 and kit lens. But I also have an old 50mm AI f/1.8 and a 105mm AI f/2.5. The old lenses work very well on the D810.
You certainly do inspire creativity in your work and videos. As a “freshman” I drool over the gear as my wife cringes but I love to show off the performance of the older lenses.
Thanks again for your inspiring insight.
Andy MacDougall says
Nice work as ever Joe ! I don’t own the reflex but I know a few people who do on the Manual Focus Nikon Lenses on Nikon bodies on Fred Miranda.com
Stop by, it’s a lot of fun and information and some great pics taken with these great old lenses.
Brian Wilson says
Alan MacRae says
Great article, Joe. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Headed to the city next week and the 500mm will be in my kit to play with while I’m there.
Love your work, Joe. And your blogs!
Peter Tsai says
Nice way of embracing the donut bokeh Joe! Just a couple of months ago I shot a 500mm f8 that a friend said I could use while at Kennedy for a delta-4 heavy launch. I had it on at dawn and I thought it was just the worst thing in the world, I was getting 1/30th second exposures at iso1600 with it, came to find out after they scrubbed the launch for that day, that the lens had an ND8 loaded inside and not the clear uv filter! I mentioned it to my friend, he never used it so he didn’t know, although i still joke with him that I think he was sabotaging me! 😛
kelly borgman says
Absolute beauty as always Joe. Love your work and your style.
Tim Calabro says
Great point, Joe. I work at a (very) small newspaper in rural Vermont and as I cruise around looking for features, I keep my 500mm f8 in the trunk, ready to spring into service whenever I see something that needs a long reach. I’ve even been known to shoot outdoor sports with it. It’s a beast, but it’s great to have around for baseball or soccer games, where you can’t get close enough.
You think your f8 500 is fat, you ought to try the earlier f5 500, and yes I still use it on my DSLR Nikon’s!
John Leonardelli says
Yes the joy of the F mount. Old with new creates new moments of memories. The donut lens still rocks
Joe S says
How appropriate for me!! I just purchased a vintage Nikkor 600mm AIS lens. I tested it out in the house with my Df and today I am headed to the Venice Rookery for the first real test!
Leslie Wong says
Pics look great and as always well executed but….by reading many users, pros and amateurs, it looks like even the D series not just the older AI lenses are not that sharp as they were on the 12M cameras on the voracious 36M D8XX especially on print. This is something that prevents me to upgrade . I know I should rent and try and I ll do it somedwy, but I d like to havr a possibly unbiased opinion on that matter. Thanx.
Peter Nord says
I keep mine on a bookcase in the living room. I live on a lake. If something interesting should land, I can just pick it up and pop it on the 810 – the focusing assist makes it easier to focus than on the ground glass. Still is nice to have after all these years.
I’ve bolted my Dad’s old manual zoom on the front of my e-P3 Pen with an adapter. It narrows the FOV, but soft colours are just beautiful.
Almost worth the extra kilo around my neck …
Joe McNally says
Thanks man…photography by a bootiful thing…:-)))
Great article and great images. wosh I still had that beauty.
Another great read Joe, Loving your blog.
Greg Keith Porter says
Joe, your command and creative prowess with lighting is what attracted me to admire and respect your work. Since switching over to Sony mirrorless (after 17 + years a Nikonian) I couldn’t be happier. Yet, you always manage to take Nikon tools to a higher level of utilization that only a true craftsman could do! Thank you for continuing to inspire!
Greg K. P.
Steven Paul says
Thanks Joe you are very inspirational…