Whether you’re a portrait photographer or a landscape photographer, using a vintage wide-angle lens will be useful in a handful of situations. As great as modern wide-angle lenses are, using a vintage wide-angle lens comes with many advantages. Albeit there can be many disadvantages as well. Vintage lenses come with many unique characteristics that might be attractive to photographers:
- Unique bokeh and background rendering
- More pronounced flaring from lights
- Softer images that are less digital looking
- Different color renditions due to the lens coatings
- Usually more affordable than modern lenses
If you’re looking to stand out from your peers, using vintage lenses can be a great way to do so, and it’s likely more economical too.
Typically one of the most cumbersome disadvantages to using a vintage lens vs. a modern lens is the lack of autofocus. That being said, wide-angle lenses, ultra-wide-angle lenses and fisheye lenses (all part of the wide-angle lens family classification) suffer the least from this disadvantage and is often the reason I encourage photographers to explore using vintage wide-angle lenses.
The reason why they suffer the least is that wide-angle lenses have a wider focus plane than standard and zoom lenses. This means manual focusing is more forgiving, and in many cases (especially in landscape photography) depending on the distance of your subject, you can set your focus to infinity and forget about it after.
What is considered a wide-angle lens?
Lenses with focal lengths of 35mm or less on a digital full-frame sensor, or 35mm film format are considered to be wide-angle. These lenses cover an angle of view between 64° and 84° degrees.
However, this changes for non-full frame cameras. APS-C and Micro 4/3 cameras are available from all manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and more. These sensors have a crop factor ranging from x1.5-2, which essentially multiplies the focal length of lenses by their crop sensor. To have a true wide-angle lens for a crop sensor camera, at a crop factor of x1.5 you would need a 20mm lens so that its effective full-frame equivalent focal length is 35mm.
Are fisheye lenses considered wide-angle lenses?
Fisheye lenses are also considered within the wide-angle lens category. The only difference between wide-angle and fisheye lenses lies in the barrel distortion. A fisheye is an ultra-wide-angle lens with an angle of view between 100° to 180° degrees. These lenses produce a circular rather than a rectilinear image due to the visual distortion created by the lens.
Focal lengths for full-frame cameras are typically between 8mm to 10mm.
What are wide-angle lenses good for?
When buying your next vintage lens, you might want to consider adding a wide-angle vintage lens to your personal. Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture a wider field of view of a scene without increasing the size of a sensor. Having a wider field of view is useful for many different types of photography such as landscape, cityscapes, interior architecture and more.
Images taken on wide-angle lenses have different characteristics than standard or telephoto lenses. This is due to something called “perspective distortion.” Perspective distortion comes in two forms. Extension and compression distortion. Extension distortion is the type of distortion found in wide-angle lenses that makes objects close to the lens appear larger relative to the further objects, and the background seems to be pushed far away. The opposite is true about compression distortion where objects in the background seem larger than the ones in the foreground, and the background appears much close to the foreground. This type of distortion is found in telephoto lenses.
Best Wide Angle Vintage Lenses
Below I’ve included what I think to be 6 of the best wide-angle and ultra-wide angle vintage lenses you can try on your DSLR or Mirrorless camera. All of these lenses can be adapted to most full-frame, APS-C and Micro 4/3rds cameras.
1. Olympus OM 18mm F/3.5 Zuiko Wide Angle Lens
With the exception of the fisheye lens type, the Olympus OM 18mm f/3.5 Zuiko lens has the widest picture angle of 100° degrees among all manual focus Zuiko wide-angle vintage lenses.
This exaggerated perspective is great in creating dramatic effects both in portrait and landscape photography. Considering its spectacular angle of view and overall performance, this compact Zuiko lens is a perfect entry lens for ultra-wide-angle photography.
2. Pentax SMC Takumar 20mm F/4.5 Wide Angle Lens
This M42 mount lens is the widest in the Takumar family of lenses. With a 94.5° degree diagonal angle of view, it gives the images captured by this lens a superb perspective effect. With a minimum focus distance of 0.2m, it enables this lens to be used for some very unique photos. It is worth noting that there are two versions of this lens. The older Super-Takumar 20mm F4.5 and Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 20mm F4.5. The older version of the lens goes for around $450 CAD on eBay, while the newer is around $250.
3. Canon FD 24mm F/2.8 S.S.C. Wide Angle Lens
Often considered as the cheaper younger brother to the Canon New FD NFD 24mm f/1.4 L wide-angle lens, the Canon FD 24mm F2.8 S.S.C. is a great vintage Canon lens. While the faster f/1.4 variant might cost you north of $5,000 for a good copy, the Canon FD 24mm f2.8 S.S.C. is one of the cheapest entries on this list of the best wide-angle vintage lenses ranging from around $100-200 Canadian. So whether you’re shooting a Canon vintage film camera or a new mirrorless camera, it’s one of the best values in wide-angle photography. It’s not a perfect lens, but this vintage glass just might provide everything we’re looking for in a wide focal length.
With an 84° degree diagonal angle of view, it is a little more narrow than some of the earlier entries on this list. The lens’s relatively fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 is respectable, and when paired with a modern mirrorless camera it can produce excellent results even at high ISOs when used in low lighting conditions.
The Canon FD 24mm f/2.8 S.S.C. is also from a line of great vintage lenses that have great characteristics for video work, making it a great option to purchase if you need vintage lenses for video as well.
4. Tokina RMC 28mm F/2.8 Wide Angle Lens
Tokina RMC 28mm F2.8 Wide Angle Lens was originally designed for the PK and PKA mounts and can be found for as little as $20 CAD on eBay, making it one of the cheapest and sharpest vintage lenses under $100 we know of. Not much can be said about this lens as the cost makes its purchase a no-brainer purchase for any photographer. This lens has an angle of view of 75.2° degrees, with a minimum focus of 0.3 m.
It is said that the colours, contrast and sharpness are right up there with the Pentax SMC 28mm which would be a slightly more expensive replacement for this 28mm focal length. It is noted that there is some minor chromatic aberration wide open like most vintage lenses, but nothing that you would notice too much.
5. Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm F/2.4 Wide Angle Lens
With a maximum aperture of f2.4, this makes the Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm the fastest vintage wide-angle lens on our list. Ranging between $250-300 CAD this lens sits in a reasonably affordable range. With a field of view of 63° degrees diagonally, this makes the Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm the narrowest lens on our list. While most traditional wide-angle and ultra-wide angle lenses are not favoured for modern or vintage portrait photography, the 35mm focal length is very popular amongst many photographers. Its short focusing distance of 0.2m makes it a pleasing lens to use for tight closeups.
6. Canon FD 7.5mm F/ 5.6 Fisheye Lens
While the Canon FD 7.5mm Fisheye is no competition to the Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 vintage fisheye lens which sold for $160,000, it is no slouch either. The only fisheye lens on our list of best vintage wide-angle lenses will run you between $700-1,000 on eBay, depending on the seller and its condition. One of the really unique features of this lens you do not see in many other lenses is its built-in filters. It comes with six different filters which you can select from:
- Sky: A basic clear filter
- Y3: A yellow filter
- O: An orange filter
- R: A red filter
- CCA 4: Color correction filter
- CCB 4: Color correction filter
Using these filters with color photos will give you some really strong and unpleasant results, but when shooting in monochrome or black and white, you will be able to see the value of having these filters, as they can be essential in achieving the look you are going for straight in-camera.
Now that we’ve covered six very exciting wide-angle vintage lenses are varying focal lengths, which ones are your favourite that you’ve used?