The Top 5 Biggest Bang For Your Buck Vintage Lenses - Luminary Visuals
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The Top 5 Biggest Bang For Your Buck Vintage Lenses

The Top 5 Biggest Bang For Your Buck Vintage Lenses

Miami video production peeps, cinematography freaks and motion picture aficionados! It’s that time again for the Luminary Top 5, your favorite installment of miami video production and cinematography related topics, assorted by your favorite miami video production experts. In this edition, we’ll be nerding out hardcore to one of the fastest growing realms of modern video production and motion picture cinematography: vintage lenses/optics. 

Since the beginning of the current decade, vintage lenses have seen quite the resurgence in popularity, and simple supply and demand has thus ensured their subsequent increase in pricing, as their availability becomes increasingly scarce. 

Unlike other sectors of the video production and motion picture gear market, the market for vintage lenses offers an extensive amount of options that offer a solid ratio between fine, optical quality/character and affordable pricing, making it an attractive source of production gear for virtually any video production company, videographer or filmmaker out there.

This ratio, as the title of this article alludes to, was our main metric when assembling the list below, as we feel that it reflects the mindset of the majority of vintage lens buyers out there. A mindset that seeks to offset the already high cost of modern production gear with vintage options that produce radiant imagery rich in character and quality, for a much more affordable price. 

So, without much ado, here are the top 5 biggest bang for your buck vintage lenses, curated by your favorite purveyors of miami video production:

#5: Jupiter 12 35mm f2.8

The Jupiter-12 is essentially a copy of the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Biogon, made in the 1930’s and produced for the Zeiss Contax rangefinder line of cameras at Zeiss’s factory in Jena, Germany. Following Germany’s defeat in WWII and Jena’s incorporation into communist East Germany and the Soviet sphere of influence, the Soviet government received access to Zeiss blueprints and lens design, which led to the creation of this lens, as well as other Zeiss based designs and copies that came from that part of the world for much of the Cold War.

Optically speaking, this lens performs very well for its price. Center performance is top notch, but, as is typical with other vintage lenses, the lens is a little less sharp at the edges than the modern lens standards that we’re used to, and below a few vintage lenses as well.

Colors are rich and vibrant, and this characteristic, added to the lens’s slightly swirly bokeh, gives images a nostalgic charm. Contrast, like in other vintage lenses, is slightly lower than what you see in modern lenses, but that trait, like its rich colors and swirly bokeh, further enhance the nostalgic feeling of the imagery, as the reduced contrast gives off a “creamier,” softer look, and helps the lens flare more than normal.

Mount: M39 (LTM, Leica Thread Mount)

Filter Diameter: 40.5mm

Elements/Groups: 6/4

Good for: generating something close to a vintage “film” look, such as that of 16mm motion picture film stock.

Price Range on eBay: $100 – $200

#4: Helios 40-2 85mm f1.5

The 40-2 85mm f1.5 is manufactured by Helios, a Russian brand that first came into existence in the former Soviet Union, after WWII. Many early Helios photographic lenses acted as a sort of cheap, but colorful, Soviet knockoff to the Zeiss Biotar lens line, and the 85mm is no different. After being manufactured from the 1950’s to mid 1990’s to fit the m42 mount popular in the Soviet Union, this lens ceased to be made until Helios reintroduced it in 2015, with several lens mount options, but optically, exactly the same. Within the Helios line, this lens and its more affordable 58mm, f2.0 counterpart have gained a sort of cult following for their extremely characterful, intensely “swirly” rendering of bokeh, which gives these lenses a sort of extra hypnotic quality, reminiscent of the kind you find with the vintage Petzval line of lenses, which have a cult following of their own.

Image-wise, the lens renders less saturated colors than most modern lenses do. This, as mentioned earlier, is a characteristic of most vintage lenses, and is part of what makes them unique and popular in the first place. Sharpness, though, is a different matter concerning the 85mm f1.5. Although vintage lenses in general tend to be softer than modern glass overall – and this applies anywhere from the center to the edges of the frame – the 85mm f1.5 is subpar around the edges, even for vintage standards, although it maintains a respectable level of sharpness towards the center of the frame. The best balance of bokeh and sharpness can be found between f2.0 and f2.8, at which point the lens achieves a dreamy, painting-like look unlike anything seen in its price range.

Mount: M42

Filter Diameter: 49mm

Elements/Groups: 6/4

Good for: generating a soft, intensely dreamy look with slight cinematic properties.

Price Range on eBay: $300 – $500

#3: Minolta MC Rokkor PG 58mm f1.2

The MC Rokkor-PG 58 mm f/1.2 was Minolta’s flagship normal lens from the late 1960’s until the introduction of the MD 50 mm f/1.2 in 1978. The 58 mm f/1.2 is probably the most highly regarded Minolta lens ever built, particularly for its fantastic bokeh and outstanding sharpness. Distortion and chromatic aberration is minimal, and it manages to stay sharper than most normal lenses at apertures below f4.0, with premium sharpness found at around f2.0. Overall, the lens has less of a “vintage” look than other lenses in that category, which gives it the flexibility of being able to be paired with a modern set of glass.

Although the $200 to $500 price range for vintage lenses is littered with great options, this lens is a great place to start.

Mount: Minolta MC

Filter Diameter: 55mm

Elements/Groups: 7/5

Good for: achieving a middle point between a vintage and modern aesthetic.

Price Range on eBay: $200 – $500

#2: Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4

The Takumar 50mm F1.4 is a faster than usual normal lens produced in two “Super” versions, as well as two versions with Super-Multi-Coating.

The first “Super” version was introduced in the mid 1960’s and has an impressive 8 lens elements. All subsequent versions – across all mounts – have 7 elements. Naturally, the 8 element version is generally considered slightly superior to the 7 element version, and is highly sought after, having achieved a cult like status among vintage lens aficionados, but surprisingly, has seen little increase in price in recent years, for a lens of such popularity and stature.

Much of this popularity and stature is due to the lens having optical qualities that are more classically cinematic than those found on other vintage lenses (rich color depth, slightly soft, high flare, spectacular highlight rolloff), which makes it more popular with cinematographers and videographers than other vintage lenses.

A definite must have for any video production company, videographer or filmmaker looking for an affordable, but highly valuable tool in the creation of a “film look” for their project.

Mount: M42

Filter Diameter: 49mm

Elements/Groups:  8/6

Good for: achieving a very cinematic look dominated by soft textures, medium contrast and a smooth, “creamy” highlight rolloff.

Price Range on eBay: $150 – $250

#1: Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm f1.8

At #1 on our list we have a lens so amazingly underpriced, that its affordability may at first inspire doubt in the widespread claims of its optical superiority. The Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm 1.8 lens, simply put, is a monster of sharpness and bokeh, delivering an image that holds up against the vast majority of comparable, modern photographic lenses, and one that rises above virtually anything within the vintage lens world, and surely anything, period, within this price range.

Even at apertures below f4.0, the center of the image manages to stay very sharp, with an elegant, somewhat swirly bokeh enveloping the rest of the frame. Color rendition is also superb, while contrast is rich, and higher than what is found in most other vintage lenses, as one would come to expect from a Zeiss product.

Although some would argue that its near perfection in almost every relevant lens comparison category robs it of its “vintage” properties, and of a certain chunk of potential “character” (a criticism that is sometimes leveled at Zeiss lenses in general, regardless of use), such a criticism can be offset by the aforementioned, elegant aesthetic produced by its moderate level of swirly bokeh, and furthermore, its achievements in precisely every category of lens comparison, when matched to its price, make it the ultimate bang for your buck, and as a result, a guaranteed #1 on our list.

Mount: M42

Filter Diameter: 49mm

Elements/Groups: 6/4

Good for: generating imagery rich in colors, high in contrast, and sharp all around, but with an elegant touch that evokes a romantic nature.

Price Range on eBay: $50 – $200

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