Updated: Jan 5, 2020
I don’t want to bury the lede on this one (scroll the bottom for the short answer) but for the sake of creating an informative narrative I’ve got to begin by telling you where I began this journey. Here’s a little nugget to keep you reading: the lens in question only cost me $65.
Four years ago I bought my first Sony #Mirrorless Camera. The only thing that prevented me for shooting immediately was that I didn’t have enough money to buy a lens yet. I scoured craigslist, eBay and Amazon for deals but couldn’t come up with the money for lenses (costing upward of $1000). Not to mention, I didn’t really know anything about buying a lens. I was still shaky on what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO meant, and forget about understanding full-frame vs APS-C. I had no idea what I was doing. Then I came across a listing for a vintage lens that would work with my camera as long as I had E Mount adapter.
“Did such a thing exist?”
Well, yes, actually, and it was really inexpensive. It was like $30! I felt like I had discovered a secret that few people knew about. I was getting inexpensive lenses for a high-end camera. I thought "There's no way. I must be doing something wrong."
Nope. It worked exactly as described. I was up and shooting. As I trained myself I was developing something else that started to become really important to me: a style. As a beginning photographer who wanted to stand out I became obsessed with making my images unique. The idea of using old glass really inspired me to explore a different aesthetic. But it really wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
First I bought a Minolta MD 50mm f/1.4. It was gorgeous. It still is. Rich color without being too contrasty and dark blacks gave my photos a look that was instantly Instagram-able. Plus, the Minolta MD 50mm had such a smooth gliding focus ring that it was a dream to use. I felt like a real photographer.
Then came the understanding that constantly manually focusing was really a drag. Especially if you’re inviting people over to shoot. Also, the 50mm focal length wasn’t ideal for the up-close portraiture that I was practicing. So it was time to try something else.
With still no money to buy a #Sony native lens where I could use autofocus I decided to up my lens game to a more traditional portrait length. I found a vintage Soviet Jupiter 90mm f2.0. I won it on auction on eBay. Looking at the examples the seller had posted I thought that this was going to be IT. Crazy bokeh, sharp as a tack wide-open, and again that vintage charm of imperfect old glass! It needed a M screw mount, and again I found one that was very inexpensive.
But, of course, everything being new to me as a photographer, I didn’t realize how some vintage lens and mount combinations don’t work quite so well. The lens itself was fine. Clean, no haze or fungus. But the mount leaked light. My shadow quality was off. My images weren’t as crisp as my Minolta 50mm.
A year and a half later I buy a Zeiss Batis 85mm lens and my life changes. It is a stunning portrait lens that is just as stunning when shooting video. It has been my go to for headshots and portraits for over 2 years now. That is until I decided to give another vintage lens a shot.
At some point while I was happy shooting with the Batis 85mm I got curious about the Batis 135mm. But I wasn’t sure what 135mm looked like. Was there an inexpensive way to find out? I decided to search eBay again for a vintage 135mm focal length. I knew that if there was a Minolta out there that that was gonna be my jam.
After a few weeks of searching I found one. It turns out some guy in Wisconsin was cleaning out his father’s closet and was selling everything in it. He had it listed for $85 so I made him an offer, told him I’d buy it today if he’d take $65. He confessed he didn’t know anything about the lens and didn’t really care about it, was just trying to make a little money off of these things he found.
Boom! A week later and I’ve got a sweet Minolta MD 135mm 2.8. I hook up the adapter and start shooting and
It was okay.
I took it to the studio a couple of times, I wasn’t thrilled. The quality felt too low in sharpness and contrast. By now I had been pampered with autofocus and lens stabilization of the Zeiss Batis lens. I felt like I didn’t want to make the time it would take to get used to it. Besides, the Batis 85 was killing it!
But I kept that 135mm around thinking
“One day…one day this lens may come in handy.”
And that day came pretty recently. YES this is the lens I’m talking about. YES I totally buried the lede which I stated in the beginning i didn’t want to do. YES this lens only cost $65 and it’s providing me with a style that is totally unique.
I have to also credit my lighting system. I’m currently experimenting with just a 2 light setup. My key light is an Interfit s1 with a large Photek Softlighter. Honestly, I think the Softlighter is owed just as much credit for this look. It’s the pairing of super soft light and the lens lack of razor sharpness that gives my portraits a dreamy iconic look.
Check out the images below. Edited of course but I’m mostly just lightening the shadows and retouching skin in most of these. Good luck finding a vintage lens for your Sony camera! Once you find one continue
exploring all the possibilities. Also here’s a tip for using #vintage lenses especially if you are a Sony user: adjust your Creative Profile. In that setting you can raise and lower your contrast, saturation and sharpness IF NEEDED.