Choosing a vintage lens – more specialized focal lengths

While the standard focal lengths (28-150mm) are of most interest to the amateur vintage lens user, there are also more specialized options. These are for the photographer who wants to broaden the type of lens they use. Ironically the super-wide-angle and standard telephotos are at opposite ends of the spectrum, both from the perspective of focal-length, AOV, and cost. The shorter the focal length, the more expensive the lens, whereas the longer focal lengths are quite plentiful, and cheap.

Note that I have not included sub-15mm lenses because they nearly all verge on the specialized fisheye realm, and I’ll be covering that in another series of posts. Over 300mm, lenses tend to become very specialized, and not much use unless you are doing surveillance, or wildlife photography.

Super wide-angle lenses (15−25mm)

These are in the special lenses category, sometimes referred to as extreme wide-angle lenses. These lenses have a horizontal AOV of between 70-100°. Their primary function is to allow the inclusion of a broad subject area from a relatively close vantage point – this includes landscape with broad vistas, city scenes, and build interiors. Lenses in this category are corrected for curvilinear distortion (i.e. they reproduce straight lines), they reproduce parallel lines in the scene with greatly enhanced angles of convergence. The lower the focal length, generally the fewer the options available. Note that many of the lenses in this category did not appear until the mid-to-late 1960s.

24/25mm (74/72°)

Some consider 24mm to be where the “real” wide angles begin. There is a perceivable change in perspective from 28mm, although the horizontal AOV only changes from 65° to 74/72°. The biggest problem here is that there aren’t many options, in this focal length.

  • Examples Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 24mm f/3.5, Olympus Zuiko 24mm f/2.8; Isco-Gottingen Westrogon 24mm f/4;
  • Crop-sensors − 36/38mm (APS-C), 48/50mm (MFT)

20/21mm (84/81°)

These lenses obviously offer even a wider AOV than their 24/25mm counterparts. For some manufacturers this was the lower limit of the lenses they offered, partially because of the expense involved in designing them. The maximum aperture was at most f/2.8, with most of these lenses being f/4. The wider you go, the more aberrations like field curvature that exist.

  • Examples Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 20mm f/2.8 and f/2.4; Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 20mm f/4.5; Minolta MD 20mm f/2.8
  • Crop-sensors − 30/32mm (APS-C), 40/42mm (MFT)

15−18mm (100−90°)

These lenses didn’t really appear in great quantities until the 1970s. These uber-wide/(rectilinear) fisheyes performed well in the centre of the images, but the edges suffered from some field curvature and barrel distortion, but maybe that’s part of their appeal. Apertures were generally around f/3.5. Some of the lenses were fisheye’s others rectilinear wide’s. More Japanese lenses, and fewer German lenses.

  • Examples Asahi SMC Takumar 15mm f/3.5; Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Fish-Eye-Takumar 17mm f/4; Nikon Nikkor 15mm f/3.5; Asahi Fish-eye Takumar 18mm f/11.
  • Crop-sensors − 22-27mm (APS-C), 30-26mm (MFT)
Specialized focal lengths, and their associated AOV (horizontal).

Standard telephoto lenses (180−300mm)

Telephoto lenses larger then 135mm were the purvey of the SLR, with rangefinder cameras requiring the use of a boxy reflex box. Still as with many prime telephotos, they were often sidelined by zoom telephotos.

180−200mm (11−10°)

There were a number of good 200mm lenses with fast apertures in the range f/2 to f/1.8 available in the tail end of the manual focus era. The core 200mm lenses were the f/3.5 to f/4.5 models offering a good balance of size, weight, and performance.

  • Examples Meyer-Optik Orestegor 200mm f/4; Asahi Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 200mm f/4; CZJ Sonnar 200mm f/2.8;
  • Crop-sensors − 270-300mm (APS-C), 360-400mm (MFT)

250−300mm (8−7°)

Most manufacturers offered a 300mm lens or two. Early models can be bulky, and rare. Only for those who are really serious about seeing things close-up.

  • Examples Kilfitt Tele-Kilar 300mm f/5.6; Meyer-Optik Telemegor 300mm f/4.5;
  • Crop-sensors − 375-450mm (APS-C), 500-600mm (MFT)

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