The Retro Way: My Other Photography

A 1933 Zeiss Ikon Ikonta A (58mm x 42mm) and a 1952 Berning ROBOT STAR (24mm x 24mm)
The Cameras That Just Work

Veijo Vilva

I started this page as an adjunct to my pinhole photography page, as a page for old lensed cameras, an alternative to the trendy and blind chase after the latest and most automatic photographic systems and the dismissal of everything old as unusable for serious photography. One day it occurred to me to mount a very old and quite bad medium format lens on my old Praktica LLC, and everything changed with the first photos, very impressionistic photos, which were photographically quite appealing despite their abominable image quality. After some more photos I began to ponder the possibilities offered by an unholy marriage between old lenses and digital SLRs, heretically dismissing the prevailing AF lenses. The idea kept nagging, and I acquired an EOS 350D -- for my ninety years old Meniscus.

The Old Camera Page transformed into a page also presenting alternative lenses for digital photography, lenses not designed to be used on AF SLRs or even SLRs at all. I started with the 1915 Meniscus Achromat and a CZJ 3.5/135 Sonnar, then gradually added lenses, both manual focus SLR lenses of various makes and much older lenses from pre-WW2 medium format folder cameras and even older large format cameras. The dream of finding some real gem among old SLR lenses can become an obsession comparable to the utter silliness many people display in respect of new AF lenses, and for a while also I was obsessed. However, I have lately lost most of my interest in SLR lenses and started to mainly use the older lenses, which to me are more interesting and rewarding as photographer's tools than the latest and greatest AF lenses desired by so many in the vain hope of being immediately able to take great photos. In many minds and on many forums the emphasis is on exaggerated expextations in regard to purely opto-technical IQ factors which only seldom really are the most relevant ones photographically.
After a year with the 350D, I finally acquired
an EOS 5D for a 2 Euro, 70 years old, front cell focusing triplet lens,
and now I use the 5D with even older lenses.
My first Cooke triplet was expensive, 21 Euros.

NB. I also shoot with Leitz and Zeiss lenses - when I feel like it.
However, my favourite cameras are the 1933 Ikonta A and the 1952 Robot Star,
which are more than good enough for real photograhy -- and just work.


No 2 Folding Pocket Brownie, Model B, 1912

Using Lenses & Film - With Style

My Finest Camera

My Favourite Cameras

Welta Weltini II
(Photo taken with an uncoated S-K Radionar 4.5/105 from 1938, 5D, ISO800, f/11, cropped, scaled)


Balda Jubilette 35mm folder camera from 1938, Fuji Neopan 100 Acros

Some Useful Links


Praktica LLC SLR with a 1915 VPK Meniscus Achromat Lens at ~f/6, Fuji Reala 100

Carl Zeiss Jena MC Sonnar 2.8/200mm at f/2.8

Digital Capture - Somewhat Differently

Canon EOS 350D and 5D with Various Foreign Manual Lenses

Oleviste Church, Tallinn, Estonia
Carl Zeiss Tessar T* 2.8/45mm    

First, the Lenses which Produce Just Normal,
Sharp and Oftenest Quite Boring Photos

It Takes a Really Good Photographer to Take a Really Good Photograph
with a Really Good Lens. A perfect lens doesn't make a photographer
any better than a reasonable lens would, alas.
An opto-technically perfect photo is very easily only that and nothing more,
a soulless thing, which one quickly gets tired of.

Most photos in this section make no pretense of being other than plain, rather boring test shots, taken of the same subjects over and over again. Some of them may quite accidentally be good, I mean good in a non-technical sense, not just technically passably successful. Even technically, a larger proportion of photos taken with "perfect" lenses are disappointing compared to photos with lesser lenses as the expectations are higher, often quite unrealistic, and too many things can and do go wrong. It must also be noted that these days ever smaller blemishes do seem quite devastating being viewed at absolutely sick magnifications on a computer screen.

  • Manual focusing with the 350D isn't any too easy, and a large proportion of the shots are at least slightly misfocused irrespective of the quality of the lens. Consequently, minor and even major differences between lenses can be masked or even reversed by random focusing errors in a small sample of test photos.
  • Under some circumstances, many of the best lenses do misbehave very conspicuously on digital cameras, producing blooming effects which often are relatively benign in photos taken with older, lower contrast lenses, where the lens aberrations help to lessen or mask these effects, c.f. these 1.4/50 Planar at f/2.8 vs. 2.9/50 Radionar at f/2.9 crops.
  • Many somewhat older, uncoated lenses can produce quite commendable results, compare, e.g., the statue on the roof photo  (full-size) taken with a 4.5/105 Radionar and the corresponding photo  (full-size) taken with a 3.5/135 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar. Of course, the full-size Takumar photo has a slightly better contrast when very carefully inspected, but how much does this slight difference really matter for most real life photos at print sizes of upto 20 cm x 30 cm (8" x 12")?
  • Some old, very cheap M42 lenses can be surprisingly good, certainly good enough for most purposes, even for quite discerning users, see e.g. Helios-44-2, which isn't very glamorous and doesn't have the build quality of a Zeiss or an SMC Takumar, but can be acquired for less than 10 Euros (I got one for 75 cents!) and more often than not gets the job done.
  • The build quality of the SMC and especially the Super-Multi-Coated Takumars is very good and certainly beats most modern lenses -- although it cannot match the quality of the Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon of my Berning Robot Star. The optical quality of the SMC Takumars is also more than adequate, and the prices usually vary from lowish to very low. The 2/55 costs next to nothing on eBay and is an excellent choice if a Helios seems dubious.
  • At the moment, Carl Zeiss 2.8/45 Tessars sell at a quite ridiculous price, they are more expensive than the much better 1.4/50 Planars. A good and cheap alternative "pancake" lens is the Industar-50-2 3.5/50, plain looking and perhaps not really spectacular but quite adequate for most purposes and very small, a nice street lens.

EOS 350D with Pentacon MC 1.8/50mm + Komura Telemore95 II 7KMC = 2.8/100mm at 0.33m (a 1028x768 wallpaper)

Voigtländer APO-Lanthar 4/180 on EOS 350D

Manual Focus SLR Lenses

Of all these SLR lenses, my favourite ones are the Leitz lenses, the Voigtländer APO-Lanthar and the Nikkor 2.5/105. However, even these fine lenses aren't my overall favourites, that distinction belongs to a group of much older lenses, a Vest Pocket Kodak Meniscus Achromat, a Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 4.5/105, a Voigtländer Heliar 4.5/105, a Goerz Dopp-Anastigmat III Dagor 6.8/150, an Aldis Uno Anastigmat 7.7/5" and Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Cooke lenses, which are presented further down on this page. I use those old lenses for most of my real photography, 95% or more of it.

Doing the Bokeh
Jupiter-6 2.8/180mm

A bellows mounted 4.5/5.25" TTH Cooke Aviar Series II in Compur, with a self-made lens shade

Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Cooke Lenses

Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Series II Cooke Anastigmat 5 1/2 in. at f/4.5 on EOS 350D (1917)

Taylor, Taylor & Hobson
Series II Cooke Anastigmat 5 1/2 inch f/4.5
for 4 1/4 x 3 1/4 in.
An Uncoated Large Format Lens from 1917

This is one of my best lenses despite its age and some scratches on the back element.
It is reasonably sharp and shows very little purple fringing and CA.


EOS 350D with Taylor-Hobson Cooke Aviar Anastigmat 5.25 inch Series II f/4.5 at f/8

"The Finest Anastigmat Ever Produced in Any Country":

Presently my favourite among the Cooke lenses is Taylor-Hobson Cooke Aviar Anastigmat,
which has a rather low contrast due to the 8 air-to-glass surfaces but is very sharp and has
an impeccable bokeh when stopped down to f/8.

Another Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Series II Cooke Anastigmat 5 in. at f/4.5 on EOS 5D

Wray Lustrar 4.5/6" on EOS 350D, bellows mounted

Other Old Lenses

Presently my favourite in this group of old lenses is an f/7.7 Aldis Uno Anastigmat,
which is a reasonably sharp and very simple lens with 3 elements in 2 groups. The
contrast is quite high for an uncoated lens as there are only 4 air-to-glass surfaces. The bokeh is OK, but it can be somewhat improved by adjusting the distance
between the lens groups. After the adjustment the performance is quite balanced.

EOS 350D with Aldis Uno Anastigmat 7.7/5 inch (UNO)

Front Cell Focusing

Some Uncoated Lenses Extracted from Oldish Folder Cameras

These lenses can produce quite good, very rewarding photos, with pleasant surprises and far, far fewer disappointments as the expectations aren't too high.
Anyway, quite many people seem to like the photos and even to prefer them to technically more perfect ones.
And, surely, a lens like this is a conversation piece!


A 1938 Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 4.5/105mm, Remounted
-- not at all like some boring, run-of-the-mill L Series lens

Well, not much use for a better lens here, is there? (A full size copy)
Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 4.5/105mm at f/4.5 (1938)
The photos produced by these lenses are in no way technically perfect, but they have a character of their own, and they often exhibit some intangible quality missing in photos taken with better lenses.
Tweaked for Soft Focus:


Staatstheater in the background, Stuttgart, Germany, March 9, 2006
Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 4.5/105mm at f/4.5

Finally, the Lenses which Produce Just Magical Photos

My Most Wonderful, Most Pictorial Lenses

Photography instead of Lens Testing and Pixel Peeping

Staatstheater, Stuttgart, Germany, March 12, 2006
Canon EOS 350D with a VPK Meniscus Achromat (1915)

1915 Vest Pocket Kodak Meniscus Achromat Lens, Remounted

Just Forget Sharpness and Contrast,
Add Lots of Spherical Aberration,
<Click a Picture>

Canon EOS 350D with a VPK Meniscus Achromat (1915)

Rapid Rectilinear

How about this bokeh? There is no mist, just a wee bit of lens flare.
Bausch & Lomb Rapid Rectilinear at f/7.7  

1917 Vest Pocket Kodak Rapid Rectilinear Lens (Bausch & Lomb), Remounted



Digital Pinhole Photography Experiments

A pinhole photograph taken with an EOS 350D (about f/250):

Good enough for web use and perhaps for smallish or "artistic" prints.
The dust particles on the sensor become visible due to the very small aperture.
(local contrast enhanced and refocused with Gimp)
Pinhole photographs taken with an EOS 5D (f/190):

A full-frame dSLR, a pinhole body cap and some post-processing can already produce quite respectable results, good enough for serious web use. (exposure: 30s at ISO 800)


Jupiter-3 1.5/50 LTM lens at f/5.6, pressed against an M42-to-EOS adapter on EOS 350D
Only macro photography is possible due to the much shorter registration distance of LTM lenses.
Mounting an LTM lens on an EOS body with a combination of M39-to-M42 and M42-to-EOS
adapters would be like having a 17 mm extension tube on an LTM body. (a 1024x768 wallpaper)

Jupiter-3 1.5/50 at f/11, 1/50s, hand-held in an awkward position, the scene is about 65mm wide.
It's a pity this high-end LTM Soviet lens, which is based on pre-WWII Zeiss Sonnar 1.5/50, cannot
be used for general photography with an EOS 350D. Here is a copy scaled down to 1600x1063.

Photography without Lenses

Pinhole Photography

My Pinhole Pages
<Click a Picture>

... and "Photography" without even a Camera

Virtual Photographs of Virtual Worlds

First Build a World then Go Around Taking Pics
My Ray-Trace Gallery

<Click a Picture>

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The photos on this site are licensed under a
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