We’d imagine that a new lens would be better than an old lens. That’s the case with cameras, laptops, phones, and pretty much all tech out there. How about lenses, though? Are old lenses worth it? Or are they just good enough to consider as an alternative to getting a cheap modern lens when on a budget? To find out we used the Pentacon f/1.8 50mm from the ’70s and compared it to the Sony E 50mm f/1.8 on the Sony a6000.
In a way that makes sense to people. We care more about how things look in reality rather than on paper. That’s why you won’t see any weird graphs that don’t make sense to most.
How We Connected an Old Lens to a Modern Camera
Naturally, old lenses aren’t going to fit on modern cameras. Why? As lens mounts evolved to fit the changing technology over the years. Lenses and Cameras are able to communicate incredibly well with each other at this point. As a result, you need an adapter to make an old lens work with your camera.
For that, we used the M42 to E-Mount adapter from Gobe. There is a bunch of more affordable adapters on eBay, but unless you are willing to risk a lens falling on your foot due to an adapter of poor quality, we do recommend that you go for something that’s not too expensive, but that works well.
The Gobe adapter is of great quality but also had great shipping options outside of the US, while also offering a bunch of other adapters, if you do happen to rock a camera from a different company, such as Canon.
One thing to know about connecting old lenses via adapters is that they aren’t going to allow for automatic features. Of course, the Pentacon 50mm itself even though from the ’70s did have some automatic features inside of it, but the lens wouldn’t be advanced enough to be able to work well with modern cameras, nor does the adapter provide the ability for electronic communication between the both.
You connect the adapter like any other lens to your camera, meanwhile the M42 lens, you screw it in like a lightbulb.
Older Lenses Seem to Love Macro
We tried a bunch of different old lenses and all of them even though not specifically for Macro do a far better job at Macro than modern lenses. The minimum focusing distance of this Pentacon 50mm is 33 cm meanwhile on the Sony lens 39cm. It might not seem like a big difference on paper, but in reality, well, you can see for yourself.
Are Old Lenses Worth it Quality wise?
Macro wise the Pentacon 50mm is a much better option even though just at $30. It’s able to do great macro shots both as far as focus and overall picture quality, but how about more common photography though?
Both taken at f/11 – 1/125 – ISO 100 – Pentacon is the upper picture.Looking at these two pictures taken with identical settings, it’s pretty clear that the Pentacon f/1.8 50mm lacks a lot on sharpness. The image is vastly softer than when taken with the modern Sony E 50mm f/1.8
Both of these pictures were taken at f/11 at the exposure of 1/125, and naturally, the Pentacon has much more dust particles visible since it has been around much longer, and well, we just didn’t clean it.
The examples above show that even though the lens might lack on sharpness, you can take almost identical pictures in the right conditions and at the right distance. The upper picture was taken on the Pentacon meanwhile the lower on the Sony.
However, that depends on the distance. It seems like the camera is great at macro shots and great at medium range, but not as great at close range like the example below shows:
The picture on the left is taken on the Sony meanwhile the picture on the right is taken on the Pentacon, and even though both are taken on the exact same settings, you can see that there’s a vast difference in the shots, with the Sony lens being at an advantage. The Pentacon shot shows clear distortion and produces and naturally produced a stronger yellow-tint picture that’s also a lot darker even though it was taken at the same settings.
The Pentacon overall is able to shoot great pictures. Consistency is the issue, though. It can shoot pictures that look as well as on the Sony lens, but it can also shoot pictures that are extremely average depending on the exact situation and distance. And you’ll see that in the next shots.
Too Shallow Point of Focus
If you are wondering are old lenses worth it, one of the issues with this specific model is the shallow point of focus. You won’t get nearly as much in focus at the same exact settings on the Pentacon f/1.8 50mm from the ’70s as on the Sony 50mm f/1.8.
And that can be a problem.
That might not matter as much on plants, but it does matter with portraits.
Once again, the Pentacon f/1.8 50mm does have much better bokeh, but the image is far softer and lacks (shot at f/2) a lot of focus which you can see a lot of on the left side of our model’s chin. The Sony is much crispier, especially on the eyes and edges of the face, while also being much lighter even though at the same settings.
Of course, you can always go to F/5.6, and that will make everything far crisper, but that will kill the cinematic vibe a lot.
With that said, Pentacon’s extensive focus wheel allows getting very precise shots of objects which isn’t as easy on the Sony lens. And perhaps that’s the key strength and weakness of the Pentacon. It’s a great lens for taking pictures of very specific objects, but not necessarily of a lot in one picture.
The Pentacon Has Incredible Bokeh
Seen that bokeh in the previous picture? Incredible, right?
The Bokeh on this Pentacon lens is absolutely incredible. The Sony lens isn’t able to compete with it at all. If you love bokeh and want to get pictures with as much of it as possible, this lens is able to create it out of pretty much anything.
Not Worth It for Videos
It’s not that that the Pentacon doesn’t shoot great quality videos as the video itself is of high enough quality to shoot YouTube content with, but if you are wondering are old lenses worth it as far as video, only if they have in-body stabilization like the Sony a6500. No stabilization on the lens and camera is going to result in shakiness that will make your videos unusable.
As you can see, the footage is incredibly shakey, and I was pretty much still sitting down.
In contrast, the Sony lens with Optical SteadyShot does a much better job.
Older Lenses Have Nicer Aperture/Focusing Settings
Manual aperture rings isn’t something you see with just about all modern lenses. I wish you could.
They are far more convenient to use than settings on a camera.
Oh, and we do also prefer the focus wheel on the Pentacon over the Sony.
Did we mention how great the quality of the lens is?
Are Old Lenses Worth It? Pentacon F1.8 50mm From the ’70s VS Sony E 50mm F1.8
We didn’t get into graphs and little details that most people don’t care about. We wanted to show how this $30 Pentacon f/1.8 50mm lens from the ’70s would perform compared to a $300 lens, with the things that matter the most, pictures.
Are old lenses worth it? Absolutely. The Pentacon 50mm is only around $30 and while it lacks in a lot of aspects, unlike with cameras, laptops, and phones, a good lens is a good lens, even 40 years later. This lens? It lacks on a lot of things, but it’s of much higher quality than the kit lens itself, and you won’t get a better lens for such little money.
With that said, if you are looking for a fantastic focus for portraits, this isn’t a lens for you. For that, we would recommend the 35mm F2.4 Carl Zeiss Jena lens that we will review soon, which is a much more premium vintage lens, and one that performs far better than this.
Conclusion? Get this lens and the adapter over the kit lens. Be aware that you will need to shoot in manual which has its benefits and negatives but doesn’t allow you to take full advantage of Sony cameras if you are going to use this lens on a Sony camera. And don’t get this lens for videos unless you have a gimbal, stabilization in your camera, or otherwise shooting on a tripod.
Oh, and if you enjoyed reading this review, while you are here, make sure to check out our Sony a6000 and a6500 reviews which our the main cameras we use here due to their compactness mixed with quality.