Using a Vintage Konica Hexanon Lens on a Fujifilm X-T2

When I bought my Fujifilm X-E2 about four years ago, I took a big gamble. I didn't just dip my toes in the mirrorless waters; I plunged in head first. I'd never even picked up a mirrorless camera, much less tried out any of the Fujifilm offerings, but I'd heard plenty of good things about them from trusted podcasts and multiple product reviews. After lengthy research, I felt confident that I was buying into a system that fit my style of shooting - so confident, in fact, that I sold all of my Nikon gear beforehand in order to subsidize the switch.

As it turned out, my gamble paid off. While I initially missed some of my old lenses (especially my Tokina 11-16mm super-wide), I quickly fell in love with the whole Fujifilm environment. The physical dials, the look and feel of the gear, the beautiful film simulations, the generous firmware updates that expanded the functionality of my existing camera, and the distinctive Fujifilm photo "look."

One notable area where Fujifilm lagged behind the leading industry giants at the time was in their limited line of "XF" lenses. In 2017, there are now plenty of high quality primes and zooms available. Fujifilm even provides an updated road map of lenses yet to be released. When I was first introduced to Fujifilm, the only lens I had was the 18-55 kit lens. This wasn't a bad thing, to be honest; their kit lens is solidly built from metal and glass, and is faster than most kit lenses from the big names. On the APS-C sensor, that lens gave me an effective zoom range of about 28-80mm, which adequately covers most typical scenarios photographers encounter.

Moonrise from Clingman's Dome. The old Konica telephoto I used for this photo was (and still is) filled with a ridiculous amount of dust. Fortunately, the dust had little impact on the final image quality.

Since I already owned a number of vintage camera lenses, I was able to extend my optical reach by purchasing an inexpensive adapter that lets you attach a Konica Hexanon lens mount to the Fujifilm body. (You can purchase similar adapters for Minolta and other vintage lens mounts.) So when I took a trip to California in January 2014, I brought along the adapter and my trusty old Hexanon 135mm f/3.2 telephoto. With the APS-C sensor, this effectively gave me a reach of 216mm. The lens and adapter worked beautifully, giving me the reach I didn't have with my kit lens. When I wanted to capture a beautiful moonrise the next summer, I grabbed a Konica 200mm telephoto lens, which on my Fujifilm body became a 320mm monster.

There are some drawbacks to using old lenses on digital cameras, particularly for those accustomed to digital gear. For starters, there's no electronic communication between the lens and camera, which means there's no EXIF lens data recorded in the file. On Fujifilm cameras, you have to specifically enable using the camera without a lens attached, since that's exactly what the camera thinks is going on. 

It should go without saying that these vintage manual focus lenses remain manual focus when attached to a modern camera body. The same goes for setting the aperture - you must use the physical ring on the lens. While we've all gotten spoiled with the amazing image stabilization in modern lenses (and some camera bodies), these lenses have no such safety net, so keeping very still when taking the shot is critical to taking sharp photos. For the same reason, you also need to mind your shutter speed.

The upside to all this is that because of the way shooting modes work on Fujifilm cameras, you can let the camera make all of the remaining exposure decisions for you, or you can choose to adjust those manually as well. Even better, if you have an X-T2, when you switch the camera to manual focus, there are some digital tools that will enable you to nail the focus with greater precision than would have been possible when these lenses were new! Even if you have less than perfect eyesight, these tools should help considerably.

Two features that are particularly helpful are focus peaking (also available on the earlier X-E2), and a new "Dual" feature that shows two frames in the viewfinder: a larger one at full-size, and a smaller frame that displays a loupe view of the area around the focus point. Using focus peaking, you simply turn the lens until the edges "sparkle" in the loupe, and you've got tack sharp focus! I only learned about this feature in the past week, and it's going to be a game-changer in my macro work, where manual focus is the norm even for modern lenses that have autofocus.

Four years after making the switch, I'm still a Fujifilm fanboy. I've purchased a number of Fujinon (Fujifilm's lens mount) lenses, as well as a couple of inexpensive Rokinon lenses. I don't have any pressing need to "slum" around (as Ken Rockwell puts it), with lens adapters and vintage glass. Sometimes it's just fun to see what you can create with old gear.

Occasionally I'll pick up an old lens that I primarily intend to use on old cameras (as nature intended), and I'm curious to see how it works on a modern digital sensor. Such was the case when I bought my latest find: a Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.4 - a fast and sharp prime released around 35-40 years ago.

The following comments and sample photos reflect my totally unscientific methodology: namely, attach lens to camera and go shoot stuff around the neighborhood. There are no control images for comparison, no detailed technical data, and I didn't even record what f-stop I used. All shots were handheld, so any softness in the photos is probably an artifact of my unsteady hand. Please keep in mind that this is more of cursory look at the kinds of results you might get than a proper review.

That being said, I was impressed with the overall performance of the 50mm on my Fujifilm X-T2 (which effectively covers the same field of view as an 80mm lens on a full-frame digital or 35mm camera). The colors looked good, sharpness was excellent. While I'm eager to try this lens for portraits, taking advantage of that wide aperture to make the subject pop, I haven't had a chance to try it with a human subject yet. I have no reason to think it won't work well for that purpose.

The only con I could see with this specific lens is that the lens coatings seem to be deficient from a modern standpoint. As you can see in these samples, the lens experienced some flares and streaks more typical of today's toy cameras. This might well have been mitigated by using a lens hood, however, and being the experimental type I found this technical shortcoming to be rather charming. Before the digital era, and the rise of the lomography movement, these flaws were to be avoided. For many shooters today, they merely add character.

I've applied my standard edits on these photos: camera profile, sharpening, straightening, exposure adjustments, and some cropping. All of the photos were shot in RAW.

Moderate close-up of some lingering foliage. This is about as close as the lens can focus.

A neighbor's pinwheel. 

Pretty pansies outside the library.

A closer crop from the photo above. The sharpness isn't bad for shooting handheld while kneeling on the ground.

Guardians of Bissell Park. I got hissed at, but not chased.

As I shot into the light through this tree, you can see the colored streaks descending through the center area of frame.

Nearby construction site. The flaring was especially prominent here.

Additional, Non-Sequential Notes:

(1) The X-T2 lets you specify a focal length for your "no-lens" lens. I didn't remember to set it, so it defaulted to 21mm. That may or may not have affected the images seen here.

(2) The 50mm lens came with a Skylight (1A) filter, which I chose to leave attached, and I've not tried shooting without it. It's possible the filter may have contributed to the light flare.

(3) While I have no experience using them, there are more sophisticated lens adapters that support autofocus and electronic communication on lenses that have those features. Expect to pay a lot more for that functionality.

(4) I don't mean to create the impression that lens adapters are a better choice, or even equal to, lenses made by your camera manufacturer. Especially with Fujifilm cameras, there's a lot of lens correcting and digital wizardry that happens inside the brains of the camera. Using adapters with old lenses is the sort of thing you do for creative enjoyment, and because it's an easy way to re-purpose old gear, not because you don't want to invest in the right glass for the job.

What is a "Professional" Camera?

Manufacturers of digital cameras sell multiple product lines, each targeting a particular corner of the market. These can be divided into consumer, prosumer or professional categories. The most obvious initial difference lies in cost.

A point-and-shoot camera with its built-in lens can be significantly less expensive than a camera system that allows you to swap lenses and use accessories such as a removable flash unit. Most people (including many photographers) would argue that a professional system costing several thousands of dollars is unquestionably "better" than a  $300 camera. But what does "better" really mean?

A professional camera, at the most basic level, is a camera used by a photographer to earn a living. Major camera makers would have you believe that you need this year's camera model and painfully expensive, pro-grade lenses to produce quality work. So it might surprise you to learn that there are skilled photographers today using entry-level, "obsolete" cameras to create salable works of art.

Cultivating an eye for composition, paying attention to how light interacts with the subject, and skillful post-processing all matter more than the camera. For proof of that, see this article about a woman who creates fantastic images using an old point-and-shoot Canon! There are many stories about people using older gear to make amazing photos, including many who still shoot, or have returned to using, film cameras. See here and here, for proof.

Professional photographers know how to work within limitations, and will even use those shortcomings to their creative advantage. Unconventional and beautiful portraits have been created using 50mm or shorter lenses that are not typically regarded as suitable for the purpose. In my own experience, some of my most compelling work has been made using inexpensive, "toy" film cameras. Cheap, plastic cameras like the humble Holga or the mysterious but marvelous Debonair may look like mere toys. In my hands, they are professional cameras.

Some cameras are admittedly less suited for specific uses than more technically advanced cameras. I love shooting with my Debonair, but I'm not going to grab it to shoot a soccer game. Its fixed shutter speed and wide lens wouldn't work well to capture action on the field. It's simply not the right tool for the job. Sometimes you really do need a long lens, increased low light sensitivity, super fast shutters and other features found on more expensive cameras.

Professional DSLRs generally feature more physical dials and buttons for adjusting exposure than cheaper consumer models that require diving into menus to access the same settings. This ease of making rapid changes is important to professionals who need to make many adjustments over the course of shooting a wedding, for example, adjusting to changing lighting and the desired effect for each photo. While they could make do with an entry-level DSLR in a pinch, it would be less convenient than using a "pro" camera. It's important to note here that image quality isn't at issue.

The end product, the photograph, is vastly more important than the tools used to create it. Print an 8x10 from a pro and consumer camera, place them side by side, and almost nobody will be able to tell which camera made which photo. Megapixels don't play as big a role as people suppose: an 8x10 print of a photo made from my old Nikon D40 (6 MP) will produce the same pleasing results as the same size print from a modern 24 MP camera. The advantages of having many more megapixels are normally not apparent until you print at sizes that most people never use.

Now that mirrorless cameras have been adopted by many photographers, I don't run into much criticism of my Fujifilm digital cameras. On occasion, however, I've had people turn up their noses because they don't think my gear looks as professional as a Nikon or Canon DSLR. (Sometimes the brand name "Fujifilm" leads people to mistakenly confuse them for a vintage film camera.) In short, it's not what many people visualize when they think about professional gear.

My first mirrorless digital camera still serves me well in professional use, despite not being marketed as pro gear.

I chose my current system for a variety of reasons, after months of careful research, and I know from regular practice exactly how these cameras will perform in my hands. I can achieve the same photographic results with my cameras that I would using a much bulkier camera.

Mirrorless cameras come with the normal ratio of benefits to drawbacks, just like every camera system ever made. If there were a universally agreed-upon perfect camera system, the other makes and models would quickly be out of business as photographers flocked en masse to buy into it. As much as photographers tend to be fanboys or fangirls of our chosen system, in the final analysis all cameras are just boxes with holes in them that gather light. It's up to the operator to make something memorable with them.

People sometimes ask me what kind of camera they should buy. The answer is that it really depends. It depends on how much money you have to spend, how much complexity you can adjust to using, what features are most critical to you, personal aesthetics, your physical tolerance for gear of varying weights, and the kinds of stuff you plan to photograph. I can tell you that my camera suits my style and feels like an extension of my arm and my eyes. Not everyone has the exact same needs.

In the end, every camera I own - from $20 thrift store buys to my latest Fujifilm X-T2 - is, or at least has the potential to be, a professional camera. If a client is looking to hire me, it's because they like the work I've done. The camera I bring to their special event is only a small part of the equation.