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.

Fun with an Old School TLR Camera

"A TL-whaa?" you ask.

My Yashica 635, introduced in 1958. It's a typical TLR in most respects, although the 635 is unusual in that it was made to shoot either 120 or 35 mm film.

TLR is short for Twin Lens Reflex. These cool-looking cameras were marketed for decades, in various designs, and reached the pinnacle of their popularity in the 1960s. You can often find vintage TLRs on the used market at affordable prices - eBay, Craigslist or the odd yard sale. They typically run around $50-200, depending on the model and condition. If you're lucky, you may find one for a few bucks since the general public assumes film is no longer "a thing." Popular makes include Rollei, Yashica and Mamiya.

So how does a TLR work? Unlike an SLR, where you view and shoot through a single lens, the TLR uses one lens for viewing and another for taking the actual shot. This separation of lens functions has a variety of practical implications, one of which is that very close objects may require adjusting the camera position due to a phenomenon known as parallax. For shooting at normal distances (6+ feet, or so), this is not a problem. Due to the simplicity of their design and robust construction, these cameras also tend to hold up well over the years. Most use a single, fixed focal-length lens although there were some standard accessory filters and close-up lenses made.

Looking through the waist-level viewfinder of a typical TLR.

TLRs typically use a waist-level viewfinder, meaning you look down from above to compose and focus. Some models include a magnifying glass that flips out for more precise focusing (I use mine regularly). Because the scene is projected directly up from a mirror in the body, the image is flipped left-to-right, which can be a little disorienting at first. The viewing screen is surprisingly bright. In fact, there's a whole group on Flickr dedicated to using digital cameras to shoot through these viewfinders. Of course there's no reason you can't still use these cameras as intended to take photos on film - which, as you might suspect, is exactly how I use mine.

Most TLRs use 120 film, which is readily available online in a variety of types. Some models took 620 film, which is the exact same film on a thinner spool. 620 film is no longer made, but you can order re-spooled film for a small premium cost, or buy used or newly-manufactured spools online and do it yourself. You can buy color, slide or black & white film for that authentic old look. Loading film in your TLR is even easier than popping the back off your smartphone to install a micro-SD card. You can usually find videos on YouTube demonstrating the use of a particular vintage camera so there's plenty of community support readily available out there if you find yourself unsure of what to do.

Self-portrait illustrating how to shoot with a TLR. An obvious benefit for people who enjoy doing street photography is that people aren't accustomed to seeing a camera held this way, so you can photograph strangers discreetly. Bystanders will assume that you're simply preoccupied with that antique in your hands.

So why would you want to shoot with one of these vintage cameras? For starters, they shoot square photos that yield the beautiful, authentic look of film. The lenses are generally quite sharp, so your photos look at least as good as anything you shoot for Instagram. The negatives are several times larger than 35mm film, which means you can enlarge your photos to a high degree - really, we're talking massive enlargement potential. Another feature I enjoy is the "swirly" bokeh (out of focus area) effect I sometimes get shooting at larger apertures on my Yashica.

They're also great conversation starters, as many people have never seen a camera like this in the wild, and older people appreciate the nostalgia. It's unusual for me to not have at least one person ask about my TLR when I use it in public!

Photo shot this weekend on my Yashica 635, using Ilford Delta Pro 100 film. Home developed and scanned.

If you're not already a film shooter, but are looking for a cheap way to dip your toes into the water, keep your eyes open for a good deal on used TLRs the next time you stop at a yard sale or flea market. You might score a great buy on a beautiful and "obsolete" camera. Just don't tell the vendor that you can buy film for it.

Do They Still Make Film For That?

I own a fair number of cameras - too many, in fact.  I've been in the process of paring down my collection, and am probably just a few over the right number for my "stable".  Aside from a couple of sentimental or display pieces, I'm not so much a collector as a photographer who uses a variety of gear.  My working cameras run the gamut from antique to "vintage" to newer models made in the 1990s through the present.  If you have some old cameras on hand - perhaps handed down from older family members - and have wondered if there's any life in them, then this article is for you!

One of the most frequent comments I hear when out shooting my film cameras is: "I didn't know you could even still buy film!" Or it's phrased in question form as in the title of this article: "Do they even still make film for that?"  (Interestingly, Millennials are more likely to express genuine interest and respect for film usage than people of my own generation and older.)  I'm occasionally tempted to say something along the lines of "No, I just like to pretend I'm taking photos with this old camera." But of course I don't do that because I'm not a snob.

A 35mm Konica FS-1, introduced in 1979.  I'm a big Konica fan, and this model is one of my current favorites.  It was one of the first SLR cameras to feature a motor drive for advancing film.  You do have to rewind  the film manually, however. Konica lenses are still widely recognized as high quality.

The simple answer to the question is "Yes" - a thousand times yes! Film has most certainly become a niche market but it's not gone away even if it is less visible to the general public.  While "Who Uses Film Today?" could be its own blog entry, suffice it to say that today's film market caters to significantly more people than senior citizens who don't want to mess with new-fangled, digital kerjiggers.  Certainly such customers constitute a shrinking but important demographic of film users. But today's film shooters include teenagers, college students, artists, everyday adult hobbyists and even some professionals who use film exclusively or as one component of their photographic arsenal.  There are also a number well-known TV and movie producers who prefer the aesthetics of film and choose to shoot mainstream features using old-school film reels.

Film is admittedly harder to find in traditional retail outlets.  It's out there, but you may have to look a bit harder to find it.  I can usually find a small stock of popular film at Walmart or the local Walgreens (our local Walgreens has it nearly hidden behind the photo service counter). Typically these stores will stock Fuji Superia 200 and 400 speed 35mm films - both of which are great consumer films.  CVS stores sometimes carry a bit more in the way of selection, although they seem to have scaled back their selection in the past year or so.  Of course if you're fortunate enough to have an old school camera shop still open in your community,  you may find a decent local selection there.  (If you're in the Knoxville area, check out Thompson Photo.) Other retail outlets are hit or miss, but film hasn't disappeared entirely from store shelves - at least not yet.

Two rolls of 120 film I shot yesterday at a photography meetup event in Knoxville: Kodak Ektar and Kodak Portra.  Also called medium format film, 120 has been around for over a century and is still popular among photography enthusiasts. 120 film frames can be several times larger than 35mm negatives, and due to the larger size it yields detailed and beautiful scans.

So where do you find the biggest selection of films?  It's the same place where many of us buy everything from books to electronics to toilet paper: the Internet, of course!  One convenient place to buy film is Amazon.  The prices are usually competitive, and many of their offerings are covered by their Prime membership; assuming you're a Prime member, you get free, 2-day shipping on a huge selection of films.  

If you're looking for the best prices on black & white films (and related chemistry and supplies for developing your own), I recommend Freestyle Photographic Supplies.  Another great source for a huge variety of films - including a growing number of hand-rolled specialty films you won't find anywhere else - is the Film Photography Project.  Their prices are competitive and their shipping is priced at actual cost.  The FPP features a fun and informative bi-weekly podcast, along with other great content on their website.  I'm a huge fan of the show.

The chances are good that if you own an old camera you can find film for it.  Common film formats, including 35mm and 120 (aka medium format), are widely available in a variety of types. Even the humble 110 film has returned to the market several years after production had been halted.  Depending on the format of the film you need, you may still be able to choose between regular color print film, slide film or black & white.  Unfortunately, some films are gone and unlikely to return; these types include disc film and APS film (you can still buy remaining APS film online even though production stopped in 2011).

Before I close, let me clear up a common misapprehension about Kodak.  Contrary to popular belief, Kodak film is still being produced and sold.  While Kodak proper is no longer in the consumer film business, Kodak sold off that division to another company, now known as Kodak Alaris.  The new owner has publicly affirmed their commitment to continuing the existing product line.  That means you can still buy a wide assortment of fresh Kodak film.  In fact, I regularly use Kodak Portra, Kodak Ektar, Kodak Tri-X, Kodak T-Max and even the occasional Kodak Gold and Ultramax consumer films.

In a nutshell, you can still buy film for a large number of old cameras.  And with continued usage and support, these companies hopefully will produce beautiful films for years to come.  In a future article, we'll take a closer look at the different types of film in production today.

 

Why I Put Film Back into My Camera Bag

One of my oldest cameras: A Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2, circa 1938. It still works well, and uses readily available 120 film.

One of my oldest cameras: A Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2, circa 1938. It still works well, and uses readily available 120 film.

"I guess you've just never made the jump into the digital world, huh?"

It wasn't so much a question as a condescending remark about my use of film in the digital era.  My inquisitor was a fellow customer at a local camera shop that carries a range of used film photography gear alongside the latest DSLRs and accessories.  The guy obviously considered me a dinosaur.

The truth is that I was an early adopter of digital photography.  It was a logical extension of my interest in high-tech gadgetry and digital media.  My first digital camera was a second-hand Kodak DC40, made in 1995.  It looked more like rubberized binoculars than anything resembling today's digital wonders.  The tiny LCD screen was strictly for displaying text. There was no removable memory card, and even on the "high quality" setting, images were about 1/3 of a megapixel.  Still, I happily shot thousands of photos with that simple camera.  A couple years later, I moved up to a used Kodak DC200 with a FULL megapixel of resolution!

Since that time, I've owned a series of progressively more sophisticated digital cameras.  For less than $500 today, you can buy a refurbished, entry level DSLR with a decent 18-55mm zoom lens capable of delivering sharp, high resolution images that would have made a professional photographer from 25 years ago jealous.  Under normal lighting conditions, even a total novice can set the camera on full Auto mode, press the button, and end up with a razor-sharp, properly exposed (if not necessarily interesting) image that they can share online with friends and family almost instantly.  What's not to love?

There's absolutely no reason not to use and enjoy these cameras.  There are the film purists who consider digital the devil, won't let a digital scanner anywhere near their negatives and who swear that if film ever goes away they'll shelve their cameras and never take another photo. Personally, I think those people are silly.  Even the great Ansel Adams, who invented the Zone System and perfected the art of dodging and burning in the darkroom, advocated modern developments like the Polaroid camera because it provided instant feedback.  He also envisioned a future where images were produced digitally, and it's not a stretch to say he'd probably be a leading Photoshop guru if he'd been born a few decades later.

Nonetheless, it's also true that shooting film is a unique experience in several ways:

  • Film photography is tactile.  When you handle a roll or pack of film (or sheets of film for the hardcore), there's a real, physical connection.  This is especially true if you process your own film.  The medium you are handling will become the actual photos you make; it's not just a temporary storage device filled with 0s and 1s.  You can't accidentally "delete" a negative, and negatives don't experience read/ write failures (although there are plenty of other ways you can mess them up through carelessness - ask me about the time I used fixer before developer).
  • Film photography delays gratification and heightens anticipation. With the exception of instant films, shooting film in general doesn't allow for "chimping" (looking over each shot on the LCD screen right after you take it).  Sometimes that results in disappointment later on; just as often, hopefully more so, delayed gratification results in joyful surprise when the photograph exceeds your expectations.
  • Film photography is like getting a new sensor every time you load a roll of film. Pick one of the many film types still on the market today, and you get to decide whether it's color, black & white, fast and bursting with moody, beautiful grain or slow and incredibly fine-grained.  You can "upgrade" a 50 year old camera by using the latest Kodak Portra film.  A high quality lens from 50 years ago is still a high quality lens today, so your pictures will look as sharp or bokeh-licious as any modern DSLR.
  • Film photography gives you a look that people spend a lot of money trying to achieve with plugins in Photoshop or Lightroom.  There's nothing wrong with using plugins and creative editing to produce the photo you envision, but it's often easier and cheaper to get that grainy film look by using actual film.
  • Film photography connects you to a simpler past and traditional ways of creating an art form.  A painter could use magic markers on poster board, but I suspect there are compelling reasons to use quality brushes and paint and canvas (you'll have to ask a painter about that).  There's something very satisfying about picking up and shooting photos with vintage gear that may well be decades or even a century older than you are!  Of course, if you want things a little more automated, some great film cameras were made in the 1990s and early 2000s that are as easy to use as any digital camera but still provide the film experience.
  • On a related point, as long as film remains available (and it seems likely it will be produced in some form for the foreseeable future), film photography resists obsolescence. Sure, some kinds of film aren't made anymore.  But most any 35mm or medium format camera will be just as usable 25 years from now.  (And many older cameras can be easily modified to take different film formats.)  I love my current digital camera system, but it's highly unlikely I'll be using the current body beyond 5 years from the date I bought it. By way of contrast, I enjoy taking my 50 year old Yashica 635 TLR out for occasional photo walks - I've taken some good pictures with it.
  • Film provides long-term archival capability.  While colors may fade over many years, if film is stored carefully the material will last a very long time.  Probably much longer than you or I will last.  Digital has the potential to last indefinitely, but only if  the storage medium is continuously refreshed. One early digital camera stored pictures on a 3.5" floppy disk. While you can still buy an external USB floppy drive, they are far from standard equipment and haven't been used by manufacturers in desktop machines for years.  Optical drives are likewise on their way out as external hard drives and "the cloud" grow in popularity. Digital archival is not fail-proof.
  • Film photography has a coolness and macho factor. Most film shooters, if they're honest, will admit it's fun to shoot something that the majority of people don't realize is still viable. You get to show off awesome vintage gear (and maybe some manual photography skills) that doesn't look like what every other photographer is using.  And I get to educate the general public: "Yes, they still make film for that."
  • Film photography is just plain fun.  There are a number of plastic "toy" cameras available - old and new - that create unusual photos resembling Instagram or Hipstamatic pictures, but on film.  Film advocates sometimes criticize the toy trend because it can promote the false impression that film inherently produces cruddy photos (which is absolutely not the case), but the toys are fun to play with.  Most of these cameras have few, if any, real controls which encourages spontaneous and random shots that may feature soft focus, light leaks, heavy vignetting and other appealing imperfections.

There are probably dozens more reasons why a photographer might choose to use film in this day and age.  All of the bullets above have been pointed out by others at one time or another, but considered together they build a good case for the continued use of film both for professionals and the hobbyist.

Of course digital photography has many advantages of its own, and is admittedly more efficient than film.  When I'm shooting a social event, or a situation where low-light performance is critical, digital is usually the logical choice.  Even the fastest films in production fall short of the crazy low-light capabilities of newer digital gear.  For individual portraits or landscape work, I often choose to use film for a particular look.  At least in my own experience, the use of film favors a mindful, slower paced process that furthers artistic vision.

So which is "better"?  I don't think there's one answer to that question.  The answer is whichever medium best suits your style and needs at the moment.  Happily, film and even older photographic techniques are enjoying a modest resurgence in popularity today. There's no better time to blend old and new technologies to create the kinds of photographs you like to make!