Next week, I will offer another reflection on the Mars Perseverance mission. For this week, I wanted to share another “From The Backyard” reflection. After a winter of gloomier than usual skies in my home state of Wisconsin (and that’s saying something), I was blessed with a week of clear skies!
Since Lent is making me busier than usual, I decided to go simple with my imaging this week. Really, really simple! As part of my growth as a photographer, I’ve fallen in love with old, vintage lenses. One of the wonderful aspects of mirrorless cameras is that the shorter flange distance between the sensor and rear lens element means you can adapt just about any lens to any camera. Also, if you’re careful, you can buy good lenses for not a lot of money.
Some of my favorite vintage glass has been the Pentax Takumar M42 screw mount lenses. The M42 screw mount was a popular thread size for most camera companies in the film era.
The Takumars have a lot of “modern” lens tendencies in that they create rather sharp images and have rich color saturation. Yet, they are definitely vintage in that the older lens coatings are prone to flare with bright light and have issues with color fringing (an occasional thin purple or green haze around contrasting edges). The best part about the Takumars is they are cheap! Since I’m rather comfortable taking things apart and putting them back together, I’ve been able to get dust and fungus infested lenses for as little at $10-$15 US and, with a little tender loving care, bring these lenses back to life!
One of the great benefits of vintage lenses is they are an inexpensive way to experiment with longer focal lengths that are rather expensive when looking at modern lenses.
For example, a modern 300mm f/4 lens will run you at least $1,500. I was able to find a Pentax Takumar 300mm f/4 lens in rough condition for $15. The duck image to your left was taken with this $15 lens. Is it as good as the modern lenses of the same focal length? No, but its good enough for me. If you look closely, you can see some of the green and purple (pinkish) fringing I was talking about on the duck’s body.
The joy I find restoring these old lenses got me thinking: How would they perform as lenses for astrophotography? Well, only one way to find out… Get out and take some pictures! To make my “garage sale” astrophotography night complete, I mounted these lenses on an old full spectrum camera I bout for $300 and a manual star tracker for about $90. I did use a duo-band filter (Hydrogen Alpha and Oxygen III light bands) that was about as expensive as the camera. However, the lenses I used (a 50mm, 105mm, 200mm, and 300mm) were all purchased for a little over $200. So, If you didn’t want to get a narrowband filter, you can get a nice, vintage astro setup for about $600 (minus the tripod) if you’re patient and search for the bargain lenses. Sadly, a lot of people artificially inflate these lens prices so do your homework and don’t overpay! Another place to look are literal garage sales… I’ll have to wait until the post Covid-19 world begins to start lens shopping again at garage sales!
And what were the results of my astrophotography on a garage sale budget? Let’s take a look! All of these images are single exposures for 30 seconds with the lenses set to their widest aperture (letting the most light into the lens). I did crop the images a little to emphasize the subject, but you get the idea of what the image quality is like for these lenses.
So, what do you think? Are they going to replace my “goto” lenses? No. Nevertheless, I was really happy with how the 200mm and 300mm rendered their images!
I am a hobby astronomer. What does it mean to have a hobby? For me, a hobby brings joy, fills out a part of me that doesn’t get fed in my work-a-day world. With that in mind, I had a wonderful night of astrophotography with these lenses! And that joy makes me care less about the image quality and more about the night of imaging and prayer I had while playing with these old lenses.
What’s your hobby? What brings you joy amid your work-a-day world? Spend some time with your hobby today. Maybe even do something “outside-the-box” with it like using vintage lenses to capture the night sky. During the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve all needed outlets to get away from the stress of our world. Take some time with your favorite outlet and, together, let’s find joy through feeding our soul with those small things we both love and need.