One of the arguments for film being better than digital is that it feels organic. Film is not exact from roll to roll; like snowflakes, each roll is unique. A systematic pattern of pixels will not produce the randomness of halide crystals in an emulsion. People tend to forget that the lenses are what make things inherently different. Using vintage lenses, with all of their flaws and imperfections, can help give your images a more film-like look.
Back in the time before the use of computers, lenses were made by hand and had character to them. They could vary from one to another, especially the off-brand ones. It wasn’t uncommon for a photographer to have a slew of nifty fifties each with its own characteristics. Now, a photographer might have a Canon 50mm F 1.2 L and a Sigma 50 F1.4 Art Lens, but it will be like every other Canon or Sigma; this makes everything convenient, and this makes everything boring.
* Tou/Five Star 28mm F/2.8
Tou/Five Star lenses never come to mind when you think of quality (they hardly come to mind at all). This little, hidden gem is one of the best 28mm’s . You can use specifically this lens when you trying to mimic that cinematic look. Bright sunlight destroys the little contrast the lens has, making the image flat; perfect for color grading. There are severe chromatic aberrations present, which is to be expected from such an inexpensive lens. The five Star doesn’t show the typical purple fringing of other glass, the highlights instead bloom and glow; behaving similarly to the way old celluloid films do. The most interesting aspect is the 1:5 magnification “Macro,” which isn’t huge, but does make for some interesting pictures.
* Pentax Super-Takumar 35mm F/3.5
I think of this lens as the humble do-it-all. It can produce sharp, contrasty, three-dimensional like images all in a small package. The all metal construction means this lens can take a beating. Even after having an unfortunate accident with a Dremel trying to remove a broken lens adapter, this lens still performs amicably. The aperture may be as wide as the more modern Sigma’s 35mm f/1.4, but I would choose the color rendition of the Takumar over the Sigma any day.
* Canon FL 50mm F/1.8
This is the wild card of the bunch. The lens is not the sharpest lens wide open, and I’ll admit it spends more time on the self than in my camera bag. When it does make it out in the field, the pictures it produces can be hit or miss. Why then do I keep it? Two words: Swirly Bokeh. Old lenses like the Canon have been stored in closets, garages or attics. These are not ideal locations. Humidity and prolonged temperature changes can cause the coatings to wear and degrade. Shooting through partial or missing coatings can cause interesting bokeh or lens flares.
A Comparison of Five 28mm Lenses