Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/3.5 macro mounted on a Canon Digital
Like modern-day Rip Van Winkles,
those who have been away from photography for a few years have emerged
into a changed and exciting new world of digital cameras and autofocus
lenses. But as attractive as the latest digital SLR cameras are, what
if you still have a bag or two of vintage prime lenses left over from
an earlier era? Supposing you don't want, or can't afford,
to start all over again from scratch, is there a way to salvage any
of your investment in lenses and still participate in the digital revolution?
Lens adapters to the rescue!
A lens adapter is simply a precision-cast metal doughnut that has a
mount on the back for a host camera, such as a Canon EOS mount, and
a different mount of the front for a "foreign" lens. A few
rare adapters have an optic in the middle, but most contain no glass.
Adapters are designed to provide precisely the correct distance from
the adapted lens to the host camera's film or sensor plane.
EOS lens adapters: (top) Pentax M42-mount adapter and (bottom)
Olympus OM adapter.
Although lens adapters aren't
feasible for all camera bodies or all lenses, the Canon EOS mount, being
fairly large, can be adapted to host a number of non-EOS-mount lenses.
The Canon EOS 10D and EOS Digital Rebel, for instance, can be used successfully
with Olympus OM-mount Zuiko, Nikon AI/AF, Contax/Yashica RTS, Pentax-compatible
M42 screwmount, and Leica R and Leica Visoflex lenses. Ironically, Canon's
own FD lenses are difficult to adapt to EOS bodies, though a few specialty
adapters do exist. Sadly, there are no known EOS adapters for Minolta
Rokkors or Pentax K-mount lenses.
For those with qualifying lenses, the availability of these adapters is
the good news. The bad news is that lens adapters are a compromise. Adapted
lenses only work in manual mode. There is no coupling of the electronics
from one brand to another. Metering works, but only in stop-down mode.
So why bother?
There are two good reasons. First, using vintage lenses in manual mode
with an adapter is considerably cheaper than buying all new glass. Second,
some of these vintage lenses perform wonderfully and any inconveniences
associated with them may be worth it in terms of lens quality. It's
a judgment call.
oak leaf. (Canon Digital Rebel; Zuiko 50mm f/3.5 macro;
1/30 sec at f/11; ISO 400.)
Photos © 2004, Gene Wilburn, All Rights Reserved
Take my situation as an example.
I'd been away from photography for several years, until digital
rekindled my interest. I purchased a Canon PowerShot G2 and got hooked
on photography all over again. After 18 months with the G2, I longed to
get back into SLR photography, but digital this time.
My dilemma was that I already owned a number of Olympus OM-mount Zuiko
and Pentax Super-Takumar screwmount primes that I was reluctant to sell.
My Zuikos are small, sharp, and perky and my Super-Takumar 50mm f/1.4
is one of the all-time great 50mm lenses. I wanted, if possible, to find
a way to recycle them into the digital world.
leaves against golden autumn background. (Canon Digital
Rebel; Zuiko 300mm f/4.5; 1/160 sec at f/8; ISO 800.)
Browsing the Olympus OM forum, I learned of an obscure OM-EOS adapter
available from Kindai International in Tokyo. This adapter had been field
tested by a few Olympians who had migrated to the Canon EOS 10D. Based
on their positive reports, I ordered one from Tokyo. Knowing I could use
my Olympus Zuikos was what tipped the scales for me to purchase a Canon
Digital Rebel. The adapter allowed me to enter the world of digital SLRs
with one autofocus lens (the Canon kit lens) and nice collection of older
So, what's it like shooting the Digital Rebel with manual lenses?
Quite decent, as long as you're not tracking wildlife, sports, or
other fast-moving subjects like children. For more static subjects, which
covers a very wide range of photography, the solution works remarkably
informal portrait of my niece. (Canon Digital Rebel; Super-Takumar
50mm f/1.4; 1/2 sec at f/5.6; ISO 200.)
You use an adapter by first attaching the lens to the adapter, then attaching
the adapter to the camera. On the Digital Rebel and the EOS 10D metering
works in two modes: Av (aperture priority) and M (manual). In Av mode,
you focus with the manual lens wide-open, then stop down the lens to the
desired f/stop while watching the shutter-speed adjustments in the viewfinder.
In M mode you set a fixed shutter speed, and the metering shows a plus/minus
range of two f/stops, like an old TTL meter. As in Av mode, you focus
wide-open, then stop down the aperture until the metering is where you
Obviously this type of shooting is well suited to tripod work. Even so,
I find my faster Zuikos practical for available-light photography. I tend
to use my manual 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.8, and 100mm f/2.8 wide-open in low
I was so pleased with the overall results of the OM-EOS adapter that I
tracked down a Pentax M42-to-EOS adapter to use with my ancient Super-Takumars.
To my delight, digital images taken with my Super-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens
look as creamy as ever with that lens' legendary bokeh. The bonus
is that it becomes an 80mm-equivalent portrait lens on the Digital Rebel.
rowers, Lake Ontario. (Canon Digital Rebel; Vivitar 80-200mm
f/4 Series 1; OM mount; 1/1000 sec at f/8; ISO 200.)
Manual Focusing, Too
The drawbacks to using manual lenses are obvious. There's no autofocus
and your eyesight has to be good to get a sharp focus on the small and
somewhat dim viewfinders of the Digital Rebel and EOS 10D. Unlike vintage
35mm manual SLRs, these cameras do not have built-in focusing aids such
as microprism or split-image screens.
The benefits of using manual lenses are also obvious. Recycled lenses
from the past are relatively cheap and their optical quality is often
noteworthy. Many of these lenses are small and highly portable. But more
than anything else, they provide a transition period in which you can
evaluate your lenses and your needs, gradually replacing the older lenses
with modern autofocus counterparts, if desired. If your eyesight is good,
the manual lenses are fun to use, and they're a heck of a conversation
starter when another photographer sees you attaching one to your EOS 10D
or Digital Rebel!
docks in morning light, Port Credit, Ontario. (Canon Digital
Rebel; Vivitar 80-200mm f/4 Series 1; OM mount; 1/200 sec
at f/22; ISO 200.)
Gene Wilburn is a writer and
photographer based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Lens adapters are not as widely available as other camera accessories.
Some of the larger US camera stores such as Adorama and B&H stock
a few adapters. The chief reseller of EOS adapters in the US is CameraQuest
Prices of the adapters vary from $50 for the Pentax adapter to $175 for
most of the others. CameraQuest now stocks the Kindai International OM-EOS
adapter so it's no longer necessary to order this previously hard-to-find
item directly from Tokyo. The key Internet resource on Canon EOS adapters
maintained by NK Guy. Look there for additional information on which lenses
can be adapted successfully to EOS camera systems. My photo website, www.pbase.com/gwilburn/lenses,
contains additional examples of Digital Rebel photos taken with vintage
Zuiko and Super-Takumar lenses.