Lenses For The Long Term – Not Just To Love And Leave

Over the last eight years or so I’ve owned perhaps 100 lenses.

Which is a conservative estimate, given when I start to think more I realise I’ve had at least five Takumar 55mm, five Pentax-M 50s, maybe eight different Pentacon 50/1.8s, and at least a dozen Helios 44s.

Too often I’ve reached a point where I’ve just had too many, so purged.


Then looked back and wished I’d held on to certain lenses, and not been so hasty. And more than once bought the same lens again!

Going forward I want to have a lens arsenal that is still relatively small, but offers variety and unique character.

I’d like to avoid duplication, and not just different variations of the same lens, but lenses of similar focal length that don’t distinguish themselves enough between each other.

I’d also like to evolve this set of lenses more slowly, and not fall back into the binge/purge cycle I’ve gone through too often previously.

Put a different way, I want to find lenses for the long term, not just a brief fling.

How about you? What dictates which lenses you choose to buy – and keep? Do you have a lens wish list?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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10 thoughts on “Lenses For The Long Term – Not Just To Love And Leave”

  1. Good question Dan. For me it is relatively easy, I have long had a love of the Carl Zeiss offerings for my Contax 139Q, and I am slowly building my collection. I do also have a 28mm Tamron Adaptall and a Yashica ML 42-75mm zoom. The Yashica is arguably very close to the Zeiss, and it makes a good walkabout lens if I am doing a serious hike and only want to take one lens with me. The Tamron will probably wind up with my son at some point. All these lenses will also work with my Canon DSLR via an adapter. Having one camera that I am happy with does make it easier I think. 🙂

    1. Yashica made some gems, in M42, and the ML lenses in C/Y mount, and both are often overlooked in favour of more “famous” (and expensive!) brands.

  2. I think my buying habits are pretty conservative compared to yours 🙂
    I’m at around 20 lenses and I must have sold another 10 throughout the years, so I’ve bought about 30 in around 7 years.
    I think I will get even less lenses from now on as I think I’m basically done with older, cheaper lenses and I have the ones that fit me best, with the exception of maybe one or two where I have the slightly lesser alternative (like the SMC-M 28mm f/3.5 that I have when I could have the slightly better SMC-K 28mm f/3.5 – but I don’t use this lens as much since I have a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC Art series that is “an old lens design philosophy in a newer lens body” basically and it fits my needs better).
    I have a desire to get the small pancake lenses DA 21 and DA 70 Limiteds this year for when I can and want to carry light. Then there’s really not much else that I want…

    1. Whilst in most of my life I’m pretty frugal and minimalist, one area where I’ve been more easily seduced is cameras and lenses. Trainers too, to an extent, I only have three pairs but could easily have a dozen or more. I just need to stay away from Skechers and Nike websites!

      Something I’ve always struggled with too is the love of a bargain. I love that possibly my favourite lens I’ve ever had is the Helios 44-2 that’s worn and battered and I rescued from a junk bin at a camera fair and pais just £7 for. Plenty of other lenses have delighted me and cost less than £25, including plenty of Tak 55s, Pentax-M 50/1.7s and 50/2s, Rikenon 50/2s, and other Helios 44s, to name a few.

      I can’t see how paying hundreds for a modern lens would work out for me in any way. But, I am aware that whilst any one lens might cost say £20, once you’ve bought a dozen, that’s £240 that could have been spent on just a couple of more exensive and perhaps “better” lenses. If you buy a dozen 50mm lenses that are near identical, it’s not really a good use of the money.

      I’d love to try the Pentax Limiteds, but just can’t justify in my head spending hundreds, as I said. The most I’ve ever paid is £100 for a Zeiss Planar 50/1.8, just to see what all the fuss was about. I thought it was overrated and no better than a Takumar, Pentax-M, Rokkor, Yashica, Fujinon and more. So I sold it again for a profit and stuck with my cheaper ones!

      And as you know, in the last 18 months I’ve paid £26 for a K100D, £31 for a K-m and £25 for that Samsung GX-1S the other week.

      But this is just my perspective of course. Someone whose jaw regularly drops open when he reads posts on certain photography blogs with titles like “Photography on a budget – we pick the best cameras for £1000”!!

      1. I understand. But I think I am at the point where I can justify getting better lenses by selling a bunch of older ones… I sold a bunch of lenses and a Pentax LX that was basically a freebie, to get a DA 35 Limited and now a DA*16-50 (I was going for the DA 21 Limited but my DA 16-45mm is acting up and sometimes I do need a zoom for family pictures). No regrets at all. I didn’t need 3 24mm f/2.8 lenses, 1 was enough, and I sold them all for more than I paid.
        I might sell some more to get some better lenses in the future… but there’s some older lenses I will always keep.

  3. “Photography on a budget – we pick the best cameras for £1000”!! —— Dan, I love it; you have brought a grin to my face today !

    No wonder Olympus is bankrupt and DSLR sales are falling – for how do you persuade young people into creative camera photography when the smartphone is already in their pockets and most apps are free or cost a £ or a $ or two.

    Creative Camera photography is when you use lens perspective and aperture and shutter speed settings to isolate elements of your composition from the background and surroundings – it is the reverse of smartphone and APP photography – where the creative element is in the editing. I prefer to be a photographer rather than an editor. Understand this – and you gain the ability to “shoot straight out of camera” and free up your time to be a photographer and not a photo-editor; time to travel and time to share the pictures that you take. Just think – are you made happier by a friends saying “wow, expensive camera” or “wow, what a fabulous picture”?

    Essential in creative camera work is the wide aperture that you need to separate picture elements by depth of field – and this is why even £1000 of camera and zoom lens can fail to satisfy; yet the same effect can be had for a fraction by getting a decade old digital camera and a few legacy lenses.

    My discovery has been that lens cleanliness and mechanical integrity trumps brand name every time. Legacy prime lenses typically come from the 1960s to 1980s and now at 40-50 years old, near all have a deposit of haze and dust on internal surfaces (if not fungus). You may not be able to see it by eye – but this must explain the amazing lens to lens variation reported by legacy lens testing websites and by our own experiences of having multiple copies of the same lens. I have four 50mm F1.7 pentax “standard lenses” and can rank them all from best to worst by often dramatic steps in image quality.

    Given that the EXIF data on a modern kit zoom lens triggers automatic lens corrections in my software, it is hard for an old lens to compete on straight image quality. Instead I look at image quality “problems” as the creative potential of the lens – so most legacy 50mm lenses are soft at the edges at F1.7-2.0 – well that helps to isoltae the subject from the background elements of my picture; close the aperture to F5.6 and you may as well use the kit zoom.

    So a sparkling clean £10 / $15 Cosina 50mm F2 beats a hazy Nikon F at 10x the price. A clean copy of the 28mm F2.8 close focus “generic lens” sold as paragon, Beroflex, Ensinor, Clubman etc was made by Cimko and can reach 1:5 reproduction ratios and CREATIVELY outperforms the equivalent Zuiko – after all, the wide-angle perspective works creatively at its best with close, often frame-filling foreground elements; the closer you can focus the more creative variation you can control.

    My experience is that many of the cheaper “no-name” brand lenses were put in a camera bag and used very little and are often in great shape today – while those Nikkors were given hard use. The aluminum and polycarbonate, not brass, construction, often makes the “cheap brand” lenses far lighter to carry. The cheap design of just 4-6 lens elements in 4 groups makes them less likely to deteriorate and less prone to flare – while modern software can easily correct the barrel distortion that “expensive” legacy brand lenses needed complex 7-9 elements and floating element designs, to overcome. This is true within even the high-end brands; the Zuiko 135mm f3.5 outperforms the larger F2.8 or F2.0 versions while keeping a 49mm filter thread and a weight low enough to be worth including in a camera bag for the day.

    This also explains why I have started liking the new no-name Chinese prime lenses – those Mieke, 7-Artisans, Fujian lenses are the Vivitars, Sigmas, and Clubmans of their day – they come clean and haze free with mounts ready to go without adapters; the only frustration is the lack of click stops on the aperture rings.

    Phillips in 1999 showed the first 6MP CCD sensor – this was the point at which digital beat film resolution for all but specialist litho film for most images (yes, I know, the handling of the falloff in highlight areas still makes colour film out-perform a 48MP full-frame sensor, so I still carry a 35mm film-camera). The step up to CMOS sensors needed a 12MP design to match a 6MP CCD. So unless you photograph so carelessly that you have to crop a lot, or you want to see individual pixels rather than pictures most photographers will get “good enough” images from a 6MP CCD or 12MP CMOS camera to satisfy them near all the time.

    This doesn’t mean that all tech is wasted – for some of us the ability to use 32000 ASA, or rapid AF at 10 frames second, or handhold to 1/2 a second and not need a tripod, or focus-stack a macro is an advantage, but for >95% of photography images everything else since then has just added cost and weight. So yes – my “Photography on a budget – we pick the best cameras for £1000”! now becomes “Photography on a budget – I pick the best cameras for £75”!

    On the subject of tech: funny how the slower my camera operates – the better my pictures get?
    Keep up the good work – that is both work by Dan in writing the articles and the almost uniformly well informed and polite commentators on this website ! You all make a great read for a coffee-break !

    1. I wonder who these websites are catering for, do people really have a couple of grand lying about ready to drop on a new camera every six months?

      Really good points about smartphones versus “proper” cameras, yes they make excellent pictures but is all in the digital trickery, not in the simple relationship between choice of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and deliberately using different lenses for their particular focal length, character and capabilities. The phone software is making all the decisions, not the photographer.

      Did you see this post?


    2. Oh by the way good tips about the condition of lenses too, very thought provoking. It reminds me I had a virtually mint condition “Centon” 50/1.7 in Pentax K mount, which I think was a Jessops own brand or something, and it cost me something like £20 with a Ricoh film camera thrown in. It was excellent, very smooth to use and delivered very good results. I like the idea for looking out for off brand older lenses in great condition, rather than seeking out the mainstream names…

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