Where to Find Vintage Lenses (and Tips on How to Use Them)
Let’s take a look at some creative and affordable options into finding, purchasing, and utilizing vintage lenses in your film and video projects.
I recently went to a filmmaker meetup in Austin, Texas, to chat and hang out with some other videographers, documentarians, and film professionals. I’d been several times before, but was looking forward to this meetup because many of us were planning to bring our cameras and share our go-to lenses, gear, and favorite build-outs.
While it was cool to try out some different rigs and talk shop with how others had problem-solved many of the same camera and lens issues (for their unique production experiences), one of the most intriguing aspects about the event was checking out everyone’s go-to lenses.
And a surprising amount of those lenses were vintage.
Now, I’ve shot on vintage lenses several times. However, I don’t own any myself. But to hear everyone talk, more often than not their prize lens possession was a cool vintage lens they either found in an attic, was handed down to them by a parent or grandparent, or was purchased at a thrift shop. Several others were purchased on Ebay or online elsewhere, but the majority of the videographers had a lens with some personal significance.
For those who have a vintage lens in their possession, or for those looking to get one of their own, here are some of the best places and resources for finding and purchasing vintage lenses, as well as tips on how to work with them once you have one.
Mom and Pop Camera Stores
If I could suggest one place every video professional should look first for vintage lenses (or cameras, gear, etc.), it’d have to be your local mom and pop camera store. These shops are constantly in danger of closing down — many have already shut their doors for good. Not only should you do your duty to support these shops while they’re still around, they actually can be treasure troves for vintage lenses, which you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Sure, there might be a mark up as compared to buying online (more on that below), but you’re also getting both the convenience of walking out the door with your purchase, as well as a chance to try out your vintage lens on your camera(s) of choice. You can also spend time chatting with your resident video expert about the vintage lenses, find out more info about when and where they came from, and even advice on how this equipment might help you on your next shoot.
Online and Marketplace Options
Image by bogdandimages.
Yet, for many, there are no mom and pop stores around the corner anymore. So, purchasing a vintage lens online might be your best — and only — option. There are drawbacks to finding vintage lenses online, namely that you can’t test them out on your camera or rig right away.
But, if you’re patient and are willing to check back often — especially on the online auction sites — and consider making returns, you can find some quality and rare vintage lenses. Here are some different online options.
Your Family’s Attic or Garage
As a result of the previously mentioned filmmaker meetup, four out of five filmmakers must apparently have filmmaking relatives with stockpiles of vintage lenses — and in some cases cameras — stashed away in attics and garages.
Personally, all I’ve ever found from my parents is an old camcorder from the ‘90s, but if you do have parents or grandparents who shot amateur photography (or better yet, videography) in their youth, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon some vintage hand-me-downs that not only have their own unique bokeh and stylings, but also some cool personal stories, as well.
Thrift Stores and Estate Sales
Image by vetkit.
Similarly, for every filmmaker heir out there, there has to be countless other attics and garages where vintage lenses are burdened upon uninterested parties, who would just as soon sell or get rid of their vintage lenses — often for bargain prices.
If you consider yourself a seasoned thrifter, hitting up used goods and thrift stores can be a fun Saturday afternoon activity — diving through electronics bins looking for vintage finds. You can also make the morning rounds of estate sales at houses in affluent neighborhoods, in search of vintage lenses there, as well.
Lens Mounts and Adapters
Unless you’re searching for vintage lenses to go with your vintage 16mm film camera, you’re probably going to need to research and invest in lens mounts or adapters. Here’s a good article on working with vintage lenses on modern cameras, as well as a good resource for finding the right lens adapter for you.
Cover image by tomertu.
For more tips and insights into working with vintage camera lenses, check out some of these articles below.