If you’re a regular here at The Branch then you will recognise one of our most used taglines ‘Iconic Vintage Photography.’ But what does this mean? Well, our images have always had a nostalgic look and feel to them - that’s one of our main USPs. In the early days this was created more so in post production using filters or ‘presets’ but, over the last 18 months or so, we’ve begun to develop a more subtle retro vibe created predominantly in camera, using actual old film lenses.
Old school lenses can be adapted for use on modern digital cameras and the results have gotten us hooked. These tiny pieces of glass, some now more than 60 years old, create an authentic vintage look with built-in bokeh and vignette that is just extraordinary.
We’ve been in the biz for six years now and when we started out I was, I admit, a bit of a lens snob. For a while I would only use Canon lenses, to the detriment of my bank balance, and wouldn’t even contemplate picking up another brand. That was until I got to try out the Sigma Art lens range… one 50mm f1.4 purchase later and I began to see the potential of expanding beyond my self-limiting Canon horizon.
Fast forward a year or two and that one Sigma lens had changed my way of thinking completely. Lens buying was now a whole different, and more affordable, ball game.
So when a friend of mine told me about some vintage glass he’d been using, I was intrigued. A bit of research, and a few hours scrolling eBay, lead to my first vintage lens purchase - a Helios m44_2 58mm.
This lens, like all vintage glass, is manual focus which, for me, is not a problem as I actually learnt the basics of photography in the pre-digital era (yes, I am that old!). I loved how using this lens made me slow down, breath and take the time to frame, compose and anticipate the shot.
It wasn’t long before I took the Helios out for its professional debut to a Twig’s lifestyle shoot and we were blown away with the results. I had to admit that the images produced were not quite as sharp as my more modern lenses, but the natural softness, lens flair and bokeh captured in the images was simply epic.
And so an obsession began.
I first dug out my Grandad’s old Nikon SLR camera to see what treats those lenses might have in store and I wasn’t disappointed. It was amongst these treasures that I found the only zoom lens that now sits proudly in my vintage collection - an 80-200mm Clubman MC which is incredibly sharp, considering it’s age, and has a distinct bokeh.
Then, over the the last 18 months or so, I have scoured car boot sales and auction sites, on a mission to find as many different types of vintage glass as I can.
I now own 12 different vintage lenses which collectively have probably not cost anywhere near half the price of a single, more modern bit of kit. The most expensive of these little treasures was the Helios 44_2 lens which was £55 from eBay. The most economical find, and probably one of my absolute favourite pieces of old school glass, is the 135mm Mirage Auto Reflex which Mrs Twig and I picked up at a car boot sale for the princely sum of £2.
Using these lenses has been a learning curve, going back to the roots of photography and experimenting with framing, composition and focus. I love how using this type of lens forces me to slow down and move away from the instant nature of the digital, auto focus era. Using vintage glass has undoubtedly made me a better photographer.
It’s also widened my interest in other types of lenses. Sitting nicely alongside my ever-growing collection of retro glassware is a more modern group of manual focus lenses from US company Lensbaby. These lenses also produce very distinctive in-camera effects that are a perfect fit for our vintage photography style.
Neither vintage glass nor Lensbaby will never replace my ultra modern, ultra sharp (and very expensive) prime lenses - I’d be nuts to rock up at your wedding or boudoir shoot with only manual focus bits of kit! However, they make a great complimentary add-on to my regular setup (all Sigma Art if you’re interested) and give an authentic feel to our iconic vintage photography vibe.
I have set up a ‘just for fun’ Instagram account, dedicated to pushing myself creatively using only old school lenses. If this blog has piqued your interest come follow my journey @thatvintageglass
Until next time Branchettes!