How manual-focus & vintage lenses made me a better photographer
I have been a commercial and wedding photographer in Bali-Indonesia for over 13 years. And from the beginning, I have been using Canon DSLR cameras and a variety of auto-focus lenses for the Canon EF system.
Switching to another camera system/brand did not cross my mind because I made a substantial investment into lenses for the Canon system. Meanwhile, I have gathered over 15 lenses for the Canon EF / EF-S mount.
But in 2016 I decided to try a mirrorless camera and bought a SONY A7 r-II.
Because lens adapters exist that allow me to use my existing Canon glass on a Sony mirrorless camera I did neither plan nor anticipate that I will buy lenses especially for the SONY system. At least that was the plan.
But little did I know…😎
Watching a few YouTube tutorials about the SONY A7 system I discovered that there is an affordable 50 mm / f0.95 available, especially for SONY mirrorless cameras. I wanted that lens very badly.
Because ever since I saw the magic a lens with such a large aperture can do I wanted such a puppy also. And unlike the LEICA Noctilux which costs in excess of 10.000 USD this lens was quite affordable — just around 800 USD. Not too bad for a lens with an aperture of f 0.95…
So I ordered this Mitakon 50 mm / f 0.95 lens directly from China. A 100% manual lens.
For the very first time, I was using manual focusing. Quite a strange way of taking photographs…
This was perhaps the most significant turning point in my career as a photographer.
At first, it seemed a rather limiting way of photography. I missed quite a few pictures. Because by the time I had the focus set properly the situation I wanted to photograph was gone.
At first focusing by hand was a distraction from the actual process of making photographs.
But this did not discourage me. I quickly got used to manual focusing. And in the end, this made me become a better photographer and create better photographs.
Why? Because it forced me to compose my photographs differently.
Focusing manually made me slow down.
Rather than clicking away indiscriminately, I found myself thinking much more about how I approach a photographic situation.
Putting in more thought and preparation when photographing was the best thing that ever happened to me as a photographer.
In a way focusing by hand has re-wired my photographic brain.
It’s hard to describe. I encourage all photographers who have never focused manually to try it out. Do not give up easily — it requires some practice.
The experiences I made with my first manual focus lens prompted me to buy another 10 manual focusing and vintage lenses since 2016. Some of which have become my absolute favourite tools for creating photographs.
You may think I am ‘rich’ so that I can buy that many lenses in such a short time. No, I am not!
You see another great thing about vintage lenses is that many of them can be had at a very low price.
Often for less than 50 USD. Or to put it into perspective — all my vintage glass combined costs less than one new high-end modern auto-focus lens.
I still use my Canon lenses when documenting weddings in Bali. But less and less so.
In fact, I recently did my first commercial assignment exclusively using vintage lenses only. Here is a link to the behind-the-scenes story of that project.
In fact, these very positive experiences with manual focusing & vintage lenses led me to discover SLOW PHOTOGRAPHY — a (not so) new way of approaching photography and creating better photographs.
If you are interested to learn more you may want to join the SLOW PHOTOGRAPHY movement.
And that is how manual focusing and using vintage lenses has transformed me and my photography. Try it out for yourself…
May the light be always with you… 🌈☀️
Yours Truly’ from Bali — DOMINIK