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102 year old lens attached to digital camera (cinema5d.com)
207 points by FleursDuMal on Sept 18, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

So this is a 102 year old lens mounted on modern Canon DSLR. Obviously it requires an adapter to physically mate the two.

Not to take anything away from that, but I thought I'd point out that you can mount 50 year old Nikon lenses on modern Nikon DSLRs, no adapter required, due to Nikon's commitment to the F-mount it introduced in 1959:


> So this is a 102 year old lens mounted on modern Canon DSLR

Isn’t that precisely what is suggested by the title?

Also, this isn’t any “adapter”:

> My friend, a Russian lens technician, who loves nothing more than to frankenstein equipment [...] called me into his store in NYC. [...] He found in a box of random parts, hidden inside anther lens this gem. A circa 1908 (possibly earlier) 35mm lens. Still functioning, mostly brass, and not nearly as much dust or fungus as one would think after sitting in a box for over a hundred years. This lens is a piece of film history people, and at this point rare beyond words. So i say to him, “Wow... what do you have in mind?” He smiles, and says (in the thickest Russian accent you can imagine) “I can make this fit EF you know....” My eye twinkled, and then 6 nail-biting hours later, he had it finished. My Russian lens technician is a mad scientist and he took what sounded like an angle grinder to the lens to make it clear the flange distance and the mirror.... This lens’s value is unclear. It’s sort of on loan. It’s the only lens of its kind on a 5D... or any digital for that matter.

Article also specifies the type of lens:

>This is a circa 1908 Wollensak 35mm F5.0 Cine-Velostigmat hand cranked cinema camera lens

Which is not a Canon lens.

In other words, he probably should have read the article.

I read the link and I wasn't denigrating it at all. I was just trying to point out that it reminded me of the Nikon F-Mount which has been a very durable mount.

For many photographers, lenses are the most expensive part of the camera system and it's nice that Nikon has kept their camera bodies backwards compatible with their lenses for 50 years. It is also largely forward compatible (allowing modern Nikon lenses to be used on older Nikon cameras).

It’s pretty fun that for all the technological camera changes we’ve seen in 100 years, the optical core of these systems is pretty much the same: a lens with a shutter whose image circle covers (in the most popular case) a 24×36 mm rectangle.


T-mount beats F-mount by 2 years. It's not as elegant as F-mount, but it's very simple - essentially a screw.

I use it with adapter to attach my Nikon DSLR to a telescope.

No background in optics, physics or serious photography, but I am curious: What sorts of effects or "feel" does an ancient lens like this typically generate, and why? For instance, will the lens elongate, fade, or gather microscopic pitting?

My money's on that this lens is a Cooke Triplet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooke_triplet which was (and is) a fairly neutral lens design.

There is some astigmatic aberration as well as vignetting visible in the photos provided, but it's possible that this lens was intended for a smaller image circle than 24x36 sensor in the 5DmkII. All lenses will have astigmatic aberration and vignetting at the edge of their image circle (which is normally outside the photographic media the image is being projected onto).

This lens is uncoated and highly susceptible to lens flare. As I understand it, many lenses before the 4-element Zeiss Tessar also tend to have more pronounced flare than later lens formulas. You can really see this in some of the photos.

Overall, it's neat little lens and I would shoot it in a heartbeat. It looks very sharp in the center with gentle fall-off near the edges. The owner could go a long way to get the most out of it by crafting a little lens hood for it -- it really helps with older lenses like this.

And this lens is likely to be f5.6 or slower - it's a lot easier to make a 35mm f5.6 design than a modern f1.2 !

f/5.0, the link said.

One of the major difference is lens coating. Uncoated glass reflects roughly 7% of light per element. On a simple normal-length prime like this it may not be a huge issue, but you would see a major difference with a longer focal length consisting more elements.

Visually, coated lenses yield more contrast. In the case of more modern (usually after the 70's) multi-coated lenses, there is also a UV-reducing layer that maintains more detail at a distances due to minimized haziness.

Some of my favorite examples of a classic, uncoated lens showing its effect are from the Lewis Hines photos of the Empire State Building construction.


There is some obvious dodging and burning done to this print in particular (the worker has been darkened compared with the cityscape in the background) but notice how much the detail fades with distance.

I love the visual qualities of that lens. Wow! The slight softness, the vignette, the muted tones. I have bags full of old lenses and lens elements (going back to cameras from about 1920) myself and now I'm inspired to do something with them on my own digital body. What fun!

Not extraordinarily unusual. All you have to do is align the focal plane of the lens with the camera sensor. Usually this is done with a metal flange of greater or lesser complexity. Here he just had to adapt the threads on the lens to the threads on the camera body. Twenty minutes in any well-equipped machine shop.

Modern lenses are very complicated, because they work to cancel out all sorts of subtle and troublesome distortions, but a lens can be very simple indeed. A Lensbaby[1] is just a single lens element attached to some stiff bellows.

And that's it.

You could hand it to Robert Hooke and he would nod in comprehension. He might find the plastics more interesting, but the point is, you could have built a Lensbaby at any point in the last three hundred years.

You can get even simpler than that, as my link notes. Poke a hole in a body cap with a hot needle, and you've made a pinhole "lens", which is thousand year old technology.[2]

1: http://www.dansdata.com/lensbaby.htm for an excellent review. He's actually reviewing a Lensbaby 2, which uses a doublet instead of a single uncoated lens, to reduce chromatic aberration and flare, which is quite missing the point, I feel.

2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_obscura

Not extraordinarily unusual...

This person stumbled upon a 100+ year-old cinema lens and thought to adapt it to a modern DSLR, take some excellent pictures with a wonderful vintage feel, and post them online for all of us to share. I would most certainly call that unusual.

Let's give credit where credit is due. This is a wonderful and novel piece of work and I'm definitely grateful that s/he chose to share it with us.

Wonderful juxtaposition of old and new. Good photos!

Site is down :( Coral Cache not working either.

Not quite! It's working intermittently; try more.

When it's slashdotted, people open several of them in tabs, until they get it, pounding the server even worse.

I've known the photographer for about 8 years, he does lots of interesting projects like this.

Does anyone know where you could find a how-to guide to do this yourself? Or is this the type of thing best left to professionals?

It may be a 39mm lens:


You could start with a T-mount adapter to get to 42mm:



Then a 42mm to 39mm step-down adapter ring:


Not sure about the clearances, and you may not get infinity focus depending upon how far out the lens ends up being situated from the focal plane of the sensor.

Edited to add: google turned up this direct EOS to M39 adapter:

But note "DOES NOT allow focus to infinity".

The Canon EF mount has a fairly short back focal distance = the distance between the back of the lens and the film/sensor is less than most other cameras so it's easy to make an adapter to hold another lens the correct distance away.

Thank you for the help I am going to look into this. I appreciate the links.

While it's not the same, there are several how to's for using a Holga lens with a DSLR (like http://www.howcast.com/videos/217390-How-To-Make-Your-Holga-...). Extrapolating from these would certainly help get you at least part way there.

Awesome, thank you, much appreciated. This is a good start for me.

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