Picture this: old skills and gear are still worth revisiting

I brought my aging, let beautifully-made Nikkor 200mm f/2.0 to a wrestling match at the Ada Cougar Activity Center recently. Not only does it give me a certain “look” to my images, it helps keep my manual-focusing skills sharp.

The internet remains certain that photographic film is making a big comeback, but is equally certain that film prices are going up.

I appreciate all creative endeavors, but I am a very long-time veteran photographer, and one thing young photographers often fail to appreciate is how many problems digital photography solved.

I also appreciate that for many, photography is recreation, not a profession as it is with me, and playing with film for them is like playing with old radios is to me.

Oh, yes, did I mention I love playing with old radios?

Anyway, one way to take advantage of the problem-solving benefits of digital photography and yet include an element of “vintage” is to use older lenses. This is an especially attractive option with mirrorless cameras, since the image sensor is set farther forward in the camera, allowing use of adaptors to mounts all sorts of old glass.

Recently, I pulled out one of my least-used vintage lenses, the 1980’s-era Nikkor 200mm f/2.0. This is a neat lens, big, heavy, smooth to run, and built like a tank, but one I seldom use because it isn’t an autofocus lens, and because it is not particularly sharp at it’s largest aperture setting, f/2.0.

Sharpness is all relative, of course, and in it’s day, with grainy films like Kodak Tri-X Pan Film, this lens was sharp enough at f/2.0. 

Thus another double-edged sword of film vs digital: the low noise, high-resolution sensors of our time really take lenses to the edge of their limits. Thus, a magnificent, expensive lens from the 1980s is a paperweight in the 2020s.

Still, within its limitations and boundaries, a lens like the 200mm f/2.0 still has some merit, and I’ll continue to drag it out periodically.

Maybe you have a similar lens, camera, lighting setup, background, filter, or other accessory you seldom use, that might still have a place in creating an image with a certain feel, vintage, or romance. I encourage you to bring it out into the light now and then, and put it to work! You might end up loving the result.

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