Sound Advice: Vintage lenses don't hold up very well

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

Question: I have a 35 mm Pentax K1000 SLR camera body and ZX-7 body with lenses. Which Pentax digital SLR should I get to use with my existing lenses? The lenses are a Tamron 28-80 mm zoom, 70-300 mm macro focusing zoom, and a 135 mm f/2.5 telephoto. I am comparing the Pentax K-30 and K-50 bodies.


South Bend, Ind.

Answer: I will get to my recommendation shortly, but first I would like to detail my own experience using vintage lenses on a new digital SLR.

I have a beloved Tamron 80-210 mm f/3.8-4 zoom lens with the Adaptall-2 changeable mount. I used this lens all through college and absolutely loved it. It was mid-1980s vintage and was one of the best zoom lenses of its day, equal or better than competing lenses from Nikon and Canon. I've held on to it not only because of sentimental attachment, but also figuring that someday I may have a use for it.

When I switched from a Canon to a Pentax digital SLR system, I realized I could use my old Tamron on a new Pentax digital SLR body by changing the Adaptall-2 mount. I found a Pentax KA mount with the electronic interface, slapped it on my lens, put it on the camera body and went out to take pictures.

I never used autofocus until I went with a digital SLR system. Now that I was used to it, focusing my Tamron became a chore and I realized how much harder it was to manually focus an old, heavy lens using the smaller viewfinder of a digital SLR. (The viewfinder of a 35 mm SLR usually is much larger than a digital SLR) It wasn't as much fun using my old lens as I thought it would be.

This was enough on its own to dissuade me from using my old lens, but then I saw the results. In a word: yuck.

The lens didn't hold up very well compared to a modern, digitally optimized Pentax lens, even inexpensive ones, such as the 18-55 mm or 50-200 mm. The images from my Pentax lenses were clearer, crisper and had better color. It was also much easier to get these results as all the camera functionality was retained with the new lenses. Many older lenses lack the electronic contacts and firmware to fully integrate with the new cameras.

What I recommend is you get the K-30 camera and use the savings vs. the K-50 toward new lenses. You don't have to forego the old lenses entirely; in fact the 70-300 mm and 135 mm f/2.5 could be useful in certain circumstances.

A K-30 kit with the Pentax 18-55 mm lens sells for about $599 online. If you shop carefully you can find the K-30 kit with both the 18-55 and 50-200 lens for under $650. This would be an excellent long-term investment and not much more than the K-50 body, which usually sells in the low $600 range.

This isn't meant to be a swipe at Tamron or using vintage lenses. Lots of photographers get great results using vintage lenses on digital cameras, especially mirrorless bodies, where a plethora of adapters are available. I don't recommend vintage as sole or primary lenses, though. The compromises in performance aren't worth it.

Read product reviews by Don Lindich at

Join the conversation:

Commenting policy | How to report abuse
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Commenting policy | How to report abuse


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?