My Favorite Vintage Lenses for Creative Photography

Derrick Story
5 min readJul 13, 2022

If you don’t think that a 30-year-old Zeiss lens on your mirrorless camera will add a dash of magic to your images, then, you probably haven’t tried it. I’m hoping to change that. And I would go so far as to say that vintage optics will affect your entire creative imaging process.

Here’s what happens. First, the optics are designed differently than what we buy today. The high image quality of a digital camera really shows off the unique characteristics of vintage lenses.

But there’s something in the cooking of it too. We find ourselves slowing down a bit, in large part thanks to manual focusing, which leads to composing more carefully. Another happy byproduct is the motivation to experiment with in-camera effects such as monochrome and creative filters. I mean, why not?

Bright light sources can produce interesting effects. PEN-F, Zeiss 45mm, Monochrome Mode.

The two areas where I notice the biggest difference with the following lenses (that I’ve tested and adore) are color palette and out-of-focus background rendering. I’ve also marveled at how bright light sources can produce interesting and unpredictable results.

If I’ve piqued your curiosity, here are a few things you’ll need. First, use a mirrorless camera that’s fun for experimentation, not so much your workhorse. You want to be able to leave the vintage optic on the camera and grab it quickly when inspiration strikes.

I’m photographing backyard flowers much differently with this rig. PEN-F, Zeiss 45mm, Monochrome Mode.

You’ll also need an adapter. These are reasonably priced and are specific to the lens mount and camera. I have a small collection so I can adapt a variety of optics to my PEN-F and Fuji GFX. And finally, you’ll need the vintage lens itself, preferably a prime that’s f/2.8 or faster. These tend to be more compact than vintage zooms and often produce interesting backgrounds.

As for the lenses themselves, I have a handful of suggestions to help you get started. These are generally available on the used market, and are affordable compared to today’s lenses.

Derrick Story

Photographer, writer, podcaster — — Editor of "Live View" on