Buying Bargain Lenses! Which? Where? When?

Buying Bargain Lenses! Which? Where? When?


Buying Lenses

Foreword: This post is aimed at people who are just getting into vintage lenses, but maybe even a seasoned vintage lens user will find some useful info here.

When it comes to buying lenses, things can get pretty confusing, especially at the start. There are so many brands, models, types, focal lengths, etc and there are also many other factors that will determine what is right for you, but one factor a lot of us look at first is the price!

One of the main reasons why people choose vintage lenses is their cost when compared to modern equivalents, because vintage ones will often cost as much as 10 times less than their modern equivalents. Such lenses allow many filmmakers (and photographers) add different focal lengths to their kit bag and experiment without breaking the bank.



So which are the best bargain lenses? Of course there are a few well-known gems like the Helios 44-2 58mm F2, which has remained affordable even with its massive popularity, but generally the best bargain lens might be the one you will stumble upon, so here are some general pointers.

The most common vintage focal lengths are the 28mm, 50mm, 135mm, 35-70mm and 80-200mm. There are a lot of such lenses from long forgotten third party brands that aren’t really worth paying more than $10-20 for, so don’t overpay for these unless you find:

  • Canon FD
  • Nikon
  • Olympus
  • Minolta
  • Pentax
  • Zeiss

Some other less known/third party brands that are worth looking at include:

  • Helios
  • Mir
  • Jupiter
  • Tair
  • Pentacon
  • Soligor
  • Kiron
  • Vivitar
  • Chinon
  • Yashica
  • Tamron
  • Tokina

A good mount to go for is the M42 screw mount, because M42 mount lenses are generally quite cheap and are adaptable to just about any other popular camera mount. Other easily adaptable mounts include Olympus OM, Pentax K and Nikon F, but only third party lenses with these mounts will be super cheap (unless you get lucky).

Canon FD, Minolta MD and Konica AR mount lenses can often present best value for money. They work great with the “mirrorless” style cameras, but keep in mind that they have a poor compatibility with SLR style cameras, so don’t buy these if you have a 5D/etc.

If you are still lost, here are a few 3x lens sets that are great as a starting point for anyone getting into vintage lenses.

The “Character” set:

  • MIR-1 37mm F2.8
  • Helios 44-2 58mm F2
  • Juputer-9 85mm F2

This is an absolutely incredible little set for anyone who likes the vintage character, like the dreamy flares, low contrast look, unusual bokeh, etc. and as you go along there are other Russian lenses you can add to this set to make it even better. Such set will set you back around $200-250 and while it doesn’t sound like the biggest bargain, it’s totally worth it! 

The “Allrounder” set:

  • Canon FD 28mm F2.8
  • Canon FD 50mm F1.8
  • Canon FD 135mm F3.5

This set covers wider focal range, very cheap to buy (around $100) has great optical performance and images produced are also very cinematic! There are loads of other affordable FD lenses to fill in the gaps when you are ready to add more lenses to the kit, some of them are mentioned in my Canon FD Buyer’s Guide.



So where is the best place to find a bargain? Flea markets/carboot sales and thrift/charity shops are some of the best places to find a real bargain, because prices in such places are generally low, especially at the flea markets/car boot sales when you can also haggle the price down. Often a seller or shop doesn’t even know the real value of the lenses and price them based on assumptions. Sometimes a small, but fast, sharp prime will cost much less than a slow telephoto zoom, just because people who don’t know any better, often think big lenses must be better and more expensive. That is how I bought a little Pentax 20mm F2.8 twice cheaper than a Sigma 400mm F5.6 the same charity shop, even though that Pentax is 4 times more valuable than Sigma.

Another good reason to check out these places is ability to see and inspect lenses yourself to see if they are really worth their price. It’s a good idea to check are all the rings, aperture functionality, external optical condition and if possible internal condition too by pointing the lens at a bright light source and looking though it to see if there is any dust and more importantly fungus. Almost any vintage lens (unless just serviced) will have dust inside, so don’t let that put you off. Just make sure it’s not a whole layer of dust or haze that will most likely affect the sharpness and contrast to a certain extend.

Another obvious place to find a bargain is of course the Internet. Some websites are better than others, but all have a potential for a bargain.


50mm lenses


Lastly, let’s talk about the best time to snap up a bargain. If you are going to visit a flea marker/carboot sale, you have to get there as early as possible, because on lenses get snapped very quickly on such events.

It’s kind of the same thing with ebay, when looking at the “buy it now” listings. You want to be one of the first to see your desired lens/camera kit, so type in the name of your desired lens or chosen key words and sort the listings by “newly listed”. If you do this often enough, you will eventually find something at a bargain price, I know I did on many occasions. If you get overwhelmed by the amount of irrelevant listings you get when searching for something general, like a “lens”, then narrow your search down to “photography category”, choose only “used” items and set the highest price to “$10, $20”, etc. and suddenly listings will become much more relevant to what you are looking for.

Same rules apply to “auction” style listings, only this time you need to sort the listings by “ending soonest” being first. Best times to check out soon to end auctions are the times when not many others will do the same. Early mornings, late evenings, weekdays rather than weekends are the best times to snap up a bargain. Again you have to do it more than once if you are hoping to find an amazing deal.

Word of warning: hunting down bargain lenses is fun, but can become quite an addiction. Before you know it, you have 100s of lenses in your watch list and potentially buying at least one lens per day, because once you work out what look, there are way too many good deals and if your mentality is – “I still don’t have this one”, then you will never have enough, because there is an incredible amount of various vintage lenses; I know as I’ve been there 🙂

Ideally buy only what you feel you will really need, a focal length or specific look that is missing in your tool bag.


--Alan Besedin is dedicated exclusively to lenses, vintage ones in particular. What excited me the most in my research of vintage lenses is the discovery of forgotten, hidden gems that are not popular nowadays, but still offer great results. There are literally 100s of different, very interesting vintage lenses out there, most of which offer a lot of benefits for VIDEO USE over most modern lenses with either DSLRs or Large Chip Camcorders.

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