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Tips for Using Legacy Lenses and Shooting in Full Manual


Shooting Manually

Full manual. Two words. Ten letters. Yet those words can be some of the most discouraging for new photographers to ingest. There has long been a perceived over complication concerning shooting in Manual Mode. Personally, I always leave my camera set to manual. Granted, I dont shoot many fast-paced sporting events that require speedy autofocus, or many situations where there is constantly fluctuating light. Still, the idea of controlling the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and focus, all independently of your camera’s computer, unsettles even experienced photographers at times. Happily though, not only is there a swelling community of photographerss who are embracing the somewhat challenging, but highly organic and rewarding, benefits of shooting manually…but also upping the ante by adapting completely analog legacy lenses for use with their cameras.


In this article, you will learn how to enjoy what might be considered a devolved methodology of making photographs using legacy lenses, and shooting in full manual mode. Full manual lenses, are generally built to exacting quality standards, but are relatively low-priced, which makes them great for beginners, and those shooting on a budget. Furthermore, adapters are available for virtually all mirrorless and digital SLR camera systems, so that you can start making great photographs using these low-tech lenses. Let’s jump right in.

What are Legacy Lenses?

Lenses that were geared for use with older film camera (35mm or medium/large format) systems are called legacy lenses. Glass of this type are non-motor driven, and operate autonomously of your camera. This means that the focus and aperture selection are all accomplished inside of the lens, which is controlled by you. There is no electronic communication between the lens and the camera. You must use the lens’s aperture, and focusing ring, to produce the desired depth of field and focus. Legacy lenses are generally made of metal, making them relatively heavy, but heartily constructed.

Which lenses are fully manual?

Full manual lenses does certainly not include all legacy lenses. Many manufacturers still make completely manual lenses, engineered specifically for the digital camera market. A lens is designated as being fully manual when there is no control being provided by the camera. However, there are quite a few fully manual lenses which have incorporated focus indicator chips into their design. While remaining fully manual, these types of lenses will communicate with your camera when focus has been achieved.


Adapting lenses to your camera

In a previous article on dPS we discussed how easy it really is to use legacy lenses (and other non-native glass) with your digital camera. The same holds true. All that is needed to enable the use of fully manual legacy lenses to be used with your modern digital camera body is a simple adapter.


These adapters vary in capability from simple adapter rings, to advanced electronic contraptions, with focus indicator chips of their own. Keep in mind though, there are a few things to consider before adapting any non-native lens to your camera. More on that shortly.

Using your camera in full manual mode with manual lenses


You’ve found an elegant legacy lens and located the appropriate adapter for your particular camera system. You’re excited and ready begin shooting completely manually, so now what? Well, take a breath and exhale a well deserved sigh of relief, because all of that was the hard part. Now all that’s left are a few quick steps. The first of those steps is to switch your camera into Manual Mode. This is almost always done by moving your selector wheel to M for manual mode. This will give you, the courageous photographer, complete control over all aspects of the shot. If you are using a completely manual lens, or a legacy lens, everything except the shutter speed will now be manipulated using the lens. The aperture will be controlled using the aperture selector ring, and so too will be the focusing.

This is a breakdown of the essential features found on an adapted, full manual legacy lens (in this case a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8).


Here are a few tips for using your camera in full manual mode, in conjunction with a fully manual or legacy lens:

Focus Peaking Function

Some cameras now incorporate a technology called focus peaking which visually outlines the edges of the most in-focus area of a scene,, before the shutter is ever released. The technology detects the area of the most contrast between pixels, thus determining what region is most in focus. Though not perfect, this a great option to aid with manual focusing.

Focus Magnifier

Not all camera bodies come equipped with the focus peaking feature, but most modern digital cameras are capable of focus magnification. This lets you digitally magnify the scene, and inspect areas for proper focus. I use focus magnification in all of my landscape work. It is a great way to achieve pin point focus on the areas where precision is a necessity. (Note: this is usually available in LiveView mode).

Shoot RAW

Yes, the old shoot RAW lecture again. Even though focus correction can’t be achieved, even in RAW format files, it will however give you much more room to work on contrast and clarity. This will sometimes help to salvage an image that may otherwise be culled.

Things to consider before using legacy lenses

Along with all the benefits of shooting manually with legacy and full manual lenses, there are also some things to remember before, and during shooting times.

Complete Autonomy of the Camera

There is of course no electronic communication between the lens and the camera, unless you have chosen an adapter or lens equipped with focus indicator technology. So there will be no way to use your shutter priority or aperture priority modes.

Physical Considerations

Some lenses will obstruct the mirror function of digital SLRs. This is one of those things that carries a little bit of buyer beware baggage. Make absolutely sure that the lens you are adapting to your camera does not physically occlude the operation of the mirror, this will damage your camera, possibly beyond repair. This becomes less of an issue with mirrorless camera systems.

Crop Factor

The crop factor of any lens is dependant on the size of the image sensor (or film) being used. Always be mindful of the interactions between your lens, and whatever size sensor you are using, be it full frame of APS-C (cropped). Most legacy lenses were intended for use with 35mm film. This will play a major role in your practical focal length, when shopping for lenses of the prime variety.


Fully manual and legacy lenses have a firm grasp on today’s digital world. Though viewed as antiquated by some, the essential elements of this type of photography can produce exceptional images. Shooting in Manual Mode gives you ultimate generalship over your work, and allows you to take every aspect of photo making into your own hands. Not only is the use of legacy and manual lenses a cost efficient way to make photographs, but it is also a reflection of a time when the buck stopped with the photographer, not the camera.

Newer isn’t always better. And even though manual shooting might not be the most effective course in some situations, there is no reason why it should be discounted in today’s modern era. Full manual shooting allows you to use lenses of extremely high quality to fully realize your creative vision, in ways you may not have otherwise been able to accommodate. Take your photography back to the future, and go beyond the realm of the automatic.

Do you have a favorite manual setup that you use regularly? Share it in the comments below!

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Adam Welch is a photographer, writer, educator, adventurer, baconographer, and beerologist currently based in the western portion of his home state of Tennessee. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his work over at website , Instagram , and on 500px .

  • Simon

    Nice piece. I really don’t understand the issue with shooting in manual. You can still set ISO and WB to auto if you want (and WB is irrelevant if you’re shooting RAW anyway, and ISO is best kept at a low setting). So you just choose the aperture first, and then just set the shutter speed according to what the meter says. It’s exactly the same as shooting in aperture priority, except you don’t have to faff around working out exposure compensation if the camera doesn’t come out with what you envisaged, just dial in a slower or faster shutter speed yourself. It might be a little slower, I guess, but it’s certainly no more difficult. In fact I’d say that adding in the element of exposure compensation makes AV/TV modes *more* complicated than shooting manual.

    I’m fairly new to DSLRs but I use legacy lenses in manual all the time. Soligor and Hoya HMC primes are my favourites, and highly recommended! The Meyer-Optik Oreston is also a fantastic old lens. It’s been a great way of learning to make photos.

  • gnondpomme

    one part of my decision to jump from nikon to fuji was the possibility of easily using legacy lens … It’s such a pleasure to use those old piece of metal and glass and doing it on mirrorless is even easier because of all the cheap adaptators that you can find and also thanks to the fact that “you see what you get” through the viewfinder.
    Of course these lens are far from todays prime lenses interm of resolution but they can give some much for such a low value.
    I have a bunch of old minolta rokkor and an Helios 44 m-4 that I use almost daily …

    some exemples :

  • Lee McCurtayne

    Photography has evolved, to being able to use your old lenses, in a manual, creative way. Having auto focus doesn’t make you learn, doesn’t push you. Using aperture mode teaches you about depth of field. You can set a lens at the distance markers and get great focus with practice. To be able to walk around moving kids, point and fire from the waist and find Kids in focus and action blurs are rewarding. Try it, its a great way to experience the practical.

  • Mario

    I have a nikon camera but it is bulky and heavy, then i bougth a fuji mirrorless camera, i can use some of my nikon prime lens on the fuji camera, besides fujinon lens are very good lens but also expensive, i dont want to have two sets of lens than can achieve same pictures. I m glad using my nikon lens in manual on the fuji camera.

  • bettis1

    My greatest concern when shopping for a legacy lens is avoiding one which might impinge on the camera mirror. Are there some guidelines to watch out for?

  • Patrick James

    Same question as bettis1, I shoot with a Nikon D3300 how can I be sure the old glass I’m addapting will not, for sure, damage my body?

  • nikonnut

    Be careful when using old legacy lenses on DSLRs when photographing in a high humidity, dusty or tropical environment as many old legacy lenses are not weather sealed to the same extent as the modern electronic lenses that come with your DSLR. Back in film days, cameras did not have the same level of electronic circuitary and, therefore, weather proofing was not such a critical issue as it is today with electronic cameras. Consequently, moisture and dust can sometimes find its way into your DSLR via the non-weatherproofed legacy lens. I’ve had one DSLR malfunction due moisture ingestion when I was photographing with a legacy lens in Hanoi, Vietnam.

  • Hi bettis1,

    Good question and I hope I can offer some help. The majority of the problems that can arise with mirror clearance comes from using lenses designed for cropped frame sensor(APS-c) camera bodies. Lenses for cropped sensor bodies generally, but not always, have rear elements that extend further back into the camera when mounted. Full frame camera mirrors are of course made larger to match the larger sensor so this is where the trouble sometimes occurs.

    In my experience, the majority of legacy lenses should not impinge the mirror of your camera. Most of these older lenses were designed for use with 35mm analog film and in turn had to clear the same size mirrors of the camera also. Also keep in mind that you will be using some type of adapter to make the lens fit and this acts as a kind of inherent spacer between the lens and the camera body. Still, I have saw some M-42 type lenses that were VERY close to the reflex mirror even with the adapter. But this is rare in my opinion.

    The key thing to remember is that if there is doubt, don’t risk it! I hope this helps!

  • bettis1

    Thank you. Good advice. Although I am using a D7100, all the legacy lenses which I will consider will be for full frame since that is the direction in which I am moving (well, I was until the announcement of the D500. 😉 )


  • SteveR

    I have quite a few old film lenses that I use with my DLSR. Adapter rings are fairly inexpensive (exceedingly less than any new digital glass). It also allows me to use my Minolta compact bellows for macro photography.
    I use a lot of film lenses because I already have them, they work, and it only takes a few dollars to buy an adapter ring. I have Pentax, Minolta and Canon film lenses adapted to my Canon DLSR.
    The only downside of older lenses is the metadata does not include the lens settings.

  • varunkarthick
  • Hello Patrick,

    I wish there was a definitive way to be sure of the compatibility but unfortunately that might not be possible. It will ultimately depend on the lens you are using. Seeing as your D3300 is a cropped sensor body with a smaller mirror, it would be my opinion that the vast majority of legacy lenses should work fine. But of course, it will always come down to physically assessing the fit. I will suggest that you do good search on the web for other photographers who have used the lens/camera combo you have in mind to see if there have been any issues. Good luck!

  • Zachary McMannis

    On Fuji cameras you can pretty much shoot in aperture priority. If you set the shutter dial to A it works perfectly. Same with auto iso. I use old Minolta lenses on my Fuji XE-1. Wide open these old lenses don’t seem to be to great but if you stop down a bit they can be surprisingly sharp.

  • rob Lamont

    Hi guys, I have been shooting with a pentax 645n for a couple of years. Now medium format is a bit of a different animal to full frame and aps-c bodies, but I have found the old manual focus lenses to produce fantastic images and the quality of the optics amazing. To be fair I don’t have a legacy lens or adaptor for the APSc bodies, pentax K5iis and K200 so I can’t really compare. These old lenses are full of character and have found through accidentally acquiring an identical lens, although identical on paper shoot differently. One is very sharp at larger apertures and the other is softer. Having found this, went out on a limb and bought a lens identical to another I had and found the same true here. Just for the record too,usually use the 645n in shutter priority

  • rob Lamont

    Meant to add this to previous post. Shot on film with the 645

  • Patrick James

    Thank you for the great article and advice, it is much appreciated! Ill do my research. Thanks again.

  • Hi Rob, I’m glad to hear you’re using a medium format lens because I’ve been researching adapting one myself. I’ve heard nothing but positive things from those who have used these medium format lenses. They all say that the sharpness and contrast is superb due to the fact you are literally shooting through the center of the lens, the “sweet spot” if you will. Great image btw.

  • rob Lamont

    Thanks Adam, have just shelled out on a 645d ,believe me,it can’t come quick enough. Then those lenses will be getting a workout!

  • jake337

    Hey Patrick. Since you are using nikon you have a vast selection of lenses to choose from. Pretty much every nikon F mount lens will mount and “work” on your D3300. The few thay will hit your mirror are early wide angle/fisheye lenses who’s rear element will hit the mirror.

  • DavidR8

    Great article. I inherited my father’s Konika T3 and collection of lenses; a 57mm f1.2, 85mm f1.8 and 21mm f4. I found a fotodiox adapter to fit them to my D7000. All good except I find that trying to achieve sharp focus with them is very difficult despite the fact that the focus indicator light is operational.
    Only with the 85mm have I had much success. I’d love to use the 57mm as a portrait lens but sharp focus eludes me.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Alejandro Mallado Erbez

    Hi I’m shooting a Fuji XT-10 and I would love to try some of my father’s old lenses, but I don’t know what kind of adapter I need. With one are u using?

  • Carlos J Encarnacion

    true, these lenses were meant to be used with camera bodies that had a mirror lock-up feature, like the pentax KX film body, also, this feature was used to reduce camera shake when making macro, telescope and microscope photography or long exposures.

  • Arthur_P_Dent

    The Pentax K-Mounts are all reverse compatible with the analog K lenses. Now, you have to get an adapter for the M-42, and your best bet is to get a flush-mount one, so you can focus to infinity.

  • rob Lamont

    Hi David, have both 35 mm and digital pentax bodies and have found although lenses are compatible with the body some focus sharper and one in particular could not pick a focus point acurately on the digital camera at all.

  • rob Lamont

    Just a point I haven’t seen mentioned yet,and apologies if the missed it,these old lenses are meant for 35mm cameras so shooting with an APSc body will incur a crop on your image. It’s a bigger issue if you go the other way and use a lens meant for a cropped body on a 35mm camera. Result will be vinigetting.

  • DavidR8

    Thanks Rob, you just jogged my memory about something I tried.
    I used the 57mm while tethered to my MacBook so I could immediately see the photos. I discovered that the focus indicator light is dead accurate.

  • Leonard Schrock

    My big gun, yes it says Canon on the lens, is a FD 500MM 1:4.5 L. I use it with a Canon Extender FD 2x-A and a thin brass adapter on my Canon 40d. This gives me the reach of 1000mm plus the effect of the crop sensor. Before buying the lens I was warned that it would not focus to infinity. That was true but I have found using the 2X extender It will focus to infinity with a little to spare. Takes great photos. Have used it a lot on manual but now I am using it on Av setting. One possible minus is in some lighting conditions there is a purplish flare spot in the center of the photo.Thanks for the great article.

  • George Citizen

    I grew up on a Minolta 202 with manual everything. I now have a Canon D70 and maybe I’m just too stupid to figure out, or too lazy to master, all the fancy shooting modes. I shoot most of my more creative pictures in manual mode where I pick the ISO, shutter and speed (just like my old Minolta) By the time I figure out the best fancy mode, I’ve set my camera and shot the picture. I also think manual mode helps you become more conscience of what you’re doing because it forces you visualize is the picture better at f2 or f22? Now that’s not to say I never use the fixed modes, but I’m probably in manual mode 60% of the time. Due to my age and eye sight, I do like the auto focus! But even there I’m usually in spot focus mode to select my main point of interest and then reframe the picture once it has focused. If I had older lens, I would be right at home. Good article.

  • Richard A. Phillips

    Absolutely, just miss the pentaprism view finder on the 70D.

  • gnondpomme

    Hello I am using a cheap adaptator from amazon

  • Masscomedia Noida
  • Bery

    I grew up with a Praktika LTL (even then ancient). Manual averything.

    I love the Sony full live view of the SLT’s (could do with some focus peeking though)
    Makes manual mode so much easier.
    Too bad the good older lenses are getting more popular(expensive) lately.

  • Bery

    The flare is probably the reflection of the light off the sensor.
    Sensors are reflecting more than film. Stopping down could help.

  • Jones Turang

    I never been a fan of vintage lenses before. I think the combo of my EOS 60D and EF 50 f1.4 USM is enough. But everything changed the day I saw swirly bokeh from Biotar and Helios. Right now, my system is A7II with Nikon 50 f1.4 AI as the lens I used the most, followed with SMC Takumar 50 f1.4 for night shoot. Another set is Nikon 105 f2.5 AIS for any mid-tele or candid shoot-which I rarely do 😀 The sharpness of these old lenses is magnificent. Combine with the focus magnification, I hardly missed the focus and able to create tack sharp image (IMO). Below is the image I took with the Nikon 50 f1.4 AI @ f2.8, ISO 250, 1/400.