Thrifted Lens Review - Vemar 35mm F2.8
One of my favorite hobbies is to pick up vintage lenses from thrift stores and garage sales. These old lenses are full of imperfections, have all kinds of quirks, and just make photography less clinical and more of an adventure.
This particular lens is a Vemar 35mm F2.8. Metal chassis and built like a tank. It's in great condition, the aperture cycles smoothly, no fungus or scratches, and the focus ring is not too tight or loose. I was told it was a Nikon mount but it doesn't fit my Viltrox speedbooster. It did however fit a regular Nikon to MFT adapter so the effective focal length is 70mm. I can find little on the internet about this lens, so I hope this little review of my impressions is helpful. Please contact me if you know anything about this company or lens. If you'd like me to review a thrifted lens, send me an email and I'll pay for shipping if you have an old lens to donate.
I'm shooting with my workhorse Panasonic GH-5 with the "natural" and "monochrome-D" profile. All profile settings are set at default and photos were shot in RAW and exported in Lightroom.
In this short photo essay I'll outline what I like about this lens and what I find it useful for.
Here's a shot wide open from a couple of yards away. It does not focus close, you need at least a foot to get anything in the center of frame sharp. Lots of chromatic aberration (CA) and very soft focus.
Why shoot with the aperture wide open? Fast lenses are vital for low light when you have a camera with a Micro-Four-Thirds sensor. My GH5 pulls double duty for photography and video, so I greatly value lenses that are fast and sharp wide open.
Comparing three close focus shots in this gallery and you can begin to see where this lens shines.
Photo 1 is wide open, Photo 2 is wide open with a monochrome profile, and Photo 3 is at F8. With the chromatic aberration issues, this lens SHINES in monochrome. For an everyday street lens it's also very sharp when you dial it down. Here are the photos stacked to compare with their GH5 on camera photo profiles:
Here are two cloud shots to further illustrate what I like about this lens
Chromatic aberration is the not so fun teal and purple fringe that you can see around the photos you take; It's a super common problem with vintage lenses.
Lightroom and photoshop can mostly filter it out, so it's not a terribly big deal to take out in post. However, it's not a color rendering problem, it's a focusing problem.
When you shoot in monochrome it leaves in the tiny out of focus edges without the distracting purple and teal When you take away the color elements, all those little imperfections can add or diminish the photo. With the aperture stepped down and shooting into the sun for some slight flares, we get nice and dramatic clouds.
Soft lenses are great for black and white work as they tend to not overwhelm with too much detail and texture.
Two more photos to illustrate, this idea. Lens flare at f2.8 and f8. Even with the sharpness as you step down the aperture the shadows and blacks render to my eye in a softer and more pleasing way.
In color this photo was an unusable mess due to teal/purple fringing around the leaves at f2.8. In monochrome it's a dreamy soft focus in the foreground with smeared soft bokeh in the background.
When I take nature photos, I love to catch all the detail in the leaves, trees, and flowers. Here, all that detail becomes dreamlike, soft, and delicate.
The sweet spot on this lens is around F8, I took this shot at infinity and cropped in on this tree.
One more at F8, love how smeared the shadows become while still maintaining clarity in the center of the shot.
I really like this lens for monochrome work. The soft focus and CA issues add a nice dream touch to wide open shots in black and white. It does have nice bokeh at f2.8 and is razor sharp once you step down to F8. It's a niche lens, this won't be going in my primary camera bag. It has all the downsides of a wide angle lens while being not particularly fast or sharp. Color-wise it doesn't have a weird cast like some vintage lens I've worked with, but the CA problems are going to be a big issue if you want to capture anything with a shallow depth of field.